Cuban-American professor Jose Garcia has published a book on the Mariel boat lift that expands on the stories his 2011 film, Voices from Mariel.
Lakeland professor’s ‘Voices from Mariel’ gains wide attention
Jose Manuel Garcia’s original plan was to write a book, not to make a movie.
Garcia, a professor at Florida Southern College, began working on a book nearly a decade ago about the Mariel boatlift, the notorious 1980 mass exodus from Cuba.
Garcia had taken part as a 13-year-old in the dangerous trip from his native country to Florida. He began interviewing other Marielitos in preparation for a book.
But then plans for a trip to Cuba emerged, and Garcia conducted clandestine interviews with a film crew that became the basis for “Voices from Mariel,” a documentary released in 2011.
Seven years later, Garcia has at last produced a book, “Voices from Mariel: Oral Histories of the 1980 Cuban Boatlift,” and it is drawing international attention.
The 200-page book will be the subject of an article in the April issue of Perspectives on History, the magazine of the American Historical Association. Garcia also has received invitations to do promotional events in Australia, Spain and Macedonia.
Garcia’s first publicity event, though, will take place in the city where he lives and works. He will hold a book signing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Polk Museum of Art at Florida Southern College. The award-winning documentary will be shown at 7 p.m.
“I’m very proud,” Garcia said of the attention the book is receiving. “This is not Miami, so to have something like this coming out of Lakeland, and especially a small place like Florida Southern, really makes me happy and proud.”
The Mariel boatlift occurred from April to October 1980, when an estimated 125,000 Cubans migrated to Florida, most on small boats leaving from Mariel Harbor. The exodus became notorious because Cuban dictator Fidel Castro allowed some prisoners to join the migration, leading some American politicians to brand all the Marielitos as criminals.
Garcia, an associate professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, said one of the purposes of his book is to dispel that lingering stereotype. “Voices from Mariel” is based on interviews with fellow Marielitos, many of them Florida residents who have achieved success in the United States.
“One of my goals was to teach about the Mariel boatlift and in the process try to clear a little of that negative image that was placed on that event in regards to Marlelitos being criminals, being scum of earth,” said Garcia, 51.
The book is based on interviews Garcia conducted during the making of the documentary, produced by Lakeland’s NFocus Productions and directed by Jim Carlton. Jesse Larson, one of Garcia’s former students, also played an integral role in the film project.
The interviews with former refugees had to be edited down for the film, Garcia said.
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