The Cuban Diaspora: Mixed Identity of Miami’s Cubans

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Since High School, I’ve had a desire to visit Cuba. There is something strangely fascinating about the small Caribbean state that evokes a sense of adventure, mystery and a journey into the depths of the unknown that excites me. As teenagers, some friends and I agreed we’d visit Cuba one day – perhaps when we were “grown up” and ready to explore the world.

In 2013, the day has finally arrived. In just over a few months, we’re embarking on an adventure almost a decade in the making.

But the upcoming trip has gained more prominence for me in recent years. By completing a semester abroad at the University of Miami, I had a chance to scratch the surface of the Cuban Diaspora tale. Home to the biggest Cuban expatriate population, Miami presented a distinctly negative image of the current predicament in Cuba.

With my trip to Cuba only a few months away, I thought it necessary to reflect on my experiences as an exchange student on “the other side of Cuba.” Perhaps delving into my Miami memories is a crucial counterbalance for what I’m about to experience within the country itself.

The following was my feature article which appeared on pages 28-29 of the “Energy Politics” edition of the March 2012 edition of The Sydney Globalist:

Miami, Florida:

The small, sun-soaked city of Miami, Florida is the heartland of the Diaspora Cuban population in the United States of America. Located some 366km from Havana, this Floridian city well documented in popular culture for its infamous night-life, serves as a bastion for Latin-American culture in the US, with some 33% of the total population claiming Cuban heritage. From the domino parks of Calle Ocho in  “Little Havana”, to the array of Cuban restaurants along South Beach, and the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami, it is impossible to ignore the omnipresent Cuban flavour of this beautiful tropical city.

However, beneath Miami’s adorned sunshine and the perpetual sway of palm trees, lies a larger and more sensitive phenomena amongst its Diaspora Cubans – that is, the relationship between Cuban-Americans and their home country, Cuba. The emergence of a dual identity, which seeks to reject affiliation with the politics of Cuba, whilst simultaneously promoting their cultural traditions, has meant the Cuban story is inescapable in Miami.

Cuban Diaspora: Dual Identity:

Haideh Moghissi argues that there are certain characteristics, which define all Diasporas, regardless of their origin. Moghissi defines Diaspora as the “loss and dispersion as the result of a forcible displacement of peoples from countries or regions defined as their cultural and historical centres.”

The Cuban example in Miami provides a clear instance of the Diaspora phenomenon. For many Cubans, their immigration to the US in the 1960’s was seen as a temporary solution to the establishment of Fidel Castro’s regime. But some 50 years on, for many of these Cuban-Americans, the prospect of returning to Cuba even under Castro’s brother, Raul Castro, remains impossible and perhaps undesired.

Throughout my time as an exchange student at an allegedly former CIA base and recruiting ground in its opposition to Cuba – the University of Miami – I was able to delve deep into the concept of the Cuban Diaspora. My highly personal experiences in Miami presented a first hand account the operation, views and perspectives of select Cuban Americans.  Whilst, admittedly, there is considerable scope for division amongst Cubans on a number of issues, the study of the Cuban Diaspora presents a paradigmatic case study of the dual identity of Diasporas around the world.

Rejection of Castro:

The active attempt by the Diaspora to reject the political realities of Cuba is particularly apparent in the anti-Castro sentiment on campus amongst many Cuban-American students. Indeed, my Politics of Latin America class contained a number of highly outspoken Cuban-Americans, who, whilst staunchly anti-Castro, appeared to reject Castro’s regime more so as a product of their upbringing, rather than an objective analysis. Their steadfast refusal to accept arguments contradicting their opinion of Castro suggested, however justified or unjustified, a lack of serious objectivity in discussing Cuba.

Beyond the campus environment, many Diaspora Cubans appeared reluctant to return or visit Cuba under Castro. A vivid and stark reminder was a particularly sensitive cab driver who appeared shocked when questioned about his desire to return to Cuba. Whilst there are difficulties in using his blunt answer of  “Why would I want to go back with Castro there?” as conclusive for all expatriates, his response proved to be quite symptomatic of anti-Castro sentiment amongst Miami’s Cuban population.

Perhaps the greatest reminder of anti-Castro sentiment amongst the Cuban Diaspora lay in the famous domino populated streets of “Little Havana” or “La Pequeña Habana.” Home to a flurry of Cuban stores, Little Havana is arguably the heartland of the Diaspora. Throughout the famous Calle Ocho lie various signs of discontent, disenchantment and staunch opposition to Castro’s Cuba.

Of particular significance were the headquarters of the alleged Alpha 66 CIA ring, long known for its clear opposition to Castro and recruitment of Cuban dissidents. Eerily empty, the headquarters serve as a permanent reminder of the dual identity of the Cuban Diaspora – that is, an identity which, even within the heartland of Cuban cultural dominance in Miami, maintains staunch opposition to Castro. Close-by are a scurry of anti-Castro signs, memorial parks, Bay of Pigs Monuments and wall murals (see picture above) which embrace the perceived democratic traditions of the United States.

Promotion of Cuban Culture:

Whilst the purported anti-Castro stance is clear and an inescapable reality of the Cuban Diaspora in Miami, the more tangible indicators of the Cuban Diaspora lay in the visible promotion of Cuban culture. Perhaps this marks an attempt to deflect the negative perception of Cuba viewed strictly through the prism of politics.

The proliferation of Cuban cigar stores, music stores, cafes, restaurants and bars is a quaint reminder of Miami’s Cuban influence. Symbolically, elderly Cubans enjoy the camaraderie and social competition in the domino park, Máximo Gómez Park, whilst sipping on traditional Cuban sugar cane Guarapo. This takes place alongside political murals demonising Castro – a reminder that politics and culture are never far apart for the Diaspora. Additionally, the “Café Cubano” coffee offered at the local McDonalds in Little Havana suggests that even amongst the most quintessentially American stores, the dual identity of the Cuban Diaspora is omnipresent.

Miami’s Cuban legacy is evident even in the realm of institutional education. At the University of Miami, libraries have dedicated volumes upon volumes of documents and archives related to Cuba. Known as the Cuban Heritage Collection, the University of Miami’s has expressed a scholarly commitment to educating its students and appreciating the University’s visible Cuban heritage.

Continuation:

Whilst it is difficult to utilise my personal experiences studying abroad as an authoritative source for analysing Cuban Diaspora, it does provide some indication as to the visible nature of the dual identity amongst particular Cuban-Americans.

The Cuban Diaspora’s dual identity attempts to fuse the best of both worlds so to speak – an identity whereby cultural traditions are embraced and domestic Cuban politics are simultaneously rejected.  With the continuation of the US’ longest running blockade on Cuba and the prevalence of the Castro regime, it’s hard to imagine Miami losing its Cuban flavour any time soon.

The feature article may be accessed on pages 28-29 of The Sydney Globalist in the Energy Politics edition, available here: http://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/70685717/Volume%20VII%2C%20Issue%20II%20%282012%29%20-%20Energy%20Politics.pdf

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About jahannavidi

Lawyer from Australia. Views are very much my own and written in my personal capacity. Twitter: jahan559
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