TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV)– As groups around the country honor National Hispanic Heritage Month, one historian here in the Wabash Valley is looking to spread awareness about how 100 Cuban Refugees left their mark on the community.
It was in 1963 when Indiana State University welcomed around 45 Cubans to take part in a program to help provide more foreign language teachers around the state. The program came about after a law was passed requiring high-schoolers in Indiana to take at least two years of a language class to graduate– however, that caused a need for teachers.
Dr. Crystal Reynolds, a local historian, is marking the 60th anniversary with a presentation this weekend at the Vigo County History Center. It will be Saturday, Sep. 30th starting at 2 p.m.
She said the presentation will honor their legacy in Terre Haute– and the impact the city had on them.
“The Cuban students came here, not by themselves, they brought their families,” she said. “The first Cuban institute, there was 100 kids that came with them. They brought their kids, anywhere from toddlers to high schoolers, so their kids also embraced the culture, and were part of the schools and the kids loved Terre Haute.”
After the first cohort in 1963, the university welcomed 50 more the following year. Reynolds has spoken to a number of those who took part in the program, and said they have expressed gratitude for how the community welcomed them.
“They really felt at home. They loved Cuba, but they called this their second home, because the people here were so welcoming, the churches were welcoming, everybody was welcoming to them,” she said.
The initiative was lauded as a success, as many of those involved went on to have careers as teachers in the Hoosier state. As a result, Reynolds also credits ISU for recruiting the families to come from Miami, where they were taking refuge from the Cuban Revolution, to start a new life hundreds of miles away.
“Indiana State, being a visionary and also brave, decided, ‘You know what? I think we’ll take this program and we’ll do it,’” she said. “It was a pilot program, and Indiana State being the visionary that it is, embraced these Cubans and the program was extremely successful.”
Reynolds said the presentation Saturday will feature multiple speakers and goodie bags for those in attendance.
She said she hopes the biggest takeaway is just how rich of a history the region has.
“I wanted people to realize Terre haute has this really amazing history of diversity, openness and it’s leaders being visionaries,” Reynolds said. “I tell people that and they look at me like, ‘Really?’ Yes. These are more and more examples of my argument of how great Terre Haute is in terms of its history and in terms of diversity.”