The Mariel Boatlift:
A Cuban-American Journey

Victor Andres Triay

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“In this informative and moving work, historian Triay (Fleeing Castro) expertly explores one of the most infamous refugee crises in U.S. history. . . . This compassionate and accessible study is especially relevant given current debates surrounding immigration.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“With the rigor of an accomplished historian and the grace of a superb storyteller, Victor Andres Triay uses his voice and the voices of a score of protagonists to brilliantly capture the facts and the emotions of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift and its impact. A must-read for those interested in the past and future of U.S.-Cuba relations.”—José Azel, author of Mañana in Cuba: The Legacy of Castroism and Transitional Challenges for Cuba  
 
“A timely reminder of the human costs associated with states using migrations to advance political aims.”—Gaston A. Fernandez, coauthor of Democracy as a Way of Life in America: A History  
 
Set against the sweeping backdrop of one of the most dramatic refugee crises of the twentieth century, The Mariel Boatlift presents the stories of Cuban immigrants to the United States who overcame frightening circumstances to build new lives for themselves and flourish in their adopted country.  
 
Award-winning historian Victor Triay portrays the repressive climate in Cuba as the democratic promises of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution gave way to a communist dictatorship under which the people of the island became virtually cut off from the outside world. He illustrates how escalating internal tensions during the regime’s second decade in power culminated in an exodus of over 125,000 Cuban refugees across the Straits of Florida during the spring and summer of 1980.  
 
Alongside a fast-paced narrative offering a brief history of the Mariel Boatlift, Triay presents testimonies from former Mariel refugees who recall their lives in Cuba before the boatlift and how they longed to reunite with family members who lived in exile in the United States. Their captivating stories detail the physical and psychological abuse they endured in Cuba at the hands of pro-government mobs and the mistreatment many experienced at processing centers there before reaching the port of Mariel. They recall treacherous journeys to Key West aboard vessels that were deliberately overcrowded to life-threatening levels by Cuban authorities, as well as their experiences settling in Miami and beyond.  
 
Called the scum—escoria—of society by the Cuban government, a false portrayal accepted and spread by some in the American media, Mariel refugees faced extraordinary challenges upon entering U.S. society. Yet, despite the obstacles placed before them, the overwhelming majority of these immigrants successfully transitioned to their new lives as Americans and many have emerged as leading professionals, scholars, writers, artists, and businesspeople. This book shares their hardships and successes while profoundly illustrating the human impact of international power struggles.  
 
Victor Andres Triay is professor of history at Middlesex Community College in Middletown, Connecticut. He is the author of several books, including Bay of Pigs: An Oral History of Brigade 2506. 
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