The shape of modern-day Miami has been significantly shaped by a Cuban migration creating what’s now known as Cuban Miami.
This multiculturalism is reflective the way international policies often influence local communities.
According to US census data from 2000, roughly half a million Cubans, many of them professionals and business people, pitched up in Miami in the fifteen years following the Cuban Revolution. Among this number were some members of the administration of Fulgencio Batista.
Miami Cubans benefited from the federal government’s assimilation aid. This enabled many to set up businesses. Indeed, the Cubans arriving in Miami after 1980 mainly came there for economic reasons.
As Miami has continued to grow and become increasingly internationalized, this has polarized society along ethnic lines. The Miami Cubans have remained fiercely protective of their culture, customs, values, language, and religion. In many ways, the Cuban presence defines Miami, and the sheer volume of Cubans in the city has played a major role in its growth.
Statistics for 2012 reveal there were 1.2 million residents of Greater Miami of Cuban heritage. Of that number, roughly 400,000 arrived after 1980.
History of Cuban Migration to Miami
Miami has always served as an easy point of entry for Cubans seeking to escape from the poverty or military dictatorships blighting Cuba. It’s geographical proximity alone makes it the route of least resistance.
Wealthy Cubans have also sent their children to American schools over the years, often Miami-based schools.
Miami was also routinely used as a base of operations by assorted Cuban political figures looking to topple the Batista regime.
Despite this, there were still only 10,000 Cubans living in Miami by 1958. Miami was becoming a popular destination for Cuban tourists, and the industry capitalized on this and offered services heavily slanted toward that market.
Early Cuban exiles (1959 to 1973)
The Cuban migration to Miami exploded in the wake of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Cubans headed to the US in large numbers with many choosing Miami due to its proximity to Cuba and the presence of a thriving Cuban culture. Settling in Hialeah, Florida and Little Havana, the job opportunities, cheap housing, and ready access to business people speaking Spanish continued to attract more Cubans to Miami.
The more this Cuban migration continued, the more businesses and media companies targeted that Spanish-speaking audience.
At the same time, a “white flight” occurred with non-Hispanic locals leaving in droves.
This Cuban migration dramatically impacted the demographics of Miami. Fewer African Americans migrated to Miami during the 1960s, at least partly a result of the jobs previously being offered to African Americans being claimed by Cubans instead.
Cuban Exiles Post-1974
The Mariel boatlift brought many more Cubans to Miami by 1980.
By this time, Cubans already in the US started to enter Florida. Between 1985 and 1990, 35,776 Cubans moved to Miami from elsewhere in the US while 21,231 moved away, often to other places in Florida. The flow of Cubans in and out of Miami makes up over half of all migration between regions among the Cuban settlers.
This Cuban migration continued, concentrated on Miami in particular, during and beyond the Cuban rafter crisis of 1994. More Cubans came, and more settled in the area. Cuban-owned businesses thrived and still thrive today.
Cubans in the Miami area tried to reinstate Spanish as the primary language. Indeed, Spanish is spoken much more widely in Miami than in other cities with similar ethnicity.
According to the 1970 census, 24% of Miami’s population were Spanish speakers. The language rapidly became the unofficial norm. There were knock-on effects in other Hispanic communities as a result.
As the Spanish language emerged as the new status quo, non-Hispanic communities started a backlash culminating in the English Only movement opposing this new order. The movement started in 1980 at the tail-end of a lengthy period of Cuban migration partnered with social reform.
Language became more of a driving issue with Miami offering the first modern-day bilingual public school program back in 1963.
By the 1980s, this tinder box sparked and there were riots. The Cubans were fiercely protective of what they saw as a key component of their culture and identity, while non-Hispanics felt threatened.
The 2000 census in Miami-Dade County showed that almost 60% of residents spoke Spanish at home.
In general, the Miami media portrays the dominance of Cuban immigrants, even if it also allows a degree of cultural labeling.
As a representative example, a headline from an article in the June 14, 1996 issue of the Miami Herald proclaims “Vanishing Spanish”, before the writer proceeds to lament the fact that only a small number of high school graduates were fluent in Spanish. This state of affairs is described as “an alarming trend” diminishing Miami’s supposed advantage as a bilingual community with a competitive edge.
Spanish-language newspapers cropped up in Miami during the twentieth century.
The Miami Herald also started el Nuevo Herald in 1976. This was a Spanish-language insert. This proved hugely popular with circulation nudging 100,000 by 1981. The insert was then published as a standalone newspaper.
By founding and growing many Hispanic newspapers, Cuban immigrants ensured that media in Miami has a distinctly Latin American flavor.