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Political Immigration as Addressed in City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 27th, 2019

Synopsis

City on the Edge: The transformation of Miami authored by Alejandro Portes and Alex Stepick sets out to study the trends of urban settlement in Miami, and to review the role played by Cuban immigrants in stimulating economic, social and political change in the region. The two authors study-other than the widely accepted trends in urban settlements- the effects of political immigration, and how these particular immigrants differ from other immigrants.

How the Cubans Came to be

Cubans have been present in the United States as a minority group for over a century. The first major immigration occurred in the 1880s because of Cuba’s production of Cigars. The next major wave of immigrants came into America between 1959 and 1962 during Fidel Castro’s communist regime. They were referred to as the ‘Golden exiles’ because they were mostly professionals and educated people who wanted to get away from Castro’s oppressive regime (Portes & stepick 103).

The next major wave of immigrants from Cuba came into the country in 1980 during the Mariel boatlifts. This was after some Cubans sought refuge at the Hungarian embassy; president Castro’s reaction was to admonish whoever wanted to leave to go ahead and do so.

These immigrants did not receive such a warm welcome. It was acknowledged that there were those with criminal backgrounds amongst them. The number of immigrants in these group totaled two hundred and fifty thousand and over eighty per cent of them settled in Dade County, Miami (Portes & stepick 58).

A Paradigm Shift

Though Cubans, blacks and the majority whites had been present in Miami for a long time, it was in 1980 that the scene really began to change in Miami. There was a confluence of factors that seemed to happen at the same time, such as the Mariel boatlifts that brought in the third wave of Cuban asylum seekers, and the protest by the black community of the gunning down of one of their own by police officers (Portes & stepick 27).

The campaigns by the whites to reinforce against the Mariel boatlift instead of intimidating the Cubans actually did the opposite; the Cubans rose up to take part more actively in local politics, so that their voice could be heard and their interests could be represented (Portes & stepick 30).

A good indicator of the collapse of white dominance in the area as pointed out by Portes and Stepick was the change in stance of the ‘Miami Herald’, a publication that had previously been strongly against the immigration of Cubans. After the anglo-protest of 1980, and the subsequent clearing out of this group, the Cubans attacked the publication as being partisan (Portes & stepick 23).

Implications of City on the Edge

The demographic changes witnessed in Miami over the past five decades have presented a unique case where the minority eventually becomes a majority. while the norm for scholars looking into the constitution and evolution of urban areas is to focus on how minority groups co-exist amidst an overwhelming majority, Miami is a unique case in that, within this metropolitan setting, the Latinos are a majority in a mix of diverse minorities.

What makes for an even more interesting investigation is the fact that Cubans as a minority do not fall into the traditional category of a marginalized and disadvantaged minority. The Cubans have even been referred to as the ‘model’ minority. They are economically successful, educated and wield heavy influence, given their numbers, in the political sphere (Portes & stepick 138).

Another reason why Miami is unique that unlike in typical situations where there is a minority and a majority, there has been no real assimilation into the majority. In Miami, there are three distinct minorities who have their very distinct ‘mainstream, hierarchy, social values, and “definition of the situation” (Portes & stepick 9).

Of these three minorities, none has really made an effort to meld into the mainstream majority, but rather, fight to maintain their cultural identity as the Cubans do, or have been absorbed into other minority, either the Cuban or Black mainstream (Nijman 526).

The argument presented by Portes and Stepick (134) is that the Cuban settlement should not be treated simply as a minority group as such, but rather as more of an autonomous settlement. The authors point out that unlike with minority groups, the Cubans in Miami-Dade county have evolved their own economic and political strong hold. They wield great influence for such a small group.

Another argument the two authors present is that, unlike minority groups that strive to blend in with the larger culture, or at least underplay their ethnicity so as to fit in, the Cubans have made very little effort to integrate into American society, so much so that half a century later their mother tongue is one of the two languages spoken in Miami. As one of the respondents said in an interview conducted by the authors, you cannot get a job in Miami if you do not speak Spanish (Portes & stepick 143).

‘City on the Edge’ addresses a number of issues that have been raised in this course, more so those pertaining to urban sociology, ethnicity and immigration. One of these issues is on ‘community power’. It is accepted as being the norm that where majority and minority groups are concerned within the urban setting, it is the elite majority who are tasked with the responsibility of running the show; they hold the political positions that influence policymaking and the allocation of other such resources (Nijman 527).

The book illustrates that the precepts that have been used to define community power do not apply to Miami; the Cubans came in and took over. The advantage that the Cubans have as compared to other minorities like the blacks who had been there before them (Portes & stepick 41), was that they had a higher level of education and were professionals.

This was especially true of the first set of immigrants who came into the country between 1956 and 1962. Another factor that worked in their favor were the favorable government policies that made it easier for those of Cuban descent to acquire US visas (Nijman 563).

City on the Edge is accredited as a very sound book on the study of urban sociology as well as the questions of immigration; it does have its shortcomings. One of the weaknesses of the book is its assertion of the cohesiveness of the Cuban community.

The case is presented that Cubans in Miami have this solidarity without concrete supporting evidence. Though Cubans do identify with each other, it is not necessary that this should be exclusively so. Cubans have suffered discrimination less than other minority groups so have little reason for reactive solidarity.

Another shortfall of the book is stating that Miami can be a model city of the future from which other cities can learn about how minorities can leave together. However, Miami does have its shortcomings. The Cubans who have made it are predominantly white, and do not identify with their black counterparts. In addition, blacks are still marginalized and do not figure into Miami’s economic success (Nijman 528).

Conclusion

The trends in urban settlements, especially the interplay between minority and majority is conducted by the study of a few specifics, which are then used to determine the role played by the different groups within that urban setting. The case of the minority groups in Miami make for an interesting study because they do not conform to the accepted norms, where the minority groups are expected to mainstream, and fit into the cultural structure of the majority.

With the immigrants in Miami, the reverse was almost true; it was because of the Cubans that Miami experienced propelled economic growth. It was the white population who finally had to leave, with the minority taking over the cultural, social, political and economic dominance of the area.

Works Cited

Nijman, Jan. “Reviewed work: City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami.” By Alejandro Portes and Alex Stepick. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84.3 (1994): 526-528. Web.

Portes Alejandro and Alex Stepick. City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami. California: University of California Press, 1994. Print

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IvyPanda. "Political Immigration as Addressed in City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami." November 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/political-immigration-as-addressed-in-city-on-the-edge-the-transformation-of-miami/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Political Immigration as Addressed in City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami." November 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/political-immigration-as-addressed-in-city-on-the-edge-the-transformation-of-miami/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Political Immigration as Addressed in City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami'. 27 November.

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