06 December, 2010
DAISY EXPÓSITO-ULLA, ONE OF THE THOUSANDS OF CUBANS EXILEES
I WAS born outside Havana in an apartment upstairs from my father’s hardware store. He’d taken it over from his father, who had moved from Spain in 1920.
Chairman and chief executive, D Expósito & Partners, an ad agency based in New York AGE 58
ON HER IPOD Caetano Veloso, Chico O’Farrill, Bebo & Cigala.
My first few years were the last few years of the Batista dictatorship. Like many other middle-class business people, my father supported Fidel Castro. After the revolution in 1959 was the happiest time I can remember. But when Castro declared Cuba a socialist state and himself a Marxist-Leninist, my father felt so betrayed.
When businesses were nationalized, militiamen came to our house in the middle of the night and made my dad hand over everything, including the keys to the store. When the new regime announced that they would send children to the countryside for indoctrination, that was it: our whole family left the country.
We came to Queens in 1964. What I saw my parents do — give up everything, come to this country without speaking the language, start over, work at menial jobs for 80 hours a week and build a new life — has been the backbone of my whole being. I feel there is nothing I cannot do through hard work and the will to survive.
My adjustment to American culture was hard and lonely. The television became my best friend; I learned English from shows like “I Love Lucy” and “Father Knows Best.”
When I was 14, since we didn’t have money, my entertainment was going to the Dick Cavett or Merv Griffin or Johnny Carson talk show tapings in Manhattan. I saw how TV shows were made and I decided this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.
In my senior year at the New York Institute of Technology, I noticed a show called “Realidades” on the PBS channel in New York that profiled the lives of Latinos in America — TV I could finally relate to! I noticed the producer, Raquel Ortiz, was a woman — a rarity in those days. So I got an appointment with her, and offered to work for free. Soon I started getting paid. When the show lost funding, I found a job in Conill Advertising, one of the pioneering Latino agencies.
After that, I found a middle ground between Madison Avenue and meaningful television working at WNBC in public affairs. From there, my husband Jorge Ulla, a documentary filmmaker who also works in advertising, tipped me off to an opportunity as creative director of Young & Rubicam’s small Hispanic division, the Bravo Group. I became the first Latino to hold that position in the Latin division at a major global agency. I rose to chairman and C.E.O.
Some thought I was crazy when I left advertising in 2004. After a personal hiatus, I saw a changing landscape and in 2005 started my own independent agency with Jorge and some close associates.
I am incredibly close to my family. My parents still live in Queens; Jorge and I live in Manhattan. Jorge is my rock. My son, Gabriel, is my motivational engine. In a way, he’s also my new target market: 21 years old, an American-born who straddles two cultures, and a Web site editor. My dear dad has Alzheimer’s now, and my courageous mother handles it with more patience than Job.
When our family first came to the United States, we always thought we’d go back to Cuba after the Castro era ended. But 50 years later, I’ve been there only twice. I no longer think of Cuba as the “promised land.” In fact when I did go, I was sad to see old friends stuck in the same place. Their world had stopped; everything was deteriorating.
I can’t say I am 100 percent American, but I am not Cuban either. I can say I am finally proud of the hyphen: Cuban-American.