Miami: iLos Cubanos Han Ganado!

September 25, 2007

WHEN ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN WON THE special election to replace Rep. Claude Pepper in
1989, she was celebrated as the first Republican ever to
represent Dade County, the first Florida Congresswoman
in over 50 years, the first Latina Congresswoman, and
above all, the first Cuban American in the U.S. Congress.
At Ros-Lehtinen's election-night celebration, Celia Cruz,
the renowned salsa singer, led the crowd in a chant,
declaiming, "the people have spoken." As Cruz left the
stage, she indicated who she meant by "the people" when

Alex Stepick is the directorof the Comparative Sociology Graduate Program at Florida International University in Miami. He is co-author, with Guillermo Grenier, of Mi-ami Now! (University of Florida Press, 1992) and, with Alejandro Portes, of City on the Edge: Miami and the Immigrants (University of California Press, 1993).

she shouted triumphantly into the microphone, "iLos Cubanos han ganado!" (The Cubans have won!)(1)The man Ros-Lehtinen replaced, Claude Pepper, had served continuously in the U.S. Congress since the 1930s. His only defeat occurred in the 1950 Democratic primary when he was labeled "Red" Pepper for his earlier support of FDR's social programs. By the time of his death in 1989, his politics had become considerably more conservative, in line with the militant anti-Communism of his Cuban-American constituency. But despite his new-found conservatism, he was still an old-line establishment white in a district that had become increasingly Cuban-American. (2)After Pepper' s death, Lee Atwater, then national chairman of the Republican Party, asserted that Pepper's vacant seat "belonged to a Cuban American." The assertion launched an ethnically divisive campaign, matched in intensity only by the black-white election struggles of

Chicago in the I 980s. The Democratic front-runner, State
Senator Jack Gordon, well-liked by Miami's liberals, withdrew soon after Atwater's assertion, maintaining,
"the only way that this election could be won by a
Democrat.. .is by virtue of raising ethnic divisiveness by saying 'Stop the Cubans' in one fashion or another."3
After Gordon's withdrawal, state Democrats scrambled desperately to find a Miami-Cuban Democrat to challenge
Republican front-runner, Ros-Lehtinen. The Democratic primary, however, was won by a politically unknown Jewish businessman whose unofficial campaign theme became,
"This is an American seat," (not a Cuban-American one).
In response, Republican primary victor Ros-Lehtinen abandoned attempts at bridge-building with Jews and blacks, and concentrated on mobilizing her Miami-Cuban support.4 She succeeded strikingly well, receiving 94% of the Miami-Cuban vote, while her Democratic adversary carried all the non-Cuban groups in the district-blacks,
Jews and Anglos, including Republican Anglos. The results confirmed the ethnic political solidarity of Miami
Cubans, and represented the culmination of a decade of
Latino political empowerment.
Cubans have become the most concentrated immigrant minority in the country.5 By 1980, the City of Miami, the largest of 27 municipalities in the Miami metropolitan area, was one of only three cities in the United States with a population of more than 250,000 with a Latino majority
[see Table 6, this pagel. (The other two were San Antonio and El Paso.) Moreover, home to 80% of Cuban-born immigrants in the United States, Miami is second only to
Havana in the size of its Cuban population. By the early
1990s Latinos constituted a majority of Dade County's population; more people speak Spanish in the area than
English. In the l990s, Miami is certain to become the first metropolitan area in the United States of more than two million people with a Latino majority.
Unlike most other Latino immigrant groups, Cubans are largely white, middle-class, relatively educated, and urban-essentially from the same backgrounds as native elites. At the height of the Cold War, Miami's elites were often sympathetic to these refugees from Communism, with whom they had so much in common. Equally important, Cubans provided a good labor force for many businesses, and became avid consumers as they sought to regain their previous economic status. Although the growing number of Cuban enterprises brought unwelcome competition for some smaller non-Latino businesses, many
Anglo entrepreneurs, such as wholesalers, profited from the proliferation of small Cuban businesses. As the socioeconomic background of the migrants from Cuba broadened, the early arrivals incorporated the later ones into this ethnic enclave.6
Miami Cubans have appropriated political power more quickly and more thoroughly than any other first-generation immigrant group in U.S. history. Voting rates among registered Latino voters are very high in Miami. As a result, by 1990, Latinos held over 40 elective offices in

Dade County, including seven mayoralties, and majorities on the city commissions of Hialeah, West Miami,
Sweetwater and the City of Miami. Most of these Latino elected officials are Cuban.7 The City of Miami has a
Cuban-born mayor and a Cuban-born city manager; the
Dade County manager was also born in Cuba. Miami
Cubans also occupy ten of the 28 positions in the Dade delegation of the Florida legislature.
The Cubans have distinctly affected the local political agenda, promoting anti-Communism to one of the most important political issues in the area. In 1982, the
Miami City Commission asked the city's voters if city funds should be used for "any multinational commercial or cultural conference or convention where representatives of Communist-Marxist countries have either been scheduled to participate or invited to attend."8 Controversy even surrounded the inclusion of representatives of
Poland and Yugoslavia in Miami's Miss Universe pag-eantin 1984.

I (N THE AFTERMATH OF THE 1959 CUBAN RE-)volution, everyone, exiles and old Miami residents alike, thought the Cuban impact on Miami would be brief-that it would last until Castro was ousted by a CIA-backed coup, which many considered imminent. But the
U.S.-Soviet arrangement that resolved the 1962 Cuban
Missile Crisis doomed the militant dreams of Cuban exile politics. As CIA Director Allen Dulles allegedly informed
President Kennedy, "Don't forget that we have a disposal problem," referring to the Cuban refugees. The solution was an unprecedented and still unmatched direct and indirect assistance program. The federal Cuban Refugee
Program spent nearly $1 billion between 1965 and 1976, providing transportation costs from Cuba, financial assistance to needy refugees and to state and local agencies providing services for refugees, and employment and professional training courses for refugees.9 During the
1960s, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) allowed Cu-bans to declare capital losses for properties in Cuba.' Cubans even seemed to benefit from programs not designed for them, as Latinos (almost all Cubans) received
46.9% of all Small Business Administration loans in Dade
County between 1968 and 1980.
Even more important was indirect assistance. Through the 1960s, the University of Miami had the largest CIA station in the world, outside of the organization's headquarters in Virginia. With perhaps as many as 12,000
Cubans in Miami on the its payroll at one point in the early
1960s, the CIA was one of the largest employers in the state of Florida. The offices of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, the exile umbrella organization, became known as "the Ministry" since it employed so many who aspired to fill future government positions in a post-Communist
Cuba.11 The CIA supported what was described as the third largest navy in the world and had over 50 front businesses: CIA boat shops, CIA gun shops, CIA travel agencies, CIA detective agencies, and CIA real-estate agencies, all staffed by Miami Cubans.'2 The federal government was not the only provider of benefits. At the county level, in the late l970s and early
1980s, 53% of minority contracts for Dade County's rapid transit system went to Latino firms. Dade County Schools led the nation in bilingual education by introducing it for the first wave of Cuban refugees in 1960. The Dade

County Commission also designated the county officially bilingual in the mid-1970s. The University of Miami, among other educational institutions, trained, re-tooled and recertified thousands of Cuban physicians, nurses, lawyers, pharmacists, dentists, accountants, architects, engineers, veterinarians and teachers.'3

After the United States withdrew funding and tactical support for the exiles' counter-revolutionary efforts in the mid-1960s, Miami Cubans maintained their rhetoric of return, but the reality was one of consolidation. Miami gradually took on the hues of a "second Havana."14 Tacitly, almost unconsciously. Miami Cubans reconstructed the country left behind. The Miami they would create was to be no mere immigrant neighborhood, but an economic enclave and "moral community" simultaneously fulfilling its own economic needs and standing for the values of old Cuban society and against the new order imposed by Castroism.'5

T(HE MOST FUNDAMENTAL CONSOLIDATION)of the Miami-Cuban community took place following the arrival of the Mariel refugees in 1980. The Mariel boatlift constituted high drama across the Strait of Florida between the two warring factions of Cuban society, the revolutionary supporters of Fidel Castro and the Miami-based anti-Castroists. The production totally flummoxed the U.S. government, which vacillated between welcoming the refugees and rejecting socialism's "rejects." The
American public, and especially every non-Latino in
Miami, watched with astonishment.
Cuban exiles spent millions of dollars to rescue their relatives, but most ended up ferrying a cargo of unknowns stigmatized by hostile local and national U.S. media. The boatlift transformed the image of Cubans-both recent and early arrivals-from model minorities into undesirable aliens. The Mariel refugees themselves encountered barricades at every turn. U.S. media called the refugees
"scum" and "lumpen," reflexively adopting the labels affixed by the Cuban government. The formerly dominant positive image of exiled Cubans was replaced by one of a downtrodden and discriminated-against minority. A national Gallup Poll shortly after Mariel ranked Cubans dead last in the public's view of contributions made by different ethnic groups to the national welfare.
Miami's native white elite viewed the new wave of exiles as a threat to be determinedly opposed. The Miami Heraldspearheaded a campaign that aimed first at avoiding U.S. involvement in the events preceding the opening of the Mariel harbor, and then at having the inflow diverted elsewhere, preferably to other Latin American countries. The Heraldrepeatedly castigated Cuban Ameri-cans for their eagerness to rescue relatives from Cuba and in shrill headlines echoed Fidel's characterization of the new refugees.
Politically, an anti-bilingual referendum on the No-vember 1980 ballot reflected this native white backlash.' (1)The referendum asked Dade County voters to repudiate the county's official bilingual status and to reaffirm the primacy of the English language and American culture in Dade County. The referendum was a grassroots effort, begun by two working-class women who registered as a political action group towards the end of July, 1980, while the Mariel boatlift was still underway. They gathered nearly 45,000 signatures in just over four weeks. Even though neither the Miami Herald nor any major non-Latino business organization endorsed the ordinance, by the deadline for qualifying, they had assembled nearly 70,000 signatures, more than three times the number needed. The referendum passed by a landslide in the November election with 71% of non-Latino voters supporting it. Ethnicity became the fulcrum of local politics. Age, sex, education, and choice of presidential candidate made little difference in how people voted on the ordinance. Eighty-five percent of the Latinos who voted rejected it and nearly half of those voting for the initiative did so in order to voice their "protest" and "frustration" with the county's Latinos, not because they thought the ordinance itself was a good idea.(17)The 1980 anti-bilingual initiative had little substantive impact on actual policy or services, but it, combined with the prejudice created by Mariel, mobilized Miami Cubans on local political issues. For a minority long accustomed to public praise, the 1980 clashes abruptly awakened them to a new reality, one in which they felt compelled to engage in a
ctll ne fnr li onith and pnnnpr- em
ment.55U661VAs other bethnic lll VI.'V* Vb groups before them had done, the exiles responded to the prejudice by redefining their situation, their self-image, and their role in the larger community in order to challenge the negative images imposed on them. (1 8)To fight back, they created such organizations as the Spanish American League Against Discrimination (SALAD) and the Cuban American National Foundation. Members of these organizations self-consciously styled themselves as hyphenated Americans, not as Cubans loyal to and solely interested in their homeland. Miami Cubans reconstructed their own and Miami's history. They were no longer simply freedom fighters anticipating their triumphant return to Cuba. Miami-Cuban "patriots" recast themselves as the creators of a new Miami, the solution to Miami's problems and the builders of its future. Luis Botifoll, a leading Cuban-American banker, boasted that he and his compatriots had fashioned a "Great Change" in Miami, transforming it from being "merely provincial and tourist-oriented" into a "dynamic and multi-faceted Miami...[where] the level of progress has reached unanticipated heights, beyond the limits of anyone's imagination."'" The common circumstance of exile and the common experience of successive political defeats cemented a forceful solidarity. Expelled and despised by the government of their country, abandoned at the Bay of Pigs by a supposedly friendly government, bartered away during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and ridiculed by Latin American intellectuals, the exiles had few to trust but each other. The outcome was a profound loyalty that led Miami Cubans, despite diverse class origins and views, to patronize other Miami Cuban-owned businesses and to prefer co-nationals as business associates.
The Miami-Cuban enclave economy provided more than a source of employment and economic development.

It also under rote the Miami Cubans' political empower- ment. Despite considerable political diversity among
Miami Cubans in the early I 960s. politics and profits had become used h the 1970s.- Right-wing Cuban exiles not oniy invested Iocall , hut also ho\ cotted and harassed their more liberal Miami-Cuban economic and political oppollents. Some di'. cited CIA funds for personal profit and some tcrrori,ed with threats and bombs those who deviated fromthe mostextreme versionsofanti-Castroism.
In 1991 and 1992. the extreme right-'.'. ing
American National Foundation, and its outspoken hacker.
Jorge Mas Canosa. launched a campaign against the Miami Herald. It branded the newspaper a propagandist for Fidel Castro. and demanded that its Miami-Cuban v ritcrs resign. In response, both the Interamerican Press

Association and the human-rights group Americas Watch conducted unprecedented inquiries into attacks on free- of the press in a L'S. city. In its 1992 report. Americas asserted that militantexiIc. led by the Foundation. had intimidated moderate Miami Cubans. Miami political leaders and e en Miami law -enforcement agencies. thus creating a "repressive climate for freedom ol expression."

4 IAMI CUBANS' ANTI-CASTROISM AND
IVI their relati'. clv high social and economic standing. while creating an extraordinaril unilIed community. has e undermined the emergence of pan-Latino or other minority coalitions. While the Cubans' relations with
Latino communities range from supportive to am-higuous see 'Puerto Rico Sc Respeta.'' page 41. and black communities, both Haitian and African-American, have been tense and troublesome. (22)Two recent incidents cast some light on the racial politics of Miami, and on the extreme difficulty of building minority coalitions.
In July, 1990, at a Miami-Cuban clothing store in the heart of Little Haiti, a Haitian customer demanded an alteration of a pair of pants bought at the store. (2)(3)In the ensuing fist fight, the Haitian later claimed the Cuban had thrown the first punch while the Cuban said the Haitian had. The following day a Haitian radio announcer related the Haitian' s story and summoned Haitians and "African Americans in Overtown, Liberty City and Opa-Locka" to protest the incident. One thousand protesters surrounded the merchant's store and more than 140 police restrained the crowd during a lively and occasionally violent nine-hour confrontation.
When the Miami-Cuban merchant re-opened his store a few days later, Haitians spontaneously gathered to protest.(24)The merchant spoke peacefully with small groups of protesters a number of times. In the late afternoon a Haitian musical group entertained and the crowd began dancing. The crowd reached about 100 but half fled during a late afternoon rainstorm. Soon after the rain ended in the early evening, 100 police, wearing riot gear, surrounded the remaining protesters and began closing in with their nightsticks flailing. With local television stations broadcasting the melee, police knocked protesters to the ground and continued to hit many of them while they were down. A few protesters broke through the police barricades, but were tackled,jabbed with nightsticks, and handcuffed. By late evening 63 had been arrested, a dozen of whom were migration and Naturalization Service (INS) detained 34 of the arrested because they had no immediate proof of their immigration status. Most subsequently demonstrated their right to remain in the United States, but seven Haitians were held to face deportation proceedings.
The second incident illustrates the ideological overlay of Miami's ethnic conflicts. Nelson Mande-la, in the midst of his triumphal tour of the
United States in July
1990, was in town to
tallAI;-r-irn u cns'uuvullrnh o-tcrr thb ul
before the international convention of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). He had already been to New York, Washington and Atlanta where he had been greeted and warmly welcomed by those cities and the nation's top elected officials and celebrities. He was to go on to other U.S. cities to equally rousing, endorsing receptions. But things were different in Miami. About 300 anti-Communists, mostly Miami Cubans, were bunched at one end of the esplanade in front of the convention center. Their placards proclaimed, "Arafat, Gadhafi and Castro are Terrorists," and "Mr. Mandela, do you know how many people your friend Castro has killed just for asking the right to speak as you do here?" A middle-aged Miami-Cuban tile setter asserted, "I'm here because Mandela is a friend of Castro's and no friend of Castro's is welcome in Miami." (25)Opposing the anti-Communists some 50 yards away were 3,000 Nelson Mandela supporters, mostly African Americans, whose placards declared, "Mandela, Welcome to Miami, Home of Apartheid" and "Miami City Council=Pretoria." A tall man waved a cardboard sign: "Anti-Communism is no excuse to support racism. Welcome Nelson-Winnie Mandela." A middle-aged black woman said, "I'm here because this [Nelson Mandela] is a great man." Both sides demonstrated for about five hours under a searing sun. Planes continuously circled a few thousand feet above, alternately dragging pro- and anti-Mandela banners. Jews against Mandela paraded down the street. A few minutes later JewsforMandela followed them. Racist signs were carried by a few white supremacists, but the main attraction was the confrontation between Miami's two principal minorities, Miami-Cuban immigrants and African Americans.
The City of Miami pointedly refused to honor Mandela because Miami-Cuban politicians feared alienating right-wing Miami-Cuban radio talk show hosts by welcoming a supporter of Castro. Even the one African-American member of the city commission had claimed thathe would not forgo the commission meeting to attend Mandela's speech. (26)Neither he nor the one African-American mem-berof the county commission publicly defended Mandela.
"Miami may go down in infamy as the only city in America that denounced, criticized, castigated and threw its 'welcome mat' in the face of Nelson Mandela," H.T. Smith, chairman of the Miami Coalition for a Free South Africa, wrote to Miami's Cuban-born Mayor Xavier Suarez. In the wake of Mandela's visit, Smith, and the Black Lawyers Association that he helped found, organized African-American frustration and anger through a convention boycott of Miami. In four months, at least 13 national organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization of Women, canceled Miami conventions.
Yet behind the wall of anti-Castro unity imposed by the exile leadership, a good deal of diversity still exists. Among those who are frustrated by the intolerance of the Miami-Cuban political leadership are members of the Cuban-American trade-union movement. In spite of Miami Cu-bans' fierce anti-Communism, many are surprisingly liberal on domestic issues. The Miami-Cuban state house legislators, all Republicans, voted in favor of 82% of labor issues, compared to only 80% for all the House's Democrats, during the 1987-89 legislative sessions. But still, the constraints are powerful. As one labor leader explained: They [the anti-Castro forces] control the media.
Everything you hear is the same, every day, all day. What we have to do is address local issues [not anti-Castro ones]. If we get together with the [Cuban] community to confront the problems here, you'll see the unions grow...And, the people who want to divide us will become quiet. (2 7)The 1992 elections and Hurricane Andrew will reinforce the Miami Cubans' political power. Redistricting will add another Miami Cuban to the U.S. House of Representatives-former state legislator Lincoln Diaz-Balart, running unopposed as a Republican. Dfaz-Balart will join Ros-Lehtinen as voices for a continued hard line against Fidel Castro. And while Hurricane Andrew displaced and disrupted the lives of Miami Cubans just as much as everybody else in Miami, and the slow response of the Bush Administration frustrated and angered them just as much as everybody else, they will still vote for Bush because of his more vehement anti-Communism. More significantly, Anglo Americans uprooted by Hurricane Andrew are more likely to abandon Dade County rather than rebuild, thus accelerating the predominance and empowerment of Miami's Latinos. S

12. Joan Didion,Miami; Cynthia Jo Rich, "Pondering the Future: Miami's
Cubans After 15 Years," Race Relations Reporter, Vol. 5, November 1974;
David Rieff, Going To Miami (Boston: Little Brown, 1987), pp. 193-207.
13. Mohl, 1990, p. 49.
14. The expression was first used by Rieff, Going To Miami.
15. Carlos Forment, "Political Practice and the Rise Of an Ethnic Enclave:
the Cuban-American Case, 1959-1979." Theory and Society, Vol. 18, 1989,
pp. 47-81.
16. For further details on the English-only movement in Florida, see Max
Castro, "The Politics of Language" in Miami Now!
17. Interestingly, only 44% of blacks supported the anti-bilingual referen-
dum. However, by the time of the 1988 state constitutional English-only
amendment, blacks' support nearly equalled that of whites. See Castro, "Politics of Language."
18. Nathan Glazer, "Ethnic Groups in America: From National Culture to
Ideology," in M. Berger, T. Abel and C. Page (eds.), Freedom and Control in
Modern Society (New York: Van Nostrand, 1954), pp. 158-173; Andrew
Greeley, Why Can't They Be Like Us? America's White Ethnic Groups (New
York: E.P. Dutton, 1971); Alejandro Portes, "The Rise of Ethnicity: Determi-
nants of Ethnic Perceptions among Cuban Exiles in Miami," American
Sociological Review, No. 49, June 1984, pp. 383-397.
19. Luis J. Botifoll, Introduccidn al Futuro de Miami, (Miami: Laurenty
Publishing Inc., 1988), pp. 3 & 10.
20. Carlos Forment, "Political Practice and the Rise of an Ethnic Enclave."
21. New York Times,, August 19, 1992.
22. See Marvin Dunn and Alex Stepick, "Blacks in Miami" in Miami
Now!; Paul S. George, "Colored Town: Miami's Black Community, 1896-
1930," Florida HistoricalQuarterly, No. 56 (April 1978), pp. 432-47; Raymond
A. Mohl, "Black Immigrants: Bahamians in Early Twentieth-Century Miami,"
Florida Historical Quarterly, No. 65 (January 1987), pp. 271-297; Mold, "The
Origins of Miami's Liberty City," Florida Environmental and Urban Issues,
Vol. 4 (1985), pp. 9-12; Mohl, "Trouble in Paradise: Race and Housing in
Miami during the New Deal Era," Prologue: JournaloftheNationalArchives,
Vol. 19 (Spring 1987), pp. 7-21; Mohl, "Shadows in the Sunshine: Race and
Ethnicity in Miami," Tequesta: The Journal of the Historical Association of
Southern Florida, Vol. 49 (1989), pp. 39-40; Bruce Porter and Marvin Dunn, The Miami Riot of 1980: Crossing the Bounds (New York: D.C. Heath, 1984), p. 169.
23. This section is drawn primarily from Alex Stepick, "The Refugees
Nobody Wants: Haitians in Miami," in Miami Now! Also see Chapters 3 and
8 of City On the Edge.
24. The first demonstration was abetted by Creole radio stations urging a
protest, but on the second day the Creole radio shows kept quiet and people
assembled spontaneously.
25. This section is drawn from Chapter 8 of City On the Edge.
26. The African-American commissioner subsequently did go to the
convention to greet Mandela. Unfortunately, Mandela was late and the Com-
missioner had to leave before Mandela arrived in order to attend a city
commission meeting.
27. This quote was collected by Guillermo Grenier. Miami-Cuban in-
volvement in the labor movement is discussed in Grenier, "The Cuban-
American Labor Movement."

Tags: Latinos, Miami, Cuban-American, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, US politics


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