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Lohmeier, C (2014)
Cuban Americans and Miami Media. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.
Preface & Introduction (pp. 1-22)
The idea for this project grew out of my curiosity of what it means to live in exile.
How does having to leave one’s home for whatever reason impact on feelings of belonging
and community? How can we feel at home and create a home when everything around us has
changed? What does going into exile mean for our social contacts, our relations to others and
the world around us? In essence, these were the questions that fascinated me as an aspiring
PhD student. For me, these issues are still as intriguing today as they were when I first started
contemplating my dissertation topic in 2005.
No doubt this project also bears another fascination: Cuba – Caribbean culture, spicy
food, cigars, rum and intoxicating rhythms. These were the associations on most people’s
mind when they heard about my research interest. On a second thought there is the equally
captivating, if perhaps a bit less colorful, topic of the bilateral relationship between Cuba and
the United States. But even recent Cuban history and relations to its big Northern neighbor,
the United States, is packed with exotic and exciting tidbits. Think poisoned cigars and CIA
agents in linen suits. These are the type of stories that we find featured in the media on a
regularly basis. A recent example was provided by the New Yorker with a longish essay on
William Alexander Morgan, “The Yankee Commandante” (Grann 2012). It seems that Cuba,
despite its partly violent history that tore so many families apart and some would argue even
drew a line of separation across an entire nation, nevertheless continues to ignite wild, yet
forgiving fantasies on rebels and rum. Pins, t-shirts and hats with the iconic picture of Ernesto
Ché Guevara, the Argentinian doctor who became one of the most well-known figures of the
Cuban revolution, are popular around the world. And even though we might questions
whether Ché for those wearing his image, is more of a pop icon than a political hero, this
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differentiation brings little consolation for those whose lives had been negatively affected by
the Cuban revolution.
The imagination triggered by the pearl of the Caribbean is mirrored to some extent by
people’s ideas of the exile community. Miami and the Cuban-Americans based in the city
have received a lot attention over the past five decades; some of it good, some of it bad and a
lot of it rather one-dimensional. With a strong right-wing presence, the shades of grey within
the Cuban-American community often get lost. Hopefully, this book will be helpful in
painting a more nuanced picture of the Cuban-American community.
The over-riding theme this book addresses is the impact and significance of media for
an exile community; this encompasses everything between the interaction of individual media
outlets and members of the Cuban-American community and others based in Miami and the
media’s potential to afford transnational encounters. Even from a distance it was easy to
gauge that the Cuban-American community in Miami and South Florida would provide an
excellent case study for such a research project. It is a vibrant community with a well-
established relationship to a diverse media landscape in Miami. And despite the political
gridlock, there is a lively exchange on various levels between the island and the exile. On a
wider scale, this publication makes a contribution to the academic debate on diasporas and
media, as well as highlighting the significance of media in cultural encounters, transnational
processes and issues of home and belonging.
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You wanna do research on the Cuban exile? – Well, you’ve come to the right place.
This book brings together two main fields of interests; that of migration and that of
communication. Its primary aim is to examine and analyze the communicative spaces and
functions of the media for a diasporic community. More specifically, this work focuses on the
experience of the Cuban-American community based in Miami, Florida. It investigates the
evolution and purpose of different Miami-based media, in particular the press, radio,
television and the internet, in relation to incoming migrants from Cuba and other countries. It
explores these changes in the context of established communities and in relation to changing
demographics in Miami. It focuses on generational differences in media use and the shifting
allegiances and power structure within the Cuban-American community. The findings
presented in the following chapters point towards the complexity of the Cuban-American
community, towards the power struggles between different segments of the community and
towards generational shifts regarding media use as well as to a dynamic relationship between
the Cuban exile and Cubans based on the island.
It would go beyond the scope of this monograph to offer a complete analysis of all
Spanish- and English-language media to be found in Miami and South Florida. Instead, this
book examines specific media, developments and events that can be viewed as insightful and
were signaled in the field as occupying a central position in the communication patterns of the
Cuban-American community in Miami. The significance of transnational communication and
transnational media shared with other Cuban-American communities based elsewhere, and
indeed Cubans living in Cuba, is alluded to frequently. In addition to continuous desk
research, the bulk of data was gathered during field work which was carried out in Miami in
2006, 2007 and 2008. This included over 40 in-depth interviews with journalists and selected
members of the Cuban-American and the Hispanic community.
Conversation with the author, June 2006
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Figures of the US Census Bureau (2006) indicate that 44.3 million Hispanics are now
living in United States, 14.8% of the total population. Between 2000 and 2006, the growth
rate of the Hispanic population was 24.3% in contrast to the total U.S. population’s growth
rate of 6.1 %. It is to no surprise then that “immigration” is one of the buzz words of everyday
life in the United States today. Similarly, European countries can be observed in an ongoing
struggle regarding policies towards incoming migrants with discourses ranging from threats of
“the other” and fears of terrorism and cultural clashes à la Samuel Huntington to economic
arguments about migrants allowing for the continuing functioning of pension systems.
Over the past decades, topics such as integration, transnational communication,
minority media and generational shifts in relation to media use and cultural change have thus
found a secure place in academic as well as public (Western) discourses. This work can be
situated within these themes. It contributes a thorough analysis of the functions played by the
media for the Cuban-American and other communities based in Miami in terms of identity
negotiation and construction. It demonstrates how certain media are used for political
purposes by specific segments of the community and how individuals and groups with
different age and migration backgrounds have reacted to and influenced existing structures.
Moreover, outcomes of this investigation show that later migrants purposefully employed
other media than earlier arrivals to move away from dominant narratives. The choice of
language has a significant role to play here too. The findings demonstrate that some media
institutions were extremely reluctant to take certain groups and viewpoints into account.
Furthermore, some migration waves had a much greater influence on the development of
Miami’s media scene than others. Finally, the cool casualness of everyday life in Miami
perhaps suggests that hybrid identities and transnational belongings can imply a greater
problem for theorists than for the individuals in question.
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Following these themes and interests, there were three main questions which guided
the development of this study and the writing process of this book:
1. What role do media have for negotiations of identity and community, notions of exile and
politically contested issues among a group of migrants?
2. How have the media in Miami developed and changed through the arrival of Cuban
3. What differences can be observed between distinct media, i.e. the press, radio, television
and the internet?
Historical background and waves of migration
The histories of Cuba and the United States are tightly knit. Having achieved
separation from the Spanish empire in December 1898, it was the United States who took
over the reins on the island.
Although nominally independent at the beginning of the 20th
century, historians agree that Cuba was under the aegis of Washington D. C. when it came to
political decision-making processes (Benjamin 1990, Pérez Jr. 2009).
But this uneven
relationship experienced a radical U-turn after 1959. Having forced the previous government
under Fulgencio Batista out of power, Fidel Castro and his bearded warriors took to the streets
of Havana accompanied by the cheers of the masses. Many of them, some close allies and
friends during the revolution and the time spent in the woods of El Oriente Province, would
eventually end up in Miami as his fiercest enemies. Some scholars assert that it was Fidel’s
younger brother, Raúl Castro, who made the initial move towards turning Cuba into a
I will follow Baym and Markham’s (2009) suggestion in referring to the ‘internet’ as opposed to the ‘Internet’.
In their insightful anthology internet inquiry, they convincingly argue for spelling internet in lower case as it is
neither a place you can go to nor a coherent communicative space or entity in itself. Accordingly, Baym and
Markham (2009) see power and agency with the creators and users of the internet, rather than with the medium.
A thorough and authoritative account of Cuban history is offered by Hugh Thomas (1971) in Cuba or the
Pursuit of Freedom.
I attempt to spell Spanish names with accents when appropriate. However, some authors and informants have
altered the spelling, i.e. lost the accent, of their names and I aim to respect that. Depending on the original, I
therefore included González as well as Gonzalez. In the case of Elián González, I have adopted the spelling with
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But irrespective of the fact of which Castro brother first harbored
Communist sentiments, Cuba became a close ally of the Soviet Union in the 1960s. This
association remained in place until the fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s. The Cold
War between the United States and the Soviet Union thus brought the island into a precarious
situation. It was literally situated in the front garden of the U.S. – a strategically attractive
position that the Soviet Union made good use of, for example, during the Cuban Missile
Crisis of 1962.
Migration from Cuba to the U.S., in particular to South Florida, was not a new
phenomenon. There had been a vivid exchange between the two countries in terms of art,
trade and tourism. But the waves of migration which started with the advent of the Cuban
revolution in 1959 were of unprecedented dimensions.
While Miami and Miami-Dade, the
county it forms part of, was home to only 50,000 Hispanics in 1960, the figure rose to over
1.4 million in the year 2005, though it is worth remembering that illegal immigrants would
not be included in these figures (see Appendice B for a detailed overview). In addition, census
methods of defining and identifying Hispanics have changed through the decades. Of the
Hispanics based in Miami-Dade, people of Cuban origin form the clear majority with
794,883, followed by Nicaraguans (105,415), Colombians (94,511) and Puerto Ricans
The Cuban-American community undoubtedly formed a nucleus which to a great
extent attracted more Spanish-speaking migrants with other national backgrounds to settle in
Miami. The global community of people with Cuban origin living outside the island is
estimated to be 1.5 million.
This argument is for example put forward by Brian Latell (2005) in After Fidel.
In this context, Nancy Raquel Mirabal (2003, 368) argues for “a more expansive framework, one that links the
history of pre-1959 Cuban diaspora with that of the post-1959 diaspora”. Mirabal (2003) criticises the fact that
research has focused extensively on Cubans who migrated after the revolution. As a result, she sees “the over-
emphasis on the 1959 exile model” resulting “in a fragmented Cuban-United States historiography; one that has
not weathered recent political and economic developments well” (Mirabal 2003, 379). While Mirabal (2003) is
right to call for a greater awareness of pre-revolutionary Cuban history and U.S.-Cuban relations, Fidel Castro’s
take-over of Havana did signify an unprecedented shift in the 200 year long history of these two countries
(Thomas 1984, 9). It marked the start of the migration of about one million Cubans to the United States.
All figures refer to 2007. See Appendix B.
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Migration from Cuba to Miami has been characterized by distinct migration waves.
The people arriving in the early 1960s were members of Cuba’s upper and middle class.
Mostly white and well-educated, they were welcomed by Miami’s Anglo community. The
shared understanding between early exiles and the host community was that a swift return to
the island was likely. Soon after Fidel Castro’s takeover of Havana, secret missions, plots and
espionage began. It was during these early years of the exile that some segments of the
community got involved with the CIA. One example of the CIA’s cooperation with members
of the exile community was the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961. Still today, many Cuban-
Americans believe that President Kennedy had abandoned their men during the invasion by
refusing to send air support. It is this incident that is said to have driven great parts of the
historic exile away from the Democratic Party and turned the Cuban-American community
into a stronghold for the Republicans.
Instead of a quick return, more Cuban migrants made their way to the United States in
the 1970s. 1980 brought the Mariel Boatlift, named after the Cuban port of Mariel. In an act
of defiance, Fidel Castro allowed for Miami’s Cuban-Americans to approach the island in
boats to pick up relatives and friends. However, things were not as straightforward as they had
sounded initially. Cuban-Americans did not always have a choice regarding whom they
actually got to take with them. In addition to friends and family, they were forced to take
prisoners, mentally ill people, homosexuals and others who – according to the Cuban
government - were unwanted on the island. The Mariel Boatlift was a significant turning point
in the relationship between the white Anglo community and the Cuban-Americans. It became
apparent that the Cuban-American community was likely to stay for good. In addition, the
city of Miami and Miami-Dade County were having great difficulty in dealing with the high
number of incoming migrants. Between April and October 1980, circa 124,000 Cubans
migrated to South Florida. Crime statistics rose and gave Miami a bad national and
international reputation. In contrast to the historic exiles, later migration waves had less
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cultural capital and were of darker skin color. Their motivation to leave the island was rooted
more in economic than in political considerations. The historic exiles were often first- or
second generation Cubans with a Spanish heritage. Their history and affiliation was closer to
Europe than to South America. While the early exiles were mainly Catholic, later migrants
had lived most if not all of their lives in a country strongly influenced by Communist ideology
and often thus had an a-religious upbringing or one that was characterized by less rigidly
organized traditions. Mariel marked not only a turning point in the relations between the
Anglo and the Cuban-American community, it also brought home some fundamental truths
about the changing make-up of Cuban society and life on the island.
Despite these difficulties, the Cuban Adjustment Act that had first been issued in 1966
allowed Cuban migrants a comparatively easy way into legal residency in the United States as
well as into obtaining U.S. citizenship. In the history of Cuban migration to South Florida, the
1990s became known for the rafters (balseros) crisis. The downfall of the Soviet Union and
its allies had serious economic repercussion in Cuba. The Castro government therefore termed
those years the “special period”. Increasing deprivation on the island was followed by an
increase in migrants who tried to make it across the Florida Straits on make-shift boats. In
turn, the Clinton administration decided to revisit the Cuban Adjustment Act. The legislative
changes became known as the “wet foot/dry foot policy”. Cubans, who were now found at
sea, had to be returned to the island while those who touched foot on U.S. soil were allowed
to stay. Although the “wet foot/dry foot policy” added a significant hurdle for rafters, it has
not let to an overall halt of people trying.
Finally, the current agreement between the U.S. and Cuba allows the Cuban
government to issue exit visas for those wishing to leave the island, though the practicalities
of this way of emigration are subject to the willingness towards cooperation on both side. In
addition to this “direct” way, some Cuban migrants opt for the possibility of travelling to third
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countries first, for example Mexico, and enter the United States thereafter. Recent changes in
legislation allow Cubans to travel more freely, without going through the lengthy and
expensive process of applying for exit visas (BBC News 2012). However, how this newly-
granted freedom works out in practice, remains to be seen.
Another piece of legislation to be kept in mind in this context is the Helms-Burton Act
of 1996, also known as the “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act”. Senator Jesse
Helms (Rep) of North Carolina and Representative Dan Burton (Rep) of Indiana originally
sponsored the bill. In contrast to what its formal title might suggest, the act was supposed to
strengthen and extend the United States unilateral economic sanctions towards Cuba.
of the complexities of the trade embargo and its consequences, informants in the field had
very different opinions regarding this type of legislation. While some were convinced of its
efficacy, one interviewee criticized it for having “loopholes the size of Texas”; others saw it
harming the Cuban people and at the same time giving the Castro brothers an excuse for the
poor economic state of the country.
Cuba is one of the few countries still trapped in Cold War dynamics, and so are parts
of the Cuban-American community. In the United States, other international issues and
national concerns now take center stage, much to the dismay of some segments of the Cuban-
American community. Even though restrictions regarding travel and remittances have been
amended, so far Barack Obama’s presidency of the United States has not changed the status
quo in any significant way.
Media in Cuba
The Cuban-American community is known for their active and vibrant use of, and
contributions to, Miami’s media scene. The pro-active engagement in and participation in
creating media was partly down to experiences the migrants already had with media on the
For an in-depth analysis of national and international powers in play when negotiating, passing and putting into
practise the Helms-Burton Act, see Perl (2006).
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island. Cubans could choose between 58 daily newspapers in the 1950s. They were pioneers
in radio programming. Radio was also an important medium employed by Fidel Castro and
his revolutionaries. This lively and diverse media scene slowly changed for the worse after the
Cuban revolution. Only 17 daily newspapers were left in 1992. In the same vein, there has
been a decrease in the number of television and radio stations, which, were slowly brought
under state control following the revolution.
In some cases, such as that of the magazine
Vanidades, migrants even brought patents with them and re-established their businesses in the
United States, after they had their production facilities seized and were forced or thought it
their best option to leave the island.
Soon after the Cuban revolution and with the Cold War a stern reality, a propaganda
war ensued between the United States and Cuba. The CIA was quick to get involved; it
founded (and funded) Radio Swan which was later to become WQBA 1140. Despite ongoing
criticism, examples of this state of affairs can still be found today. Radio and TV Martí, state-
funded radio and television stations whose set-up is roughly comparable to that of the Voice
of America, are broadcasting programs to Cuba. Even though the following chapters mention
and touch upon the activities of the Martís, they are not part of the main focus of this
There are three main reasons for this; firstly, programs from the Martís are not
easily available to the Cuban-American community in the United States and are therefore of
minor relevance when considering questions about media in relation to the community. In
addition, because of continuing criticism due to the unknown efficacy of this state-funded
undertaking, officials and journalists working for Radio and/or TV Martí were extremely
reluctant to answer any questions about their involvement and to assess the output in terms of
quality, content, aims, or scope. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the Martís are
All figures were quoted from Cuba Facts (Issue 43 – December 2008) offered by the Institute of Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. It is available at
http://ctp.iccas.miami.edu/FACTS_Web/Cuba%20Facts%20Issue%2043%20December.htm, and is based on
statistics provided by the United Nations Statistical Yearbook.
Daniel C. Walsh offers an in-depth account of the history of Radio and TV Martí in An Air War with Cuba
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ultimately controlled by the U.S. government and therefore not outlets that can react freely to
events and incidences amongst Miami’s Cuban-American community.
Migrants, diasporas and the exilic experience
There has been an ongoing discussion in the academic community regarding the
theoretical framing of migrant groups. What makes a migrant? What characteristics does he or
she have? What exactly do we mean when we speak of a diaspora?
Is every ethnic group a
diaspora and vice versa? What is the relationship between migrants and nations? And are all
migrants cosmopolitans? To gain a deeper understanding of the Cuban-American community
in Miami, it is helpful to consider notions of migration, diasporic formations, exile and
Analyzing the Cuban-American community, Khachig Tölölyan writes:
The lines separating ethnic behavior from diasporic are not always clear-cut, and they shift
in response to a complex dynamic. For example, the Cuban-American “community”
contains a few assimilated members, a large number of ethnics, and an even larger group,
whose size is fervently debated, that forms an “exile community” committed to an
overthrow of Cuban communism and to a physical return to the island; some of the exiles
display the full range of diasporic behaviour, engage actively in political and cultural self-
representation, and care about maintaining contact with Cuba and Cuban communities in
other countries, like Puerto Rico, Mexico and Spain. I emphasize that the boundaries
between these groups are not fixed but porous and fluid. They will continue to change as
change emerges in Cuba and the United States’ attitude toward Cuba. The size and
commitment of exiles, ethnics, and diasporics waxes and wanes in response both to internal
dynamics of the community and in reaction to the policies, economy, and changing social
and cultural allure of the host land and homeland.
Tölölyan (1996, 2007) criticizes the dilution of terms. He argues that the term diaspora has
been used to refer to larger and larger groups of people in general, such as migrant workers,
Muslims living in the West and Spanish-language speakers in the United States. In a similar
vein, Gabriel Sheffer (2003) laments the diffusion of the term and therefore posits a definition
Theoretical as well as empirical research on diasporic and ethnic formations has generated a high amount of
scholarship over the past two decades; some classic examples of such literature are Cohen (1997), Hall (1991,
1992 and 1997), Peters (1999), Tölölyan (1991), Robbins (1995), Karim (2003), Tsagarousianou (2004), Naficy
(1999 and 1993) and van Hear (1998). Among others, Sinclair and Cunningham (2000), Morley (1999, 2000 and
1991) and Naficy (1999, 1993, 2001) have provided essential reading on diasporas and their media use.
Tölölyan 2007, 653
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that specifically refers to ‘ethno-national’ groups, thereby excluding all-encompassing
approaches outlined above. Sheffer states that
an ethno-national diaspora is a social-political formation, created as a result of either
voluntary or forced migration, whose members regard themselves as of the same ethno-
national origin and who permanently reside as minorities in one or several host countries.
Members of such entities maintain regular or occasional contacts with what they regard as
their homelands and with individuals and groups of the same background residing in other
host countries. Based on aggregate decisions to settle permanently in host countries, but to
maintain a common identity, diasporas identify as such, showing solidarity with their group
and their entire nation, and they organize and are active in the cultural, social, economic
and political spheres. Among their various activities members of such diasporas establish
trans-state networks that reflect complex relationships among the diasporas, their host
countries, their homelands, and international actors.
One benefit of this definition is Sheffer’s emphasis on social and cultural (trans-state)
activities of diasporas in their host countries, as opposed to the focus on an intended return.
These ethno-national diasporas in fact need to be settled if not permanently, at least long-
term, in order to build and maintain the networks, groups and relations they require for such
activities. This of course also includes media which are significant players in diasporic social
and cultural activities.
Despite ongoing debates in the field as to what qualifies as a diaspora, scholars can
agree that the circumstances and motivations of departure have a significant part in the
organizational structures and emerging features of identity work by the group themselves and
also by outsiders; migrant workers who came on a voluntary basis for economic reasons view
themselves differently from political exiles who were forced to leave in order to save their
lives. The first wave of Cubans arriving in the United States have stoically highlighted that
they were exiles, not immigrants. So let’s unpack the notion of exile.
The original meaning of exile, “banishment” from one’s country over a certain period
of time or for life, suggests that exile was and, in some cases, still is seen as a form of
punishment. As a consequence, being in exile has been viewed as a painful process, filled
with obstacles and disappointments (Krispyn 1973). Other scholars have moved away from
Sheffer 2003, 9-10
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this negative viewing of exile, stating that “exile must also be defined by its utopian and
euphoric possibilities, driven by wanderlust, and a desire for liberation and freedom” (Naficy
1993, 6). A number of authors underline this perception, focusing on the (cultural)
productivity of exiles, in most cases relating it to their special state of “in-betweenness”,
which views exiles as neither belonging nor having a “natural space” in the home nor in the
Edward Said (1984) interprets exile as a means to achieve a privileged insight for
intellectuals, while writer Salman Rushdie sees new types of people being created, who are
rooted in “ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who
have been obliged to define themselves – because they are so defined by others – by their
otherness” (1991, 124-125). These experiences and the overall positive perception of exile
which can lead to a deeper understanding of transnational phenomena and the world at large
might characterize the exilic experience of writers and academics who have managed to live a
rather comfortable and successful life in the West. However, the realities of, for example,
Burundian exiles in a Refugee camp in Tanzania, with their life to a certain extent depending
on the support of international NGOs, are very different, as the work of Liisa Malkki (1995)
The difficulties of life in exile are further underlined by Ghorashi (2004) who
analyzed the experiences of Iranian exiled women, now living in the Netherlands and Los
Angeles. Ghorashi concludes that a “disrupted sense of time and place prevails. A disrupted
sense of life in vacillating between the past and the present creates emptiness and insecurity,
feelings that displace their sense of belonging” (2004, 113). Cultivating a feeling of belonging
goes beyond an established legal status. Having the correct papers, does not serve as an
This positive connotation of exile can be found for example in the work of Naficy (1993 and 2001), Agha
(1997), Hartenstein (1999), Elsaesser (1999), Trommler (1995), Becker (1995), Strack (1995).
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indicator of social integration.
Ghorashi’s (2004) findings indicate that the continuous
emphasis of the migrants’ temporary stay can support nostalgic feelings for the home country.
As will be shown in the analysis of the Elián González story, this sense of belonging can also
dissolve for established migrant groups. Reiterating a point mentioned above, Ghorashi
(2004) underlines that the exilic experience is extensively dependent on the host society and
generalizations therefore often fall short.
The term exile has a strong political connotation and can be seen as an indication of
the circumstances of departure. The idea here is not to actually return to the original meaning
of ‘banishment’, as exile can also be self-imposed. But, whether made voluntarily or
involuntarily, the decision to leave one’s country has an obvious connection with policies
carried out by the government or the regime in power that the exile suffers and opposes. Exile
involves an ongoing process of negotiation; negotiation of identities, negotiation between
home and host culture, negotiation of past and present, of “descent” and “consent” (Sollors
Exiles attempt to hold on to their descent relations while becoming part of the consensus
that forms the new host culture. These impulses fuse to create an uncanny, liminal state and
a cultural threshold in which the liminars live in a continual state of otherness and exile
from former and new attachments.
As a result of its inherent liminality and in-betweenness, the exilic experience is also
characterized by the potential of cosmopolitanism (Park 1950, 376) which Naficy sees
accompanied by “a fundamental doubt about the self, reality, home, traditions – in short a
doubt about absolutes, ideologies, and taken-for-granted values of one’s home or host
societies” (1993, 9).
The different angles on exile outlined above resonate to some degree with writings by
philosopher Vilém Flusser. In his essay on “Exile and Creativity” (2002, 104-109), Flusser
Reoccurring public debates (see for example Gessler (2010) and The Economist (author unknown, 13 Nov
2010a)) in Germany about insufficiently integrated Turkish and Arab migrants (the majority of them with
German passports) demonstrates the irrelevance of legal status when it comes to feelings of belonging and
acceptance by the host society.
Naficy 1993, 9
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assumes that the exile, or the expelled, is taken out of ‘his [sic] customary surroundings’
which, in combination with the habits associated with that environment, function like a cotton
blanket; it “covers up the facts of the case” (Flusser 2002, 104). The expelled, however, is
free to see things clearly and from a new perspective. The new situation, with new
information, requires creativity in order to survive. This is not necessarily a bad position to be
in. Evaluating the state of liminality and in-betweeness, Flusser argues:
In a situation where one is accustomed to pitying the expelled, this positive assessment is
itself unusual, and, according to the hypothesis, it should itself be informative. For it seems
– according to the hypothesis – that those people who want to “help” the expelled to
become ordinary again are, in fact, engaged in reeling him [sic] back into their ordinariness.
This is an informative assumption, because it forces us to think about what is usual. The
assumption does not justify the expellers, but rather it exposes the vulgarity of the
expellers: the expelled were bothersome factors who were expelled to make the
surroundings even more ordinary than before. Indeed, this assumption leaves the following
question to our discretion: Even without intending to do so, have the expellers not done the
expelled a service?
Again, these general characterizations and conceptualizations of the exilic experience should
be dealt with cautiously as being in exile might not be a permanent state but rather a
subjective, fluid and changing aspect of one’s identity. While there might be a sense of
liminality and in-betweenness inherent in the circumstances of an exiled individual or an
exiled group, it does not necessarily lead to a cosmopolitan view of the world. On the
contrary, the pains and hardship associated with an involuntary departure could also translate
into rage, anger and a readiness to hit back.
For the majority of Cuban-Americans, the term “exile” held strong political
For some it was also defined through notions of banishment and not having
the option of returning to Cuba or visiting the island in good conscience. The key to defining
oneself as an exile was furthermore associated with the ability to remember life in Cuba.
Flusser 2002, 104-105
In contrast to the term exile or the Spanish el exilio, employed in the field to refer to those parts of the Cuban-
American community who arrived shortly after the revolution in 1959 and in the 1960s and early 1970s, terms
such as “diaspora” or “diasporic community” seldom came up in everyday conversation.
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However, in the field, informants would also refer to an “exile mentality” of subsequent
generations born outside of Cuba.
Nations, states and cosmopolitanism
The study of diasporas is strongly linked to work on nationalism, transnationalism,
theories of globalization (such as cosmopolitanism and cultural imperialism) and issues
surrounding state and citizenship. Diasporas have the potential to challenge the (nation-)state.
Together with global economic enterprises and governmental and non-governmental
organizations, they are symptoms as well as phenomena of and driving forces for
transnational connections that reach across (nation-)states and borders.
One of the main points of discussion in the academic field is where to place migrant
communities in relation to nations, (nation-) states, transnational activities and processes
described under the catch-all term globalization. Drawing on Gopinath’s (2005) work on
queer diasporas in South Asia, Braziel posits:
While diasporas may (and undeniably do) contest and disrupt the hegemonic forces of
nationalism and globalization, refiguring the dominant discursive framings of nation-state
and global capitalism, we must also remain cognizant of the ways that diasporas and
diasporic forms of cultural production may also remain complicit and imbricate both with
nationalist formation and “with capitalism [and may] shore up the dominance of the latter
by making its mechanisms invisible,” as Gopinath importantly reminds us (2005, 10).
The past decade brought a considerable amount of scholarship which has argued for
the city as a highly useful and relevant unit of analysis.
Some argue that the nation even
presents a hindering category, interpreting it as a potential “interruption”, and representing “a
disharmony in the scheme of the diasporic space” (Georgiou 2006, 9).
Among others, Khachig Tölölyan (1996, 4) cautions scholars who see diasporic
formations primarily as a potential challenge or even a threat to existing (nation-)states. In his
search for reasons of the increased use of the term diaspora, Tölölyan (1996) points, among
Braziel 2008, 26
See, for example, Robins (2001), Georgiou (2006), Sassen (2001, 2002 and 2006).
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other factors, to the stateless power that parts of the Jewish diaspora (mainly those based in
the United States) were able to exert when working towards establishing the state of Israel
(see also Sheffer 2003). This success, he argues, provided an example for other dispersed
groups to assume the traits of and identify themselves as a diaspora. Juxtaposing these
dynamics to the previous point of diasporic communities challenging (nation-)states and their
institutions, it becomes apparent that the (nation-)state order, at least in the mid-20th century,
provided an aim that parts of the Jewish community were keen to work towards and have a
In other words, even though diasporic communities might through their mere
existence pose a challenge to (nation-)state structures, members of these communities have
nevertheless considered partaking in the (nation-)state formation a goal worth striving
On the other hand, there is no doubt that processes of globalization and supra-national
structures, like the European Union, have led to a questioning of the role and function of
(nation-)states. German sociologist Ulrich Beck asserts that “the human condition has itself
become cosmopolitan” (2006, 2), referring to the international threat of terrorism and the
protest against the Iraq War as conditions and events that reach beyond the (nation-)state.
Even those protesting at the advancement of the processes of globalization taking place today
are in fact organized in global networks themselves as Beck (2006) points out.
He also sees
great potential for emerging cosmopolitan structures, especially within Europe and the
framework of the European Union, and criticizes the limitations of (nation-)states as the main
realms of society:
For in the cosmopolitan outlook, methodologically understood, there resides the latent
potential to break out of the self-centered narcissism of the national outlook and the dull
incomprehension with which it infects thought and action, and thereby enlighten human
In addition, diasporas are also often characterized by their engagement of what Benedict Anderson (1992)
coined “long-distance nationalism”.
Resistance to globalisation is often misrepresented in public discourse. Organisations such as Attac
(Association pour la Taxation des Transactions pour l’Aide aux Citoyens) are not against globalisation per se,
but are concerned about the neo-liberal expansionist thinking and profit of global companies as the main
beneficiaries of current structures (http://www.france.attac.org/; http://attac.de/).
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beings concerning the real, internal cosmopolitanization of their lifeworlds and
Inter- and transnational media have a significant part in the cosmopolitanization of lifeworlds.
Especially television has the potential to let people take in the world, with global imagery and
narratives available in their everyday lives. In her recent study on television news, Alexa
Robertson (2010) posits that news programs can have the capacity to further a cosmopolitan
understanding of the world. However, this depends on several factors such as the style of
reporting, background information given and vocabulary used by journalists.
Schlesinger cautions against Beck’s optimistic view of ‘boundarylessness’ by drawing
our attention to the “continuing significance of the national dimension” (2007, 415); questions
of belonging and of forming a sense of identity are still to a large extent founded within the
realms of a nation. Likewise, communicative spaces, especially those determined by print
media, radio and television (i.e. formerly analogue media) often mirror (nation-)state
territories. No doubt there are indications and examples of transnational/trans-state network as
well as media initiatives, such as Arte, Euronews and Telesur. An interesting starting point for
this research was to consider the media’s position in the binary tension between states and
nations on the one hand and transnational structures and networks on the other. The Cuban-
American community and its media make for a well-suited case study here, as early migration
waves in the 1960s started when the Cold War was going into another challenging phase and
the importance of (nation-)states was generally unchallenged and unquestioned.
Regardless of where one positions oneself in this debate, the media play a crucial role
in the evolution of migrant communities. They are simultaneously indicators as well as
driving forces in the process of identity formation of diasporic communities. How they
operate as institutions and media outlets, how media content is produced and consumed gives
researchers empirical clues regarding the dynamics of diasporic communities and their
Beck 2006, 2
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relations to home and host societies. Taking a macro-perspective, this can then also give
indications on (global) flows, counterflows, (transnational/trans-state) networks, the position
of the state and the quality and texture of communicative spaces. Despite the fact that
diasporic media content can often be interpreted as a transnational phenomenon, the
significance of place for a migrant group, the importance of being situated in a certain locale
should not be underestimated.
Latinos/as, Hispanics, Cuban-Americans and Miami
Publications on Latino and Hispanic culture have seen an immense rise in the past two
to three decades.
Recent scholarship bears witness to the media’s multifaceted relationship
with Latinos/as in the United States, ranging from representation of Latinos/as in music, film
and television (think of Jennifer López, Salma Hayek, América Ferrera and Ricky Martin) to
questions of transnational belonging and potential threats from undocumented migrants and
the U.S.-Mexican border.
For cultural and popular studies scholars as well as for researchers in the field of
media and communication, the groups and communities now commonly addressed as
Latinos/Latinas (on the West coast of the United States), Hispanics (on the East coast) and/or
Chicanos/Chicanas (in the south west) present a fertile ground for research (Río 2006).
above descriptors indicate Latino/a identity is not as straightforward as branding consultants
and advertising executives might like to claim.
Esteban del Río asserts:
An in-depth examination of the significance of place for diasporic communities can be found in Lohmeier
See for example Valdivia (2008 and 2010), Vargas (2009), Chavez (2008), García Bedolla (2009), Albarran
(2009) to name but a few publications dealing with Hispanics more generally. In addition, there has been a large
amount of writing on the Cuban-American community and Miami as a space and place: Calvo Ospina and
Declerq (2001), Castro Ruz (2009), Levine (2001), Levine and Asís (2000), Pérez-Firmat (1994), O’Reilley
Herrera (2001, Cornillot (2009), Gjelten (2009), Grenier and Stepick III (1992), Medina (2002). In this context,
Joan Didion’s (1987) Miami is still a seminal work when considering non-academic writing.
In the following chapters I will use the term “Hispanic” to refer to all people with roots in countries south of
the United States and the Caribbean. This term was used by informants in the field.
The constructed nature of Hispanic identity and its inherent diversity has also caused methodological concerns.
Who is considered Latino/a or Hispanic in U.S. Censuses has changed over the past decades. Furthermore,
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These complexities call for wider memories and deeper understandings of how different
groups are constructed and positioned in relation to each other. However, contemporary
expressions of popular and public culture contain few acknowledgements of the the pical
presence of U. S. Latina/o populations or the ongoing civil rights and political movements
that received greater public attention in the 1970s. Instead, general market media texts and
mainstream popular culture reconfigure – if not invent – a new Latina/o imaginary for
Anglo and capitalist sensibilities and celebrate Latina/o life as an exotic, spicy, and new
addition to the multicultural mainstream.
Similar criticism had already been expressed a decade earlier by William V. Flores
and Rina Benmayor who argued that pluralism does not go all that far in U.S. society. Instead,
difference is only allowed to be celebrated in confined spaces and at particular times, such as
specific holidays, allowing public spaces to remain “culturally neutral” and thereby endorsing
“the dominant culture as normative” (1997, 9). Inequalities and power struggles on the other
hand remain unchallenged and unaddressed.
On a superficial level the above concerns might not apply to the Cuban-American
community based in Miami. Their visibility and power as a collective in the city makes
questions about a Hispanic identity and the ability to express cubanidad and Hispanic roots
within or alongside American main stream culture seem immaterial. Then again, these issues
are still highly relevant to other Hispanics, including Cubans, elsewhere. While Cuban-
Americans might not face many challenges with regards to expressing their identity in Miami,
other so-called minority groups in the U.S. do. While “expressing one’s identity” is initially
often viewed as a soft topic, it comes down to hard facts when it is time to decide who is
allowed to stay in the country and who should be sent back to their country of origin. Who
has the power to decide whether someone is considered an illegal immigrant or given a green
card? Hispanic belonging therefore simultaneously tests Cuban-Americans on their solidarity
and their willingness to stand up for other immigrants.
whether general statistics on Hispanics apply to the same degrees to all sub-groups is more than doubtful. For a
detailed exposé of this issue see for example Soruco (1996, chapter 2) and Valdivia (2010, 14-21).
del Río 2006, 389
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The structure of this book
An analysis of the media and the broader media ecology brings the opportunity to
disentangle the dynamics between different types of media, in particular the press, radio,
television and the internet. It will be shown how these media have been posited in very
distinct manners by different segments of the community and which roles the journalists who
work for them play.
Chapter 1 examines the development of Miami as a place and a social space in relation
to incoming migration from Cuba. The first section considers writings on space, place and
memory. This is followed by an analysis of the exilic state which emerged as a feature of the
Cuban-American community in Miami. With the Cuban revolution now over fifty years old,
the experience of the first wave of exiles, has itself been mythologized, as outlined in the third
section. The Lost City (2005), a blockbuster directed by and starring Cuban-American Andy
García, is used as an example of the discourse surrounding those exiles that left in 1959 and
the early 1960s. Simultaneously, the family presented in The Lost City acts as a trope for the
Cuban nation. The chapter closes with a consideration of relations between the Cuban-
American community and the Anglo and wider Hispanic community. The issue of community
relations in Miami will be picked up again in chapter 5 when reports and reactions to the Elián
González saga, the story of a Cuban boy who safely reached Floridian shores while his
mother died at sea, are examined.
The following four chapters go straight to the heart of the matter. They comprise
analyses of local, national and potentially transnational media, i.e. press, radio, television and
the internet, and their relationship to the Cuban-American community. Depending on the
nature and terms of engagement between the community and the media in question, some
chapters focus on Spanish- and English-language productions, while others concentrate on
Spanish-language output exclusively.
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Chapter 2 addresses on the Miami-based Spanish- and English-language press. Even
before the arrival of the exiles after the Cuban revolution in 1959, Miami was home to the
first Spanish-language newspaper in the United States, Diario Las Américas. Diario
welcomed the exiles; the Nicaraguan-American family who run and own the paper have
enjoyed a cordial relationship with Cuban migrants, perhaps due in part to the shared
experience of exile. The rapport between members of the Cuban-American community and
The Miami Herald, Miami’s best-selling newspaper, has taken a very different turn. Sharp
criticism and commentaries of what incoming waves of Cuban migrants mean for the city,
South Florida and the local Anglo community have dismayed those exiles whose primary
concern was to have their family and friends start a new life with them in the United States.
After initial reluctance, Knight-Ridder Inc., the company which owned The Miami Herald
until March 2006, made the strategic decision to accommodate Spanish-language migrants by
introducing El Miami Herald. In 1999, El Miami Herald was revamped, including a name
change to El Nuevo Herald. The latter section of chapter 2 scrutinizes conflicts between the
Heralds and the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF). Finally, a case study of the
reporting of one particular incident, the Martí moonlighter story, is examined and wider
emerging issues are discussed.
Miami’s Spanish-language radio scene is explored in chapter 3. The first two sections
give an overview of the general purpose of foreign-language radio in the United States and
then trace the development of Miami’s Spanish-language radio stations. Radio has always
been ‘the Cuban medium’ and of all the outlets encountered in the field, radio stations and the
journalists employed in them, are by far the strongest force in safeguarding and fortifying an
exile mentality. The latter parts of the chapter examine two Spanish-language radio stations in
greater depth: Radio Mambí and WQBA 1140 AM. Radio Mambí is known as the most
belligerent station in the Miami area. The station and the way it operates bear witness to the
existence of a tightly-knit and highly committed network of journalists (and freelancers) with
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a strong exile mentality whose focus is to “right” the past. As a station, WQBA has a much
younger feeling to it, although opinions in the field were split as to how ‘Cuban’ it is.
The subjectivity of perception in regard to a media output having a Cuban or Mexican
or Colombian feel, is also a theme which runs through chapter 4 on Television, Cuban-
Americans and Hispanic audiences. After a brief overview of the development and anticipated
growth of Spanish-language television in the U.S. market, section two and three investigate
the history and strategy of the two largest players in the market: Univision and Telemundo.
Univision’s Mexican roots are still strongly noticeable today, while Telemundo has developed
an alternative tactic which includes a significant percentage of in-house production. The
following section critiques the notion of a Hispanic television audience and scrutinizes the
conceptualization of Hispanics as a “diaspora in reverse” (Sinclair 2005). As the analysis of
Univision’s and Telemundo’s approach to programming will demonstrate, it is audience
figures and advertising revenue which motivate the rationale of television strategists. The
same holds true on a local level. The argument that television is not a unifying tool for the
wider Hispanic community is further illustrated by and examined through the aforementioned
Elián González saga.
The penultimate chapter addresses trends observed in relation to the internet and the
treatment of Cuban-American and Cuban issues online. The first section provides a
comparative analysis of the experiences of two bloggers, both concerned with Miami-based
media, The Miami Herald and Radio Mambí respectively. The transnational component that
the internet has to offer is explored in the following section by focusing on a Cuban-American
student organization called Raíces de Esperanza (Roots of Hope). With younger Cuban-
Americans making efforts to comprehend and negotiate what the exilic experience means for
their (collective) identity and lives, the switch from Spanish to English as the dominant
language of second- and third generations is considered in the final section of chapter 5.
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Chapter 6 deals with the interplay of media, memory and power. More specifically,
this chapter considers how certain segments of the Cuban-American community have used
memory discourses in order to promote the continuation of the struggle, la lucha, and call for
violent actions against the Cuban government. Contrasting this for a long time dominant
narrative contained in many mediated memories is an innovative approach by younger Cuban-
Americans in their twenties and thirties. These younger members of the community promote a
much more reflective style of dealing with historical and present circumstances, memories,
power structures of the exile community and thereby develop a more present-centered
awareness of the developments on the island.
For those readers with an interest in the rich experience of ethnographic research,
Appendix A will provide an enjoyable read. Researching Cuban Miami with a European
background was a fresh, invigorating, challenging and never boring experience. Ethnographic
work has strong personal dimension that is often lost in the writing up of research projects and
in the publication process of books and articles. Research is then quickly understood as
objective and a-personal. Especially writers and scholars in the feminist tradition have
criticized and unravelled the pretence of research that is completely devoid of personal
interests, emotions and the self-image of the researcher. The appendix aims to give the entire
book more credibility through making the research process more transparent. Finally, all
chapters have been written in a way that allows for individual reading.