He wears two or three gold chains around his neck and Nike sneakers cover his feet. He holds up a bundle of cash so that it shows on the photo with his big new car. He is Cadenaman — Chainman — one of the characters on the Instagram page Cubalseros, created by a Miami Cuban American to poke fun at recent arrivals from his native homeland.
“He has a Mercedes and a bunch of cash in his hand, but he's pumping the cheapest gasoline,” says the Cubalseros creator, who asked to be identified as Jorge because, he says, anonymity is what allows his page, which attracts about 400 followers daily, to grow. The page, created in April, has more than 29,000 followers.
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Cubalseros features other characters, such as the Cuban Grinch who dresses in green from head to toe; the women with breast and butt implants who take selfies a la Kardashians; and four friends who pose on the beach wearing bathing suits emblazoned with the American flag.
But the Instagram posts have become the focus of harsh stereotypes used to portray recent arrivals. Jorge says that beyond prompting laughs, the objective is to provide a reflection of perceived uncouth behavior in an effort to educate on the do’s and dont’s of South Florida culture.
“I don't like this style of the new generation. It is too aggressive and vulgar,” says Jorge, adding that “their bad taste in clothing and their speech are giving Cubans a bad name.”
Most of the photos are submitted by followers, who often engage in exchanges on the Instagram site.
“Please, we must learn to differentiate between ‘envy’ and lack of style,” writes aricarli28, a Cubalsero follower who defends people’s right to dress as they wish. “Everyone has their own taste and passions.”
There are also comments that praise the parody.
“Congratulations to the creator, let’s see if maybe a little awareness is raised so that not all young Cubans are viewed in the same way. I'm 150 percent Cuban and proud of it, but honestly there are many out there who leave a lot to be desired,” writes another follower, identified as 18mal.
Among the many accusations hurled at recent Cuban arrivals in Miami —many of them millennials born after 1980 — are that they shout, are vulgar, materialistic, opportunistic and apolitical.
Waves of discrimination
Discrimination between different eras of immigrants is not a new phenomenon. Before the rafter exodus, the 125,000 who arrived during the Mariel boatlift in 1980 came to be known as “Marielitos.” That label carried with it a stamp of delinquency, because when Fidel Castro allowed those wanting to flee the island to do so by boat, he loaded several hundred criminals on U.S.-bound boats along with the citizens who were fleeing.
Although the majority of the newer arrivals did not flee the island aboard rafts, they are often called balseros —rafters— a word that was first used during the rafter crisis in 1994 and now carries a heavy disparaging weight.
Jorge, who came to the United States more than 10 years ago and considers himself part of the ‘rafters’ group, even as he distances himself from some of the behaviors, confesses that he has felt discrimination — as well as jealousy and envy — from other Hispanics, and that it is not directed against only the new generation, but against Cubans in general.
“Fifty percent of this discrimination comes from people who do not know us, and another 50 percent due to the balseritud (balsero attitude), which makes us look bad,” he says. “We are giving others good reason to talk bad about us.”
Through humor, Jorge hopes to instigate reflection so that people can come to appreciate, “Cubans as good, enterprising people who like to help, that we do not all speak in a vulgar way.”
Jorge says that the negative perception partly stems from the “wear and tear” that exists in Cuba — people may try hard to succeed, but many don’t see results. “In Cuba, you can sit on a corner, look to your left, look to your right and five years have gone by, but you're still on the same corner. Here you can't sit and wait for things to happen.
“In the United States, the sky is the limit and, eventually, most of those who arrive understand that “to want is power, and their mentality changes,” Jorge says.
The newcomers’ fashion style, however, is something that many do not consider a reason for criticism. “That’s why we left Cuba, to dress as we please,” wrote a reader in a letter to el Nuevo Herald. “I am Cuban, I am not like that, but I like diversity and that they dress and wear whatever they please as long as they are within the accepted social codes.”
One contentious criticism that is often aimed at the more recent Cuban arrivals is that they are apolitical and don’t criticize the Castro regime because they want to safeguard their ability to return to the island to visit relatives and friends. Some also profit as “mules,” Cuba travelers who get paid to deliver merchandise to those on the island.
“It's one thing to go to see your family and another to go every two months, because you're delivering merchandise,” says Angélica Marrero, a 28-year-old architect who came to Miami in 2015. “That's shameless.”
Sociologist Elaine Acosta, who left Cuba in 1995 and is now a visiting scholar at Florida International University's Cuba Research Institute, says that one characteristic distinguishing the recent arrivals is that they have not immigrated permanently.
“I know people so focused on saving money that they don't know Miami Beach. Their plan is to return to Cuba and live there,” says Acosta, 45.
She uses Uber a lot, she said, and that's how she has met many people who save money earned here, send it to relatives on the island, purchase real estate and then return to Cuba for long periods, living off the income from renting the property.
Immigration vs. assimilation
“They have a very low level of assimilation” with South Florida, she says. “There is not an insignificant part of this new immigration that sees a permanent return as a clear possibility.”
That's one of the factors that puts them at an “ideological distance” from previous generations of Cuban arrivals, especially the historic exiles.
They have in fact been labeled as “economic migrants,” a term also adopted by the Cuban government to deny any political motive for their decision to leave the island on treks that can be risky.
The negative stereotype has contributed to a lack of empathy for the enormous risks they took to get to the United States, Acosta said, adding that the term “economic migrant” is divisive.
Labeling the Cuban newcomers as apolitical also is inaccurate, Acosta says. They are interested in politics, but not in the traditional sense, and are fed up with the Cuban government's efforts to manipulate and indoctrinate them.
“They are interested in immigration laws,” she says. “They feel more more like immigrants. Forget the ‘economic’ part.”
A contributing factor to the vulgar behavior among the latest immigrants, according to Acosta, Jorge and Marrero, is the extensive decline in the quality of Cuba's education system and the culture of survival shaped by constant shortages on the island.
“Cuba has seen a significant deterioration of education,” says Acosta, “as a result of the exodus of teachers as well as the bad conditions of the infrastructure.
“There's also a system of survival, of waiting in lines,” she says. “It's ‘every man for himself.’ ”
The one thing young Cuban newcomers share with the rest of millennials across the globe is the ability to adapt with relative ease to new circumstances, some say.
“They live in the present, they have their own world, very influenced by what they like and the music they hear,” says Marrero. “They are very independent.”