Ramon Morales, a Cuban refugee, laughs as he talks at his home in Hixson. Morales received money from the Neediest Cases Fund to help pay his rent.Staff Photo by Jake Daniels
Ramon Morales left Cuba for a better future, not only financially, but one in which his family could live freely and express themselves without fear.
"In Cuba, you don't have any rights," he said in Spanish, sitting in his Hixson apartment. "There was a time in 1989, 1990, when you didn't even have food, when there wasn't electricity for most part of the day."
He spent two years in prison in the 1990s for placing signs that read "Abajo Fidel," or "Down With Fidel [Castro]," Cuba's former president and dictator, and "Estamos Matando al Pueblo de Hambre," or "We Are Killing the People of Hunger."
And once you've been identified as being against the government in Cuba, you are never really free, he said.
"In Cuba there's no future," said Morales, 42.
Morales applied for political asylum in 2005 and arrived in Chattanooga five years later on March 24. His wife, Erelis Marquez, came with him, as did his stepson, Jorge Gallo, who was allowed to come for humanitarian reasons.
Despite experiencing the freedom they never had in their home country, they have had some difficulties in their new life.
Morales started working odd jobs and in asbestos removal, but he said pain from his left hip, which had been replaced 16 years earlier in Cuba, became unbearable. In August, he had his hip replaced for the second time.
The couple lives off Erelis Marquez's income at Pilgrim's Pride and her son's help, but he now lives on his own and has his own bills to pay, Morales said.
As refugees, they get help from the local resettlement agency, Bridge Refugee and Sponsorship Services, including a place to live and help finding employment.
They also receive cash assistance and short-term medical insurance for up to eight months after their arrival, according to Tennessee Office for Refugees.
Morales said they've been managing well with the help of friends, but this month they simply didn't have enough to cover their $650 monthly rent.
"People have helped us a lot since we got here," said Morales. He points to his television set, to the living room sofas and kitchen table. Everything, he said, has been given to them.
He was referred by an acquaintance to the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults for help and, that same day, the agency pledged $150 from the Times Free Press Neediest Cases Fund.
Morales said he hopes to start working soon, also at Pilgrim's Pride, and is just waiting for an opening in his wife's shift so they can drive together.
"I want to work," he said. "We came here to work."
Contact Perla Trevizo at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6578. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Perla_Trevizo.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...