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Socialist Review, March 1994

Kelly MacDermott


Spanish Harlem

From Socialist Review, No. 173, March 1994.
Copyright © Socialist Review.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Review Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

City on the Edge: the Transformation of Miami
Alejandro Portes and Alex Stepick
California Press £?

For Damon Runyon Miami was a city that ‘hot shots’ went to in winter to lose their ‘potatoes’ on the crap tables or racetrack. Miami was a typical southern city of veterans and retirees, its sole activity the exploitation of tourism in the sunny winters.

The Cuban Revolution of December 1958 and the influx of Cubans fleeing Castro changed it into ‘the most internationalised American city’.

This book tells the story of that change, how successive groups of immigrants – from Cuba, Haiti, Cuba again and Nicaragua – arrived in Miami and how their reception and resettlement were influenced by the policies of the US government.

The anti-Castro refugees arriving at the height of the Cold War, seen as victims of Communism, ‘received one of the most generous benefit packages ever offered to arriving foreigners.’ In contrast working-class Nicaraguans attempting to flee the US-sponsored Contra war were told, Nicaraguans belong in Nicaragua. Those who did manage to get to Miami were encouraged to return and battle against the Sandinistas.

City on the Edge records how these groups of refugees were met with hostility and racism by the established Anglo community, and suspicion by blacks worried about competition for jobs and housing.

The authors have written an informative book full of quotes which bring it alive, but they concentrate too much on how different Miami is from other US cities.

They report glowingly on the success of the Cubans once they enter the political scene and they clearly see that as the way forward for the black population of Miami, but they conclude that ‘Blacks still depend on outside initiatives to determine the future of their community.’

They see a Miami defined by its racial division along ethnic lines, and fail to see the more fundamental division of class, although the evidence is easily found in this book.

Far from being ‘dependent on outside initiatives’, black people have won improvements for themselves. In 1980 riots were sparked by the acquittal of four white policemen of the murder of a black insurance agent, Arthur McDuffie. A decade or so later a similar acquittal sparked the Los Angeles riots.

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