Balseros at Sea
Cuban refugees used an amazing variety of vessels in their attempts to reach Florida in this case, in 2003, a boat with a propeller hooked up to the drive shaft of a 1951 Chevrolet truck. According to a study by the University of Florida, as many as 16,000 Cubans may have perished in the water between Cuba and Florida from 1959 through 1994.
To many people considered troublemakers and radicals in their homelands America offered the opportunity to make a new life in a
land that valued liberty.
A Political Choice
In 1649, after years of civil war, England became a commonwealth and King
Charles I lost his head to an executioner's ax. Eleven years later, Charles
I's son was restored to the throne. Three of the judges who had condemned
the new king's father to deathWilliam Goffe, Edward Whalley, and John
Dixwellpromptly set sail for Boston. Despite Charles II's furious demands
for their return, the three regicides managed to evade capture with the
connivance of Puritan clergymen, and they lived out their lives in New
Although there was a religious twist to the episodethe Commonwealth
leaders were PuritansGoffe, Whalley, and Dixwell can been seen as the
first of thousands of political dissidents to seek refuge in America.
The United States' reputation as a haven for dissidents derives directly
from the Constitution, which guaranteed the nation's citizens a
representative government, due process of law, and the protection of
fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly. Such guarantees
were practically unprecedented in the 18th century; they still elude many
of the world's people today.
A Conditional Haven
To many people considered troublemakers and radicals in their homelands,
like the liberals fleeing the failed European revolutions of 1848, America
offered the opportunity to make a new life in a land that valued liberty.
To others, like Cuban revolutionary JosÚ MartÝ, the United States provided
a temporary refuge while they worked to free their homelands from colonial
rule or tyrannical governments.
America's welcome to dissidents, however, has not been universally warm.
During the French Revolution, there were worries that immigrants would try
to overthrow the new republicworries that led to the restrictive Alien and
Sedition Acts of 1798. In the late 19th century, many native-born Americans
feared that immigrants would bring with them "un-American" ideologies like
anarchism and communism. These fears led to a "Red Scare" after World War I
that resulted in the forced deportation of several hundred immigrants. A
quarter of a century later, the onset of the Cold War fostered another Red
Scare, with similar suspicions.
Oppression vs. Fear
Freedom from oppression differs from freedom from fear, in that not all the
groups profiled here came to the United States in desperate fear of their
livesalthough some of them, like those who arrived from, say, Guatemala
and El Salvador in the 1980s certainly did. In many instances, these
immigrants might have remained in their native countries, leading
unmolested livesso long as they were willing to acquiesce to unjust,
unrepresentative, and tyrannical governments, or to accept foreign
domination of their homelands. But they were not content to do so. Often
these newcomerslike the British radicals and German "Forty-Eighters" who
arrived in the first half of the 19th centurytried to reform the political
systems of their own countries, before giving it up as a bad job and
embarking for a country where they believed that an individual's voice had
some protection and significance. They followed a tradition that predated
even American independence: as Thomas Jefferson put it in his Summary View
of the Rights of British North America, those willing to make the journey
to America "[possess] a right, which nature has given to all men, of
departing from the country which chance, not choice, has placed them."
Source: Destination America by Charles A. Wills, Bibliography