Faux Obama's Seattle Past


This dude looks a lot like Barack Obama, doesn't he? His name is actually Gerardo Puisseaux, a Cuban immigrant who now lives in Florida. He's resorted to capitalizing on his resemblance to the next President of the United States, out of economic necessity. But had Puisseaux and his wife Hortensia stayed in Seattle, where they initially lived after leaving Cuba, he might never have had to rely on his looks to support his family. In Seattle, you see, the Puisseauxs lived quite comfortably (I didn't know Boeing was "famous for coddling its employees. Did you?), as the following passage from a piece in our MIami sister paper illustrates:

Gerardo and Hortensia won a coveted spot in what's known as the Cuban lottery, which awards 20,000 Cubans permanent resident visas in America every year. The Puisseauxs were flown to Seattle, where Gerardo found work on various construction sites before getting a permanent gig applying dry wall. Hortensia got a job as a receptionist at Boeing, the aviation company famous for coddling its employees. It seemed the couple had bypassed the great struggle that usually accompanies immigration.

Puisseaux knew roughly 30 words in English. "My boss would be working on a ladder, and he'd ask me to get a hammer. I'd go like this, he says, and gives a thumbs-up symbol and a wide grin. "I didn't know what a hammer was. My boss would say, 'That's great. Can I have a hammer now?'"

But his new employers were patient, and with the help of some Mexican-Americans, Puisseaux's English steadily improved. Soon he earned a spot in the local union and began making a relative fortune: $27 an hour. Every month, he sent hundreds of dollars to his ex-wife in Havana to raise the kids. "In two years, I helped my family with more money than I did in 38 years before," he says.

It was in Seattle where strangers began stopping Puisseaux on the street to clutch his hands and congratulate him on his most recent eloquence in Chicago or New York or D.C. These incidents began in earnest after Barack Obama made the now-famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. But Puisseaux knew nothing about it. "They would stop me and say, 'Oh, Mr. Obama, thank you,'" he says. "Sometimes I'd be a little scared. I'd think, What is Obama?"

Puisseaux fell in love with Seattle but felt far from home in a city devoid of Cubans. Then there was the cold, gray weather. "Seattle is beautiful," he says, "but it snows."

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