Federal Writer's Project Interview, Case of "J.J.," with a Male Immigrant from Havana, Cuba, 1939

Historical Context
Over 8.5 million Americans were hired through the WPA, mostly to work in manual labor and at building roads and constructing parks. Unemployed artists and writers were given work through a branch of the WPA known as the Federal Writers’ Project. Among the most compelling products of the Writers’ Project are interviews with former slaves and immigrants.

This is an interview with a Cuban immigrant in New York City as part of the Spanish Book.
Essential Question
Why do people migrate?

How does migration affect the migrant and the community into which they migrate?
Check for Understanding
Summarize the main idea of this document and evaluate the significance of the information obtained from this interview.
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Cuba, Case of J.J., New York City Municipal Archives, NYCMA_WPA-FWP_B1_09
Document Description
Interview with a man from Havana, Cuba, conducted by Walt Anderson, reporter for the New York City Unit of the Federal Writers' Project, February 14, 1939. From Spanish Book—Life Histories (Part 1).
  1. Where and when was this man born?
  2. How would you describe his lifestyle in that country?
  3. Where did he marry?  How does he describe his wife?
  4. Why did he move so many times?
  5. What does he do for a living?  What has replaced his skills?
  6. What does the interview tell us about his standard of living?
Historical Challenge
Find records of Cuban immigration from the 1880s, when this man came to the U.S., and from the 1950s. What are the numbers of Hispanic immigrants from each of those time periods? What percentage of those people were from Cuba? Why did they flee?
There are many places mentioned in this interview. Label a map of the United States and Cuba with the cities the man mentions and his activities in each city.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a letter to your family back home telling them how things have changed for you, having come from being the “spoiled child” you were to the butcher you are now.
English as a Second Language/Foreign Language: Use key phrases to describe the progression of this man’s life.
Art: Make a collage that includes images that represent this man’s experiences as an immigrant.
Math: Using the inflation calculator listed under Resources below, determine what this man’s wages and expenses in the 1930s would be today. Would you say he made and spent a lot of money or not? Explain. What would his father’s land cost today?
Music: Write a ballad about this man’s life. Set it to music that fits with the emotion of the story.