MIAMI — Some 46,662 Cubans left the island legally and permanently last year, the largest migration in a single year since 1994, according to figures from Cuba’s National Statistics Office. Since 2002, the number leaving has hovered around 30,000 annually, making the last 10 years the largest exodus since the start of the revolution. That’s in addition to an estimated 7,000 to 19,000 who leave Cuba illegally each year.
The influx of new arrivals is evident throughout Miami, the heart of Cuba’s exile population, from myriad shops offering cell phone services to street fliers about performances by artists who still live on the island.
Cubans arriving today grew up on the island after the revolution, and their relationship with their homeland is different than the wave of immigrants who arrived immediately after Fidel Castro took power. Their growing numbers are bringing those stark contrasts to the fore, leading to moments of friction between groups and putting into question what it means to be a Cuban “exile.”
The clashes surface in a big way when older Cuban Americans protest outside concerts and sporting events featuring Cuban musicians and athletes who draw throngs of fans who grew up listening and watching them. The rifts are also apparent in small exchanges.
Some immigration activists and politicians have said it’s time to revisit policies that offer generous privileges to Cubans immigrating to the U.S., like the Cuban Adjustment Act, by which Cubans who reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay and are fast-tracked toward residency.
“I don’t criticize anyone who wants to go visit their mom or dad or their dying brother or sister in Cuba,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a prominent Florida Republican born in Miami to Cuban parents, told the American Society of News Editors earlier this year. “But I am telling you it gets very difficult to justify someone’s status as an exile and refugee when a year and a half after they get here they are flying back to that country over and over again.”