Cuban-flavored Thanksgiving

Guest post by Dora Marie Williams, CHC Student Assistant

Turkey peddlers in Havana, Cuba, 1899.

From the Ramiro A. Fernández Collection.

With Thanksgiving approaching, the smells of baked turkey, mom’s mashed potatoes and grandma’s stuffing will soon fill houses around the nation. However, if you happen to be Cuban the smells might be a little different. When Cuban refugees flocked to the U.S. they brought with them their culture, and the combination of U.S. and Cuban customs resulted in some very interesting traditions, especially when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner.

Frijoles negros and boniato dulce are some of the dishes listed in a church’s Thanksgiving event menu from November 24, 1966 found in the Alberto Cuartas collection. The traditional pumpkin and apple pie is replaced by flan or tres leches, which is always mouth-wateringly good. In Little Havana Blues: A Cuban American Literary Anthology edited by Virgil Suárez and Delia Poey, Richard Blanco remembers that “…there was always pork… and black beans, yucca con mojito and fried plantain chips,” as well as the first time his parents agreed to make a turkey for Thanksgiving, which his grandmother unenthusiastically prepared (29).

I remember as a young girl hearing the story of my grandparents’ first Thanksgiving in the United States and until this day I cannot retell it without laughing. My grandparents emigrated from Havana in April of 1966. My grandfather was an accountant, my grandmother a stay-at-home-wife and my mother and aunt were no older than three years old. My grandparents were living in a one bedroom apartment on Flagler Street and could not afford a turkey for Thanksgiving. Being the crafty and ingenious person that my grandmother is, she noticed that the neighbors had a chicken that every so often roamed the neighborhood. On the day before Thanksgiving my grandmother lured the chicken into the apartment and the rest is history, Thanksgiving history.

Cuban-American Thanksgiving dinners have something in common with all other celebrations of this holiday: family. Family is a huge part of the holidays and of Cuban and American life in general. On Thanksgiving Day the family comes together and the house is filled with warm wishes, chitter-chatter and love. Whether your family watches the Macy’s Day Parade, Thursday night football or plays dominoes and catches up on el chisme, as far as I’m concerned you’ll be having a great Thanksgiving.

Happy Sansgivin!

New CHC Digital Collection Sheds Light on Abolition in Cuba

Guest post by Timothy A. Thompson, Metadata Librarian, and Ana D. Rodríguez, former CHC Metadata Assistant

The CHC is continually working to publish new digital collections from its unique archival holdings. One of the most recent additions to the CHC Digital Collections is a group of rare historical manuscripts that sheds light on an important period in Cuban history. The Junta Provincial de Patronato de Matanzas Records contain official documents created between 1871 and 1889, when Spain was slowly moving to abolish slavery on the island. This blog post provides some historical context for the collection and then highlights a series of enhancements designed to make the collection more accessible to online users.

The abolition of slavery in Cuba involved a gradual process that unfolded over the course of nearly 20 years. The final stage of that process began in 1880, when the Spanish colonial government passed the “Ley de Patronato,” which declared a formal end to slavery but left the old system largely intact under a different name. The term given to the new, transitional system was patronato, which could be loosely translated as “sponsorship” or “apprenticeship.” With a stroke of the pen, former slaves became known as patrocinados, or apprentices, and former masters became known as patronos, or sponsors.

One of the documents in the collection illustrates the largely superficial nature of the transition between the two systems:

Detail from a document granting Francisco Ortega permission to relocate his patrocinado named Marcelo to the municipality of Macuriges, July 21, 1880. View full record for this image.

In this document (a “pase de tránsito” issued during the first year of the patronato period), the word “esclavos” has simply been crossed out, and the word “patrocinados” has been written above it.

To help make these historical documents more accessible to online users, the Libraries’ Cataloging & Metadata Services division undertook a pilot project for creating enhanced descriptions for digitized items. In the world of digital libraries, these descriptions are known as “metadata” (data about data). For example, this collection represents our first effort to include detailed metadata in Spanish for major descriptive fields like Title (Título), Note (Nota), Subject (Tema), Genre (Género), and Physical Description (Descripción Física).

It is also our first collection to feature three new fields: Sender and Recipient (for correspondence) and Geo Point (for coordinates and links to the the website Links in the Geo Point field will take users directly to a map for the location being referenced.

On the collection’s homepage, separate “browse” pages have been created for “Tema” (Spanish subjects), Subjects, Sender, and Recipient. Finally, four “Collection Highlights” have also been included on the collection homepage. These highlights are meant to draw attention to the human stories behind the documents in the collection.

We hope you will check out these new features, and we would like to enlist your help in evaluating them. If you can, please take a moment to explore the collection and then fill out this brief survey (available in English or Spanish). Your feedback will help us assess our pilot project and will contribute to shaping our descriptive practices for future digital collections.



Scott, Rebecca J. (1983). “Gradual Abolition and the Dynamics of Slave Emancipation in Cuba, 1868-86.” Hispanic American Historical Review, 63(3), 449-477.

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.