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How Cuban Refugees Came to the U.S.

As a denomination started by Dutch Reformed immigrants in 1857, the CRCNA is familiar with the immigrant experience. Like many immigrant stories, the migration journey for the Dutch was long and difficult, and the challenges did not stop upon arrival: loved ones were left behind, lives were lost at sea, many fell ill. Some were taken advantage of or lied to. Promised opportunities sometimes resulted in dashed hopes and dirt floors.

Because of these hardships, CRC churches came together to sponsor and support newly-arriving Dutch immigrants. Like many immigrants today, immigrants from the Netherlands could not make the transition alone, so they supported one another. Immigration is the story of many people in the CRC denomination. 

Many Cubans, both Catholic and Protestant, fled to the United States, fearing religious persecution.

In 1959, the U.S. experienced the largest refugee influx in its history as 1.4 million Cubans, fleeing their increasingly dangerous native Cuba, they poured into Miami and other major U.S. cities. Fidel Castro had just risen to power, overthrowing Fulgencio Batista’s brutal dictatorship only to replace it with his own violent regime. While Cuban refugees had fled to the U.S. under Batista, Castro’s leadership pushed a much larger wave of Cubans to seek safety in the States.

Castro began his reign with severe measures, including banning religious celebrations and seizing church properties. He even jailed Catholic priests—an especially frightening measure, considering that almost 90% of Cubans were estimated to be Catholic before Castro took power. Thus, many Cubans, both Catholic and Protestant, fled to the United States, fearing religious persecution. Alarmed by the violence they were witnessing, many Cubans even made the difficult choice to send their children alone to the United States, thinking that the unrest would settle down before too long.

Originally Cubans moved between their home country and the United States with relative freedom

Prior to the Cuban Revolution, Cubans had been coming to the United States since the late 1800s, with 50,000 to 100,000 migrating between Cuba and Florida (mainly Tampa and Key West) each year. Most sought work at cigar manufacturing businesses that had been moved to Key West while Cuba fought for independence from Spain. Though originally Cubans moved between their home country and the United States with relative freedom, as the Cuban government enacted increasingly repressive measures, more and more Cubans came to the U.S. to flee economic and political instability that predated Batista’s and Castro’s regimes.  

Cubans fleeing their home country in search of safety were not always welcomed by Americans. News stories from that time period reveal that many felt Cuban arrivals were an inconvenience and a burden. Cuban immigrants arrived in the United States amidst increasing racial tensions in the country. The Civil Rights movement was in its beginning stages; tension between black Americans and white Americans was high. As Cubans (some of whom were Afro-Cuban) began to arrive, they experienced prejudice and discrimination. Before long, signs on rental housing said "No Cubans" right alongside "No Blacks". 

In the midst of this crisis, many CRC churches tapped into their roots as a denomination founded by immigrants and jumped into helping Cuban refugees adjust to life in America. Tune in next week to learn more about this story.

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