Miami Stories

Miami Stories: Search for a better life lures this immigrant to Miami

Marie Joseph with her team at Marriott.
Marie Joseph with her team at Marriott.

On Nov. 1, 1987, at 30 years old, I left my home and family in Haiti to search for a better life. The economic and political situation was unbearable, and my family was being abused by the Duvalier regime. I promised my parents I would come back for them.

On that day, I boarded a boat headed to Miami with 100 other Haitians in hopes of a safe arrival; sadly, not all of us made it. When we finally reached the coast of Miami, some people had died of dehydration and starvation. I came to this city with only the clothes on my back and the promise I had made to my parents.

During my first year, I struggled working a series of odd jobs to support my family until Dec. 1, 1988, when I joined MDM Hotel Group as a housekeeper at Dadeland Marriott Hotel. Shortly after, I was promoted to room attendant and then in May of 1993, I was the first associate to hold the position of laundry supervisor. I met my husband in 1988, and we got married in 1992 when I was expecting my second child. While I was working and raising my children, I attended night school and received my nursing degree.

In 1997, I was thrilled to fulfill my promise to my parents and was able to bring them to the United States. After just a few years of living in the United States, we received the devastating news that my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer. I kept my faith and prayed every day for the improvement of my mother’s health.

A few months later, I received a phone call at the hotel from my mother’s oncologist telling me that my mother had only a few days to live and to pick her up and spend as much time with her as I could. Then a miracle happened: Just a few days later, my mother was cancer free.

My mother lived a beautiful life and lived until July 2013. Sadly, shortly after my mother’s miracle, my father was diagnosed with throat cancer, which quickly ascended to his brain.

I am the sole provider in my home, not only supporting my family here but also my family in Haiti, and I not only work as a laundry supervisor, but also as an on-call banquet server. There are days where I work in the laundry department until the afternoon, change in the locker room into my banquet uniform, and go straight to work. Sometimes I work a banquet until 3 a.m., get an hour of sleep, and start getting ready for work at 4 a.m. . Every single day, I give 100 percent to my work.

Being the only supervisor who speaks Creole at my workplace, I volunteer when needed to translate. Even though I always have personal matters taking place in my life, I try my best to give back to the community. When the earthquake hit Haiti, I immediately organized a successful donation drive and volunteered my time. I was a major driver of the hotel’s “Haiti Relief Drive” that was hosted as a Spirit to Serve Community Program. I wanted to help the people who were affected, especially the families of my coworkers.

Throughout my 25-year career for Marriott, I have been honored with multiple awards. I was Associate of the Month in April 1991 and May 1999. In 1999, I was also recognized as Associate of the Year. Since 2006, I have won Manager of the Month several times, and in April 2013, I won Leader of the Month. In 2013, I joined the “Quarter Century Club” for Marriott International, an exclusive club for those associates who have been with the company for 25 years. I am grateful and humbled to work for a company that truly appreciates its employees.

In 2013, I was awarded the prestigious “J. Willard Marriott Award of Excellence,” the highest honor given by Marriott International to only 10 employees every year. This was a tremendous honor considering that Marriott is located in 74 countries with more than 325,000 associates worldwide. In May 2014, I traveled to Washington, D.C., where I received my award in front of executives of Marriott International and had the incredible experience of having dinner with top executives.

Throughout all the hardships I suffered during my life in both Haiti and the United States, I feel blessed for the opportunities I have had. Working for Marriott International has helped support my family and me for 25 incredible years. It has also allowed me to fulfill the American dream.

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About Miami Stories: This project is a partnership between HistoryMiami, Miami Herald Media Company, WLRN and Michael Weiser, chairman of the National Conference on Citizenship.

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