ELIZABETH, NJ – Cuban voices could be heard throughout the hall June 7 when The Snyder Academy of Elizabethtown launched its latest project of capturing the immigrant experience in Elizabeth.

Citing that Elizabeth has always been a city of immigrants, Elliot Dee, the Academy’s program consultant, said, “Snyder Academy focuses on history, focuses on the Revolutionary War, on the colonial period. We wanted to do something different, to be a center for culture, history, and art in Elizabeth.”

Cuban Voices! Is the first step in making a permanent record of the immigrant involvement in shaping the city. Projects involving other immigrant groups will follow. The goal of these projects, said Dee, is to give people a sense of what immigrants go through as they make their way in their new country and to give insights of the experience of immigrants today. The first group examined were the ’59ers, those Cuban immigrants who left the island after the communist revolution.

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“The ’59ers were pioneers,” said Dee. “They came to Elizabeth as part of the first wave of immigration from Latin America. They helped to shape the character of Elizabeth.”

Maria Elena Bordas, the general manager of the aviation department at the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey, spoke of her firsthand experience leaving Cuba as a child in 1961. Her father was a superintendent of schools and her mother, a reading teacher, she said. Both were not communists and did not want to adhere to that system. Bordas spoke of what it felt like “to go from opulence to poverty, of what it felt like to be in America.”

“All of our stories are the same,” she continued. “We all left, and all of our stories are different. All of our stories need to be told.”   

A quartet from the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra performed selections of Spanish music.

The event was sponsored by the PSE&G Foundation.