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«Cubans: Anomaly or Pioneers? An Analysis of their Assimilation and Political Incorporation into the American Political Mainstream and the Measurement ...»

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Cubans: Anomaly or Pioneers?

An Analysis of their Assimilation and Political Incorporation into

the American Political Mainstream and the Measurement of their

Political Influence in the United States

Lara M. Bueso

Rollins College

Hispanics are challenging the simple black and white definitions of what it means

to be an American. As Hispanics continue to immigrate to the United States, the U.S.

Census Bureau projected that, by 2050, there will be over 100 million Hispanics or that

24.4 percent of the total population will be of Hispanic origin.1 Owing to their proximity and poor economies, the U.S. receives the greatest amount of immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean islands. Attracted by political freedoms and economic opportunities, Hispanics generally settle in California, Texas, New York, and Florida for employment opportunities and to join already established Hispanic enclaves.

While continual immigration will allow for the Hispanic population to increase, this paper is more concerned with those already in the United States. I study the relationship between Cuban-American families settling in the U.S., their assimilation process from the original immigrant through successive generations, and the subsequent effect on their rate of political incorporation. Political incorporation, defined by participation in the electoral process through various means such as voting, donating to PACs, attending town meetings, or lobbying for policy changes, for example, is dependent on how integrated a specific group is in the host society. Hispanic immigrants, as a monolithic entity, are often politically disenfranchised because of feelings of exclusion, the lack of connection to current policy, low economic security and language barriers. Interestingly, this generalization does not apply to Cuban Americans, who are characterized as a politically motivated group. Immigrants experiencing greater assimilation in the host country are more likely to engage in the political system.2 I hypothesize that, if the government assists in the assimilation process by providing specific benefits encouraging integration, they can, theoretically, increase mobilization and political incorporation among these groups.

What will the future Hispanic demographic look like in the United States? How well will immigrant children adopt American culture, and how does their assimilation relate to political involvement and influence over elections? These are questions that the nation should be considering rather than debating about how long to make the barricade between the Mexican and American border. The unique Cuban experience and history, as detailed in the paper, is a large part of what prompted them to achieve the highest assimilation and political incorporation rates among all Hispanics. This claim warrants some explanation and background information.

Following the mass exodus of Cubans to America in 1959 in response to Fidel Castro’s rise to power, Cubans now represent a large voting bloc in Florida, particularly Miami, where three of every five Cubans in the U.S. reside.3 As they settle, assimilate, and engage in political activity, Cubans are distinct in many ways from the rest of the Hispanic population, most notably in their tendency to vote Republican. There have been four distinct waves of migration: 1959-1962, when 200,000 Cubans migrated generally from the upper classes; 1965-1973, when the U.S. conducted “freedom flights” and 260,500 applicants were permitted to leave the country in airlifts sponsored by the U.S.;

U.S. Census Bureau, available at: http://www.census.gov/ipc/www/usinterimproj/natprojtab01a.pdf Alejandro Portes and Rafael Mozo, “The Political Adaptation Process of Cubans and Other Ethnic Minorities in the United States: A Preliminary Analysis,” International Migration Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, (Spring, 1985), p. 61.

Lisandro Perez, “Growing Up Cuban in Miami,” in Ruben Rumbaut and Alejandro Portes, Ethnicities:

Children of Immigrants in America (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), p. 91.

1980-1981, which is characterized as the Mariel boatlift period and 125,00 Cubans, including those from lower socio-economic classes, left; and finally 1982-1994, when Cuba announced it would not restrain Cubans from leaving the country by raft or sea vessel and, consequently, over 40,000 balseros successfully confronted the 90-mile distance between Cuba and the U.S.4 More than one million Cubans have both “emigrated” (with supposed intentions of returning to their homeland) and immigrated to the United States, settling predominately in Miami.5 The guiding assumptions in my study of this case is that, although notoriously Republican, as Cuban Americans assimilate and become politically incorporated, certain characteristics that used to distinguish them as conservative, such as religion and policy against Cuba, evolve, Cubans vote more in line with non-Hispanic whites than any other Hispanic nationality. While I presume that there is some convergence among Hispanics and Cubans as they both assimilate, Cubans have made greater efforts at integrating into the political scene than other Hispanics. Cubans may see political elections not through the eyes of a Hispanic immigrant, but with mainstream America instead. Using Cubans as a case study, is their Diaspora an anomaly whose experience is likely to be emulated by Hispanics in general?

The paper will evaluate the extent to which Cubans have assimilated via three proxy variables: language, intermarriage and level of education. After demonstrating their high levels of assimilation compared to non-Hispanic whites, the subsequent section examines their political incorporation by measuring three trends: Cuban naturalization, voter turnout rate, and the availability of PACs. The final section suggests compares the Cuban experience to Mexican Americans and Nicaraguan Americans, suggesting that currently Cuban are an anomaly but have the potential to act as pioneers for different Hispanic nationalities.

Assimilation Historical Setting Those that were able to immigrate to the U.S. found that they were in the hands of presidential administrations that sympathized with their plight and showered them, however belatedly, with multiple and unprecedented benefits. The advantages that were granted Cubans have never again been given to any other immigrant population, and constituted a remarkable reversal in American historical immigration policy, making the Cuban Immigration a sui-generis event in the American political landscape.

The first waves of Cuban immigrants (1959-1962), were primarily Western European Caucasians, the descendants of Spaniards of upper status and educational attainment, immigrated as temporary exiles with the hopes of soon returning to their native Cuba. The difference between the first wave of Cubans and subsequent immigrants is critical. The first wave came as émigrés with the intention of returning to their homeland. For this reason, the first wave’s willingness to assimilate was lower than others who made America their home rather than temporary stay.

In the United States, the first wave became a viable economic class that brought entrepreneurial skills vital to creating their own enclaves. They preferred a hard-line Lisandro Perez, “Growing up Cuban in Miami,” p. 93-94.

U.S. Census of Population,2000, American Fact Finder, 18 April 2007, http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/DTTable?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&ds_name=ACS_2005_EST_G00_&-mt_name=ACS_2005_EST_G2000_B03001 treatment toward Castro, favored a US trade embargo of Cuba, and any method of ousting the regime. With the threat of communism looming in many countries of interest to the US, President Johnson continued President Kennedy’s open-door policy welcoming refugees of communism from the second wave (1965-1973). This policy included the well-known Freedom Flights, which flew exiled families from Cuba to Miami. The majority of these refugees was relatives of previous exiles living in Miami and thus espoused similar beliefs.

While the first two waves consisted of upper and middle-class immigrants, the third wave (1980-1981) was not as well received by the U.S. public. Considered undesirable because of their alleged origins (i.e. mental patients, criminals, and homosexuals), the majority of these immigrants were single black men.6 The third wave era is commonly referred to as the Mariel boat lift, and those who escaped called Marielitos. One essential difference between the third wave and previous immigrants is that the Marielitos were mostly children of communism. Born after the revolution, growing up surrounded by limited freedoms, they never knew the civil liberties that existed before and never served as members of the previous governments. They were resented by first and second wave Cubans, came for economic freedoms as opposed to political asylum and their assimilation process was thus vastly different than the previous waves. They were less educated, spoke very little if any English, and tried to break into an American economic system that earlier Cuban immigrants had already saturated.

After the fall of the USSR, Cuba lost its best source of financing and their economy thus began to decline. The peso was devalued, free services such as health care and education began to disappear and the public became even more desperate. This fourth wave era (1982-1994) characterizes the refugees as balseros, literally, rafters. Lowerclass families entrusted their lives to the 90-mile trek to freedom and attempted to raft the Gulf-stream to the US.

Education Level Comparison Comparing Cuban Table I Americans in South Florida and non-Hispanic whites in South Florida, I compiled information from 1970-2000 regarding highest level of education achieved.

Table I and Table II highlight the highest level of education achieved by Cubans and non-Hispanic whites. While the data show an increase in high school and college graduates overall there is a dip in the 1990 data. The decrease in 1990 is due largely to the increase in balseros during the 1980-1990 periods. Despite this dip, the percent of high school graduates among Cubans increased dramatically from 42.5 percent in 1970 to 68.71 percent in 2000. The percent of college graduates increased from Pedraza, Silvia, Cuba 's Refugees: Manifold Migrations, in Origins and Destinies: Immigration, Race and Ethnicity in America. Belmont: Wadsworth Press, 1996. 264-284, p.267.

Table II

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Intermarriage Trends Intermarriage trends are a frequent used indicator of assimilation. The ability and willingness to marry outside of one’s ethnic and/or religious group is regarded by classical assimilation theory to be the final stage of adaptation. There are barriers, however, facing Hispanic immigrants in the form of socio-economic status, continuous flow of immigration, and language barriers that have the ability to prevent intermarriage with non-Hispanics. Research concludes that if Hispanics marry outside of their ethnic group, they tend to marry non-Hispanic whites.7 Their assimilation is dependent on several conditions such as level of inequality, exposure to non-Hispanics, and sex-ratio imbalance.8 Imbalanced sex ratios do increase the tendency for one to marry outside their ethnic group. Table III Spouses tend to marry those within their educational Jacobs, Jerry and Labov, Teresa. Gender and Intermarriage Differentials Among Sixteen Race and Ethnic Groups. Sociological Forum, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Dec., 2002), pp. 621-646 Brown, Brian. Barriers to Marital Assimilation: Hispanic Intermarriage in US Cities.

bracket whether they are marrying within or outside their ethnic group. And because we have already established that increased education achievement levels is an indicator of greater assimilation and that it also exposes minorities to a greater level of non-Hispanic whites, we may also conclude that the two are linked in increasing intermarriage and further adaptation. Other researchers found this conclusion to be valid: native-born Hispanics, especially those with higher socioeconomic status (measurement by education and occupation) tend to marry non-Hispanics more so than the lower educated.9 College educations also promote tolerance and at the very least expose students to other ethnic backgrounds. Access to college, however, is unequal, and Hispanics of Western European extractions tend to have more access to college than do Hispanics of Black or Indian origin. Lower educated Hispanics, such as Mexicans who come to the U.S. to work in agricultural fields, are typically of Indian heritage and come from rural backgrounds, where education is harder to provide and therefore more scarce.

Cubans are unique in that they show high rates of intermarriage with nonHispanics whereas other Hispanic races such as Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (similar Caribbean islands) show high rates of intermarriage with each other and very low rates of intermarriage outside of their ethnic group.10 Between the thirty-year period from 1970census data demonstrate that Hispanic intermarriage rates increased 50 percent among Cubans and by only 20 percent among Mexicans. As mentioned earlier, education shows a positive relationship with intermarriage. From 1970 onward, the proportion of intermarriage increased with education. According to the research conducted by Lee and Edmonston, 5 percent of Hispanics with less than a high school degree were intermarried compared with 15-17 percent of high school graduates and 28 percent of men and 35 percent of women with a college degree. Not only do intermarriage rates increase with education, but women are more likely to intermarry with increased education than men.

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