Reading Professor Valverde's "Creating Identity, Defining Culture, and Making History" reminded me of something I rarely reveal to others: it's hard for me to connect to Cuban Americans.
It should go without saying that Cuban Americans are not a monolithic group. But when compared to other Latino groups - namely, Mexican Americans - Cuban Americans tend to be much more conservative and much more Republican. Considering that Cuba is the most left-leaning country in Latin America, this was hard for me to understand.
I participated in a program for Latino college students this past summer in Washington, DC - an experience that quickly turned into a crash course in Diversity within the Latino Community 101. I met a woman from Florida (an immigrant herself from Cuba) that explained the conservatism of Cuban Americans this way: because Cuba is a Communist country, and one that is horribly repressive towards its people, Cubans that manage to flee from Cuba are obviously going to tend to be against the Cuban government, and thus, lean more to the right than to the left.
"Creating Identity," though not about Cuban Americans, was the missing link in my understanding of the Cuban immigrant experience in the United States.
Of course, the experiences of Vietnamese Americans and Cuban Americans are not identical. But I believe Valverde's three spheres of influence on Vietnamese American identity can be applied to the Cuban American community as well, so long as "Vietnam" is replaced with "Cuba."
First sphere of influence: US government foreign policies regarding Cuba. Cuban Americans have worked tirelessly towards strengthening an anti-Castro agenda within US foreign policy. Second sphere of influence: the Cuban state and its citizens. Cuba continues to influence Cubans in the diaspora. Third sphere of influence: Anti-communism within Cuban American communities. The "Cuban American lobby" has come to be synonymous with the "anti-Castro lobby," and in some more extreme cases, the "conservative Hispanic lobby," regardless of whether or not this is reflective of the community as a whole.
Understanding this, I don't know how fair the statement "it's hard for me to connect with Cuban Americans" is, after all. Though Cuban Americans and Mexican Americans comprise two groups under the "Latino" umbrella, the two groups have incredibly different experiences in the United States. And just like the Vietnamese American community is incredibly diverse, as Valverde reminds us in her article, so is the Cuban American community. I just have to step out of my comfort zone and try to understand our differences (and similarities) a little better.