Community The Next Louisville
This production is part of WFPL News’ year-long project, The Next Louisville: Race, Ethnicity and Culture.

Immigration. It’s one of the founding principles of our country. It was a deeply divisive topic in this year’s presidential election, and it promises to be a major issue going forward.

Mexicans at the southern border and Syrian refugees fleeing war get a lot of media attention, but in Louisville, the fastest-growing group is not from Mexico or Syria. They’re from an island in the Caribbean: Cuba. Next Louisville Graphic

The number of Cubans in our community is surging. In 2015, a full 30 percent of all refugees arriving in Kentucky were from Cuba, and the vast majority of those — nearly a thousand people — came to Louisville, according to statistics from the Kentucky Office for Refugees.

As part of The Next Louisville, with support from the Community Foundation of Louisville, my reporting partner Luis de León and I talked with local Cubans who’ve moved here, with some of the people who help ease the way for them, in an effort to explore why Louisville is becoming a more attractive place for people from the island.

Listen to the full documentary in the audio player above. And here from some of those we talked to below.

next lou cubans1Luis de León | wfpl.org

Luis Fuentes, publisher of El Kentubano, a monthly magazine for Latinos in Kentucky.

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“In Cuba, 50 years under a Communist system, it really goes to your roots. It really, you know, it stay in your body. In Cuba you don’t have the freedom to talk, even in your home. Everybody is living with police inside, everybody’s afraid to say the truth. Or to say what they are thinking.”

next Lou Cubans 3Luis de León | wfpl.org

Bryan Warren, Director of the Office of Globalization for Metro Louisville.

“We’re a city that has one of the highest refugee resettlement programs in the country — depending on how you look at it, we’re either No. 11 or 12 — and when you’re looking at half of that population being Cuban, that’s something to really be paying attention to.”

next lou cubans 4Luis de León | wfpl.org

Mirlene Lopez, who owns Mi Sueno grocery store with her husband, Yolan. They opened the store in 2009.

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“I really like a pastry that’s called bobo, it’s really delicious. It’s from my province of Camaguey. It’s made with a butter cream, kind of like toast with butter. It’s my favorite.”

fernando martinezOle Restaurant Group

Fernando Martinez, original owner of Havana Rumba, now a partner in the Ole Restaurant Group. He moved to the US from Cuba in 1994.

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“[My wife and I] both had the same idea of opening a restaurant so we came to the realization, we’re going to have more competition in Miami, it’s going to be harder now that we’re going to have a family, so let’s stay in Louisville and we’re glad we did because we love it here.”

Musician Rafael LopezLuis de León | wfpl.org

Musician Rafael Lopez, who moved to the US from Holguin, Cuba, in 2003 with his parents and brother.

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“It’s very interesting, because in the city of Holguin, there is information available with respect to Louisville. Everybody knows about the city of Louisville, Kentucky.”

Cultural orientation class for Cubans at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, where new arrivals learn about how to handle basic tasks in the US.Luis de León

Cultural orientation class for Cubans at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, where new arrivals learn about how to handle basic tasks in the US.

Carmen Arias Perez, a former client at Kentucky Refugee Ministries who now works with Cuban and Haitian immigrants.Luis de León | wfpl.org

Carmen Arias Perez, a former client at Kentucky Refugee Ministries who now works with Cuban and Haitian immigrants.

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“Here, the Cuban community is more work-centered [than in South Florida]. More willing to have a kind of life — stable, safe, and we are, I would say, a hardworking community.”

Pavel Reyes, who came to the US four years ago from Cuba. He was a client of Kentucky Refugee Ministries and he's now a staff member.Luis de León

Pavel Reyes, who came to the US four years ago from Cuba. He was a client of Kentucky Refugee Ministries and he’s now a staff member.

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“Because you just don’t know how to rent an apartment, how to pay the rent. What’s credit? What’s that? A lot of stuff that you just never knew existed, and makes it harder for you to adjust.”

John Koehlinger, Executive Director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries.Luis de León

John Koehlinger, Executive Director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

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“The Cubans are very hardworking, you know, really appreciate the opportunity to make some money. They haven’t had real opportunities in Cuba.”

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Tara Anderson is the host and producer of Five Things, a podcast about the objects that tell our stories.