A recent article in the Washington Post on immigration and white flight from Miami offered some intriguing and troubling insight into the nature of racial and ethnic relations in a city that is in many ways a bellwether for the nation. Concern about the difficult, multi-dimensional issues posed by the intersection of race, immigration, and language led the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to conduct extensive hearings in Miami, as part of its continuing investigation into racial and ethnic tensions in communities throughout the U.S.
In brief, the Commission found that despite periods of apparent calm, Miami remains "an ethnic cauldron that periodically boils over when peace is shattered by one incident or another." The Commission found that tension between African Americans and Cuban Americans and other Hispanics is particularly widespread. The stark contrast between the economic success of many Cuban Americans and the limited success of many African Americans has led to a pervasive sense of powerlessness, resentment, and despair in Miami's black community. There is a widespread sentiment that the large influx of Cuban immigrants short-circuited the kinds of economic, political, and social gains African Americans made elsewhere during the Civil Rights era.
Disputes over language policies have also contributed to ethnic tensions. Few African Americans or Haitian immigrants speak Spanish, though Spanish fluency has become increasingly important for employment in that city. Nor does the school system provide adequate instruction for those who do not speak the language.
Our report does more than list the challenges Miami faces. It also provides recommendations for resolving them. Indeed, we believe our report can serve as an important teaching tool for Miami and other cities to begin addressing questions to which no one can pretend to have easy answers.
Individual copies of the report can be obtained free from the Publications Office, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 Ninth Street Room 600, Washington, D.C., 20425. Tel: (202) 376-8312.