Many Cubans feared they would be targeted by the revolutionary government. When Fidel Castro proclaimed the revolution to be socialist-oriented in 1961, thousands of refugees fled to the United States. A large percentage of these refugees ended up in Florida, particularly Dade County in southern Florida.

Young Cuban refugee holding her dolls in airport (1961)

Young Cuban refugee holding her dolls in airport (1961)

Image number: N031976

By October 1962, nearly 250,000 Cubans had arrived in the United States. Subsequent waves in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s increased the population of Cuban refugees living in the United States to over one million.

The Plight of Pepito: Cuba's Lost Generation

This film is from a WTVJ (Miami) TV program called “For Your Information.” It begins with a young Cuban refugee, Pepito, and follows his story. There are sequences of refugees on rafts and small boats arriving on the Havana-Palm Beach ferry, small airplanes and passenger airlines. Viewers see the processing of refugees at Public Health Service, where families are reunited.

There are scenes of the Cuban Refugee Center and Miami, including clothes distribution, looking for a home, and Pepito's father pawning his watch. Pepito enrolls in parochial school. Then, there are scenes of fellow refugees in Miami’s Cuban colony and their homes.

Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Abraham Ribicoff, arrives in Miami to survey the refugee problem. Monolo Reyes, WTVJ Latin Correspondent, gives views on the situation. Governor Farris Bryant gives remarks at a press conference and Pepito recites the Pledge of Allegiance.

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The Cuban Refugee Assistance Program (CRA)

The Cuban Refugee Assistance Program (CRA) was an unprecedented effort brought about by the mass exodus of Cubans from their homeland. The CRA provided health, employment and educational services to Cuban refugees upon their arrival in the United States. The program, approved by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, was administered by the Florida Department of Public Welfare until 1974.

Resettlement Re-Cap, May 1964

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Resettlement Re-Cap, May 1964
Cuban refugees: Key West , Florida (April 11, 1961)

Cuban refugees: Key West, Florida (April 11, 1961)

Image number: PR04716

The family of mechanic Oreste Ortega, seated, and an ex-Castro captain, Armando Rodriguez, wait in a Coast Guard boat.

Cuban refugees arriving in the United States (1962)

Cuban refugees arriving in the United States: Miami, Florida (1962)

Image number: PR04710

Cuban nurse at pediatric clinic: Miami, Florida (1961)

Cuban refugees in Miami after air lift (1961)

Image number: PR04721

At the national level, the CRA was an important component of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. The U.S. hoped that programs like the CRA would help improve the reputation of the American government abroad. The CRA also allowed the U.S. to oppose the government of Fidel Castro by strengthening the Cuban exile community.

Cuban nurse at pediatric clinic: Miami, Florida (1961)

Cuban nurse at pediatric clinic: Miami, Florida (1961)

Image number: N031980

Resettlement Re-Cap, June 1969

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Resettlement Re-Cap, June 1969


Governor Farris Bryant checking emergency radio: Tallahassee, Florida (1962)

Governor Farris Bryant checking emergency radio: Tallahassee, Florida (1962)

Image Number: GV052052

Accompanying note: “Governor Farris Bryant, prime mover in Civil Defense preparations, checks out the two-way emergency radio installed in a fallout shelter in basement of his official residence. Bryant is talking to the state’s civil defense network which includes direct contact with the State Highway Patrol, the Road Department and other state agencies. Shelter is designed to become the seat of the state's government in the event of a nuclear attack. This picture was made just prior to the Cuban crisis.”

Cuba and the Cold War

Tensions between Cuba and the United States remained high throughout the Cold War. In April 1961, the United States backed an invasion force of Cuban exiles who intended to topple the Castro government. The short-lived invasion, known as the Bay of Pigs, failed in part because of President John F. Kennedy’s reluctance to provide air support for the invaders. The Bay of Pigs further strengthened the revolutionary government and emboldened counter-revolutionaries among the exile community. The climax of Cuba’s role in the Cold War occurred in October 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The discovery of Russian-installed missile sites in Cuba brought the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. Diplomacy ultimately secured the removal of Soviet missiles sites from Cuba; in exchange, the Americans dismantled missile sites in Eastern Europe