Historic periodicals chronicle lives of Cuban exiles

When Cubans started leaving their country after Fidel Castro came into power more than 45 years ago, they strove to keep their heritage alive.

In their new homes, the Cuban exiles formed organizations named after the municipalities where they lived in Cuba. They published newspapers, magazines and newsletters about the issues Cuban exiles faced.

Many of these publications are showcased in “Chronicling the Cuban Exodus: Cuban Exile Periodicals, 1959-2004,” an exhibition that recently opened at the Cuban Heritage Collection [CHC] of the Richter Library.

“It’s a unique collection,” Esperanza de Varona, CHC director, said of the collection. “No other institution has this.”

De Varona, who came from Cuba in 1965, said that many young Cuban-Americans have embraced the idea of having a Cuban collection at UM that collects and preserves their heritage.

In association with ProQuest, an information collection and distribution company, and Micrographics, a microfilm company, the CHC will begin microfilming the publications in order to make them accessible around the globe. Marta Lee-Perriard, of ProQuest, said the microfilming process is a way to document fragile periodicals that may otherwise be lost to decay.

Altogether, the CHC has 1,456 titles, with about 175,000 issues. Since they began planning the microfilm project two years ago, de Varona and her staff have been contacting Cuban municipalities, both in the U.S. and abroad, to find issues missing from the collection. They have received hundreds of issues.

CHC bibliographer Lesbia Varona said that the periodicals reach all the way back to 1959. Some were started in Cuba and continued in other countries, many changing their names slightly. Avance became El Avance Criollo. Bohemia became Bohemia Libre.

Varona, who left Cuba in 1966, said the municipalities and their publications were a way for Cuban exiles to keep in touch with their old friends and neighbors in their new home country.

“You feel very alone in that country,” Varona said. “At the beginning, you feel naked.”

According to Varona, one title in the collection, the Zig-Zag Libre, published smaller issues that were dropped by planes over Cuba to the people still living under Castro. Some publications, like El Futuro, were handmade by Cuban rafters detained at the U.S. Naval Base in Guant