Cubans have helped build America for decades. In Georgia, their role has been instrumental in the development and growth of the Latino community and the resources and social services that have become the safety net for the community in the state.
Between 1950-1980, Cubans were the predominant group in Atlanta, making up to 53% of the population. Before Cuban refugees arrived to Georgia, social services in Spanish to help them settle in the state were virtually inexistent and Cubans took it as their responsibility to provide those for their own community and eventually for the growing Hispanic community at-large.
When Raul Trujillo went to Georgia Tech, he recalled, “I saw all these leaves on the ground and said what in the world is this? I remember clearly in my mind about that feeling, it was a very interesting, a very good feeling, really something that I never experienced before.”
Raul went on to write several letters advocating for a truthful depiction of the Castro regime in Cuba as part of the “Cuban Freedom Committee” and to the Governor at the time. Raul, a Georgia Tech graduate, is still very involved (along with his wife who is Patron of the Arts in general in Atlanta) in Hispanic causes and initiatives. Raul left Havana in 1962 and had to give up all his posessions in order to expedite his travel here.
Like Raul, thousands of Cubans found ways to came to the US that prooved their resourcefulness; often family members had to leave separately and under different pretenses so as not to alarm the Cuban government of their intentions. A family, for example, would send one child to the United States to attend a camp, another one for school. The head of the family could leave on a business trip and his wife on vacation. They would later reunite at a predetermined site.
Frank Trelles survived 5 years in a Cuban jail. Before then, he was the successful President of a soft-drink bottling company and the senior leading partner of a corporate law firm. An avid sportsman; he was able to escape by agreeing to swim representing Cuba in an international competition.
Another refugee that prefers to stay anonymous pretended he went for a swim and at one of the yatch clubs in Havana, he swam until he reached a small boat that then took him to reach the Florida Keys 16 hours later.
It took years but the Cuban community was instrumental in the creating and growth of The Latin American Association, currently the largest provider of services to the Hispanic community in Atlanta. It was the vision of Enrique Dorta, currently President of the Atlanta Cuban Club to found “The Latin Fever Ball, the largest fundraiser for The LAA, today in its 26th year raising over $380,000 to support their social and legal services.
It was Elena Diaz-Verson , another Cuban (wife of John Amos, founder of AFLAC) the ultimate Patron of the same organization that provided significant financial support to build a larger facility and expand services
And of course the Diaz Family that has been a consistent supporter of all-things Hispanic in the state, entirely providing support for food pantries as well as business chambers and art organizations.
Yesterday, The President annouced the US would re-established displomatic relations (severed since 1961) to advance advance shared interests that include healthcare, migration, counter-terrorism and disaster response.
While there is disagreement in the Cuban community on the decision (the Miami Herald found a hard divide between younger and older cubans) it is clear that isolation has not worked.
A review of the designation “State Sponsor of Terror” is also underway and special purvues to increase travel to the island are also in the works.
To learn about what other Cubans in Atlanta think regarding that decision and their personal stories, click on the links below.