Behind the Story Podcast Series
Nikki Gamer: Hi everyone, this is Nikki Gamer for Catholic Relief Services. And welcome back to Behind the Story, a podcast series that invites you to celebrate the people behind 75 years of our history—the people we serve, our partners, our staff … and especially the supporters, like you, who make our work possible. In our last episode we spoke to Donal Reilly, our director for humanitarian response, about how we’ve become a leader in emergency response. But today, we’ll be talking about a little-known piece of our history—one that helped more than 100,000 people right here in the U.S.
Nikki Gamer: We’ll be talking about the 1960s, when CRS worked with other Catholic agencies, and churches across the United States, to welcome and support Cuban refugees. From our office in Miami’s Freedom Tower, CRS registered more than 124,000 Cuban refugees and resettled more than 57,000 between 1961 and 1965. Thousands of them were unaccompanied children. This was our last refugee resettlement project in the United States. We’ll be talking to the Trujillo family about their experiences … Michael Trujillo, a relationship manager in our Church Engagement department, and his parents, Annie and Raul Trujillo of Atlanta, who were both helped by CRS in the early 60s.
Nikki Gamer: Annie, Raul, Michael Trujillo, welcome to Behind the Story. We are so glad to have you.
Raul Trujillo: Oh, thank you for having us.
Nikki Gamer: All right, so I’ve noticed you have a very playful dynamic. And so I wanted to just start with Michael. Tell us about your parents.
Michael Trujilo: Yes, my parents have been together for more than 50 years, but I think what’s awesome about them is they can be serious when they need to, but also be fun when they need to. So sometimes I’ll come up here to watch the Latin awards shows, and my mom and I will dance, but then we can also be serious, and then we can go and celebrate God at Mass or different cultural celebrations.
Nikki Gamer: Wow. Okay. Fifty-four years of marriage, Raul and Annie. Raul, how does a relationship last for so long?
Annie Trujillo: A miracle.
Raul Trujillo: I give her a medal for patience and understanding, but I mean, it’s been great.
Nikki Gamer: I see you shaking your head, Annie. What’s your take? How have you lasted?
Annie Trujillo: Well, I think you had to learn how to listen more than talk, have to remember only the things really made you get together and pray a lot.
Nikki Gamer: Yeah, faith plays an important part of your family. Does anybody want to talk about that?
Michael Trujillo: My Dad is the official prayer person anytime we get together as a family.
Nikki Gamer: All right, Dad, you’re up.
Raul Trujillo: I think the faith has been ingrained in our lives from when we were kids. We both went to Catholic schools.
Raul Trujillo: When we came to United States, I think we saw the fact that the Church in Atlanta was really kind of a small community. We’re only three percent of the population of Atlanta, and we were involved in some of the activities, especially when the Cuban exiles came to Atlanta.
Nikki Gamer: Annie, do you have anything to add?
Annie Trujillo: I think what really kept us together, it was the same faith and practicing the same faith—we didn’t have to fight for that. That you have problems like everybody else, but faith put us in the same road to keep on going.
Nikki Gamer: All right, so Annie, I want to talk for a minute about your arrival to the United States. So tell us how old you were, and tell us what that journey was like for you. Were you alone, or were you with other family?
Annie Trujillo: When I first arrived in the United States, I was 18, and I went directly to Miami where family friends of my mom told me to come over, and, you know, we can be there tilI find something else. And then, you know, I was looking for jobs.
Nikki Gamer: Now, did you speak English?
Annie Trujillo: Very little. I could read and write, but it was the hardest thing for me.
Nikki Gamer: What were you feeling at the time when you first made that journey?
Annie Trujillo: I felt very lonesome. Even though I, you know, went to her house, and I know everybody, and there were a lot of people, but, you know, you can be lonesome among 100 people. But, at the same time, I knew then I will see my parents soon, and I think that kept me going.
Nikki Gamer: Because they were going to come after?
Annie Trujillo: Yeah. Hopefully. And I always have that hope, you know, in front of me. I say it, “they’re coming, they’re coming.”
Nikki Gamer: All right. So, so when you got to the U.S., when you arrived in Miami, how did you get resettled?
Annie Trujillo: Okay, the next day after I got to Miami, they told me I had to go to the refugee center, and the first thing they say, “What denomination are you?” And I told them Catholic, and they send me to Catholic Relief Services.
Nikki Gamer: That’s amazing. So, CRS helped you at this time, at this incredibly difficult time in your life. And now your son works for CRS. That’s just a crazy coincidence.
Annie Trujillo: And that’s the way I found out. Then that was the agency who helped me, because Michael saw a letter they sent me to give me the waiver to be sent to my parents. And Michael said, look, “This is the same company I work for!”
Nikki Gamer: Wow. So Raul, now tell us about your journey here into the U.S.
Raul Trujillo: In my case, it was my uncle who was already left Cuba with his family. That time in Cuba, I was working, also studying architecture at the University of Havana. In order to leave Cuba, I had to quit both my work and my studies.
Raul Trujillo: So finally in September ’62, I left Cuba, arrive in Miami, there was my uncle waiting for me.
Raul Trujillo: I could not go to live in his house because his house was packed with people. So he gave me a little money—I think $2, $3 in a little envelope—and said that there’s some coins that you can call me if you need something because you might need to find … also, he tried to find me a room at a hotel, actually rented a bed at a hotel. I was 23 at the time.
Raul Trujillo: I learned that we can go to the refugee center, which was located at the Freedom Tower, downtown Miami. And I was interviewed. There were four agencies really helping the Cuban refugees. And one of them was Catholic. The other one was a Protestant, another Jewish. And then when they assigned me to the Catholic—because I was a Catholic.
Raul Trujillo: I was interviewed and later on, as Annie said, years later, I realized and I found out that these letters that they had next to the interview were C-R-S–that’s Catholic Relief Services. So here we are. Michael. Years later there was the guy who was really involved now with Catholic Relief Services.
Nikki Gamer: That’s an incredible story. So both of you were resettled by CRS and Michael now works for CRS. So what I hear in your stories is this idea that refugees, they have to leave everything behind, completely change their lives.
Raul Trujillo: Yeah, I think that’s important really too, because nobody really wants to leave their country and their families and friends and all that. Really, when I was in Cuba, I really never expected to be living in the United States.
Michael Trujillo: I think what’s amazing about the American community is that we’re a loving community. I think it’s amazing when I travel the Southeast, I see people opening their hearts and minds to migrants and refugees.
Michael Trujillo: All migrants and refugees want is to build a better life for themselves. All people here in the United States want to build a better life for themselves. So when they see that we are exactly the same, we should not let the place that you’re born determine the person that you are going to be.
Nikki Gamer: Michael, tell me about how your parents’ journey here to the U.S. has shaped your own life, because you were born here.
Michael Trujillo: I feel like I grew up in a bicultural community, so family being Cuban, but then my studies were all in English, and many of my friends were American, anywhere, African American, Asian American, Latin American.
Michael Trujillo: My parents have been able to thrive here in the United States. They’ve been able to be productive in this community, just like many of the other migrants, refugees that have arrived here in the United States. So I feel like their journey helped shape me. No one’s going to hand you something. You have to go look for a job, you have to go look and apply to different schools. So I think, you know, they fought for what they had and just kind of gives me that drive to continue fighting not only for me but to help others learn how to fight.
Nikki Gamer: Is that why you work for CRS now?
Michael Trujillo: Definitely. I work for CRS because it’s an organization that’s helping to fight for other people. And it’s helping people to get those skills and tools to better themselves.
Nikki Gamer: When you hear how, how deeply felt your mom is about being Cuban and Cuban-American, what comes up for you?
Michael Trujillo: I’ll start to cry sometimes, and she starts to cry. Going to a celebration we have each year … It’s Our Lady of Charity. It’s a Catholic celebration we have here. I see the Cubans come together to pray, but also see the Cubans come together to recognize the beauty of the Cuban culture. And I just see the Cuban community just smiling, laughing, eating some pastries together, singing songs together.
Michael Trujillo: And it’s just, it’s awesome. And I know that once this generation gets a little bit older and older, maybe unable to travel and move, I know that my siblings and I need to be the one to carry that banner to represent our Cuban culture. We can’t forget where we’re from. The Catholic Church is the organization that gave my parents hope. And I hope and pray that Catholics will continue to be that source of hope for migrants and refugees.
Nikki Gamer: Michael, Annie, Raul … Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
Raul Trujillo: Thank you for having us.
Nikki Gamer: Join us next month when we talk about a very difficult time … April 1994 … when the Rwandan genocide shocked the world—and pierced the heart of the CRS family. Until then, check us out online at 75.crs.org. And don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast. Thank you.
Find out about the surprises we uncovered when the Catholic community in the United States welcomed thousands of Cuban refugees in the 1960s.