Sunday, July 13, 2014





Exodus of Cubans fuels clash of new, old


October 06. 2013 10:25PM
CHRISTINE ARMARIO Associated Press



Story Tools
PrintPrint | E-MailEMail | SaveSave | Hear Generate QR Code QR
Send to Kindle


MIAMI — At a small store on Eighth Street near Miami’s Little Havana, Armando Perez paid $25 to activate his daughter’s cell phone in Cuba. Store owner Laura Benitez sat behind a glass window, typing in the phone numbers for Perez and others calling Cuba.


“I call my daughter every week, even if it’s just for her to say, ‘Papi, I love you,’” said Perez, a thin man who left the island on a boat in 2008.


Benitez, who fled with her parents shortly after the 1959 Cuban Revolution, doesn’t have family in Cuba. Many of her clients, however, grew up under the communist system and immigrated in the last 10 years.


“They need to go back to Cuba to see their family,” Benitez said. “I don’t understand because my parents are here. Maybe if they were in Cuba I would go back.”


Some 46,662 Cubans left the island legally and permanently last year, the largest migration in a single year since 1994, according to figures from Cuba’s National Statistics Office. Since 2002, the number leaving has hovered around 30,000 annually, making the last 10 years the largest exodus since the start of the revolution. That’s in addition to an estimated 7,000 to 19,000 who leave Cuba illegally each year — some by boat and many with the U.S. as their final destination.


The influx of new arrivals is evident throughout Miami, the heart of Cuba’s exile population, from myriad shops offering cell phone services to street fliers about performances by artists who still live on the island.


Cubans arriving today grew up on the island after the revolution, and their relationship with their homeland is different than the wave of immigrants who arrived immediately after Fidel Castro took power. Their growing numbers are bringing those stark contrasts to the fore, leading to moments of friction between groups and putting into question what it means to be a Cuban “exile.”


The clashes surface in a big way when older Cuban Americans protest outside concerts and sporting events featuring Cuban musicians and athletes who draw throngs of fans who grew up listening and watching them. The rifts are also apparent in small exchanges at shops like Benitez’s.


Benitez’s mother was a Jehovah’s Witness and spent three years in jail for preaching before fleeing on one of the Freedom Flights, the twice daily flights that carried more than 265,000 Cubans out of the island between 1965 and 1973.


“My mom said we were refugees,” Benitez recalled. “If she could have gone back, I don’t think she would have. How can we go back to a country that did not want us?”


By contrast, Cubans fleeing today rarely cite political persecution.


“In Cuba, I didn’t live so badly,” said Perez, a 63-year-old truck driver who walks around with a Bluetooth device in his ear. Perez came to America on a boat with 30 other people to reunite with his son, who had fled several years ago.


At the strip mall where Benitez’s store is located, tax accountant Irka Ducasse Blanes recalls how, when she lived in Cuba, she did not understand why Cuban Americans called themselves “exiles.”


Blanes, 40, worked in finance at the Hotel Habana Riviera in Cuba. She lived relatively well, traveling internationally for work twice a year. In 2007, she came to America when she was six months pregnant, bringing with her a 7-year-old daughter. Her husband soon followed.


The family wanted a better future for their children, and today Blanes does identify with the term “exile.”


“The word ‘exile,’ I think, means you’re in a place where you can’t go whenever you want to your birth country,” she said.


Many Cuban immigrants today do return, however, some quite frequently. According to the Cuban government, about 500,000 U.S. visitors travel to the island every year, the majority Cuban Americans.


Their reasons for immigrating — primarily economic and not political persecution— combined with frequent visits home, raise questions about whether they can be accurately called “refugees.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services define refugees as “generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they fear serious harm.”


Some immigration activists and politicians have said it’s time to revisit policies that offer generous privileges to Cubans immigrating to the U.S., like the Cuban Adjustment Act, by which Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and are fast-tracked toward residency.


“I don’t criticize anyone who wants to go visit their mom or dad or their dying brother or sister in Cuba,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a prominent Florida Republican born in Miami to Cuban parents, told the American Society of News Editors earlier this year. “But I am telling you it gets very difficult to justify someone’s status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here they are flying back to that country over and over again.”


Emilio Morales, a market researcher in Cuba before immigrating to the U.S. in 2007, characterized the relationship between revolution era exiles and today’s arrivals as “bad.” He said recent arrivals are not interested in politics, and don’t feel that something was taken from them.




Comments
comments powered by Disqus Commenting Guidelines
Poll
Mortgage Minute


Search for New & Used Cars

Make 
Model
 
Used New All
 

Search Times Leader Classifieds to find just the home you want!

Search Times Leader Classifieds to find just what you need!

Search Pet Classifieds
Dogs Cats Other Animals



Social Media/RSS
Times Leader on Twitter
Times Leader on Youtube
Times Leader on Google+
The Times Leader on Tumblr
The Times Leader on Pinterest
Times Leader RSS Feeds