Fleeing the Cuban Revolution|Part I–Nina Wei

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Getty Images, Cuban and American Flags

To capture a firm understanding of the effects of Cuba’s Revolution on Cuban Americans, I decided to first explore the history of Cuban migration to the U.S. and the dynamics within Cuban American communities established in the U.S.. In the last three weeks, I focused my research on specific historical conditions that induced waves of Cubans to leave their country, the social makeup of the Cuban population involved in different migration movements, and potential factors that caused divisions within Cuban American communities.  This blog post and the following one will be devoted to sharing my interpretation of the Cuban Revolution and Castro’s Communist rule through the lens of Cuban Americans.

Since Castro’s overthrow of Batista’s regime in 1959, at least four major waves of Cuban immigration to the U.S. took place. Most of the fleeing Cubans who left Cuba were pressured to leave due to decaying economic conditions under the new government (Buffington, “Cuban”). The first wave involving 250,000 Cubans immigrants occurred immediately after Castro’s takeover in 1959 and continued until The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. As mentioned in my last post, Castro was determined to modernize the Cuban economy after claiming his authority by transferring private properties to communal ownership. On one hand, leading his government in this direction largely benefited the poor because of shared goods. On the other hand, Castro’s rule also disadvantaged the upper-middle-class by depriving them of their earned wealth. In addition to including former officials of the Batista government, the first wave therefore was dominated by mostly white, middle-aged, well-educated, and comparatively wealthy merchants, bankers, professors, and businesspeople (Cortés, Multicultural).

As a result of intensified U.S.-Cuban relationship after the Cuban Missile Crisis, the second wave of Cuban immigration to the U.S. began in 1965 and ended in 1973. Cuba allowed the U.S. to organize “Freedom Flights” that airlifted around 340,000 Cubans to Miami, Florida. This migration movement continued to be mainly composed of white and educated people from the middle class, many of whom were relatives of Cubans who had immigrated in the first wave(“Cuban Americans”). Aided by the Cuban Refugee Emergency Center in Miami, founded by President Eisenhower, many Cuban refugees gained assistance in finding employment, healthcare, and education(Cortés, Multicultural).

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1994 Cuban Refugees


The next influx of Cubans, known as the Mariel Boatlift, started in 1980 when Castro eliminated restrictions on fleeing Cubans who opposed his regime. These 125,000 refugees, also called “Marielitos,” had a different makeup than previous waves, containing significant numbers of  Afro-Cubans from lower and working classes. Castro’s efforts to sustain his Cuban model after the collapse of Soviet Union in the 1980s did not improve the faltering economy. As more Cubans sought opportunities across the shore, the fourth(and the newest) wave of immigrants reached southern Florida(Buffington, “Cuban”).

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McRae, Exploring Little Havana

The majority of Cubans from the four waves of immigration resided in Miami, Florida, establishing a vibrant and distinct community called “Little Havana.” Cuban Americans differ from other Latino communities in the U.S. and vary in their social and political affiliations. The first two waves were predominantly consisted of higher class and white Cubans, whereas the last two waves had majority of blue-collar laborers and black, the later immigrated Cuban Americans had more difficulties such as rejection and discrimination in adapting to lives in the U.S.(“Cuban Americans”). The immigrants during the last two waves were for the most part blue-collar and black and faced a great deal of difficulties and racism while trying to adapt to life in the U.S.

In addition to learning the social makeup of migrated population to the U.S., I gained insights to factors causing the generation gap within Cuban American communities; this was the field of my interest explained at the end of my last blog post. I discovered that the generational divide might have stemmed from varying political stances in immigrated Cuban families. First-generation Cuban immigrants advocated more staunchly for an anti-communist and conservative stance compared to second and third-generation Cuban Americans. This divide could be evidenced by voting patterns of Cuban Americans in recent decades. According to Buffington, Cuban Americans had the reputation to vote for the Republican Party throughout 1990s to early 2000s, with 70% of them voting for President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential election and more than 78% of them supporting Republican candidates in 1998. However, from 2008, the statistics show that although older generations maintained allegiance to the Republicans, about 50% of Cuban Americans under the age of 30 chose to favor the Democratic Party. Also, in 2012, President Obama gained 47% of the votes from Cuban Americans, which was 10% higher than the Cuban American votes garnered in the 2008 election(“Cuban”).

I concluded from several sources that the tendency for older generations to support the Republican Party can be credited to the following factors. First, President Kennedy’s failure to dispose Castro in the Bay of Pigs invasion diminished democratic support from immigrated Cuban Americans in the earlier waves of migration. Second, Bill Clinton’s decision to return the six-year-old Cuban refugee, Élian González, that was rescued at sea to his father in Cuba spurred dismay within Cuban American communities. Moreover, this article from 2014 demonstrates that Obama’s intent to normalize the diplomatic and economic relationship between Cuba and the United States upsets older-generation Cuban Americans. Martinez and Jacqueline contend that despite having great historical value, many senior Cuban-Americans strongly opposed Obama’s plan.

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Getty Images, Barack Obama and Raul Castro in 2016

Those who were most traumatized by the Cuban revolution were unaccompanied Cuban children airlifted to the U.S. through the U.S.-sponsored operation named Pedro Pan. The article quoted also Estela Bueno, a participant of the Pedro Pan at 15, explaining her belief that the younger generation had not seen or experienced the cruelty of Castro’s communist government, and that Obama’s intention was “an insult and a betrayal” to those Cuban refugees.

The generation gap becomes apparent as I studied the poll data and stories of Cuban-American communities. Castro’s revolution and turn towards communism was closely related to Cuban migration movements. The upper-middle-class escaped the island under publicization of their properties in earlier stages of immigration; the lower-class fled their homes seeking for economic opportunities abroad, and children were separated from their parents while striving to survive in a foreign community. The development of Communism in Cuba has shaped the Cuban American community to be diverse and divided. Varying social status and political views became obstacles to the community’s assimilation to the U.S. culture.

In next week’s post I will continue to examine the immediate and enduring effects of the Cuban Revolution on Cuban Americans. I am looking forward to strengthening my understanding of this topic by interpreting pieces of literature and conducting an interview, which will be different from my previous approach of analyzing informative reference sources.

Works Cited


Buffington, Sean T. “Cuban Americans.” Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, edited by Thomas Riggs, 3rd ed., vol. 1, Gale, 2014, pp. 591-605. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX3273300057/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=cdd95f91. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.

Cortés, Carlos E. Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia. Los Angeles, SAGE Publ., 2013.

“Cuban Americans.” Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, edited by Timothy L. Gall and Jeneen Hobby, 2nd ed., vol. 2: Americas, Gale, 2009, pp. 166-169. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/CX1839300147/GVRL?u=west66701&sid=GVRL&xid=6b28f6c7. Accessed 15 Oct. 2018.

Martinez, Michael, and Jaqueline Hurtado. “Generation Gap: Renewed Ties Expose Painful Cuban-American Rift.” CNN, 2018 Cable News Network, 27 Dec. 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/27/world/americas/cuban-american-generation-gap/index.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.


Getty Images. Barack Obama and Raul Castro in 2016. Fortune, 2018 Time, fortunedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/490519636.jpg. Accessed 28 Oct. 2018.

—. Cuban and American Flags. NBC Miami, 2018 NBCUniversal Media, http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/Anti-Castro-Cuban-American-Lawmakers-See-a-Champion-in-Trump-413625483.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

McRae, Hunter. Exploring Little Havana’s Calle Ocho. The New York Times, 2018 The New York Times Company, http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2016/04/07/travel/exploring-little-havanas-calle-ocho/s/10MIAMI-slide-BLPH.html. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

1994 Cuban Refugees. Latinamericanstudies.org, http://www.latinamericanstudies.org/exile/balseros.jpg. Accessed 29 Oct. 2018.

2 thoughts on “Fleeing the Cuban Revolution|Part I–Nina Wei

  1. Dhillon

    I never knew that their were 4 main waves of immigration from Cuba to the US. I really enjoyed how you broke down each wave and the differnces they had. I also really liked all of the pictures you used, I found it very moving.

  2. Yuchen Cao

    I’m very impressed by the depth of your analysis of the Cuban American communities in the U.S.! The blog post provides very detailed information touching upon history, politics and current events. I’m very interested in the generational divide of earlier Cuban immigrants and later Cuban -Americans and found this New York Times article that might interest you: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/18/fashion/cuban-american-parents-children-travel.html.


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