Cuba is the largest island nation in the Caribbean sea. It forms the Greater Antilles, a chain of islands created millions of years ago when two of Earth’s tectonic plates collided. It is located 48 miles west of Haiti, 13 miles south of the Bahamas, 93 miles south of Key West, Florida, 130.5 miles east of Mexico, and 87 miles north of Jamaica. It stretches 750 miles long from east to west, but is only 60 miles wide in most places. About ⅓ of Cuba is covered by high mountains and rolling hills. Havana lies on the northern coast of Cuba, along the straits of Florida, south of the Florida Keys. The city lies on low hills that rise gently from the deep blue waters of the straits.
In Cuba, the climate is tropical, with a dry and relatively cool season from late November to mid-April, and a rainy and muggy season from late April to early November. Havana enjoys warm weather year-round, with the hottest months being July and August, with temperatures reaching a muggy 90 degrees Farenheit. The sea in Cuba is warm enough to swim in year-round, with the average temperature being 77 degrees Farenheit.
By the time Columbus arrived to Cuba in 1492, 50,000-300,000 indigenous peoples––the Tainos, the Ciboneys, and the Guanajatabeyes––inhabited the island. Over the course of 70 years, these indigenous peoples were largely eradicted because of disease, Spanish brutality during imperial rule, or absorbed into Spanish lines of descent through marriage. In 1514 Havana was founded. From 1526 the Spanish imported slaves into Cuba.
By the late 18th century Cuba was prospering by growing and exporting sugar. The plantations were worked by huge numbers of slaves. Cubans began their fight for independence from Spain in 1868 when a sugar plantation owner set his slaves free so they could fight alongside him for independence from Spain.
The Cuban nation as we know it has arisen from a history of colonial and imperial domination. Cuba’s history is long and complicated, and an excellent, brief breakdown of major events can be found HERE. Today, Cuba is one of the few remaining Communist nations in the world. While its economy and infrastructure are in major need of repair, it has some of the best universal social and health systems in the world.
Cuba has a population of over 11 million people. 76% live in an urban setting such as Havana or Santiago de Cuba. About 37 percent of the Cuban population is “white”—essentially people of Spanish descent. 11 percent is black, and about 52 percent is a mixture of white and black. A tiny percentage of the population is Chinese. Cuba’s culture is a blend of African and Spanish influences. Cuban music is especially celebrated around the world. Afrocubanismo, the syncretic result of the African majority's culture and that of the dominant European minority, was the "conceptual framework of modern Cuban culture." African rhythms were inserted into popular music, and the Euro-cuban dances "danza" and "contra-danza" and the Afrocuban dances "son" and rhumba became popular.
Before 1959 Cuba had some 100 libraries and a half-dozen museums; today it has approximately 2,000 libraries and 250 museums located throughout the country. The Ministry of Culture directs a program of education in music, visual arts, ballet, dramatic arts, and modern dance, culminating in the university-level Higher Institute of Art. More than 200 neighbourhood cultural centres (casas de cultura) offer workshops in all branches of the arts.
In general, Cuba is a country short of everything, though its people exhibit extraordinary resilience and inventiveness in the face of hardship. So skilled are they, for example, at keeping automobiles from the 1950s in good running and cosmetic condition that Cuba has become a destination of choice for vintage-car collectors from the United States and Europe.
Cuban communities have a tight social network, especially with the lack of technology on the island. Although Cubans are known as friendly and gregarious, many of them feel trapped by their economic and political situation. Despite this, many feel a strong sense of loyalty and pride in their homeland.
Son Cubano in Havana
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Miami is a coastal city located in Miami-Dade County in Southeastern Florida. It is the second most populous city in Florida, with a population of over 442,000. Miami and its suburbs are located on a broad plain between the Everglades to the west and Biscayne Bay to the east, which extends from Lake Okeechobee southward to Florida Bay. The main portion of the city is on the shores of Biscayne Bay, which contains several hundred natural and artificial barrier islands, the largest of which contains Miami Beach and South Beach. Miami is split roughly into north, south, west, and Downtown areas. The heart of the city is Downtown Miami, which is on the eastern side and includes the neighborhoods of Brickell, Virginia Key, Watson Island, as well as PortMiami.
Miami has a tropical monsoon climate, with hot and wet summers and warm and dry winters. Average winter high temperatures, from December to March, range from 76.4–80.3 °F (24.7–26.8 °C). January is the coolest month with an average daily temperature of 68.2 °F (20.1 °C). Low temperatures fall below 50 °F (10 °C) about 3 to 4 nights during the winter season. Hurricane season officially runs from June 1 through November 30, although hurricanes can develop beyond those dates. The most likely time for Miami to be hit is during the peak of the Cape Verde season, which is mid-August through the end of September.
South Florida’s first inhabitants were the Tequesta, a peaceful indigenous tribe who settled near the Biscayne Bay. After the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, much of this tribe was erradicated due to small pox and other illnesses. During the late 18th century, efforts to displace and relocate Native Americans resulted in a large migration of them to South Florida. After Florida was ceded to the United States and purchased from Spain in 1819, three major wars were waged by the Seminoles against the U.S. Government. The Miami area was devastated by the second wardand was known as one of the worst events in American history. These wars attributed for the slow settlement of Miami until 1842.
Then, William English charted the “Village of Miami” and the village was established on the south bank of the Miami River. By April 1896, the railroad tracks reached Miami and in July a meeting was held to incorporate the city. The right to vote was restricted to men and a third of the voters were Bahamian immigrants. The City was incorporated in 1896 with 444 citizens under the name of “The City of Miami”.Several years later John Collins and Carl Fisher, two prominent men in the City’s history, became promoters of Miami living. They transformed the Miami Beach area into one of the hottest tourist spots in the country. To ensure a steady influx of visitors, Collins built hotels and fisher built shops, nightclubs and the Dixie Highway. This boom lasted until one of many hurricanes in 1926 hit the area prior to the Great Depression.The Art Deco District was born out of this era due to post hurricane re-development in the area. Also, Overtown, an area slated for African-Americans, was a hot spot for the harlem renaissance elite. Once known as “Little Broadway” head liners like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and others frequented Miami Beach.
In 1959, the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro came to power. What followed was a mass exodus of people from Cuba to Miami. The Estefan's are a part of Miami's Cuban immigration history––in 1959, when Castro came into power, Gloria and her family were forced to flee the country, as they were particularly in danger since Gloria's father was a motor escort for Batista's wife. Emilio and his father left the country to flee Castro's oppressive regime in 1967 for Spain, and relocated to Miami permanently a year later.
Since the late 1960’s, Miami has become a mix of cultural influences. The city experience a large population growth with neighborhoods known as Little Havana, which was established with over 500,000 Cuban-Americans. Prior to this population growth, the African-American and Caribbean population made up approximately one-third of the total population. The late 1970’s saw yet another immigration influx when over 100,000 Haitians and Nicaraguans fled their countries’ newly overthrown governments. Finally, in 1980, the Mariel boatlift transported an additional 150,000 Cubans to Miami.
Listen to Cristina Saralegui tell a story about her last night in Cuba
Listen to Emilio Estefan's story of leaving Cuba for Spain in 1967 and what he learned from his father.
Listen to one of our accent donors, Kae, a Cuban-American from Miami, describe the demographic of Miami.
Miami is the first U.S. city with a Spanish speaking majority. It is considered a truly bilingual city and is known as “The Gateway to Latin America.” Speaking Spanish in Miami does not have the same stigma as it might have in other parts of the country - Spanish speakers in Miami are empowered both economically and politically. Today, Cubans make up the third largest Hispanic group in the country. Most Cuban Americans live in the Miami area.
Miami is a city that has welcomed immigrants from all over the world - Haiti, Nicaragua, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, and Japan, to name just a few. There is also a large Jewish population. Little Havana - the heart of the Cuban diaspora - is centered around Calle Ocho. Many Cuban exiles settled here during the 1960s.
In addition to the wealth and diversity of cultures represented in Miami, the city also has a thriving arts scene.