Migration from Miami

By William Booth
Volume 9, Number 2 (Winter 1998-1999)
Issue theme: "Secure identification and immigration enforcement"

Everything here is nice and neat, just the way Joanne Smith likes it. The deve-lopers call their new city on the edge of the Everglades "Our Home Town," and Smith agrees. "It's more like America," she says. Like thousands of others, Smith moved to this planned community 40 miles north of Miami just a few years ago, searching for a safe and secure neighborhood like this one, where both modest homes and rambling mansions sit against the manicured landscape of palm and hibiscus, and gated streets called Wagon Way and Windmill Ranch gently curve around the shallow lagoons and golf links. Weston is a boomtown filling with refugees. But the migrants pouring into this part of Broward County are rarely those from the Caribbean, Central and South America - the immigrants to the South who have transformed Miami and surrounding Dade County into a metropolis proudly called by its business and political leaders "The Gateway to Latin America." Instead, the refugees here are mostly native-born and white, young and old, and they have been streaming up from Miami for years now, creating a new version of the traditional "white flight" in reaction not to black inner cities, but to immigration. While Miami is unique in many respects, because of both geography and politics, the out-migration of whites is occurring in other high-immigration cities. New York and Los Angeles, for example, each lost a million U.S.-born residents in the last decade, as they gained a million immigrants. According to an analysis of the most recent census data, for a almost every immigrant who came to Miami-Dade County in recent years, a white non-Hispanic left. "I loved Miami, but it's a mad scene down there now," said Smith, who is semi-retired and asked that her occupation not be given. Before her move to Weston, Smith lived in Miami for two decades, "In a nice neighborhood gone bad. People say things, ‘Oh, that';s change and that's progress,' but I like it clean and green - and everybody speaking English," Smith says. In discussions about the historic demographic transformations occurring in the United States, which is absorbing almost 1 million immigrants a year, most of the attention focuses quite naturally on the newcomers Who are they and where are they from and how do they make their way in America? But immigration is a two-way street - and the welcome the immigrants receive from the native-born is crucial for the continued idea of America as a fabled "melting pot." Of course, there are many whites - and blacks, too - who have remained in Miami-Dade County, to either continue their lives as before or accept, even embrace the Latin tempo of Miami, who have learned how to pronounce masas de puerco at lunchtime and to fake a respectable merengue dance step, who enjoy the culture, the business opportunities and caffeinated hustle of a metropolis dominated by immigrants. No one could call Miami dull. But it is almost as if there are "Sooner or later many of the refugees moving north mention immigration and the sense that they are no longer ... ‘comfortable.'"two kinds of native whites - those who can deal with the multiculturalism that has transformed Miami over the past several decades and those who choose not to. Either way, if the country is to successfully transform itself into a completely multicultural industrialized nation, what these internal migrants say - and there are millions of them around the country - needs to be heard and understood. Those transplants interviewed by The Washington Post, including those who asked that their names not be used, take pains to explain that, for the most part, the people like them who are moving out of Miami-Dade to Broward are not anti-immigrant xenophobes. In several dozen interviews with a cross-section of these "domestic migrants" a picture emerges of a segment of the non-Hispanic white population in Miami-Dade County that feels marginalized, exasperated and sometimes bitter, and who move from Dade to Broward with a mix of emotions. Migrants to Broward give many reasons for the move north their money buys a bigger, newer house in Broward; they are tired of the traffic and congestion; they worry about crime; they complain about the overcrowded schools; those with young families often say they are looking for a place where their children can play ball in the front yard and ride their bikes down the block. But all these things, the good and the bad, can also be found in booming Broward County. Sooner or later many of the refugees moving north mention immigration and the sense that they are no longer, as many transplants describe it, "comfortable." Phil Phillips was born and raised near what is today downtown Miami, where his father worked for the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the postwar years, at a time when the immigrants to Florida were mostly from Europe. Phillips served in the Navy, taught vocational classes at Miami High School, and made a living running a small air conditioning and refrigeration business. Until the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba, Phillips described the Miami of yesteryear as a more sleepy, more Southern town. It had its glitz in the fanciful playground of Jackie Gleason's city of Miami Beach, but the county was still filled with open land and farms. "Miami was a very happy place," Phillips remembers with nostalgia. "We had our demarcations, don't get me wrong. But we didn't have the animosity." When pressed, Phillips does remember that the beaches, restaurants and night clubs were often segregated, not only for African-Americans. Jews had their own country clubs. The Miami of black-and-white all began to change with the arrival of the Cubans in the early 1960s. "The vast majority of the Cubans came here and worked two and three jobs," said Phillips, who is retired and living in Weston. A man who worked with his hands all his life, Phillips respects that. "I saw them do it. And in time, they took over, and some people resent that. But that's the way it is." "There's this myth out there that a Cuban will screw an American in a deal," Phillips says. "I don't think that is so, but that's the feeling the whites have, and it's because the two sides don't communicate, sometimes they can't communicate, and so they don't understand the other guy." Phillips has seen decades of change, as the demographics of his home town kept skewing toward Hispanics, in fits and starts. After the first big influx of Cubans in the 1960s, there was Cuba's Mariel boatlift in 1980. Then all through the proxy wars and upheavals in Central America and the Caribbean through the 1980s and 1990s, refugees from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti kept coming to Miami. "We're great in America at blaming somebody else for our problems," Phillips said. "But I will tell you that for a lot of people who leave Miami (they "‘It is our city now,' many Cuban Americans say, and the numbers tell part of the story."might not tell you), but they're leaving because of the ethnics." Phillips offered his opinions as he sat sipping soup at the counter of a new restaurant here in Weston opened by Tim Robbie, whose family owned the Miami Dolphins for years, before they sold out to Wayne Huizenga, who is "The Man" in Broward County, as much as Jorge Mas Canosa, the power behind the Cuban American National Foundation, was "The Man" in Miami before his death [in 1997]. Robbie was raised in Miami. His family, led by his father Joe, was a civic institution. But Robbie himself moved to Weston, too. "I know a lot of our friends down in Miami were disappointed with us," Robbie said. "They asked how can you do this to us?" Robbie agreed that something akin to "the tipping point" phenomenon might be at work, whereby one of two families in a social or business network can leave a community and nothing much changes. But at some point, if enough people leave, the balance suddenly tips, and large groups start selling their homes, and over a period of several years, they create mass demographic shifts. Robbie himself said he was uncomfortable down south in Miami, but concedes that many are not. "Anglos are accustomed to being in the majority, and down in Dade, they're not. And that puts some people outside their comfort zone. People tend to like to stick together." Robbie's business partner is Bob Green, who also moved from Miami to Broward. A longtime denizen of funk and fun Coconut Grove, Green describes himself as one of those who never would have thought of moving north to Broward. But then he saw the new business opportunities, and also found himself liking a place like Weston. "It has this midwestern feeling," Green said. "More downhome and friendly." This mass internal migration is the latest version of a classic "push-pull" model of residential segregation, whereby many whites in Miami fell lured north by the offerings of a development like Weston, but also feel pushed out of Miami - not only by their fatigue with crime or congestion, but the cultural and demographic upheavals caused by three decades of immigration. Peter Schott is a tourism official who is changing jobs and, reluctantly, moving with his wife, who works with a cruise ship line, to Broward. The couple, both in their thirties and expecting their first child, are looking for a bigger home. Schott says he will miss the exotic, foreign feel of Miami. Miami, Schott says, is a media noche, the name for a Cuban sandwich, while Broward he fears is "white bread and baloney." While he will miss Miami, Schott knows that many of those moving north to Broward may not. "Some people are real frank," he said. "They say they want to be with more people more like us. If they're white Americans, they want white Americans around them." For non-Hispanic, non-Spanish-speaking whites to survive in Miami, there is no choice but to move, or to adapt. "It is our city now," many Cuban Americans say, and the numbers tell part of the story. In the 1990s, some 95,000 white non-Hispanics left Miami-Dade County, decreasing that group's presence by 16 percent to around 492,000, or about one-fifth of the county population. They either moved away, or, in the case of elderly residents, particularly in the Jewish community, died. (The Jewish population in Miami-Dade County has decreased from about 250,000 to 100,000 in the last two decades. The new destination for Jewish retirees and younger migrants is Broward and Palm Beach counties). As whites left Miami, they poured into Broward. Between 1990 and 1997, the white non-Hispanic population here increased by about 82,000, or 8 percent, to more than a million residents. These dramatic numbers follow an equally large out-migration of whites during the "This feeling of being the beleaguered minority is creating among some a new consciousness of ‘white ethnicity'..."1980s. So many non-Hispanic whites left Miami-Dade in the previous decade that Marvin Dunn, a sociologist at Florida International University, who has followed the trend, said in 1991, "You get down to the point below which those who are going to leave have left and the others are committed to stay. I think we're close to that with whites." But Dunn was wrong. The whites kept leaving. "White migration to Miami-Dade has essentially stopped," said William Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan who coined the phrase "demographic balkanization" to describe the ongoing trend of ethnic and racial groups to self-segregate - not only within a city, but from city to city and from state to state. "The two appear almost like mirror images of each other," Frey said of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. "There is definitely something going on here and we can only guess what it is. But this ‘One America' that Clinton talks about is clearly not in the numbers. Segregation and non-assimilation continue." Many times, native whites on the move explain that Miami now feels to them like "a foreign country," and they feel "overwhelmed" by the presence not just of some Spanish-speakers, but so many. "You order a coke without ice," said an executive and mother of three who moved to Broward from Miami in 1996 and asked that her name not be used. "And you get ice. You say no starch and you get starch. You call government offices, and they can't take a decent message in English. You spell your name letter by letter and they get it wrong. They keep saying ‘Que? Que? Que?' (Spanish for ‘What?') You go to the mall, and you watch as the clerks wait on the Spanish-speakers before you. It's like reverse racism. You realize, my God, this is what it's like to be the minority." "The white population feels increasingly beleaguered," said George Wilson, a sociologist at the University of Miami who is studying the phenomenon. "Their whole domain is changing at the micro-level," Wilson continued. "At the malls, in the schools. A lot of the whites I talk to say they feel challenged by the rapid ethnic and cultural change. A whole population of whites has gone from a clear majority to a clear minority in a very short time... and a lot of them simply say, ‘to hell with this' and move up the road." This feeling of being the beleaguered minority is creating among some a new consciousness of "white ethnicity," and for those who see America's future as a relatively harmonious multicultural state based on shared ideas of capitalism and freedom, this may not bode well. For if whites do want to share power and place, or if they feel increasingly shoved aside or overwhelmed in the cities and states of high immigration, they will continue to vote with their feet, by moving away, creating not a rainbow of citizens but a more balkanized nation, with jobs, university enrollments, public spending, schools all seen through ethnic or racial prisms, including among whites. Several of those interviewed complain that the politics of Miami-Dade are dominated by the issues of the newcomers, particularly the Cuban Americans, who wait for the fall of Fidel Castro; they see in the city hall, where a number of officials were recently indicted and convicted of taking kickbacks after it was discovered that the city was broke, a "banana republic" of ethnic cronyism; they dislike being referred to in Spanish media as "the Americans" by Miami's Hispanic residents and politicians, as if they were the foreigners.

About the author

William Booth is a Washington Post staff writer. This article, the fifth in a series of occasional articles, appeared November 9, 1998. Copyright 1998, it is reprinted by permission of the Washington Post Writers Group.