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Federal Writer's Project Interview, Case #7, with a Male Immigrant from Santiago, Cuba, 1939

Cuba, Case #7
New York City Municipal Archives, NYCMA_WPA-FWP_B1_02
Document Description
Interview with a man from Santiago, Cuba, conducted by José Pastrana, reporter for the New York City Unit of the Federal Writers' Project, February 21, 1939. From Spanish Book—Life Histories (Part 1).
The man who is being interviewed states that his father is a Cuban gallego. What does he mean?
What kind of skills did he find he could master once he was in New York?
Why does he believe he is becoming an American?
Why does he think he is also becoming more Puerto Rican than Cuban?
What foods are associated with his culture, as well as with his diet?
With which political parties does he seem to identify?
Describe El Barrio in the 1930s. Why does he like living in this neighborhood?
Historical Challenges
Research the history of Cuba. Focus on how the dictatorships of various Cuban leaders–– Gerardo Machado, Fulgencio Batista, and Fidel Castro––drove Cubans to New York and the United States.
Write a biography of José Marti.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Creative Writing: Imagine you are a newly arrived immigrant to the United States in 1929. Suddenly your hopes and dreams for a better life are crushed by the stock market crash and the ensuing Great Depression. Keep a journal or diary that chronicles your experiences during these trying times. Use your imagination to be original, meaningful, and personal.
Math: Using the various dollar amounts referred to in the document, make a budget for this large family. Include income and expenses. Using the inflation calculator online (listed under Resources below), determine the amounts in today’s dollars.
Resources, Cost of living calculator
S.T. Joshi, ed. Documents of American Prejudice, An Anthology of Writings on Race from Thomas Jefferson to David Duke. New York: Basic Books, 1999. Includes “Can Cubans Govern Cuba?” (1901) by Edmond Wood

Historical Context
From the late eighteenth century to 1959, when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, New York City and Havana had significant commercial and social ties. Throughout Cuba’s tumultuous history, the great metropolis that was and is New York served as a base for many Cuban exiles. José Marti, the nineteenth-century Cuban patriot and intellectual, worked and lived in Brooklyn. Cuba’s first president, Tomas Estrada Palma, worked as Quaker schoolteacher in Orange County. Even Fidel Castro lived for a short time in Washington Heights during the 1950s.

In the 1920s and 1930s, a small but significant Cuban community — both white and black — resided in the New York area. Entertainers, artists, political exiles, and businessmen, as well as workers looking for a better life, settled in neighborhoods in Chelsea, East Harlem, Hell’s Kitchen, Park Avenue, Brooklyn, and northern New Jersey. Nearly 26,000 Cubans immigrated to the United States between 1921 and 1940. Over 1 million Cubans immigrated to the United States between 1959 and 1995. (Source: U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service)    

This interview is part of the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) Federal Writers’ Project of the 1930s.  It is part of the Spanish Book that emphasizes Hispanics in New York.

Essential Question
Why do people migrate?
How does migration affect the migrant and the community into which they migrate?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this document and evaluate the significance of the information obtained from this interview.