CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Beny Moré on the television program Cabernet Regalias; a promotional photo of Celia Cruz; a chess tournament match between Eleazor Jiménez Zerquera and Bobby Fischer; an interior shot of painter Amelia Peláez’s Havana home; a 1958 Bohemia magazine cover
Miami is both the center of the Cubanexile experience and a city that remains comfortable with high rollers and the big time, so it makes sense that the Cuban Heritage Collection—the largest repository of historical and cultural materials about Cuba outside the island—would be right here in town. The collection at the University of Miami, which spans 400 years and thousands of maps, postcards, photographs, manuscripts, books and personal and organizational papers, supports UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. And along the way, it reveals the beauty of an island that has never left the American consciousness, for good or bad.
Cubans have done pretty well in the Americandream department, and in 1998, the Otto G. Richter Library’s vast holdings were assembled as the Cuban Heritage Collection, now held within the 10,000-square-foot Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion. (The structure’s construction was made possible by the Goizueta Foundation, named for the Cuban CEO of The Coca-Cola Company who made America’s favorite haveiconography- will-travel corporate juggernaut a $145 billion enterprise.) Apart from the study materials, the facility has an Exhibition Gallery with an Humberto Calzada mural, titled Espejo de Paciencia, flanked by Cuban-style rocking chairs.
All of Cuba’s rich history is here, from a map of Havana from a circa-1762 London magazine to a 1900 William Henry Jackson photochrom of a Havana street to photographs of exiles in the 1970s and a beautiful 1998 handmade book entitled Los Feos: The Ugly Things, published by Ediciones Vigía of Matanzas with drawings by Rolando Estévez. This being Cuba, the collection goes from the glam—cocktail pamphlets from assorted bars—to the modern era, such as a Silvio illustration of a scythe spilling the island’s blood for a cover of Zig-Zag Libre.
Tens of thousands of images are available online in the CHC’s digital library, broken down into assorted collections, such as an archive of posters from the anti-communist organization Agrupación Abdala; the papers of Afro-Cuba scholar Lydia Cabrera, including an illustrated 1930s manuscript of Arere Mareken: Cuento Negro; high-1950s photos from the women’s organization The Lyceum and Lawn Tennis Club; and the archive of Cuban-born Randy Barceló, costume designer for 1971’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
Click on the Cuban Photograph Collections and some 5,000 images unfold—an entire world. Within the Jim Robinson Collection, the gems never stop, including 1950s Bohemia magazine showgirl covers and a 1958 cover of Carteles magazine with an illustration by Andres of one fetching Cubana. There are images of painter Amelia Peláez’s house in Havana, 1960s shots of exile businesses donated by Arva Moore Parks, images of circa-1988 Havana and a 1965 summit gathering of the Cuban Catholic Committee in Dallas.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: A signed headshot of actor Andy Garcia; a 1960s photo of singer Olga Guillot; an image of the Three Kings Parade in Miami, 1987; the Tropicana Nightclub in Havana; a Tropicana stage show
Viewed online, the collection is as random as real history, a mad jumble of grit and glory: Early Daisy Fuentes yields to middle-period Andy Garcia; Bobby Fischer playing a Cuban chess whiz slides into oozing-with-corruption Fulgencio Batista, looking like he’s about to take a bribe in The Godfather: Part II; the young Olga Guillot with the Arsenio Rodríguez band dissolves into shots of the Three Kings Parade in Miami and an idealized Elián González portrait. And of course, there’s the drop-dead glamour of Havana, a time that will never come again: Beny Moré and Celia Cruz on stage, commanding and invincible; the Tropicana in the 1950s, still the definitive nightclub, a touchstone for what it means to drink, smoke and gaze upon an ideal universe.
It’s all here, an armchair tour of Cuban but also international history, and a look at Miami as well. To see the shots of the Tropicana in its heyday, or Celia Cruz at full salsa-shaking throttle, is to be left with a sense of loss. But one thing is certain: This island has never stopped knowing how to wrench a good time out of any circumstance.