Miami Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Miami is the major hub of Latin American and Caribbean immigration to the United States, and the immigrant communities have both transformed the city and turned it into a nexus between the United States and its southern neighbors. The city is a hybrid of American and Latino cultures, with many immigrants maintaining close economic and political ties to their native lands.

Miami is the third-largest immigrant city in the United States, after New York and Los Angeles, but differs significantly from those two metropolises in that the immigrant population is still largely concentrated into enclaves, with the Cuban contingent outnumbering the others by a significant margin. Cuban immigration after Fidel Castro’s revolution of 1959 transformed the city’s economy, society, and politics. Cuban migration to the United States usually involved three generations of parents, children, and at least one elderly relative. The typical Cuban immigrant to Miami was born in a large urban center. Havana alone was home to more than half of those who arrived between 1959 and 1963. One-third of the heads of households who arrived in the United States between 1960 and 1962 had been proprietors or managers back in Cuba, while others came from the ranks of lawyers, doctors, judges, and skilled or semiskilled workers. More than 96 percent were Hispanic whites.Miami, FloridaFlorida;MiamiCuban immigrants;MiamiMiami, FloridaFlorida;MiamiCubanimmigrants;Miami[cat]CITIES AND COMMUNITIES;Miami[03490]

The 1970 U.S. Census estimated that of the one million Cubans who had migrated to the United States since 1959, more than 80 percent had settled in Miami. The exiles of this generation mainly settled in the Riverside neighborhood that came to be known as Little HavanaLittle Havana. The biggest consignment came to Miami during the first three years of the Castro regime, and next during the so-called freedom flights of 1965-1973. A huge wave of immigration, estimated at 200,000, occurred in 1980 with the Mariel boatliftMariel boatlift. However, after 1980 Cuban immigration once again slowed down to a trickle, until the rafters’ crisis of 1994, when Cubans tried to make their way to Miami by using small, makeshift boats; eventually, some thirty thousand were granted permanent residence in the United States, mostly in the Miami area.

Cuban American immigration to Miami gave an enormous boost to a city that as late as the 1940’s was seen as only a vacation spot. Cuban Americans became architects, bankers, doctors, and teachers, as well as blue-collar workers. By 2006, close to 800,000 Cubans were living in Miami-Dade County, constituting three-quarters of the Cuban American population in the United States. Ties of language, religion, and the experience of exile led many to see themselves not as part of a larger Latino or Hispanic community but rather as Cuban residents of Miami. The average Cuban adult in Miami by the end of the twentieth century earned an annual income greater than his Anglo-American neighbors, and Cuban women were more likely to participate in the labor force than any other Hispanic females. Graduation rates for both high school and college also surpassed those of the rest of the city population. As more Cuban immigrants became naturalized citizens, they flexed their political muscle. Their Castro, Fidel[p]Castro, Fidel;opponents ofanti-Castro politics persuaded most Cubans to vote Republican in local, state, and national elections. In 1985, Miami elected its first Cuban American mayor, Xavier Suarez, who delivered on his promise to make the city a nexus of trade between the United States and LatinAmerica in everything from luxury cars to shoes.

Latin American and Caribbean Immigration After 1980

Political upheaval in Latin America and the Caribbean after 1980 brought new immigrant groups to Miami in large numbers. Nicaraguan immigrants;MiamiNicaraguans fleeing their country’s Sandinista revolutionSandinista revolution of 1979 arrived by the thousands, but many were forced by the U.S. government to return home following the defeat of the Sandinistas in elections in 1990. However, others stayed on, particularly in the downtown neighborhoods around Flagler Street. Colombians seeking refuge from the thirty-year-old civil war at home also migrated to Miami, taking up many of the blue-collar jobs previously held by Cubans. However, it was Haitian immigration during the 1990’s, following the installation and then overthrow of President Aristide, Jean-BertrandJean-Bertrand Aristide, that had the greatest impact on the city’s ethnic composition. Concentrated in a northeastern neighborhood of the city that soon came to be dubbed Little Haiti, Haitian immigrants faced ostracism from both the Hispanic and African Americans;and Haitian immigrants[Haitian immigrants]African Americancommunities–the stigma associated with the spread of Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome;and Haitians[Haitians]AIDS in Haiti was particularly harmful–but some were able to climb into the Miami middle class and even attain elected office.

At the start of the new millennium, Miami still resembled the salad bowl rather than melting pot model of immigration and settlement in the United States. Nevertheless, outright physical friction between immigrant groups was rare, and the city’s reputation as the economic capital of the Caribbean continued to draw tens of thousands of migrants per year, making Miami one of the largest Latin American cities in the Western Hemisphere.Miami, FloridaFlorida;MiamiCuban immigrants;Miami

Further Reading
  • Allman, T. D. Miami: City of the Future. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987. History of the city during the twentieth century that stresses the ability of immigrants to assimilate while maintaining a separate cultural identity.
  • Didion, Joan. Miami. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987. The famed novelist presents a nonfiction account of Miami as a Third World city located in the United States that holds Cuban immigrants responsible for extremist politics.
  • Grenier, Guillermo J., and Alex Stepick, eds. Miami Now! Immigration, Ethnicity and Social Change. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1992. This collection of essays stresses how Latin American immigration has turned Miami into a de facto capital city of Latin America, with frequent racial and political upheaval but also cooperation among groups.
  • Portes, Alejandro, and Alex Stepick. City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993. Optimistic look at how the post-1980 wave of Cuban immigrants and later arrivals, including Haitians and Nicaraguans, has forged a more tolerant Miami.
  • Shell-Weiss, Melanie. Coming to Miami: A Social History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2009. History of immigration to Miami since 1880 that emphasizes the struggle of Cubans, Haitians, and other Latin American peoples for citizenship and labor rights.

Colombian immigrants

Cuban immigrants


Freedom Airlift

González case

Haitian immigrants

Latin American immigrants

Little Havana

Mariel boatlift

West Indian immigrants

Categories: History