People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Cuban Americans

About the Cuban Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Cuban-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: From the island of Cuba, only 90 mi. off the coast of Florida in the Caribbean. The Cubans are of heterogeneous racial and ethnic origins--descendants of Spanish colonizers and Negro slaves, with a trace of the original Indian blood. Today, Cubans are 12% Negroid, 15% mestizo (of Negro and white ancestry), and 73% white.

Why They Left: As early as the 1830s, Cubans began coming to the U.S. to work in the cigar industry, but mass immigration didn't begin until the overthrow of Pres. Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar in 1959. Many Cubans fled what they perceived as an intolerable way of life under the new Marxist-Leninist regime of Fidel Castro.

Where They Settled: Due to its proximity, Miami was the port of entry for the two great Cuban exoduses--that of 1959 to 1962, from the fall of Batista until the discontinuation of regularly scheduled air flights during the Cuban Missile Crisis; and that of the U.S. Government-sponsored airlift between 1965 and 1973. A heavy proportion of these refugees remained in Miami, giving it the air of a Cuban city, with the Cuban enclave being referred to as "Little Havana. "But large numbers of Cubans have also settled in southern California, Chicago, and New York City (mostly in the Washington Heights district).

Numbers: Over 650,000 Cuban refugees have entered the U.S. since 1959. The total Cuban population in the U.S. is about 800,000. The overwhelming majority, about half a million, live in Miami.

Their Story in America: Cubans have been well received in the U.S. They don't have to compete under the immigration quota system, but can obtain permanent visas. The Cuban Refugee Program is the largest and costliest U.S. refugee assistance effort in history.

Yet downtown Miami is a "capital in exile," where most Cubans await liberation from Castro and communism and hope ultimately to return to their native island.

In the 1960s, the CIA recruited almost 2,000 Cubans in Miami. These Cubans were trained as commandos for Operation Mongoose, the Kennedy administration's secret war on Castro. Though operations were ended by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, many veterans continued mounting independent raids, eventually establishing the violent Cuban terrorist movement, the first serious U.S.-based terrorist movement.

Famous Cuban Americans: TV star Desi Arnaz, who teamed with Lucille Ball in one of the most successful series in TV history; convicted Watergate burglars Eugenio Martinez, Bernard Barker, Virgilio Gonzalez, and Frank Sturgis; and baseball greats Tony Oliva and Luis Tiant.

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