Skip to comments.25 years ago, the Marielitos landed
Posted on 04/10/2005 3:15:36 PM PDT by Graybeard58
MIAMI -- She was a short and skinny 15-year-old, sitting down on a sunny afternoon for lunch of brown sugar sandwiches at her grandmother's house, when Lourdes Hernandez was forced to face her future.
Her grandmother called out, "You have to go home. Officials just came over to your house. You're leaving the country."
About a week later, Hernandez walked through the mosquito-filled night in Mariel, Cuba, toward a shrimp boat, the Lorraine, and its American captain. Clutching her father's hand, she stepped onto the vessel with about 200 other refugees joining the "freedom flotilla" toward Key West.
"My dad said, `Let's risk it. If not, we might never get a chance to leave,"' she recalled. "My world was totally crushed."
More than 125,000 Cubans arrived in Key West by boat in the spring and summer of 1980, leaving their homes and braving treacherous seas to reach their new world. Their arrival affected a cross-section of America, from retirees on Miami Beach, to residents of Jenny Lind, Ark., to then-President Carter in the White House.
About 85,000 of them ended up in Miami, where the Cuban influence already had been felt through previous migrations. The boatlift also unleashed a relatively small but ruthless cadre of criminals into refugee camps and Miami streets, tainting America's image of the "Marielito" for years.
"It was a demographic bomb," said sociologist Juan Clark.
The exodus from the small Cuban port began when Cuban President Fidel Castro sought to remove about 10,000 people who were seeking to leave the island after crashing through the gates of the Peruvian embassy April 1, 1980.
Castro allowed those who wanted to leave the island to depart by boat. He also sent about 2,000 of communist Cuba's most violent criminals across the Florida Straits, along with mental patients and about 23,000 others identified by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service as "non-felonious criminals and political prisoners," according Clark's 1980s research on Mariel's impact.
But experts say the roots of the boatlift went back to the late 1970s, when Castro agreed to release more than 2,000 political prisoners and allowed exiles to visit family members in Cuba. Visitors brought back televisions, jeans and other gifts. Castro's acknowledgment that he held political prisoners disillusioned some Cubans, and the visits made them aware of capitalism's luxuries.
Hearing of a possible exodus, people flocked to tiny Key West. There, many paid American boat captains cash to pick up their family members from Cuba and bring them back to the United States.
President Carter, who had expressed a desire to ease tensions between Havana and Washington, accepted the new arrivals "with open hearts and open arms" in a May 5, 1980, speech. He lost his re-election bid later that year.
The scene in Key West was surreal. Tourists were water-skiing among the throng of boats. Arrivals saw hundreds lining a fence on the dock, screaming last names of relatives. At least one refugee had a heart attack on the wharf; a woman had a baby.
Many of the new arrivals were quickly claimed by relatives and went to live in Miami to begin their "resettlement."
However, thousands were forced to stay in cramped Key West or in Miami's Orange Bowl, waiting for family to eventually claim them. Others who were not immediately claimed by sponsors, admitted being jailed in Cuba or were identified as potential dangers were sent to processing camps.
The Arkansas camp became a public embarrassment for then-Gov. Bill Clinton when Cubans rioted at Fort Chaffee in June 1980. About 300 spilled out of the compound, and pelted officers with rocks before retreating when state troopers opened fire. Refugees ran through the streets of Jenny Lind, Ark. Clinton lost his gubernatorial re-election bid.
In Miami, murders spiked, and the city was depicted in the national media and films such as "Scarface" as crime-infested.
By the end of 1980, only those Mariel Cubans deemed too dangerous to be released remained in custody.
Time passed, and most Mariel refugees found jobs, finished school and blended into society. And while the 85,000 spike in Miami's population strained the city's social services, schools and housing, the refugees eventually became a part of the city's diverse mix.
"If that amount of people arrived at one time in any other city, it would have created chaos," said Miami historian Arva Moore Parks. "It was a great American story, because we proved that we could bring in a group of people and they could fit in."
Because of the influx, Parks said, Hispanics became the majority in Miami-Dade County, earning many positions of power.
Initially, some Cuban-Americans who already had established lives in Miami looked down upon the Mariel refugees. "To call someone a `Marielito' was an insult, but I think that's changed," Clark said.
Campbell, who was joined by her mother and siblings later, said she remembers classmates who told her, "You came on a banana boat." But she overcame those obstacles.
"I wanted to prove that we were not all incapable," said the now-40-year-old Florida Power and Light analyst. "It was very rewarding for me to say who I am, that I'm part of this."
Interesting article here on the economic success of the people who came through the Mariel: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/11355078.htm
In Atlanta I have had the good fortune of getting to know many wonderful Cubans and Cuban-Americans - and I know the criminal element that was released in 1980 by Castro cast an underserved taint over many fine people. At the same time there were some really awful folks that Castro dumped on us then. Just another highlight of the Jimmy Carter years.
I do know that both my mom and dad, both Cuban-Americans, and other Cuban-Americans I have known almost unanimously have told me in the past that if it were up to them, they would have rounded them all up at sea and returned them to Cuba's beach and tell Castro not to dare do that again. But alas, the US had a very weak president in Carter to do such a thing. But I am very happy that most of them have achieved economic success and become part of the economic miracle of the Cuban-American community.
For the most part the scum of Cuba.
These were mostly Cubans who had grown up with the socialist system. They are lazy Godless and worthless criminals.
The Cubans who had come before were and are good folks but those Marioletos were criminals and folks from insane asylums.
We should have sunk their boats.