THE ICON: Elise Cerniglia
THE LEGACY: When 20,000 Cubans fled their homeland for a new life in New Orleans in the 1960s, Elise Cerniglia stood ready to help them adjust to their new home. She was there again when 40,000 South Vietnamese came to New Orleans after fleeing their native country when it fell in April 1975. She found clothes, homes, food and jobs for the new arrivals, and she helped them earn degrees and start businesses. Cerniglia started this project in her home, but the initiative outgrew her house, so she rented space in a place she called the Catholic Cuban Relief Center. Working with Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, she set up the Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services, and she went to Washington to get federal money for the program. She also taught herself immigration law and became a certified legal representative, a title that let her represent immigrants in court — and continue her role in helping add to the constantly evolving cultural gumbo of New Orleans.
THE ARTIST: Michael McManus
THE INSPIRATION: “For a woman who did not go to law school and grew up in a time where others like her became homemakers, she broke through all the barriers to make sure those who were less fortunate had a chance at the American dream.” — Kristine Cerniglia, Elise Cerniglia’s granddaughter, in her grandmother’s Times-Picayune obituary.