samedi 24 mars 2012

The Miami Herald
Posted on Fri, Mar. 23, 2012
Why Cuban exiles don’t take America’s freedom for granted.


Without the Cuban diaspora, Miami would be a very different city.

Before Castro’s revolution, Cubans represented just 2 percent of Miami-Dade County’s population. By 2010, they’d grown to 34 percent —numbering only slightly fewer than the entire county population in 1960.

Cuban exiles have dramatically changed the culture, economy, language and history of South Florida over the past 50 years. When the first wave fled the island after Castro took over, they believed their sojourn here would be temporary — making them exiles rather than immigrants. Cubans and many Americans at the time were convinced the U.S. would never tolerate a communist regime 90 miles south of its shores. Despite the failure of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion, some Cuban exiles continue to hope for a triumphant return to their island.

It’s been a long wait.

From the Bay of Pigs to Elián, exile stories have grabbed headlines across our country, becoming part of American as well as Miami history. No chapter was more dramatic than the Mariel boatlift, which brought 125,000 refugees to our shores in a few short months during 1980. Its size and suddenness placed an enormous burden on the community, bringing tensions already simmering to the boiling point.

As a student of international affairs in 1980, I came here to observe firsthand the largest refugee influx in America’s history, and its effects upon a metropolitan community. Mariel became the subject of my senior thesis for Princeton University, and launched a lifelong fascination with Cuban Miami. Thirty years later, I accepted an invitation to help edit Cubans: An Epic Journey. This group project, involving over 30 contributors, was initiated by Facts About Cuban Exiles (FACE), an organization formed after Mariel to combat prejudice against Cubans.

Before Mariel, Cuban exiles believed they’d been fully accepted by their Miami neighbors. “Mariel ripped that pretty picture to shreds,” recalls Sergio Pereira, aide to the Dade County manager and special consultant to the White House at the time. Due to a small but highly visible criminal element among the Mariel refugees, the Miami community now had license to vent decades of pent-up frustrations and bigotry. Pereira says, “Cuban Americans who had spent so many years flourishing in what they truly believed to be the ‘land of equal opportunity’ were crushed, emotionally and spiritually.”

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Posted on Fri, Mar. 23, 2012

Why Cuban exiles don’t take America’s freedom for granted


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