Golden exile

The emigration of Cubans, from the 1959 Cuban Revolution to October of 1962, has been dubbed the Golden exile and the first emigration wave in the greater Cuban exile. The exodus was referred to as the "Golden exile" because of the mainly upper and middle class character of the emigrants. After the success of the revolution various Cubans who had allied themselves or worked with the overthrown Batista regime fled the country. Later as the Fidel Castro government began nationalizing industries many Cuban professionals would flee the island.[1] This period of the Cuban exile is also referred to as the Historical exile, mainly by those who emigrated during this period.[2]

Golden exile
Part of the Cuban exodus
JFK Brigade 2506 meeting.jpg
Cuban exiles in Brigade 2506 meeting President Kennedy
Date1959 – 1962
Location Cuba
Also known asHistorical exile


1959 - 1960Edit

The first to emigrate after the revolution were those who were associated or worked for the old Batista regime. The U.S. embassy in Havana and consulate in Santiago would regularly grant visas to Cubans wishing to leave.[2]

By the middle of 1959 various new policies had affected Cuban life such as the redistribution of property, nationalization of religious and private schools, and the banning of racially exclusive social clubs. Those that began to leave the island were driven by them being negatively affected by new economic policies, their distaste with new national public schools, or anxiety over government supported racial integration. The government would quickly label exiles who left as "racists", discouraging Afro-Cubans to also emigrate. These conditions caused the majority of those who emigrated to be either upper or middle class, white, and catholic.[3] Many middle class emigrants were often professionals that were tied to American companies that were nationalized.[4]

Many of the emigrants that would leave believed they would be returning soon to Cuba,[1] believing the U.S. would soon intervene and overthrow the Fidel Castro government.[5] Some of those exiled in the United States would organize a militant resistance to the Fidel Castro government.[4]

The 1960 United States census stated that there were over 124,000 Cubans in the United States. In response to the exodus of Cubans the U.S. government established programs to provide social services and resources to arriving Cubans.[6]

The flight of many skilled workers after the revolution caused a “brain drain.” This loss of trained professionals sparked a renovation of the Cuban education system to accommodate the education of new professionals to replace those that had emigrated.[7]


On January 3, 1961 the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba and afterwards emigrants gained visas for humanitarian reasons, and after arriving in the United States they could apply for parole and gain refugee status.[2]

In April of 1961 the Bay of Pigs Invasion consisting of many militant and anti-fidelista Cuban exiles would fail to take over Cuba.[4] Afterwards those who would choose to emigrate would view their decision as a permanent one.[5] Fidel Castro would then term those leaving "gusanos" (worms).[5]

Growing controversy in Cuba with the nationalization of Catholic schools spurred the development of Operation Peter Pan to relocate children to the United States.[4]


During the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, travel between the United States and Cuba became restricted. Afterwards Cuban emigration would occur using makeshift vessels illegally leaving Cuba. From 1959 to the end of open travel in 1962 around 250,000 Cubans left the island.[1]



Researcher Jorge Duany claims the majority of exiles were urban, middle-aged, well-educated, light-skinned, and white-collar workers, who emigrated primarily did so for religious, or political reasons. He also claims that while the first emigrants left because they were old Bastianos, those after left because of disillusionment with the new government and because economic reforms and nationalizations of American companies had harmed their professions.[1] Researchers Irving Louis Horowitz and Jaime Suchlick have claimed about half of those who emigrated by the Second Wave were blue collar workers and many of those were agricultural workers and fishermen. They also proposed many left because of Cuba's new rationing system and mandatory military service.[4]

Horowitz and Suchlick claim that while most emigrants were not involved in militant movements a majority did financial support them until later becoming disillusioned after the failures of such movements.[4]

Emigration process and settlingEdit

Cubans who requested exit permits would be fired from their job if they worked for a government enterprise. Officials from Committees for the Defense of the Revolution would take inventory of all property of the applicant emigrant, once inventoried the applicant could not sell or give away any of their property. All property and money would be confiscated from them when finally leaving the country, and most exiles left with only a suitcase of clothing in their possession. By 1960 the United States had established the Cuban Refugee Emergency Center which supplied exiles with food, money, clothing, medical aid, adult education, and plane tickets to locations that had humanitarian organizations that were caring for new arrivals.[6]

Once in the United States many exiles adopted blue-collar jobs. The notably affluent majority of exiles had now become mostly middle or lower class. In Miami discrimination was still commonplace towards Cuban immigrants and many were barred from renting certain properties or membership in trade unions. This discrimination helped foster the Cuban community of Little Havana, where Cubans could remain close to Catholic churches and school's offering charitable aid.[8] Many exiles' were able to use already attained professional skills to eventually better their occupations, and contribute to building Miami's Cuban business enclave.[9]


"Golden exile" identityEdit

The Cuban success story or sometimes referred to as the "myth of the golden exile", is the idea that Cuban exiles that came to the United States after the 1959 Cuban Revolution were mostly or exclusively political exiles who were white, largely conservative, and financially successful. The idea garnered traction starting in the 1960s via rags-to-riches stories of Cuban exiles in the US news media, and became widely promoted within the Cuban American community.[10][11]

The identity of "golden exile" has been used in Cuban-American circles as an identity to distinguish Cuban Americans who are seen as racially white and exuding conservative values as compared to Cuban Americans who came later in the Cuban exile who may have darker skin.[12] The term "golden exile" has also been used in discussions involving immigration as a term to glorify Cuban immigrants as anti-communist political refugees and productive members of the middle class. This term has spurred controversy due to statistics countering this image.[13]

"Cuba de ayer" mythosEdit

This first wave of upper-class emigrants from Cuba in the immediate years after the Cuban Revolution would leave the island with only memories of Cuba from the era of Fulgencio Batista. These memories formed the genesis of the idealized image of the Cuba de ayer.[14] The Cuban exiles who came immediately after the revolution where largely shocked by American racism which differed in expression from Cuban racism. In Cuba no formal de jure racial segregation existed. Whatever social manifestations of racism existed in Cuba were often ignored or unknown to the upper-class white emigres arriving in Miami. The sight of formal racial segregation in the American south by Cuban exiles reinforced the idea that the Cuba de ayer was free of racism unlike the United States.[15]

The reconstruction of outlawed businesses and social organizations in Cuba by exiles now in Miami, reaffirmed the memories of the idyllic Cuba de ayer.[14] This reconstruction came from the waning of a hope to return to a Cuba without Fidel Castro in power, so Cuban exiles began to model their communities in the image of the Cuba de ayer. The most notable of these communities is Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.[16] Little Havana became an epicenter for Cuban life in Miami, specifically in how many institutions are Cuban owned and modeled in the image of nostalgia for the Cuba de ayer.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Duany, Jorge (1 January 1999). "Cuban communities in the United States: migration waves, settlement patterns and socioeconomic diversity". Pouvoirs dans la Caraïbe Revue du Centre de recherche sur les pouvoirs locaux dans la Caraïbe (11): 69–103. doi:10.4000/plc.464.
  2. ^ a b c "Cuban Migration: A Postrevolution Exodus Ebbs and Flows". 3 July 2017. Retrieved 2019-12-06.
  3. ^ Benson, Devyn Spence (22 March 2019). Not blacks, but citizens!: racial politics in revolutionary Cuba, 1959-1961 (Thesis). doi:10.17615/ys7q-8n14. S2CID 161971505.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Horowitz, Irving; Suchlicki, Jaime (2001). Cuban Communism. Transaction Publishers. pp. 413–417. ISBN 9781412820875.
  5. ^ a b c Pedraza, Silvia (Winter 1998). "Cuba's Revolution and Exodus". Journal of the International Institute. 5 (2). hdl:2027/spo.4750978.0005.204.
  6. ^ a b Verdeja, Sam; Martínez, Guillermo (2012). Cubans, an Epic Journey: The Struggle of Exiles for Truth and Freedom. Reedy Press LLC. ISBN 978-1-935806-20-2.[page needed]
  7. ^ Klein, Deborah (2004). "Education as Social Revolution". Independent School. 63 (3): 38–47.
  8. ^ Walsh, Daniel C. (2011). "La Causa". An Air War with Cuba: The United States Radio Campaign Against Castro. McFarland. pp. 28–42. ISBN 978-0-7864-8719-6.
  9. ^ Rumbaut, Rubén G.; Portes, Alejandro (10 September 2001). "Incorporation into U.S. Society: The Golden Exile and the Golden Enclave". Ethnicities: Children of Immigrants in America. University of California Press. pp. 95–96. ISBN 978-0-520-23012-5.
  10. ^ Nicolás Kanellos (1994). Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States: Sociology. Arte Publico Press. p. 134. ISBN 9781611921656.
  11. ^ Francisco Hernández Vázquez; Rodolfo D. Torres (2003). Latino/a Thought: Culture, Politics, and Society. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. pp. 295–296. ISBN 9780847699414.
  12. ^ Helmick, Gregory (2016). Archival Dissonance in the U.S. Cuban Post-Exile Novel. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. pp. 43–44. ISBN 9781443887588.
  13. ^ Perez-Lopez, Jorge (1993). Cuban Studies 23. University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780822970361.
  14. ^ a b Exile Cultures, Misplaced Identities. Brill. 2015. p. 269. ISBN 9789401205924. Archived from the original on 2022-07-19. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  15. ^ Herrera, Andrea (2001). ReMembering Cuba Legacy of a Diaspora. University of Texas Press. p. 41. ISBN 9780292731479. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  16. ^ Immigrants Outside Megalopolis Ethnic Transformation in the Heartland. Lexington Books. 2008. p. 52. ISBN 9780739119198. Archived from the original on 2022-07-19. Retrieved 2022-07-19.
  17. ^ Defining Travel Diverse Visions. University Press of Mississippi. 2001. p. 228. ISBN 9781578064113.