As a young lawyer trained in Cuba, Giselle G. San Roman never imagined that one day she’d be working in Alabama. Now the 25-year-old is learning the ins-and-outs of U.S. law, thanks to the Society Mobile-La Habana, a nonprofit developing Sister City links between the towns.
San Roman entered the picture through an aunt in Cuba, who had met a visiting member of the Society and married him. When a fellow Society member traveled to Havana, he reached out to his colleague’s Cuban family. Over a home-cooked dinner, the visiting lawyer met Giselle, talked shop and invited her for an internship. She liked the experience so much that she earned a master’s in U.S. law at Loyola University in New Orleans (magna cum laude) and now works as a paralegal in Moble. She aims to take the Alabama bar exam soon.
The Mobile lawyer who showed her such southern hospitality: Grey Redditt Jr., the current president of Society Mobile-La Habana. “Life takes unexpected turns,” said San Roman, dressed in a black pants suit, the attire typical in U.S. law offices. “Grey is an example for me in every way,” said the University of Havana Law School graduate. “He and his wife have always treated me like family.”
Over 24 years, the Society has forged wide-ranging Mobile-Cuba links from law and diplomacy to historic preservation, business and music. It has hosted top-level Cubans in Mobile such as Havana’s historian, Havana’s city planner, Cuba’s Methodist archbishop, the president of Cuba’s largest Jewish synagogue, physicians, environmental specialists, and Cuba’s ecumenical choir. Recent Cuban guests include diplomat Carlos Alzugaray, TV anchor Cristina Escobar, and economist Juan Triana. Hundreds of Americans have also visited Cuba through the Society, some bringing medical supplies.
The Mobile nonprofit helped create the U.S.-Cuba Sister City Association, which now includes such partnerships as Pittsburgh-Matanzas, Oakland-Santiago, and Madison-Camagüey, among others.
Today, the Society Mobile-La Habana has more than 50 active members, with a board of directors that meets monthly and activities that are usually offered each quarter. Redditt said he joined, “because it’s fun to be exposed to different cultures, economic systems, and ways of thinking.”
Redditt developed an interest in Latin America as a child, when his father traveled the region for work and “would send back cases of pineapple.” Visiting Cuba for many years, he’s most impressed by the people: “I’ve been all over the world, and I’ve never met anyone so universally friendly, open, and accepting.”
Long-time member and port official Maria Conchita Mendez appreciates how the Society takes its mission personally and to heart—the way Redditt did with Giselle. “We’re a living, breathing organization,” said Mendez. “We’re always trying to bring knowledge and friendship and to build bonds.”