Founder, Cubans in Boston
Director, ALPFA Boston Coaching Mentoring Program
Director, Boston Celtics Jr. Celtics Academy
By: Frank Morris Lopez
Awards & Recognitions:
Hero of the Match: New England Revolution, 2021
Amplifier of the Year: Amplify Latinx, 2021
Hispanic Star: Ambassador, 2021
Vice President: Lasell University Alumni Association, 2021
Torchbearer Award: Recognition of remarkable achievement in Athletics, Academics, and Leadership at Lasell University, 2017
Lasell Bowl Award: Noteworthy contributions to campus life at Lasell University, 2017
Commencement Speaker: 163rd Lasell University Graduation, 2017
Dean’s List, 2016
July 11, 2021 marked a historic day for Cuba. That’s when thousands of Cubans across the island took to the streets to demand change. “Patria y Vida,” they shouted. “Country and Life.” It was a chant, inspired by a song of the same name, meant to directly oppose the Cuban regime’s official motto of “Patria o Muerte,” or “Country or Death.”
Yordan Villalon, a Cuban native living in Watertown, watched with the world as demonstrations unfolded. He saw groups gathering to support the Cuban people in New York, New Jersey, his adoptive home of Miami and more. “But I didn’t see a space for Cubans here in Boston to gather,” he said. “I knew something had to happen. I wanted to create a space.”
Villalon had no idea what was about to transpire. It started with some posts on social media, followed by outreach to local media outlets. Less than 48 hours later, Villalon found himself surrounded by more than 100 Cubans in Copley Square showing up to support Cubans on the island, as well as each other.
“Cars were driving by with flags, people asking how to get involved. It was a magical moment, really,” he recalled. “People were in tears talking about their experiences, their family. It was everything I hoped it would be. I knew we were here. It was awesome.”
From there, the group Cubans in Boston was formed. As the founder and facilitator of the group, Villalon has had to separate himself from his emotions.
When Villalon moved to the U.S. with his mother, father and brother — after winning a visa lottery in 1999 — he left behind his extended family, and that was the ultimate sacrifice, he said. “The first person I remember loving was my grandmother. The last thing she told me was, ‘What are you waiting for? Leave.’ I never saw my grandmother again.”
It’s because of the dictatorship on the island that Villalon says he missed out on those last 16 years of his grandmother’s life before she passed away. “It’s why I’m so motivated on liberating Cuba.”
Since July 11 last year, Villalon has collaborated with other leaders across the country, as well as the older generation of Cuban leaders in Boston, to bolster the group’s efforts. He’s given presentations at Boston College and Harvard University, attended legislative meetings, organized events and launched petitions. Today, the group has hundreds of members, as Villalon also works to welcome and mentor new arrivals to Massachusetts.
“A free Cuba will be the deed of our generation,” Villalon said, and he urges other Cubans to “believe in that.”
“Tell your story or somebody else will tell it for you,” he said. “Stand for what you believe in. And patria y vida.”