An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

An association for alumni and supporters of The Daily Texan

Friends of The Daily Texan

Contact Information
Friends of The Daily Texan, Inc.
1401 Lavaca St
Austin, TX 78701

[email protected]

New book lets Cuban Americans tell about leaving Cuba and coming to the U.S.

The epic migration of hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles to the U.S. is the subject of a new oral history book by David Powell, who served as editor of The Daily Texan in 1972-1973.

The book, Ninety Miles and a Lifetime Away: Memories of Early Cuban Exiles, tells the story of the 600,000 Cubans who came to the U.S. in two massive waves in the first fifteen years after Fidel Castro assumed power on the island in 1959.

Most exiles arrived with only a few clothes and pocket money and without visas, but the government let them enter the country anyway. To assist them, the government set up the most generous refugee assistance program in American history with benefits that changed the refugees lives and America as well.

Powell interviewed fifty-four persons who either participated in or witnessed the beginnings of the Cuban diaspora.

The narrators include three Texans—Ana Cowley Hodges of Houston, a UT grad and retired high school journalism teacher; Guillermo G. “Gil” Mármol of Dallas, a retired corporate executive; and Mercedes Wangüemert-Peña of Austin, who works at a shelter for homeless refugees. In addition, several narrators who now live in Florida shared memories of their experiences when they first arrived in the U.S. and were resettled to Texas.

“It’s a great story,” Powell said. “It’s a story about ordinary people caught in a struggle with powerful historical forces beyond their control. It’s a story that shows America at its best—not perfect, but as the land of refuge and opportunity that it’s always been for oppressed people from around the world. It’s a story that we should keep in mind during our ongoing national debate about immigrants because it shows how refugees will strengthen America if we let them.”

After graduating from UT in 1973, Powell earned a master’s degree from the Columbia Journalism School in 1975 and spent ten years as a reporter, most of that with the Associated Press in New York, Miami, and Tallahassee. He earned a law degree in 1987 from Florida State University and practiced law full-time for thirty years at a Tallahassee firm.

In his work and through civic organizations he met many Cuban Americans and was moved by the stories of their lives. He began researching the book in 2015 and, after eighteen months of preparation, conducted his first interviews in November 2016, first in Florida, then elsewhere. He wrapped up his law practice in 2017 to focus on the book.

“It’s a big, sprawling, complicated story with many episodes,” Powell said. “Cuban exiles chose many different paths to escape the island. Some came with family. Others came alone and others as unaccompanied children. Some came directly to the U.S. by airliner or ship and got off in Miami. Others went first to third countries and then came here. Still others made homes in countries like Venezuela, Mexico or Jamaica before deciding years later that their future was in the U.S. Many were resettled around the U.S. but later moved to Miami.”

Narrators tell how their families were broken apart during the First Wave from 1959 to 1962, but some families were reunited by the “Freedom Flights” initiated in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Under that program, government-chartered airliners flew twice a day, five days a week, with few interruptions, between Cuba and Miami until 1973, bringing 261,000 more Cuban refugees to the U.S. Other families were never reunited.

“The Cuban Americans that I interviewed remember these emotional experiences with remarkable clarity, many of them right down to the exact date they arrived,” Powell said. “Some describe their arrival in the U.S .as ‘my second birthday,’ and thus their experience in this country as tantamount to a rebirth.”

The book was released on March 1. Further information about it is available at The book is published by the University of Florida Press, which subjected Powell’s manuscript to review by three outside experts. The University of Miami acquired his interview recordings, transcripts and workpapers for the oral history program of the university’s Cuban Heritage Collection. Complete interview transcripts will be available online soon at