Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The ‘Latinoization’ of Miami

Here’s an eye-opening history of the ‘Latinoization’ of Miami. It’s disturbing enough in what it says, calling attention to the way ‘Miami’s old-line, non-Hispanic white political and business elite’ subsidised its own dispossession assisted by the CIA pursuing its imperial goals, but I suspect the deeper truth is even worse: that the ‘Cold War’ was largely a phoney war whose primary purpose was domestic social control and Military Industrial profit; and that the ‘American’ state considered the presence of Cubans in Miami beneficial not only for their anti-Communist views but because they contributed to ‘diversity,’ i.e., social division, so adding to pressure that America’s racial and cultural identity be redefined. But like I say, if the truth is only as bad as presented here, that’s quite bad enough.

Latinos: Remaking America, Eds. Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco and Mariela M. Páez (David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University and University of California Press, 2002) pp. 75-81

Chapter 3: Power and Identity: Miami Cubans

by Alex Stepick and Carol Dutton Stepick

The Building of Cuban Miami

We Cubans made Miami. Before us, Miami was nothing but a decaying winter vacation spot and swamp. Now, it’s the capital of Latin America. And, we Cubans did it!

-- A Miami Cuban businessman

Indeed, Cubans do deserve much of the credit for shifting Miami’s economic focus from northern tourists to international southern trade. But their stories of self-congratulation usually fail to acknowledge the critical political context that encouraged them—even permitted their success.

Cubans fleeing Castro’s Cuba began arriving in significant numbers in the 1960s, following the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion. Their arrival reflected both the failure of a U.S.-backed military invasion of Cuba and the failure of a socialist revolution to retain those who had the most skills and resources for reconstructing Cuba. The Cubans’ arrival also coincided with the construction of Great Society programs that provided extensive benefits to minority populations and that were quickly expanded to include Cuban refugees. The U.S. government created the Cuban Refugee Program, which spent nearly $1 billion between 1965 and 1976. Through this program, the federal government paid transportation costs from Cuba and offered financial assistance to needy refugees and to state and local public agencies that provided refugee services. Even in programs not especially designed for them, Cubans seemed to benefit. From 1968 to 1980, Latinos (almost all Cubans) received 46.9 percent of all Small Business Administration loans in Dade County.

Even more important was indirect assistance. Through the 1960s, the private University of Miami had the largest Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station in the world, outside of the organization’s headquarters in Virginia. With perhaps as many as twelve thousand Cubans in Miami on its payroll at one point in the early 1960s, the CIA was one of the largest employers in the state of Florida. It supported what was described as the third largest navy in the world and over fifty front businesses: CIA boat shops, gun shops, travel agencies, detective agencies, and real estate agencies. Ultimately, this investment did much more to boost Cubans in Miami economically than it did to destabilize the Castro regime.

The state of Florida also passed laws that made it easier for Cuban professionals to recertify themselves to practice in the United States. At the county level, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, 53 percent of minority contracts for Dade County’s rapid transit system went to Latino-owned firms. Dade County Schools led the nation in introducing bilingual education for the first wave of Cuban refugees in 1960. The Dade County Commission also designated the county officially bilingual in the mid-1970s. With about 75 percent of Cuban arrivals before 1974 directly taking advantage of some kind of state-provided benefits, and with virtually everyone profiting from indirect aid, the total benefits available to the Cuban community appear to surpass those available to any other U.S. minority group.

The first wave of Cubans has been labeled the “Golden Exiles,” the top of Cuban society who were most immediately threatened by a socialist revolution. These new arrivals were different from other minorities in the United States. They were not only white but also predominantly middle or upper class. The presence of entrepreneurs and professionals in the Cuban refugee flow provided a trained and experienced core who knew how to access and use the extraordinary benefits provided by the U.S. government. Some had already established a footing in the United States and, when the revolution came, abandoned one of their residences for another across the straits of Florida. A Cuban shoe manufacturer, for example, produced footwear for a major U.S. retail chain before the Cuban revolution. He obtained his working capital from New York financial houses. After the revolution, the only change was that the manufacturing was done in Miami rather than Havana. He even was able to keep some of the same employees.

The earlier-arriving, higher-status refugees created the first enterprises in what came to be known as the Cuban enclave and allowed Miami to be the only U.S. city where Latino immigrants created a successful and self-sustained ethnic enclave economy. Miami has proportionally the largest concentration of Latino businesses (over fifty-five thousand) and of large Latino enterprises in the country. Although Miami-Dade County has only 5 percent of the total U.S. Latino population, thirty-one of the top one hundred Latino businesses in the United States are located there. U.S. Cubans’ rate of business ownership is more than three times that of Mexicans and nearly six times that of Puerto Ricans.

The Cuban enclave benefits not only Cuban business owners but also the broader Miami Cuban community. Most later-arriving Cuban immigrants from more modest origins than the Golden Exiles are employed by Cuban Miami enclave firms in various entry-level positions, which may offer low wages but can often be apprenticeships rather than dead-end jobs. Miami Cuban employers frequently provide training to their Miami Cuban workers and may even help them establish their own independent businesses. Miami Cuban garment workers become subcontractors, establishing informal workshops in their homes. Miami Cuban construction workers become contractors or subcontractors, also working out of their homes. For financing, workers who have turned entrepreneurs can go to banks (sometimes owned by Miami Cubans and certainly staffed by Miami Cubans) where they are likely to find sympathetic loan officers. For markets, they rely on the Miami Cuban community’s loyalty and preference for buying from “their own.”

The result has been a most economically successful immigrant community. A comparison of Cubans and Mexicans who came to the United States in the mid-1970s, for example, revealed that the Cubans not only had higher wages than the Mexicans, even Cubans with the same educational level as Mexicans received higher wages.

Miami Cubans also transformed Miami by attracting investment and migration from the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, turning Miami into a diverse, dynamic Latino economic center of the Americas. Only New York has more foreign-owned banks than Miami. Nearly 50 percent of U.S. exports to the Caribbean and Central America and over 30 percent of U.S. exports to South America pass through Miami. Miami’s Free Trade Zone is the first and largest privately owned trade zone in the world. With more non-stop cargo flights to Latin America and the Caribbean than Orlando, Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, Tampa, and New York’s Kennedy combined, Miami’s airport is the top U.S. airport for international freight. The airport has more airlines than any other in the Western hemisphere; it is frequently easier to get from one Latin American country to another by going through Miami than by going directly. Miami also has the largest cruise port in the world, ironically transporting primarily U.S. passengers on vacations throughout the Caribbean and Latin America while many of the citizens of those countries are immigrating to Miami. Miami may not be a global city equal to New York or London, but it is assuredly the economic capital of Latin America, and its Cuban immigrants made it so.

The economic transformation has also altered much of Miami’s culture. For example, at a 1998 event held by the University of Miami and the state of Florida to discuss plans for educating a “multilingual workforce for the 21st Century,” the university’s newly installed dean of education, an import from a university up north, spoke of language diversity as a problem that people where he came from would soon be encountering. The faculty member who was moderating the conference gently reminded the dean that in Florida multilingualism is viewed as an asset and promised to continue to educate him.

Antibilingual-education measures such as those that passed in the late 1990s in California no longer have a chance in Miami. It is easier to find a job, to shop, and just to get things done if one knows Spanish. It is also much easier to advance economically if one knows English. Miami is truly bilingual and multicultural. Miami Dade Community College has more foreign students, mostly Latino, than any other college or university in the nation. One of the three Spanish-language local television newscasts has more viewers than any of the local English-language television stations. The main Spanish-language daily, El Nuevo Herald, reprints articles from eleven Latin American newspapers. The 1990 census showed that Spanish had replaced English in Miami-Dade as the language most often spoken at home. Even at work, the language most frequently spoken by Latinos in South Florida is Spanish (42.2 percent).

It is not just the number of Latinos and the pervasive use of Spanish that makes Miami the de facto capital of Latin America. Latinos are also the demographic majority in some Texas cities, such as Laredo, El Paso, and San Antonio, and in other border areas such as California’s Imperial Valley, but there they lack the political and economic clout exercised by Miami Cubans.

Miami Cubans translated the favorable reception by the U.S. government and the millions of dollars of resettlement assistance not only into a self-sufficient economic enclave and thriving international economic city but also into a “direct line” to the centers of political power in Washington. Despite considerable political diversity among Miami Cubans in the early 1960s, by the 1970s politics and profits had become fused. Anti-Castro, anticommunist Miami Cubans invested locally and also enforced political consensus by harassing, boycotting, and even terrorizing their more liberal political and economic compatriots, a process referred to as enforceable solidarity.

The outcome was a profound economic and political solidarity. From the 1960s on, most Miami Cubans, despite their diverse class origins and social views, patronized other Miami Cuban-owned businesses and preferred conationals as business associates at the same time that they shared a coherent anti-Castro, anticommunist ideology. Expelled and despised by the government of their country, abandoned at the Bay of Pigs by a supposedly friendly host government, bartered away during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, and ridiculed by Latin American intellectuals, the exiles had few to trust but each other. As illustrated in a full-page advertisement in the Miami Herald that was paid for by the most powerful Miami Cuban organization, the Cuban American National Foundation, resentment and a sense of persecution had evolved:

All our achievements have been accomplished with a national press coverage that has often portrayed us as extremists. This has been the most unfair and prejudiced perception we have experienced in America. . . . The Miami Herald is aggressive in its ignorance of our people. It refuses to understand that Cuban Americans see the struggle between totalitarianism and democracy as a personal, ever-present struggle. We live the struggle daily because our friends and families enslaved in communist Cuba live it daily. (Cuban American National Foundation 1987)

Unlike other minorities, which usually adopt antiestablishment, progressive positions, Miami Cubans have been militant conservatives on foreign policy, specifically on anticommunism issues. As a result, anticommunist policy positions and anticommunist rhetoric are de rigueur for local political candidates. For example, in the mid-1980s the City Commission passed a resolution barring any expenditure of “funds of the City of Miami . . . where representatives of Communist-Marxist countries have either been scheduled to participate or invited to attend.” Subsequently, Miami-Dade County passed a similar resolution. In an effort to win Miami Cuban readership, the Miami Herald created an entirely new Spanish-language edition run almost exclusively by Cuban exiles who seldom have a favorable word for the Castro government.

The Miami Cubans’ solidarity has produced tangible political results. Miami’s city and county mayors are foreign-born Cuban immigrants, as are the superintendent of the public schools (the fourth largest district in the nation), the president of the community college (the largest in the nation), and the president of the local state university (one of the country’s most rapidly growing). In the wake of the Elián crisis, the Miami Cuban mayor fired the Anglo police chief and the Anglo city manager. They were replaced by Miami Cubans. Also Cuban-born are the Miami-Dade County police chief, the state prosecutor for Miami-Dade County, two congressional representatives, and the majority of the Miami-Dade County state legislative contingent. Nationally, the two Miami Cubans in the U.S. House of Representatives, along with the Cuban American National Foundation, successfully promoted Radio and T.V. Martí, which broadcasts to Cuba, as well as the Cuban Democracy Act, which tightened U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. More generally, Miami Cubans have emerged as a group whose support is actively courted by a growing number of officeholders from outside the state—from presidential candidates to members of Congress seeking campaign contributions.

These victories have not been without costs to the image of Miami Cubans and the well-being of the overall community. In response to an intolerance concerning political opinions about Cuba, the Inter-American Press Association and the human rights group Americas Watch in 1992 condemned the Miami exile community for violations of civil liberties. There have been many other lost opportunities. The most recent examples: An international music market conference that focused on the Americas had met in Miami Beach for several years, but in 1998 the county blocked the conference because Cuban musicians were scheduled to attend. Also in 1998, the Miami Light Project, a leading local arts group, had to forgo presenting a Cuban musical group in order not to lose $60,000 in county funding. The July 1999 Junior Pan American Games track and field meet was moved to Tampa after Miami-Dade refused to support it because Cuba would be represented in the games. The Latin Grammys scheduled for September 2000 pulled out of Miami. For similar reasons, a local group bidding to hold the 2007 Pan Am Games in Miami-Dade pulled out after realizing that the county would not support the games because Cuban athletes would participate.

Achieving both economic and political success as a Miami Cuban did not necessarily shield individuals from prejudice and discrimination. Certainly during the early stages of Cuban settlement in the 1960s, Cubans confronted significant prejudice when apartment owners, for example, posted signs declaiming, “No Pets, No Kids, No Cubans.” Moreover, in an effort to prevent the political empowerment of Cubans, local Anglo politicians in the 1960s and 1970s successfully urged federal officials to relocate new Cuban refugees outside of Dade County. Public resentment against Cuban Americans mounted, especially in the wake of the 1980 Mariel boatlift when the Miami Herald editorialized repeatedly against Cubans and when national polls listed Cubans as the least desirable immigrants. This was largely a reaction to Castro’s propaganda about those leaving Cuba in the boatlift. As late as 1993, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that only 19 percent of the respondents believed that immigration from Cuba has benefited the United States. Dade County was also the birthplace of the English-only movement in the United States during the 1980s.

By the late 1980s, after the election of a Cuban-born mayor, a majority on the city council, numerous state representatives, and a congressional representative, and recognizing the business elite’s inability to advance their agenda without the support of the Cuban business community, Miami’s old-line, non-Hispanic white political and business elite switched to a policy of incorporation. In the meantime, the Cuban enclave had been forging itself into the staging ground for a profound Latinoization of Miami.

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