I come from a family of farmers. My great-grandfather and grandfather each owned and operated a fruit nursery in Cuba, and after being exiled to the United States, my father continued the tradition by opening a landscaping nursery in South Florida. As with typical Cuban family businesses, everyone pitched in. Consequently, I grew up at the nursery, or “la finca,” as we lovingly call it. Some of my fondest childhood memories are playing tag with my younger brother among the rows of trees, chasing the dogs that roamed the property, and playing basketball on the makeshift hoop that my parents set up for me.
It was not all play at the nursery, however. I helped with planting seedlings, potting soil, and aided the mechanics with tractor repairs. I quickly formed bonds with the nursery employees, growing particularly close to the mechanic, Reinaldo. He too was an immigrant from Cuba, and he became like an uncle to me. Reinaldo introduced me to Cuban coffee and taught me how to ride a tractor, but more importantly, he imparted countless stories of perseverance in the face of impossible obstacles.
In the farming business, one is frequently confronted with challenges presented by the unknown, particularly the forces of nature. I learned these lessons at a young age, as I was not yet four years old when Hurricane Andrew ravaged South Florida. I remember walking with my parents through acres and acres of empty farmland, which only days before had been filled with countless rows of trees and plants that served as my playground.
Looking back at the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew, I can now appreciate how truly dire my family’s economic situation was following the storm. I credit the unflinching determination of my parents for leading our family through the repercussions of Andrew. Both my mother and father lost everything after being exiled from Cuba in the turmoil of Castro's Revolution and had learned to survive and rebuild.
I quickly had the chance to follow their example, as every family member needed to help in the rebuilding process. For years after the storm, my brother and I would take a forty-five minute bus ride from school to the nursery, where we would stay until evening fell helping out in any way necessary. Those years were tough, but they were integral to my growth as a person. I did not get to partake in normal after-school activities like my classmates, but instead, I learned about responsibility, pragmatism, and how to respond to unexpected crises.
“La finca” was restored, but the lessons I learned were not forgotten. Since Andrew, various natural dangers have threatened the nursery, ranging from severe frosts to repeated tropical storms. Hurricanes Charley and Ivan in 2004, and Dennis and Wilma in 2005 caused significant damage and setbacks to the nursery. In the flurry of activity following those storms, my role in the nursery necessarily increased, and I performed myriad tasks ranging from filing insurance claims and seeking new sales to draining flooded fields and pruning destroyed trees. I even acquired an ISA Arborist Certification to learn advanced chainsaw and tree climbing techniques to help clear downed trees in the aftermath of storms. Annually during the frost season (a surprisingly dangerous time for nurseries, even in South Florida), I experienced countless sleepless nights with my father, staying up to monitor temperature levels. In cases of severe temperature drops, we would drive out to the nursery in the middle of the night to turn on the irrigation system and heat lamps, and personally monitor the condition of the plants.
The family nursery will always be at risk from natural disaster, but after the lessons I learned, I am confident that such obstacles can be overcome with sufficient determination. In fact, I have come to embrace the challenges provided by the unknown. Law school is the next "unknown challenge" in my life, a challenge that I look forward to meeting head on with the skills I learned during my experiences at "la finca".
Tear it apart! Destroy it! I'm willing to read anything you send my way too