THE CUBANS OF MIAMI LOVINGLY PRESERVE A 40-YEAR-OLD RELIC
The University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection has a surprising star attraction, the Directorio Telefonico de La Habana , Havana’s last published telephone directory before Fidel Castro’s takeover. Out of the collection’s 500,000 documents and artifacts, the 1958 phone book is one of the most frequently asked about. Half a million Cubans fled the country in the decade after Castro took power, but almost none took along a phone book—a key, it turns out, to reconstructing and imagining Havana life in those days. As a result, hundreds of people each year consult the university’s copy, which was long kept under lock and key. Esperanza de Varona, coordinator of the Cuban Heritage Collection, says it lets exiles “remember the feeling of the time that they left, and pass those memories on to their children.”
Frank Angones, now a lawyer and member of the Florida Bar Board of Governors, came to the United States from Cuba in 1961, when he was 10. He says of the phone book, “I found my family’s listing, and my grandmother’s. It reminded me of better times.” The playwright Luis Santeiro, also a Cuban exile, used a prop version of it in his recent play Praying With the Enemy . “Powerful memories come out of that directory,” he says.
The refugees from Cuba settled almost exclusively in southern Florida, and Castro’s revolutionary government required that they leave behind all their household possessions. Never believing Cuban Communism would last, many of them hid their valuables in Cuba for safekeeping. Today those Cuban exiles have had to accept that they’ve left behind more than hidden treasures. The lives they gave up, and expected to return to in due time, are irretrievable. The closest they can come is the yellowed pages of a lone phone directory. For information on seeing the book yourself, visit