Driven by desperation, riding in anything they could make seaworthy, they came to South Florida — many to Miami — to start new lives.
A new initiative by HistoryMiami and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is aiming to capture the experiences of both Cuban balseros, or rafters, as well as those of Cuban exiles in general: How they traveled here and what they found upon arrival.
In an event timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 1994 exodus, the two institutions are soliciting contributions to the project from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at HistoryMiami in the Miami-Dade Cultural Center.
Part open house, part space for donations, the organizers are encouraging both physical donations — anything brought on the journey from Cuba to the United States, along with photographs and documents from life in America — as well as individual stories, which will be preserved as oral histories that will be saved at the Smithsonian and may be used in future exhibitions.
The two institutions’ collaboration will produce an exhibit in honor of the 20th anniversary of the balsero crisis, titled, Exiles in South Florida: Collecting Cuban Migration History.
“The journeys of many Cubans to Miami are extraordinary migration stories seldom told within a national context. They provide an avenue to discuss Hispanic and Cuban culture and the migrant experience in the United States,” Steve Velasquez, associate curator at the Smithsonian Institution, said in a statement. “This project allows for the museum to work with Florida partners in documenting how this migration experience has shaped the individual, the community, and the nation.”
HistoryMiami will follow up the exhibit with a 3,000-square-foot exhibitiion in summer 2015 called Operation Pedro Pan. A collaboration with Operation Pedro Pan Group Inc., it will focus on the stories of unaccompanied Cuban minors sent to the United States in the early 1960s.
Here are several community events tied to the 20th anniversary of the 1994 balsero exodus: