Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Aks White Dade: What's Up With Miami Cubans?

Today I am going to introduce a new semi-recurring feature here in White Dade called “Aks White Dade.” And, yes, I am well aware that I spelled “Ask” wrong as it is intended to be pronounced like a sharp metal object you would use to cut wood or, if you are stuck in a remote Colorado hotel for the entire winter, murder your entire family. I tend to pronounce it that way for my own entertainment and am in no way trying to offend any of my African-American readers. I have actually been emailed for advice by a couple of readers in the past, most notably Chris from Baby Windows who aksed me if he should tell his girlfriend he had videotaped himself having sex before. My answer was a resounding "yes." So today I will address two questions with similar themes I’ve received in the recent weeks from a couple of readers in New York who know who they are. The first question:

“Hey White Dade, why are Cubans in Florida obsessed with going back there? It's been a communist shithole for decades, they have all their success here, yet they still refuse to treat America like anything but a temporary rest stop. It boggles my mind. I understand a lot of them have family there and are nostalgic, but the pro-Cuban pride blows my mind considering the country really hasn't done that much for them over their lifetime.”

Not being a member of the “exile community” it would be hard for me to answer for them, but here is my THEORY (and before you all jump down my throat, this is my THEORY and by no means the definitive answer): A lot of the more vocal older Cubans here were not part of the Mariel boatlift. They were, in fact, the wealthy Cubans who fled in fear of the communists taking all their shit (which they ultimately did). Their recollections of Cuba are those of the life of the upper class of the country, and not necessarily those of the poor and working classes that Castro claimed to represent (and not to get overly racial here, but most Cuban-Amerianas are lighter-skinned while the majoity of Cubans I met in the actual country were extremely dark. Draw your own conclusions). It’s kind of like what I imagine a slave-owner’s image of the pre-war South was compared with that of a Negro slave. And when you’re in the wealthiest 5%, I suppose even Bangladesh in monsoon season is a pretty nice place. So of course they’re going to miss it and want to go back. This selective memory leads them to think that once “The Beard” is gone, they can return to their plantation homes and mojitos-at-noon lifestyle that they enjoyed like nothing ever happened. I’ve been to Cuba. Those plantation homes are now oversized planters for a variety of sub-tropical weedlife and the only people who can afford mojitos at noon are dumb tourists like me.

Now, Cubans in Cuba always say it’s great there because if they don’t they will be thrown in a dark hole faster than you can say “human rights violation.” So you can’t take what they say as absolute truth. I have been there on vacation (and spent LOTS of money) and I assure you it is, in fact, a communist shithole. It will take a lot of cruise ship and gambling-interest money to make that place nice again should the totalitarian regime subside. If the “exile community’ wants to move back, I would be far from stopping them, but I don’t think they’ll be there long before they realize that Little Havana is actually a lot nicer than Big Havana.

“Hey White Dade, why do 2nd generation Cubans that are our age (mid-twenties) still have accents? I know 2nd generation Greeks, Italians and Asians who sound totally American, why don’t they?”

Because nobody around them does either. I know some 2nd generation Cubans from other parts of the country like LA and the Midwest who sound just like everyone else in those parts of the country. In Miami, though, we have what is called the “Miami accent.” And not the White Dade accent that Janet Reno and some others have, but the one you would most likely recognize on Gloria Estefan. A large percentage of the population here speaks Spanish, and so many Cuban kids who were born here and grew up here still have a definitive accent. Believe it or not, there are some white kids who grew up here who sound Cuban too. Kind of like Eminem growing up in the bad parts of Detroit. So it is not necessarily that they have a Cuban accent, but a Miami accent. I’m sure the two are easily confused, but if people my age moved to Boise and raised their Cuban children there, the accent would probably cease to exist in that next generation.

I wholly encourage the rest of you to email me with any questions you may have. I will use whatever name and location you give me to answer them to the best of my abiality. Much like the above answers, I will answer with my theories or opinions, but, by no means, will I answer with absolute fact.


At 4:18 PM, Anonymous MiamiGringo said...

For those of you that don't actually live in Miami -- WD is definitely onto something. I see more Cuban flags around Miami than actual American flags. In some cases, the Cuban flag is flying higher than the American flag, if they even bother to display the US colors at all. The partying around Miami was crazy the day the news came out that Castro was in the hospital.

Pick a country people! Nobody will fault your for it, but just make a decision! (Not aimed at anyone in particular, of course)

At 4:33 PM, Blogger jenjen said...

Here's Jenny!
Well deduced Ace. A parallel world to my life one mile from the first Street in California.
With that,I will never see the sunny shores of Cuba.
p.s. that guy doesn't have a 'girl'friend.

At 5:52 PM, Blogger Raincouver said...

Well White Dude, I can't believe you actually made a correct assessment. Hey, don't get upset at my surprise. Some of your posts in the past have been, shall we say... less than objective?

In this particular case, you have indeed made a very good assessment. You could write a book on this subject, and in fact, many have. One is a friend of mine, a professor at U of Colorado and member of the National Hispanic Caucus. He has written ad nauseum on the subject of identity of non-White hispanics and other minorities. East Los Angeles, for example, is another place where the 2nd and 3rd generation maintains an accent, even if they speak little, if any, of their forefathers native tongue.

This is not dissimilar to some of the Yiddish-borne accents of some jewish people, and the Hong Kong influenced accent of North American born Chinese. Bear in mind that all these accents influence one another. The United States, for example, can track many of their accents to the region of provenance. I am not an expert in linguistics, but I do know a thing or two. The development of the Bostonian accent and the so-called "southern" accent fascinate me.

Getting back to the Cuban-American situation, yes, it is true that many of these Hispanic whites dream of the Golden years of American-backed Cuba. But there are also those who rightfully decry the Castrian dictatorship for the tyranny it is. The oppression is palpable in all areas of life. I haven't had the chance to travel throughout the entire country, but I have been there more than once. As a Spanish speaker, I was able to ask questions typically off-limits, but most of the discoveries I made were simply achieved by observation. For example, of the hispanic whites left in the country (there are non-hispanic whites as well, typically Europeans on contract with the hotels), most of them are assigned to the tourism industry. I stayed at a 5 star hotel in Varadero for a few nights, and the only non-whites were cleaning staff. And even then, they were the minority. "We want to put on a good face", speaks conventional wisdom, and that face is clearly white.

On another trip, I met a lawyer from Barbados, a black man. He told me of the many times he was initially barred entry to the "nice places", until he opened his mouth and the staffer realized he was a foreigner. Remember those wealthy Cubans you mentioned? They send money back to their relatives, and so you see many more white cubans shopping at the hard currency (formerly dollar) stores, where everything from washing machines to Jack Daniels is available. The black people shop at the barren department stores where you'd be lucky to find a label-less can of food on the shelf.

Forgive me for writing so much on your site. My vacuum cleaner job demands an apolitical stand, and thus I could never write this in my own blog.

Hope your next "Aks" post is as controversial.

Cheers, RC.

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous eminem said...

I grew up in Kendall, am white, an have blessed/cursed with the "Miami accent"...

At 8:58 PM, Blogger nicole said...

I know nothing about pining for native countries so I probably have no right to offer an opinion but I'll offer one anyway. ;)

Some of the patriotism you mentioned is probably a simple case of "The Grass is Always Greener". Waking up on a hot ass, Miami, humdrum Monday probably seems way less exciting than the idea of heading back to one's mythical and dream-like homeland. Especially if you've built it up to be the idyllic place that you feel America ISN'T.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous becca said...

There's a good part of Detroit?

At 10:01 PM, Blogger angel, jr. said...

I like that pronunciation--"Aks".
Hilalrious post, once again, you've got me rolling!!!

At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I want to aks you something else. I didn't realize you were Jewish (last post mentioned it). Did that make it weird to be in the Marines? Did any of them make anti-Joo comments, not knowing you're Jewish? And...is your gf Jewish? If so, canya tell the IJC to fu-- himself? Ya, that's all. You are a hot Jew incidentiallally.

At 8:21 AM, Blogger Rachel said...

It doesn't matter where you came from, if you move someplace else you will take some of your heritage along with you be it Cuba, Mexico or from Boston to Phoenix.
I grew up in Washington and when I moved to Michigan I thought we all sounded the same with little accent.... apparently not.
I am occasionally mocked for how I say dollar, syrup, mayonnaise, caramel and a few other words.
Oh, and I call it soda, not pop. I get mocked for that one sometimes too.
It is all in good fun and I don't get offended at all.
The funny thing is that my son, who moved here when he was 3 months old, says those same words the way that I do.
Influencing the next generation with my "mispronounciations". Gotta love it.

At 10:06 AM, Blogger Manola Blablablanik said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Manola Blablablanik said...

WD, a lot of what you confuse with the Miami accent is simply the melding of many different accents over time. It's not just Tony Montana's Habanero Spanglish accent anymore. You have to keep in mind that many grown ups who have come from Argentina, Columbia, etc; and settled here in the last ten years probably haven't fully mastered English, even if they speak it well.

This process is completely natural and is bound to happen when many different cultures assemble in one area and begin to assimilate.

As a 30 something Cuban-American who is fully bilingual (not a shred of accent on either language), I am quite horrified by the way MANY people mangle any language, period. Forget about accents. I've heard many an atrocious thing coming out of an American mouth, believe me, not just a Spanish-speaking one.

At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a 2nd generation Cuban-American, your assessment of the "Cuban" situation is amazingly spot on. In fact, you probably understand the intricacies involved better than most "Cubans". The Cubans here in Miami are the most racist people you can imagine, but will deny it saying "you know, in Cuba I had many black friends."

At 10:37 AM, Blogger SuperBee said...

For the record: The "Miami Accent" is like nails on a chalk board. It sounds cheap and sleazy. There is no excuse for it, and it makes the vestiges of my Murralin' drawl sound classy, and like I'm not a used car salesman, "in dan-tan Glem-Burnie."

Y el peor parte? My combination Boston/Baltimore/Wisconsin accent is starting to give way to it. Es que I'm fighting it. Hard. Todavia, every day, it's there just a little more, in my l's, my a's and in the choppy, shotgun cadence I'm developing... but that's what happens when you're the only Gringo in the office...

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Robert said...

Decent post, but let's clear up a few misperceptions from a second generation Cuban-American:

- Cubans who left in the 50s and 60s were not all upper class. In fact, the majority were solidly middle-class something that doesn't exist in Cuba today.

- Cuban-Americans are NOT obsessed with going to to Cuba to live. I would say at least 90 percent (that's right, 90 percent) wouldn't even dream of moving back to Cuba. Their lives, their roots have been transplanted here, and they are Americans now.

- In the 1940s, 70 percent of Cuba was white. Surely not all of them were upper class, so there's another myth debunked. Now it's about 55 percent black...definitely a reflection of the poorest of the poor having nothing to lose (except their human rights) by staying in Cuba.

- The "Miami Accent" is just another example of regional influences on speech in the US. In the same way that New York and Boston developed their unique accents through the immigrants who moved there...Minnesoooooota with its obvious Scandinavian influence on the accent up there, you have the Miami accent, which is in simple terms a watered down, Americanized Spanish accent. You correctly noted it's not a Spanish or Cuban accent, but a unique and Americanized variation of those.

As a 2nd generation Cuban-American, I have a pretty slight version of the accent and I think it's cool as hell because it defines us and makes us unique.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger Sofi said...

I was asking myself earlier why White Dade had not yet commented on the festivities surrounding the Castro death watch.

As far as the Cuban accent goes, the constant use of the soft "L" is always a dead giveaway. So is the word Please, (soft "L" again) which is commonly used as the begining of a sentence. South Americans don't seem to have this accent, but they rarely speak English, so I guess it's hard to tell.

Last weekend, a 2nd generation Cuban acquaintance was bitching to me about all of the downfalls of the United States, and how Americans are so fucking stupid. When I asked her if she thinks her life today would be any better had her family stayed in Cuba, she went crazy. I'm thankful to say that she is no longer speaking to me.

At 1:38 PM, Blogger White Dade said...

MG - Were you here during Elian? That was really the ultimate in flag waving. Fucking riduculous.

JenJen - Never say never, JenJen. Perhaps you and Surfer Mike will go on a cruise for your 25th wedding anniversary or some shit.

RC - It's cool. As long as you are teaching me something, write all you want.

Eminem - See. there you go. Sunset?

Nicole - Could be. A change is always nice.

Becca - Gross pointe, maybe?

Angel - Thank you.

Anon - thank you for giving me my post idea for today. She is not my "girlfriend" just a girl I'm dating. No, she is not Jewish, I don't date Jewish girls for the most part. thank you for the compliment. I will tell IJC to go fuck himself next time I talk to him.

Rachel - "Pop" is a fucking ridiculous word. I lived in Seattle for nine years and I stil ltihnk it sounds dorky.

Manola - Oh, definitely. The Miami accent is not just a Cuban one, but since the majority of Hispancs in Miami are cuban-American, it is probably the most dominant. But, yes, ias I pointed out, it is a Miami accent, not a Cuban one. I find myself talking like that occasionally when around Hispanics.

Anon2 - Interesting. So my "theory" was not so far off as I thought.

SBee - Where is glem-burnie exactly?

Robert - I don't know a lot of Miamians who want to go back, but it does seem like there are a good number. See my comments to Manola about the accent. Was there a middle class in Cuba before Castro?

Amy - I have a lot to say on that issue, but I tinhk I'll wait until the guy is dead to let it all ouit.

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't want to steal the spotlight from WD, but I too am a Jew that was in the Marine Corps.

My fellow Marines basically didn't give a shit. Most of them have no reference point since they tend to come from areas (ie Kentucky, South Boston, South Central LA, etc) that no Jew ever sets foot in and they are usually not very well travelled. The only issue I ever had was with a anti-semite black Marine who followed Farrakahn, and the only reason that erupted was because I confronted him. No, the only people who thought it was "weird" were my fellow co-religionists, most of whom told me I was stupid to do a job that only paid 13k a year.

At 3:39 PM, Blogger Robert said...

As far as Cuban-Americans returning, there have been several recent articles in our local papers about this and about the fact that very few will opt to return for good. Like I said in my previous comment, 90% will stay, and I think I'm being rather conservative.

There absolutely was a middle class in Cuba BC (before castro). The Real Cuba (therealcuba.com) has some stats and you can find them elsewhere...but off the top of my head I can tell you that Cuba's per capita income in 1958 was the second highest in Latin America, and was higher than that of Spain and Ireland. People immigrated TO Cuba, not from. We're not talking about US-style middle class, but pretty close nevertheless.

At 4:16 PM, Blogger SuperBee said...

Glem-Burnie is the Baltimorese pronounciation of Glen Burnie, lower-middle class suburb of Baltimore, comprised of '50s era ranch houses and automobile dealerships, where the ever-classy Baltimore Accent is still alive and kickin':

"Weer'na gay danna Glem-Burnie too'da Dress Bawrn'a, get Paig a new mew-mew, 'nen weer'na gay 'da Ninner Hawrbur saes Paig can shaow off 'er new clays."


"We're going to go down to Glen Burnie to the Dress Barn to get Peg a new muu-mu, and then we're going to go to the Inner Harbor so Peg can show off her new clothes."

I'm not a very good employee...

At 5:04 PM, Blogger circuitmouse said...

My mother, who taught English (and came from the patrician refugee class, i.e., "white") made us learn to speak standard American English without an accent (which meant we were teased in school because we spoke better English than the Anglo kids). I remember my parents arguing over what languages we should learn (my Dad speaks English and French; my Mom spoke English and Spanish). Dad won. You can guess how much French we needed around town (and I'm not talking Haitian creole, either, folks). If we had EVER said "aks" in our house, well, let's just say I'd STILL be tasting the soap in my mouth. The first time I took a Spanish class in college, the professor recoiled in horror, and made it her mission to remove my accent from me (fortunately, she failed). It didn't help growing up that we were lighter than all our cousins on our father's side, and darker than all our cousins on our mother's side. After making my first Hawaiian friends, I have always held out hope that we are part of the new America, a veritable honey-colored gumbo of good looking people, if I do say so myself. I always felt rather sorry for those of you whose ancestors all came from the same little piece of planet Earth. How boring your family get-togethers must have been; how bland your food...

At 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Robert said, virtually NO Cubans will be moving back to Cuba. That celebration last week was total fucking hypocrisy. As I watched Lexus after Navigator after Escalade parading down Calle Ocho full of whooping 16-year-olds, I was like, "Oh, excellent! I guess you'll all be going then! Bye now!" But do you think they hopped in their $200k Doral and Regal powerboats and sped back to Havana to start la revolucion? Hell, no! And they're not going to - it's all just meaningless noise. Once you taste a Big Mac you never go back. They have done very well in this country and will not be giving up their creature comforts to go rebuild theirs.

At 1:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

to anon - what is so hypocritical about celebrating the imminent death of a brutal dictator who cause so much suffering to your loved ones? of course it doesnt take a genius to realize that once you've spent a majority of your life in this country enjoying the high standard of living it affords, most people won't want to go back to the shithole cuba has become. that doesn't mean you forget all the fucked up shit that son of a bitch did.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger circuitmouse said...

by the way-- the luxury SUVs are already in Miramar and Cubanacan... being driven by businessmen from Spain and Latin America...
I don't know if any of you went to the seminar at FIU on post-Castro Cuba, but there's a good chance that La Habana could become the new banking and import-export nexus for Latin America, depending on how long it takes for the people to loosen the grip of their economy from the generals.
If they played their cards right, and educated a generation of international business leaders, they could make Miami look like Seattle or Denver (or even Detroit) after their respective economies went bust. It won't be overnight, though.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Boli-Nica said...

Roberts comments on the economic breakdown of the Cuban middle class are spot-on. Cuba had a very high standard of living compared to the rest of Latin America. And, well before the revolution there was a substantial back-and-forth between the Island and the U.S., including close business and personal ties similar to that of places like Monterrey in Mexico.

Nostalgia wise, the older generation feels the same tug of exiles everywhere. Growing up I knew a lot of South Americans exiled by military regimes in the 70's. They all had that melancholic yearning for the homeland, and the "grass is greener" at home sense that people here identified.

As far as the accent its true too. It is kinda funny. Since I lived in the midwest almost 20 years my English is pretty much different - trace of a Chicago accent. When I speak in English here, people don't even think I'm latino..

At 9:18 PM, Blogger 3starshine said...

The Miami Accent concept is funny to me. As a girl who is in a Miami school, I definitely hear it all the time. But you know what? I hardly have it at all. Only in a spare few words, a vowel or two... I think the Miami Accent only happens to people who are easily "contaminated" by their surroundings. Contaminated because I can't think of another word: not a bad thing. BUT. I have a friend who moved here from Maine about 5 months ago. Guess what? She's getting the accent a bit. Confuses the hell out of her mom. I laugh. :D And it does NOT sound cheap or sleazy. It just depends on who speaks it. You see a slightly dilapidated old man or a bleach blond bronze girl with her gazoombas sticking out of her tank top, THAT sounds cheap and sleazy. You see a nice young woman in a business suit with polite manners speaking it? Is that cheap or sleazy? I think not. I think its just just that there are WAYYY too many of the first type of people living around here. *Hialeah...shudder* I just wish there were some more fellow people-like-me around here, (nice, smart, etc.) not a bunch of "chongas". I really do.


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