Cuban Immigration After the Revolution, 1959-1973

At the end of a six-year armed conflict called the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro’s 26th of July Movement ousted Cuban President Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959, and ushered in a new government. Within months, as Castro began to implement policies and align with the communist Soviet Union, hundreds of thousands fled Cuba for the United States. Most were educated members of the upper and middle classes. Many of these immigrants, termed “exiles” and “refugees,” believed their stay in the United States was temporary because Castro’s government would be short-lived. As Castro’s regime persisted, they realized their flight could be permanent. Pushed out by the consequences of the Revolution, the influx of refugees swelled the Cuban population of the United States from 79,000 in 1960 to 439,000 by 1970. Cubans settled across the country, with the most significant community in Miami, Florida, followed by Union City, New Jersey.

The Cuban Revolution occurred during the Cold War—a period of post-World War II tension between the Eastern Bloc, led by the communist Soviet Union, and the Western Bloc, led by the democratic United States. Responding to Castro’s Cuba as a communist threat close to home, the US government offered Cuban exiles asylum, financial support, and pathways to permanent residency. The Cuban Refugee Program was created by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 and expanded by President John F. Kennedy through the “Migration and Refugee Assistance Act” in 1962. It provided financial assistance, health care, educational loans, resettlement, and care of unaccompanied children for the 1,500-2,000 Cubans arriving weekly. The United States also supported Cuban exodus programs: Operation Pedro Pan (1960-1962), which brought 14,000 unaccompanied children, and the Freedom Flights (1965-1973), during which the US negotiated with the Cuban government to allow relatives of Cuban refugees to relocate. In 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act allowed Cuban refugees who came after the Revolution and had lived in the United States for two years to pursue permanent resident status. This primary source set explores the experiences of Cuban immigrants motivated by the Revolution—why they fled, how they arrived, and who supported and resisted their resettlement.