Raft used by Cuban balseros

Object Details

ca. 1992
styrofoam (polystyrene foam), tar, cloth, rope, wood, plastic
24 × 36 × 79 in. (61 × 91.4 × 200.7 cm)
Cite As
Gift of Humberto Sanchez
This small, improvised boat, or chug, held two Cuban men bound for a better life in the United States in July 1992. Built in secret out of scavenged materials, stacked styrofoam planks held together with tar were carved into the shape of a boat and placed on a wooden frame. The chug’s exterior then received a tar coating and tarred cloth covered the hull for further protection against both water and shark penetration. Wired-on wooden oar rests remain atop the port and starboard sides, though the oars, like the one-time mast, are absent. Underneath, a metal pipe with a rotor suggests another past presence: a propeller. Inside the chug, what might once have been a vinyl shower curtain covers bench seats and a footwell. After being spotted from the air by pilots with the nonprofit Hermanos al Rescate (Brothers to the Rescue), the US Coast Guard picked up the balseros 35 miles off the coast of Miami, Florida. The balseros, or rafters, named for the balsa wood some used to craft rafts, included tens of thousands fleeing Cuba by boat, raft, or inner tube in the early 1990s. This chug was on display as part of the Anacostia Community Museum’s exhibit, Black Mosaic: Community, Race and Ethnicity among Black Immigrants in Washington, DC from August 1994 to September 1995.
Accession Number
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Anacostia Community Museum Collection
Data Source
Anacostia Community Museum
Restrictions & Rights
Usage conditions apply
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