Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1073
Chapter 6: Cubans: Special Refugees
In the introduction to this chapter, Gonzalez underscores the ways in which Cuban immigrants have differed from other Latino groups who have migrated to the US. Prior to President Clinton’s controversial move to detain and deport Cuban refugees who arrived in Florida, the US had long given special treatment to Cuban immigrants, largely in an effort to compromise Fidel Castro’s communist regime during the Cold War. By the 1990s, American fears had shifted to the publicized immigrant crisis.
Gonzalez says that Cuban immigration can be divided into four distinct waves, and he focuses on the Del Rosario family of Miami as an example of the Cuban-American experience.
The first wave of Cuban immigration occurred in the 1800s, when South Florida businessmen created a lucrative cigar industry that involved a transportation route connecting Havana, Tampa, and Key West. Gonzalez notes that so many Cubans moved freely along this route that they often did not pass through customs and immigration. Elite Cubans at this time invested on Wall Street and patronized US colleges and vacation spots.
After the communist revolution in 1959, the second wave of Cuban immigration began. Many of these immigrants came from the upper and middle classes, bringing their skills and knowledge with them to the US. These advantages, combined with fierce loyalty within the Cuban community and a series of government programs exclusive to Cubans, made Cuban immigrants the most economically successful Latino group.
However, the third wave of Cuban migration—commonly referred to as the Mariel boat migration—was dramatically different from the prosperous group of the 1960s. In the 1980s, Castro’s government exiled political dissidents, many of whom were poor, dark-skinned, and lacking in any practical skills. As a result, the US funneled the subsequent wave of refugees to various military detention centers around the country. Anglo anxiety about the influx of poor refugees at a time of economic recession helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency, and for the first time Cuban immigrants were not welcomed in the US.
Luis Del Rosario was a young boy when the Castro regime rose to power, and he recalls a widespread affirmative attitude toward the administration in the first few years. However, public sentiment changed as the government seized private businesses—including a foundry Del Rosario operated with his brothers—and instituted ineffective rationing policies. The US embargo stalled industrial and economic progress, and by the 1970s, Del Rosario had joined a minor resistance organization that hoped to undermine the Castro regime. Del Rosario’s activities led to his arrest and conviction for “subversion.” After a little over six years in prison, Del Rosario and his immediate family were sent to the US as part of a pardoning negotiation operation.
Del Rosario quickly carved out success for his family after settling in Miami. In the early 1990s, he joined the Brothers to the Rescue organization, a group dedicated to helping Cuban refugees make it safely to the US. Del Rosario’s one brother was one of these boat refugees, who was allowed to finally enter the US after a year-long detention at Guantanamo Bay after the Coast Guard picked up his boat. Del Rosario’s story typifies Cuban immigrants’ outlook that the US cares far more about Cuba as a political symbol than as a people.
Chapter 7: Dominicans: From the Duarte to the George Washington Bridge
By the 1990s, Dominicans were the second largest Latino group in the northeast, yet their unfairly negative reputation among Anglos in places like New York City distinguish them from other Latino diasporas.
The first Dominican immigrants arrived in the 1960s as refugees. Fearing the...
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popular uprising in April 1965 would lead to another communist regime, the US sent thousands of troops to support the Dominican military in suppressing the rebels. As a result, members of the popular uprising began experiencing routine violence, which prompted the US to dispatch this group of Dominicans en masse.
Despite this US-led immigration plan, the country refused to recognize Dominicans as refugees, denying them access to the federal programs offered to Cubans. These obstacles, however, did not deter Dominicans from establishing their own niche businesses—namely in the form of bodegas and stores—in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York. Even so, many Dominicans experienced racial discrimination from other Latinos, since the majority of Dominicans were mulatto or black.
Drawing on the same structure as other chapters, Gonzalez uses the experience of Estela Vazquez Luciano to represent the broader Dominican immigrant experience. Estela was in junior high when the CIA orchestrated dictator Trujillo’s assassination. With family connections in the Trujillo administration, Estela at first mourned the loss of the only leader she had known. Soon, however, Estela learned of the atrocities committed under Trujillo’s regime, leading her to sympathize with the radical June Fourteenth Movement. Eventually, Estela began smuggling weapons for the revolutionaries.
In May 1965 while her mother was away in New York City, Estela was arrested along with other members of the Constitutionalists, who were urging for the democratically-elected President Bosch to be restored to power. Because of her mother Ana Maria’s persistence, Estela was released from prison three months later on the condition that she be immediately deported. Estela was escorted to an airport, where she and her two younger siblings traveled to New York City with Ana Maria.
Ana Maria found a job for Estela working in a sweatshop. A year later, Estela married a Puerto Rican factory worker with whom she had two children. After her husband deserted her some years later, Estela was forced to apply for welfare, a decision frowned upon in the Dominican community. Estela persisted through her hardship as a single parent, eventually finishing community college and beginning a career as a hospital union organizer.
To close the chapter, Gonzalez discusses the inherent contradictions within the Dominican diaspora. While many who fled the country in the 1960s were educated people running from political conflict, those who followed in the 1980s sought to escape crippling poverty. In the US, an intense rivalry between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans fueled competition for control of business sectors—sometimes to the point of violence. Gonzalez attributes this hostility to the influx of illegal Dominican immigrants to Puerto Rico itself, which proliferated negative stereotypes about Dominicans. He cites Estela’s claim that she could never return to her home country as proof that Dominican immigration will likely continue to grow.