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Employee shares life story as testament to contributions of Hispanic Americans

Published Sept. 27, 2019

The Dominican Republic dance, Bachata, and some Cuban cuisine all rounded out the Louisville District’s Hispanic Heritage Month observance, which is traditionally celebrated from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

Some 50 district personnel took part in a lunchtime observance to learn more about and honor the contributions of Hispanic Americans. 

“Our observances are not necessarily for people who are of this ethnicity, but it’s for people who are not, so that we can understand how much we have alike as well as some our differences,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Antoinette Gant. 

As a part of the Hispanic Heritage Month observance, Isaíd Cabrera, Engineering Division architect, shared his story of coming to America for a better life.

A native of Puebla, Mexico, a city known for its pottery, Isaíd and his family moved to New Jersey from Mexico in 1999. His oldest brother, Israel, was already here in law school. His family was not rich, but his mom always sent them to private schools, and they had their own house while living in Mexico. 

“We moved to the states; we had nothing but plastic bags with some clothing. I didn’t know the language. I didn’t fit in,” Cabrera said. “I stayed home, didn’t hang out, and I fell into a bad depression. For several years, I would just go to work, come back home, stay in bed and watch television.” 

According to Isaíd, his mother played a critical role in bringing him out of his bleak state.

“My mother used to walk in my room and say, ‘son sadness is in your mind. If you were busy working, going to school and getting things done for your life, you wouldn’t have time to be sad,’” Isaíd said of his mother’s guidance. “I just didn’t have the energy to do it.”

Isaíd elaborated more on not being a native-speaker of America. 

“At one job, many times I didn’t understand. I would get frustrated,” he said. “I would get the keys, walk into one of the empty rooms, and just go on my knees and cry, ‘God why is it that I cannot understand. Why am I so stupid? Why am I so dumb?” 

Isaíd finally took this frustration and used it as an energy to overcome his issues, troubles and woes he had. 

“One of the best things that happened to me was serving in the U.S. Army – it really showed me courage and strength as a person,” Cabrera said. “The war was happening, and I thought to myself, ‘I need to help out; I need to do something.’ So, I joined the Army Reserve. We got mobilized a few times to help out with the war; then I joined the National Guard.” 

Isaíd earned his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree with the assistance of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

“Now when you see me, I have a smile, and I am happy and positive,” Cabrera said. “This is what I took from my mom – the way she approaches life. Whatever you do in life, do your best at it.” 

Gant thanked Isaíd for sharing his story and told him that his mother was influential in letting him know there was a better life for him.

“You are a true example of what serving our nation is all about,” Gant said. “We don’t have to (accept and stay) where we are right now because that is not what we can become. You came to America, didn’t speak English, and now have a master’s degree in architecture.”

Isaíd worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C., and began working for the Louisville District in 2016. 

“We need more people like you in our world to help us understand how much we are alike,” Gant said. “Your story has touched me and is a testament that we can do anything we put our minds to in difficult times – the best is yet to come.”