As political instability continues to loom over South and Central America, Miami’s role as the main entry point for Latin immigrants continues to grow. Miami’s past absorbence of significant immigrant waves from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti during the mid to latter 20th century is well documented. However, Miami’s current role as a gateway to those fleeing strife and insecurity in their homelands has expanded and diversified.
The recent re-election of Hugo Chavez has set an ominous Socialist mechanism into motion in the oil-rich South American nation. Mr. Chavez has forcefully seized private lands, marginalized opposition to him, and seeks to nationalize all major utility companies and the oil industry. This gradual dissolution of the private sector is forcing the upper and middle classes to either accept the status quo or get out. Many of the wealthiest Venezuelans are already looking to South Florida, particularly Miami, as a way to security.
The pattern is set in history. The professional and educated classes leave and settle first. They set up their businesses as best as they can and purchase property. The middle classes soon follow. They compose the employee pool for the prior arrivals to hire from as well as the buyers market for the products and services being sold by the recent arrivals. In Miami, this happened from the 1960’s to the 1990’s primarily with the Cuban and Nicaraguan communities.
With the Spanish speaking foundation already set, new arrivals such as Venezuelans can feel uninhibited in their business practices. Already, Miami is home to the most foreign-born nationals of any major city in the world. This constitutes a sociological phenomenon that merits the highest level of attention. Venezuela is not the only unstable Latin American country that continues to emit waves of immigrants to Miami.
Since Miami is situated closer to Latin America than any other major U.S. city, has a massive Spanish-speaking population, and a vibrant economy, all other nations find the city an appealing sanctuary. Already, Miami is home to large communities of almost every single Latin and Central American country as well as Caribbean. The instability plaguing Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia are all leading to continued immigration to Miami. Argentina recently recovered from economic collapse but has yet to fully get back on its feet. Miami saw a substantial increase in immigration from Argentina, and subsequently, a rise in Argentine-run businesses—restaurants, bakeries, butchers, etc. Only Chile has seen relatively constant stability. Yet, there is still a large Chilean community in the city.
This pattern of constant instability has led to significant emigration for our continental neighbor to the south. Consequently, America’s southernmost metropolis has become the preferred sanctuary for South Americans fleeing civil strife and economic instability. Immigrants, as is clearly known from U.S. history, come with boundless ambition and determination. They work hard, build businesses, and add depth to the city’s political climate. They serve to further separate Miami from all other major urban centers in the hemisphere. Because of them Miami is the hemisphere’s only truly bilingual city, has the largest foreign born population in the world, and has a culture unlike any other U.S. city.
Miami’s residents are concerned with what happens in Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia and other Latin nations because events there affect the city. Nowhere else in the U.S. are city residents so preoccupied with hemispheric politics. Nowhere else in the U.S. are residents so open to change. Nowhere else in the U.S. can one hear, on a regular basis, every Spanish accent in the Hemisphere. Miami, the city on the edge of the continent, is truly one of a kind. As nation heads continue to negotiate the terms of an FTAA agreement, Miami continues to push to be the home of the secretariat. Should the FTAA come into existence and Miami be its home, then the city will hold the political and economic torch of the hemisphere. Something many claim is already the case.