Joan Didion’s focus in MIAMI is on the 56 percent of the city’s population that consists of Cuban refugees and their families. Their customs, politics, and language still bear the stamp of Cuban life, although they have made some concessions in the business community, where their successfully run shops and other businesses are an undeniable presence.
Ironically, the non-Hispanic Americans living in Miami tend to view these Cubans as aspiring to full Americanization. Yet, in some areas of their lives, these exiles scorn assimilation. In politics especially the Cubans differ greatly from their fellow citizens; the desire for a free Cuba is central to their lives and causes them to be almost fanatically right-wing.
In order to explain clearly these refugees’ political views, Didion returns to the Kennedy Administration’s handling (or mishandling) of the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. In that era, the Cubans of Miami, especially the men of the 2506th Brigade, who were supporters of the overthrown dictator Fulgencio Batista, saw their fervent dream of a Castro-free Cuba cruelly dashed on the Cuban shore. Since then, Didion notes, all American presidents have been viewed by the exiles as betrayers.
Didion portrays the relationship between the Cuban exiles and American policy-makers as dangerously detached from reality: The two groups, she suggests, have reinforced each other’s illusions. In that light she discusses the Reagan Administration’s policies in Central America, and in particular the role of the Miami Cubans in Reagan’s support of the Nicaraguan Contras.
Although her analysis of affairs in Washington is very detailed and informative, Didion loses sight of Miami and its problems. The reader may be disappointed by the brief discussion of the oppressed black population in the Liberty City and Overtown sections of Miami. By concentrating so heavily on the Cuban exiles in Miami, Didion provides only a partial portrait of a complex city.