Calvin Spanish professor Marilyn Bierling is researching Cuban refugees who came to the United States after 1959 when Fidel Castro took control of the Cuban government. With the help of Calvin College student Elena Brubaker, Bierling is also studying the Christian Reformed Church workers who welcomed them.
“During the ’60s and ’70s, two large waves of Cuban immigrants entered the United States,” said Bierling. Workers at the CRC-sponsored Good Samaritan Center in Miami distributed free food, clothing, and medicine to the refugees. They also helped them to relocate to cities in Michigan and in other states such as New Jersey and Iowa.
Bierling spent her spring 2011 sabbatical videotaping 40 interviews with ’60s- and ’70s-era Cuban refugees and CRC workers, both in Miami and Michigan. Now she and Brubaker are screening the videos, transcribing and editing the interviews, and subtitling them in English and Spanish.
Through the videos, the refugees share their struggles at transitioning to another culture. One theme that recurs is their gratitude: “Most of the people talk about the people they first met that introduced them to the CRC and (how) that person was so welcoming and so kind,” Brubaker said.
CRC workers also shared their experiences working with the refugees and answered why the denomination was willing to open its doors to refugees of that era.
Many of the workers said the refugee effort was an outgrowth of the denomination’s early diaconal work, including the founding of the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
“It was the ethos of the ’60s,” Bierling said. Many of the immigrants helped by the CRC remain members of the church today. “They’ve served in many different aspects of church life."