SARASOTA, Fla. (June 18, 2018) – Lubian Turruelles regrets how her relationships with longtime friends suffered after she, her husband and their two children left Cuba for a better life in Canada and ultimately the United States, but she doesn’t regret the decision.
“If we had to, we would do it all over again,” said Turruelles, who, five years later, lives in Sarasota and works for Lutheran Services of Florida.
Turruelles was among three Cuban refugees who told their stories Friday during “World Refugee Day 2018: Building Community, Celebrating our Cultures Together” at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
The free event, inside the campus’ Selby Auditorium, featured Cuban food, musical performances by Ukrainian refugees and dancing exhibitions by the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School and Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Sarasota. It came ahead of World Refugee Day, officially recognized by the United Nations on June 20.
Children from the ballet school danced contemporary and Latin-inspired routines. Ukrainian refugees Anzhelika Aleksanyan and Lyuda Grebinnik performed a stirring musical composition on piano and viola, and Cuban-born artist Rolando Cordoba dazzled attendees with a collection of watercolors.
Dr. Jody McBrien, a USFSM professor who has focused much of her scholarly research on refugees, said she hoped the event would become a “community information celebration” to create more understanding about the plight of refugees.
It turned out to be that and more as audience members reveled in the contributions of refugee and immigrant communities. The most poignant moment occurred when Turruelles and two other panelists, Adrian Oliva Rodriguez and Pavel Martinez, talked about leaving Cuba and starting over in the United States.
Turruelles left behind friends and family to board a plane for Canada. After several months, the family drove across the U.S. border and reported their status as Cuban refugees. Nearly five years after that flight, she’s now looking forward to declaring her American citizenship, only a week away.
“I’m so proud to be in this country,” she said, tearing up.
Rodriguez, a physician from Cuba, said he barely eked out a living and was made to feel like “a prisoner” in his own country because of bureaucracy that limited his travel. He flew to Brazil, ostensibly to visit his mother, then traveled to Panama and Mexico before finally arriving in Houston to seek asylum in the United States. Until his arrival, he spent a week living in airports worried he would be detained or worse, kidnapped by criminals who target refugees.
Arriving in the United States and reuniting with his father, whom he barely knew, he was overcome with emotion.
“To see my father and to know I was free, it was an amazing feeling,” he said. “But because I hadn’t eaten, I was starving and said I have to eat something right away.”
Rodriguez is now studying for his medical license to work as a pediatric physician in the United States.
A nurse in Cuba, Martinez moved to Dubai before traveling to the Netherlands, England and then the United States. In Cuba, he earned $40 a month, which paid for only “the simple things.”
“You have to struggle every day just to survive,” he said.
Arriving in the U.S., he said, he was grateful for the help of aid organizations like Lutheran Services of Florida, who helped him resettle. He added, “Please don’t take this country for granted.”
The celebration ran from noon to 2:30 p.m. It was organized by Dr. McBrien, Lutheran Services of Florida and the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Southwest Florida Refugee Task Force.
USFSM Regional Chancellor Dr. Karen Holbrook provided opening remarks, along with Nancy Detert and Priscilla Whisenant Trace, commissioners for Sarasota and Manatee counties, respectively.
Author Erin Ramsey to visit USFSM
USF Sarasota-Manatee will welcome inspirational author Erin Ramsey on Friday, June 22, to discuss her book, Be Amazing, Tools for Living Inspired.
This sold-out event runs from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and includes breakfast.
The Florida Center for Partnerships for Arts-Integrated Teaching (PAInT) and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading are sponsoring the event.
Participants will explore a “creative art experience” prior to Ramsey’s presentation. Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton, coordinator of PAInT, said the event will represent a compelling outreach opportunity for Florida’s early learning, Head Start, elementary education and family care communities.
Staff Council providing a voice for USFSM staff
USF Sarasota-Manatee’s Staff Council is inviting campus staff members to attend its next meeting, Tuesday, June 19, from 2 to 4 p.m., at Room A217.
The Staff Council was formed in February to advocate for staff and address staff needs on campus.
“Staff Council meetings afford opportunities to voice issues, improve communication, increase morale and provide input about campus practices that impact the staff,” Council President Dr. Denise Davis-Cotton said. “Become involved in the Staff Council and make a difference at USFSM.”
Meetings are monthly. Staff can attend or volunteer for any of the council’s committees, including Job Stability & Equity, Culture, Policies & Procedures, Training, and Communications, Transparency & Outreach.
“The monthly meetings provide a supportive network for building unity through staff engagement,” Dr. Davis-Cotton said. “The meetings provide a forum for staff to participate in prevalent and meaningful ways. Staff ask questions, receive pertinent information and attain clarity about logistical and operational USFSM processes.”