Vacations to Southern Florida usually involve visits to the beach, bike or boat rides through alligator territory, or day cruises to the Bahamas. Seldom do sun seekers engage in local politics. But if they did, the experience would be no day at the beach.
Miami-Dade County includes the cities of Miami, Miami Beach, Hialeah, and Homestead, among many others. In these areas, political discussions make and break friendships along party lines. Everyone understood that politics ruled theirs lives, but most pretended it didn't. And for good reason.
At dinner one evening, a college-friend and immigration lawyer who lives in South Beach, told me that she censored her political speech around people. This behavior appeared odd because I remember her as an activist. She alluded to the anxiety that hovered over friendly political debates - that if you appeared to sympathize with Castro you got labeled a communist. So, my friend disengaged from verbal sparring and instead focused her political efforts online.
However, after digging a little more I did find people spoke to me on record about the current political climate, particularly in relation to the 2008 Florida presidential primary.
Mr. Eusebio Sanchez arrived to Miami from the Dominican Republic 20 years ago. For almost the entire time, he worked freely in radio, that is, until he got blacklisted for expressing his opinion on a popular blog called Progreso Weekly (Weekly Progress in English). Sanchez said that despite media reports, most people in Miami-Dade county have supported Democratic candidates in the past.
"I can inform you that currently in Miami there are two groups of Hispanics disputing," said Sanchez over the phone. "The Cuban exile community, which are Republican, and the non-Cubans who are not necessarily in support of the Cuban exiles."
The non-Cuban group that Sanchez alluded to consists of the growing population of Colombians, Dominicans, Venezuelans, Mexicans and other Central Americans in Dade county.
"The Cubans are focused on Castro and are passionate about U.S. relations with Cuba," said Sanchez. "The other group is not interested in Cuba, but in domestic issues such as tax, immigration and healthcare."
As far as the Florida primary, he felt this group would vote for Hillary Clinton.
"I consider that Hillary Clinton's advantage over Obama is that she is a Clinton," Sanchez said. "What is Obama's message? Hillary's is healthcare."
Sanchez may be right. Hillary Clinton did have the support of Latinos in Florida, but these folks lived far away from the Cuban center of La Calle 8 and the famed Republican spot the Versaille Restaurant. Down in Homestead, where farms and a new Nascar speedway dot the landscape, the Clintons lead the pack of presidential hopefuls.
Cuban laundromat owner, Jesus Garcia, 41, has lived in the United States for 20 years. He does not want to lose his Cuban citizenship and so has not acquired an American one, but he wanted to express his opinion about the current presidential race.
"She (Clinton) has the same political platform as Bill Clinton. Same social and economic policies," said Garcia in Spanish. "As a small business it affects me directly."
In the span of one year, Garcia saw a 50 percent drop in the users of his laundromat. He attributes the decrease to the increase in unemployment in Homestead. Garcia said that though economic figures put the unemployment rate at five percent, in Homestead the number must be somewhere around 20 or 25 percent.
"I think that Hillary Clinton will win because she has the same ideology as Bill Clinton," Garcia said. "It's the ideology we want in the White House."
Though traditionally the Latino vote in Miami has been covered through the eyes of Cuban-Americans, the conga line will continue to move to the left with the naturalization of millions of recent Latino immigrants.
A few storefronts over from the laundromat past cowboy boots filled windows, Marcos Gonzalez' pharmacy helped a customer with a refrigerator that she wanted to send to Guatemala. Gonzalez, an immigrant from El Salvador, came to the United States eight years ago. Fortunately for him, he'll get to vote in this November's election because he received his citizenship on December 20, 2007, though he didn't know if he would vote in the primary.
"If I voted it would be for Clinton's wife," said Gonzalez who worried mostly about the economy. "He was a great president."
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