Esperanza Bravo de Varona, professor emerita and founding director of the Cuban Heritage Collection, reflects on the "crown jewel" of Cuban collections that is housed at the University of Miami.
I am Esperanza Bravo de Varona and I have always believed that university libraries are founded simultaneously with the institution's founding. Thus was born the library of the Pan-American University, founded in 1926, which was later called the University of Miami.
As a librarian, I can say that archives and libraries form the cornerstone of history and our shared universal culture. The founders' idea was to have a university for both Americas with North American students and Latin American students.
In May 1998 the University of Miami and the administration of the library established the Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) as a new department of the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami. Two faculty members were appointed as librarians: I was chosen as director of the CHC, and Lesbia Orta Varona as the reference and bibliography librarian. This new department included all of the material in reference to Cuba that the library had at that time: close to 45,000 books; more than 1,400 periodical publications published in Cuba and in exile; and approximately 250 linear feet of manuscripts, maps, posters, post cards, photos and ephemera.
From the beginning, Cuban professors were part of Pan-American University faculty and they brought books, periodical publications and Cuban documents. These were the first resources that enriched the library of the new university.
When the Richter Library was founded in the 1960s, during the era in which the Castro-communist regime seized power in Cuba, an exodus of Cuban exiles began. Among them were librarians Rosa M. Abella and Ana Rosa Nuñez. They were hired by the UM library and began to acquire everything produced in Cuba from the period of conquest up until the present, as well as items produced by the communist government and by the Cuban diaspora in the United States and all over the world. From 1960 onwards, the library hired several other exiles, including Lesbia Orta Varona in 1966, Gladys Gomez Rossie in 1967 and myself in 1968.
I was proud to belong to the cast of librarians who were shaping the collection which, by 1990, was already known as the Cuban Collection at the national and international level. It was necessary to organize all of this material in one place. For that, donations were necessary and, in 1994, the first important anonymous donation was received for the Cuban archives. It was later discovered that the donation was from Elena Diaz-Verson Amos.
In 1995, the association AMIGOS de la Coleccion Cubana (FRIENDS of the Cuban Collection) was founded in order to bring attention to our collection. The executive committee of the new association was formed with important members of the community. One of the first directors of this committee was Dr. Henry King Stanford, president emeritus of the University of Miami, and Elena Diaz-Verson Amos, graduate of UM and president of the John B. Amos Foundation.
About the Video
The Cuban Heritage Collection preserves its treasures and carries out its programs in the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, named in honor of the late Cuban-American business leader. The Pavilion is a 10,000-square-foot facility located on the second floor of the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus.
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When the CHC was created, cultural institutions, foundations, and other governmental and private companies offered their support. With this support, digitization of our collection began, forever preserving the material and offering virtual access to it from around the world.
Several donations received in the 1990s helped grow the CHC, including from the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) in Washington, the Xerox Company, the Fanjul Family and a generous donation from the Goizueta Foundation. With these last two donations, and the one previous donation from Elena Diaz-Verson Amos, the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, which measures more than 10,000 square feet, was founded to house the CHC.
The Goizueta Pavilion was inaugurated on January 28, 2003 and is named in honor of the late Cuban-American entrepreneur who was the chairman of the Coca-Cola Company for more than 15 years. The Goizueta Pavilion has a very Cuban style and aesthetic and has an iconic mural entitled Espejo de Paciencia (Mirror of Patience), by Cuban-American artist Humberto Calzada.
Beatrice Skokan, interim Esperanza B. de Varona Chair of the UM Libraries Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC), discusses the importance of such a unique collection and helps unearth items from the CHC vault.
Additional donations were received in 2003 and 2007 from the Miami-Dade County Department of Culture and the State of Florida Department of Culture and, in 2008, with the help of the members of AMIGOS, the Luis J. Botifoll Digital Oral History Project was established to interview prominent members of the community. To the present day, this collection is made up of more than 100 interviews that includes DVD videos and transcriptions.
The CHC received another important anonymous donation in 2005 to establish the Esperanza Bravo de Varona Chair as recognition for my work as director of the CHC. I was director up until my retirement in 2013, after 45 years of work.
In 2009, a donation was received from the Goizueta Foundation to preserve, acquire, catalog, digitize and provide online access to our materials, as well as to organize some events with the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS) at the University of Miami.
With this donation, two important programs began: the Scholarship Program for Graduate Student Research, using our materials for their doctoral thesis; and the Scholarship Program for Undergraduates, which was co-established with the UM College of Arts and Sciences. Thus far, 79 scholarships have been offered to students in the United States. Other contributors to these programs have been AMIGOS of CHC, the Ruston-Baker Educational Institution and other anonymous donors.
Our collections have continued growing, particularly our collections of books and personal and corporate papers. We can quote the most ancient book of our collection, written in ancient Spanish by Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas, with the title: Aquí se contiene vna disputa, o controuersia, entre el Obispo do [n] fray Bartholome de las Casas o Casaus…y el doctor Gines de Sepulueda…Seuilla, 1552. This was a debate in Sevilla, Spain, in 1552 between Bartolomé de las Casas and Juan Gines de Sepulveda, historian of the Spaniard Crown.
Included in the collection of periodical publications published in Cuba from colonial to present times are:
El Negrito. Number 1, March 28, 1821. [Havana] 1821. A very rare periodical publication on slavery in Cuba during the first half of the 19th Century. Only one number was published.
The CHC also houses the Cuban Exile Periodical Publication Collection, which includes more than 1,200 titles, called periodiquitos, published by Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans.
Among our archives are the important collections of personal and corporate papers that include correspondence, original documents and photos from individuals and associations, institutions and corporations. Among this material, we currently have 688 items, including from three Cuban presidents: Tomás Estrada Palma, Gerardo Machado y Morales and Fulgencio Batista y Zaldívar. We also have the Lydia Cabrera Collection, an excellent source of information for the study of Santería, syncretism, and Afro-Cuban culture, and the Cuban Refugee Center records.
Since my retirement, the collection has maintained a legacy of progress and scholarship. In 2015, the Goizueta Foundation provided a gift of $1 million to expand the Graduate Fellowship Program and have it permanently installed at the CHC. In 2016, the Goizueta Foundation challenged the University to raise $500,000 to support the collection.
After securing these funds, the foundation donated an additional $1 million to establish an endowment to support the growth of the collections of the CHC. Also, since 2014, the CHC has hosted the New Directions in Cuban Studies conference, a biennial national and interdisciplinary conference that highlights and presents work by graduates, undergraduates and researchers and examines the state of Cuban and Cuban-American studies.
It has always been a great honor to have run the Cuban Heritage Collection of the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami, one of the most complete collections of Cuban and exile material that exists outside of Cuba. Many of the researchers, professors and students who have consulted it consider it the gem of current Cuban collections around the world.
- ESPERANZA BRAVO DE VARONA