Miami’s Younger Cubans Break With Past
Miami’s Younger Cubans Break With Past
Native-Born Cuban Americans More Open to Detente With Havana Than Their
Exiled Kin, Amid Changing Demographics
By REED JOHNSON
Jan. 6, 2015 7:46 p.m. ET
MIAMI—Last month, President Barack Obama proclaimed “a new approach” to
U.S.-Cuba relations. But Nilda Pedraza sees only the same entrenched
communist regime that she says killed her son.
Like many Cuban-American exiles in South Florida, Ms. Pedraza, 76, was
stunned by the White House’s Dec. 17 announcement that her native and
adoptive countries would restore full diplomatic ties after a half
century of estrangement.
Ms. Pedraza angrily described how her son, a 26-year-old factory worker,
was shot to death by Cuban border guards as he tried to swim to the U.S.
Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, on Jan. 19, 1994. He was buried in an
unmarked grave, and his full autopsy was never released, she said.
“The only thing he wanted was liberty,” Ms. Pedraza said of her son,
Iskander Maleras Pedraza. “He was put in the ground without a name, as
if he were a dog.”
E-mails and phone calls to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington
seeking comment on the case weren’t returned.
Ms. Pedraza’s comments belie a deep cultural and generational split in
the city’s Cuban-American community, the nation’s largest.
The Castro regime remains anathema among older Cubans, many of whom lost
property and saw their families ripped apart as the regime soon declared
itself communist after its 1959 triumph.
But most observers say that more recent Cuban arrivals here tend to be
economic migrants with close ties to relatives in Cuba who will benefit
from eased travel and financial restrictions. And those born in Miami
who didn’t experience the trauma of exile also tend to be less
passionate in their anti-Castroism.
Many of them expressed guarded optimism that the new policy could help
gradually pry open Cuba’s government by allowing a freer flow of
information, ideas and commerce across the 90-mile Straits of Florida.
The detente is “very positive,” said Roberto Ramos, 50,
founder-president of the Cuba Ocho Art and Research Center, a landmark
of this city’s Little Havana district. “I think that the first step
needed to happen, and Obama took it. No president before did that, and
Fidel Castro never did it,” said Mr. Ramos, who migrated to the U.S. in
1992 in a stranded boat that was rescued by the Coast Guard.
He said “hope has returned” to his relatives still living in Cuba. “With
this little change, it has given them the opportunity to dream,” Mr.
Ramos added. “The Cuban government forbids you to dream.”
A poll of 400 Cuban American respondents, taken soon after Mr. Obama’s
announcement of the rapprochement by Miami-based research firm Bendixen
& Amandi International, reflects the divide. Older, Cuban-born
respondents dominated the 44% opposing Mr. Obama’s actions, while their
younger, U.S.-born counterparts dominated the support, with 48%.
In fact, Mr. Obama’s decision met with surprisingly little public
protest in Miami, save a few not-unusual debates outside Versailles, a
landmark Cuban restaurant, residents say.
Miami-Dade County is home to some 850,000 Cuban Americans, nearly half
of all those living in the U.S., according to a 2012 report by the Pew
Hispanic Center. The Little Havana district, traversed by SW 8th Street,
popularly known by its Spanish name, “Calle Ocho,” remains a hub of
Cuban culture. But the community’s evolution over the last half-century
mirrors the changing profile of its residents.
Today, Little Havana is home not only to monuments to Cuban heroes,
cigar shops and bakeries, but also Colombian restaurants and Honduran
grocers. The Cuban-American population, now dispersed across
metropolitan Miami, has become heavily assimilated and doesn’t conform
to one monolithic profile.
The Bendixen & Amandi International poll marked big splits based on
origin. It showed that 53% of Cuban Americans born on the island opposed
diplomatic rapprochement with Cuba, with 38% in favor. In contrast, 64%
of Cuban Americans born in the U.S. support the opening, while only 33%
Age was another crucial divider. Cuban Americans aged 65 and older
overwhelmingly oppose normalization of diplomatic relations, with 67%
opposed and just 25% in favor. But majorities of all other age groups
favored Mr. Obama’s opening with President Rául Castro.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans have returned
to Cuba to visit relatives, thanks to travel restrictions eased a few
years ago. Today, frequent charter flights leave from Miami to Havana
and provincial cities on the island including Camaguey, Santiago and
Andres Conde, 46, a Cuban-American Miami artist who runs an art gallery
with his wife Stacy, vows he won’t return to his homeland until it is a
free democracy. He said his father was a political prisoner who served
time in a labor camp before the family escaped to Spain in 1977, later
immigrating to the U.S.
Still, Mr. Conde said he and other Cuban Americans are moving beyond
what he calls the “old guard” position of refusing to engage with the
Castro government. He said the Cold War is ancient history to his three
children, and thinks Cuba inevitably will change as its aging guerrilla
rulers are replaced by new leaders.
“Fidel and his brother are not going to last forever,” Mr. Conde said.
Another longtime Little Havana denizen, Luis Sánchez, 54, was greeting
customers recently at his premium-cigar shop, La Tradición Cubana Inc.,
down the street from a monument to the doomed Bay of Pigs invasion.
Mr. Sánchez, who keeps both U.S. and Cuban flags on his shop’s wall,
said his family left the island in 1970, after his father spent three
and a half years cutting sugar cane in a labor camp and government
authorities confiscated all his family’s possessions, including his
mother’s wedding ring.
He’s not optimistic of any change due to the new policy. But he does see
a potential silver lining if the U.S. lifts trade restrictions.
“They’re going to take away the only excuse that Castro has, if they
take it away,” he said.
Otherwise, Mr. Sánchez suggested, the new policy may do little besides
allowing more U.S. tourists to return from Cuba bearing rum and cigars.
“I don’t [care] about cigars,” Mr. Sánchez said, using a colorful turn
of phrase. “What about the people?”
—José de Córdoba in Miami contributed to this article.
Write to Reed Johnson at
Source: Miami’s Younger Cubans Break With Past – WSJ –