Hope Fund: Cuban refugee struggles to make life for herself in land of the freeBy Amanda Martinez
Tears well up in Emma Alonso del Monte’s eyes when she remembers her friends who died in Cuban jails, fighting for their country’s freedom.
One of the most recent was Orlando Zapata Tamayo, a political activist who died in jail in 2010 after an 80-day fast. Alonso del Monte reaches for a tissue when she remembers how his fight against the Castro regime led him to be tossed into jail for 36 years.
The Jacksonville woman knows she, too, could have become a casualty of Cuba’s prison system: Alonso del Monte was arrested in 2005 after protesting and handing out literature about human rights and racism.
Alonso del Monte’s anger rises when she speaks of the country she loves — one that was taken over by Fidel Castro more than 50 years ago, after which racism against Cuban blacks became more intense. Because she is black, she said, she was treated worse in prison and was abused daily.
“Fidel said he was for black people, but I’m telling you that that’s a lie,” said Alonso del Monte, her passion bringing her to her feet.
After she was imprisoned in 2005, Alonso del Monte continued her protest in jail, by singing and going on hunger strikes. She was routinely beaten for her dissent.
She was released from Cuban prison in 2007 and emigrated to the United States the next year.
But life was still a struggle. With a bad U.S. economy and her son, who lives in Miami, unable to provide for her, she couldn’t find a job and soon became homeless.
Now 60, Alonso del Monte is struggling to make ends meet here. Diabetic and working part-time as a cleaning lady, she gets paid $255 every 15 days and receives $200 in food stamps monthly.
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