When my editor tapped me to find out why Miami Cubans overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in the 2020 election, I was confident I already knew the answer. As a non-Latinx man living in Miami, I consider myself an expert on the Cuban community. Since graduating from Penn State in 2017 (Go Nittany Lions!) to take a job with The Plantain, I have come to truly understand the Cuban-American experience. I live in a condo on West Brickell (only a few minutes from Little Havana), love authentic Cuban cuisine (vaca frita, YUM!) and even took a salsa lesson at Ball & Chain before the pandemic. So, while it’s true I am technically not actually Cuban, I’ve kissed enough Yanelys and Usnavies on the cheek over the last three years that I now consider myself an honorary member of that community free to criticize and stereotype the entire group without self-reflection. And that’s why I know the reason Cubans overwhelmingly went for Trump is because of Castro or something.
You see, Castro was…a dictator (like Trump!) who was mean to his people after promising them healthcare, I think, so Cubans started to leave for Miami. To be honest, I don’t know all of the details about the Cuban Revolution but I do know for sure that because Castro was socialist, all of the Cubans who moved to Miami are very anti-Socialist and also not to tell anyone that I had a Che Guevara poster in my dorm room at Penn State because he’s sort of their Hitler. Oh, and Castro is also their Hitler, too. They have two Hitlers. Anyway, since Castro was really bad and also socialist, all Republicans have to say is that something is also socialist and every Cuban will start to hate it. It’s sort of like how if I hear a song in a TJ Maxx, I might like it until I Shazam it and find out it’s the Eagles. Socialism is basically the Eagles in Miami – once you find out it’s them, it makes it impossible to like it anymore.
After turning in the previous paragraph to my editor, I was surprised to find out that he was actually a pretty big fan of the Eagles and also felt my understanding of the Cuban-American experience was incomplete and lacked nuance. “C’mon, do you really think Miami’s entire Cuban population is so gullible that all you need to do is say something is socialist and they’re all going to automatically hate it?” he asked me over lunch at a Cuban restaurant near my home in West Brickell. I was caught off guard by the question and didn’t even have time to swallow the vaca frita (so good) before responding that yes, I did in fact believe Cubans in Miami would instinctively hate anything labeled socialist.
As our meal went on, my editor told me that my view of Miami’s Cuban population is rooted in a stereotype that does not represent the entire community and fails to appreciate why the socialistic scare tactics are effective against some Cuban-Americans. “I just don’t think you could ever really understand the trauma experienced by Cubans under Castro and how that still impacts how some of them react to U.S. politics,” he said. “I totally do understand, because my brother’s wife’s family was in the Holocaust,” I told him. “And that was way worse.” He gave me a frustrated look.
“My point is that sure, there is a small, overwhelming majority of the Cuban population in Miami that is triggered by the socialist label, and politicians love to exploit that group. But to say all Cubans reflexively oppose all things labeled “socialist” is undermined by the fact that Cubans in Miami support the Affordable Care Act, derided as socialist.
“So why did they vote for Trump then? Are they just prone to supporting dictators…because of Castro?” I asked, lowering my voice so no one else in the restaurant heard me use the C-word.
“No!” he chortled, spitting a bit of mojo pork across the table and into my mouth. “Cubans in Miami hate Castro! You see, it’s these lazy arguments that Cubans are somehow predisposed to support autocrats that allow the Democratic party to throw their hands up and not reflect on why they lose elections down here that they should be winning. Maybe the Democratic party is just not offering Cuban-Americans a platform that addresses the needs of their community? Did you ever think of that?”
“Then what does Miami’s Cuban-American community want?” I asked, eagerly anticipating the insight that my editor was about to reveal but also starting to worry that the mojo pork he accidentally spat in my mouth was going to give me Covid.
“There isn’t one answer! Cubans in Miami are not a monolith. But every four years, a plane full of consultants fly down here from D.C. and treat them like they are. So, every four years the left comes down here and puts on events featuring some old white guy dancing in a guayabera and handing out free cafecitos while talking about how strong of a capitalist he is, while on the right they host events featuring some old white guy dancing in a guayabera and handing out free cafecitos while talking about how much of a communist the guy on the left is. The result is Democrats hoping to court Cuban voters are too afraid to be labeled a socialist to present an economic platform that addresses the inequality and low-standard of life that plagues the vast majority of Miamians regardless of origin, while the Republicans play to the stereotype that Cubans will vote against anything they call socialistic. But doesn’t the fact that many Cuban-Americans voted for Obama and support Obamacare contradict that narrative?”
“I thought Cubans hated Obama though. Because they’re all racist, right? That’s why they like Trump so much,” I asked. “No! All of them are racist?” he responded. “There are white Cubans that are racist and white Cubans that aren’t. There are also black Cubans that have a completely different experience. To say that all Cubans are racist is like saying that all Americans are racist: It fits a narrative and there are too many that are, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. So, while yeah, sure, there is a problem of colorism and white supremacy within Cuban culture, as there is within any colonized culture, to say all Cubans are racist and therefore voted for Trump because he is also racist is just lazy and an attempt to explain away why Democrats keep losing winnable races in Miami.”
As I thought about everything my editor told me over lunch, I felt embarrassed about how little I understood about the majority culture that surrounded me in Miami and how vocally critical I was about their role in last week’s election. This instinct to blame Cubans generally for Biden’s failure to win the state undermines the efforts of progressive organizers like Cubanos Con Biden that tried to reach out to Miami’s Cubans but who, from an outsider’s perspective at least, seemed to suffer from a lack of support and long-term voter engagement movement that should have been a priority of the Democratic Party long before the 2020 election.
I thanked my editor for lunch and apologized for lumping all Cubans together. “Don’t mention it. I remember when I first came to Miami from Dartmouth in 2012 and thought the same thing. But after eight years here, you really start to understand the Cuban-American experience and how nuanced it can be,” said my editor, Wyatt J. Wellingsworth-Corduroy-Smithfash III. “At this point, I now consider myself an honorary member of the Cuban community,” he said before telling me that I really should try the mojo pork next time since only white people order vaca frita.
“¡Dale!” I told him. “I’ll definitely get it next time, Wyatt.”