Cuba in a Global Context: International Relations, Internationalism, and Transnationalism

By Catherine Krull | Go to book overview

17
Cubans without Borders
From the Buildup to the Breakdown of a Socially
Constructed Wall across the Florida Straits

SUSAN ECKSTEIN

In recent decades Latin Americans have accounted for about half of all immigrants to the United States, and once in the States these newcomers tend to remain deeply enmeshed in ties with their homeland. In particular, they often generously share earnings in their new country with friends, and especially family, back home, even when they struggle to make do in their new land.

Between 1959 and 1989 Cuban immigrants were an exception to this tendency. In 1990, when Latin American immigrants as a whole remitted $5.7 billion to their home countries, members of the Cuban diaspora sent a mere $50 million—even though Cubans at the time constituted the second-largest foreign-born group in the United States. Moreover, few Cuban immigrants made trips home to visit the friends and family they left behind. According to a study of immigrants from eleven Latin American countries, only Guatemalans made fewer trips.1

Only since 1990 have Cubans followed the example of other Latin American immigrants. By 2003 remittances to Cuba were estimated to have reached more than a billion dollars, 80 to 90 percent of which came from the United States, where nearly 90 percent of Cuban émigrés settled. After 1990 the number of émigrés who visited Cuba also increased. Between 1990 and 2003 the number of trip-takers rose from an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 to more than 120,000.2

What accounts for this sudden, dramatic rise in Cuban American crossborder bonding and generosity?3 The Cuban experience demonstrates that immigrants do not necessarily enmesh their lives across borders. Studies typically point to certain characteristics of immigrants to explain variability in homeland ties, such as motivation for migration (economic versus political), time elapsed since uprooting, family remaining in the home country, country-oforigin language retention, and income.4 Yet Cuban immigrants remitted little

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