By Gabby Alfveby
2022 marks the 55th anniversary of when Isabela Alonso boarded a freedom flight to Miami to escape her communist home country of Cuba. Born in San Antonio de los Banos, as an immigrant Alonso had to find her way by paving her own path in the United States.
Alonso left Cuba on June 22, 1967, and when she entered the United States with her husband and daughter, she was unemployed and spoke little English. It was hard to find occupations in Miami, so they moved to Chicago where some of her husband’s family had lived.
“So, in Miami when we see there is no way to make a living, find jobs, we call him and he said ‘yeah come over,’” Alonso said.
Alonso and her family were given a place to live by her husband’s cousin.
“We stayed in his house for maybe one night or two, that’s it. And then they got us an apartment with furniture and everything. We had an apartment with a bedroom, a bed, everything I needed.”
Shortly after her arrival, she began to search for jobs, but didn’t care what job she got because she was thankful that she had the opportunity to live a better life than she had in Cuba.
“So, for me, any job, anything that I would get, it was like, ‘wow incredible, that’s so good,’” Alonso said.
“My first job was working in a shoe factory. I’ve never been in a factory before.”
She had never had a job prior to her immigrating to the United States, so the experience was completely new to her.
“I never worked in Cuba. I went to school and did some work on my house,” Alonso said.
Alonso is highly optimistic even though she struggled to adjust to society.
“In my case, I don’t see it as a struggle because I’m such an up person. I always see the glass half full. I never see it half empty,” Alonso said.
Alonso had many jobs while residing in Chicago before moving to Saint Augustine in 1979 where she eventually opened her own boutique. In Cuba, she gained skills in clothing making. She even sewed her daughter’s dresses which hang on the wall of her store today.
“The dresses, those were in Cuba. I made those for my daughter in Cuba, in sixty probably ‘sixty-three, ‘sixty-four, something like that,” Alonso said.
Cuba had restrictions on clothing and other goods. If citizens wanted more, they had to make it themselves.
“We make anything. We don’t go and buy it we just make it.”
Alonso’s boutique was eventually remodeled to be a Cuban cigar bar in 2007. Isabela’s ‘Bar Cuba’ is located in downtown Saint Augustine at 19 Cuna St.
Alonso’s boutique has allowed her to enjoy her new life in the United States and caused a growth in her strong hatred for communism.
“Communism destroyed everybody’s dreams…everybody [wanted to] be somebody. [Communists] don’t let you make money. Communism looks good on paper, but not in reality,” Alonso said.
Immigrants are often misunderstood and stereotyped, but people never realize how hard their lives are and that many have no choice but to leave their impoverished countries.
“[People] are afraid because they don’t know [immigrants]. So, they are afraid of what they don’t know…I didn’t let it get in my head or mess me up or anything like that.”
Alonso remains positive as she runs her business and proudly supports for herself.
Isabela’s Bar Cuba is opened every day from 10am-10pm. For more information, visit www.isabelasbarcuba.com.