I was born in Miami to Cuban American parents.
How do I know? Because in addition to my folks telling me so and the compelling photographic evidence, it’s explicitly stated on my birth certificate as recorded by the Miami-Dade County Division of Vital Records.
As most are aware, being born in Miami, and by extension the United States, grants not just American citizenship but also a host of unalienable rights as afforded by the nation’s Constitution. Imagine my surprise when I found out recently that being born Cuban American in Miami or simply hailing from the island itself grants you an entirely different level of privilege in Miami-Dade County, and apparently not just the birthright to brew a mean cafecito, dance a wicked mambo, or rock a freshly pressed linen guayabera.
At least this is what I gathered as I read about the Miami-Dade County Commission’s final budget hearing completed on Sept. 29 during which commissioners inexplicably voted to strip $550,000 from the Pérez Art Museum Miami’s (PAMM) $4 million yearly operating subsidy and hand it to the American Museum of the Cuban Diaspora. Before the vote, a staffer for the Cuban museum, Carisa Perez Fuentes, said that because of Miami-Dade’s large Cuban-American community the nonprofit was entitled to the subsidy. “It’s our money,” she actually said without a hint of irony or mirth. “We are not asking for anything that isn’t already ours.”
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Predictably (and regrettably) the commission proceeded to vote 7-6 in favor of reassigning these funds along strictly ethnic lines: all the Cuban-American members for, everyone else against.
It is hard to identify which part of this entire episode is most upsetting. First there is the insensitive, tone-deaf statement by Perez Fuentes. She should have been dismissed from her position of responsibility the moment those arrogant and destructive words left her lips.
Then there was the role played by Miami-Dade County’s Cuban-American commissioners: Bruno Barreiro, Rebeca Sosa, Xavier Suarez, Javier Souto, Joe Martinez, José “Pepe” Diaz and Esteban Bovo. Their vote to withdraw funds that would have gone to support the programs and services of our county’s preeminent art museum and redirect them toward a struggling institution with a decidedly narrower, ethnic appeal sends an unfortunate message to the community at large. It signals we have yet to find a way to overcome the petty nationalistic and identity based Balkanization that has so often reared its ugly head in our local politics, hamstringing our ability to identify and act upon the challenges that affect us all regardless of the neighborhood we may live in or what our ethnic background may be.
And then there’s the question of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Where is he in all this? Why did he not immediately threaten to veto this brazen, ill-advised move? Does he not represent all of Miami-Dade? Or is he the “Cuban-American Mayor” of Miami-Dade County, first? Can he not see what this looked like and does he not realize the damaging implications?
Don’t misunderstand me. Even though growing up I rolled my eyes when older Cuban relatives or acquaintances would utter their favorite refrain that before we came to Miami it was nothing more than a pueblo de campo, a country town, I recognize the crucial and defining role Cuban Americans have played in making Miami-Dade County a world-class metropolis. What we cannot do is let our justifiable pride as Cuban Americans make us feel as if we are entitled to dominate all the business opportunities, the public funds, and the political decisions in this city without regard to how it affects other groups.
It’s time for some of us to realize that we do not live in “MYami,” we live in our Miami. Moreover, county commissioners must keep in mind that even though they are selected by district, their duty is to work towards solutions that improve the quality of life of every member of our community regardless of social class, geography, or ethnicity. It is the least we deserve as taxpayers and residents of Miami-Dade.
Fernand Amandi is the principal of Bendixen & Amandi international, a Miami-based public-opinion research, strategy, and media communications firm.