By María R. Estorino Dooling, CHC Chair
The Cuban Refugee Program, established by the U.S. government in 1961 and operated from Miami’s Freedom Tower, trained and employed exiled Cubans as social workers to connect refugees to services such as job training, resettlement, and food distribution. One of those social workers was Evangelina Aristigueta Vidaña, who in Cuba had been a high school physics and chemistry teacher.
As a social worker, Mrs. Vidaña found that many Cuban women were having a hard time cooking with the non-perishable foods distributed by the Cuban Refugee Program, such as powdered eggs, canned meat, and peanut butter. She started compiling and transcribing recipes that her clients were creating using the food received from el refugio (the refuge), as the program became known. With more than thirty recipes, Mrs. Vidaña distributed her “refugee” cookbook to clients and, in so doing, helped hundreds of Cuban families ease into their new lives in the United States.
Mrs. Vidaña worked as a social worker with the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services for thirty years. Her daughter María Eugenia Vidaña Soler-Baillo donated to the Cuban Heritage Collection a copy of her “Recetas de cocina usando los productos alimenticios donados por el Centro de Distribuición de Víveres del Programa de Asistencia de los Refugiados Cubanos” (“Recipes using the food products donated by the Food Distribution Center of the Cuban Refugee Assistance Program”).
The Cuban Heritage Collection houses the records of the Cuban Refugee Program. A small selection of materials from that collection are available online and were used in the digital exhibition, “In Search of Freedom: Cuban Exiles and the U.S. Cuban Refugee Program.”