The Miami Herald
Jan. 27, 2003

UM opening fab new home for Cuban history collection


  In South Florida, transplanted cradle of all things Cuban, history has found a glitzy new home.

  On Tuesday, the 150th anniversary of the birth of national icon José Martí, the University of Miami is inaugurating the Roberto C. Goizueta Pavilion, a state-of-the-art library and exhibit space dedicated to the university's acclaimed Cuban Heritage Collection.

  ''Ya tenemos casa (We have a home),'' says collection director Esperanza Bravo de Varona.

  And what a home it is, thanks to the $2.5 million gift from the late Cuban-born Coca-Cola CEO, for whom the pavilion is named, and to additional donations from the late Cuban philanthropist Elena Díaz-Versón Amos and the sugar industry's Fanjul family.

  Walk up a flight of stairs to the second floor of the Otto G. Richter Library, step through glass doors embossed with the Cuban national emblem, and into a sitting room of Cuban-style, cane-backed mahogany rocking chairs and marble-topped tables and floors. A colorful mural of stained glass windows and a balcony framed in ironwork, typical of Cuba's colonial cities, painted by Miami artist Humberto Calzada, adorns one wall.

  ''I wanted it to feel like a house in Old Havana that looks out to the sea,'' says Calzada, who donated the work.

  Right next to the sitting room, in an elegant glass case, is the original maquette for the José Martí statue that has stood in the park in the Cuban city of Matanzas since 1909. ''Cuba libre,'' says the paper Martí holds.

  Portraits of Martí, including one dating to the 19th century, and historical memorabilia fill spanking wood and glass cases and a stunning conference room, all of the
  furniture built by Miami's Cuban-American furniture maker, Camilo.

  Stashed in the pavilion's 10,000 square feet of space are thousands of historical treasures, among them:

  Some 60,000-70,000 issues of Cuban publications dating from the colonial years and the earliest years of the Republic to the present, including the Communist
  periodicals Granma, Revolución and Verde Olivo.

  Issues of the newspaper Patria, which Martí founded in New York City in 1892.

  The complete record books of the Cuban Refugee Center, where Cuban exiles were processed as they came into Miami in the '60s and '70s.

  Original letters written by Martí, and other war heroes like Ignacio Agramonte and Calixto García.

  45,000 books about Cuba and written by Cubans, including first-edition copies by prominent Cuban authors like José Lezama Lima and Lydia Cabrera. The latter, an influential anthropologist who lived her last years in Miami, donated her complete personal collection of manuscripts and papers to UM.

  100,000 issues of Cuban-exile periodicals published in Miami, dating from the earliest years of exile to today, important publications like the classic political humor tabloid Zig-Zag to little known periodiquitos -- alternative weeklies -- like Qué Pasa.

  ''Nobody in the world has this collection of exile periodicals,'' says librarian Lesbia Horta Varona. ``We would go around to all the Cuban pharmacies and markets collecting them every week.''

  Her colleague Bravo de Varona, the late Ana Rosa Núñez and the retired Rosa Abella are a handful of Cuban librarians at UM who have devoted decades of their lives to the acquisition of materials for the collection. ''Other libraries -- Princeton, Pittsburg, Texas -- have Cuban collections,'' says Bravo de Varona, ``but none is as complete as ours,''.

  Priceless photographs, among them family pictures of Cuba's first president, Tomás Estrada Palma, who lived much of his life in the United States.

  ''He was an American citizen when he was elected president of Cuba,'' says María Estorino, the young Cuban-American librarian who is in charge of the collection's online site at

  The site went from 5,000 hits a month to 30,000 when the Manuel Bustamante Photography Collection was recently added and arranged by geographical location.

  ''Everyone wants to see pictures of their hometown,'' Estorino says.

  At the pavilion's inauguration, an invitation-only event, an exhibit of José Martí memorabilia also will be on display. Like the collection -- which despite being in a private university is ''available to anyone who wants to do research on a Cuban topic,'' Bravo de Varona points out -- the exhibit can be viewed by the public during regular library hours, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

  For more information, call the Cuban Heritage Collection at 305-284-4900.