The Miami Herald

Where are Filer's students of Mariel?

In September 1980, I was asked to assist with a large group of students who had come from Cuba in the Mariel boatlift.

At Henry H. Filer Junior High in Hialeah, now a middle school, we took in many of these Mariel students after they had been moved there from nearby Miami Central High School.

My job was to help get these students' records from Miami Central to Filer. I still remember the information card stapled to their school records read: ``By Boat: Mariel.''

Along with their parents, these kids were among the 125,000 Cubans who came to the United States 30 years ago.

Naturally, the Mariel students faced many challenges. They had to face prejudice from other students of Cuban heritage. They were the new kids, a large group who had grown up under communism.

We teachers at Filer could tell which students had been good pupils in Cuba. They were anxious to learn and glad to be in the United States. Other students displayed poor behavior as they had probably done in Cuba. They got into fights and got suspended -- they were called delincuentes, or delinquents, by the others.

Another barrier to the Mariel students' progress was their housing situation. Families kept moving from place to place. It was difficult to keep track of their school records. Since I had studied Spanish, I used to contact parents. Some parents were glad to have assistance from school personnel, but others just wanted their kids to quit school and work.

How well I remember Jose Luis B., who earned $1 an hour in a Cuban market. Later he quit school to buy a car, which was then stolen in a parking lot. He had a tremendous desire to get ahead. His bright, blue eyes were not fixed on education.

And there was Jellie V., a good student whose mother was focused on academics.

Today, three decades later and retired from the school system, I ask myself: How are these students now? They should be between 44 to 46 years old. Did they succeed in life in America? Do they have good jobs? Children? What do they teach their children now?

I wonder.


If you were a teenage Mariel refugee who attended Henry H. Filer Junior High in Hialeah in 1980, Eileen Harris would like to hear from you. Write to to reach her.

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