In the early nineteenth century when the second wave of Cubans started coming over to the United States, more than half of the Cuban immigrants settled down in Florida, particularly the city of Miami in Dade county. The South Florida region had attracted so many Cubans because of its closeness and similar climate to their home country, and because of the small but established Latino community in the area. These Cubans did not hope to become an American; they initially only saw the United States as a temporary escape and hoped to return to Cuba once a new government replaced Castro (Garcia 1).
While these Cubans eagerly waited to return back to their home country as soon as possible, they still had to sustain a life in Florida for the time being. They dived into south Florida’s labor market, which actually resulted in revitalizing the local economy, and soon created “a vibrant business community in south Florida that...drew other immigrants to the area” (Garcia 2). Despite not knowing any English, the Cuban immigrants were able to become successful because of the middle-class values and entrepreneurial skills, and because of the Cuban Refugee Program, “which pumped millions of dollars into the economy and facilitated the Cubans’ adaptation through vocational and professional retraining programs” (Garcia 2). The Cuban Refugee Program is essential in understanding the identity of Florida Cubans because it was “the most comprehensive refugee assistance program in American immigration history” (Garcia 2), which had helped to attract even more Cubans in the next wave.
The idea that all Florida Latinos are Cubans perhaps mainly stemmed from the fact that Miami soon became the symbolic center for Cubans, especially the ones that had fled from Castro’s rule. They believed that it was their duty and responsibility to express a strong presence of being Cuban in this foreign country 90 miles away from home; they wanted Miami to not only be la Cuba de ayer, the Cuba of yesterday, but also of the Cuban that could be (Garcia 2). Though these Cubans had left for the same reason, they were diverse in their definitions of what a democracy looks like. Their loss of hope in the Castro government caused them to dedicate their efforts toward trying to improve the U.S.-Cuba relations (Garcia 3).
Contrary to what they initially believed to happen, the Cubans soon adapted socially, economically, and politically to America, and even started influencing the politics in Cuba. They started seeing bilingualism as a necessary skill in the labor market, and went on to change not only the cultural landscape of Florida, but also started valuing the identity of being an American.
The truth is that currently more than half of Dade County’s population is Latino, and Cubans making up most of this group. Even though south Florida has become a diverse community, with the main ethnicities no longer being either just Cuban or Puerto Rican, the established presence of Cubans in Miami and them also being “the most visible and influential group in Miami’s political, economic, and civic life” (Garcia 6) still forms the view that Miami only has Cubans.