Cuba is an island nation located on the northern rim of the Caribbean Sea.
It is the largest of the Greater Antilles islands. To Cuba’s east
is the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Off the southeastern coast of Cuba lies Jamaica, and to the north is the
state of Florida. In 1992 Cuba had an estimated population of nearly 11
million. Since 1959, Cuba has been led by President Fidel Castro, whose
socialist revolution overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista. In the years
before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Cuba maintained a close political
and economic relationship with that nation. Cuba has had a distant and
antagonistic relationship with the United States. Sugar is the principal
export of Cuba, but the Cuban economy, by most accounts, is weak.
The Cuban people are descendants of Spanish colonizers and of African
slaves once employed in the sugar industry. Two-fifths of the Cuban
population is Roman Catholic. Nearly half report no religious affiliation.
Many of those who call themselves Catholics are also adherents of an
Afro-Cuban religious tradition known as
The official language of Cuba and the language spoken by nearly all
Cubans is Spanish.
The capital of Cuba is Havana, located on the northwestern coast of the
island. Nearly 20 percent of Cubans are city dwellers; most live in the
capital city. The United States, which has limited diplomatic
relations with Cuba, nonetheless maintains, against the Cuban
government’s wishes, a significant military presence in Cuba at the
Guantanamo Bay base on the southeastern coast of the island.
Cuba was colonized by the Spanish in 1511. Before colonization, the island
was inhabited by Ciboney and Arawak Indians. Shortly after colonization,
the native population was ravaged by disease, warfare, and enslavement,
causing their eventual extinction. Throughout the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, Cuba, like most of Spain’s Caribbean
possessions, received little attention from the imperial government.
Especially in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Spain lavished
attention on its mainland colonies in Central and South America and
ignored its island colonies. By the end of the seventeenth century, Spain
itself had begun to decline as a world power through financial
mismanagement, outmoded trade policies, and continued reliance on
exhausted extractive industries. Spain’s colonies suffered during
this period. Then the British captured Havana in 1762 and encouraged the
cultivation of sugar cane, an activity that would dominate the economy of
the area for centuries to come.
The need for labor on the sugar and tobacco plantations and in raising
livestock, which had been the area’s first major industry, resulted
in the growth of African slavery. Lasting only ten months before Spain
resumed control, Britain’s rule was of short duration. However, in
this brief period North Americans had become buyers of Cuban goods, a
factor that would contribute greatly to the wellbeing of the island
In the next 60 years, trade increased, as did immigration from Europe and
other areas of Latin America. The introduction of the steam-powered sugar
mill in 1819 hastened the expansion of the sugar industry. While the
demand for African slaves grew, Spain signed a treaty with Britain
agreeing to prohibit the slave trade after 1820. The number entering the
area did decrease, but the treaty was largely ignored. Over the next three
decades, there were several slave revolts, but all proved unsuccessful.
Cuba’s political relationship with Spain during this period became
increasingly antagonistic. Creoles on the island—those of Spanish
descent who had been born in Cuba and were chiefly wealthy landowners and
powerful sugar planters—bridled at the control exercised over them
in matters political and economic by colonial administrators from Europe.
These planters were also concerned about the future of slavery on the
island. They wanted to protect their investment in slaves and their access
to the cheap labor of Africa from zealous imperial reformers. At the same
time, black slaves in Cuba and their liberal white allies were interested
both in national independence and in freedom for the slaves. In 1895,
independence-minded black and white Cubans joined in a struggle against
Spanish imperial forces. Their rebellion was cut short by the intervention
of U.S. troops who defeated the Spanish in the Spanish-American War (1898)
and ruled Cuba for four years. Even after the end of direct U.S. rule,
however, the United States continued to exercise an extraordinary degree
of influence over Cuban politics and the Cuban economy. U.S.
interventionist policy toward Cuba aroused the resentment of many Cubans
as did the irresponsible and tyrannical governance of the island by a
succession of Cuban presidents.
That anger finally exploded in the late 1950s when a socialist guerrilla
army led by Fidel Castro launched an uprising against the brutal,
U.S.-supported dictator, Fulgencio Batista. Castro formed a socialist
government after taking control of the island, and, in the polarized world
of geopolitics during the Cold War, turned to the Soviet Union for
support. Cuba’s relationship with the United States has been cool
at best since Castro’s victory. The 1961 U.S.-sponsored Bay of Pigs
invasion, an unsuccessful attempt by the U.S. government and Cuban exiles
in the United States to overthrow Castro, was the first of many clashes.
The Cuban missile crisis of 1962, in which the United States successfully
resisted an attempt by the Soviet Union to place nuclear weapons in Cuba,
is also noteworthy.
Castro’s Cuba has over the years supported socialist revolutions
throughout the world. At home, Castro has used a heavy hand against
dissidents, imprisoning, executing, and exiling many who have opposed him.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba has lost its most important
trading partner and supporter. Castro’s Cuba is in dire economic
straits, and many wonder about the future of Castro’s regime.
SIGNIFICANT IMMIGRATION WAVES
The famous Cuban poet and dissident Jose Marti lived in exile in the
United States before returning to Cuba to lead the 1895 rebellion against
Spanish forces. In New York City, he strategized with other Cuban
opposition leaders and planned their return to Cuba as liberators. Not
more than 60 years later, Fidel Castro himself was an exile in the United
States. He too plotted a revolution in the country that would soon become
Cubans have had a long history of migrating to the United States, often
for political reasons. Many Cubans, particularly cigar manufacturers, came
during the Ten Years’ War (1868-1878) between Cuban nationals and
the Spanish military. Yet the most significant Cuban migrations have
occurred in the last 35 years. There have been at least four distinct
waves of Cuban immigration to the United States since 1959. While many,
perhaps most, of the earlier migrants were fleeing Cuba for political
reasons, more recent migrants are more likely to have fled because of
declining economic conditions at home.
The first of these recent migrations began immediately after
Castro’s victory and continued until the U.S. government imposed a
blockade of Cuba at the time of the Cuban missile crisis. The first to
leave were supporters of Batista. They were later joined by others who had
not been prominent Batista allies but who nonetheless opposed
Castro’s socialist government. Before the U.S government imposed
its blockade, almost 250,000 Cubans had left Cuba for the United States.
The second major migration started in 1965 and continued through 1973.
Cuba and the United States agreed that Cubans with relatives residing in
the United States would be transported from Cuba. The transportation of
migrants began by boat from the northern port of Camarioca and, when many
died in boat accidents, was later continued by plane from the airstrip at
Varadero. Almost 300,000 Cubans arrived in the United States during this
period. The third migration, known as the Mariel Boat Lift, occurred in
1980 after Castro permitted Cubans residing in the United States to visit
relatives in Cuba. The sight of well-to-do Cuban Americans coupled with an
economic downturn on the island prompted many to line up at the Peruvian
Embassy, which Castro had opened for emigration. The sheer numbers of
Cubans clamoring to leave led Castro to permit any Cubans wishing to
emigrate to leave by boat from the port of Mariel. Some 125,000 Cubans
took advantage of this opportunity.
As economic conditions have worsened since the fall of Cuba’s
principal economic supporter, the Soviet Union, more Cubans have left Cuba
Cuban refugees from the Mariel Boat Lift apply for permanent
residency in the United States.
makeshift boats for Florida. Since Castro decided not to impede the
departure of aspiring migrants, thousands of Cubans have left, many
perishing on the boat journey. U.S. President Bill Clinton has initiated a
policy of intercepting these migrants at sea and detaining them in centers
at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere in Latin America, a policy that has
outraged many in the Cuban American community.
These four migrations have brought substantial numbers of Cubans to the
United States. Over the years, just as the migration “push
factors” have changed, so has the composition of the migrant
population. While the earliest migrants were drawn from the highly
educated and conservative middle and upper classes—those who had
the most to lose from a socialist revolution—more recent migrants
have been poorer and less educated. In the past several decades, the
migrant population has come to look more like the Cuban population as a
whole and less like the highest socioeconomic stratum of that population.
According to the 1990 U.S. Census, there are nearly 860,000 persons of
Cuban descent in the United States. Of these, 541,000, or almost 63
percent of the total, live in Florida. Most of these live in Dade County,
where Miami is located. There are also sizable communities in New York,
New Jersey, and California. Together, these three states account for 23
percent of the Cuban American population. Florida, and Miami specifically,
is the center of the
Cuban American community. It is in Florida that the most significant
Cuban American political organizations, research centers, and cultural
institutions make their homes. The first Cubans to arrive in Florida
settled in a section of Miami known among non-Cubans as “Little
Havana.” Little Havana was originally that area to the west of
downtown Miami, bounded by Seventh Street, Eighth Street, and Twelfth
Avenue. But the Cuban American population eventually spread beyond those
initial boundaries, moving west, south, and north to West Miami, South
Miami, Westchester, Sweetwater, and Hialeah.
Many Cuban migrants moved even farther afield with the encouragement and
assistance of the federal government. The Cuban Refugee Program,
established by the Kennedy administration in 1961, provided assistance to
Cuban migrants, enabling them to move out of southern Florida. Almost
302,000 Cubans were resettled though the Cuban Refugee Program; however,
many have begun to return to the Miami area.
Return to Cuba has not been an option for Cuban Americans for political
reasons. Many early migrants hoped to return quickly after Castro was
ousted, but that ouster never happened. There are prominent and powerful
political organizations dedicated to ridding Cuba of Castro and setting up
a non-socialist government in Cuba. Recent surveys, however, have shown
that most Cuban Americans do not wish to return to Cuba. Fully 70 percent
said that they will not go back.
Acculturation and Assimilation
The Cuban American community is well assimilated in the United States.
Moreover, because of its size, it has significant political influence. In
1993, the Cuban American National Foundation lobbied against and
successfully prevented the Clinton administration from appointing an
undersecretary of state for Latin American affairs whom it opposed. Fully
78 percent of Cuban Americans had registered to vote in 1989 and 1990,
compared to 77.8 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans. Moreover, 67.2
percent of Cuban Americans reported that they voted in the 1988
presidential election, compared to 70.2 percent of Anglo-Americans, 49.3
percent of Mexican Americans, and 49.9 percent of Puerto Ricans.
Cuban Americans also enjoy greater economic security than other Hispanic
groups. In 1986, the median family income of Cuban Americans was
$26,770— $2,700 less than the median for all U.S. family incomes
but $6,700 more than the median for all Hispanic American family incomes.
Cuban Americans are also highly educated; fully 17 percent of the Cuban
American population has completed college or college and some graduate
schooling, compared with eight percent of Puerto Ricans, six percent of
Mexican Americans, and 20 percent of the total U.S. population. In other
significant ways too, Cuban Americans closely resemble the total U.S.
population. Two-parent households account for 78 percent of all Cuban
American households and 80 percent of all U.S. households. The average
U.S. family has 3.19 members, while the average Cuban American family has
Despite the overwhelming success of early Cuban immigrants, many of the
more recent migrants to the United States have not enjoyed as warm a
reception from their adopted country as their predecessors. This is
partially due to the fact that, as a group, they have less business or
professional experience and are less educated. While the vast majority of
Cubans who migrated to the United States during this period were not
social deviants, they were nonetheless labeled as such by the media. The
challenges presented to these migrants serve to remind us that Cuban
Americans are not a monolithic community. Rather, they are quite diverse;
generalizations about Cuban American politics and conservatism or about
Cuban American wealth and business success must therefore consider the
full complexity of the Cuban American community.
In Cuba, a sixth-grade education is compulsory and the illiteracy rate, in
1981, was 1.9 percent. There is a strong emphasis on math and science, and
Cuba has become a center for preparing medical personnel, generating
scores of young doctors. In the United States, Cubans and Cuban Americans
are equally concerned about education and their children are often
well-educated. The overwhelming majority of U.S.-born Cuban Americans have
completed high school and some form of further education (83 percent).
More than 25 percent have gone to post-secondary schools, compared to less
than 20 percent of Cuban Americans born abroad, less than 16 percent of
native-born Puerto Ricans, and ten percent of native-born Mexican
Americans. More than any other Hispanic migrant group, Cuban Americans
have shown a willingness and the ability to pay for private education for
their children. Of native-born Cuban Americans, almost 47 percent have
attended private schools. These numbers indicate
that education is extremely important to Cuban Americans and that they,
more than any other Hispanic migrant group, have the resources to pay for
additional schooling and private education.
Like many recent migrant groups, Cuban Americans enjoy both Cuban and U.S.
cuisines. Traditional Cuban food is the product of the mingling of Spanish
and West African cuisines in the climate of the Caribbean. Pork and beef
are the most common meats in the traditional Cuban diet. Rice, beans, and
root vegetables usually accompany such dishes. Necessary ingredients are
available in most major cities where there are significant Hispanic
populations. Many Cuban Americans, especially those who have been raised
in the United States, have easy access to a variety of
“American” foods and tend to reserve traditional cooking for
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER ETHNIC GROUPS
Early Cuban immigrants entered the United States with the blessing of a
president and a nation committed to combating communism. These Cubans
therefore enjoyed a largely favorable relationship with their host
communities. More recently, signs of conflict between Cuban Americans and
other American communities have increased. The movement of Cuban Americans
beyond the Little Havana enclave was accompanied by a movement of
non-Hispanic whites out of the areas into which Cuban Americans were
moving. There has also been a longstanding antagonism between Cuban
Americans and African Americans in Florida, especially as Cuban Americans
have asserted themselves politically and economically in the Miami area,
becoming the dominant ethnic community there. African American community
leaders often accuse Cuban Americans of shutting them out of the political
process and keeping them out of the tourist industry. In 1991, according
to an article by Nicole Lewis in
black Dade County residents were outraged by five Cuban American
mayors’ failure to officially welcome South African freedom fighter
and president Nelson Mandela; they retaliated by initiating a boycott of
tourismrelated businesses in the Miami area.
Most Cuban Americans report and perceive a nondiscriminatory relationship
with white Americans. A survey of Hispanic Americans conducted from 1989
to 1990 showed that 82.2 percent of Cubans who were U.S. citizens said
they had not personally experienced discrimination because of their
national origin. Nonetheless, 47 percent of Cuban Americans surveyed said
that they thought there was discrimination against Cuban Americans in
According to Fernando S. Mendoza’s January 9, 1991 article in the
Journal of the American Medical Association,
Cuban Americans are generally healthier than other Hispanic Americans but
often less healthy than non-Hispanic white Americans. Several indicators
demonstrate the health status of Cuban Americans. The proportion of Cuban
American babies with low birth weight is lower than the percentage of all
infants in the United States with low birth weight and slightly higher
than that of non-Hispanic white Americans. Similarly, the proportion of
Cuban American infants born early, while lower than that of Mexican
Americans or Puerto Ricans, is nonetheless higher than that of
In the same issue of the
Journal of the American Medical Association,
the Council on Scientific Affairs published an article stating that in
other areas the comparative position of Cuban Americans is similar. Cuban
Americans are far more likely than non-Hispanic white Americans to be
murdered or to commit suicide. Still, they are less likely to be murdered
than black or Puerto Rican Americans and less likely to die in accidents
than black, Puerto Rican, or Mexican Americans. Trevino et al.’s
piece showed that when Cuban Americans do seek treatment for injury or
disease, they frequently must pay the entire cost of emergency care, since
a higher proportion of Cuban Americans than U.S. residents is uninsured.
Many Cuban Americans turn to the santeria tradition for health care,
participating in santeria healing services and seeking the advice of
The national language of Cuba is Spanish and many Cuban Americans have
some facility with Spanish. In 1989 and 1990, among Cuban Americans born
in the United States, 96 percent said that they could speak either Spanish
and English equally well or English better than Spanish. Cuban Americans
born in the United States tend to be English speakers and have less
facility with Spanish. Among those individuals born abroad, 74.3 percent
said that they could speak either Spanish or Spanish better than English;
however, while those born abroad have greater facility with Spanish, more
These Cuban American children are enjoying representing their
families in the Hispanic Day Parade.
than half have some English ability as well.
These numbers do not capture the phenomenon of “Spanglish.”
Among many Cuban Americans born in the United States who speak English at
school and in other public domains but speak some Spanish at home with
relatives and neighbors, “Spanglish,” or a linguistic
mixture of Spanish and English, is a common alternative. Many Cuban
Americans—especially younger Cuban Americans—use Spanglish
to talk with friends and acquaintances, incorporating English words,
phrases, and syntactic units into Spanish grammatical structures. Facility
with Spanglish, however, does not necessarily imply lack of facility with
either English or Spanish, though such a lack of facility
characterize the Spanglish speaker.
Family and Community Dynamics
The Cuban American family is different in significant ways from the Cuban
family. The Cuban family is characterized by patriarchy, strong parental
control over children’s lives, and the importance of non-nuclear
relationships for the nuclear family. In the United States, these elements
have become less characteristic among families of Cuban descent. For
example, the Cuban tradition of selecting godparents for a child who will
maintain a close and quasi-parental relationship with the child has begun
to decline in the United States.
or godparents, are less likely to play a significant role in the lives of
Cuban American children.
Similarly, Cuban American women are more likely to have greater authority
in the family than in Cuba. This is in part attributable to the greater
workforce participation of Cuban American women. These women, because they
contribute to the household income and to the overall security and
independence of the family, claim a greater share of authority and power
within the household. Authority in Cuban American families has changed in
other ways too. Children have greater freedom in the United States than in
Cuba. For example, in Cuba young people are traditionally accompanied by
an adult chaperon when dating. This is less true in the United States
where young people go out unaccompanied or accompanied by an older
MARRIAGE AND CHILDBEARING
There are significant changes in patterns of marriage and childbearing
within the U.S. Cuban community as Americans of Cuban descent raised in
the United States have begun to depart from traditional Cuban familial
patterns. Although 63 percent of foreign-born Cuban Americans over the age
of 18 are married, only 38 percent of similarly aged U.S.-born Cubans are
married. Also, almost 50 percent of U.S.-born Cuban Americans are single,
compared with 10.7 percent of Cuban Americans born in Cuba. Cuban
Americans born in the United States are also less likely to become parents
than Cuban Americans born abroad. Finally, nearly 30 percent of
native-born Cuban Americans who are
married are married to Anglo-Americans, compared to 3.6 percent of
Most Cubans living in Cuba identify themselves either as Roman Catholics
or as nonreligious. The large number of nonreligious people is a
consequence of the antireligious bias of the socialist government in Cuba.
The most recent statistics reflecting the religious affiliations of Cubans
come from before the Castro Revolution. In 1954 more than 70 percent
called themselves Roman Catholic, and six percent called themselves
Protestant. There were also small numbers of
adherents and Jews at that time.
Recent figures demonstrate that Americans of Cuban descent overwhelmingly
identify themselves as Roman Catholics. Almost 80 percent of those born in
Cuba and 64 percent of those born in the United States are Catholic.
Fourteen percent of Cuban migrants and ten percent of U.S.-born Cubans
follow some form of Protestantism. Fully one-quarter of native-born Cuban
Americans say they either have no preference or have another religious
Among Protestant Cubans in Florida, most belong to mainline Protestant
denominations, the most common being Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian,
Episcopal, and Lutheran. However, there are increasing numbers of
independent church members, including Pentecostals, Jehovah’s
Witnesses, and Seventh-Day Adventists. This growth parallels the growth of
charismatic, fundamentalist, and independent churches throughout Latin
America and in the United States. Jewish Cuban Americans, while few, are
also notable. The Miami Jewish Federation reported in 1984 that there were
5,000 Jewish Cubans in the Miami area. The Miami Cuban Hebrew Congregation
and Temple Moses are two of the largest Miami area Cuban synagogues.
The Cuban religious tradition that has received the greatest publicity in
recent years, including Russell Miller’s article “A Leap of
Faith in the January 30, 1994, issue of the
New York Times,
has been portrayed in movies and television since the mid-1980s as a form
of Afro-Caribbean “black magic” similar to Haitian vodun,
popularly known as “voodoo.” These media portrayals, which
have been largely negative and frequently inaccurate, have led to a public
misunderstanding of the nature of
The tradition is, like vodun, a synthesis of West African and Roman
Catholic religious vocabularies, beliefs and practices.
or adherents of
seek the guidance, protection, and intervention in their lives of
—divine personages who trace their lineage both to Yoruba West
African gods and Roman Catholic saints. The practice of
involves healing rituals, spirit possession, and animal sacrifice. This
last aspect of
practice caused controversy when leaders of a
church recently challenged a local Miami area law prohibiting animal
sacrifice. The U.S. Supreme Court later struck down that law as
unconstitutional. The same
church that challenged that law has incorporated itself and plans to
establish a national church similar to other national religious
ometimes I have dreams, and I see myself walking to my
grant-parents’ house in Cuba … It brings back a lot of
memories. The States is home. I have no qualms about it, but
I’m still attracted to that little island, no matter how small
it is. It’s home. It’s your people. You feel, if
it’s ever possible again, you’d like to reconstruct what
was there. You want to be a part of it.”
Ramon Fernández in 1961, cited in American Mosaic: The Immigrant
Experience in the Words of Those Who Lived It, edited by Joan Morrison and
Charlotte Fox Zabusky (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1980).
Employment and Economic Traditions
Most Cuban Americans, both foreign-born and U.S.-born, were employed in
1989 and 1990. Their rates of unemployment were lower than those of Puerto
Ricans and Mexican Americans though somewhat higher than those of
non-Hispanic white Americans. Almost 18 percent of Cuban Americans were
professionals or managers. Although only 15 percent of Anglo-Americans
were so employed, more than one-third of Cubans who were U.S. citizens
were employed in technical, sales, or administrative support positions.
Cuban Americans are better off financially than other Hispanic Americans
and nearly as well off as the average American. Their economic and
employment profiles look very little like those of other recent Hispanic
Caribbean immigrant groups (e.g., Puerto Ricans and Dominicans). In the
Miami area, the center of the Cuban American community, Cuban Americans
are prominent in virtually every profession. In 1984 Cuban Americans
a third of the Miami area private companies that returned sales of at
least 12.5 million. Manuel Viamonte’s book,
Cuban Exiles in Florida: Their Presence and Contribution,
states that there are approximately 2,000 Cuban American medical doctors
in the Miami area, and the Cuban Medical Association in Exile claims more
than 3,000 members nationwide.
Cubans are regarded as a successful migrant group. They are reputed to be
excellent and dedicated entrepreneurs who came to the United States with
nothing and built profitable industries. Scholars report that later
immigrants have built upon the connections and resources of the Cuban
community already here. And many of the wealthiest Cuban American business
people built their businesses by catering to the Cuban community or by
using their connections to or knowledge of it. Nonetheless, there are many
exceptions to this portrait of Cuban Americans. More than 33 percent of
Cuban American households earn less than $20,000 per year, and while this
proportion is close to the proportion of Anglo-Americans in the same
income category, it still represents an extraordinary number of Cuban
Americans who have not yet achieved the “American Dream” of
security and prosperity.
Politics and Government
Cuban Americans are reputed to be conservative politically and to vote
overwhelmingly for the Republican Party in elections. Dario Moreno and
Christopher L. Warren’s 1992 essay in
Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy,
validates this reputation by examining the voting patterns of Cuban
Americans in the 1992 election. Voting returns from Dade County, Florida,
showed that 70 percent of Hispanic Americans there voted for
then-President George Bush. Another survey indicated that, of Cuban
Americans who voted in 1988, almost 78 percent voted for Republican
candidates. That same survey showed that, in the 1988 elections, most
Cuban Americans were registered to vote and voted. Thus, Cuban Americans
seem to share many basic political values and a willingness to exercise
their voting power to advance these values.
The driving ideological force behind most Cuban American political
activity has been opposition to the Marxist regime in Cuba. Some of the
most powerful Cuban American political organizations are dedicated to
shaping U.S. policy toward Cuba and to ridding Cuba of Castro. Perhaps the
most important of these organizations is the Cuban American National
Foundation (CANF). Headed until 1998 by Jorge Mas Canosa, a wealthy Miami
businessman who participated in the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion attempt,
CANF squelched the Clinton administration’s nomination of a Cuban
American lawyer for Latin American undersecretary at the State Department
because it judged him too sympathetic to the current Cuban regime. CANF
also pushed for the passage of the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act, which imposed
further restrictions on trade with Cuba, and for the passage of the
controversial Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996 (the
Helms-Burton Act). This law, which allows the United States to impose
sanctions on foreign companies that trade with Cuba, provoked intense
resentment throughout the world and has been challenged in the World
Court. CANF has also supported U.S. anticommunist ventures elsewhere in
the world. CANF is active in several areas: it sponsors research on Cuba
and Cuban Americans; it raises money for political purposes; and it
lobbies elected officials. Many regard the organization as representative
of the Cuban American community. Some, however, have charged that the
foundation tries to stifle dissent within the community.
Since Mas’s death in 1998, however, the role of CANF has become
less clear. Growing numbers of Cuban Americans resent what they consider
the organization’s excesses, and, in opposition to the CANF
position, prefer an end to the U.S. trade embargo. Groups such as the
Cuban Committee for Democracy and Cambio Cubano (Cuban Change) which
advocate an end to the embargo, were given renewed support when Pope John
Paul II denounced U.S. policy toward Cuba when he visited the island in
January 1998. The fact that President Clinton softened restrictions on
travel to Cuba as well as donations of food and medicines suggests to many
that CANF’s power to dictate U.S. policy toward Cuba has begun to
The Cuban American community’s political activities have been very
successful in certain areas. It has elected Cuban Americans to Congress
and has dominated the local political scene in the Miami area.
Consequently, candidates have courted them as a group in the last two
presidential elections. Change may lie in the community’s political
future, however. Mas Canosa, a staunch Republican, gave some support to
Bill Clinton in the 1992 campaign, and CANF donated $275,000 to the
Democrat’s coffers. Voices within the community have raised
questions about the conservatism that has guided Cuban Americans since the
1960s. Indeed, Bill Clinton received more Hispanic support in the Miami
area than any of his predecessors (Michael Dukakis, Walter Mondale, and
Jimmy Carter), suggesting that political preferences in the Cuban American
community may be changing.
Cuban Americans display crosses representing loved ones who died in
Cuba as they march in Miami. The protest rally contributed to the
cancellation of a Catholic Church-sponsored cruise to Cuba for the
Pope’s visit in 1997.
RELATIONS WITH CUBA
Since the start of Cuban migration to the United States, Cuban Americans
have been greatly concerned with the political status of Cuba and many are
committed to Cuba’s political transformation. In the United States,
they have been staunchly conservative, supporting candidates who have
taken a hard line against Cuba. However, Cuban Americans are becoming less
committed to the struggle against Castro; or at least, the anti-Castro
struggle is becoming less central to Cuban American identity. A principal
challenge facing the Cuban American community in the years ahead is a
reconsideration of what it means to be Cuban American. Perhaps that
definition will become more elastic and accommodating, and the Cuban
American community will embrace ever greater internal diversity. What had
once seemed a politically united community is divided on issues like
migration, Castro, and U.S. Republicanism. However, these internal
divisions should not weaken the community, and may even strengthen the
Cuban American community, making it more vital.
Individual and Group Contributions
Lydia Cabrera (1900-1991) was one of Cuba’s most prominent scholars
and writers. Born in Havana, she studied Afro-Cuban folklore and edited
many collections of folk literature; she was also a prolific fiction
writer. She lived in exile in Spain and Miami. Poet and art historian
Ricardo Pau-Llosa, who was born in Havana, moved to the United States in
1960 and became a naturalized citizen. He is an authority on contemporary
Latin American art, and has written texts for more than 30 exhibition
catalogues. He has also published several collections of poetry.
Havana-born Gustavo (Francisco) Perez-Firmat, who moved to the United
States in 1960 and became a naturalized citizen, is a literary historian
who specializes in the Hispanic vanguard novel. He has been awarded
numerous fellowships and is a professor of romance languages at Duke
Dr. Pedro Jose Greer Jr., the son of Cuban immigrants in Miami, has been
nationally recognized for his contributions to medical care for the
homeless. Dr. Greer founded the Camillus Health Concern in Miami, and
developed a medical school course that focused on the specific medical
needs of homeless persons. Dr. Greer has received numerous awards,
including a MacArthur Fellowship in 1993, and has advised the federal
government on health care reform. His book
Waking Up in America,
which details his work with the homeless, was published in 1999.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Roberto Goizueta (1931– ) is the
chief-executive of Coca-Cola. Jorge Mas Canosa (1939-1998) was a Miami
businessman and chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation. Born
in Santiago, Cuba, he became president of his own company, the Mas Group,
and chair of the advisory board of Radio Marti, the U.S.
governmentsponsored radio station that broadcasts to Cuba.
FILM, TELEVISION, AND THEATER
Desi Arnaz (1917-1986) was an actor and musician who is perhaps best
remembered for his role in the popular 1950s TV series “I Love
Lucy,” which he helped create with his wife Lucille Ball. Cuban
American dancer Fernando Bujones (1955– ) danced with the American
Ballet Theatre from 1974 to 1985. Maria Conchita Alonso (1957– ), a
singer and film actress, was born in Cuba; she has appeared in films such
Moscow on the Hudson
House of the Spirits
, and was nominated for a Grammy Award for a solo album. Andy Garcia
(1956– ), a television and film actor, was born in Cuba; he has
starred in such films as
The Untouchables, Internal Affairs, Godfather III,
When a Man Loves a Woman,
and was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in
Elizabeth Pena (1959– ), a television and movie actress, was born
in New Jersey; she has appeared on stage and in such films as
Jacob’s Ladder, Blue Steel, La Bamba,
as well as in the television series “Hill Street Blues” and
Cristina Garcia (1958– ), a journalist and a fiction writer, was
born in Havana; she earned a B.A. from Barnard College and a
master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University; she served as a
bureau chief and correspondent for
magazine, and was a National Book Award finalist for her
Dreaming in Cuban.
Oscar Hijuelos (1951– ), a Cuban American born in New York City,
won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1990 for
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love,
a novel that was later made into a movie of the same name. One of the
leading voices in contemporary American literature, he is the author of
several novels and short stories that address his Cuban American heritage.
Reinaldo Arenas, who came to the United States in the Mariel Boat Lift in
1980, was considered one of the leading experimental writers in Cuba.
Imprisoned by Castro for homosexuality and political dissent, Arenas wrote
frankly about his erotic life, most particularly in his posthumously
Before Night Falls.
Arenas, in the last stages of AIDS, committed suicide in New York City in
The popular salsa musician Celia Cruz had a cameo role in the film
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.
Gloria Estefan (1958– ), a Cuban-born singer/songwriter, enjoyed
top-ten popularity during her stint with the Miami pop band Miami Sound
Machine and during her solo career; she fronted Miami Sound Machine from
1975 to 1987; the song “Conga” propelled her and the band to
Baseball outfielder Tony Oliva (1940– ) played for Minnesota from
1962 to 1976. During that period, he won the American League batting
tittle three times. Tony Perez (1942– ) was an infielder, mostly
with the Cincinnati Reds, from 1964 to 1986. He was a seven-time National
League All-Star. Cuban-born José Canseco (1964– ) began
playing for Oakland as an outfielder in 1985. In 1986 he was proclaimed
rookie of the year and in 1988 he became the first player to have 40 home
runs and 40 stolen bases in one year.
Lincoln Diaz-Balart (1954– ), a Florida Republican member of
Congress since 1993, was born in Havana; he earned a law degree from Case
Western Reserve University and served in the Florida State Senate. Robert
Menendez (1954– ), the first Cuban American Democratic
representative to the national legislature, was born in New York City and
represents New Jersey in Congress; he was also a member of the New Jersey
State Assembly and was mayor of
Union City, New Jersey, from 1986 to 1993. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
(1952– ), a Republican member of Congress from Florida, was born in
Havana; first elected in 1989, she was the first Hispanic woman to serve
in the U.S. Congress. She has also been a school principal and a Florida
State Senator. Xavier Suarez (1949– ) was born in Las Villas, Cuba;
he earned a law degree from Harvard before chairing Miami’s
Affirmative Action Commission; he serves as mayor of the City of Miami.
Bob Martinez (1934– ) served as the first Hispanic governor of
Florida from 1987 to 1991. In 1991 he was appointed director of the Office
of National Drug Control Policy by President George Bush.
Reflects the aim of the Center for Cuban Studies, which is to disseminate
accurate and up-to-date information on Cuba. Recurring features include
editorials; news of research; book reviews; a calendar of events; news of
conferences, forums, film showings, and exhibitions; and notices of
publications issued by the Center.
Sandra Levinson, Editor.
Center for Cuban Studies, 124 West 23rd Street, New York, New York 10011.
Diario Las Americas.
Though not precisely a Cuban American paper, it has been one of the
principal forums for Cuban American expression since 1953, and has a
readership of 70,000.
Horacio Aguirre, Editor and Publisher.
2900 Northwest 39th Street, Miami, Florida 33142-5149.
Monthly newsletter covering the League’s activities on behalf of
Cuban Americans. Assesses needs of minority communities in relation to
education, training, manpower development, and health care. Recurring
features include reports of Cuban American community-based centers opened
by the League.
National League of Cuban American Community-Based Centers, 2119 Websters,
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46802.
El Nuevo Herald.
The Spanish-language subsidiary of
The Miami Herald,
it was founded in 1976 and has a circulation of 120,000.
Barbara Gutierrez, Editor.
Hometown Herald, 1520 East Sunrise Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
El Nuevo Patria.
Originated in 1959, it has a circulation of 28,000.
Carlos Diaz-Lujan, Editor.
850 North Miami Avenue, #102, P.O. Box 2, José Martí Station,
Miami, Florida 33135-0002.
WAMR-FM (107.5), WQBA-AM (1140).
Programs news and talk on its AM station and contemporary music on its FM
Claudia Puig, AM General Manager; or Luis Diaz-Albertiny, FM General
2828 Coral Way, Miami, Florida 33145-3204.
A Spanish-language news and talk station.
Tomas Regalado, News Director.
2690 Coral Way, Miami, Florida 33145.
Programs Spanish talk and news shows.
Lazaro Asencio, News Director.
330 Southwest 27th Avenue, Suite 207, Miami, Florida 33135-2957.
Two of the most prominent Spanish-language television stations serving the
Cuban American population in the Miami area provide diverse programming
created by Cuban American journalists and administrators.
WLTV-Channel 23 (Univision).
Alina Falcon, News Director.
9405 Northwest 41st Street, Miami, Florida 33178.
WSCV-Channel 51 (Telemundo).
J. Manuel Calvo.
2340 West Eighth Avenue, Hialeah, Florida 33010-2019.
Organizations and Associations
Works to improve interaction between the United States and Cuba.
Alicia Torrez, Executive Director.
733 Fifteenth Street NW, Suite 1020, Washington, D.C. 20005-2112.
Cuban American National Council (CNC).
Aims to identify the socioeconomic needs of the Cuban population in the
United States and to promote needed human services.
Guarione M. Diaz, President and Executive Director.
300 Southwest 12th Avenue, Third Floor, Miami, Florida 33130.
Cuban American National Foundation (CANF).
Americans of Cuban descent and others with an interest in Cuban affairs.
Serves as a grass roots lobbying organization promoting freedom and
democracy in Cuba and worldwide.
Francisco Hernandez, President.
7300 Northwest 35th Terrace, Suite 105, Miami, Florida 33122.
National Association of Cuban American Women of the U.S.A.
Addresses current issues, concerns, and problems affecting Hispanic and
Ziomara Sanchez, President.
P.O. Box 614, Union City, New Jersey 07087.
Museums and Research Centers
Center for Cuban Studies (CCS).
Individuals and institutions organized to provide resource materials on
Cuba to educational and cultural institutions. Sponsors film showings,
lectures, and seminars; organizes tours of Cuba. Maintains Cuban art
collection with photographic archives, paintings, drawings, ceramics, and
posters; sponsors art exhibits.
Sandra Levinson, Executive Director.
124 West 23rd Street, New York, New York 10011.
Cuban Research Institute.
Integral unit of Florida International University, under the direction of
the Latin American and Caribbean Center. Besides supporting and
encouraging research on Cuba, it also sponsors an annual teacher training
workshop and a journalist workshop.
Lisandro Perez, Director.
University Park, DM 363, Miami, Florida 33199.
Sources for Additional Study
Boswell, Thomas D., and James R. Curtis.
The Cuban American Experience: Culture, Images, and
Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman and Allanheld, 1983.
Cuban Exiles in Florida: Their Presence and Contribution,
edited by Antonio Jorge, Jaime Suchlicki, and Adolfo Leyva de Varona.
Miami: Research Institute for Cuban Studies, University of Miami, 1991.
de la Garza, Rodolfo O., et al.
Latino Voices: Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban Perspectives on American
Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1992.
Morganthau, Tom. “How Can We Say No?”
5 September 1994, p. 29.
Olson, James S. and Judith E.
Cuban Americans: From Trauma to Triumph.
New York: Twayne Publishers, 1995.
Pérez Firmat, Gustavo.
Life on the Hyphen: The Cuban-American Way.
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994.
Peterson, Mark F., and Jaime Roquebert. “Success Patterns of Cuban
American Enterprises: Implications for Entrepreneurial
46, 1993, p. 923.
Stone, Peter H. “Cuban Clout,”
February 20, 1993, p. 449.