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Music Cues: The Battle Over Elian
Scott Simon
April 8, 2000

Scott Simon commentary about Elian Gonzales

Miami has become a great capital city. Less a regional capital of the United States, than the hub of Latin America. The assortment of immigrants who have made Miami their home and headquarters is more diverse than any city in Mexico or central America; and Miami, of course, is directly attached to the muscle of US money. Latin America's most popular cultural products, from the soap operas of Univision to the music of Ricky Martin, are recorded in Miami's studios, and financed by Miami's banks.

In a sense, Miami has become the city that many Cubans once hoped Havana would be. But Havana's growth into a diverse capital was hindered: first by the American mobsters, who mis-ruled it through the Battista regime; then by Fidel Castro's forty year refusal to open Cuba up to the wave of democracy that has been washing over so much of the rest of the world.

Many Cubans who have come to Miami during that time have arrived not as immigrants so much as exiles. They didn't feel like people who had fled someplace fearful to find a better life, but people who had something beautiful taken from them--and want to get it back. Unlike most European, Asian, or African immigrants, the homes that Cubans left were not across a vast ocean, but only the narrow Florida straits--almost close enough to touch. But their contempt for Fidel Castro, and Mr. Castro's disdain for them, meant that Cuban-Americans didn't send some of the riches from their success back to their homelands, unlike many other Latin American and Caribbean immigrants. Instead, they invested in Miami--and remade that city into a marvel.

When Elian Gonzalez was rescued from the sea that separates Cuba from South Florida, it seemed to remind many Cuban-Americans who have grown prosperous and comfortable that once, they worried about survival. It is hard to tell people who have felt politics so personally in their lives that politics has no place in the life of a small boy who survived a shipwreck on a stormy sea that killed his mother. Perhaps they committed one of the easiest infractions that loving adults can--projecting their desires and concerns onto a child.

The U.S. Congress did not want to give U.S. citizenship to Elian Gonzalez when it would inflame a sensitive situation. But if the child is peacefully restored to the father who so plainly loves him, the care that people in Miami have shown for the child--or the interest of the U.S. government--don't have to disappear.

If Elian Gonzalez--and his father and his family--are sent home, quietly, with what amounts to a permanent visitor's visa, he can grow up knowing that America is always open to him. He can choose to come here, or not, as a free young man.