During his 6 1/2 years in the U.S., Cuban-born jazz musician Arturo Sandoval has won three Grammy Awards, played the White House, the Academy Awards and a Super Bowl, and, while touring the world and growing wealthy, become a full professor at one of the nation's hottest music schools.
But what he cannot do, apparently, is become an American citizen.
The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service this week denied the musician's application for citizenship, citing his membership in the Communist Party while still in Cuba. Sandoval defected to the U.S. in 1990 while on a tour of Europe with a band headed by his mentor, the late Dizzy Gillespie.
"This is an injustice, ridiculous," said Sandoval, 47, a trumpet virtuoso whose mastery spans classical, jazz fusion and Afro-Cuban styles. "I don't deserve this."
In his application for citizenship, Sandoval answered "yes" when asked if he had ever been "a member of or affiliated with the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party." He said he joined the Communist Party three months before leaving on an extended European tour with Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra in hopes of enhancing chances that his wife and teenage son could join him.
Although a privileged member of Cuban society--a founder of the seminal band Irakere, and permitted to tour abroad--Sandoval said he had long chafed under the regime of Fidel Castro, and had plotted defection for years.
When his wife and son were permitted to join him, they acted. With Gillespie's help, Sandoval sought asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Rome in July 1990. Days later he and his family were welcomed at the White House by President George Bush, and he was granted permanent residency soon after. As a permanent resident, Sandoval cannot be deported. But without citizenship, he cannot vote or run for public office, hold a U.S. passport or be eligible for some types of federal assistance.
Since settling in Miami, Sandoval's career and his jazz world reputation as a protean performer have soared, first with his American debut album, "Flight to Freedom," and then with his Grammy-winning work with Gillespie on the 1992 album, "Live at Royal Festival Hall," and in 1994 for the best Latin jazz album, "Danzon." He had earlier won a Grammy for his work with Irakere.
Sandoval is heard on the soundtracks for the films "The Mambo Kings," "Havana" and "The Perez Family," and he has toured continuously. On stage the burly musician is a versatile showman, ranging from trumpet to fluegelhorn, and even piano and timbales, as he revisits big-band ballads, Afro-Cuban descarga rhythms and, in affectionate homage to Gillespie, American bebop.
In 1993, Sandoval's parents, both in their 60s, fled Cuba in a fishing boat, and now live with the musician and his wife, Marianela.
Sandoval called the INS rejection of his citizenship application "a bad, sad surprise."
"I am outraged, indignant," added Sandoval, a professor of music at Florida International University. "Since arriving here I have never stopped letting people know how terrible the communists are. Nobody hates communism more than me."
Sandoval said he suspects that his INS troubles stem from either a bureaucrat jealous of his success or a Castro agent working for the INS. He said an attorney would appeal the ruling.
In a letter to Sandoval, INS officials cite Section 313.2 of the federal code, which forbids naturalization of any candidate who has had membership in the Communist Party within 10 years of the date of filing. Exemption is possible for those who can show that membership was involuntary, necessary to obtain food or employment, or if the applicant can show that he joined the party without realizing the organization's objectives.
Lemar C. Wooley, an INS spokesman in Miami, cited the privacy act in declining comment on Sandoval's case. He added, however, that anyone denied citizenship has 30 days to appeal the ruling to the INS district director.
Carl Valldejuli, Sandoval's agent, said U.S. Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Cuban-born Miami Republicans, have offered to aid the entertainer's citizenship quest, and that other expressions of support have come from fellow musicians and executives of Walt Disney Entertainment Inc., which featured Sandoval at Disney World's 25 anniversary celebration.
Valldejuli said he had advised Sandoval to sue the INS if his appeal is turned down.
"This is so ironic," said Sandoval, who is scheduled to play in Washington May 1 at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser. "All of my life I have been pro-Yankee. I was even jailed once in Cuba for listening to the Voice of America.
"I joined the party in order to leave Cuba with my family. And it is terrible to feel that you don't have a nationality, a citizenship anywhere. I feel like I am in the air somewhere. But I will never lose hope in justice."
Times researcher Anna M. Virtue contributed to this report.