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From Exiles to Immigrants

Courtesy Reuters

Every diaspora judges itself, whether secretly or ostentatiously, to be both unique and uniquely sinned against. In this, the three-quarters of a million Cuban-Americans of South Florida are anything but exceptional. But like the Jews, the Armenians, and the White Russians before them, the Miami Cubans have tended to see themselves, both in their qualities and in their historical grievances, as sui generis. The common currency of exile is memory, above all the memory of wounds. But what may be necessary for group survival within the context of an exile group inevitably will appear to many outsiders, who share neither the memories nor the wounds, as touchy, clannish self-absorption. This has been the case with the Cuban exile community in South Florida in its relations with non-Cuban Miami, and, more broadly, with U.S. public opinion at large ever since Cuban refugees first started arriving in Miami after the victory of Fidel Castro in 1959.

It should be remembered that the first Cuban exiles to arrive after the triumph of the Fidelistas genuinely believed that they would be going home within a few months. They were encouraged in this belief by the United States, particularly once the Kennedy administration had come into office. During the run-up to the American-sponsored invasion of Cuba by CIA-trained exile groups--the operation that ended so disastrously at the Bay of Pigs--it was an article of faith in Cuban Miami that the United States was committed to overthrowing the Castro regime. And despite the subsequent bitterness in the community that still permeates older Cuban-Americans, most Cuban exiles have wanted to believe, in the words of the Miami entrepreneur, Pancho Blanco, that "no matter how often she has let us down, the United States has been our champion."

After the end of the Cuban missile crisis (viewed in Miami as yet another betrayal) the United States desisted from promising the Cuban exile community military support. But it continued tacitly to encourage the minority within the exile community that still

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