WPR Reports: Uprooted
Cuban In Wisconsin
In 1980, nearly 15,000 Cuban refugees were sent to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. They left their homes as part of the Mariel boatlift mass exodus. In this podcast, meet the Cubans who stayed in Wisconsin and find out what their lives have been like as they live in legal limbo.
Enrique Moré has roots in La Crosse. He's been a part of the city's music scene for decades, most notably playing with Mr. Blink. Wisconsin is his home. But it didn't feel much like home when he first got here, when he was one of a handful of Cubans to settle in La Crosse after arriving in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift.
When Fidel Castro took control of Cuba in 1959, some feared the shift to communism and left almost right away. Decades later, the changes brought on by the revolution would also lead to almost 15,000 Cuban refugees coming to Wisconsin as part of the Mariel Boatlift of 1980.
The Cuban revolution promised people a better life: free health care, schools and subsidized housing for everyone. But this came at a cost — and some weren't willing to pay the price. So they began leaving the country in the 1960s, and it all came to a head in 1980.
People who left Cuba to come to the United States as part of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980 share their experiences of traveling across the sea and their first memories stepping ashore in Florida.
Fort McCoy was one of four U.S. military installations that housed Cuban refugees after the Mariel Boatlift in 1980. Almost 15,000 Cubans lived there that summer and fall while waiting to connect with family members or find sponsors.
Some Mariel refugees made questionable decisions while adjusting to life in the Midwest in the 1980s. They've all faced discrimination. And all of them have tried to move forward as their pasts continue to haunt them.
The Cuban exiles who arrived in Wisconsin in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift have become family to one another. They are Wisconsinites. But their hearts remain in Cuba, and they want to visit their homeland one more time — if they can find a way.
In 1980, there was an exodus of Cubans who left their homes for the United States as part of the Mariel Boatlift. This includes almost 15,000 Cuban refugees who were sent to Fort McCoy in Sparta, Wisconsin. In this podcast, Cubans who remained in the area share untold stories about their early lives, moving to Wisconsin, and what life has been like since they've been living here in limbo.
Executive Producer and Co-Host — Maureen McCollum
Producer and Co-Host — Omar Granados
Technical Director and Producer — Brad Kolberg
Editor — Brady Carlson
Music Direction and Composition — Karl Christenson
Production Assistance — Hannah Haynes
Art Direction — Grace Lorenz
Marketing Specialist — Judith Heise
Digital Editor — Alyssa Allemand
Digital Project Managers — Alyssa Allemand and David Hyland
Digital Design — Amanda Starich, Anna Rueden and Jane Jiumaleh
Photography — Angela Major
Archival Photos — University of Wisconsin-La Crosse's Murphy Library Special Collections
Translations — Swits
Special thanks to Adam Friedrich, Peter Bryant, and NPR’s Research, Archives and Data Strategy team.