Hideaki Kami was a 2013-2014 CHC Graduate Research Fellow. A doctoral student in history at Ohio State University, he authored the following report about his fellowship and his research on “Diplomacy and Migration: A Transformation of U.S. Relations with Cuba, 1974-1992.”
I am pleased to report that my research at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) proved very fruitful due to the generous support from the CHC. CHC staff members helped me settle in Miami, become familiar with materials and peoples, and gain better chances to deepen my knowledge of the history of Cuba and Cuban Diasporas. By writing this report I would like first to acknowledge your valuable assistance to my research in Miami in the autumn of 2013, which would be a fundamental source for my PhD dissertation on the history of U.S. relations with Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s.
The fundamental purpose of my Miami research was to incorporate Cuban American politics and its history into the broader narrative of U.S. relations with Cuba in the recent decades. Because of its central focus on state-to-state relations, the field of diplomatic history has all too often dismissed the importance of human migration—the changing configuration of demographics, backgrounds, worldviews, and mindsets—for the making of U.S. foreign policy. Such assumptions, however, would be open to question if we study the case of Miami Cubans and their role in U.S. relations with Cuba, which would help us to wonder how the movement of people might have changed the dynamics of power and cultures within and across the borders of nation-states.
The CHC graduate fellowship allowed me to take an important step toward an answer to this question by broadening my perspectives of foreign relations history. With this fellowship I could stay for three months in Miami, where I could gain access to the valuable resources, even outside the CHC, and could meet with historical figures who were willing to share their stories with future generations. One good example of such resources is Dante Fascell Papers at the University of Miami’s Special Collection. This congressional collection holds numerous notes, letters, correspondences, published materials, which tell about the last fifty years’ history of Miami, where Cuban Americans played a major role. Further, my interview with Alfredo Duran, key player during the Jimmy Carter’s presidency, generously informed me of the insider story of the Carter administration’s approach to the Cuban American community.
Most of the time I spent in Miami, however, was at the CHC’s reading room, where I encountered even more numerous stories of Cuban life in Miami. Reading Cuban American newspapers, magazines, tabloids, newsletters, and all other published materials consumed much of my time and energy. Yet, these resources provided crucial information about the Cuban American community’s varying reactions to the actions and behaviors of Washington and Havana at critical moments in bilateral relations. Even richer materials than these published materials are manuscript collections, which provided unique perspectives of the Cuban American community and its interactions with the governments of the United States and Cuba. Particularly relevant to my project were Bernardo Benes and Mirta Ojito Collections, whose resources allow me to reexamine the context of the Mariel boatlift of 1980. While comparing and combining stories of this specially emotive event from perspectives of Washington, Havana, and Miami, I came to realize how valuable these collections were not only in terms of the history of the Cuban American community, but also in the broader context of U.S. relations with Cuba at the height of the Cold War.
Several noteworthy testimonies that I found within Diana Kirby Papers also will shed new light on the experiences of Mariel Cubans, whose critical views of all U.S. and Cuban players were indispensable for polishing my views of the event. Likewise, the materials of Cuban Refugee Center Records and Fort Chafee Collections will enrich further my stories of the boatlift.
Materials on the 1980s are relatively scarce, but the CHC also surprised me by offering several important sources. Some organizations like Alpha 66 held the comprehensive records, covering this decade. The most powerful and important Cuban American organization, Cuban American National Foundation, published numerous newsletters and information memorandum that poured into some of individual collections at the CHC. Equally important are three volumes of Jorge Mas Canosa’s speeches and radio transcripts, Jorge Mas Canosa en busca de una Cuba libre: Edición completa de sus discursos, entrevistas y declaraciones, 1962-1997. The records account for the trajectory of his political career, as well as the shifting strategies of the most memorable leader of the community of his time. Added to these sources is Jose Antonio Font Papers, which includes some of CANF’s internal documents that would be otherwise unattainable anywhere else.
My research also benefits from Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project, which the CHC offers online. Colorful testimonies and recollections of major Cuban American players in U.S.-Cuban relations, such as José Basulto, Bernardo Benes, Lincoln Díaz-Balart, Alfredo Durán, Irma Santos de Mas Canosa, Enrique Ros, Jorge Mas Santos, Diego R. Suárez, not only provided precious information but also made me aware of what might be missing from the written records available today. Despite CHC’s generous support for my attempts to interview Pepe Hernandez and other CANF’s founding fathers, these efforts have not yet come to fruit until now. Nonetheless, I will keep pursuing this and other chances to expand my knowledge of the ideas and activities of the foundation, along with its connections with Washington politics.
Numerous other materials, such as Cuban periodicals like Bohemia, interview records with Fidel Castro, and Miami’s radio monitoring service records (on Cuban radios in Havana) prove helpful to explore the Cuban side of history and to prepare for further research on this frontier. Overall, the CHC fellowship gave me tremendously valuable opportunities not only to read uncountable rare resources in Miami, but also rigorously to train myself as a scholar, who wants to be familiar with the unique history of Cuba and Cuban Diasporas. I will continue my dissertation research in the hope of writing dissertation within three years, and writing a book and/or journal articles on some of the topics that would be relevant to this project.
Thank you once again for the generous support. As one of the former CHC fellows, I will remember and cherish my fortunate time as the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection.
This report was authored by Hideaki Kami to fulfill one of the requirements of the CHC Graduate Fellowships.