Starting Out in CNY: A Conversation about the Experience of Immigrants in the Region
by Maximilian Eyle
The Hispanic population in New York State has been steadily growing. Today, Hispanics represent nearly 20% of the State’s overall populous and are having a growing impact
on the social and political culture of the region. One key driver is that our state is particularly welcoming to immigrants. While New York City has a long history of diversity, Central New York is now a primary destination for immigrants starting a new life in the United States. In this interview with Ivette Cruz Barsó, we explore what the area has to offer and what new arrivals can expect.
Ivette is a petite and attractive Cubana in the midst of her third year in the United States. She lives in a cozy apartment near Syracuse’s downtown. Ivette arrived here from Havana and is currently earning her Master’s degree in Spanish Language, Literature, and Culture from Syracuse University. I met with her to discuss her impressions of Central New York, and to see what advice she has for people who are just arriving.
M: What was your impression of Central New York before you arrived?
I: I had never heard about Syracuse or CNY. It was through the refugee program that I learned about it – when I found out that I had the option to come here. It looked like a very American place from the pictures I saw, especially compared to Miami. The refugee program warned me that it would be cold, with lots of snow, and that I should have good winter clothes. Since they didn’t tell me much else except about the bad weather, I was worried.
M: Has your opinion changed? What do you think of it now that you’ve had a chance to get settled?
I: After three years, I can say that it’s a great place for immigrants – there is a lot of support from the local government. The problem is that the anti-immigrant position of the federal government has lowered the amount of help that can be found here. I’ve seen local organizations shut down or stop certain services because they lost federal funding. But the local attitude is very supportive. I read about anti-immigrant discrimination in other parts of the country, but I never encounter it here.
M: How did you first find out about what opportunities were available here?
I: The social workers were very helpful in getting me my papers and setting me up with a place to live. There was a great support system in dealing with the local government and other local resources. I was able to find English classes and help with preparing for job interviews. I also received tips about general living in New York State.
M: What are the best things about living here? The worst things?
I: I love the pace of the city – very relaxed. The cost of living is low too, so you can work, study, and have fun without constantly thinking about money. I think other cities are much more financially stressful. There are a lot of cultural opportunities here too. The first thing I found was Argentine tango. I met a lot of very nice local people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise there.
M: What advice would you give to people who have recently settled in the region?
I: Because the city is laid back, it’s easier to pursue your goals. Education is accessible too, but learning English is a very important skill to develop in order to access the resources here. Fortunately, the relaxed rhythm of the city gives you time to do those things.
Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.