Historical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660

The Revolution of Fidel Castro
Although The Agüero Sisters takes place more than thirty years after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, many of the economic and social situations that the characters wrestle with date back to the revolution. For instance, it is for primarily political reasons that huge numbers of Cubans like Heberto Cruz and Constancia Agüero Cruz left Cuba once Castro was in power.

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Castro, then a young lawyer, took control of Cuba in February 1959 by initiating guerrilla warfare against Fulgencio Batista, the dictator who had seized power in 1952 and who was known for his arrogance and corruption. Although Batista enjoyed the support of the United States for much of his rule, by the time that Castro defeated him Batista had begun to alienate his American supporters, so Castro's takeover was not met with too much resistance by the U.S. government. Although at first Castro was very popular in Cuba, American officials during the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower soon realized that the new government was not going to allow the U.S. to dictate terms as it had for many years. (The U.S. had established strong economic ties in Cuba in the early 1900s and played a significant role in developing Cuba's economy.) Castro also pushed for a radical restructuring of the economy, and the Soviet Union supported him.

Cuban-American Migration
Although The Agüero Sisters takes place in the early '90s, many of the events were shaped by Cuban-American migration patterns. Between 1959 and 1962, more than 155,000 Cubans left the island. Of the close to one million Cubans living in the United States today, more than half arrived here after 1959. Between December 1965 and December 1972, 257,000 Cubans came to the United States. The American policy of welcoming refugees was a strategy for destabilizing the Castro government because it deprived Cuba of many of its merchants and professionals. The U.S. saw the flight of refugees as harmful to Cuba's economic future and as a symbolic victory against Communism. Most of these immigrants were fiercely opposed to Castro and his regime, but they were also proud of their Cuban identity and had a strong desire to return to their homelands.

The majority of the first wave of Cuban immigrants after the Castro revolution went to Miami, where they were close to Cuba and could enjoy a climate very similar to that at home. This is clearly seen in The Agüero Sisters; those who live in Miami have created a Little Havana to replicate the foods of their homeland. When Constancia moves to Florida, she is both thrilled and disturbed by the similarities to her childhood: ‘‘Everywhere, there is a mass of disquieting details. The deep-fried croquettes for sale on the corner. The accent of the valet who parks her car. Her seamstress's old-fashioned stitching. And the songs, slow as regret, on the afternoon radio.’’

When Constancia sends Silvestre to an orphanage in Colorado, the motivation also dates back to the revolution. Like other parents at the time, she fears that her child will be shipped off to boarding school in the Ukraine, so she voluntarily sends him away instead. Wild rumors circulated in Cuba—rumors that were fanned by U.S. officials—that children would be forcibly taken from their homes and sent to the Soviet Union and educated as Communists. Within three years' time, 14,048 children, mostly males, left Cuba and were cared for by various groups, including the Catholic Church. Today, there are many well-educated, middle-class Cuban Americans who did not rejoin their families until they were adults, if they ever went home again at all.

The Agüero family also reflects some demographic trends in Cuban immigrants. Unlike other Hispanic groups in the U.S., professionals and semi-professionals are over-represented in the...

(The entire section contains 3632 words.)

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