A report by Greg Kocher for the Lexington Herald Leader.
What began as a hobby has become a second job for Luis David Fuentes.
As the Cuban population has grown in Louisville, so has the monthly Spanish-language magazine that Fuentes, 45, edits in the basement of his Frankfort home.
El Kentubano debuted in August 2009 as a 20-page tabloid with a print run of 1,000 copies. Today it has 64 pages and a print run of 10,000 copies. It is free to the public and appears on racks throughout Louisville, including at 38 Kroger stores.
Its purpose is simple: To connect Cuban refugees to their new Kentucky home.
“My main goal is to provide a good source of information, especially to the new arrivals,” Fuentes said. “I think I’m helping them have a smoother transition to a new society.”
Cubans are the fastest-growing immigrant population in Louisville. There were 2,300 Cubans in Jefferson County in 2000 and 9,200 in 2015, according to Census estimates provided by the Kentucky State Data Center. The New York Times reported last month that foreign-born Cubans account for 19 percent of the Louisville region’s Hispanic population, a greater share than any metropolitan area outside Florida.
Louisville officials predict that Cubans will soon surpass Mexicans as the city’s largest group of Hispanic immigrants.
Why the rapid growth? Part of the reason is that Kentucky Refugee Ministries and Catholic Charities have offices in Louisville and resettle many immigrants there.
The other factor behind the growth is that rent and property prices are less costly in Kentucky than in Miami, Fuentes said.
When he started the magazine in 2009, Fuentes didn’t have a crystal ball to see this rapid growth. But he noticed more Cuban groceries, restaurants and other businesses starting up, and he saw an opportunity to link them with customers and the larger English-speaking community.
And so, in the basement office of his Frankfort house, he began assembling a magazine on his computer, then sending the text and ads to a designer. The publication, printed in Shepherdsville, bears the “Kentubano” nickname he gave to his son, Luis, now 10, and daughter, Fernanda, now 12. Kentubano is a mixture of Kentucky and Cuba.
The magazine includes articles about art, sports, entertainment, real estate, health and history. The popular “Hot Potato” column poses a question (for example, ”What are you most enthusiastic about these days?”) to four people and prints their answers. While the magazine is primarily about Cubans for Cubans, it includes items for Mexicans and other Hispanic groups.
Marta Miranda-Straub, a native of Cuba who has lived in Kentucky for 25 years, said El Kentubano is an important link between Cuban-Americans and other Hispanics.
“Secondly, it serves our children to be able to have some context for our culture and to be able to understand it,” Miranda-Straub said. “Although you might be born in Kentucky, you are Kentubano. You’re not just American, you’re Cuban-American.”
When Cubans and other foreign nationals come to the United States, “It is like being born again,” Fuentes said. “Everything is new. New language, new weather (we hate winter), new jobs, new food, everything.”
Fuentes speaks from personal experience. Educated in Cuba as a mechanical engineer, he worked in Chile for a while and there met his Cuban-born wife, Yamilet. They came to Kentucky in 2000.
He got a job sweeping floors at Bekaert Corp., a Shelbyville factory that makes steel wire products, and eventually worked his way up to be an environmental coordinator for the company. Then he joined the state Division of Air Quality as an environmental engineer, a job he has been doing for 11 years. Yamilet is an interpreter for the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
The magazine has grown so much that Fuentes is thinking about resigning from his state job so he can devote more time as editor of El Kentubano.
As Cuban music played softly in his home office, Fuentes flipped through a thick notebook filled with the business cards of advertisers in his magazine: Realtors, car dealers, beauty salon owners, lawyers, handymen, restaurateurs.
“Cubans as a community are incredibly entrepreneurial,” Miranda-Straub said. “You have a very active community who comes here to try to recover from the devastation of Cuba. They came here seeking political freedom but also seeking opportunity to do their own business, to do their own independent work.”
Fuentes and his wife are also the owners of a Lexington restaurant, Old San Juan Cuban Cuisine. Yamilet’s parents run that eatery off Nicholasville Road.
Fuentes has no plans to distribute El Kentubano in Lexington; Fayette County had only 586 Cubans in 2015, according to Census estimates provided by the Kentucky State Data Center.
But he and his brother have a similar publication in Tampa called El Puente (“The Bridge”) that Fuentes hopes to expand to other cities in Florida. The magazine has similar content to the Kentucky magazine but its advertising reflects the Tampa area.
Meanwhile, all eyes are on Cuba-U.S. relations now that Fidel Castro is gone and Donald Trump assumes the presidency. Fuentes supports the improvement of relations between the two countries. Fidel’s brother, Raul Castro, is in charge in Cuba, but he is 85 years old.
“Once he is gone, I think everything will change drastically,” Fuentes said.