The discord among social, racial, ethnic and national groups in Miami-Dade is often palpable, though we like to sweep the dust under the rug opting instead to believe that we are a cohesive and harmonious community where people feel welcomed, accepted and comforted. Yet the often-touted warm reception is often a hypocritical smile with fleshy, silicone lips.
It’s true that moments of crisis bring out the best in everyone. Miami proffers a friendly and supporting hand. Aid is abundant; donations are never scarce. The army of volunteers is always there, awaiting directions. Yet this glowing veneer has no particular link to the city’s social fabric, but rather to the essential humanity of its residents.
Unity, strength and faith sweeten our hearts. Such social civic conscience in our community is unquestionable, faultless.
That said, in spontaneous conversations I hear on the street and on the radio, in looks that convey a thousand words, on Internet forums and other venues, it is evident that a certain degree of racism, disdain directed to certain nationalities and ill-will toward some groups does prevail.
I suppose that it is politically incorrect to write about discrimination, confrontation and resentment among communities, mainly because these concepts are loaded with stereotypes, myths and false beliefs capable of dynamiting any bridge that may have been carefully built. But we cannot substitute aspiration for the current obvious reality.
One of the most verbalized quarrels in Miami is between Cubans and non-Cuban Latin Americans, which is quite disturbing to me because we are all Hispanic children of the Americas, and as immigrants we share very similar experiences.
The term “Indian” is frequently used pejoratively by Cubans and other Hispanics to single out darker-skinned people who come from Latin American countries where their indigenous cultures were not decimated by the conquistadors and therefore led to a larger ethnic blend.
Among segments of Latin Americans, you often hear, “He’s a Cuban,” with a tone that expresses a negative connotation. As a result of this frequent occurrence, a dark-skinned Cuban woman who works in maintenance after arriving in Miami four years ago told me that sometimes she prefers to identify herself as Dominican. I owe her the topic of this column.
Black and mixed-race Cubans are not only discriminated against in Cuba but on our own turf as well, just like other Latin Americans of African descent. Last week, a listener of a Hispanic radio station referred offensively to Santería as a primitive sect, when it actually is a religion that resulted from the syncretism of Catholic beliefs with traditional Yoruba culture.
A professional white Cuban woman in her late 30s who worked in cultural and academic media and foreign affairs in Spain for about two decades and recently moved to Miami, told me she has never before faced the situation she describes as “general hostility” in the city, including instances “in which hostility is perceived among Cubans.” Among the black population, Haitian immigrants and refugees often feel discriminated by African Americans. A Haitian-American teenager who sold ice cream at a Miami Beach shop told me that in public schools, Haitian students or students of Haitian descent are bullied by black classmates because of their national origin.
Racial and ethnic tensions between blacks and Hispanics that go back decades also are still strong. Anglos, too, also have exhibited their share of racism. Some are still upset over the “Hispanization” of Miami , as well as by their perception of low interest among some immigrants who are unwilling or unable to learn English. Some monolingual English speakers are incensed at the idea that they need to learn Spanish to succeed economically in their own country.
There are also native born white people who wish to blame Cubans for all the wrongs in local governments and for creating “a banana republic,” despite the fact that political corruption and lack of ethics in Miami-Dade were rampant long before the arrival of Cuban exiles, who have been a key factor in the development and progress of our metropolis.
Nearly all of us have prejudices. It’s inevitable. They are instilled in us during our childhood and are cultivated by the society in which we live. Miami is not different. The confluence of diverse cultures, ethnicities, nationalities and races intensifies frictions. This plurality, however, is also our biggest treasure.
We are actually doing very well at setting a model that fits our changing national demographics. But we still have a lot of work ahead with tolerance. Recognizing that we fall short is a necessary step toward achieving racial harmony.