The 1959 overthrow of Cuba's dictator, Fulgencio Batista, by the forces of Fidel Castro
unleashed a wave of emigration. Most who left the island nation-which lies just 90 miles
from Key West, Florida-headed for the United States. And, because Castro was a
Communist who repressed Cuba's more prosperous citizens, the Cubans who arrived in
the United States in the first years of the Castro regime came primarily from the upper and
middle classes. Later, however, Cubans from all socioeconomic groups sought to escape
their country's harsh government-often by making the perilous journey across the Straits
of Florida in makeshift boats. In 1980, Castro allowed more than 125,000 citizens to leave
Cuba from the port city of Mariel, adding to the already-large Cuban-American population
in south Florida.
Today, Cuban Americans number in the millions. They make up one of the most vibrant
and prosperous immigrant communities in the United States.
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