On September 16, 2018, Roberto Reyes was told he was being watched by the Cuban government for expressing his opinions freely online. He knew what this meant, and he knew he had to leave. He had been taken prisoner for 2 days in the past. He had been beaten. He had seen acquaintances, neighbors and friends disappear. So, on September 17, 2019, with two family photos, four items of clothing, and his computer science diploma in tow – he safely made his way to Mexico City with no plan except to get out and get out safely. He eventually made his way to Monterrey, then Nuevo Laredo where he crossed into the United States and was granted political asylum. All the while, Roberto felt like he had to “look over his shoulder” in fear that he would be forcefully taken back to Cuba. It wasn’t until he made it to Chicago did he feel somewhat safe. “I still feared for my daughter and my mother. I could not contact them at all during this time,” says Roberto.

Once he was officially granted the right to stay by a judge, Roberto was ready to begin his life anew. An information technology professional with well over 20 years of experience, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Universidad La Habana – he was one of the lucky ones in Cuba. However, he knew no one in Chicago. All the English he knew was fully self-taught. He needed help. Once he had internet access, he connected with World Relief and Refugee Social Services. “They helped me with everything, everything, everything,” says Roberto. “From helping me get Medicaid, get my social security card, seeing a doctor. Everything.”

As an IT aficionado, Roberto wanted to get back to work more than anything. Knowing his passions and his talents would best fit within the world of IT, WorldRelief connected him with National Able Network and IT Career Lab. Roberto quickly signed up for his courses and was hired as an IT intern while he studied for his Cisco Certified Network Associate certification (CCNA). Roberto says, “At National Able Network, I’ve learned how to better relate to people. I’ve learned about the culture, the true discipline and hard work here. That’s the most important thing.”

Roberto earned his CCNA and is currently in job search mode, so that he’s well established enough to bring his daughter to America. “In Cuba you don’t have a life, you simply survive. Here, my daughter will have more opportunities. She’ll be able to study what she wants. The United States has hope.”

*This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated by the author.