Sunday, August 13, 2006

On Cuban-Americans

Reader Louis Mayor tipped me off to this August 6th Gregory Rodriguez column from the L.A. Times. On the surface it appears to be a pretty favorable piece but I'm not so sure. Certainly there are things in the column that I disagree with. Below are some excerpts with commentary from me.

All cultural groups like to think of themselves as unique, but Cubans, and especially Cuban Americans, have a grand sense of exceptionalism. Their genesis tale in the United States is about exile, not immigration — the "ideology," according to Lisandro Perez, sociologist at Florida International University, that "they were … driven out, impelled to leave by a government and by a political system."
The use of the word "tale" seems to imply that it's a fiction, that in fact Cubans were not "driven out, impelled to leave by a government and by a political system," but for some other reason. The fact is that pre-castro Cuba had a net positive migration from the U.S., not the other way around as has been the case for the past 47 years. Cuba was a destination for people from around the world to re-settle. But since castro the flow has been one way: out to anywhere that isn't Cuba.

Also one can't forget who the author of this particular statement is. For more information about how Lisandro Perez has been an apologist for the castro regime for many years visit LatinAmericanStudies.org.
Exceptionalism is strongest among the first generation of refugees who arrived after the revolution in 1959. They fought fiercely to remain culturally Cuban and made their longing to return to a liberated Cuba their calling card. They established a network of institutions to preserve their customs and traditions and to influence U.S. policy toward their homeland. They gravitated toward the Republican Party largely because of the GOP's tougher stance toward Castro.
I don't disagree that the first generation maintains a stronger Cuban cultural identity. That's only natural, however I know I am not alone as an American-born Cuban-American in my strong sense of Cubanness. The fact that Cubans gravitate towards the Republican party is a result of the fact that most Democrats do not take the threat of communism seriously. Cuban-Americans have seen the horror of it first hand. Every Democratic administration starting with JFK's has been disastrous for the cause of Cuban freedom.
Though most U.S.-born Cuban Americans have never visited the island, many have inherited a romantic vision of the homeland from their parents and grandparents.
Again here's a subtle attempt by the author to discredit pre-castro Cuba. It's a "romantic vision." But the truth can't be concealed. Cuba was an advanced country. Even though Cubans in the 50s lived under a dictatorship, it's like comparing apples and oranges. I am not an apologist for Fulgencio Batista (although one is always branded as such when one points out the failures of castro) but what would happen if a young man planned and carried out an attack on Cuban military barracks today? Would he be released, on a general amnesty, less than two years after being convicted? Hell no. He'd be dragged to the paredón (firing squad wall) quicker than you could say "Ready, aim, fire!"
AND YET, at some level, Cuban Americans also understand that their exile state is a fiction. A 2004 survey of residents of Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Fla., where three in five ethnic Cubans in the U.S. reside, reveals that the majority do not consider it very likely that they will return to live on the island if it becomes a democracy. If and when the island opens up, Cuban Americans may finally have to acknowledge that they are in the U.S. by choice and begin to see themselves more as a traditional immigrant group. "Exile identity is always in opposition to something," says Cornell historian Maria Cristina Garcia, "but if the source of our opposition evaporates, then we'll have to rethink our identity as Cubans in the United States."
Here the author doesn't hide the fact that he thinks the Cuban exile state is a "fiction." His conclusion is based on the results of a survey of "ethnic Cubans" (which would mean any generation) where the majority believe it's unlikely that they will return to live in a democratic Cuba. But this conclusion is flawed. You can't assess the motivations of past migration because of the likelihood of future migration. 47 years have past and the Cuba they would be returning to, the Cuba the were exiled from, would not be the same Cuba they left. Cuba today is third world country with many years of reconstruction (both physical and cultural) ahead of it. I pointed out the contrast of today's Cuba and that of early Revolutionary Cuba in a recent post about a 2001 documentary film called I am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth. In the documentary we see the vast changes (for the worse) that have occurred since the early '60s when Cuba much more closely resembled what it was before castro.

Ms. Garcia overstates the point that without castro, Cuban-Americans will have to "re-think our identity as Cubans in the United States." Most people live their lives without the kind of introspection that this statement would imply. In short, for most people the future doesn't change the past. Once a Cuban, always a Cuban.
And with the issue of communism off the table, Cuban American political organizations would be instantly deprived of their raison d'etre, and Cuban American voters could lose their special influence in U.S. politics. Described by some as Democrats with a Republican foreign policy, an increasingly diffuse Cuban American electorate could potentially gravitate away from the GOP.
Well, I'm sure the Democrats would like to think is true because Cuban-Americans are a swing vote in a swing state. But these changes won't be dramatic. After all, your enemies don't become your friends overnight. Pundits and pollsters have been predicting a mass Cuban-American defection from the Republican party for years now and have yet to get it right. As long as Democrats continue to advocate policies that move the country toward the "nanny state" that Cuban-Americans escaped from, I don't think they'll be able to peel a significant number of Cuban voters away.

2 comments:

El Gusano said...

Conductor:

Great

El Gusano said...

Conductor:

great post.

the democrats general attitude towards cuban americans is a sort dimissive condescendence.. like "get away from me you paranoid right wing nut".. "oh, by the way, i need your vote."

cubans gravitate towards the republicans because of this and because they know from bitter experience that the "nanny state", as you put it, holds an empty promise at the cost of individual freedom. Cubans are probably the original neo-cons and they also pioneered right-wing talk radio!

i've always found it difficult when dealing with other immigrant minorities to explain to them that we're not here for economic reasons. and that alot of the political positions that we take here in the states is to protect the US from enemies that many Americans dont even see as enemies.

when castro is finally gone, i'm sure that cuban americans will still be as steadfast against America's enemies as we are now. Unfortunately, the democratic party is out on left field on this one.

cono, tremenda descarga! sorry for the long comment.