How has Cuban culture changed Miami

The Cuban Dream of America

In the courtyard behind an orange barrack in Panama City, a group of Cubans are busy preparing a party. Blanca Téllez González sits on a plastic garden chair, a hairdresser dyes her hair for the evening: "I'm traveling, but that doesn't mean I have to neglect my appearance," says the 32-year-old. "Besides, my friend is waiting for me in the USA." Téllez González only arrived here a few days ago after crossing the jungle in the south of the country.

Like millions of other Latinos, Cubans make the arduous journey to reach the United States in the hope of a better life. But Cubans are the only ones to expect an accelerated asylum procedure in the USA. The 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act grants newcomers work permits and welfare benefits. After a year in the country, Cubans can even apply for permanent work and residence permits.

Blanca Téllez González wants to go to her boyfriend in the USA

Although the distance between Cuba and Florida is only 78 nautical miles, 144 kilometers, many Cubans choose the route through Central America. Because anyone who is intercepted on the boat has to go back to Cuba. True to the "wet feet, dry feet" policy, only Cubans who have reached US soil on their own are allowed to apply for asylum.

After all: According to the PEW Research Center, more than 46,000 Cubans achieved this between October 2015 and August 2016. It is the highest number in two decades, and in each of those ten months the average was a good 1,000 more than in any of the previous twelve.

Immigration privilege - how much longer?

But since relations have been revived with the official resumption of diplomatic relations under US President Barack Obama and after the death of the Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, the Cuban-friendly immigration policy is threatened with an end.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    Afternoon in Havana

    Hotels line the boulevard Paseo del Prado, which separates today's center of Havana from the old town and runs from the Malecón waterfront to the Capitol, the pre-revolutionary seat of government. People of all ages meet here to relax, to gossip or to play chess.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    A life's work

    "The Cuban government made my dream come true of helping people as a nurse," says 72-year-old Mirta Gómez. She has worked in the Havana Central Hospital for most of her professional life. Today she still helps train the nursing staff. In her free time she sells flowers: "I love their scent. And I stay in contact with people."

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana


    Boxing is Cuba's sporting figurehead. With 73 Olympic medals, 37 of which are gold, the Caribbean island is in second place behind the USA in the nation ranking. These children train at the Rafael Trejo boxing school in Old Havana. It is named after Rafael Trejo Gonzalez, a law student who was shot and killed in 1930 during a demonstration at Havana University.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    Well-read Cuba

    "We are socialists. We are continuing what Fidel and the revolution started," says 75-year-old Francisco Arrosa. In his hand he is holding the "Granma", the government's party paper and the country's largest daily newspaper, from the day after Castro's death. "We may not be wealthy, but there is food, education, doctors and an apartment for every Cuban." This is the revolution.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    Reconstruction begins

    Buildings are being renovated all over Havana to pave the way for American tourism. Recently, Cubans have been allowed to become self-employed in certain industries and to a small extent. This house in the Vedado district will one day accommodate "casas particulares" - private accommodations that can be rented out to tourists. The Cuban authorities issue the license for this.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    Havana for beginners

    1950s nostalgia: Driving through Havana in a vintage sledge is very popular with many tourists. For a long time, pre-revolutionary cars were the only ones in Cuba. That's why they still drive in large numbers today. But few examples are as well preserved as this one. In the meantime, new cars are arriving on the island - at exorbitant prices.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    Fabulous story

    Canadians make up the largest group of tourists in Cuba. But with political rapprochement, so does the number of US citizens. For many, Havana's history as the mafia capital of the middle of the century, the romanticism of the communist revolution and the complicated relationship with the USA have a magical attraction. You can already find souvenirs in Havana on all these topics.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    Generation internet

    Young people sit with their amartphones on Havana's promenade, the Malecón. Here is one of the 250 or so WiFi hotspots that the communist regime has set up across the island. For one hour of Internet - heavily censored - they have to shell out around five percent of an average monthly wage. Only hand-picked citizens have an Internet connection at home.

  • Cuba to Castro: Snapshots from Havana

    The fishermen from the Malecón

    Fishing is also popular on the Malecón. Fish is an integral part of Cuban cuisine and one of the few export items from the island's economy. Since the US trade embargo was eased, US shipping companies have also begun to take an interest in the fish-rich waters around the island.

    Author: Mauro Pimentel, Kait Bolongaro

It is unlikely that the upcoming US President Donald Trump will pursue this rapprochement. But that does not have to mean that he wants to keep his entry privileges, after all, he is not only more critical of communist Cuba, but also of immigration than his predecessor Obama. Cubans willing to emigrate therefore fear that Trump will put an end to both the relaxation of the trade embargo and the immigration privileges of Cubans.

Serenity instead of worry

Unimpressed by this, many Cubans are determined to continue their way north. And some are quite confident that the new government will welcome them too. "Cubans are the reason Trump was elected," says Téllez González. "He won't change anything, he will receive us with open arms."

54 percent of Cuban Americans in Florida voted Republican in November - twice as many as other Latinos in the state.

Ariel Padrón Gómez is standing next to the improvised hair salon smoking a cigarette. He's been on the road for two months. The mechanical engineer hopes to get a better job in Houston, Texas than in his home country of Cuba. According to a study by the Boston marketing agency Rose, a Cuban worker earned an average of 687 Cuban Pesos - 27 euros or 29 US dollars - a month in 2015.

Tomás Mora mourns Castro. Because of Trump, he only fears for other Latinos

"Most of the people I met on my way are young and trained: doctors, engineers, nurses," says the 27-year-old. "There are no options for us in Cuba, but the US needs trained immigrants. Trump knows that."

Afraid yes, but not of Trump

Esmilcy Gómez Camacho, who is proud to be Cuban, also admits that she wants to emigrate to the USA for economic reasons, not political persecution: "As a Cuban, the revolution is in my blood, but I want a better one for my children Life, "says the single mother, who set off with her two sons - 16 and five years old -. Gómez Camacho is not afraid of the wall that Trump wants to have built on the southern border of the USA with Mexican funding: "He cannot force Mexico to pay it."

Everyone is now lively discussing the long road through Central America that still lies ahead of them; the party preparations come to a standstill. They face closed borders everywhere, and even if they make it across all five borders, there is a constant risk of being robbed, kidnapped, raped or even killed before they reach the US border.

"I'm more afraid of people smugglers than of Trump," says Abraham Ramos Rodríguez, who wants to see his wife and daughter in Miami. "They can just steal your money or kidnap you to extort a ransom."

Just another US president

Meanwhile, tens of thousands in Cuba are torn between staying and leaving. Tomás Mora has lived in Cuba all his life. When Fidel Castro died, the 77-year-old mourned. He is not afraid of Donald Trump: "Cuba's allies lose one election after the other, but Latin America must stick together," explains the former taxi driver and musician. "Cuba is ready to deal with Trump for four years, but our neighbors?"

Andy José dreams of rebuilding his home country as a civil engineer

In the Miramar district, Andy José sits on the Malecón, the concrete promenade that protects Havana from the surf. The 14-year-old swings his fishing rod to attract fish, but he cannot raise the 53 pesos for a bait.

Andy José wants to become a civil engineer one day: "I want to design and build houses and with my work I want to help keep the revolution going. We Cubans will keep Fidel Castro's ideas alive."

Across the port, in Old Havana, is the famous Rafael Trejo boxing school. Noel Hernández sparring with a friend. Unlike many Cubans of his generation, the 28-year-old has no ambitions to leave the country. "Trump is just another US president. We have been opposing the US since 1959, that's Cubans," he says. "It's nice that relationships are better now, but we still don't know what they want from us."

American dreams in Cuba

But not everyone wants to resist the United States. And many are concerned that with Trump there will be changes for Cuban migrants and that it could become more difficult for them to obtain asylum in the USA. Eduardo Alvarez * is already planning to leave the country. The computer technician prefers not to wait until Trump has implemented his migration agenda: "I want freedom. Obama's visit has brought this dream closer," says the 32-year-old. "Trump is the worst scenario for us."

Daniel Castillo * feels the same way. The 14-year-old is not interested in US politics, but he is also pursuing the American dream: "I don't care about Trump, I just want to get away from Cuba. I don't see any life for me here," he says with the unease, that someone could hear it and cause them problems.

Noel Hernández: "We have been opposing the US since 1959, Trump is just another president."

While Gloria Morales * waits for meat at a government distribution point, she complains that her family is scattered all over the world. "The 80s and 90s were very tough, but now Cuba is doing better," says the former teacher. There is more to eat, more freedom, but she still cannot visit her family: "That's why I want to leave here." However, it is too dangerous for her to cross the strait from Florida in a small boat or to travel through Central America on winding roads. "I'm not that young anymore," says the 61-year-old, "that's why I save money to leave."

A determined nation

Back in Panama. Marigledy's Castro Arrebato joins the party committee. She is two months pregnant - with quintuplets. The 25-year-old wants to reach the United States before giving birth so that her children can become US citizens: "Trump threatened to change the laws," she said, "so I have to make it across the border in time. And if I do have to crawl. "

The group encourages them: "You can do it in time," says Téllez González. "Even if he builds the wall - that's a long line. How can he stop determined people like us Cubans?"

(* Name changed)