Cuban Exiles Recall Flights to U.S.

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  12.29.08 | 3:32 PM ET

For the 265,000 Cubans who fled their homeland on U.S.-sponsored “Freedom Flights” from 1965 to 1973, the emotional 45-minute flight to a new life remains etched in memory.  Now, a Miami Herald series on the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution has given Cuban-Americans a chance to share photos and memories of their “Freedom Flight” experience, in conjunction with a database that makes names and arrival dates of refugees available to the public for the first time.

In reading through the online recollections submitted by exiles who were children at the time, I was struck by how many remember their first taste of the U.S.—a coke, a ham sandwich, a pack of Wrigley’s gum, many handed out in box lunches at Miami’s airport. Others recall the tense days leading up to their departure, and the clothes, jewelry, and dolls left behind. 

With the recent publication of Rachel Kushner’s novel, Telex from Cuba, and Tom Gjelten’s Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause, along with the much-anticipated release of Steven Soderbergh’s Che next month, it seems Cuban history remains a hot topic in the U.S. Kudos to the Herald for rounding out that history with an important public record.

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

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