ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – During the pandemic, one voice has stood out during the press conferences that Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings offers to give updates, not only because of his considerable expertise but because it is both in English and Spanish: Dr. Raúl Pino, the director of the Florida Health Department for the county, the first Latino to do so.
His paused and well-mannered style of delivering information has made him a valuable source of information in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. He has often been at odds with the mandates imposed by the Florida government, but at one time he had to confront a very different–and more dangerous–government.
Pino was born in Ciego de Ávila, a small city in the center of Cuba. His mother was a housewife that raised the family and his father was a Supreme Court judge. At 12, he was sent to boarding school, forever away from his family, and when he could he would visit his grandmother, a rural curandera (healer) that actually inspired him to study medicine.
He enrolled in medical school at the University of Havana, where he got his Doctorate in Medicine. He wanted to learn how to treat burn victims, so he enlisted in the Army, the only place where he could get that kind of education. He also trained as a plastic surgeon in the Naval Hospital in Havana. Like so many Cubans, after a while, he decided he needed to leave the island, so one night he and a group of people would try to escape by boat.
In an interview in 2020, he told how, right before he would leave, a woman approached him insisting that he took her blood pressure. At first, he tries to blow her off, but the woman is persistent. He goes to take her pressure on the right arm, as is the custom in Cuba, but she directs him to her left, pulling up the sleeve of the sweater she’s wearing. On her arm, she has written a message: “Do not talk, be quiet, they are listening, do not leave, they are waiting for you.”
Pino was arrested later that night and detained for five days. He was interrogated but not harmed; nevertheless, when he was released he was discharged by the army. Without a job, he didn’t know what to do, until a friend told him about a program in the US Embassy that offered relocation to the United States to Cubans who were either kicked out of their job or dissenters. He applied, got elected, and he, his wife, and two children moved to Connecticut.
There he had to work several odd jobs, including picking berries, before being able to continue his studies, graduating from the University of Connecticut School of Medicine with a Master of Public Health degree. He eventually worked his way to the city, first being hired as an epidemiologist by the Connecticut Department of Public Health (CTDPH), and eventually getting to be, in 2015, appointed Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Public Health.
In 2019, Pino heard that Dr. Kevin Sherin had retired after 20 years of service in Orange County, Florida, so he decided it was time to relocate. In May of the following year, the Pinos made the move, and the doctor was shortly thereafter appointed Director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, where many have considered his ability to speak with the growing Hispanic community of Central Florida essential to navigating the pandemic.
Juan Carlo Rodriguez is a politics and entertainment reporter for Florida National News as well as the Content Coordinator for FNN News en Español. | firstname.lastname@example.org