During our conversation with Tigers catcher Brayan Peña, we learned about his 1999 defection to the United States to pursue his dream of playing Major League Baseball. It turns out, many others have had this dream over the years since Cuba became a closed society.
Since Fidel Castro took power in 1959 in Cuba, dozens of professional baseball players have defected to the U.S. Currently, 17 Cubans play baseball for the MLB, including two who defected just this year. For professional ballplayers, the allure of defecting is to play a sport they love at the highest level—and for the potential of huge salaries. Coming from a poor country like Cuba, this is a huge incentive. The downside, as mentioned by Brayan in our interview is the risk of arrest, punishment, and losing all chances to play again. A bigger risk is the possible harm to their families, or never seeing them again, if they stay behind. So America still remains a symbol of freedom to many, even though we continue on our journey toward a more perfect union.
One question many of my students ask from this story is: “What is a defector?” Let’s take a simple look at the ways internationals might come to the United States.
One-way ticket: Round-trip ticket:
Defector Expatriate worker
Refugee/Asylee Migrant worker
Defectors, asylees, and refugees all move to another country because they are running away from something. Refugees are escaping life-threatening events like war or famine. Asylees (people seeking asylum) are escaping persecution because of their political or religious beliefs. Defectors are escaping a country whose government is trying to keep its citizens locked up inside the country.
Immigrants choose to move to another country for reasons of work, opportunity, or family.
Expatriates move to another country temporarily—for a few years—because of job training or education.
Migrant workers move in and out of an area with regularity, often following seasonal work, with less opportunity to put down roots.