America's Racial and Ethnic Divides

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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 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 nightclubs 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 that for a lot of the people who leave Miami, they might not tell you, but they're leaving because of the ethnics."

Tim Robbie, proprietor of The Sporting Brews restaurant in Weston, Fla. (By Andrew Itkoff for The Washington Post)
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 last year.

Robbie was raised in Miami. His family, lead by his father Joe, was a civic institution. But Robbie himself recently 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 or 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 comfortable 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 of 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 funky and fun Coconut Grove, Green describes himself as one of those who never would have thought about 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 feel 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 for 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 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 keep 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," that 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 is 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 not want to share power and place, or if they feel increasingly shoved aside or overwhelmed in the cities and states with 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.

And many balk at the dominance of Spanish – on television, in official news conferences, on the radio, in schools and meetings and in their day-to-day lives. The movement of so many whites from Miami-Dade to Broward is viewed by many Hispanics as understandable, even natural, though hardly something to be encouraged.

"We had a tremendous exodus of Anglos, especially Anglos who did not feel comfortable with the new demographics of Miami, who were intimidated by the Spanish language and the influx of different people," said Eduardo Padron, a Cuban American and president of the Miami Dade Community College. "It is a natural trend for them to move out. Many of them kept working in Miami, but they found refuge in Broward."

Padron believes the rapidity of demographic changes, and the creation of a Hispanic majority, was "intimidating" for many whites, particularly those who did not speak any Spanish.

Some whites interviewed say they know they may seem like "whiners," as one woman put it, but they feel they are not being met halfway by the newcomers, and this is an especially acute feeling in Miami, where Cuban Americans and other immigrants from Latin America now dominate the political landscape, serving as city and county mayors and council members. Both of Miami's representatives to Congress are Cuban Americans.

Recent elections reveal that voters in Miami-Dade select candidates along stark racial and ethnic lines in classic bloc voting. The 1995 county mayor's race, pitting Cuban American Alex Penelas against African American Arthur Teele, Jr., turned almost entirely on demographic lines, with exit polls showing that the overwhelming majority of Cuban Americans voted for Penelas, as most blacks voted for Teele. What did whites do? A lot of them did not vote at all.

Over the years, there has been sporadic, organized resistance by whites in Miami to hold back the changes. One group, calling itself Citizens of Dade United, was successful in passing a referendum in 1980 that declared English the "official language" of county government. But it was overturned in 1993. Enos Schera, who is a co-founder of the group and who is now 71, is still filled with vinegar, and says he refuses to move from Miami – though he says he and his group have received death threats.

"I'm staying to fight this crazy thing," Schera said. "I'm not a bad guy, but I don't want to be overrun. They come here and get all the advantages of being in America and then they insult you right on top of it." He is writing a book about the changes. "That will tell all," he promises.

But it seems as if Schera is fighting in retreat. He, and his group, have largely been relegated to the role of stubborn whites whose time is over.

Many of the others, like Weston resident Joanne Smith, have already left. "There's no room for us in the discussion," said Smith. "It's like we were the oppressors."

Smith says she likes to eat at Cuban restaurants, has Hispanic neighbors in Weston and admires the strength and striving of the newcomers. She herself is the granddaughter of immigrants, from Europe. But Smith feels the immigrants should try harder to understand the feelings of native Americans. "If they can survive coming here on a raft," she says. "They can learn to speak English."

Here at Weston, almost all of the communities are closed with security gates, requiring a visitor to punch a code or be cleared by a guard before entering the enclaves. In addition to the gates, a private security firm patrols the neighborhoods.

One researcher on the topic, Edward Blakely of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, says that gated communities like Weston's are the fastest growing new developments around the country. Blakely deplores the trend, claiming it creates "fortress neighborhoods," dividing citizens, creating walls between "us" and "them."

But obviously, many home buyers like the concept, and many of the residents of Weston say one of the things they like most about the neighborhood is its sense of community, of safety and the ability of their children to ride their bicycles on the streets.

Yet the gates cannot keep demographic change at bay. Though two of every three residents in Weston is white, most of them in their thirties, about one in four are Hispanic. But these are the most assimilated, often second-generation, solidly middle-class Cuban Americans who come north for the same new schools and golf courses as the white migrants, allowing almost everyone to continue to live within their comfort zone.

But not all. As one three-year resident, who declined to give her name, observed, "I keep hearing more and more Spanish in the grocery store. I don't know if they live here or are just working here. But I started to see some Spanish magazines for sale. Maybe I didn't move far enough north."

Special correspondent Catharine Skipp contributed to this report from Miami.

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