In 1959, Frank Sinatra starred in immigrant filmmaker Frank Capra’s last movie, Hole in the Head. Featuring the Academy Award-winning song “High Hopes,” it was about a widower father (Sinatra) struggling with a mortgaged hotel on Miami Beach. Miami was a year-round, warm and sunny resort for Northeasterners. Culturally, it was a suburb of New York or Philadelphia. Everything in Miami revolved around the tourist season. Miami—the Winter Borscht Belt.
Ten years later, Alan Arkin starred in Poppi, another period piece. Arkin is a widower with two sons. They are Puerto Ricans living in a ratty neighborhood in New York City. Arkin sees the benefits Cuban refugees get and plots to float his boys in a boat so the Coast Guard will pick them up as Cubans. The boys will then enjoy the good life.
Arkin goes into a downtown Miami tavern at night, walks along the pier, has slapstick escapades in a hospital. The bartenders, boatmen, nurses, hospital orderlies, doctors all speak English! When the sons need to speak to the doctors, or government officials, or anybody at the hospital, an interpreter must be summoned. The boys can speak English, but to get benefits they must fake being Cubans by speaking only Spanish. The hospital has no one, save the interpreter, who speaks Spanish. In 1969, English was the language of most Miamians.
The capstone was the 1993 film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Macaulay Culkin gets separated from his dad at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. The family goes to Miami, to the same resort hotel where his uncle and aunt had their honeymoon 20 years ago. The hotel is decrepit. Lights are burned out. The weather is awful. As the family tracks down the missing Culkin, the children watch Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life—in Spanish—on the hotel TV. From Capra’s Hole in the Head through Poppi to the Home Alone 2 cameo of Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life in Spanish. A film triptych of Miami.
Related to this is the electoral transformation that has occurred in Miami. In 1993, thanks to a federal judge’s reading of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA), the office of mayor ceased to exist in Dade County. Countywide commissioners were also axed. The VRA requires that electoral districts be drawn where minorities are in the majority. The question for the judge was whether countywide elections unfairly diluted minorities’ votes.
In Miami, Cubans are the majority (53 percent). Hispanics nationally are a minority. For purposes of electoral counting, Hispanic means born outside the United States in a Spanish-speaking country. If both of your parents are from Cuba, but you were born here, you’re a gringo. Here “non-Hispanic whites” is the euphemism for white Americans.
In 1992, Dade citizens voted on single-member districts and a pay raise from $5,000 to $50,000 for county commissioners. The voters rejected the measure, but the judge ignored the vote, dissolved all countywide voting for the county commission, including the Office of Mayor, and ordered special elections.
The first act of the new order was to raise gasoline taxes and abolish the voter-approved English-only ordinance. The ordinance, passed “in fear” in 1980 by voter referendum, required that no taxpayer funds be used for promulgating county government information in any language but English. A compromise was struck for information on emergencies.
The new Establishment explained that the ordinance was passed back then because of fear and ethnic animosity. The Mariel boatlift began April 1980. In just three months, 114,000 Cuban refugees arrived in Miami. Castro used the boatlift for the social engineering of both Cuba and Miami, emptying his prisons not of political prisoners but of criminals and mental patients. Most Marielitos were neither criminals nor insane, just poor Cubans who saw a fast way out of the “workers’ paradise” into the land of the big PX. But if only one out of ten was a bad apple, that gave Miami, in 90 days, 11,400 new bad apples with which to cope.
Today there is no longer any ethnic or racial animosity or fear in Miami. Jorge Mas Canosa, of the Cuban-American National Foundation, was interviewed by a Spanish magazine. Question: After Fidel falls, won’t Americans take back Cuba? Mas Canosa’s reply: “Bulls—t! The Americans can’t take back Miami!” Mas Canosa says he was quoted out of context.
Northeast Dade condominium voters, largely Jewish retirees who vote a straight Democratic ticket, have been marginalized overnight. The “condo vote,” once a major force, is finished. In the spring of 1993, the county commission included one black and two Hispanics. Six months later, there are two “non-Hispanic whites” out of 13 commissioners. “Non-Hispanic white” enclaves in unincorporated Dade are planning to incorporate into cities. No, there is no ethnic or racial animosity animating politics in Dade anymore.
Suit was filed against the school board for single-member districts. The only dispute is about when the single-member districts will be implemented. Of the students in Dade public schools, 54 percent Hispanic, 30 percent black, and 16 percent non-Hispanic white. Miami’s white population, both American and Hispanic, is leaving for neighboring Broward County as many homeowners did upon receiving their insurance checks after Hurricane Andrew. Hispanics who want to be American get out of Dade, while Hispanics who like living in a Spanish-speaking enclave stay put. It is a self-selecting process that widens the gulf between Miami and the rest of Florida.
In the 1980’s, a popular bumper sticker in Miami read, “Will the last American leaving Miami please take down the flag.” The counter sticker was, “The flag is staying and we’re not leaving.” Those stickers are gone. The folks on both sides of the issue have left. Miami’s most popular bumper sticker today is Hermanos la rescate (“Brothers to the Rescue”), which is the name of a group of Cuban pilots who fly the Florida straits looking for rafters from Cuba.
Late last summer, a “slow motion Mariel” began. This created a wave of “nonfear and nonanimosity” in Miami. With the Haitian refugee influx, Miamians are now in a virtual reality of nonfear and nonanimosity, and Clinton’s firm hand-on-the-tiller foreign policy toward Cuba and Haiti merely worsened ethnic and racial hatreds. Many South Floridians favored intervention in Haiti just to end Haitian migration. Broward County today resembles pre-1989 West Bedin: conscious of its differences and desiring to maintain them. The “non-Hispanic white” enclaves of Dade are determined to become separate cities.
The Ku Klux Klan has won in Miami. Imagine that you hate foreigners but are far removed from the levers of power. You cannot stop the waves of immigrants from Third World countries. What is to be done? Keep the immigrants from leaving Dade! How? Encourage multiculturalism. With local government trilingual, one incentive to master English is gone. How can Jose leave his Spanish or Creole enclave until and unless he speaks English? In Florida, Miami is loathed. Nobody wants his town to resemble Dade in any way, shape, or form. In Dade, political and cultural liberalism are in the service of the Klan.