In new year, they share hope for life in new land
Arizona Daily Star
Jan. 4, 20


By Ernesto Portillo Jr.


Tucson, Arizona | Published:

Daniela Verduzco Mendoza and Yasel Mendoza Patterson, fresh from the Pima County Courthouse, beamed as they received the well wishes and abrazos from hugging family members and friends.

The newlywed couple had gaily strode into the home of Midtown friends to share the celebration on the second-to-last day of the old year.

A new year — with nascent dreams and expectations, mixed with cloudy uncertainties in an unknown town — awaited them. But on that Tuesday evening, the young immigrants reveled in the love for each other and from their small circle.

"We are in love, and we are looking to make a wonderful life with each other," Yasel said.

The couple will embark on a journey that is well-traveled in this rooted valley.

A reading of Tucson's long history reveals a common thread — scores of people have come here to start anew. Tucson, with its allure of desert and sprouting mountains, is where, seemingly, the dawn gleams brighter and the day lasts longer.

While many newcomers leave because, for them, Tucson is more myth than majestic, many others remain and become part of the saguaro-bejeweled landscape.

The newlyweds are part of that long line of sojourners who have come to call Tucson home. But before coming to Tucson, major decisions had to be made.

Mendoza is from Cuba; Verduzco, 29, is from Sonora. They met in Hermosillo, her hometown and the capital of Sonora, and he decided not to return to Cuba.

"It was a difficult decision," said Mendoza, who turned 35 three days after getting married.

He arrived in Hermosillo with a Cuban cultural troupe in the summer of 2007. The Cuban group performed and gave workshops in Sonora that summer.

By the fall, Mendoza, a conservatory-trained singer, knew he would not return to his country, which is undergoing tremendous change and hardship 50 years after Fidel Castro and rebels took Havana on Jan. 1, 1959.

Mendoza had met his future wife at a dance. He was smitten with her grace and beauty.

"It was premeditated on my part," said Mendoza of this enchanting meeting.

For her part, Verduzco Mendoza was equally entranced with his outgoing personality and sweet vocals. She called his decision to stay in Hermosillo "the right one."

But it was a difficult one. Getting established in Hermosillo would not be easy.

The city, like Mexico, is in crisis. Jobs are scarce and the Mexican government's war on drug cartels is hitting all facets of Mexican life.

Like untold numbers of people before him, Mendoza looked north for a new beginning.

In January 2007, Mendoza went to the Nogales Port of Entry seeking political asylum. Cubans fleeing the communist island can request asylum if they can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution.

Mendoza was detained for 15 hours and released. He came to Tucson to join his guitar-playing and singing partner, Alejandro Ochoa de Miguel, who had defected in December 2006.

Mendoza found a place to live on the West Side and a job. But his love remained in Sonora, where she is working on a master's degree in finance.

On New Year's Day, back at the home of Cuban-born Regla Albarran Miller and her husband, Tucson writer Tom Miller, hosts of the wedding reception, the bride and groom welcomed 2009. Spanish, with Cuban and Sonoran accents, was the primary language of the evening.

Mendoza joined the Cuban community in Tucson, which continues to grow with his fellow émigrés who find their way to the desert with dreams of a restart.

The couple understand their immediate days as husband and wife will be difficult. They will have a trans-border marriage.

She will live in Hermosillo, about four hours south of Tucson, to complete her studies with hope of immigrating to the U.S. He hopes his application for residency will be approved while he works caring for the elderly.

He is clear that he wants to live in the U.S., "a free and democratic country," he said. She is clear she wants to live here for "the good education and opportunities," she said.

The United States, and more specifically Tucson, offers the Mendoza couple a chance at their dreams — not just for them but for the child they are expecting this year.

Yes, 2009 is a year of uncertainty and worries. The Mendozas, as well as other Tucsonans, understand the challenges.

"We feel the same fears," he said, "but we want the same opportunities."

To which she added, "If you work hard enough, something good will come."

To the Mendozas and everyone else, best wishes for '09.

● Reporter Ernesto "Neto" Portillo Jr. has deep roots in Tucson. His maternal great-great-grandfather, Argentine-born Onofre Navarro, lived here beginning in the 1860s. Portillo can be contacted at 807-8414 or