What Castro Could Not Achieve: Cuban émigrés Conform to Life in Exile
METHODS: In-depth interviews with a purposive sample of 11 men & 9 women, 65 years and older, in New York / New Jersey, who left Cuba between 1959 & 1979 were conducted using a phenomenological approach. Participants recruited using snowball sampling techniques were asked open-ended questions for 90 minutes or longer about the experience of leaving Cuba and their adaptation to the U.S. MAXQDA software was used to code details, interesting quotes, and arrive at the invariant coping themes.
FINDINGS: Data showed clear patterns of positive adjustment, coping and resilience, though specific coping mechanisms and styles varied widely across participants. Interestingly, positive coping coexists alongside a thick curtain of unending nostalgia for a once idyllic homeland whose desired return to a democracy does not appear likely in their remaining lifetimes. Participants were generally able to describe both nostalgic accounts and also forward-looking coping—demonstrating they have both the ability to mourn ongoing losses for which there is no closure and also positive adaptation to current and future life events. Asked about the future of Cuba, all participants discuss a remarkable sense of never-ending hope and a pride for their Cuban roots and culture that they feel Castro could never take away from them. Several participants expressed an extraordinary sense of unending loss that defines most every aspect of their existence and yearn to return to their homeland if it changes back toward a democracy.
DISCUSSION: Themes involve an appreciation for the service needs of older Cuban American adults and have significant social work implications regarding forms of collective trauma and loss, which could affect similar displaced groups. Policy analysts and practitioners by understanding the pervasive nature of ambiguous loss and by appreciating the struggles involved in coping can be better positioned to help those affected. The research community can extend the literature on this understudied topic including improving the methods by which ambiguous loss is measured and extending its generalizability to other populations.