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Cuban American
Template:Image array
Total population

0.63% of the U.S. population (2012)[1]

Regions with significant populations
Predominantly in Miami, Tampa Bay Area, Northern New Jersey, New York. Growing populations in California, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia.
Cuban Spanish, American English
chiefly Roman Catholicism; minorities practice Protestantism and other faiths
Related ethnic groups
Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Hispanics
Afro-Cuban, Jewish Cuban, Chinese Cuban

A Cuban American (Spanish: Cubano estadounidense) is an American who traces their national origin to Cuba. Cuban Americans are also considered native born Americans with Cuban ancestry or Cuban-born persons who were raised and educated in US. Cuban Americans form the third-largest Hispanic group in the United States and also the largest group of Hispanics of European ancestry (predominantly Spanish) as a percentage but not in numbers.[2][3][4]

Many communities throughout the United States have significant Cuban American populations.[5] The South Florida area, with a Cuban American population of 856,007 in its environs,[6] stands out as the most prominent Cuban American community, in part because of its proximity to Cuba.

South Florida is followed by the Tampa Bay Area and North Hudson, New Jersey, particularly Union City and West New York.[5] With a population of 141,250, the New York metropolitan area's Cuban community is the largest outside of Florida. Nearly 70% of all Cuban Americans live in Florida.[6]


Early migrations

Prior to the Louisiana Purchase and the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, all of Florida and Louisiana were provinces of the Captaincy General of Cuba (Captain General being the Spanish title equivalent to the British colonial Governor). Consequently, Cuban immigration to the U.S. has a long history, beginning in the Spanish colonial period in 1565 when St. Augustine, Florida was established by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, and hundreds of Spanish-Cuban soldiers and their families moved from Cuba to St. Augustine to establish a new life.

Thousands of Cuban settlers also immigrated to Louisiana between 1778 and 1802 and Texas during the period of Spanish rule.Since 1820 the Cuban presence was more than 1000 people. In 1870 the number of Cuban immigrants increased to almost 12,000, of which about 4,500 resided in New York, about 3,000 in New Orleans, and 2,000 in Key West. The causes of these movements were both economic and political, which intensified after 1860, when political factors played the predominant role in emigration, as a result of deteriorating relations with the Spanish metropolis.

The year 1869 marked the beginning of one of the most significant periods of emigration from Cuba to the United States, again centered on Key West. The exodus of hundreds of workers and businessmen was linked to the manufacture of tobacco. The reasons are many: the introduction of more modern techniques of elaboration of snuff, the most direct access to its main market, the United States, the uncertainty about the future of the island, which had suffered years of economic, political and social unrest during the beginning of the Ten Years' War against Spanish rule. It was an exodus of skilled workers, precisely the class in the island that had succeeded in establishing a free labor sector amid a slave economy.

The manufacture of snuff by the Cuban labor force, became the most important source of income for Key West between 1869 and 1900.

Tampa was added to such efforts, with a strong migration of Cubans, which went from 720 inhabitants in 1880 to 5,532 in 1890. However, the second half of the 1890s marked the decline of the Cuban immigrant population, as an important part of it returned to the island to fight for independence. The War accentuated Cuban immigrant integration into American society, whose numbers were significant: more than 12,000 people.[7]

Key West and Tampa, Florida

In the mid-to late 19th century, several cigar manufacturers moved their operations to Key West to get away from growing disruptions as Cubans sought independence from Spanish colonial rule. Many Cuban cigar workers followed. The Cuban government had even established a grammar school in Key West to help preserve Cuban culture. There, children learned folk songs and patriotic hymns such as "La Bayamesa", the Cuban national anthem.

In 1885, Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar operations from Key West to the town of Tampa, Florida to escape labor strife. Ybor City was designed as a modified company town, and it quickly attracted thousands of Cuban workers from Key West and Cuba. West Tampa, another new cigar manufacturing community, was founded nearby in 1892 and also grew quickly. Between these communities, the Tampa Bay area's Cuban population grew from almost nothing to the largest in Florida in just over a decade, and the city as a whole grew from a village of approximately 1000 residents in 1885 to over 16,000 by 1900.

Both Ybor City and West Tampa were instrumental in Cuba's eventual independence.[8] Inspired by revolutionaries such as Jose Martí, who visited Florida several times, Tampa-area Cubans and their sympathetic neighbors donated money, equipment, and sometimes their lives to the cause of Cuba Libre.[9] After the Spanish-American War, some Cubans returned to their native land, but many chose to stay in the U.S. due to the physical and economic devastation caused by years of fighting on the island.[10]

Other early waves (1900–1959)

Several other small waves of Cuban emigration to the U.S. occurred in the early 20th century (1900–1959). Most settled in Florida and the northeast U.S. The majority of an estimated 100,000 Cubans arriving in that time period usually came for economic reasons (the Great Depression of 1929, volatile sugar prices and migrant farm labor contracts), but included anti-Batista refugees fleeing the military dictatorship, which had pro-U.S. diplomatic ties. During the '20s and '30s, emigration from Cuba to U.S. territory, basically comprised workers looking for jobs, mainly in New York and New Jersey. They were classified as labor migrants and workers, much like other immigrants in the area at that time. Thus migrated more than 40,149 in the first decade, encouraged by U.S. immigration facilities at the time and more than 43,400 by the end of the 30s.

Subsequently, the flow of Cubans to the United States fluctuated, due to both the domestic situation in the 40s and 50s in Cuba, and U.S. immigration policies, plus intermittent anti-immigrant sentiment.

Cuban Migration in those years included, as well as workers, a small mass of the population who could afford to leave the country and live abroad. The U.S. was considered a favored destination by the Cuban bourgeoisie and the middle classes of society, to send their children to school, take vacations and bring some of their capital to establish small and medium-sized businesses.

Thus migration and existing kinship networks, mixed with other subjective processes, and an intense exchange of passengers and other forms of attraction, built a wide range of interactions between the U.S. and Cuban society. While Cubans emigrated from a backward country to one of the most developed in the world, there developed a complete economic and political dependency, one toward the other.

The Cuban population officially registered in the United States for 1958 was around 125,000 people including descendants. Of these, more than 50,000 remained in the United States after the revolution of 1959.[7]

Post-Castro revolution (1959-)

After the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, a large Cuban exodus began as the new government allied itself with the Soviet Union and began to introduce communism. From 1960 to 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans left Cuba and began a new life in the United States. Most Cuban Americans that arrived in the United States initially came from Cuba's educated upper and middle classes. Between December 1960 and October 1962 more than 14,000 Cuban children arrived alone in the U.S. Their parents were afraid that their children were going to be sent to some Soviet bloc countries to be educated and they decided to send them to the States as soon as possible.

This program was called Operation Peter Pan (Operacion Pedro Pan). When the children arrived in Miami they were met by representatives of Catholic Charities and they were sent to live with relatives if they had any or were sent to foster homes, orphanages or boarding schools until their parents could leave Cuba. In order to provide aid to recently arrived Cuban immigrants, the United States Congress passed the Cuban Adjustment Act in 1966. The Cuban Refugee Program provided more than $1.3 billion of direct financial assistance. They also were eligible for public assistance, Medicare, free English courses, scholarships, and low-interest college loans.

Some banks even pioneered loans for exiles who did not have collateral or credit but received help in getting a business loan. These loans enabled many Cuban Americans to secure funds and start up their own businesses. With their Cuban-owned businesses and low cost of living, Miami, Florida and Union City, New Jersey (dubbed Havana on the Hudson)[11][12] were the preferred destinations for many immigrants and soon became the main centers for Cuban American culture. According to author Lisandro Perez, Miami was not particularly attractive to Cubans prior to the 1960s.[13]

It was not until the exodus of the Cuban exiles in 1959 that Miami started to become a preferred destination. Westchester, Florida within Miami-Dade County, was the area most densely populated by Cubans and Cuban Americans in the United States, followed by Hialeah, Florida in second.[14]

Communities like Miami, Tampa, and Union City, which Cuban-Americans have made their home, have experienced a profound cultural impact as a result, as seen in such aspects of their local culture as cuisine, fashion, music, entertainment and cigar-making.[15][16]


Another large wave (an estimated 125,000 people) of Cuban immigration occurred in the early 1980s with the Mariel boatlifts. Most of the "Marielitos" were people wanting to escape from communism, and have succeeded in establishing their roots in the US.

Fidel Castro sent some 20 thousand criminals directly from Cuban prisons, as well as mentally ill persons from Cuban mental institutions, with the alleged double purpose of cleaning up Cuban society and poisoning the USA. Those people were labeled "unadmissible" by the US government, and with time, through many negotiations, have been returned to Cuba.

Mid-1990s to 2000s

Since the mid-1990s, after the implementation of the "Wet Foot, Dry Foot" policy immigration patterns changed. Many Cuban immigrants departed from the southern and western coasts of Cuba and arrived at the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; many landed on Isla Mujeres. From there Cuban immigrants traveled to the Texas-Mexico border and found asylum. Many of the Cubans who did not have family in Miami settled in Houston; this has caused Houston's Cuban American community to increase in size.The term "dusty foot" refers to Cubans emigrating to the U.S. through Mexico. In 2005 the Department of Homeland Security had abandoned the approach of detaining every dry foot Cuban who crosses through Texas and began a policy allowing most Cubans to obtain immediate parole.[17]

Jorge Ferragut, a Cuban immigrant who founded Casa Cuba, an agency that assists Cuban immigrants arriving in Texas, said in a 2008 article that many Cuban immigrants of the first decade of the 21st century left due to economic instead of political issues.[18] By October 2008 Mexico and Cuba created an agreement to prevent immigration of Cubans through Mexico.[19][20]

Immigration policy

Before the 1980s, all refugees from Cuba were welcomed into the United States as political refugees. This changed in the 1990s so that only Cubans who reach U.S. soil are granted refuge under the "wet feet, dry feet policy". While representing a tightening of U.S. immigration policy, the wet foot, dry foot policy still affords Cubans a privileged position relative to other immigrants to the U.S. This privileged position is the source of a certain friction between Cuban Americans and other Latin citizens and residents in the United States, adding to the tension caused by the divergent foreign policy interests pursued by conservative Cuban Americans. Cuban immigration also continues with an allotted number of Cubans (20,000 per year) provided legal U.S. visas.

According to a U.S. Census 1970 report, Cuban Americans as well as Latinos lived in all 50 states. But as later Census reports demonstrated, the majority of Cuban immigrants settled in south Florida. A new trend in the late 1990s showed that fewer immigrants arrived from Cuba than previously. While U.S. born Cuban Americans moved out of their enclaves, other nationalities settled there.

In late 1999, U.S. news media focused on the case of Elián González, the 6-year-old Cuban boy caught in a custody battle between his relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba, after the boy's mother died trying to bring him to the United States. On April 22, 2000, INS (now USCIS) agents took Elián González to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C. From there, his father took him back to Cuba.


Many Cuban Americans have assimilated themselves into the American culture, which includes Cuban influences.

Since the 1980s, Cuban Americans have moved out of "Little Havana" and "Hialeah" to the suburbs of Miami, such as Kendall, as well in the more affluent Coral Gables and Miami Lakes.

Many new South and Central Americans, along with new Cuban refugees, have replaced the Cuban Americans who have relocated elsewhere in Florida (Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Tampa Bay and West Palm Beach) and dispersed throughout the nation.

Cuban Americans live in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, which received thousands of anti-Castro refugees as well in the 1960s, and Cuban American population growth is found in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

More recently, there has been substantial growth of new Cuban-American communities in places like Louisville, Kentucky; Raleigh, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; La Puente, California; Lancaster, California and Palmdale, California; Palm Desert, California; Union City, California and Fremont, California in the San Francisco Bay Area; and a number of counties in Nevada such as Clark.

Recently small increases of Cuban Americans were in Sterling, Illinois; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Henderson, Nevada; Seattle, and Cleveland metropolitan area.

Cuban Americans have been very successful in establishing businesses and developing political clout by transforming Miami from a beach retirement community into a modern city with a younger demographic base with a distinct Caribbean flavor.


In the most recent census in 2000 there were 1,241,685 Cuban Americans, both native and foreign born and represented 3.5% of all Hispanics in the US. About 85% of Cuban Americans identify themselves as being White, mostly Spanish, which is the highest proportion of all other major Hispanic groups. In Florida, Cuban Americans have cultural ties with the state's large Spanish American or European Spanish community. In the 2007 ACS, there were 1,611,478 Americans with national origins in Cuba. 983,147 were born abroad in Cuba, 628,331 were U.S born and of the 1.6 million, 415,212 were not U.S citizens.[23]

U.S. communities with high percentages of people of Cuban ancestry

The top 25 US communities with the highest percentage of people claiming Cuban ancestry are (the top 24 of which are in Miami):[14]

  1. Westchester, Florida 65.69%
  2. Hialeah, Florida 62.12%
  3. Coral Terrace, Florida 61.87%
  4. West Miami, Florida 61.61%
  5. University Park, Florida 59.80%
  6. Olympia Heights, Florida 57.65%
  7. Tamiami, Florida 56.63%
  8. Hialeah Gardens, Florida 54.31%
  9. Medley, Florida 51.91%
  10. Sweetwater, Florida 49.92%
  11. Palm Springs North, Florida 43.59%
  12. Miami Lakes, Florida 42.28%
  13. Kendale Lakes, Florida 38.58%
  14. Fountainbleau, Florida 37.29%
  15. Miami, Florida 34.14%
  16. Miami Springs, Florida 31.83%
  17. Richmond West, Florida 29.30%
  18. Coral Gables, Florida 28.72%
  19. Virginia Gardens, Florida 26.11%
  20. South Miami Heights, Florida 25.70%
  21. Kendall, Florida 21.31%
  22. Miami Beach, Florida 20.51%
  23. Surfside, Florida 20.15%
  24. Country Club, Florida 19.97%
  25. West New York, New Jersey 19.64%

U.S. communities with the most residents born in Cuba

For total 101 communities, see the reference given. Top 20 U.S. communities with the most residents born in Cuba are (all of which are located within Miami):[24]

  1. Westchester, Florida 55.8%
  2. Hialeah, Florida 53.5%
  3. Coral Terrace, Florida 51.9%
  4. West Miami, Florida 50.5%
  5. South Westside, FL 48.3%
  6. University Park, Florida 48.1%
  7. Hialeah Gardens, Florida 47.5%
  8. Medley, Florida 46.0%
  9. Tamiami, Florida 45.7%
  10. Olympia Heights, Florida 45.2%
  11. Sweetwater, Florida 45.2%
  12. Westwood Lakes, Florida 44.9%
  13. Sunset, Florida 32.7%
  14. Fountainbleau, Florida 32.3%
  15. North Westside, FL 30.4%
  16. Miami, Florida 30.3%
  17. Miami Lakes, Florida 30.1%
  18. Palm Springs North, Florida 29.8%
  19. Kendale Lakes, Florida 28.9%
  20. Kendale Lakes-Lindgren Acres, FL 24.3%


Official Immigration to the U.S[25][26]
Year of
White Black Other Asian Number
1959-64 93.3 1.2 5.3 0.2 144,732
1965-74 87.7 2.0 9.1 0.2 247,726
1975-79 82.6 4.0 13.3 0.1 29,508
1980 80.9 5.3 13.7 0.1 94,095
1981-89 85.7 3.1 10.9 0.3 77,835
1990-93 84.7 3.2 11.9 0.2 60,244
1994–2000 85.8 3.7 10.4 0.7 174,437
Total 87.2 2.9 9.6 0.2 828,577
Race by Cuban national Origin, 2000[3]
Country of Origin White Black Other
Cuba 85.0% 3.6% 7.1%
Total: 1,241,685 1,055,432 44,700 88,159

The ancestry of Cuban Americans comes primarily from Spain.[27]

During the 18th, 19th and early part of the 20th century, large waves of Castilians, Basques, Canarians, Catalans, Andalusians, and Galicians emigrated to Cuba. Much of Haiti's white population (French) migrated to Cuba after the Haitian War of Independence in the early 18th century. Also, minor but significant ethnic influx is derived from diverse peoples from Middle East places such as Lebanon and Palestine.

There was also a significant influx of Jews, especially between the World Wars, from many countries, including Sephardi Jews from Turkey and Ashkenazi Jews from Poland, Germany and Russia. Other Europeans that have contributed slightly include Italians, Germans, Swedes, and Hungarians. Many Chinese also settled Cuba as contract laborers and they formerly boast the largest Chinatown in Western Hemisphere as most Chinese Cubans left for Florida.

Cuban American culture


Being of primarily Spanish extraction, most Cuban Americans are Roman Catholic, but some Cubans practice African traditional religions (such as Santería or Ifá), which evolved from mixing the Catholic religion with the traditional African religion. However, there are many Protestant (primarily Pentecostal) with small numbers of syncretist, nonreligious or tiny communities of Jewish and Muslim Cuban Americans.

Food and drink

Cuban food is varied, though rice is a staple and commonly served at lunch and dinner. Other common dishes are arroz con pollo (chicken and rice), pan con bistec (steak sandwich), platanos maduros (sweet plantains), lechon asado (pork), yuca (cassava root), flan, batido de mamey (mamey milkshake), papayas, and guava paste.

A common lunch staple is the Cuban sandwich (sometimes called a mixto sandwich), which is built on Cuban bread and was created and standardized among cigar workers who traveled between Cuba and Florida (especially Ybor City) around the turn of the 20th century[28][29][30]

Cuban versions of pizza contains bread, which is usually soft, and cheese, toppings, and sauce, which is made with spices such as Adobo and Goya onion. Picadillo, ground beef that has been sauteed with tomato, green peppers, green olives, and garlic is another popular Cuban dish. It can be served with black beans and rice, and a side of deep-fried, ripened plantains.


Cubans often drink cafe cubano: a small cup of coffee called a cafecito (or a colada), which is traditional espresso coffee, sweetened with sugar, with a little foam on top called espumita. It is also popular to add milk, which is called a cortadito for a small cup or a cafe con leche for a larger cup.

A common soft drink is Materva, a Cuban soda made of yerba mate. Jupiña, Ironbeer and Cawy lemon-lime are soft drinks which originated in Cuba. Since the Castro era, they are also produced in Miami. Other famous Cuban drinks include guarapo de caña.

Political beliefs

Cuban Americans have tended to be more Republican than other Hispanic groups. The failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and its association with John F. Kennedy, left many Cubans distrustful of the Democratic Party.[31] Many Cuban Americans believe that Kennedy deliberately denied Cuban exiles air support, leading to a rout by Castro forces. The trauma of this event has led to speculation about possible Cuban-American involvement in the assassination of President Kennedy. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, is particularly popular in the Cuban exile community (there is a street in Miami named for Reagan)..

In recent years, the Cuban-American vote has become more contested between the parties. In the 2008 presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama received 47% of the Cuban American vote in Florida.[32] According to Bendixen's exit polls, 84% of Miami-Dade Cuban American voters 65 or older backed McCain, while 55% of those 29 or younger backed Obama.[33] In 2012, Barack Obama received 49 percent of the Cuban American vote in Florida, compared to 47 percent for Mitt Romney according to Edison Research exits polls.[34]

Political representation

There are now four Cuban-American members of the United States House of Representatives. They are Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both of Florida, and Democrats Albio Sires, of New Jersey, and Joe Garcia, also of Florida.

There are also three senators (Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey) in the United States Senate. Cuban American Republican Marco Rubio was the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 2006 until 2009, and became a US Senator in 2010.

The former Secretary of Commerce, Carlos M. Gutierrez (R), is also a Cuban-American, as is John E. Sununu (R) who represented New Hampshire in the US Senate from 2003 to 2009 and Mel Martinez (R) represented Florida in the US Senate from 2004 to 2009. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R) represented Florida in the United States House of Representatives from 1993 to 2011. David Rivera (R) represented Florida in the United States House of Representatives from 2011-2013.

Eduardo Aguirre (R) served as Vice Chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in the George W. Bush administration and later named Director of Immigration and Naturalization Services under the Department of Homeland Security. In 2006, Eduardo Aguirre was named US ambassador to Spain. Cuban-Americans have also served other high profile government jobs including White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu (R) Florida-based businessman and Cuban exile Elviro Sanchez made his multi-million dollar fortune by investing the proceeds of his family's fruit plantations. He is one of the most low-profile philanthropists in the Southern States. Cuban-Americans also serve in high ranking judicial positions as well. Danny Boggs is currently a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and Raoul G. Cantero, III, served as a Florida Supreme Court justice until stepping down in 2008.


The median household income for Cuban Americans is $36,671, a figure higher than all other Hispanic groups, but lower than that of non-Hispanic whites.

In contrast, US-born Cuban Americans have a higher median income than even non-Hispanic whites, $50,000 as compared to $48,000 for non-Hispanic whites.[3]


25% of Cuban Americans have a college education, about twice the average of all other Hispanic groups, and lower than that of non-Hispanic whites, of which 30% are college graduates.[3]

39% of US-born Cuban Americans have a college degree or higher, as compared to only 30% of non-Hispanic whites.[3]

See also



Further reading

  • De La Torre, Miguel A. La Lucha for Cuba: Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami, University of California Press, 2003.
  • Interviews with Cuban-American women in Miami about Cuban-American identity.
  • Kami, Hideaki, “Ethnic Community, Party Politics, and the Cold War: The Political Ascendancy of Miami Cubans, 1980–2000,” Japanese Journal of American Studies (Tokyo), 23 (2012), 185–208.
  • Miguel A. De La Torre, "La Lucha for Cuba: Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami", University of California Press, 2003.

External links

  • Immigration Law and the Racialization of Latina/Latino
  • Cuban Americans can go Home More Easily Under Obama Rules by William E. Gibson, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2009
  • Long Islanders of Cuban Descent see Glimmer of Hope by Zachary Dowdy, Newsday, April 13, 2009
  • Cuban American Travel to Cuba on the Rise by Marc Frank, Reuters, May 6, 2009
  • Expats Flock to Cuba as U.S. Reforms Spark A Party by Andres Schipani, The Observer, May 31, 2009
  • The University of Miami
  • Cubans in Miami, an historical perspective
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