Friday, May 13, 2011

Whose Miami?

Katrina Dalton
In her essay, “Whose Spanish? The tension between linguistic correctness and cultural identity,” Bonnie Urciuoli describes the ways in which elite liberal arts schools’ desire to achieve ethnic diversity can create difficult environments for bilingual Latino students.  She explains that “the linguistic identity that figures into the ethnic identity that supplies the institution with symbolic capital in the form of diversity ranking becomes a problem of symbolic capital in the form of diversity ranking becomes a problem of symbolic capital for students in terms of personal presentation of being taken seriously,” (Urciuoli, 2).  She explains that in the context of the “overwhelming whiteness” of the elite liberal arts college environment and its vision of Spanish that is driven by literary correctness, students who grew up in say, urban Dominican and Puerto Rican households increasingly tend to identify as Latino, (Urciuoli, 6).  In a way this emergence of a generic Latino identity that does not map one to one on to a nation, a region, or a people relieves some of the anxiety about the hierarchical nature of a linguistic identity being equated with an ethnic identity. 
            While this emergence of what Urciuoli describes as a Latinidad in college life may serve as an advantageous social equalizer in some specific urban, Latino experiences, I would argue that the same principles could be applied to other socio-economic ethnic groups who desire opposite outcomes.  My evidence is by no means the result of a carefully conducted study such as Urciuolis’ so I request the reader’s generosity in recognizing that I am not trying to draw conclusions about entire ethnic groups or perpetuate stereotypes, but rather, I seek to use Urciuoli’s text to make sense of my own very specific observations about language, ethnicity and race in the context of elite, liberal arts education.  I suspect that these observations may represent a larger pattern.
 Over the past five years that I’ve lived in New York, I have become close with a group of several dozen students and recent post-graduates from Miami, Fl.  They have been friends since early childhood, are by and large of Cuban descent, (almost all first generation born in the United States), and all attended the same network of Jesuit prep schools, (a Cuban school that was exported to Miami).  Their English is “unaffected”--what Urciuoli would describe as “monoglot standard English”, (plagued only perhaps by the overuse of “um” and “like” which the majority of our generation suffer from). Spanish was very much a part of their home life as well as their private school education, making it the “unproblematic” type of bilingualism as far as Urciuoli is concerned, because it is “uncomplicated by culture,” (Urciuoli, 4). They attend/ed a range of elite universities including but not limited to Brown, Yale, Notre Dame, Duke, Vanderbilt, NYU, Emerson, Middlebury.
This particular group of young people occupies a unique cultural, racial, linguistic and social space in popular imagination.  They paradoxically hail from a community of exile that historically came to be when their families fled Cuba, not because they did not have the means to survive, but because their extreme wealth was threatened.  It is in that vein of thinking that the particular Cuban immigration experience tends to carry a different connotation than that of other Caribbean, Latino immigration experiences.; there is not an imagery of social deviation or economic drain.  These students’ linguistic “unmarked-ness” allows them to navigate the world easily, academically and professionally with their bilingualism viewed as proper and advantageous. 
I believe it is partially because of this historical uniqueness, that this particular group of people generally identify as “white” or “Cuban” and specifically not as Latino.  For the same reasons that the subjects of Urciuoli’s study tended to identify in a communal way so as not to be ethnically isolated, these wealthy Miami Cubans seek to separate themselves from that community.  In their case, it becomes beneficial to assert in very specific ways, both who they are and who they are not.  Several of these students and young professionals are contributors to one of two online blogs that they created since moving to New York.  They serve as a public space for them to display and comment on their specific Miami-Cuban experience.
The first, a blog called Miami Nice focuses on luxury.  Hotels, music, couture, art, fashion, parties and cultural events that celebrate this glamorous perception of Miami life are it’s main focus.  In the “about” section, a dedication is extended to those with hundred thousand dollar convertibles blasting Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami.”  The reference to the song, in and of itself conjures images of Miami as a place of wealth, beaches, glamour and exoticism.  The second blog, (which will remain nameless due to some potentially offensive content), focuses rather on what it’s writers feel is wrong with their hometown.  We’ve spoken in lecture about how sources of anxiety can be rooted in things that represent similarity rather than difference and I think that is true for this blog.  They post videos of drug busts and violent arrest on South beach with captions that comment on the ignorant mob mentality of the “random Spanish” being thrown around and claims of “abuso” towards the arresting police officers.  The premise of the blog is basically to illustrate things that are not part of “their Miami.”  I think this mentality relates to their reason for identifying generally as Cuban rather than Latino, as Urciuoli’s subjects do.  There is an anxiety about the discrete differences that afford them such a high degree of social mobility that others are not so lucky to share that drives them to publically display these differences.
Below, I will post a link to Miami Nice, and the Will Smith video to show the luxurious and glamorous image these “Miamians” so value, and one of the videos posted on the second blog that displays the Miami they wish to separate from their own.  The second video contains some violence and expletives, so please don’t click on it if you will find that offensive.  I am including it only because I think it shows clearly, the contrast, which they are trying to navigate. 

Welcome to Miami
Will Smith
South Beach Police Confrontation from second blog:

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