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The Cubans

'Adam Smith is alive and well in the US. But he is Miami now and speaks Spanish.' This is how Antonio Jorge, a Cuban-born economics professor at Florida International University, summed up the success story of the Cuban component of the growing Hispanic community in the United States. This city of Miami, of course, is where most Cubans are concentrated.Their economic success here is spread for all to see, in the downtown area and beyond. And what Professor Jorge meant by his reference to Adam Smith, the 18th-century Scottish economist, was that the Cubans in Miami have triumphed and prospered economically in the short period of two decades by their commitment to Smith's basic laissez-faire principle that economic reward is directly related to hard work. The Hispanic population of Dade County (by and large, Greater Miami) is about half a million -- or about 35 percent of the county's total population. Of this half-million, about 400,000 are Cuban. They have turned Miami into a partly Spanish-speaking city -- and not only the initial area of heavy Cuban concentration called 'Little Havana.' Business after business in downtown Miami is Cuban-owned and the signs are in Spanish. In two stores on a main shopping street into which this writer went to make purchases, he was asked in Spanish what he wanted.

What makes this Hispanic concentration in Miami so different from, say, the Mexican or Puerto Rican barrios of Los Angeles or New York is that there are no Cuban slums.

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Those in the Cuban exodus to the US that began in the 1960s have been largely middle-class and well-educated. Unlike Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans, they were more politically than economically motivated in coming here. There first thought was to escape the Marxism and political repression of the Castro regime in their homeland.

Professor Jorge said that the Cubans brought back into the United States what the US had once exported to them: a firm commitment to the free-enterprise system. Their accomplishments in Miami show that they know how to make it work.

Ivan Castro, a member of the editorial staff of El Miami Herald, the Spanish-language supplement to the daily Miami Herald, said these accomplishments could be broadly summarized thus:

* Being the catalyst in transforming Miami into a thriving city and metropolis, from its earlier role as little more than a winter vacation town.

* The stabilization of Miami into a year-round hive of activity. Before the arrival of the Cubans 20 years ago, Miami's economy had been seasonal, going into top gear for vacationers from the Northeast only in the winter and lapsing into the doldrums during the heat of the summer.

Professor Jorge added to this the Cuban role in turning Miami into a true bridge between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres in the Americas. Once, both Atlanta and New Orleans aspired to this role. But, he said, Miami won out because the Cuban presence not only made the city bilingual but was also of sufficient caliber to provide Hispanics at many to the key levels where visiting Latin American businessmen needed their contacts.

About 90 multinational companies have now opened their headquarters for Latin America in Miami. Fifteen foreign banks have opened branches in the city, and another 15 local banks operate under the Edge Act, giving them facilities similar to those offered by foreign banks. Of the more than threescore commercial banks in the city, more than a dozen are Cuban-American-controlled. Since the Cubans came, they have started more than 8,000 businesses, from big, successful construction companies and light industrial operations to boutiques.

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As for the Latin American connection, better than 30 percent of all US exports to Latin America now go out from the Miami customs area. Between 30 and 40 percent of Miami's total yearly revenue from tourists now comes from foreigners, and most of these are Latin Americans. The latter coming to Miami are increasing in numbers by 15 percent a year. You see them checking out at Miami's best hotels with packing cases of newly bought electronic and stereo equipment being loaded on the bellmen's dollies alongside their suitcases. And for Latin Americans, the hot and humid summers in Miami are not the deterrent they are for New Yorkers or Bostonians. They come here all year around. Add to this boosting of the Miami economy the Latin American money being invested in real estate in Dade County -- running at over $1 billion a year, according to Professor Jorge.

Admittedly the atmosphere and environment are different in the small but heavy concentration of Cubans far to the north in the grim industrial of Union City, N.J., at the Newark end of the Holland Tunnel from Manhattan. There grime , incipient decay, and economic frustration are a part of everyday living.So perhaps it is no coincidence that depressing Union City, not bustling Miami, is the base of the terrorist anti-Castro group that calls itself Omega 7.

The Cuban-American success story in Miami also has its sadder corners -- quite apart from the community's tangential involvement in the alarming drug traffic between North and South America centered on this area. These sadder corners, according to the Rev. Mario Vizcaino, head of the Roman Catholic Church's pastoral office for Hispanics in the Southeast, are rarely talked about by Cuban-Americans, because of what he called "a denial mechanism due to international politics." By that he meant the conspiracy of silence intended to deny the Castro regime in Cuba and ammunition for a propaganda campaign claiming that the Cuban exiles in Florida have not found Utopia or paradise after all.

In these sadder corners are the elderly at one end of the spectrum and the young at the other. The elderly are the ones who have not learned English for one reason or another and who, with advancing years, find loneliness and housing increasingly pressing problems. The young, affected by the need for both parents on their arrival here to work to establish an economic base, constitute an ever-growing percentage of Miami's high-school dropouts. Their dropout rate is higher than that for blacks.

Fr. Vizcaino's responsibilities make him particularly sensitive to the effect of the US environment on the Cuban family. Like the Chicanos, virtually all Cubans in the US are Catholic. But they are a more secularized community than the Chicanos. Professor Jorge said they made less use of the Roman Catholic Church as "an integrating agency into the US mainstream" than do the Chicanos. To an outsider, it seems that from the outset the Cubans have been much surer about their ability to establish a niche for themselves here by their own efforts than have been either Mexican-Americans or Puerto Ricans. Fr. Vizcaino, himself Cuban-born, said: "We came with a knife in our teeth." That is the way Cubans swim from their beaches at home, forearmed to deal with sharks. what Fr. Vizcaino meant was the Cubans arrived in the United States ready to fight for their lives by their own efforts, rather than accept charity or handouts.

Certainly there is an assertive buoyancy about the Cubans, and it is obvious here, Mr. Castro, the journalist, said that Miami today is more Cuban than Cuba itself. This was because the Marxist regime on the island has forced Cubans to speak softly or remain silent -- out of fear.But in Miami, he said, they could be themselves, without inhibition, apart from the occasional disapproving look from an Anglo who objected to the sound of Spanish.

Marcelino Miyares, a successful Chicago businessman who was a prisoner in Havana after the Bay of Pigs invasion, said that Cubans' self-assurance stemmed partly from the paradoxical combination of their island homeland's having remained under European rule a century longer than most other Latin American countries and of its having been so close geographically to the US and so open to US influences. Without losing their basic Hispanic culture, they adopted US economic theories and baseball as the national game, long before Fidel Castro. Yet when Castro came, according to Mr. Miyares, the 19th-century European influence probably made some segments of Cuban society more receptive to European-conceived Marxism than they would otherwise heritage also played a part in facilitating Cuba's present controversial role as a Soviet partner or surrogate in Africa and elsewhere.

Cuba's earlier African connection is more apparent in the Afro-Cuban beat of the Cuban music heard in Miami than the physical features of the Cubans for whom the city is now home. The overall population of Cubans is roughly 80 percent white and 20 percent black. (For Puerto Ricans, incidentally, the proportions are roughly the other way around: 80 percent black and 20 percent white.) Among Cuban-Americans, however, the incidence of black faces is much less than the 1 in 5 into which those percentages translate. This is because the main thrust of the Cuban exodus to the US has been middle and upper class, the thus predominantly white. A group of Cubans who hijacked a barge to Florida a few weeks ago did nevertheless contain several blacks.

The whole relationship between Hispanics and American blacks is a sensitive one. It is for the most part mutual aloofness, although they sometimes come together at the top in pursuit of common interests as the two biggest minorities in the US. The Hispanic vote in Los Angeles helped Tom Bradley, a black, win the mayoralty of that city. But the Hispanics there (almost all of them Mexican-American) are now "holding Mr. Bradley's feet to the fire" -- to quote an East Los Angeles community worker, Lydia Lopez -- to get the neighborhood improvements they want. In Houston, the new community organization that Ernesto Cortes is helping put together is aiming from the start to include not only Hispanics, but also blacks and whites.

Yet one runs repeatedly into the undercurrent of aloofness. Blacks for their part do not want to be edged out of the advantages won during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. Hispanics, for their part, are inclined to regard blacks at best as Anglos and at worst as less cultured than themselves.

Asked if the Afro beat in Cuban (and Puerto Rican) music did not offer a bridge to American blacks, Mr. Castro said "no." His explanation was that the American blacks' slavemasters had "deprived blacks of their drums from the start." By the time the blacks were able to get back to musicmaking, their music and their rhythms reflected the melancholy and anguish of slavedom. In marked contrast, Mr. Castro said, "our Hispanic Afro-Cuban beat has been uninterruptedly one of celebration." Young Cubans in miami listen to current American "pop" music, but they prefer "salsa" -- ast Hispanic "pop" music. Mr. Castro said that he was recently at a family engagement party. The young people were in blue jeans. They were listening to American "pop" recordings. then, he said, someone put on a Santana album. (This is Afro-Cuban music played by a San Francisco-based group.) "Then, and not till then," Mr. Castro said, "did the young people become themselves: They started dancing."

Music is not the only field where there are traces of the Cubans' earlier African connection. Religion is the other. Overwhelmingly Catholic in name and profession, Cubans include among themselves some -- particularly at the more modest levels of their society -- who practice what is called "Santeria." Other Hispanics from the Caribbean, notably Puerto Ricans and even more so Dominicans, are also devotees of Santeria. Outwardly a form of primitive Chrisitianity, Santeria is in fact a mask for the survival of primitive African folk religion. Statues of Jesus and Mary are consciously used as symbols for African deities.

The statues are on sale in Miami -- and in other urban centers in the US where Hispanics live -- in shops known as "botanicas," which might roughly be rendered "herbal stores." These shops do sell herbs and other ingredients for potions. On Park Avenue -- of all places -- in New York City, there is a whole block of "botanicas." But it is on Park Avenue north of the great divide at 96th Street which separates midtown well-being to the south from East Harlem, New York's original Puerto Rican barrio.

Among the hardworking Catholic clergy in the barrios, a outsider senses a disapproving tolerance of Santeria. (One said it took European Christian communities more than three centuries to achieve a purer Christianity purged of paganism. And even today, he added, European Christians cling to Christmas trees and Easter Eggs.) This tolerance is almost certainly related to the clergy's perception that the future of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States is directly related to the Hispanic community's continued growth in numbers and Catholicism. Chicago businessman Miyares made the point that 30 percent of the Roman Catholics in the US are Hispanics. In Los Angeles, the Rev. Pedro Villaroya said 65 percent of the Catholics in the archdiocese are Hispanics. This leads some Hispanic Catholics to comment with disappointment on there being no cardinal in the US of Hispanic origin, and there being only about 10 Hispanics among the country's 260 or so Catholic bishops.

Mario Paredes, a pastoral worker in New York, said the Catholic Church in the US has sometimes "assimilated the racism and prejudice of US societ as a whole." But, he said, the church has done a 180-degree turn since the 1960s, having perceived "the fidelity of the Hispanic community to the Catholic faith." Fr. Villaroya said many non-Hispanic priests insisted until recently that to be a good Catholic, one had to be a good American patriot and speak English. Now, he added, non-Hispanic priests "have seen the light" and understand that Hispanics have something of their own to offer to American society. This writer found most Hispanics, laymen and clergy alike, wanting to preserve in the US the cultural or religious values they all felt were peculiar to them. They did not like the word "melting pot" as applied to the US, and they preferred "integration" to "assimilation" to describe the process of establishing themselves as part of American society.

That reflects the Vatican's approach. The Voice, a Catholic weekly published in Miami, quoted the Vatican radio as saying editorially in 1977 "that the 'melting-pot' theory is contrary to papal teaching on the rights of immigrants." The radio "lamented that the melting-pot theory has been and still is prevalent unfortunately in many nations, even among Catholics holding positions of high responsibility."

Such relatively small groups as, say, the Amish or Hasidic Jews have indeed managed to isolate themselves within the US from the melting-pot process. But whether one likes the word or not, whether it is the correct definition or not, the United States has always succeeded in imparting what might be called the American ideal or belief in the American dream to virtually all who have sought to establish a home and put down roots here. Admittedly the Hispanics constitute a special case. Yet it remains to be seen whether their admission to full citizenship and full acceptance in this republic will in fact be on terms and in conditions much different from those experienced by the immigrants who preceded them a century and more ago.

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