Visions of America: A Journey to the Freedom Tower – Stories of Cuban Migration to Miami

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Este programa está disponible con subtítulos en español con opcion de titulos cerrados en el canal YouTube de libros PBS.


The Freedom Tower (or Torre de la Libertad) in Miami has graced the city’s skyline for nearly a century, but it wasn’t until it played a crucial role in hosting Cuban refugees who fled their home country in the wake of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 that it became an important national landmark. Join host and Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Crosby Kemper as he explores the interior of the Freedom Tower with Miami Dade College President Madeline Pumariega   

Historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ada Ferrer, author of Cuba: An American History, shares about the Cuban-immigrant experience in the United States. Then, Crosby ventures to Little Havana to enjoy the sounds of its rich and vibrant culture and have a discussion, along with Cuban cuisine at Miami’s famous Versailles, with community members  Alberto Ibargüen, Aida Levitan, Sam Verdeja and A.J. D’Amico. They have a lively conversation about Miami’s growth and change.

Visiones de América: Un viaje a la Torre de la Libertad – Historias de migración cubana a Miami 

Descripción en español:

La Torre de la Libertad en Miami ha adornado el horizonte de la ciudad durante casi un siglo, pero no fue hasta que desempeñó un papel crucial en la acogida de refugiados cubanos huyendo de su país de origen a raíz de la Revolución Cubana en 1959 que se convirtió en un importante hito nacional. Únase al anfitrión y director del Instituto de Servicios de Museos y Bibliotecas, Crosby Kemper, mientras explora el interior de la Torre de la Libertad con la presidenta de Miami Dade College, Madeline Pumariega.  

La historiadora y escritora ganadora del Premio Pulitzer Ada Ferrer, autora de Cuba: An American History, comparte sobre la experiencia de los inmigrantes cubanos en los Estados Unidos. Luego, Crosby se aventura a la Pequeña Habana para disfrutar de los sonidos de su rica y vibrante cultura y tener una discusión, junto con la cocina cubana en el famoso Versalles de Miami, con los miembros de la comunidad Alberto Ibargüen, Aida Levitan, Sam Verdeja y A.J. D’Amico. Tienen una conversación animada sobre el crecimiento y el cambio de Miami. 

About Visions of America

Visions of America – All Stories, All People, All Places, hosted by Institute of Museum and Library Services Director Crosby Kemper, explores our great nation and uses its diverse collection of museums, libraries and historians both familiar and new to tell some of the lesser-known stories that have flown under the radar in our shared legacy of American Independents. Over the course of 3 half-hour episodes in its first season, the program journeys to different historical sites throughout the nation for conversations that will tell the engaging but sometimes hidden stories that resonate with where we are at as a nation today. and maybe give some insight and inspiration on how we got here. But history doesn’t just exist in a museum. Each episode will also venture out into the cities these institutions call home to delve further into what makes each of these communities so important to our national identity, all with the help of local historians who know the stories of their community better than anyone.

Guest Biographies:

President Madeline Pumariega, Miami Dade College 

Madeline Pumariega is the first female president appointed to lead one of the nation’s largest educational institutions, Miami Dade College (MDC). Adding to the historic nature of this appointment is the fact that Pumariega is an alumna of MDC.  

A Trailblazer In Academia 

Pumariega’s love for academics and service excellence began as a student at MDC and continued during her 20 years of service at the College in positions of ascending responsibility, culminating in her role as Wolfson Campus president. Prior to becoming MDC’s president, Pumariega was appointed the first female and Hispanic chancellor of the Florida College System (FCS). In that role, she designed and implemented strategies to keep college accessible and affordable for Floridians, especially for those entering high-demand job fields. During her tenure, several of the FCS’s 28 colleges –– which serve 800,000 students –– rose in the rankings of U.S. News & World Report as well as by other national measures. Florida was also named No. 1 in higher education by U.S. News. 

In 2019, Pumariega became the executive vice president and provost of Tallahassee Community College, where her innovative approaches advanced the College’s three core divisions: academic affairs, student affairs and workforce development. Pumariega helped lead the school during the unprecedented response to the COVID-19 pandemic and pivoted the college’s infrastructure to support virtual classroom instruction and student-teacher interaction. She also serves as affiliate professor of leadership at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. 

A Champion for Youth  

Serving the community outside of higher education, she was also previously the President and CEO of Take Stock in Children, a statewide nonprofit focused on breaking the cycle of poverty by helping students complete their high school education and advance into post-secondary education and careers. It was here that Pumariega pursued her passion for ensuring that students have a pathway toward upward economic mobility through educational opportunities.  

A Catalyst For Transformation 

In her new role as MDC president, Pumariega has championed a new strategic plan for the College developed with input from more than 1,000 stakeholders. The plan focuses on five key priorities: reimagining for student success; accelerating academic excellence and innovation; valuing a culture of care to advance student outcomes; fueling the talent needs of a global economy; and securing the future of the College. 

She has now engaged hundreds of leaders and volunteers around these five key priorities, and this transformational work is well on its way at MDC.  

Pumariega has also prioritized working with business partners to identify the skills needed by key industries and tailoring higher education programs to match those needs. This intentional forming of strategic alliances and job pathways between companies and MDC students accelerates each graduate’s ability to enter the workforce immediately.   

Driving her relentless pursuit is the passion to develop leaders and build thriving communities. Pumariega clearly recognizes higher education’s role in transforming lives and communities, and is designing her presidency at MDC to position the College to deliver on its mission in a post-pandemic, technology-enabled world.

Ada Ferrer, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cuba and professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at New York University 

Ada Ferrer, who is originally from Havana and grew up in a Cuban community in New Jersey, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cuba: An American History. The book chronicles more than five hundred years of Cuban history and its relations with the United States.

She is also the author of Insurgent Cuba: Race, Nation, and Revolution, 1868-1898, which won the Berkshire Book Prize for the best first book by a woman in any field of history, and Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, which won the Frederick Douglass Book Prize from the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale University as well as the Frederick Katz, Wesley Logan, and James A. Rawley prizes from the American Historical Association. 

Ada Ferrer Headshot

Ferrer has been traveling to and conducting research in Cuba since 1990, occasionally accompanied by her husband and daughters. She was on the island when Barack Obama visited in 2016 and traveled back with her parents that same year. Her essay “My Brother’s Keeper,” published by The New Yorker, tells the story of her and her family’s relationship with the Cuban Revolution. In her lectures and keynote talks, Ferrer discusses Cuba’s past and its complex ties with the United States, giving audiences unexpected insights into the history of both countries and helping them to imagine a new relationship with Cuba. 

Ferrer graduated from Vassar College with an AB degree in English. She holds a Master’s in History from University of Texas at Austin and a PhD in History from the University of Michigan. She has taught at New York University since 1995, where she is currently the Julius Silver Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She was a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow and has received support for her research from organizations including the Dorothy and Lewis Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Fulbright Commission, and more. She is also the co-curator of “Visionary Aponte: Art and Black Freedom,” an exhibit on carpenter and artist José Antonio Aponte, that has been housed at NYU, Duke University and Havana’s Centro de Desarrollo de las Artes Visuales. 

In addition to her books, Ferrer is a frequent public speaker, appearing at colleges and universities, libraries, historical societies, and more.  She has written for The New Yorker and The Washington Post, among others, and appeared on CNN and NPR. She lives in New York City with her family.

Alberto Ibargüen, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

He is the former publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. During his tenure, the Miami Herald won three Pulitzer Prizes and El Nuevo Herald won Spain’s Ortega y Gasset Prize for excellence in journalism. 

Alberto Ibargüen Headshot

He graduated from Wesleyan University and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Between college and law school, he served in the Peace Corps in Venezuela’s Amazon Territory and was the Peace Corps Programming and Training Officer in Colombia, based in Bogotá. After law school, he practiced law in Hartford, Connecticut, until he joined the Hartford Courant, then Newsday in New York, before moving to Miami. 

Ibargüen is a member of the boards of the Paley Center for Media and the National Museum of the American Latino, and formerly the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Wesleyan University, Smith College, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and ProPublica, as well as the Secretary of State’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board and the Citizen Advisory Committee of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. 

Ibargüen served on the boards of American Airlines, PepsiCo, AOL and Norwegian Cruise Lines. He is a former board chair of PBS, the Newseum and the World Wide Web Foundation, founded by web inventor Sir Tim Berners­-Lee to promote a free and universal web.  

Ibargüen is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations. For his work to protect journalists in Latin America, Ibargüen received a Maria Moors Cabot citation from Columbia University. He has been awarded honorary degrees by several universities, including Wesleyan University, The George Washington University and the University of Miami. 

Aida Levitan, Ph.D.

Aida Levitan, Ph.D. is a member of the Board and immediate past Chair of USCB Financial Holdings (2017-2021). During her tenure as Chairman, Dr. Levitan was the only Cuban-American female to chair a commercial community bank board in the U.S. Because of this achievement, Forbes Magazine named her to the 50Over50 list (Money category) in 2022.  

Aida Levitan Headshot

A nationally recognized Hispanic advertising and public relations pioneer, she founded the strategic marketing firm The Levitan Group, Inc. in 2006. From 2004 to 2005, she served as Vice Chairperson/President of Bromley Communications, which she helped transform into the number one U.S. Hispanic advertising agency (as per Advertising Age, 2004). In 1986 she co-founded Sanchez & Levitan and sold the agency to Publicis Groupe by 2003. Under her leadership as Co-Chairman/CEO, Publicis Sanchez & Levitan became one of the top ten U.S. Hispanic advertising agencies (Advertising Age). In 2004 she served as President of the national Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies.   

Dr. Levitan served as trustee and is currently a Trustee Emerita of the Perez Art Museum Miami. In 2019 she was Chair of FACE (Facts About Cuban Exiles) and of the University of Miami Cuban Heritage Collection Amigos Board. In 1995 she founded ArtesMiami, Inc., a nonprofit organization, and still serves as its President and principal donor. She was elected to the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations in 2015. President Obama and the U.S. Congress named her to the National Museum of the American Latino Commission in 2010 and, in 2012, she was elected Vice Chair of the Smithsonian Latino Center National Board. Dr. Levitan has served on the corporate board of The Art Institutes and, as chairman, on the Aetna Latino Advisory Council.  

A Cuban-American who came to Miami in 1961 as an unaccompanied child (as part of Operación Pedro Pan), Aida Levitan obtained her Ph.D. with a specialty in Spanish Literature, from Emory University and a B.A. from the University of Miami. She is an avid art collector of Latin-American and U.S. Hispanic art and a writer of travel articles. Her son, Alex Fumero, is a film producer in Los Angeles. She is married to architect Fernando Petit. 

Alessandro “A.J.” D’Amico 

Alessandro “A.J.” D’Amico currently serves the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as its Director of Media & Democracy. In that role, A.J. writes and manages grants aimed at translating cutting-edge research on the role of media and technology on our democracy into actionable policy options and encourages the furtherance of the Knight Foundation’s mission to build more informed and engaged communities.

AJ-Damico Headshot

He brings extensive government and legal experience collaborating with government officials, community organizations, and interest groups in the policymaking, advocacy, and litigation processes. 

Before joining the Knight Foundation, A.J. was an associate at two pre-eminent Miami law firms, where he represented clients foreign and domestic in a diverse array of litigation matters, spanning from complex commercial disputes and class actions to constitutional civil rights cases. A.J. also served as a judicial clerk for the Honorable Paul C. Huck in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Prior to his legal career, A.J. served as a legislative assistant in the Florida Senate and an intern in the United States House of Representatives for two Cuban American elected officials representing Miami-Dade County. 

A.J. earned a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Economics from Florida State University as well as a Juris Doctor from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he graduated with honors and served as the Editor in Chief of the Florida Law Review. The son of a Cuban exile, A.J. was raised in Miami Lakes and Hialeah, Florida. He currently resides in Little Havana. 

Dean Magda Castineyra, Miami Dade College 

Magda is the Director of the Honors College Dual Language Program at Miami Dade College Eduardo J. Padron Campus with 20+ years of experience in assisting young adults, families and adult students’ access higher education; starting with her undergraduate work study job within an Undergraduate Admission Office. 

Out of graduate school she directed a city wide dropout prevention program, in Worcester Massachusetts, for public school students from 8th to 12th grade. At the conclusion of the program, eligible graduates received a 4 year college scholarship from one of various Worcester Consortium of Higher Education institutions. The experience was life changing for everyone involved and solidified Magda’s commitment to higher education. 

As an admission professional she has traveled domestically and internationally, introducing eligible students to the options within our higher education system. She has opened new territories, served as a liaison with public school systems, managed scholarship programs for high achieving students, served as a student organization advisor, and coordinated the Orientation and advising of FTIC students; including programing for parents.  

As a seasoned community college administrator, she has coordinated the intake process, testing, workforce programs, campus events, and ongoing staff development. Magda is familiar with the registration crunch at the beginning of each term and works hard to provide a calm, comfortable environment for students and a supportive environment for staff. 

Magda is originally from Cuba, Miami has been her home for many years – she is a big fan of the South Florida area. She completed her BA in English at St Thomas University in Miami, FL, her EdM. in administration, planning and social policy from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, MA, and is currently a PhD candidate in Higher Education Leadership at Barry University in Miami Shores, FL. 

Magda is a strong believer in professional development for her staff and herself. Consequently, during the past few years she has been active in and presented at conferences/meetings for the National Association of College Admissions (NACA), the Southern Association of College Admissions (SACA), and the National Association of Catholic College Admissions (NACCA) and the National Collegiate Honors College Council (NCHC). . She is also an active supporter of the arts and works toward having their presence visible on campus and available to students and student groups. 

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