SARASOTA, Fla. (May 23, 2018) – Boarding a plane five years ago, Lubian Turruelles remembers the heartbreak and anxiety she felt at leaving her Cuban homeland for a better life in Canada and ultimately the United States.
“We never knew if there would be some kind of problem and we would be sent back,” said Turruelles, who traveled with her husband and two young children. “Until the plane left, I was like, ‘They’re going to stop me and say you can’t leave,’ and I’ll end up in jail.”
After the trip and several months in Canada, Turruelles and her family traveled to Sarasota where she now works assisting refugees at Lutheran Services of Florida.
Turruelles’ story, like that of others seeking a better life in the United States, will be among those heard Friday, June 15, from noon to 2 p.m., as part of “World Refugee Day 2018: Building Community, Celebrating our Cultures Together.”
The free event, at the Selby Auditorium on the campus of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, 8350 N. Tamiami Trail, is organized in partnership with Lutheran Services of Florida, the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Southwest Florida Refugee Task Force and Dr. Jody McBrien, a USFSM professor.
The event comes ahead of World Refugee Day, founded in 2000 by the United Nations General Assembly and officially recognized each year on June 20.
Dr. McBrien, who has focused much of her scholarly research on refugees, said World Refugee Day has been celebrated for several years across Southwest Florida, but this will mark the first time the event is held in the Sarasota area. Last year’s celebration occurred in Fort Myers.
“Our celebration is intended as a community information celebration,” she said.
The event will include a photo exhibit featuring refugees, an interactive children’s art exercise, Cuban cuisine, musical performances by Armenian refugees and an exhibition featuring dancers from the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School and Fred Astaire Dance Studio of Sarasota.
Additionally, panelists will discuss the plight of refugees.
“Although the issue of refugees has become all too common in recent years, our understanding of refugees and what they face hasn’t expanded, and what we are hoping this event accomplishes is to help people understand who refugees are,” said Dr. McBrien, a professor in USFSM’s School of Education. “We want to put a face to this issue, to humanize it.”
In addition to Dr. McBrien, Dr. Karen Holbrook, regional chancellor of USF Sarasota-Manatee, will offer remarks, and USFSM students will deliver toiletries and other items collected to benefit refugee families.
For more information, visit sar.usfsm.edu/event/refugee.