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.
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.