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Caribbean migration to the United States

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Caribbean migration to the United States cultural identity and the process of assimilation
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Safa, Helen Icken
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Safa, Helen Icken
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Caribbean Migration to
the United States:
Cultural Identity and the
Process of Assimilation
Helen I. Safa
Caribbean migration to the United States has assumed alarming proportions recently, particularly with the recent massive influx of Cuban 'and Haitian refugees to south Florida. While there has been considerable socioeconomic analysis of this phenomenon, little attention has been paid to the possibilities of assimilation" of Caribbean migrants into American society and how this relates to questions of cultural identity. Many Caribbean migrants are rejecting assirpilation as a goal and choosing instead to maintain their ethnic identity within a framework of ethnic pluralism. They are contributing to a movement of "ethnic revitalization" which has come to characterize much of American ociopolitical life since 1950 (Maingot 1981), but which was especially strong in the 1960s and 1970s.
This resistance to assimilation on the part of some Caribbean migrants is causing great alarm in certain circles. It has led tocalls for ,a complete- halt-to-' uch immigration and to bilingual education and resettlement programs designed to benefit these new immigrant groups. The assimilationists cannot understand why Caribbean migrants should not make every effort to become Americanized and shed their cultural identity as quickly as possible.
47




Their resistance or inability to do so is seen as ingratitude or identity incompatible with socioeconomic mobility? Must
arrogance by some sectors of the dominant society, who see ethnic groups shed their cultural heritage if they wish to
assimilation as the only possible goal not disruptive to the enter the American mainstream? We will return to these
fabric of American life. questions at the bnd of this paper,
This paper is an attempt to explain why many Caribbean
migrants have clung to their cultural identity and why Factors Affecting Assimilation in the United States
assimilation is not seen as a feasible goal. The first section is
a discussion of the factors that hinder the assimilation of In discussing the factors affecting the assimilation of
Caribbean migrants in the United States and that have set Caribbean migrants in the United States, we shall look both
them apart from previous migrations, particularly from at the characteristics of migrants and conditions in the U.S.
Europe. It will be seen that Caribbean migrants differ in economy at this particular historical moment when Caribimportant respects from these earlier migrants and are also bean migration has reached its peak. We shall see that there
encountering conditions in the United States that cause are various factors inhibiting the assimilation of Caribbean
them to question the validity .of the assimilation model.,migrants into U.S. society, which make them different from
The second part of this paper attempts to assess the previous European immigrants. Particular attention will be
prospects for assimilation of Caribbean migrants and alter- "paid to the recent Cuban and Haitian refugees in south
natives to such a strategy. Here we deepen the debate over Florida, to illustrate our analysis.
whether the theory of assimilation is really applicable to Let us begin with a definition of the Caribbean used in this
Caribbean migrants, or whether they might not better be paper. The analysis here will be limited largely to the islands
viewed as internal colonies of the United States. Ethnic of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, which include the
pluralism is seen as a reaction by internal colonies to English-speaking Indies or Commonwealth Caribbean; the
continued subordination in the United States in an attempt Spanish-speaking islands of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Dominito establish a new power base rooted in ethnic solidarity. can Republic; and the French Creole-speaking islands of
The third section of this paper examines the formation of Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique. Most of the islands are
cultural identity among Caribbean migrants in the United now independent, but Guadeloupe and Martinique remain
States through an analysis of the Cuban case. While excep- dependencies of France, while the United States retains
tional in certain aspects, the Cuban case shows how cultural control over Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin
identity is affected not only by the socioeconomic status of Islands. The enormous political, cultural, and linguistic
migrants and their receptivityin the host society but by their diversity of the region makes generalizations difficult and
mode of incorporation. Cubans have been characterized as precarious, but there are broad historical patterns of colonan economic enclave with a high degree of common cultural ialism, slavery, the plantation, and dependence on an export
identity, but this process is also undergoing change as the economy that are common to the entire area. Comparisons
Cuban community in the United States becomes more will be limited mainly to the West Indies,. Haiti, and the
heterogeneous and less cohesive. Hispanic Caribbean, from which come the majority of
Thus, the paper attempts to examine ethnic revitalization Caribbean migrants to the United States.
among Caribbean migrants in the United States by analyzing the relationship between cultural identity and such The Volume of Caribbean Migration
factors as socioeconomic mobility, the mode of-migrant----- incorporation-and 6ohditi-s in the host society. As we Although the number of Caribbean migrants is still small
shall see, the formation of cultural identity is not the same compared to migrants from Mexico, the other area of heavy
among all Caribbean migrants, who differ not only by out-migration, the volume has increased rapidly in the post.
country of origin but also by class, racial, and other factors war 'period.' For example, between 1960 and 1980 the.
within ethnic groups. Is the maintenance of a strong cultural percentage of Hispanic migrants in New York City doubled




to 10.4 percent of the population, while the 1980 census again Dominicans and other West Indians are also known to
shows it to be the fastest growing ethnic group. West Indian circulate, even those who are undocumented aliens. Only
migration to the United States for the decade 1961-1970 I Cubans and Haitians are not free to return home because of
reached almost 500,000, more than three times that of the political conditions in theircountries. Circulatory migration
period 1951-1960 (Marshall 1982, 52). also hinders the process of assimilation because it conWhile Mexican migration has been primarily to California. stantly replenishes the stock of migrants with newcomers
and the Southwest, Caribbean migration has been confined from the islands, contributing significantly to the mainlargely to the eastern seaboard, primarily to the areas tenance of ethnic identity. In addition, it offers migrants the
surrounding New York City and Miami. Last year alone, option of returning home rather than assimilating into
south Florida admitted approximately 125,000 Cubans as a American society.
result of the Mariel boatlift, and 18,000 Haitians, most of
whom arrived illegally, claiming status as political refugees Racial Factors
(Metropolitan Dade County 1981, 1).2
The Cuban migration augmented an existing Cuban Racial factors. have also impeded the assimilation of
- population in the United States of about 794,000 people, 63 Caribbean migrants. A large proportion of these migrants
percent of whom live in Miami (Boswell n.d., 1-2). This figure are black or mulatto, entering a predominantly white society
is constantly growing due to secondary migration from with strong racial prejudices. Theresult has been increasing
other areas of the United States. Most of the Haitian color consciousness among the Caribbean population, both
population of the United States, which is estimated at migrant and non-migrant, which is manifest in various
400,000, live in New York City. However, most of the recent ways. Migrants may try to pass for white and assimilate into
refugees have settled in Miami, which now.has a Haitian the dominant white society. This is easier for migrants who
population conservatively estimated at 40,000 to 45,000 are clearly white, the majority. of whom tend to come from
(Boswell 1982, 19). A large number of Haitians (estimated at the Hispanic Caribbean. West Indians, on the other hand,
20,000) have also entered the migrant stream as agricultural have tended to distinguish themselves culturally from black
farm laborers along the eastern seaboard. Americans rather than to identify with this oppressed
The sudden increase in the volume of these refugees, often minority. In contrast, other Caribbean migrants, both His.
combined with their status as undocumented aliens, has panic and West Indian, have chosen to identify as black,
greatly inhibited their possibilities of assimilation into particularly after the rise of the black power movement in
American society. Even the Cuban community in Miami, the United States in the 1960s, which affected the racial
which initially welcomed the Mariel refugees, has been consciousness of migrants as well as islanders.
overwhelmed by the volume and complexity of the problem. Thus, race has tended to divide the Caribbean migrant
The result has been the continued detention of both Cuban population, even within groups, as studies of race among
and Haitian refugees in government camps and prisons- Puerto Ricans and Cubans have shown. In a recent study in
refugees whose legal status remains in doubt, or who cannot Dade County, many of the recent Mariel refugees from Cuba
find families or communities willing to accept them for have felt rejected by their countrymen, and this is particurelocation. This is particularly the case of single men in the larly true of black and mulatto Cubans, particularly those in
Cuban Mariel group, many of whom are reported to have detention camps (Metropolitan Dade County 1981, 59). The
criminal records in Cuba (Bach, et al. 1982). ___ _Mariel -population-is -approximately -20 permentblack-and
-Another distinguishing fdatu%-eof C~ribbean migration is therefore differs considerably from previous Cuban
that it is often circulatory. This is especially true of Puerto migrants, 95 percent of whom are white (ibid., 5). In this and
Ricans, who are free to come and go as they please. In recent other respects, the Marielitos more closely represent the
years, return migration to Puerto Rico has more than source Cuban population than ever before (Bach, et al. 1982,
equalled the number leaving for the United States. However, 46).




Race undoubtedly represents the most formidable obstacle Who settled in New York.
to assimilation in American society, unlike the other factors Cubans, on the other hand, enjoy a reputation for being
discussed here. Race is an ascribed characteristic that largely middle class. In reality, many Cuban migrants were
permanently sets blacks and other racial minorities apart also working class, particularly those arriving after 1965.
from the rest of the society. However, there is evidence that Certainly most of the recent migrants from Mariel could be
race and the recent revived interest in African culture in the identified as working class. Compared to earlier Cuban
Caribbean is playing an increasingly important, role in the migrants, the Mariel group shows a higher percentage who
formation of ethnic identity, both in the Caribbean and had unskilled or manual jobs in Cuba (71 percent versus 35
among migrants in the United States. The increase in race percent) and a lower percentage who had professional
consciousness and cultural pride in their African heritage occupations (9 percent versus 22 percent) (ibid, 5). However,
appears to be bringing about greater exchange among the average educational level of the Mariel entrants is about
Caribbean peoples of different linguistic and cultural tradi- eighth grade, close to the earlier migrants, and higher than
tions. While this is most evident among intellectuals inter- the Haitians ibidd, 16).
Asman as80 t 90perentof Cuban and Haitian
ested in the Afro-American cultural heritage, such as Rex As many as 80 to 90 percent
Nettleford, Aime Cesaire, Roberto Marques, or Miguel entrants report problems in English (ibid., 65), but this is
Barnet, it is also manifest in signs of growing solidarity alleviated for the Cubans by the bilingual nature of the Dade
among the mass of Caribbean migrant populations. It is County community. Many Cubans survive well without
especially evident in the second generation of migrants, who English, working in and for the Cuban community (Wilson
have lostsome of theirisland provincialism and see raceas a and Portes 1980). For Haitians, the language problem is
political strategy for unifying the Caribbean population of aggravated by the fact that over half the refugees are
the United States. illiterate in their own language (Metropolitan Dade County
1981, 65).
Social Class of the Migrant Population Poverty, poor language skills, and low educational and
occupational levels are serious impediments to the assimiMost Caribbean migrants are poor and leave the islands lation of ethnic migrants. Because they are poor and have no
primarily for economic reasons. The poorest group are knowledge of English, they tend to cluster together in ethnic
probably the Haitians, who often arrive by boat with ghettos, and often have few personal contacts outside the
nothing but the clothes on their back. This also reflects the migrant community. Their only contact with the wider
poverty 6f Haiti, where the per capita income of $260 society comes through impersonal dealings on the job, in a
annually is the lowest in the Western hemisphere. Two- store or an office. Their ethnic solidarity often serves as a
thirds of the rural population, who represent 80 percent of buffer to an impersonal and often hostile world.
itis op, hve al populatincworpese 0 pcet o8 Middle-class migrants, by contrast, tend to have more
Haiti's people, have annual incomes of $40 (Stepick 1982b, ispersed residential patterns and are therefore much less
17).
Fully half of the recent Haitian refugees were engaged in visible than their poor counterparts, with whom they may
unskilled work or farming in their homeland. This indicates have little or no contact. There has been a considerable
a marked shift toward more rural migrants in recent years, "brain drain" from the Caribbean with the exodus of
due in part to droughts, hurricanes, and to rural "recruiters" I professionals such as doctors, nurses, engineers and .teach-who encourage selling of land to-buy.passage (estimated to ..-.. .... ersVirtuallya1l-Caibbean nations have sent professionals
- cost-as-higHi -s$2-00)) Education levels among recent to the United States, but they have been much less noticeHaitian entrants are also low with 5.6 average years of able than the poor. For example, many middle-class professchooling, reflecting their rural origin (Metropolitan Dade sionals left Jamaica during the Manley government because
County 1981, 16). By contrast, many of the earlier Haitian of inflation, shortage of consumer goods, and other ecomigrants were urban middle- or upper-class professionals nomicproblems. Middle-class migrants tend to assimilate




more easily since they have less difficulty finding a job and Iopposed by Hispanic political organizations because they housing. They may, however, experience severe status di4- feel it will lead to discrimination in employment against all
location and downward occupational mobility As a result of' Hispanics (or all nonwhites), regardless of their legal status.
their move. The 1980 Refugee Act attempts to clarify the status of
Class differences pose a problem to the political effec- refugees as victimss of political repression," not just from
tiveness of the migrant community. Leadership should rest Communism, but from all forms of authoritarian regimes.
with middle-class migrants, who have education, better Those, supporting the cause of the Haitian refugees have
knowledge of English, and more experience in dealing with sought to apply this law to their case, arguing that Haitians
the dominant society. However, many of the middle-class are political refugees from the repressive Duvalier regime.
migrants are effectively cut off from the larger, poor migrant Nevertheless, the immigration authorities have continued to
community and therefore lack the legitimacy and the sup- maintain that Haitians are fleeing for economic, not politiport necessary to become effective role models and leaders. Ical reasons. They are afraid that admitting Haitians as
This is less true in the case of the Cuban community, where refugees would set. a precedent, opening the floodgates to
much of the middle-class has continued to live in. the Dade immigrants from other authoritarian regimes, such as El
County area. Salvador (cf Stepick 1982a, 13). In their attempt to garner
greater political strength, Haitians and their advocates
Political Status sought the support of other political groups, such as the
congressional Black Caucus. Here we can see again where
Political 'status is another 'serious impediment to the race is playing an increasingly important role in the definipolitical strength of the migrant community. Most migrants tion and long-range political goals of the Caribbean migrant
cannot vote until they become United States citizens, a long 'community. and often arduous process. Caribbean migrants therefore do Despite the limited success of the Haitians, Cubans arc the
not constitute a political constituency of any importance, best example of an effective ethnic bloc among Caribbean
with the notable exception of the Cubans, who play a critical migrants. Undoubtedly, they are aided by their geographic
role nationally as well as in south Florida. Some Caribbean concentration in the Miami area and by their relatively high
migrant groups, though not citizens, have been'active in the .socioeconomic level. Although relative newcomers, Maingot process of "ethnic bargaining" particularly in matters (1981, 25) describes how they have been able to gain from the
relating to immigration (Maingot 1981). Though Maingot advances of other ethnic minorities and have become a very
decries this as diluting the privileges of citizenship of the effective lobby, particularly at the national level. For a long
legal immigrants, it is difficult to see how else these disen- time, their political goals centered on foreign policy and the
franchised groups can exercise any influence over the overthrow of the Castro Government. Recently, however,
policies affecting them. They have learned that in the they have exhibited a greater interest in state and local
Unitd Satesthegam of thnc plitis dterinesmuc politics and are well represented in city elective positions in a group's future, as witness the lobbying by Haitians and Dade County, where they constitute an important electoral
their allies for their right to political asylum. constituency (Jorge and Moncarz 1980, 84).
Undocumented aliens and refugees are of course the Cuban effectiveness as a voting bloc has been increased
weakest group politically, and the most vulnerable. Presi- by their naturalization as-citizens,-which, while resisted at-dentReagan -has.-recently- proposed -that -undocumented ------"frst has now reached about 40 percent of the Cuban
aliens living in the United States as of January 1980, be community (Azicri 1982,61). However, as Maingot (1981, 21permitted to apply for status as permanent residents, 22) writes, "Power was achieved prior to citizenship, not
which-if approved-would clarify considerably their legal because of it." While citizenship was indicative of their
status. He has also proposed sanctions against employers having come to terms with their permanence in the United
who hire undocumented aliens. This measure is bitterly States, Maingot (ibid., 22) claims that it was a "matter of




strategic choice, not primordial attachment" and implies no undocumented aliens often are forced to work for long hours
loss of ethnic identity. In fact, ethnic identity is intensified at less than the minimum wage and under miserable
by the process of ethnic bargaining at which Cubans have conditions. As undocumented aliens, they have no legal
become so adept. recourse, although a considerable number are now members
of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union
Economic Structure of U.S. Society (ILGWU), which is the only union to defend the rights of
undocumented aliens in the United States. The rest of the
In discussing the assimilation of Caribbean union movement has opposed the entry and legalization of
ndi usig heasm lto ofC r be n migrants ito th tts o nou etd alesi h ntd Sae
American society, it is also important to look at the nature of the status of undocumented aliens in the United States
the society they are entering at this particular historical because they fear that they bring higher unemployment and
moment. Caribbean migrants are entering the United States deteriorating wages and working conditions.
in large numbers in a period of severe economic crisis hnd The high percentage of Caribbean migrants in the garpolitical change, which is bound to have a critical impact on ment industry points to the high percentage of women who
the possibilities of their assimilation. migrate and are employed in the American labor force. The
The economic crisis has brought about high rates of labor force participation rate of Cuban women, for example,
unemployment combined with high rates of inflation, is 55 percent-much higher than the rate for native white
Migrants suffer from these problems more severely than Americans. Women from the Caribbean work in the garment
ordinary citizens since they generally occupy the worst jobs industry and other factory employment, in service jobs, and
and pay exorbitant rents precisely because they are discrim- ps domestic servants. Domestic servants are primarily
inated against and lack the language skills and experience'" undocumented aliens who try to use their employment to
of the native population. Unemployment is severe among find a sponsor who will legalize their stay in the United
recent Cuban and Haitian refugees in Florida. As many as States and are often exploited by employment agencies
78 percent of the Cubans and 66 percent of the Haitians in a seeking this new form of cheap labor. The proportion of
recent study are reported as unemployed and actively women among recent Haitian and Cuban refugees is
seeking work (Metropolitan Dade County 1981,38). Housing approximately 30 percent (Boswell 1982, 21). Though the
is also a major problem, with serious overcrowding among total number of women is low, there is concern over the high
Haitians who live with an average of six other people in each birth rate in the Miami Haitian community. A recent study
household unit, contrasted to three for the Cuban entrant -in Florida reported that 52 percent of the Haitian entrant
group (ibid., 43). families had a pregnancy during 1980 as opposed to 10
Migrants, particularly undocumented aliens, are often percent of the Cubans (Metropolitan Dade County 1981, 55accused of taking away jobs from American citizens, ano- 56). This figure may be exaggerated due to the nature of the
ther factor in the move to restrict immigration and to expel sample, but it is still considerable cause for alarm.
the undocumented aliens from the United States. However, Not only areHaitian households largerin sizethan Cuban
most studies have shown that these groups take jobs that households, but the proportion of working adults within the
ordinary citizens no longer desire because they pay poorly household is smaller. While the average migrant household
and/or require heavy manual labor, such as migrant agri- reports no more than one working adult, that adult in
cultural labor; service jobs in hotels, restaurants and other Haitian households is supporting 4 other nonworking
public establishments; and low-paying factory jobs, such as. -adults, -while in Cuban households-he-or she-suppbt
---those -in-the-garment-in-dustr-y-(NACLA 1979; Cornelius average of 2.2 nonworking adults. It is surprising, therefore,
1978; 1982). It is estimated that one-third of the garment that only about half the Cuban entrants report some houseworkers in New York City are undocumented aliens, many of hold incomes from a wage earner, a lower proportion than
them from the Caribbean (NACLA 1979, 35). In illegal the 83 percent reported in the Haitian population. Both
sweatshops in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami, groups report receiving government aid in some form,




including food stamps, but the proportion of Haitians diminishing, at least in the large cities such as New York
receiving this aid (31 percent) is less than the proportion of CiyadMait hihte aetaitoal oeh
City and Miami to which they have traditionally gone. The
Cuban entrants (48 percent) (ibid., 41). United States has entered a post-industrial phase in which
Contrary to popular belief, most migrants make limited blue collar jobs in factories, agricultural labor, and other
use of benefits, such as unemploymentinsurance, welfare, or I heavy manual labor are disappearing due to automation,
social security, or of social services, such as public hospitals movement of production abroad, and other factors. Most
and clinics, public housing and free lunch programs. Caribbean migrants are not prepared for white collar jobs,
(NACLA 1979' Cornelius 1978; 1982). With the exception of which require a higher level of education, and especially
Puerto Ricans, who as American citizens are entitled to knowledge of the English language. Thus, the long-term
these benefits, many migrants are afraid to jeopardize their prospects of employment for Caribbean migrants, given
status by taking advantage of these services, particularly if their current educational and skill levels, are quite poor.
they are undocumented aliens. Nevertheless, the cost for
such services is often deducted from their paychecks. Summary
In south Florida, social services have been seriously
overtaxed by the sudden volume of Cuban and Haitian What, then, is the future of Caribbean migrants in the
refugees. Much of these costs has been borne by the state, United States? Will they be able to overcome the obstacles of
which adds to the rancor and hostility of the local popula. race, class, political status and poverty outlined here and
tion. Health problems have been a particularly sensitive assimilate into American society?
issue, particularly among Haitian refugees suffering from A comparison of the Haitian and Cuban migrants in
various diseases, parasitic infections, and malnutrition. The South Florida suggests that the obstacles to assimilation
major brunt of health services has been undertaken by will be far greater among the former than the latter.
Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, where approximately Haitians suffer from the greatest disadvantages in terms of
20 percent of all children born in 1981 were to Haitian poverty, race, educational level, language problems and
women. Women often seek prenatal care for themselves and uncertain political status. In addition, the recent Haitian
infant care in the belief that bearing a child in the United refugees have saturated the absorption capacity of the small
States will facilitate changes in their legal status (Lieber- and weakly developed Haitian community in Miami, which
man 1982, 11). As Cornelius (1982, 52) reports for Mexican was already characterized by an extremely rapid turnoverin
migrants, medical services are the most utilized by this housing, severe overcrowding and unemployment. Many of
otherwise fearful population. these recent Haitian migrants may find, and some already
Thus, it could be 'argued than most Caribbean migrants have found, an outlet in migrant agricultural labor.
are not taking jobs away from American citizens nor placing The Cuban Mariel group is more likely to remain in Miami
a heavy demand on public social services, though there is a as urbanized wage labor. Although there has been rejection
need for more research in this area in south Florida. They are of some black, criminal, and other "undesirable" elements of
hard-working, ambitious people. who are primarily inter- the Mariel group by the larger Cuban community, the
ested in earning and saving as much as they can, often with majority will probably be incorporated in the Cuban
the intention of returning home assoon as possible. A good enclave. The Mariel group is likely, however, to change the
-percentage of their earnings are.sent as remittances to their image of the Cuban American community in the eyes of the
families at home. For these short-term migrants, the wider American society, asweshallseeinSection III
_temporary visas-that President Reagan has recommended- .... -Th-ebariers to assimilation faced by many Caribbean
for Mexican migrants may represent a solution, distasteful migrants have caused many of them to question the viability
as it may seem to some. of this as a goal and to turn to ethnic bargaining as a way of
The long-range problem seems to be, however, that the competing for political strength and survival in the United
jobs for which Caribbean migrants qualify appear to be States. However, to constitute an effective ethnic bloc,




migrants must maintain a strong sense of cultural identity, from whites in language, family patterns, religion and
which has led to a process of ethnic revitalization among values were explained as pathological aberrations due to
Caribbean migrants. This process will be examined in the their marginal position in American society. It was felt they
next section. simply had not been given the opportunity to fully adopt the
values and behavior patterns of the dominant society. Civil
The Prospects for Assimilation and Alternative rights and equal opportunity legislation was designed to
Modes of Incorporation correct this and allow black Americans to integrate into the
The theory of assimilation has been severely criticized mainstream.
The failure of civil rights legislation to assist more than a
recently, particularly in terms of its applicability to racial minority of middle-class black Americans led to a backlash
minorities such as migrants from the Caribbean. The theory against integrationist theories and practice in the black
was developed primarily on the basis of empirical studies community. In its place grew up the Black Power movement,
conducted among European immigrants, who did not face -which sought to turn the assumed inferiority of blackness
racial obstacles to their assimilation into American society. into an advantage by proclaiming the unique qualities of
When applied to racial minorities, however, thetheory did Afro-American culture and consciously reconstituting a
not work. Why? history and tradition which had long been denied to many
Before answering this question, it is necessary to review { black Americans. The Black Power movement sponsored a
briefly the theory of assimilation as applied to immigrants resurgence of Afro-American culture in the United States in
to the United States. Assimilation implies the gradual loss of the arts, language, religion, cuisine, and hair and" dress
cultural and ethnic identity and the adoption of the values styles.
and behavior patterns of the host society. Milton Gordon Internal colonialism developed as the theoretical counter(1964) has distinguished between cultural and structural part to the Black Power movement. Developed by scholars
assimilation. The former usually precedes the latter, since I like William Tabb (1970) and Robert Blauner (1972), the
adoption of the language, norms, and values of the host i theory of internal colonialism sought to explain the continsociety (cultural assimilation) is a necessary prerequisite to ued structural exclusion of black Americans on economic
acceptance as an equal by the members of that society. It grounds. The maintenance of subordinate racial minorities
was the knowledge of the importance of cultural and struc- provided the capitalist power structure with a cheap and
tural assimilation for socioeconomic mobility that per- easily exploitable reserve labor force. The weapons of
suaded European immigrants to shed their cultural heritage internal colonialism were both economic and ideological.
and encourage their children to adopt the language, values, Racial minorities were kept subordinate economically by
and behavior patterns of American society. European immi- denying them access to such social goods as quality educagrants paid a price, but for them it was worth it. I tion, employment, and housing. Continued denial of access
For racial minorities, on the other hand, cultural assimi- was justified on the grounds that they were inferior to the
lation did not guarantee structural assimilation. No matter
how fervently they adopted the language, values, and dominant white society and lacked the cultural capacity to
b o assimilate into American society. Thus, many black Ameribehavior patterns of American society, they were still cans were convinced of their own cultural as well as
excluded from structural assimilation and socioeconomic, economic inferiorityto the dominant-white society-(Safa
mobility on racial grounds. -1968).Civil rights legislation addressed the economic issues,
-- The most cogent-exa--ple 6f theifailureof assimilation was while Black Power addressed the ideological question by
black Americans. Imported as slaves and forcibly divided rejecting the cultural superiority of the dominant society
and deprived of much of their cultural heritage, black and proclaiming a separate ethnic identity.
Americans were long thought to lack a cultural identity The Black Power movement led to a new racial pride that
apart from the larger dominant white society. Differences m any ethni morites, ly fo he aribean
~many ethnic minorities, particularly from the Caribbean,




sought to emulate. Many rejected assimilation as a goal and that is highly critical of bilingual education, writes:
strove instead to conserve their own cultural heritage as an
ethnic group in Aimerican society. They tried to replace the Today I hear bilingual educators say that children lose
ideology of assimilation with one of ethnic pluralism, whici a degree of'individuality' by becomingassimilated into
respects the cultural heritage of distinct ethnic groups, public society .... But the bilingualists simplistically
rather than asking them to blend into a "melting pot." (cf. scorn the value and necessity of assimilation. They do
Gordon 1964).The change also implies a move away from an ot seem to realize that there are two ways a person is
individualized. So they do not realize that while one emphasis on individual mobility as a mechanism of assimi- "suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by
lation into American society, toward a focus on collective becoming assimilated into public society, such assimistrategies that would foster ethnic solidarity and cohesion. laoin a ssil te it public ii.
Those groups which had been denied the possibility of lation makes possible the achievement of public indistructural assimilation now also denied the validity of
cultural assimilation and consciously strove to maintain But what is public individuality? Even Rodriguez recogethnic institutions that could serve as a power base in nizes that for a scholar with his credentials, the individuAmerican society. The era. of ethnic revitalization had ality achieved in public life is often "impersonal" and
arrived. "tenuous." What of those Mexican-Americans less fortunate
Among migrants from the Hispanic Caribbean, ethnic. than he, for whom public life represents only subordination
pride is manifest primarily in the emphasis bn the retention in low paying, menial jobs? Would he deny them the refuge
of the Spanish language along with other cultural items of an intimate family and community life based on ethnic
such as music, dance and food. The ideological value of the ties? His own poignant description of the pain of separation
struggle is most clearly evident in the intense debate over from his family and community and his consequent perbilingual education. Hispanics fought for bilingual educa- sonal estrangement is a powerful indictment against the
tion so that their Spanish-speaking children would not be very policies Rodriguez purports to uphold. He may feel his
placed at a disadvantage and could learn and appreciate sacrifice was socially necessary, but many-ethnics or nottheir native language. Opposition to bilingual education may wonder if it was worth the price.
came chiefly from sectors of American society who contin- The knowledge that success and upward mobility are only
ued to believe that ethnic groups must shed their cultural open to a few and serve to weaken class and ethnic identifiheritage and adopt the language and customs of the domi- cation in the United States has led most Hispanic scholars to
nant culture. They have recently won a major battle through reject the path Rodriguez has chosen. At least verbally, they
President Reagan's cut in the budget forbilingual education continue to insist on the maintenance of ethnic identity
programs. The assimilationist group is again in the through programs of bilingual and bicultural education and
ascendency. other measures. The importance of class issues in the
Not all Hispanics or other Caribbean migrants subscribe formation of ethnic identity is clearly evident in the intense
to ethnic pluralism either. Migrants who do not face the debate over bilingualism now raging in the Puerto Rican
barriers to assimilation outlined earlier, who are white, community in the United States. The debate is less over the
middle-class, and fluent in English, can more easily assimi- need for bilingual education (on which most agree) than over
late and stand to gain little from identifying with their less the nature of bilingualism inthe-Puerto Rican-community
fortunate countrymen. For-them, the price to be paid for the . onthciilanc. Is code switching (using Spanish and
continued maintenance of ethnic identity is too great, English interchangeably) evidence of deculturation or of a
because it may detract from their success in public life. Thus, failure to learn either Spanish or English adequately; ordoes
Richard Rodriguez, a Mexican-American "scholarship boy" it represent an "expansion of communication ot expressive
educated at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, and the Warburg potential" (Flores, et al. 1981, 200)? Does migration lead
Institute, London, in a recently published autobiography inevitably to moral and cultural deterioration, as Puerto




Rican writers such as Ren Marquos suggest, orcanitlead to identity, a wellspring of resistance to the arrogant workings
a new form of cultural identity, rooted in the native culture of pervasive cultural subordination." (ibid., 209). But they
but not merely a transplant? How is this new form of cultur l recognize that Puerto Rico, or Jamaica, or any other island is
identity manifested in linguistic practice and artistic prod- no longer a refuge, as it was for the first generation and that
uct they must forge a new cultural identity based on life in the
Puerto Rican cultural identity is distinguished by two United States. This new cultural identity shares a strong
important factors: (1) Puerto Rico's colonial relationship to element of racial pride, ethnic consciousness, and rejection
the United States, which has imposed a strong Americani- of conventional American middle-class norms. It seeks to
zation process on the island itself since the occupation in promote socioeconomic mobility through ethnic solidarity
1898 and has led to massive proletarianization of the and collective struggle rather than through individual
population; and (2) the circulatory nature of Puerto Rican achievement. Ethnic revitalization is thus more than seekmigration, with constant new replenishments coming from "ing roots in the native culture. It is a struggle to forge a new
the island while others are returninginincreasingnurniers. identity based on shared elements from both the United
Therefore, Puerto Rican culture on the mainland has been States and native culture.
difficult to distinguish from that'on the island, and some
would still question the validity of such a distinction. Cultural Identity and the Cuban Community in the
However, culture is a dynamic process, and it is clear that United States
with the development of a second, and even a third and a
fourth, generation of Puerto Ricans in the United States, Before including this analysis of Caribbean migration, it
ther isemegin a dstict Nuyricn" sbcutur tht "is important to look at the Cuban case for what it reveals
there is emerging .a distinct "Nuyorican" subculture that mfrtini
borrows heavily from black Americans both in language about the process of assimilation and cultural identity.
and behavior patterns. Much of the literature and other Cuban Americans differ from other Hispanic migrants
forms of artistic expression exhibits an increased awareness I previously discussed, such as the Puerto Ricans and
of African culture, in opposition to both European (Spanish Mexican-Americans, in several important ways: (1) Cubans
and English) traditions, and stresses the need for racial entered the United Stat im a n as (1) Cubans
unity noted earlier among Afro-Caribbean writers. Thus, rather than for States primarily as political refugees
Laviea, a uyorian poeconomis:c reasons; (2) they are largely white and middle-class in origin and brought with them capital,
L a blacknusoin powi t: skills, and. other assets that aided in their socioeconomic
a blackness in spnish mobility in the United States; and (3) they are more concen.
a blackness in snish trated geographically than other migrant groups, constitut.
mixture-met on jam sessions in central park, ing over half the population of Miami and Hialeah (Wilson
there were no differences in and Portes 1980, 304).
the sounds emerging from inside. All of these factors tend to favor the rapid and relatively
( 5 easy assimilation of Cubans into American society. Their
(flight from the Communist regime of Fidel Castro led to Thus, it would appear that assimilation of Caribbean much greater receptivity on the part of the American public
migrants is not entirely dependent on acceptance by the and government, which tookfull advantage of their exodus
largersocietyIn-a sense, many Caribbean migrants have- i -- to-tryto-discredit and delegitimize the Castro regime. As
consciously rejected the goal of assimilation and have political refugees, they were also given considerable state
sought instead a new identity that sets them apart from the assistance not extended to economic migrants, such as
American mainstream. Nor are they simply transplants of resettlement and cash assistance, special educational prothe island culture, as the Nuyorican writers tell us. The grams (including retraining for professionals), college
island "remains a key source of reference and collective I tuition loans, and relaxed citizenship requirements. Bilin-




gual education programs for Cubans were instituted in
Florida as early as 1960 and served as prototypes for The evidence to support the enclave thesis in the Cuban
programs in other areas of the country (Pedraza-Bailey 1982, case is impressive, In the Miami area there are Cuban firms
8aaepin construction, sugar, cigar making, manufacturing,
88). Pedraza-Bailey has also documented the importance of .finance, and a variety of service sectors (Wilson and Portes
this state assistance in the economic success story of the "1980). In a study conducted in 1979 by Portes and others, it
Cuban refugees.
Cua eues was found that over half of the sample were self-employed or
The Cuban community in the United Statel faces few ofafudta vrafothsmlwrs~-mlydo
o baes tommnition utlUnied inthe working in Cuban-owned or -managed firms six years after the pae first section of their arrival in the United States (Portes, et al. 1982,19). The
this paper. The earliest wave of migration in the early 1960s size of Cuban firms has also tended to increase and in the
was overwhelmingly white and middle-class, and entered 1970s they have moved from small retail establishments to
the United States in a period of expanding economic oppor- larger manufacturing plants (Jorge and Moncarz 1980, 67).
tunities. In fact, Cubans are generally credited within also evidence of increased revitalization of the Miami economy, which had begun to socioeconomic heterogeneity in the Cuban community. Most
senate at that time. Thus, their attachment to the Miami
saea t timaT, tproxithmt to C Mand of the entrepreneurs arrived in the first waves of migration,
area is due not only to climate, its proximity to Cuba, and """ .and the highest incomes are still associated with those
prior knowledge of the area, but to the fact that theyanthhiesicosarsilascaed ihtoe
prio knwlede o th are, bt tothefac tha thy arriving between 1960 and 1962 (ibid., 73). Even some of the
discovered there an economic niche which they could exploit aivnet and 196 (ibid., 73p.rEense onh
to the fullest. This comparative advantage accentuated the middle- and upper-class Cuban migrants experienced downprocess of geographic concentration. ward occupational mobility because of problems of Ianproessofand gorp conc0)hentraton thguage, recertification, discrimination, and age (ibid., 53-60). Wilson and Portes (1980) have argued that the mode ofincreased incorporation of the Cuban community -into the United with successive waves of migration, which brought increasStates differs both from assimilation and internal colonial- ing numbers of the working class to the United States, some
ism and is best characterized as an "economic enclave" of whom settled in the Union City-West New York area of
similar to that developed by such groups as the Jews, New Jersey as well as in Miami. Added to this has been the
Japanese, and more recently by the Chinese and Koreans. formation of a second generation. who have not always
While other immigrant groups, both European and racial followed the success story of their parents. As a result, Jorge
minorities, served primarily as a source of cheap labor, land Moncarz (1980, 55) argue for the bipolar nature of the
economic enclaves tend to be characterized by a strong Cuban occupational structure. Based on the 1978 census,
entrepreneurial element, beginning in the first generation bthey estimate that 31 percent of the Cubans are presently in
(connoting an obvious class difference). These entrepre- higher occupational groups, such as professionals, techneurs built up small enterprises that tend to employ fellow nicians and managers, while over 43 percent are part of the
migrants and serve primarily the needs of- the ethnic lower strata comprised of operatives, laborers, and service
community. This economic advance is followed by consoli- wers. Pore onid atin ami asre
workers. Portes' longitudinal*study in Miami also reports
dation and growing political influence in successive increasing economic differentiation (Portes, Clark, Lopez
generations. Economic mobility in this case does not 1982, 20).
necessarily presuppose cultural integration since the TheheterogeneityoftheCubancommunityisalsoevident
enclave tends to develop a whole gamut of institutions to in measures of assimilation into Americanmsociety.pohe
preserve cultural identity and defend it against external meaeoasiilatio 19 Ameria s o ts
study bycae-eit Ports7Cfikiiii Lopeze s (192)inMiai eprt
pressure.Theenclaveresistsassiihtibn-because it recog- increased residential dispersion in Anglo and mixed neighnizes that the loss of cultural identity and geographic borhoods and high exposure to mass media (though often in
dispersion would weaken the resources and the economic Spanish) correlated with a good knowledge of American
viability of the ethnic community in a hostile society benton society as measured by such matters as familiarity with
reducing it to a source of cheap labor (Portes 1980, 13). political figures and institutions (ibid., 4-9). Knowledge of




English remains surprisingly low, evenafter years in this the Marielitos by the Cuban community that knew a new
country. This study also reports an increased perceived level wave of working class Cubans would consolidate their
of discrimination against Cubans in American society, image as an ethnic minority in American society.
particularly among the better informed and fluent English Conclusion
speakers (ibid., 15). These data suggest that initially favorable attitudes toward American society may be waning with time, particularly as the Cuban community loses its privi- The transformation of the Cuban community in the
leged status-in American society. Hostility toward Cubans United States raises interesting questions regarding the
in the United States is also increasing, as witnessed by the relationship between cultural identity, the process of assimirecent rejection of bilingual education in a referendum in lation, and socioeconomic mobility. If assimilation is prediDade County (Portes 1980, 19). cated on the adoption of the host culture, then resistance to
As Portes (1980) suggests, the Cuban community is in the assimilation through the maintenance of a strong cultural
process of transformation from a group of political exiles to identity would seem to preclude socioeconomic mobility.
an ethnic group. Their definition as political exiles rested on :'This is because mobility was thought to depend upon
their flight from and opposition to the Castrd" regime, adoption of the values and behavior patterns of mainstream
Although they have been very effective in preventing any American society.
rapprochement between the American and Cuban govern- To varying degrees, this ethic of assimilation and mobility
ments, the hope of return to Cuba has faded and with it the was adopted and practiced by earlier European immigrants
unity brought about by common opposition to Castro. to the United States. It has been rejected recently by some
Political differences were intensified by the Diglogue, which racial minorities, led by black Americans, who recognized
permitted some Cuban exiles to return -to Cuba to visit that cultural assimilation did not necessarily guarantee
family, and by the political radicalization of some younger structural assimilation or acceptance by and access to the
members of the community into defenders of the revolution dominant white society. In its place they advocated a policy
(Azicri 1982). Many of these younger Cubans suffered an of ethnic pluralism that allowed each group to maintain its
identity crisis that they could only resolve by returning to cultural identity and rejected the superiority of the dominant
Cuba (at least for a visit) and reconciling themselves with culture. Ethnic cohesion might give them increased political
the Castro regime. leverage, which could -be used in the process of ethnic
Thus, cultural identity has also taken on different mean- bargaining for the benefit of the community. Thus, ethnic
ings in the Cuban community. For some, it represents close groups bargained for increased state assistance for proties with present-day Cuba and acceptance, if not ardent grams such as bilingual education, housing, job training, as
defense, of the Castro government. The older generation, well as for immigration reform. While these might benefit
however, remains largely bitterly opposed to the present the community collectively,, the goals of ethnic pluralism
government and continues to cling to an older, prerevolu- were ideological as well as economic. Pluralism sought to
tionary cultural tradition that they attempt to maintain.' reinstitute a sense of dignity and self-worth to oppressed
They refuse to recognize themselves as an ethnic minority in minorities who had long been told they were inferior to the
the United States and continue to think of themselves as I white society. On the other hand, it rejected members'of
political refugees. This may be one reason that they have ethnic groups who, like Richard Rodriguez, put success first
poiialrfges hi a b n rao ta he aeand chos6idvdaaheeetoe olciechso
failed to develop institutions to defend Cuban interests as an o individual -achievement over collective cohesion
ethnic-minoitY. Porte-(1980, 17) notes this failure but and identity.
attributes it to political weakness, manifest in the lack of The enclave theory as developed by Portes poses a third
response by the Cuban community to the negative image of alternative. Through enclaves itis possible to retain a strong
the recent Mariel refugees portrayed in the media. However, sense of cultural identity without sacrificing individual
this lack of response can also be attributed to the rejection of socioeconomic mobility. In fact, the enclave is dependent on




continued ethnic cohesion to sustain its strength and defend of a more culturally diverse society from which we all stand
it from hostility on the part of the dominant society. to gain.,
However, this cohesion becomes increasingly difficult to maintain with the passage of time and the increasing
heterogeneity of the ethnic community. The enclave may Endnotes
remain, but inevitably some of the more upwardly mobile
sectors of the community will assimilate into American 1. The term "migrant" used in this paper is intended to cover
society and cease to identify primarily with the ethnic group. immigrant, refugee, entrant, undocumented alien, and other more
The data on residential dispersion, out-marriage, naturali- specific terms applied to persons entering the United States from
zation, and occupational change in the Cuban community the Caribbean. Migrant is preferred to immigrant because Puerto
indicate this may be taking place. Though the success of the Ricans, as United States citizens, are not immigrants, nor are
first generation has been predicated on ownership and legally undocumented aliens hnd refugees.
employment in Cuban firms, it is reported that their children 2. Much of the statistical data in this section is drawn from a
are not necessarily following in their footsteps (Jorgp hnd study conducted in 1981 by the Office of the County Manager of
Moncarz 1980, 69). The real test of the enclave theory rests Dade County among three hundred Cubans selected from cash
with the second generation. It may not necessarily be assistance applicants, fifty men in the Dade County jail, and one
followed by the consolidation Portes has predicted on the hundred Haitians (fifty receiving refugee assistance and fifty
basis of similar enclave groups. social service treatments). Although the sample is small and
In a sense, the Cuban community has followed a very restrictive, it offers a basis for comparison of these two recent
different trajectory from other Hispanic minorities in the groups, particularly among the most needy.
United States. Second generation Puerto Ricans and Chicanos experienced an ethnic revitalization as they shed the
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