Perhaps nowhere is the desperation to come and live in America felt more than in the state of Florida.
Two weeks ago, a boatload of more than 200 Haitian asylum seekers who ran aground off Virginia Key, Fla., were summarily returned home. Yet, eight Cubans who arrived in Florida's Key West International Airport via a crop duster on Monday will reportedly be released soon to family members in Florida.
While the preferential treatment of Cuban asylum seekers remains controversial, Cuban immigrants and refugees are fully integrated into every level of society in Miami, where they make up 30 percent of the population. The family of Good Morning America's Entertainment Correspondent Alex Cambert is part of that statistic.
"My father came from Cuba for what he thought was a temporary stay, and is still hoping for the demise of [Cuban President Fidel] Castro," Cambert said. "I'm born here and know that my parents' struggle gave me the freedom to choose, even if that means rejecting the very things my parents adhere to."
Cambert, a second-generation Cuban-American, is one of the so-called "new Cubans."
Perhaps unlike the old Cubans, the new generation embraces Miami's frenetic nightlife. At 2 a.m. on a recent Friday morning, Cambert headed to a weekly nightclub event/sociological experiment known as "Fuacata." As Cambert observed, it wasn't his father's Little Havana.
"Exactly," said one woman at the event.
Like Miami itself, Fuacata is impossible to define without using some Spanish. The word is actually Cuban slang and means something like "wham," yet the Cuban-inspired party is somehow entirely American.
Fusion is what the new generation of Cuban-Americans is all about.
"They are successful, they are pursuing their careers," said Alejandro Portes, author of Miami City on the Edge. "And they are less interested in politics," he said.
Leaving It All Behind
The first wave of immigrants never planned for their children to be Americans. They fled the regime of Castro, certain the dictator would be overthown quickly. They left everything behind, except their resolve.
"Many lost their property, lost their capital, but they had their connections," Portes said. "They had their education. And with that, many were able to restart their lives — and do quite well."
In 1980, the Cuban Government allowed an estimated 130,000 Cubans to illegally depart for the United States from the port of Mariel, in an incident that became known as the "Mariel boatlift." But Castro also demanded that the Miami-bound vessels take on Cuba's unwanted, with 10 percent of the new arrivals being criminals and the mentally ill.
"But 10 percent of 130,000 is 13,000," Portes said. "So that's a significant number. And those who lived in Miami at that time remembered that the streets were turned into sort of a war zone."
The backlash against Mariel came swiftly, with Dade County passing an "English only" referendum, prohibiting any voluntary expenditure "for the purpose of utilizing any language other than English." (The measure was repealed in 1993.)
After the initial rush of new residents, crime abated, and Cuban refugees achieved the highest levels of employment and the lowest reliance on public assistance of any immigrant group in the state. What persists from the divided Miami of the 1980s is a fierce Cuban-American lobby intent on crushing Castro.