Ninety Miles and a Lifetime Away
Memories of Early Cuban Exiles

David Powell

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Florida Historical Society Samuel Proctor Award
Rare accounts of Cuban migration in the words of the exiles themselves  
“These vivid accounts remind us that history is lived by ordinary people, whose memories are invaluable.”—Latino Magazine
“An intensely personal collection of memories from people who lived through a tragic epoch of Cuban history that became a transformative period for Florida.”—Tallahassee Democrat
“An excellent example of the power of oral history.”—Orlando Sentinel
“A beautifully imagined, carefully researched, and masterfully edited oral history. Readers will share the struggles of those who made the journey from Castro’s Cuba and changed the United States.”—Steve Kroft, longtime CBS 60 Minutes correspondent  
“Powell expertly weaves the history of early post-revolution exiles with the voices of those who experienced these events. This enriches our understanding of the revolutionary process and its aftermath as it humanizes the often misunderstood and at times maligned Cuban exiles.”—María de los Ángeles Torres, author of The Lost Apple: Operation Pedro Pan, Cuban Children in the U.S., and the Promise of a Better Future
“Provides a unique and engrossing perspective on the lived experience of the hundreds of thousands of people who fled Cuba to evade Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime. An excellent demonstration of the power of oral history. These stories add rich detail to the events of that tumultuous period.”—Tom Fiedler, former executive editor, Miami Herald; dean emeritus, Boston University College of Communication  
“This book is a powerful historical testament to the first waves of Cuban American immigrants. It is clear proof of their parents’ and grandparents’ struggles and perseverance to survive in the face of adversity in a new homeland while never forgetting their love and passion for the country they left behind.”—José Manuel García, author of Voices from Mariel: Oral Histories of the 1980 Cuban Boatlift  
“Through a combination of storytelling and oral history, Powell explores the Cuban exile experience chiefly through the voices of exiles themselves. Their accounts invite us to consider the importance and challenges of memory as a vehicle for understanding the history of the Cuban Revolution.”—Michael J. Bustamante, author of Cuban Memory Wars: Retrospective Politics in Revolution and Exile 
Bringing together an unprecedented number of extensive personal stories, this book shares the triumphs and heartbreaking moments experienced by some of the first Cubans to come to the United States after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Ninety Miles and a Lifetime Away is a moving look inside fifteen years of migration that changed the two countries and transformed the lives of the people who found themselves separated from their homeland.            
David Powell presents interviews with refugees who left Cuba between 1959 and the 1962 Missile Crisis, as well as those who embarked on the Freedom Flights of the late 1960s and early 1970s. During these years more than 600,000 Cubans migrated to the US, some by way of other countries and many arriving in Miami with only a few clothes and pocket money. In their own words, exiles describe why they left the island, how they prepared for departure, what situations they faced when they arrived in the US, and how they integrated into American life.            
Offering historical background that illuminates this pivotal period in the context of the Cold War, Powell shows how the US government’s Cuban refugee assistance program had far-reaching effects on refugee policy, bilingual education, and child welfare programs. The testimonies in this book include new information about low-cost “Cuban Loans” that enabled young exiles to attend US colleges, preparing many to be builders and leaders in their adopted country today.            
A powerful portrayal of the initial effects of a revolution that began a new era in Cuba’s relationship with the world, this book preserves rare accounts of the motivations and struggles of early Cuban exiles in the words of the emigres themselves, adding gripping detail to the history of the modern Cuban diaspora.  
David Powell is an attorney and former journalist. He began recording interviews with Cuban Americans as an outgrowth of his work experiences, and in 2021, the University of Miami acquired his interview recordings, transcripts, and workpapers for its Cuban Heritage Collection. For more information on the book and the author, visit
Publication of this work made possible by a Sustaining the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
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