Roberto Gonzalez has been hooked on fishing since he was about six years old.
“My father saw something in me, he just knew I liked fishing and the first time we fished, it was with a handline, like the old Cuban way he used to say,” Gonzalez said.
His parents left Cuba, fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime in 1959. The couple first arrived in Florida and then traveled through the U.S.
Gonzalez was born in Indiana and the family ultimately decided to move to Connecticut for job opportunities.
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“I’m very proud of being a Cuban. Cubans have done so much in sports, business, arts and influenced a lot of the culture in history,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez works at Connecticut River Academy, one of the magnet schools under Goodwin University. In 2010, there were discussions about creating a fishing club. He quickly volunteered to lead the group.
“So, I have been doing that for 12 years now,” Gonzalez said. “I teach them how to cast, put the bait on the hook, how to use different lures and the kids love it, they love being outside.”
Students say they look forward to the teamwork and peace the sport brings them.
“It calms me down when I’m stressed,” junior David Snellenberger said.
“Sometimes, a line gets wrapped up with another one and you have to work together to take it off,” sophomore David Colon said.
The high school students meet twice a week on the dock for 45 minutes. On occasion, they go out fishing on the school’s vessel.
“My goal is to just introduce them to the outdoors and different wildlife, and we are on the river so why not use this resource?” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez contributes both in and out of the classroom. He was recognized as the 2021-22 paraprofessional of the year for CRA and the district.
“It feels great, it just tells me I'm doing something important, and it validates the way I feel about my job. It’s nice to be recognized,” Gonzalez said.
He said he enjoys connecting with the Latinx community at Connecticut River Academy. School officials say over 45% of the student population is of Hispanic background.
“It feels nice because then you know you are not the only one, you are not alone,” Colon said.
As a Cuban-American serving the East Hartford community, he has one message during Hispanic Heritage Month.
“Just remember your roots, honor your parents, honor where they came from, honor your ancestors, honor your relatives, know even if you were born in this country but you come from that background, it makes you a unique person that can add to the improvement of this country overall,” Gonzalez said.