COLLEGE PLACE -- Immigration was the topic of discussion on Tuesday afternoon at Walla Walla University, as sociology professor Cheris Current shared her research with staff and students in Kretschmar Hall.
The presentation, which was entitled "Cultural Capital and Cultural Citizenship: The Case of the Cuban 'Golden Exiles,'" was part of the school's weekly "Brown Bag" lectures, designed to give professors an opportunity to present their research in a casual setting.
Current, who received her Ph.D in sociology from Washington State University in 2007, examined the story of Cuban immigrants who fled their country for the United States, shortly after the rise of Castro and the establishment of communism in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Much of the presentation focused on the positive relationship between the American public and the "golden exiles," and the impact that Cubans had on America -- particularly the educational system.
"The arrival of Cuban immigrants coincided with wide-scale teaching of Spanish in the public high school system," Current said. "It was believed that high school students should learn another language."
Current explained that unlike many other immigrant groups throughout American history, the early waves of Cuban refugees were supported through government assistance and were well received by the public.
"Traditionally, immigrants aren't looked upon positively, at least upon entering the U.S.," she said.
"But the first waves of Cuban immigrants were educated and middle class. They were also white, which was something that was seen as palatable."
Cuba's previous status as an American territory enabled ease of transition for many immigrants, "Cubans knew a lot about the U.S.," Current explained.
"They celebrated Thanksgiving, they sent their kids to American colleges, and they sang 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'"
However, the primary reason for the hospitality shown to the "golden exiles," Current argued, was an opportunity for the American government to undermine the Cuban regime -- a trend that continued with other communist nations as well.
"Having a political reason is the primary reason we have accepted refugees over time.
More than 90 percent of political refugees entering the US since 1945 have been from Communist countries."
Current expressed her frustration with how some immigrant groups are viewed differently than others -- especially when the acceptance of refugees is used as a political tool.
"I'm bothered by exceptionalism when it comes to immigration," she said. "I'm concerned that there are other groups that have needs that aren't being met. Even after the Cold War we have maintained policies that favor Cuban immigrants when Haitian immigrants are accepted in very few numbers. Our policies may need to be looked at."