Finding Home a World Away: Caribbean

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A report by Abby Ledoux and Jeff Balke for Houstonia Magazine.

Three immigrants from the Caribbean share their stories.

Carla Poli

Jamaica

Poli was supervisor of entertainment at a Jamaican resort in Trelawny when she met a couple who danced at a popular studio here. She so impressed them that they suggested she pursue a career in the States. Understandably skeptical, Poli waited two years “until one day it just hit me like a ton of bricks,” she says. “I was like, ‘that’s it.’ I put in my notice and booked a ticket to Houston.” That was 2006. She meant to stay for a week, but that quickly turned into six months, during which she learned ballroom dance. And within a year she was a two-time U.S. ballroom champion.

By 25, though, her body was ready for retirement. Out from under pounds of stage makeup, she decided it was time to take better care of her skin and booked an amazing facial at the Aveda Institute. That inspired her to become “an advocate for the skin,” and after earning four licenses with Aveda, today she is the lead esthetician at Hiatus Spa. Had she stayed in Jamaica, Poli would likely be working in the family business sewing uniforms for schools. “I would’ve been okay,” she says, “but life is a journey, and you don’t grow in your comfort zone. Houston has so many opportunities. I believe that there are no limits.” —AL

At the age of 4 Acevedo left Cuba for Los Angeles with his family as political refugees. He grew up to become a patrol officer for the California Highway Patrol before being named Austin’s chief of police. In 2016 he became Houston’s first Hispanic police chief, and its most progressive one, too—throughout his tenure here, Acevedo has been an ally of immigrants and the LGBTQIA community, among other groups, and has been outspoken on gun control. In a 2018 Twitter thread, he posted a photo of himself in Cuba with his older sister and wrote, “I can’t help but wonder how life would have turned out for us if we had been marginalized, separated & or treated like criminals.” His record in Houston hasn’t been perfect, but overall Acevedo is respected here, and rightly so, thanks to his emphasis on community policing. —JB

 

Yordan Alvarez

Cuba 

Alvarez was a baseball phenom as a child, cheered to success by his dad. In 2015 the family traveled to the Dominican Republic, where he found a trainer to help hone his game, secure tryouts, and otherwise prepare him for Major League Baseball. The following year Alvarez defected from Cuba and established permanent residence in Haiti before being signed by the Dodgers. The Astros, however, had been watching him for a couple of years, and a few months later they made a trade for the first baseman and outfielder. It was an excellent call.

Alvarez blasted his way through the Astros’ minor league system before becoming one of the team’s most important offensive players in the 2019 season. The 22-year-old may still be learning English, but he set the team record for rookie homers, with 27 in only about half a season. The American League named him 2019 Rookie of the Year. Alvarez’s family is still in Cuba, but his dad told MLB.com he always finds a way to watch his son, even if it’s a couple of days later when he can get his hands on video. —JB

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