National Geographic : 1973 Jul
.Miami Havana Cuba's Exiles Bring New Life to Miami By EDWARD J. LINEHAN ASSISTANT EDITOR Photographs by NATHAN BENN Ready for a new life, a Cuban refugee steps jubilantly from a chartered "freedom-flight" plane in Miami. Hands of welcome reach out to greet the newcomer, one of some 600,000 Cubans to find haven on United States soil since Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959. About half of them have settled in and around Miami-hardly more than a sigh away from their beloved island across the 90-mile-wide Straits of Florida. T IS NOT YET THE TIME FOR TEARS. The end of the old life lies only 45 minutes behind them, at Varadero airport in Cuba. The emotion of this moment is delayed, dammed up against a wall of bewilderment and apprehension. This lot is old, in their sixties and seventies, and some will need the wheelchairs waiting at the foot of the ramp. Dressed in dark, threadbare Sunday best, they blink in the strong Florida sun and file out of the char tered airliner slowly, carefully, very quietly. One gaunt gray-haired woman breaks, and sinks to her knees on the concrete apron at Miami International Airport. She crosses her self and cries, "jGraciasa Dios!" Others lead her gently to a waiting bus. It is not yet the time for the tears. Half an hour later they sit patiently on metal chairs inside a dowdy old building in a distant corner of the vast airport. An official of the Cuban Refugee Program of the U. S. Department of Health, Education, and Wel fare steps forward to tell them of the customs, immigration, public health, and refugee regis tration formalities awaiting them. "Su atencion, por favor," he says, and pro ceeds in Spanish: "I want first to wish you the most cordial welcome in the name of the people and the President of the United States." He pauses. He always has to pause here. Shouts of "jGracias!" drown him out; ap plause spatters and laughter swells through the little room. A woman in the first row rushes forward and embraces him impulsive ly. The dam has broken, and 88 Cuban ref ugees realize at last that they have touched freedom. Now it is time for the tears. Except for a throng of relatives and friends waiting to greet them at nearby Freedom House-a dormitory-like way station main tained by the Cuban Refugee Program for incoming exiles-Miami paid little notice to the arrival of 88 more Cubans. They have been streaming into Florida since 1959, when Fidel Castro led a band of guerrillas into Ha vana and set up a kind of government Cuba had never seen in all its turbulent history. Cuba's exiles, in turn, have left their in delible mark on Miami. Over the past dozen years they have boosted its economy, spiced its culture, and established an enclave of several hundred blocks so thoroughly Cuban that no one would think of calling it anything but "Little Havana."