By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
What does this group think about Castro?
"That man has to die," says the young Cuban woman. "I'm Cuban my family went through a lot." Then she walks out the door her shift is over.
Everyone else looks uncomfortable. They don't like the topic, and they're afraid that their comments could be misconstrued.
Sigfredo González, the restaurant's spry chef and owner, decides to play the diplomat, explaining carefully between winces that he has many Cuban-American friends. And the two islands have so much in common: music (i.e., salsa) and sports (i.e., baseball). They speak alike, sharing some vocabulary that many other Spanish speakers might not even recognize. Even their flags are easily confused.
In other words, González doesn't want to offend anyone.
So, it's not that González isn't interested in what's going on in Cuba. It's just that he feels there are so many other issues in the world that need to be covered too. "You can't avoid the news about Castro it's on the Latin channels. And being Latino, you pay attention to what's going on in the economies and politics of Latin America. But we're very Americanized."
A few doors down in the same shopping center, New York's Finest Barber Shop is buzzing with activity. A chorus of electronic hair clippers whirs to service almost a dozen clients as salsa music blares from a flat-screen TV.
The barbers have nicknames like "Chino" (Chinaman), "Flako" (Skinny Dude) and "Rey" (King). The crowd is mostly roughnecks in new kicks with the sneaker of choice being black or white Reeboks. Lots of baggy pants and sideways-worn hats. It's the kind of place where a street-smart young macho can get a perfect fade and carefully carved chin-strap. The hair is cut close to the scalp, and the beards are thin lines that hug the jawline.
It's a little slice of the South Bronx in the heart of redneck country.
Jeffrey Padín, 29, used to cut hair here, but now he just comes in to hang with the guys. Even though he's been living in Florida for eight years, the Puerto Rican prefers speaking Spanish and switches the conversation back to his native tongue at every opportunity. He has a shy smile, and when he talks, it's in a low, raspy voice.
Padín wears lots of big gold jewelry, two large diamond stud earrings, and plenty of camouflage. He's short, with a stocky build and Asian eyes. Instead of a gold grill on his teeth, he has braces. What might seem like a gruff exterior is actually a meticulously groomed look and Padín is a gentle, polite young man.
Does anyone in the shop ever bring up Castro?
Well, one of the barbers is Cuban, but if he tries to talk politics, the others just tell him to stuff it. Motioning toward the lone Cuban in a crowd of 20 Hispanics, Padín says: "He doesn't really care because he grew up here. He's accepted the situation."
Instead, the men like to chat about women and who's driving what car, Padín summarizes, pointing proudly at his shiny new silver Mercedes sedan.
Contrary to popular belief, most Cuban-Americans in South Florida don't feel the need to meddle in Cuban affairs. Several generations have now spent the majority of or their entire lives here, so they feel no right to claim anything back on the island. According to a recent survey conducted by Coral Gables-based Hispanic opinion pollster Bendixen and Associates, 67 percent of Cuban-Americans in South Florida think property in Cuba belongs to the people living in or otherwise using those buildings and land today. Just 20 percent feel that the assets should go to those who have property titles predating Fidel Castro's revolution.
Also, four out of five of the 600 Cuban-Americans living in Miami-Dade and Broward counties that Bendixen surveyed in September say that, if given the option of returning to a free and democratic Cuba, they'd stay here.
This ambivalence comes as no surprise to Juan Serio, a 40-year-old travel agent from Maracaibo, Venezuela. Maybe it's because Serio lives in Delray Beach, 60 miles north of Miami, or maybe it's because he's part of a younger generation, but he says the Cuban-Americans he knows have completely detached from their homeland. "They don't even talk about Castro," he notes. With the warmth of a salesman, Serio chuckles good-naturedly at the idea of a drastic shift in Cuba once Castro passes away. "It's going to be the same, whether he's there or not. It's not just him it's a whole government."
South Florida made it through the July announcement of Fidel's handing power over to his brother Raúl without a slew of Cuban-Americans launching boats into the water to visit their homelands or carry cousins back to U.S. shores. "We've already had a dress rehearsal of sorts," asserts Phil Peters, an economist with the Lexington Institute in D.C. who visited Cuba in December. "When Fidel fell sick, the only thing that happened in Miami was some dancing in front of Versailles."