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cuban-americans: exiles, not immigrants

Lisandro Perez Lisandro Perez
Professor at Florida International University, where he founded the Cuban Research Institute.

It's very important to the image of Cuban-Americans to see themselves and for others to see them as exiles,not as immigrants. The term "immigrant" to them denotes the notion of people who come in search of economic opportunities.

Cubans, despite what may be the reality, do have this ideology that they came here because they were in a sense driven out, impelled to leave by a government and by a political system. Therefore they view themselves as exiles. It has nothing to do with whether they will actually go back and live. It has to do with the fact that you need to triumph over the government that compelled you to leave the country and is the source of all this suffering, et cetera.
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Max Castro Max Castro
Senior research associate at the North-South Center at University of Miami

Whether you're an exile or an immigrant is a subjective thing. In the Cuban case, there was, at the outset, a very strong political element to the migration. People defined themselves as exiles, that is, they felt that they would go back to Cuba. Now they are, for the most part, not exiles in the strict traditional sense because they were not put on a plane and sent out. They felt that the political situation in Cuba and the system in Cuba didn't leave any space for them. It didn't leave any space for their political ambitions. It didn't leave any space for their economic ambitions.

... Back in the early 1990s, the exiles thought that the Cuban regime would totter very soon. By the time Elián came to Miami, very few people were looking towards packing their bags for Cuba any time soon. So Elián created a rallying point, a point of mobilization, a new cause that would rally a very, very tired exile community.
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Victor Curry Victor Curry
A Baptist pastor and president of the Miami-Dade County NAACP

"Exile" means that they're not going to assimilate--that one day they're going to go back to Cuba. That's from the old guard. Many of the younger professional Cubans don't think like that. They have assimilated in Miami-Dade, or in the United States of America. It is that old guard, that Batista guard that feels that once Castro has been taken down, they are all going to get up and they're all going to go back. They're not going back.

Castro can leave tomorrow and there will not be a mass exodus out of Miami-Dade to go back to Cuba to stay. read the full interview

Damian Fernandez Damian Fernandez
Chairman of the International Relations department at Florida International University.

A minority resent being called Cuban-American. They still want to hold to the identity of exiles. They were expelled or they had to flee, and they feel, "This is who I am." You're talking about very deep-seated emotional personal issues about identity--very foundational issues. But others have embraced their hybrid or their transnational identity of being partly Cuban and partly American, especially the younger generation. They embrace this country. But at times of problems, you see the Cuban flags waving again in Miami.

... Exiles tend to live in the past. Exiles are broken people. And that identity of exile makes people always look at the past, look at Cuba through the thick mist of nostalgia. That is where they live. That is who they are. Any full integration into the United States would mean a change of identity, and renouncing the very emotional and foundational aspect of their being as exiles.

... Holding on to the label of exile is a way of vindicating your position in history, to show that although you might have been a loser in the Cuban revolution, you have the moral superiority. You had the moral truth on your side, because Cuban communism, in many ways, has proven to be a failure. The notion of holding on to the exile is not only about identity, but about moral truths that these people hold so dear. read the full interview

Maurice Ferre Maurice Ferre
Former mayor of Miami

The Cubans have gone through a very serious trauma. They've lost their homeland. They're exiles. They're not here as immigrants, they're here as exiles. The fact that 95 percent of them will stay after Castro is gone is not significant. It's how do you define yourself. The definition of the Cuban community here is that they're exiles. They have a very strong sense of who they are and where they've come from, and they have a strong loyalty to the homeland, to Cuba. And they don't want to give that up.

...When the immigrants came from Italy and eastern Europe and all of Europe, those people were going to a new world for a new life. They cut their ties. It was important for them to become Americans. Cuba is only a couple hundred miles away from where we are sitting right here. There's a constant wave of Cubans coming in and it's a community that is self-sustaining. You can go from life to death in Spanish, all Cuban. It's been made so easy that a lot of people, especially older people, are reluctant to change. So I think they look back. They want to remember Cuba fondly, they have a deep emotional tie... read the full interview


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