When the first wave of Cuban exiles arrived in Miami in 1959, no one could have ever predicted the mass exodus that would take place from the island to the United States in the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. At that time, the overall population of Cubans residing in the city was nearly 50,000; but by 1980, after the Mariel Boatlift, there were approximately 500,000 Cuban refugees living in Miami-Dade County. This exhibition tells the story of this community's growth between 1960 and 1980 from the perspective of theater. Driven primarily by the visual materials in the personal papers of theater artists and theater ephemera housed in the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries, it presents the role theater artists played in the development of a Cuban ethnic enclave as well as in the transformation of Miami from "the sun capital of the U.S." to a major world city.
The story starts with the first wave of exiles. Their theatrical choices were a reflection of their old lifestyles as upper-class Cubans. Second-generation Cubans close the show with a theater that questioned art and identity vis-á-vis their relation to their parents' homeland and their place in U.S. society. Theater during these first 20 years of exile paved the way for a dramaturgy that would be recognized in 2003, when Miami's own Nilo Cruz received the coveted Pulitzer Prize award for his play Anna in the Tropics. This exhibition displays part of the spectacular history of Cuban Miami, but it is also, and above all, the story of a different cultural expression within the multi-ethnic landscape of American society.