The Cuban-American Immigration Experience Immigrants

At the conclusion of World War II, the world itself was divided in two, based on the forms of government. Those that were believed that communist regimes could better the life of their citizens and democracies who believed in free government. It was at this time that communism became a viable form of governing and many countries started to practice its principles, countries such as Cuba. Subsequently, by1959, Cuba, under the reign of Fidel Castro, became one of the foremost communist powers after the ousting of the Batista party who had left a considerable impact on the Cuban nation. But as the government was changing, many wealthy, white Cubans feared the worse and began to be “pushed” out of Cuba and forced onto the shores of the United States of America, often settling on the closest shores of Miami and New York City. These professionals and elites were forced to abandon their property, culture, and political connections with the understanding that their country would soon be in the midst of a political upheaval of which communism would be the end result.These elite Cubans would come to be considered the first of four waves of Cuban immigrants that would contribute greatly to the economy and culture of urban cities of the United States.

To follow these elite Cubans, in the early 1960's until the mid 1970's, many of their less wealthy relatives came to join them in large urban communities, eventually finding good jobs and making a nice life for themselves as shop owners and skilled craftsman. These people, like those that had come before them, had a love for their Cuban homeland, but knew that the communist regime would not help their social and political standing. Many of these Cubans came later than the first wave because of financial issues. Not having as much money as the wealthy elites, they relied on the efforts of the United States government and the charter flights, namely the weekly "freedom flights" that "Lyndon Johnson inagurated" (1). Once flown over by plane, these “petite bourgeoisie” quickly learned English and became part of the professional class in America, while at the same time draining the technical and administrative skills on the Cuban island (2).

But like any good governmental procedure, the planes that rescued so many from the communist ways of Cuba eventually stopped coming. So, by 1980, there was a large flotilla exodus of marielitos, who represented the working class and minority groups that lived in Cuba, washing up on the shores of Miami and other southern locales. Often in the media, these men and women were protrayed as "undesirables", mainly associated as criminals and miscreants. Even though only 1% were actually criminals (3) this third wave lacked order and process and came to represent people that were “pulled”, or drawn to America by the opportunities that large cities provided. It was this generation of refugees that were true Cuban exiles, for they had lived through and under communist rule. These Cubans had seen the worse of communism and hoped for a better life as they had seen of their fellow elitist Cubans. However, once here, it would become increasing clear that the elite Cubans had saturated the American economy and there was little room left for poor and/or minority Cubans to have influence.

The flow of refugees thus continued and the Cuban population that settled in America became that much more diverse. Still today, more than forty years after the the 1959 Cuban Revolution and takeover by Fidel Castro, Cubans are entering onto the shores of America in the fourth wave. Aptly termed “Balseros”(4),which both refers basically to any floating object, as well as the group of exiles themselves, these Cubans have also come out of desperation. After many years living under the communist regime they need to find a place to live that is more economically and socially viable. Within the past fifteen years, the United States government has tried to curb the exodus by instating a “wet foot/dry foot” policy, as anyone picked up by the Coast Guard is thus returned to Cuba and anyone who can make the dangerous trek without being caught is considered a new US citizen. It is within this policy however, that "a loophole [has been created] that encourges unsafe and unregulated immigration" (5), leaving even fewer Cubans on their native island. As more and more Cubans leave the island in hope of a better life, there is question as to what will eventually become of Cuba, both while Castro is still in power and after he dies or is unlikely ousted.

These four waves, however, are very general. In this website, we will examine each of the four waves more closely, using personal interviews of members from each of the four waves to highlight the differences between the waves of Cuban immigrants.We feel that the personal interviews will make the immigration experience come alive and touch at many areas in which academic writing is obscure. Some of the interviewees might have been afraid to explain themselves, but each immigrant has an impressive story to share that makes clear the importance of the Cuban exodus both on the lives of individual Cuban-Americans, as well as the nation as a whole.

New York City and Miami have seen the biggest changes as a result of exodus. We will therefore review the ways in which the exodus has affected the economy and the culture in these areas. Many relatives have been known to send back essential goods such as toilettres and canned food because of Cubans' inability to obtain such vital resources. This will thus be explained as an affect of the Cuban migration and transculturalism. By viewing this website, it will become evident that Cubans wish to expand their cultural influences in the cities in which they fled to keep the Cuban spirit alive!

First Wave

Second Wave

Third Wave

Fourth Wave

Cuban Influences


AC213 Website

Credits Page

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Notes Page

Compiled By Ashley Garfield, Sean Estok and Matthew Pianko

Latino Studies 213 Fall 2005