By Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES — Luis Alberto Rios is 40 years old, he’s been living in Prague for two years. Like him, there are many Cubans in different parts of the world looking for a better place to live. There are many things that lead them to emigrate, even risking their lives in the crossing. Then they have to adapt themselves to difficult situations in order to survive.
HT: How did you get to the Czech Republic?
Luis Alberto: I decided to sell my house in Cuba, I used to live in Havana, in the town of Guanabacoa. My ex-partner and I had planned to leave the country but we didn’t know where to exactly. Until we traveled to Russia, then to Serbia, then Hungary; they arrested us there, my ex had gone the wrong way and we had to ask for political asylum, four months later I decided to go to Prague. As soon as I arrived, I was given documents to get residency, I was treated extremely well by the immigration officers there, I’m very thankful for that. This country is quite flexible when it comes to Cubans. People from other Latin American countries have to get married or find a way to stay, we Cubans receive a great number of benefits and very quickly.
HT: Do many Cubans live in Prague?
LA: There are some, not many and we’re not a close-knit group. There are several businesses that have Cuban names like, for example, “La Bodeguita del Medio” and “La Macumba”, but the owners are Czech. There aren’t any Cubans who have businesses here. Our community is quite spread out.
HT: Where do you live and what’s your job here?
LA: I live in a rented house with a Cuban woman, we met on Facebook, she was living in Spain and decided to come here. Before that, I met a Czech woman but it was very hard to live together, we didn’t understand each other. I work in a restaurant, I enjoy what I do, I am financially secure.
HT: Have you adapted to life here? Do you like Prague?
LA: I feel great here. In the beginning, it was hard to find a job, I was five months living off of the State, the benefits I got were for housing and food. This language is the fourth most difficult in the world, you don’t just learn it overnight. I’m thinking about staying here in spite of the cold temperature. We Cubans aren’t very well suited to too much cold, but I have to work, I don’t have anybody else to help me. I love the city, Prague is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world. My job is on one of the corners of Wenceslas Square, this boulevard is the city’s cultural and commercial hub and one of its main attractions.
People in Prague are human beings like the rest of us, there are good and bad just like everywhere else; some are racists, xenophobes, sometimes foreigners are frowned upon. If you know their language they treat you well, some identify themselves with Cubans because of our music, dance, Fidel. Immigrants are frowned upon everywhere.
HT: There are cases of murder and violence in every country in the world, is Prague relatively safe?
LA: The streets are very safe. I haven’t seen anyone being cheated and at least I haven’t heard about any violent events, robberies either.
HT: What did you used to do in Cuba?
LA: I was a cartoonist, dancer, and then I dedicated myself to teaching bodybuilding. I had to get my pre-university title recognized here, in Czech, so that I could start working. In Cuba, I used to work in illegal activities a lot of the time so that I could get by because my salary wasn’t enough to live off at all.
HT: Have you thought about going back?
LA: No I haven’t, I don’t have anybody there, my parents died, I don’t have brothers or sisters or aunts, my friends have all left for other countries. Not having anybody has its advantages but it also has its shortcomings, sometimes I feel very alone. I don’t plan on going back, unfortunately, migration is one of the most difficult problems that humanity faces and the main reason for people leaving is to find a better life. I found this in Prague.