May 12, 2008

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 Yucat√°n 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.

Comments:

Jamaica

kris

May 12th, 2008

from what you've said i think you'll have to go..
it's fine to have and use the local money.. the food isn't bland when eating in your casa particular.. and i see many more heavily improvised, miserable people who labor in the rest of the caribbean..

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

May 12th, 2008

I think the policies of the current regime and the disconnect between the locals and the travelers there are doing a good job of keeping me out of Cuba. I can probably make more of a connection with the Cubans in Miami than with those still living in the country.

The United States

jla

May 12th, 2008

hi, been reading ur blog a couple months—good stuff thx! But ur wrong abt Cuba :~j

it's not that hard to meet enterprising locals there, esp. if you speak Spanish. You can also move around the country—they'll try to put you on a tourist bus, but wont stop you from taking the train—I think Guantanamo is off limits tho heh. The food is okay, some is kinda blah but some very savory. Cuban cuisine not too big on hot/spicy, right?

FWIW I went legally before Bush changed the rules, I can understand being scurred to cross Uncle Sam!

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

May 12th, 2008

Howdy — Thanks for reading.

Travel is a subjective spice. Sweet to me is off-putting to others, and vice versa.

I'm hoping to collect some positive impressions of Cuba here to offset the not-so-lovely ones that I've picked up from folks while traveling.

I know I'll eventually have to get over there and see for myself one of these days — that's just the type of person I am.

Treasury Department isn't stopping me, just the idea of making the effort to travel there instead of somewhere else.

Jamaica

kris

May 13th, 2008

maybe you can make a better connection with cubans in miami, but they will be somewhat biased views that you'll be connecting with, it would be great to hear your opinions after visiting the island when you connect with and see the other side of the story with the cubans who stay and enjoy the benefits of the current governments policies..

The United States

melissa

August 7th, 2008

I HAVE NEVER READ YOUR BLOGS BUT JUST READ THIS ONE AND I AM VERY DISSAPOINTED THAT YOU THINK THIS WAY OF CUBA, THE PEOPLE ARE VERY FRIENDLY,THE FOOD IS GOOD, ETC…NOW ON MIAMI THERES ALOT OF CUBANS LIKE IN LOS ANGELES THERES ALOT OF MEXICANS, LIKE IN NEW YORK THERES ALOT OF PUERTO RICANS AND SO ON. MIAMI IS A CITY WHERE IT NEVER SLEEPS, WHERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT PLACES ARE OPEN NOT LIKE YOUR NORMAL GHOST TOWNS EVERYWHERE ELSE, WHERE THE PEOPLE HAVE WORRIES LIKE EVERYONE BUT NEVER LET IT GET TO THEIR HAPPINESS. ETC… THE REASON THE WET FOOT/DRY FOOT POLICY IS FOR CUBANS ONLY IS BECAUSE WE ARE SUPERIOR, AND YOU GUYS KNOW THAT ANYTHING WE PUT OUR MIND TO WE DO IT AND WE DO IT GOOD…. SO GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT AND THEN MAYBE YOU CAN WRITE ABOUT SUCH A BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY AND MIAMI.

The United States

Vana

October 29th, 2008

And a wise choice you have made! If you really want the cuban experience come down to Miami and go to any of the local cuban restaurants in Little Havana. In any one of those you can meet and chat it up with any cuban, especially the group we like to call "the elders" usually at el Parque de Domino. Many of us here continue Cuban traditions as they were passed on to us by previous generations who lived in a pre-Castro Cuba. Going to Cuba now, you will meet a different generation of Cubans who were raised in communism, who live to survive, make coffee from peas, and cook meals with no "salsa" as a result of the embargo. It is not the Cuba worth seeing and definitely not worth supporting the cause.

The United States

Mercedes

March 2nd, 2009

you are so wrong about CUBA

first of all , visit your home town, see how people interact and greet you, and then maybe you will notice how nice people can be all around you, even if you dont speak their "language"

yes the Cuba of yesterday is not like today's , but the embrace , the warmth, the love , and smiles you will receive there, are all more than an excuse to visit that beautiful island, that after all , has great food, great beaches, great sights, great people.

you should go soon.. trust me , you will have a lot of great memories

The United Kingdom

sam

August 21st, 2009

Hi,
I am a fairly traveled man. I have been to many places in Africa, Asia and the Carib. I have just returned from Cuba and it was the most amazing place. I have to say my Fav is Eritrea which has a similar situation to Cuba but a lot worse, I love Srilanka but again it has problems. Cuba has issues but no one sleeps on the streets like some places I have been, People are not chasing you down the street trying to get what ever penny you have.

As a human being I have to be thankful for cuba because my people can live a modist life and appreciate all that they can use. People seem so happy, except for the guy trying to get out because he wants to make a little more than the guy next door.

Anyway I say if you can go, then go and form your own oppinion. There is nothing worse than missing out on the say so of another.

Enjoy your people man, besides how can you contribute to the progression of your people if you don't know their situation, how can you ontribute to the human race if you don't know the human place.

I will put photos of cuba in a profile called cuba on ERITALK

ERITALK, Peace

Canada

cathie

December 20th, 2009

Cuba is amazing, the people are incredible, the cuban cuisine delightful.. Cant emphasize how much I enjoyed my visit to Cuba. The island is very small yet population exceeds canada, The historic buildings and Art is breathtaking .. No McDonalds or Starbucks on every corner only authentic cuban bistros. Really the most amazing place i have yet visited la Habana is something out of a story book. I seen poverty yet the locals all smile and seem to be content. You will come home a changed person. Cuba is a place of magic and history. A must see indeed

The United States

Jon T.

April 8th, 2011

Hi, I'm a few years late on commenting probably, but I'd have to disagree with your post. I'm an american (full-blooded, born and raised.. asian american, to be specific) and I have just come back from Cuba just a few short weeks ago. I carried both currencies freely, talked to police, locals and foreigners alike. While most of what you say is true, and yes, it's a bit scary being there, it's safe if you keep your ears and eyes open. I spent 8 days there (and I'm a photographer) and photographed the rawness that was Cuba. It's a broken, beautiful place, and it's worth going if you are careful. Cheers. JT

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