Category Archives: Cuban Memories

Donor Stories: Rotary Club Miami-Granada

The Rotary Club Miami-Granada recently donated a series of documents dating to 1916, when the historic Havana Chapter of Rotary International (RI), from which the club originates, was established. The Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) recognized the Miami-Granada club’s donation at a June 30 event at the CHC’s Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion.

The Havana Rotary Club was the “first RI chapter established outside of the United States in a Spanish-speaking country,” explained the chapter’s president, Dr. Réne López-Guerrero.


Ellen Blasi, a former District Governor of Rotary International, introduces Dr. Réne López-Guerrero, president of the Rotary Club Miami-Granada at the club’s centennial anniversary event on June 30 at the CHC.

From its inception, the club’s list of achievements grew exponentially, providing RI with four directors and sponsoring the foundation of 43 other Cuban clubs. After a 25-year hiatus precipitated by the 1959 Cuban revolution, the Havana Rotary Club was reborn in 1985 in Miami, Florida, as the Rotary Club Miami-Granada to continue its legacy of “Rotary Serving Humanity.”

In a letter read during the event, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio recognized the important collaboration of the CHC and Rotary Club Miami-Granada. “I am humbled to learn of the many accomplishments the Rotary Club Miami-Granada has made of service to others in their communities,” Sen. Rubio writes. “As the son of Cuban parents I share with you a sense of pride and joy during this meaningful event as you share with others a rich and plentiful history.”

The documents are now available in the Rotary Club of Miami-Granada Collection, 1916-1985, for the permanent use of scholars and researchers.  Material will be added to the collection on an on-going basis.

Now on View: Spare Beauty: The Cuban Kitchen

by Sarah Block, Library Communications

View Ellen Silverman's short film, "My Roots Lie Here," at

Click the image above to watch a video of the event on March 5. View Ellen Silverman’s short film, “My Roots Lie Here,” at

A photography exhibition now on view at the Otto G. Richter Library explores life in present-day Cuba as it is intimately reflected in the vibrant tones and textures of homes throughout the island. The wide-format photographic prints featured in Spare Beauty: The Cuban Kitchen serve as vivid windows into decades-old interior spaces, deeply rooted in routine, tradition, and even memories— glimpses of which are brought out through each scene in vivid detail. These immersive scenes are the work of food and travel photographer Ellen Silverman, well-known for her work in celebrated cookbooks, travel magazines, and other artistic mediums. Spare Beauty is one in a series of Silverman’s projects inspired by her travels to Cuba.


Ellen Silverman

“In my first of several trips to Cuba, I was welcomed into people’s kitchens, where I found sparse spaces where time has stopped,” the New York City-based photographer says in her artist statement. “Due to years of lack of money, supplies and equipment, people have been forced to adapt and improvise. While beautiful and visually stimulating to me, these kitchens are the very real circumstances of each person’s day to day life. This series of photographs reflects the personalities and the circumstances of those who inhabit them.”

Silverman visited the library in March for the opening of the exhibition and to present a short film she directed titled My Roots Lie Here, which can be viewed here. Click here to watch the presentation from the event.

This exhibition will run through July 31, 2015 as part of a library-wide exhibition series exploring culinary traditions and influences of South Florida and the Caribbean.

Photos by Andrew Innerarity.


This exhibition will run through July 31, 2015 as part of a library-wide exhibition series.

A Refugee Cookbook

By María R. Estorino Dooling, CHC Chair

Recipes such as this one for croquettes indicated with an (R) the products distributed by the Cuban Refugee Program. Click to enlarge.

Recipes such as this one for croquettes indicated with an (R) the products distributed by the Cuban Refugee Program. Click to enlarge.

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.

Pictured is an empty can of chopped meat distributed by el refugio. This item was donated by Carmen Vega. After the can was emptied of its contents, Ms. Vega used it as a hair roller. Click to enlarge.

Pictured is an empty can of chopped meat distributed by el refugio. This item was donated by Carmen Vega. After the can was emptied of its contents, Ms. Vega used it as a hair roller. Click to enlarge.

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.”




CHC Examines Cuban Rafter Crisis through a Digital Lens

In our ongoing commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Cuban Rafter Crisis, the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) is launching two online resources providing a close examination of the crisis and critical events surrounding the largest exodus from Cuba since the Mariel Boatlift of 1980.


“Between Despair and Hope”

This month CHC unveiled the new online exhibition, “Between Despair and Hope: Cuban Rafters at the U.S. Naval Base Guantánamo Bay, 1994-1996.” This digital display draws principally from the Collection’s holdings of photographs, documents, ephemera, and objects that together offer insight into the experience of Cubans detained at the base between 1994 and 1996 after attempting to reach the United States on rafts and other make-shift vessels. The physical installation of the exhibition was first hosted in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion in the fall semester of 2004 to mark the tenth anniversary of the crisis.

“The exhibition allows us the opportunity to leverage the wealth of information and primary sources in the Collection to support a broader understanding of the Cuban Rafter Crisis of 1994,” says CHC Chair Maria Estorino Dooling.


“The Cuban Rafter Phenomenon”

The Collection has additionally launched a redesign of “The Cuban Rafter Phenomenon” site also developed in 2004. Originally created by Dr. Holly Ackerman (now at Duke University Libraries) and Dr. Ray Uzwyshyn (now at Texas State University Libraries) as a Libraries digital initiative, CHC took over site management a few years ago. The interactive site provides a look at the Cuban Rafter Crisis in a larger Caribbean context using maps, timelines, photographs, and videos.

The implementation of these digital initiatives is the result of collaboration between CHC and the Libraries’ Digital Collections and Web and Emerging Technologies teams. “Collaborative efforts such as these support one of the Libraries’ very important missions of providing global access to the historic materials held in our unique and distinctive collections,” says Dean of Libraries Charles Eckman. “These new resources also serve as teaching and learning tools that have relevance across the academic landscape.”

The launch of these sites is meant to coincide with the Guantanamo Public Memory Project exhibit in Miami, currently at the Little Haiti Cultural Center and at the University of Miami at the end of September.




Twentieth Anniversary of the Cuban Rafter Crisis


Cuban rafters rescued at sea. Courtesy of the Seventh Coast Guard District

by Maria R. Estorino Dooling

In all of 1993, the U.S. Coast Guard rescued 3,656 Cubans at sea. By July 1994, over 4,700 Cubans had risked their lives to escape the island. Between June 4 and August 4 of that same year, Cubans trying to flee the island had made seven attempts to hijack ferries and other vessels in the Bay of Havana. On Friday, August 5, 1994, thousands of Cubans gathered along Havana’s Malecon after rumors raged through the city that a fleet of boats was coming from Miami to pick up any Cuban who wanted to leave the island. By the end of the month, over 21,000 Cubans of all ages had set out to sea in rafts and boats headed for the United States in what became the largest exodus from Cuba since the Mariel boatlift of 1980. During the Cuban rafter crisis, over 32,000 Cubans left from all parts of the island. The impact of the exodus can be seen in everything from the United States’ “wet foot, dry foot” policy for Cuban migrants, to the Elian Gonzalez affair, to the changing social and cultural fabric of the Cuban community in South Florida.

This August marks twenty years since the Cuban rafter crisis. The Cuban Heritage Collection is commemorating this anniversary with several programs and collaborations between August and October 2014, including:

  • Debut of the online exhibition, “Between Despair and Hope: Cuban Rafters at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, 1994-1996”
  • Re-launch of the website “The Cuban Rafter Phenomenon: A Unique Sea Exodus” (you can currently still view the original version here)
  • Presentation of the Guantanamo Public Memory Project exhibition at the University of Miami College of Arts and Sciences Gallery in partnership with the Office of Civic and Community Engagement, September to October 2014
  • Collaboration on “Exodus: Alternate Documents” exhibition by Aluna Curatorial Collective at the Centro Cultural Español de Miami, September 11 to October 30, 2014


We will be sharing additional information about these programs and related events in the coming weeks. For research materials on the Cuban rafter crisis or to schedule a class visit to the Cuban Heritage Collection focusing on this topic, please contact us at

In Search of Freedom: Cuban Exiles and the U.S. Cuban Refugee Program

University of Miami Libraries Digital Collections and the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) have launched In Search of Freedom, a digital exhibit with forty-two photographs and publications illustrating the early years of the Cuban Refugee Program. Items were selected from Cuban Refugee Center Records, a large and significant CHC collection described in this Finding Aid.

The exhibit is arranged to contextualize the activities of the Cuban Refugee Program in the early 1960s through the initial years of its operation. The Program was created by the US Government to help manage the scale and impact of a large number of political exiles arriving in South Florida from Cuba in a relatively short period of time. Located in downtown Miami, Program facilities provided needed aid to individuals and families in the form of language classes, job training, child services, medical services, and food banks. In addition, the Cuban Refugee Program created the infrastructure and procedures required to accomplish the relocation / resettlement of clients to areas in the United States outside South Florida.

The Cuban Refugee Program closed in 1994, after more than three decades of providing assistance to many thousands of refugees.

In Search of Freedom

In Search of Freedom

The In Search of Freedom website was created using Omeka, an open source software platform, developed by the History and New Media Center, George Mason University, to enable cultural heritage institutions, scholars, archives and libraries to efficiently develop and manage digital narratives, exhibits, and collections.

AEON is a service of the University of Miami Libraries that allows researchers to submit requests for items at UM Libraries Special Collections, the Cuban Heritage Collection, and University Archives. Item descriptions for “In Search of Freedom” provide links to AEON, and visitors may request to view a copy of the original photograph or document at the Otto G. Richter Library, or request a digital reproduction of the original.

Additional images from the Cuban Refugee Center Records are available on the University of Miami Libraries Digital Collections website: Cuban Refugee Center Records. For more information, please contact the Cuban Heritage Collection at 305-284-4900 or

Tomás Estrada Palma Rides to Havana to Become Cuba’s First President

Originally Published by María R. Estorino on October 2001

Convoy accompanying Tomás Estrada Palma from Bayamo to Havana. From folder 24 of the Tomás Estrada Palma Collection (CHC0460), Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries, Coral Gables, Florida.

In 1902, Tomás Estrada Palma set foot on the island of Cuba for the first time in almost twenty-five years. José Martí’s successor as head of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano, Estrada Palma was living in exile in Central Valley, New York when he was elected Cuba ‘s first president in 1901. Once elected, he renounced his naturalized American citizenship and traveled to his homeland, landing in Gibara, Oriente on April 20, 1902. Estrada Palma traveled across Cuba for three weeks, getting reacquainted with the island and giving Cubans a chance to see in person the man they had elected as their first repúblican president. He reached Havana on May 11, 1902 and was inaugurated eight days later on May 20, 1902. This photograph depicts Estrada Palma’s caravan as he marched across Cuba. At the head of the group is a rider carrying the flag of Bayamo, Estrada Palma’s hometown and birthplace of Cuba’s struggles for independence. Estrada Palma rides in a black carriage at the center of the photograph. It is part of the Tomás Estrada Palma Collection of the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) of the University of Miami Libraries. This collection was donated to the CHC by Estrada Palma’s grandson, Tomás Douglas Estrada Palma, in 1995. Along with this photograph, the collection contains other pictures of Tomás Estrada Palma and his family as well as personal letters and other documents. For more information about this collection, view the finding aid.

Cuban Memories: Commemorating 25 years of the Miami Symphony Orchestra

by Fernando Espino, CHC Web Communications Assistant

This Sunday marks the opening of The Miami Symphony Orchestra’s 25th season. The Cuban Heritage Collection holds the papers of the Orchestra’s founder, Cuban-born conductor Manuel Ochoa (1925-2006).

Maestro Ochoa seemed destined for a musical life. His mother Caridad was a famous opera singer in Cuba, and he showed a strong ability for music from an early age. After studying and working in Cuba, Spain, Vienna, and Rome, he settled in Miami after the Cuban Revolution and set about making music that would resonate with an international audience.

Manuel Ochoa was among the first of Miami’s Cuban exile artists to see the creative opportunities that the city could offer as the gateway to the Americas. In 1969, with María Julia Casanova, Ochoa conceived of the Centro de Artes de América (America’s Center for the Arts), a performing arts center to promote cultural collaboration across the Americas. Ochoa continued to pursue his inter-American ideals throughout the 1970s, co-founding the Sociedad Hispanoamericana de Arte (Hispanic American Society for the Arts), but his vision would finally become a reality in 1989 when he established a truly multicultural arts organization, The Miami Symphony Orchestra.

In June 2000, Maestro Ochoa fulfilled a lifelong dream. He led the Orchestra in a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City with music by Joaquin Turina, Joaquin Rodrigo, Alberto Ginastera, and Saint Saen’s masterpiece Symphony No. 3. Manuel Ochoa passed away in 2006, but his musical legacy survives in the ongoing work of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, and his everlasting mark on Miami’s cultural fabric.

In 1996, WLRN’s TV program Huellas interviewed Maestro Ochoa.  He spoke in depth about music, his career, and the culture of his adopted city. A copy of this interview can be found online and on DVD in the Manuel Ochoa Papers held by the Cuban Heritage Collection.


With thanks to WLRN-TV Channel 17 for permission to post this interview.

Cuban memories: Remembering Cuban comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes

Guest post by Amanda Moreno, CHC Processing Assistant

Portrait of Guillermo Alvarez Guedes. From the Cuban Photograph Collection.

Cuban comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, 86, died Tuesday at his home in Miami. Renowned and loved throughout the Spanish-speaking world, he will be remembered for his decidedly Cuban humor that will continue to bring laughter to his fans.

In a 2010 interview with El Nuevo Herald, Alvarez Guedes touched upon the universality of his comedic style: “I always try to make all Spanish-speaking people laugh. Some laugh more than others, but what’s most important to me is that people get enough ‘material’ to improve their health.”

Alvarez Guedes began his artistic career at the age of 5 in his hometown, Unión de Reyes, in Matanzas province. By the 1940s, the comedian was a popular radio and television personality, performing in skits, “musical comedy” and cabaret shows. His career continued in exile, where he produced music through his label, Gema Records, and continued to perform and write comedy books. Later in his career, he went back to his radio roots, performing on his daily comedy show, “Aquí está Alvarez Guedes,” on Clásica 92.3 from 1996 to 2011.

In the same article from El Nuevo Herald, Alvarez Guedes emphasized the importance not of coming up with new jokes, but in making sure that he left the audience laughing. The laughter will surely continue.

A 1960s photo of Guillermo Alvarez Guedes (far right) in New York with friends, including Celia Cruz, Lucho Gatica, Rosendo Rosell, Gisela La Serie, and Rolando Laserie. Image rom the Rolando Laserie Papers.

Cuban Memories: Celebrating Cuban singer Celia Cruz

Esperanza B. de Varona, Gladys Gómez-Rossié, Celia Cruz and Lesbia Orta Varona during a visit to Richter Library in 1999 when the University of Miami awarded Cruz an honorary doctorate in music.

This week we commemorate 10 years since the death of Cuban singer Celia Cruz. Internationally renowned as “La Guarachera de Cuba,” the award-winning singer graced us with over 50 years of iconic music that would become influential in the history of Cuban performance.

In 1999, Celia Cruz visited us at Richter Library when the University of Miami awarded her an honorary doctorate in music. At the time of her passing in 2003, we hosted an exhibition in her honor. Following her funeral, her husband Pedro Knight and the Municipios de Cuba en el Exilio presented us with the flag that draped her coffin during her wakes and funeral masses in Miami and New York. This flag is permanently on display in the Elena Díaz-Versón Amos conference room in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion.

The images shared here are from our collection of photographs, memorabilia, and clippings about Celia Cruz.