Background

  • Cuba was colonized by the Spanish, and remained a colony until 1895.
  • The US was highly involved in Cuban politics until the 1959 Revolution, when Fidel Castro came to power and the Cuban government became communist.
  • Castro based many of his socialist reforms of the model of the Soviet Union, which was a major trading and political partner.
  • The revolutionary government originally had the common people’s interest at heart, but antagonized much of the upper and middle classes.
  • Castro’s authoritarian attitudes began to cause some criticism of his personal style and a lessening of popular support, as many of his economic reforms were unsuccessful.
  • The Cuban economy has struggled since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990.  Although it is trading internationally, Cuba struggles to have the hard currency to pay for its imports.
  • Cuban responses to this challenge have sparked a new wave of immigration to the United States, especially to Florida, which is only 90 miles north of Cuba.
  • For the moment, Cuban immigration into the United States is proceeding more or less through official Cuban channels. An agreement reached between the United States and Cuba in September, 1994, expands the number of legal Cuban immigrants to 20,000 per year.

Culture and Society

  • The Cuban population is a mixture of Caucasian descendants of the original settlers from Spain, black descendants of the slave population, and Chinese descendants of immigrant workers. These main groups, along with some smaller ethnicities have intermarried to create a distinct Cuban population.
  • Cuba has historically struggled with racial issues, and had a slave population until the latter half of the 19th century.
  • After independence, the various governments neglected the poor, many of whom were black. The Castro Regime has made efforts to remedy this.
  • Cubans have a strong sense of “Cubanidad,” or cultural identity.
  • Equality of the sexes is the official socialist ideal, although sexism is still prevalent and women still do most of the domestic work. Publicly, a man is considered the head of household although within the home, the woman usually has control.
  • It is difficult to practice religion openly and be successful in Cuban society.
  • Cuban music is a distinctive combination of Spanish and African elements: The rumba, guaracha, bolero, conga, and cha-cha are among Cuban rhythms enjoyed by listeners and dancers all over the world.

Adjusting to Life in America

  • The Cuban-American community is very good at taking care of its own.
  • There is often little motivation to learn English and move to areas with better jobs, because refugees fit so well into the Spanish-speaking, Cuban-American society.
  • The revolution promulgated a socialist, nationalistic, and anti-American society so that many revolutionary values are the “mirror image” of our values. Middle-aged Cubans entering the United States have spent most of their lives in this society.
  • Because Cuban society is communist, many Cuban refugees will see social benefits, such as healthcare, a job, housing, and higher education as basic rights.
  • Cuban values stress collective wealth and collective political awareness. People who have lived in the Cuban social system may be struck negatively by the materialism, winner-take-all capitalism, individualism, competition, crime, and racism of the United States.
  • Many refugees have family members in Cuba who opposed their immigration. Therefore, the immigration process can sever cherished family relationships.