Why There Are So Many Cubans in Miami
Miami Beach, United States
Cubans seem to be particularly visible part of the population in Miami. Small Cuban-run businesses saturate the area—easily identified by their cuisine or the owner's accent. Many Cuban men seem to practice a form of unrestrained outspokenness that immediately speaks to their heritage.
Aside from Cuba's (close) proximity to the United States, Cubans have visibly assimilated into the Miami area so openly because they're free to do so. Once their feet hit the U.S. they're generally exempt from deportation, and placed on the fast track for citizenship. This is known as the The wet feet, dry feet policy.
The wet feet, dry feet policy (sometimes called the wet-foot, dry-foot policy) is the name given to a consequence of the 1995 revision of the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 that says, essentially, that anyone who fled Cuba and got into the United States would be allowed to pursue residency a year later. After talks with the Cuban government, the Clinton administration came to an agreement with Cuba that it would stop admitting people found at sea. Since then, in what has become known as the "wet feet, dry feet" policy, a Cuban caught on the waters between the two nations (i.e., with "wet feet") would summarily be sent home or to a third country. One who makes it to shore ("dry feet") gets a chance to remain in the United States, and later would qualify for expedited "legal permanent resident" status and U.S. citizenship.
Since the mid-1990s immigration patterns changed. Many Cuban immigrants departed from the southern and western coasts of Cuba and arrived at the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; many landed on Isla Mujeres. From there Cuban immigrants traveled to the Texas-Mexico border and found asylum. Many of the Cubans who did not have family in Miami settled in Houston. The term "dusty foot" refers to Cubans immigrating to the U.S. through Mexico.
Been to Cuba?
When most Americans I speak to learn that I've traveled in the Caribbean and Latin America, they almost inevitably ask if I've been to Cuba—that forbidden island of communism, cigars and salsa.
"No," I tell them, "I have absolutely no interest in visiting Cuba. Yes, part of me is greatly interested in seeing the Castro-era country, and then again in a few decades, but I've heard too many tales to bother spending my money there."
I've spoken with more than a handful of different types of travelers who've visited the country—from teenaged Brits who couldn't speak any of the local language to savvy Latin wanderers that speak Spanish fluently. I feel like I've gotten the inside scoop on the place, and not one tale told makes me want to visit the place.
I tell people this, and give them a sampling of what I've heard about the country from these individuals (aside from multi-thousand dollar penalty the U.S. Treasury Department can hit me with if they find out I've been in Cuba):
- That tourists are forced to use an alternative currency (Cuban Pesos, CUP) to the national currency (Cuban Convertible Pesos, CUC)—like Disney dollars in Disney Land. Possessing the national currency is illegal, though you have to because most locals don't accept the other (if purchasing any outside the tourist bubble) or the value/domination is too great to give change for. There's a 10% penalty to exchange USD.
- That the food is bland—all restaurants are owned by the government and run by underpaid employees.
- That free enterprise is banned.
- That it's illegal for a Cuban to speak with a tourist when they've not been authorized by the government to do so. Police patrols watch for this. One traveler said punishment for speaking without a license could lead to more than a decade of imprisonment.
- That Castro wants people to see and photograph the small two or three block area of restored Havana, where old cars sit in front of colorful buildings. Castro doesn't want tourists to see the heavily improvised, miserably repressed people that labor in the rest of the country.
I could go on… knowing that most people who visit will probably never leave their resorts and tour groups. But I think I'll just leave Cuba where it is, and feel sorry that Castro ruined an island that, with its proximity to the United States, could've easily been one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean.