Leap to Freedom: Cuban dancer escapes to Florida

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Jamie Reytor

Jaime Reytor always dreamed of a life in the U.S. The 24-year-old dancer enjoyed a career his Cuban countrymen could only envy. A member of the Cuban National Ballet, he lived in the capital and traveled frequently beyond the island nation’s shores.

But, that was just not enough.

More than 14 months ago, a bureaucratic snafu would present Reytor with the opportunity to escape the constraints of Cuba’s communist government.

While on a tour to Puerto Rico, an embassy official mistakenly presented Reytor, and one of his colleagues, with their passports, stamped with valid travel visas. The young dancer was faced with a split second decision to leave his family behind in Cuba and pursue the opportunities that could only be found in America.

“They made a mistake, so I had to take a chance,” Reytor recalled. “I was tired and burnt out with all the problems we had in Cuba.”

Reytor bought a one-way ticket to Miami. He knew no one in South Florida, except for just a handful of Facebook friends. On the plane, he met a Cuban-American who offered to help him adjust to the dramatic cultural differences he would find in the U.S. Reytor spent a month with that man’s family in Arizona before returning to Miami to begin the long administrative process for residency.

“I had to be in Miami to do the whole thing with the papers. My friend who I defected with was working with a lawyer,” he said. “It’s been hard because I don’t have family and I’m not in a (ballet) company right now.”

Since arriving, he has been able to keep in touch with his family on the island, occasionally calling his mother, who lives in a small town. Years ago, his family would have been punished after his defection, but fortunately the government has begun gradually loosening the iron tight grip on Cuban citizens’ lives.

Reytor is also enjoying the ability to express his sexual orientation in America.

“In Cuba, they don’t see gay relations like normal. Here there is more freedom….I was straight for many, many years. A few months before I left the country I started (dating) guys and discovering that world,” he explained.

The handsome young man quickly met his boyfriend of a year after returning to Miami.

While he awaits the confirmation of his legal status, Reytor continues to improve his English. He is training with a Cuban ballet teacher in Pompano Beach to prepare for the upcoming audition season in January. He also enjoys drawing and sculpture, another creative outlet besides dance.

One thing Reytor is certain, he made the right decision on that fateful day in Puerto Rico:

“I love it here, the beaches, the people. The first time I came here, I was amazed with everything. Cuba is like a country that is stuck in time. Everything is old, but when you come to America, the buildings, the cars, it’s like wow!”

But the most important benefit of his new life in the U.S. is opportunity and Reytor plans to take full advantage of that.


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