Dade Ain't Disney | The Nation


Dade Ain't Disney

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Tired of all the stuff about the Cuban kid who is rapidly being turned into the most pampered brat in the world? The press can be blamed, of course. As Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen writes, "We in the media are such self-important blockheads that we don't recognize our own role in screwing up Elián González's life. The fact that we're being played for suckers by a couple hundred noisy zealots also has conveniently escaped our attention."

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Robert Sherrill
Robert Sherrill, a frequent and longtime contributor to The Nation, was formerly a reporter for the Washington Post. He...

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Ah, the press can almost be forgiven; the temptations are great. Where else in America but Miami would reporters find a significant section of the population who--like those who wanted to touch the hem of Jesus' cloak--compete to touch Elián, fervently believing that his rescue from the sea showed him to be one of God's elect? And where else would you find a local professor who explains that it was quite natural--oh, just one of those lower-class Cuban things--for Elián's visiting grandmother to bite the tongue, unzip the pants and suggest measuring the penis of this 6-year-old boy as a way of showing affection?

As US cities go, Miami is, well, something special.

Why do US tourists waste money traveling to Mexico and to other Latin experiments in defective democracy when they can find the same social flavors, the same thrills, for a much cheaper air fare to Miami and adjacent points in South Florida? Heavy drug traffic, corrupt judges, corrupt police, corrupt politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, violent crime on a massive scale and greedy destruction of the natural environment--why, land's sake, Miami and its neighboring communities have everything you could ask for.

Many of the leading actors in this dark drama of life in cha-cha land have Latin names, which isn't surprising, since at least 60 percent of the residents of Dade County (that's Miami) speak something besides English, and mostly the other language is some version of Spanish. Cubans, born here or born there, are the largest "other" ethnic group, and because they dominate many aspects of Miami's culture and politics, Anglos have fled the area in great numbers. Most departed grumbling that Miami had been turned into a little Cuba, the same complaint heard from many Anglos who stayed. Asked for specifics, some gripe about such imports as the Santeria cult's belief in animal sacrifice, which sometimes results in the remains of chickens, turtles or even a headless goat lying about the landscape. Hiaasen, a native Floridian, writes, "For most of us, the killing of chickens is tolerable as a distant abstraction," when the end result is a meal. "On the other hand--call it hypocrisy, call it a cultural gap--most of us aren't too thrilled when one of our kids bursts through the door and says, 'Can I spend the night at Billy's? His mom's going to kill a rooster and drink its blood.'"

But it's doubtful that a culture collision had much to do with the split. After all, Miami was a very laid-back town, and a bit odd in various Anglo ways, long before the Cuban invasion. A little more weirdness shouldn't have bothered the old-timers. More important was the shift of political power to the newcomers, and how that power was used. With the shift came a new kind of intolerance.

Tourists who like the thrill of brushing up against a little Banana Republic bullying can find some of that in Miami, thanks to the Cubans, who have huge, rich and politically powerful organizations dedicated to forcing democracy on Cuba by suppressing it in South Florida--or at least suppressing the part of democracy having to do with free speech. In Miami, anyone who publicly advocates sending humanitarian aid to Cuba or easing relations with Fidel Castro had better watch out. Bombs have been thrown. Arson has been committed. A museum was forced to close after it insisted on showing art imported from Cuba.

Miami is also a good place to witness one of the little dramas that underscore the fact that the influence of Cuban émigré votes and money has shaped our immigration policies in grossly unfair ways. For instance, when a Haitian farmworker steps out of his leaky boat and walks ashore in Florida to look for some cheesy stoop-labor job, he is called an "economic refugee" and either imprisoned or sent back to Haiti. When a Cuban steps off a raft and walks ashore, he is greeted as a "political refugee" and embraced by our government--and if he is a baseball player with a 92-mph fastball, he is sent on his ballyhooed way to sign a multimillion-dollar contract with the Yankees.

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