Identical twins Dariel and Damian Brunelis Fuentes have spent their lives in lockstep with one another, from their first tentative steps as toddlers in Cuba to the triumphant walk they are about to take across the University of Louisville Spring 2022 Commencement stage.
The trek in between has been filled with hard work and dreams fulfilled for these immigrants who arrived in Louisville at age 16 in 2015 knowing little English. Their path has been an education that went beyond the walls of their UofL classrooms.
Their journey started with their mother, Ilsa Brunelis, who wanted a better future for her sons than they might have had under the Cuban communist dictatorship. Her sister was living in Louisville and sung its praises. With a vibrant Cuban community to be their support system, the family could still become immersed in the American experience.
Through Louisville’s Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM), the twins entered Jefferson County Public Schools’ Newcomer Academy for English language learners in middle and high school. They met other students also new to the United States. They later attended Academy at Shawnee and, after a meeting with UofL Admissions Executive Director Jenny Sawyer, they started taking dual-credit courses at UofL in 2017.
Both will graduate Saturday with degrees in chemical engineering. Dariel has accepted a job in Houston with his dream company, ExxonMobil, one of the companies where he worked as part of Speed’s co-op program. Damian is also moving to Texas; he will work in Dallas for Amazon as an operations manager.
Seven years after landing in Louisville, Ilsa Brunelis is seeing her American dream realized.
“She thinks she’s the one graduating,” joked Dariel.
The brothers have high praise for UofL’s professors and give back by volunteering as tutors to their fellow students. It is their mother who was the foundation of it all, they said.
“I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to leave a whole life, you know, 50 years in one country and go to another country where you don’t even know the language,” Damian added, “all to seek a better future for your kids.”
Both brothers spend their free time studying finance and investing to learn more about the U.S. economy. Damian also has a passion for dancing, while Dariel is into running and fitness.
“I never really felt like I was not going to make it. I always remained positive and I was like, you know, I’ll get through this,” Dariel said.
Louisville has the third largest Cuban population the country after Miami and Houston, according to KRM’s Adrienne Eisenmenger, who is the nonprofit’s family and youth services manager. She called the brothers “rock stars.”
“They got into Speed School and both just excelled,” Eisenmenger said. “It’s been a joy just working with them and watching them.”
More about Dariel and Damian below: