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Reviewed by:
  • Cuban Catholics in the United States, 1960-1980: Exile and Integration
  • David A. Badillo
Cuban Catholics in the United States, 1960-1980: Exile and Integration. By Gerald E. Poyo. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. Pp. xiv, 369. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $65.00 cloth; $32.00 paper.

Gerald E. Poyo's skilled, well researched, and balanced account of the evolution of Cuban-American Catholicism during the 1960s and 1970s concedes at the outset that "Catholics represent only a small slice of the Cuban exile story" (p. 3). Yet he convincingly demonstrates their importance in the larger exile narrative, suggesting that the religious traditions of first-generation Cuban-American Catholics offered coherence to a massive exile population shocked with the religious decay and general disruption brought on by postrevolutionary society. The author relies on a wide array of diocesan archives, newspapers, and other relevant sources to paint a detailed picture of the complex human and ecclesiastical networks of prerevolutionary Cuba and the impact of Catholicism on the dynamic Miami exile community.

The book covers many of the signal episodes during the anti-Batista struggles leading up to the Revolution as well as exile responses to government attacks on the foreignness and pro-U.S. positions of what it saw as a counter-revolutionary Cuban Church. After 1961, anti-Catholicism only confirmed what many Cuban Catholics perceived as a descent into totalitarianism. Poyo discusses the increasing intimidation of priests and nuns that began in April 1961 and reached a crescendo the following September with the formal expulsion of some 135 clergy, arguing that within less than three years Castro "had suppressed and demolished what Catholics had constructed over half a century" (p. 80).

An important chapter on exile identity and ideology argues that Catholics countered the Revolution's dogma on Cuban nationality and history in many ways. Poyo discusses, for example, the Christian symbolism shared by many in the Brigada 2506 during 1961 in its training for the Bay of Pigs invasion. He also reveals the role of prominent exiles such as "Pepín" Bosch of the Bacardi rum family, who funded the work of groups such as the Miami-based Truth About Cuba Committee, led by ardent Catholic Luis Manrara, and the Representación Cubana del Exilio (RECE), whose newspaper was edited by a former Christian Democratic activist in Oriente Province, Jorge Mas Canosa, who later founded the Cuban American National Foundation.

Although Poyo outlines the major historical developments in Cuban-American settlement in Miami, his book deals little with urban sociology and local history. He excludes, [End Page 118] for example, the details of parish life and interactions between Cubans and non-Cubans within the archdiocese and the metropolis. He also seems to take his eye off of religious neglect and persecution of Catholics within Cuba after the beginning of the exodus in order to focus on the exile community. As the author mentions, Catholic dissent and resistance proved more consequential in South Florida than in Cuba, but we hear little, for example, of the plight of jailed Cuban Catholics in the 1960s. Nevertheless, this original monograph adds much that is new, including depth and context to familiar stories, such as the initiatives of Monsignor Bryan Walsh in sheltering refugee children in Operation Pedro Pan; of Archbishop Coleman Carroll's generally ineffective attempts at discouraging the creation of ethnic (national) parishes; and of Father Agustín Román's work in devotion to Nuestra Señora de la Caridad del Cobre.

Cuban Americans, while reluctant to abandon their cultural and religious traditions in exile and assimilate smoothly into U.S. Church structures, readily formed Catholic lay organizations. In early 1963 Miami exiles founded the Movimiento Familiar Cristiano to assist Catholic families in migration and resettlement. Many also organized Cursillos that worked across parish lines to reinvigorate their Catholic faith. In the 1970s Cuban Americans embraced new theological trends and aspects of liberation theology addressing Latin American poverty. They also participated in the Encuentro Movement. In 1979 Cuban-born Mario Vizcaíno established the Southeast Pastoral Institute (SEPI), which also reached out to Mexican-American and other Latino Catholics, though the legendary anti-Castroism of the exiles...


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