Photo by Lucila Santiago ’21
José Socarras ’21 emigrated from Cuba to the United States when he was 2 years old. He and his mother followed his father, who had secured exit only for himself a year earlier and had to apply to bring the rest of his family in hopes of starting a new life together in America.
They came because while opportunities were scarce in Cuba, they were abundant on the continent. The family settled in Louisville, which has one of the fastest- growing Cuban populations in the country, joining relatives who could assist them in getting established. The language barrier meant Socarras’ parents could not return to the professions they had in Cuba. His father, an artist, took up work in landscaping and in factories, though he kept a small art studio to continue his passion. His mother, a pharmacist, found employment in housekeeping at a local seminary.
“My parents always wanted to come here and knew it would be best for me in terms of education and environment,” Socarras said. “Coming here was a huge difference, especially in terms of housing and food. In Cuba, there are a lot of shortages. The markets may not have chicken for three or four days. I was blessed and lucky to be able to come here at a young age.”
Socarras joined his parents in United States citizenship at age 9. Growing up helping his father with art projects, it was only natural, when it came time for college, for Socarras to pursue an art degree. To go, however, he would need scholarships. Socarras earned a scholarship to a state university, but it was not enough to cover the expense fully, and Socarras feared his dream of obtaining a college education would not come true. Then he learned of Berea College.
I know the amount I’m giving might not be extraordinary, but giving that little bit encourages others to join, and collectively, we can all give back.
“If not for Berea,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in college. I wouldn’t have the funds to attend. Berea really changes people’s lives.”
Berea did not change his mind about what he wanted to be, but the College did change his mind about how he wanted to be it. As a younger artist, he dreamed of fame and wealth, but his experience at school is persuading him toward new, nobler horizons.
“I want to do something with nonprofits, specifically with disadvantaged or troubled youth,” he said. “I want to use art to help them as art has helped me in so many of my own situations and conflicts.”
Since attending Berea, giving back has become a central theme in Socarras’ life. He lists this desire as the reason he donates a small amount of his paycheck back to the College.
“I want to use the opportunity Berea has given me to work and study here to give back to my community and to future generations of Bereans. I know the amount I’m giving might not be extraordinary, but giving that little bit encourages others to join, and collectively, we can all give back.”