Cuban Research Institute panel outlines community’s historic impact on Miami

Poster of the event. Courtesy of FIU Cuban Research Institute

Alexander Luzula | Asst. News Director

The economic and cultural impact of Miami’s Cuban population was the center of discussion during the Cuban Research Institute’s latest webinar, Entreupeneuship and the Cuban American Enclave.

Hosted by CRI Director Jorge Duany, the June 15 event featured speakers Alejandro Portes and independent researcher Sergio Diaz-Briquets discussing how the entrepreneurship of Cuban migrants fundamentally shaped the economic, social and cultural outlook of Miami.

Portes, a professor of law at the University of Miami, spoke first, defining Miami as the result of a Cuban enclave formed by the first wave of Cuban immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s. 

He would explain that the migrating Cuban professionals used their connections and business knowledge to establish an entrepreneurial and financial community that has made Miami into what it is today.

“The transformation of Miami from a part-time winter resort into an important banking and financial sector… would not have happened without [exiled Cuban bankers’] participation,” said Portes.

Yet, Portes also contended that this enclave would face dissolution during the Mariel exodus of the 1980s. Demographically, this wave of Cuban migrants would see an uptick in Afro-Cuban migrants, as well as lower socioeconomic status. Combined with their comparatively lower social connections and the increasing immigration stemming from other countries, public image and solidarity within the Cuban entrepreneurial enclave would shatter, but its effects would be cemented in Miami’s legacy.

“The Miami Cuban enclave is no more, but in its wake… it left several consequences worth noting,” said Portes, outlining Miami’s position in the financial sector, upward mobility and success for the second generation of first-wave immigrants, and the preservation of Cuban culture and practices as examples of the Cuban impact in Miami.

Researcher Sergio Diaz-Briquets compares Cuban entrepreneurship in Miami compared to other major cities as part of his lecture on the economic impact of Cubans in Miami. Alexander Luzula/PantherNOW.

Diaz-Briquets, former chairman of the nongovernmental organization the Council for Human Development, followed afterward, focusing on the history and demographics of the Cuban enclave in Miami. He would outline its potential to grow compared to Cuban enclaves in other cities, such as Boston and Atlanta.

“The success of many Cubans in other communities was partly tied to their human capital…. The positive welcome they received in the United States,” said Diaz-Briquets. 

“The Cubans spread throughout the United States… they were educated, they were legal, so… many of them took advantage of an opportunity to serve other Hispanic communities. I think that might have been different than what happened in Florida.”

The presentations were followed by a question and answer period, in which Portes and Diaz-Briquets answered questions on a variety of subjects, including the impact of race, the media and various other factors on Miami’s Cuban community.

“Today, the Miami economy…. sits on three or four pillars. Two reasons: banking and finance, which did not exist in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and real estate and construction, which were also developed by Latin firms,” said Portes. “Cuban-owned firms not only for sale to the local market but to market it to Latin Americans… escaping the insecurity of their own country.” 

“Those sectors of finance, real estate, and construction, that are the core, even today, of Miami’s economy.”

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