Author: Noah Montague
By, Noah Montague, LAWG Intern 11/5/2013
The population of people of Cuban heritage living in the United States continues to grow. Although Cubans have lived in the United States en masse since the 1950s, the most recent generation of Cuban Americans living in the United States looks quite different – and so do their ideas about U.S.-Cuba relations.
While the original Cuban exiles of the 1950’s left Cuba due to their political opposition to the new government, recent immigrants have left Cuba for different reasons. Although Cubans who have immigrated to the United States in the 21st century may not agree with the politics of the Cuban government, the majority of them have come to the United States for better economic opportunities rather than to escape the island as “refugees,” which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services classifies as “generally people outside of their country who are unable or unwilling to return home because they face serious harm.”
In addition to the growing number of primarily economic migrants who have changed the face of Cuban Americans, children of migrants from previous generations are also reinventing the idea of what it means to be Cuban American. With little personal connection to the island other than the stories from their parents and grandparents, second and third generation Cubans are forming their own thoughts on Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations. Many of these new generations of Cuban Americans favor a renewed relationship with Cuba through greater freedom of trade, diplomacy, and especially travel, in hopes that they will have a better understanding and connections with their Cuban heritage.
As a result of this changing tide in demographics, thoughts of Cuban Americans on relations between the United States and Cuba have also changed, especially in the areas of trade, travel, and dialogue between the U.S. and Cuban governments. In 2011 a poll was taken by researchers at Florida International University assessing U.S. relations with Cuba as viewed by Cuban Americans living in Miami-Dade County. In trade, travel, and dialogue, the poll showed that the majority of Cuban Americans are in favor of greater U.S. relations with Cuba. In regards to travel, 57 percent favor lifting all restrictions on travel to Cuba, with an even greater number of 60 percent opposing any restrictions on family travel. When it comes to dialogue with Cuba, 57 percent support re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, and a whopping 70 percent support engagement via diplomacy. Finally, while only 39 percent claim that they are ready to expand trade and investment in Cuba, 80 percent believe that the embargo “has not worked very well” or “not worked at all” – a statistic that clearly indicates the disdain among the overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans for the embargo.
While an ideal relationship between the United States and Cuba is still a long way away, the change in both the demographics and opinions of Cuban Americans in Miami-Dade county, southern Florida and across the United States is a positive sign for change.