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Immigration Stories

Black and white outdoor photo of three children standing, two young adults seated, posed for portrait.
Sanchez family, 1921. Courtesy of Anna Rios Bermudez


There is no single Latino immigration story.

Black and white photo of large crowd on airport tarmac in front of “Pan American” airplane. What can one story reveal about Latino immigration to the United States?

Cuban refugees onboard the first Freedom Flight arrive at Miami International Airport, 1965.
Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum [1989-011-4510] 

Color photo of yellowed page reading, “Republic of Peru Passport” at top in Spanish. What factors motivate people to immigrate?

República del Perú pasaporte, Clotilde Arias, 1923. 
Courtesy of Clotilde Arias Papers, 1919-1957, 
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Black and white photo of man stooped down in field, smiling, looking toward viewer. Have you ever experienced moving from one place to another?

A bracero stoops down with a short-handled hoe to cultivate a pepper field in California. Leonard Nadel, 1956.
Courtesy of Leonard Nadel Photographs and Scrapbooks, Archives Center, National Museum of American History 

While many Latina/o immigrants arrive in the United States seeking work and opportunity, their reasons for immigrating—and methods of arriving—vary. Some immigrants are fleeing war and violence; others are motivated by economic hardships. Finally, many decide to immigrate to access education and a better quality of life for future generations. Historically, U.S. immigration policies, wars, economic conditions, and political shifts have shaped patterns of immigration. Thus, Latino immigration stories will continue to evolve, and Latina/o immigrants of diverse nationalities will keep shaping U.S. history.

Immigrating from Cuba

The 1990s saw an increase in Cuban immigration to the United States. As Cuba faced economic hardships and barred its citizens from leaving the island without permission, tens of thousands of refugees fled in secret. Balseros (or rafters) sailed across the Florida straits using scrappy boats and homemade rafts called balsas. Below is one such homemade raft used by two men. The U.S. Coast Guard picked up the balseros 35 miles off Florida's coast. While they survived the dangerous journey, many other balseros did not. The restored raft remains a testament to Cuban and other Latino immigrants' ingenuity, desperation, and determination. See the raft and smell the scent of the ocean via a sensory interactive at the Molina Family Latino Gallery.

Learn more about raft

Raft used by Cuban balseros. Around 1992. 
Courtesy of Anacostia Community Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Humberto Sanchez 

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