Voices from Mariel:
Oral Histories of the 1980 Cuban Boatlift

José Manuel García

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“Powerful and gripping reading. It captures vividly the denigrating, dangerous, and harrowing experiences that a human being will endure in the pursuit of freedom. This book is the story of the Mariel exodus, but it is so much more. Its first-person narratives illustrate the depths of human despair with some riveting descriptions.”—Yvonne M. Conde, author of Operation Pedro Pan: The Untold Exodus of 14,048 Cuban Children 
 
“The exodus of Cubans after the Castro revolution is one of the largest and, at times, most dramatic epics in human history. Voices from Mariel provides a vivid and accurate record of a major migration episode in the Cuban experience.”—Jaime Suchlicki, author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro  
 
“The accounts of the struggles and accomplishments of this group of migrants in adjusting to American society under difficult political conditions attest to their perseverance and determination.”—Gaston A. Fernandez, author of The Mariel Exodus: Twenty Years Later  
 
Between April and September 1980, more than 125,000 Cuban refugees fled their homeland, seeking freedom from Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. They departed in boats from the port of Mariel and braved the dangerous 90-mile journey across the Straits of Florida. Told in the words of the immigrants themselves, the stories in Voices from Mariel offer an up-close view of this international crisis, the largest overseas mass migration in Latin American history.  

Former refugees describe what it was like to gather among thousands of dissidents on the grounds of the Peruvian embassy in Cuba where the movement first began. They were abused by the masses who protested them as they made their way to the Mariel harbor, before Castro permitted them to leave the country in an attempt to disperse the civil unrest. They waited interminably for boats in oppressive heat, squalor, and desperation at the crowded tent camp known as “El Mosquito.” They embarked on vessels overloaded with too many passengers and battled harrowing storms on their journeys across the open ocean.  
 
Author José Manuel García, who emigrated on the Mariel boatlift as a teenager, describes the events that led to the exodus and explains why so many Cubans wanted to leave the island. The shockingly high numbers of refugees who came through immigration centers in Key West, Miami, and other parts of the United States sent a message to the world—loud and clear—of the people’s discontent with Castro’s government and the unfulfilled promises of the Cuban Revolution.   Based on the award-winning documentary of the same name, Voices from Mariel features the experiences of marielitos from all walks of life. These are stories of disappointed dreams, love for family and country, and hope for a better future.
 
This book illuminates a powerful moment in history that will continue to be felt in Cuba and the United States for generations to come.  
 
José Manuel García is associate professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Florida Southern College. He wrote the script for the international award-winning documentary Voices from Mariel and is the author of La literatura cubano americana y su imagen.
 

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