Different Hispanics, Different Heritage – Part One
I have purposely waited until the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, 2011, to get down to writing this piece. Since I’m Cuban by birth, I have some observations about Hispanics in general and about Cuban exiles in particular.
Many natural-born Americans think of “Hispanics” as one group, one minority group, one disadvantaged minority group, one left-leaning group. In other words, we’re all alike. Not so.
I’m Cuban by birth and American by adopted citizenship. I’m an American who was born and raised in Cuba, of Cuban parents. I’m here because my parents and I migrated here in the early 1960s – seeking freedom.
Miami, Florida, is where my family and I first ended up; many of us “learned to die in Miami”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmplymVatPs&feature=related
Miami has, in the past 50 years, developed its own culture and way of life. The Miami Hispanic, usually of Cuban origin, is different from the non-Miami Hispanic. It is common for Hispanics to say good things about Miami’s diverse culture and its desirable warm weather, but common also is the view that Miami is composed of politically radical Cuban-Americans who take uncommon stances on issues that pertain to Latin America.
Outsiders of the “Magic City” view the political culture of Miami as vastly different to that of other Hispanics in the country, especially when they compare Americans of Cuban birth and descent to the rest. For some, the differences that exist between Hispanics from Miami and those outside are difficult to explain. Luckily, having lived there for a few years, and having moved away from South Florida, has given me some insight into a few reasons why this political schism has taken place.
Many Hispanics outside Miami cannot imagine minorities siding with Republicans on so many issues, and identifying with conservatism as much as Miami Hispanics do. The conglomeration of different immigration experiences make for a truly diverse outlook on foreign and domestic politics, and, therefore, political affiliations.
For this reason, Miami-Dade County tends not to be very moderate, but instead possess a great number of individuals from both sides of the political spectrum, often resulting in very close presidential election results, as was the case of “The Chads of 2000.“ Generally speaking, it’s Cubans on the Right, and blacks and Anglo-Americans on the Left – sharply delineated, with an anomalous exception here or there.
Hispanics from Miami don’t buy into the whole “Republicans are white racists” deal because our experiences with the Republican Party in general are very different. First of all, Miamians tend to have some sort of communication or experience with the GOP because the GOP is a viable party in Miami.
Many other metropolitan centers where minorities live often fall victim to “Republican Deficiency Disorder” – to RDD. To many in the big cities, encountering a Republican is like encountering the fossils of a rare species of dinosaur. If they do get the rare opportunity to meet such an extraterrestrial life form, they automatically assume such form to be Evangelical Christian, and obviously intolerant of women, blacks, gays, immigrants, the poor ... You’ve heard the quota drivel….
Most importantly, they assume that this alien Republican life form is inherently anti-immigrant; therefore, when they meet a Hispanic Republican, they often strip him of his “Latino-ness,” even though he may be better acquainted with the culture and language.
Immigrants who decide to come to the United States do so because they are convinced that the USA is superior in offering its residents the economic opportunities and political freedoms that don’t exist in most of their native countries.
Miami Hispanics are essentially more grateful to the United States than they are critical of it, simply because they know that the country they left and love is also a country that does not compare in offering the opportunities that the United States does.
In recognizing that the U.S. has given them a second chance, they embrace the values of the USA, and therefore identify with being patriotic and loving their newly adopted country.
This does not mean, however, that Miami Cubans jettison their culture and their language and replace theirs with American culture. Such ordinary American culture is actually quite unknown in Miami, especially in its predominantly Little Havana neighborhoods, like Calle Ocho, where Spanish (actually, espinglés or Spanglish) is the language of business, trade, and everyday conversation.
The Miami Hispanic looks beyond the borders of the United States and is quickly reminded of Latin America’s poverty and lawlessness. On the other hand, the non-Miami Hispanic looks beyond the USA’s borders and sees an old country that they may be distant from, but for which they still feel pride and a longing to return.
It is, in fact, the “old country” that helps to define the non-Miami Hispanic, and give him an identity in a city or neighborhood where he feels like an outsider or minority, and inherently disadvantaged because of his foreign origin.
Most Hispanic immigrants in North America have a country to go back to; Cubans do not. We’re here to stay, because we can’t go back. I won’t go back.
Miami Hispanics are usually working class, although some have succeeded more than others through entrepreneurship or higher education degrees. The Miami Hispanic, however, is not as cognizant of how poor he may be because everyone around him seems to be in the same income bracket. He does not believe that being Hispanic in the U.S. means being the floor sweeper, while the Anglo-American is naturally the lawyer or the doctor.
In Miami, the Hispanic is the floor sweeper, the McDonald’s cashier, and the doctor and the lawyer, all at once. Because of this, one cannot say that the lawyers and doctors had some kind of financial or racial upper-hand on the oppressed masses because everyone has the same background and the same setbacks, sometimes even the same story. No professional victimology allowed.
Like immigrants everywhere, Miami Hispanics are the sum of their experiences, and their experiences have made most of us conservative. Aside from the natural tendency of the Latino family that makes them socially conservative on issues of abortion and gay marriage, Cuban-Americans side with conservatives because they have helped them more than anyone. President Ronald Reagan actively spoke out against communism, not only in Cuba, but all around the world. He criticized the ideology of the “Evil Empire” and its intrinsic perversity, and Cuban exiles understood because they lived through it.
It’s possible that Cuban-Americans identify with the plight of Estonians more closely than with that of Mexicans or Salvadorans. I’ve been to Estonia’s “Museum of the Occupation,” where I felt more like an exhibit more than a visitor.
Republicans welcomed Cuban immigrants with open arms because they understood that communism was and is no easy thing to live through. They understand that communism strips the individual of his individuality and therefore deprives him of his economic and political rights.
On the other hand, American left-wingers, mostly Democrats, have often come across as sympathetic to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Michael Moore clones who criticize U.S. policy, and claim that Fidel’s education and healthcare are superior, also come across as supporters of a communist regime. Those people often tend to be liberal, not conservative.
To be continued….