From Havana To Helena: Castro, Communism, And Cuban Refugee Children In The Western Diocese Of Helena, Montana, 1961-1966
Less than one year after the Cuban revolution, clergy within the Catholic Diocese of Miami actively pursued a role in helping Cuban political refugees. Historically, Cubans and Americans enjoyed the freedom to travel between the United States and Cuba. For Americans, Cuba offered a convenient resort community, rampant with American investment and luxuries. Prior to Castro’s revolution, many Cubans had already immigrated to the United States and lived in southern Florida. Soon after political and social conditions deteriorated in Cuba, Cubans in the greater Miami area were quick to offer assistance to family members left in Cuba. This attitude ofboth Cubans and Americans living in the United States was especially targeted at children— perhaps the group most vulnerable to Castro’s oppressive social and economic policies. The events of the Cuban revolution, coupled with Cold War American social attitudes toward communism, established a unique situation between the United States and Cuba. While the welfare of all Cuban political refugees was important to a variety of groups within the United States, the status of Cuban children rose to the top. For both humanitarian and political reasons, the American government went out of its way to protect the livelihood of Cuban youths. Communities across the United States responded to the Diocese of Miami and federal government’s Unaccompanied Cuban Refugee Children’s Program. The distinctly Catholic nature ofwestern Montana made this unlikely region ofthe United States the host to nearly one hundred forty Cuban refugee children. Similar to the United States government, the Catholic Church also opposed communism, perhaps especially so in a traditionally Catholic country such as Cuba. Despite the considerable difficulties of geographic distance, understaffmg, and financial confusion, many who were involved with the program in Montana acknowledge its generally successful outcome. The Unaccompanied Cuban Refugee Children’s Program, in combination with a variety of other services offered to Cuban political exiles, are quintessential examples ofthe democratic fight against communism. This unique era of the Cold War, coupled with the moral and political ambitions of the United States government, has shaped Cuban Americans in an unprecedented way.