Liliam Lujan Hickey is best known in the state of Nevada for being the first Hispanic woman elected to the State Board of Education serving from 1998 to 2000. For this, an elementary school in Clark County bears her name. Despite many obstacles, Liliam has continually dedicated herself to standing up for the causes she believes in, such as providing preschool education to the underprivileged, preparing youth to enter the workforce, helping other Hispanics run for office, and proving that with enough courage anyone can accomplish their dreams.
Born in Havana, Cuba in 1932, Liliam studied at a French Dominican school. She met her first husband, Enrique Lujan, when she was only sixteen and they wed soon after. Enrique was twelve years her senior, owned many casinos on the island, and provided a luxurious existence for Liliam and their three children. However, this lifestyle abruptly changed when Castro assumed power in 1959 and Liliam and her family were compelled to relocate to the United States.
After moving to the United States, the family was unable access their wealth in Cuba and left destitute. The family moved cross-country to San Diego in a Volkswagen Minivan with the hope for a better life. Liliam found a job working at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla. After a few years, Enrique found a job in Las Vegas and the family moved again. In Las Vegas, Liliam gave birth to her fourth child, Mary. In 1972, the situation grew worse with Enrique died unexpectedly and left Liliam was a widow at forty years of age. Liliam taught herself how to drive a car, write checks, and worked tirelessly to keep the family together.
After a friend introduced Liliam to Tom Hickey, a state legislator, and after a brief courtship they were married in 1981. Within a few years, Liliam became active in politics, running for the State Board of Education. During her time at the State Board of Education, Liliam dedicated herself to helping all children receive a better education in Nevada, not only Hispanics.
Liliam worked in a wide array of other community organizations. In the 1970s, she began to work with Circulo Cubano, which later became the Latin Chamber of Commerce, and she would later belong to the National Chamber of Commerce. A longstanding member of the League of Women Voters, Liliam saw the need to get Hispanics more involved in politics in the state.
The interview offers the reader a glimpse of the experiences of the Cuban refugee experience in the U.S. in general. Specific to Las Vegas, it provides a rare story of the experiences of early Latinas in the political and economic development of Las Vegas in the last half of the twentieth century.
Photo courtesy of Liliam Hickey.
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