Solsirys Antonetty was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. She left the Dominican Republic when she was 32 years old, initially without the intention of immigrating to the United States. However, when she arrived in the United States, she found a land of opportunity and, in less than ten years, she has completed her education, has owned and operated businesses in two states, raised a family, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Her experiences as an immigrant have shaped Solsirys’ views on immigrants in the United States.
Immigrant Contributions in the United States
“The U.S. economy is dependent on immigrants” Solsirys stated. She does not agree with anti-immigrant rhetoric. To Solsirys, “… the United States means we are all together, but there are many who only look at being American as being born and raised in the U.S. I am a citizen but many people don’t view me as American.” Solsirys has run two businesses in the U.S., first a daycare, taking care of people’s children and the second, cleaning for people who need it. She believes “… everything is necessary in the society.” Through her work she contributes to the U.S. Her businesses provide services to those who need them, and she provides jobs to immigrants and Americans.
Her children, who are both U.S. citizens have had very different experiences in the U.S., her older son is an immigrant, while her younger one was native born. Solsirys shared: “My older son had a hard time adjusting to the U.S., his father had told him several things about the U.S. that were false. He didn’t want to come, and once he got in the U.S., he had to learn English, and had a really hard time his first year. But the interactions and connections with the Dominican clients through my daycare center in Springfield helped, he made friends and that helped him transition as he learned English.” Her older son recently graduated from high school and is completing basic training in the army. He was nine years old when he arrived, and now he is 17 years old. While her younger son grew up speaking English and has always been an American.
Solsirys believes that the United States is a land of opportunity, stating: “But if you want to do something you can do it in this country, and if you don’t do what you want, it is because you don’t really want to.”
To understand her perspective, it is important to know Solsirys’ life story.
Life before Migrating
Solsirys was born in May 1979 and was raised by her parents in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, as one of three children in her family, having a brother and a sister. Solsirys said, “… her parents were very hard working, and raised us to be hard working and respectful.”
She attended a private, religious elementary school, La Virgin de Gracia, and in the 7th grade transferred to a public school where she stayed through high school. She recalled: “My classmates always thought I was rich because my parents were able to purchase all necessary school supplies.” After completing high school, Solsirys attended the Universidad APEC, a private university in Santo Domingo where she studied hotel management and tourism. Knowing how expensive the university was, she transferred to the Universidad Dominicana O&M (Organización y Método), where she completed all her course work but did not graduate.
Shortly after finishing her course work, Solsirys learned she was pregnant and had a son. Because the father was absent, she started working in the hotel and tourism industry. Being a single parent was very hard. She initially worked in housekeeping positions within the hotel, working her way up to become the assistant supervisor, and eventually she became the supervisor of housekeeping. This career progression took her to different tourist areas of the Dominican Republic, including La Romana and Punta Cana, locations on the eastern end of the island, far from Santo Domingo and where she had no family and no help. Solsirys stated: “The work was very hard and paid very little.”
Reasons for Migrating to the United States
As Solsirys continued working in the Dominican Republic, she moved up in the hotel and tourism chain, she found herself moving from city to city with her son. Solsirys received an offer of employment as a manager, but to be manager, she would need to attend training in the United States. After much deliberation and having finalized arrangements for her son, she decided to leave the Dominican Republic to attend a three-month training in Miami, Florida in August 2011. The training, while sponsored by her employer, was conducted at the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico in Miami. She attended trainings focused on quality control within the hotel and tourism industry. When coming to Miami for training, her intent was not to immigrate permanently to the United States, having promised her parents that she would not remain in the United States illegally.
While in Miami, she took a trip to New York to visit her son’s aunt. She remembered that initial trip to NY well, stating: “Once I arrived in NY, I went to Times Square to meet my son’s aunt, and after speaking with her before the trip, there was no one there to meet me in Times Square. I had to call everyone I knew in NY. Finally, the grandmother of my son came to pick me up.” After connecting with her son’s aunt, they went to a party where Solsirys met the man she would later marry. He was an American of Puerto Rican descent, living in New York. After her brief trip to New York, Solsirys went back to Miami to complete her training and, in October 2011, she returned to the Dominican Republic, all the while continuing communication with her boyfriend. She stayed in the Dominican Republic through the Christmas holiday and, in January 2012, she returned to the United States. She moved to New York, NY where she lived with her boyfriend. They were married in March 2012 and with her husband as her sponsor, Solsirys had applied for permanent residence by June 2012.
Initial Arrival and Language Acquisition
For the first six months in the United States, Solsirys lived in New York with her boyfriend/husband and worked a series of odd jobs. She worked in restaurants, cleaned houses, and painted nails. She was working to save enough money to bring her son to the United States with her. She and her husband moved to Springfield, Massachusetts the summer of 2012. During the next year and a half, she was struggling with her transition to the United States. She was trying to adjust to the cold temperatures of a Massachusetts winter, she did not have a car or driver’s license, and was struggling to learn English.
It took her a year to save enough money to bring her son up from the Dominican Republic to live with her in Massachusetts. She and her husband flew to the Dominican Republic to pick up her son, and so her husband could meet her family. While her son was in the Dominican Republic, he had lived with her parents, refusing to speak with her on the phone when she called. Once in the U.S., he also refused to speak to her for three months. Solsirys noted that she never shared with her family how hard it was to transition to life in the U.S. And it was during this initial year she came to notice how false the country was, commenting: “It is a country with many opportunities, but it is very false.”
Transition to Massachusetts and First Business
After a while, Solsirys decided to go back to school and earned her Associate degree in Early Childhood Education from Urban College, in Boston, Massachusetts. Around this time, she became pregnant and had her second son, and was a mother of two boys who were ten years apart in age.
After the birth of her second son, she obtained a license to run a home daycare center. She enjoyed being able to run her own daycare business and be home with her children. Her daycare clients were predominantly other Dominicans living in the area. This helped her older son with his transition to the U.S. and acquisition of English. It also kept them connected to the Dominican culture and the Spanish language.
Solsirys became a U.S. citizen in 2016. However, she and her husband ended up getting a divorce. She and her boys lived in Massachusetts for about seven years before moving to Florida in 2019. By this time, her older son was in high school, while her younger son was in elementary school. She started a cleaning company in Florida, overseeing and coordinating the staff who do the house cleaning. However, with the coronavirus, her cleaning staff have not been able to enter houses to clean. And with Florida experiencing a dramatic increase in confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections, her business was 100% impacted. Not only are her staff not able to enter houses to clean, a significant number of them have children who have not been able to go to school or participate in summer programs.
Connection to Dominican Republic and Dominican Culture
One of Solsirys’s dreams was to bring her parents to the United States. Since becoming a citizen, Solsirys has been able to do just that. Her parents migrated to the U.S. while Solsirys was still in Massachusetts and have been living in Massachusetts for about three years now. Her sister has also immigrated to the U.S., and also resides in Massachusetts, while her brother remains in the Dominican Republic and works for Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo.
Despite having so much of her immediate family in the United States, she has been able to maintain connections to the Dominican Republic. Since arriving in the U.S., Solsirys has lived in the areas with large Dominican populations, New York being the largest. When running a home daycare in Massachusetts, most of her clients were fellow Dominicans, and this also provided a connection to the Dominican culture and people, while living in the U.S.
She does travel back to the Dominican Republic when she can, however running two businesses has made that more difficult.
Life changes through Immigration
Overall Solsirys said she has had a good experience in the U.S. Her life is much better here, stating “… the security of life is better here, I have always been able to find a job, with the exception of the first month after I came back and couldn’t work; I never had to take assistance from the state. You have rights to express yourself; it is a country of opportunities, but the people are false, people say they will help you, but when you ask for help they don’t provide it.”
Her biggest challenges have been learning the English language, and dealing with racism, “… which I experience 24/7/365.” Her older son initially did not pay much attention to this and has had some bad experiences. But overall, there are so many opportunities here, she feels she is much better off in the U.S. Her parents say that she has changed since immigrating to the U.S., but according to Solsirys, “… when life gets tough, you open your eyes and you change. You have to live in the world you live in.”
Solsirys is proud of the fact that she has been a single mother and has raised two boys who are both doing really well. She is proud that she has accomplished her dreams of bringing her parents to the U.S. Her future goal is to keep progressing.