Posted on Thursday, 05.23.13
Sociologist: Income levels of Mariel migrants lower than earlier Cuban
By Juan O. Tamayo
Cubans who arrived in the United States during and after the Mariel
boatlift have lower income levels than older migrants from the island
and now rank close to other Latin American arrivals, according to an
expert on the Cuban Diaspora.
“From the elite of the Hispanic migration … (Cubans) have become just
another Latin American group,” Alejandro Portes said Thursday during a
conference hosted by the Cuba Research Institute at Florida
The three-day conference, the ninth sponsored by the CRI and usually
held every two years, drew about 250 participants to discuss Cuba
migration and how it affects issues such as music, literature and U.S.
Portes said the initial waves of Cubans who came to the United States
after Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 arrived with generally good
business skills and educations and were welcomed by the U.S. government
They became the highly successful migrants sometimes called the golden
exile, he said, because they helped each other and could receive
so-called “character loans” — bank loans issued without collateral and
based solely on the recipient’s reputation.
Such loans are a thing of the past, said Portes, a sociologist at
Princeton and the University of Miami who has written extensively about
the waves of Cuban migrations before and after the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
Reports that criminals and other “undesirables” were among the 125,000
Cubans who arrived on the boatlift also led to these arrivals losing the
support of the U.S. government, the U.S. population and even earlier
arrivals, Portes said.
Although Mariel and later arrivals are more entrepreneurial than
migrants from most other nations — greater Miami has more Hispanic
businesses than Los Angeles — they have not been as successful as the
earlier Cuban arrivals, he said.
They arrived with few real business skills and perhaps weak overall
educations, Portes noted, because the island’s educational system has
deteriorated significantly in recent decades, especially after the
Soviet Union collapsed and ended its massive subsidies.
Enterprises established by the more recent arrivals also may lack
sufficient capital, the sociologist said, because financing is tighter
now and these migrants tend to send more cash and other types of
assistance to their families and friends on the island.
Recent arrivals tend to have income levels far below those of earlier
Cuban migrants, Portes said. In 1999, the average income for post-Mariel
arrivals was $27,000, he added, about the same as other Latin American
And while the children of early migrants were more likely to attend
private schools, the children of the later arrivals were more likely to
attend public schools at a time when the quality of U.S. public
education has been dropping.
As young adults, those children also were more likely to have lower
incomes and school graduation rates, higher number of children and
higher rates of incarceration, he said. Among the children of Mariel and
post-Mariel arrivals, one in 10 has been incarcerated, Portes added.
The more recent Cuban arrivals, he said, “are not statistically very
different from other Latin American migrants.
Portes also noted that the Cuban government’s decision to ease
restrictions on travel abroad as of Jan. 14 has changed its migration
system, from “a one-way escape” designed to lower domestic opposition,
toward “more of a two-way street.”
“Intentionally or not,” he added, the new system means the Cuban
government is treating the more recent migrants as “a reliable financial
resource” that can send cash to the island and reduce the political
influence of the older exiles.
The Cuban Research Institute conference continues Friday with a 2 p.m.
keynote panel on the effects of Raúl Castro’s economic reforms chaired
by economists Carmelo Mesa Lago and Jorge Perez Lopez. A dozen more
panels are scheduled Saturday.