Editor's note: Several months ago we published a letter from a reader who was annoyed about an item that appeared in our March 27 "Best of Miami" special issue. "You said that Channel 7's Rick Sanchez should go to Channel 4 to learn some things," wrote C. Fernandez of Hialeah. "Well, I think you should check again who's learning from whom. The more you try to bring Rick down, the more popular he gets. I think he should give you a piece of his next salary. This just proves again you guys don't know what the hell you're talking about. You are just Cuban haters, and I love it. You guys should stick to the personals in the back, because obviously you are not journalists. Cubans in Hialeah laugh at your paper. How long till you apply for bankruptcy? "Fernandez's thoughtful communique provoked a response from another reader, not about Rick Sanchez but about the reference to "Cuban haters." G. Wulf of Miami Lakes replied, "I was never prejudiced until I moved to Miami and found out what real prejudice is like. Most Cubans are the ones who hate Americans. Cubans are the most obnoxious, disrespectful people I know. They speak Spanish in front of Americans when they can speak perfect English. Hey, I'm not talking about when they are with their own people. I'm talking about at work, et cetera. When they are with Americans and they start speaking their little secret language, they act like they are owed something."I was involved in an accident with one yesterday who hit the side of my car and took off in his white van, not bothering to see if my baby and I were hurt, not interested to pay for the damage done to my car, just leaving the scene of the accident like a coward, not even an `I'm sorry, miss.' They have slashed my husband's tires at work because he got a promotion and they didn't. I'm not saying that all Cubans are like this, but the large majority are. Hey, they came to our country; we didn't beg them to come. They should have a little respect for the USA. If they can't give it, they should go back to their beautiful home country, Cuba, and take their attitudes with them."Wulf's volatile letter, in turn, ignited an extraordinary debate among our readers. The volume of mail was impressive, and it provided clear evidence that many Miami residents continue to see themselves as combatants in a low-intensity regional conflict. Among the themes that emerged (arrogance, ignorance, and plain bad manners), one in particular dominated the letters: language. People literally can't communicate with each other.
We've already printed many of those letters, but weekly space limitations have forced us to parcel them out two or three at a time. Publishing the letters in that manner, however, attached a sense of isolation to a phenomenon that in fact was widespread, and tended to trivialize the impassioned feelings of frustration and rage they communicated as a whole.
In the interest of therapeutic catharsis, we're offering here a sampling of those letters we've held for several weeks. Also included are two previously published letters (from Paul-Robert von Brendel and Freddy Rodriguez) that instigated much of the verbal brawling that followed.And in the interest of therapeutic closure, we are calling for a permanent cease-fire. In next week's issue, we'll make room for selected responses to the collection of letters below. After that, no more. Correspondence from readers will continue to be encouraged, of course, but we'll do our best to restrict it to the actual contents of the paper. All letters must be received no later than Monday morning and may be mailed to Letters to the Editor, P.O. Box 011591, Miami, FL 33101. You can also send them by fax: 372-3446. Please include your full name, address, and a contact telephone number. As always we reserve the right to edit for accuracy, length, and clarity.
My family arrived in the U.S. from Europe 27 years ago when I was only three years old. My parents were attracted to the political and economic freedom of this great country. Months before coming, they began taking English lessons at an American school in Paris so they could ease their assimilation process here in the U.S. This may seem pretty basic, but it would be considered a miracle here in Miami.
Cubans show absolutely no respect for our country and its official language: English. They come here seeking the same things my family sought but make no effort to assimilate with the mainstream. This is typical of Third World minorities - give them an inch and they will take a mile! Not only do the majority of Cubans not speak English, but they get upset and rude if we, as Americans, do not speak Spanish.
Case in point: I was shopping at a drugstore in South Miami last week for some glue. When I couldn't find it, I asked a cashier for assistance. She shrugged her shoulders and informed me she didn't speak English. I then asked the security guard for help. With a dirty look on his face, he also told me he didn't speak English. I couldn't believe this was happening. Here were two people employed in service positions, yet they could provide me absolutely no service. I felt I was being discriminated against because I couldn't speak Spanish. I should not be deprived of service or be treated rudely because I don't speak Spanish. This is the U.S. Here we speak English! I can't tell you how many similar encounters I've had since moving from California four years ago. Imagine if the tables were turned and a similar situation were to occur in Cuba. The non-Spanish-speaking clerk would probably have been beaten by a mob!Cubans being "obnoxious and disrespectful" is not something isolated -it is ubiquitous. Ever notice how bad the driving is in Dade County? It's not just because people don't know how to drive; it's because they are rude, disrespectful, and they can't read the language on the road signs! It is high time Cubans be forced to learn our language. It should be law that someone applying for a service position speaks English. It is also time that the Cubans' new-found success be shared with other interest groups and minorities.
Paul-Robert von Brendel, Miami
Once again a moron has come out of the (bigoted) closet to express his ignorant views of Cubans, assimilation, the "official language," Third World minorities, and the horrors of shopping in South Miami drugstores. I am referring to the letter written by Paul-Robert von Brendel.
Let me begin by congratulating Mr. von Brendel's parents for successfully assimilating in the U.S. I only hope that in their attempt to assimilate, they continued to encourage teaching their children "their" native tongue. Encouraged to become like white Anglo-Saxons, part of the immigration-assimilation process of the Twenties (remember the "melting pot" theory), many Polish-Americans and Italian-Americans were denied the right to express and live their rich cultures and speak their native languages, because it was an insult and an outrage to nonspeakers. Generations later the descendants of these immigrants do not speak their native tongue. (That is not to mention the raping African-Americans endured.) This is a great loss for both the people it affected and to this country's ethnically diverse culture, and it's a big price to pay for "assimilation."
It behooves everyone to learn English; it is the popular language of this country, but not the "official" language of this country. Mr. "This is America and if you don't speak the language you can go back where you came from" von Brendel must not be confused by the Dade County ordinance that passed last year. His attitude matches that of the people he is complaining about. He is just as wrong for using stereotypes to cluster a whole nationality as the alleged "Cubans" are for being insensitive to his needs in that South Miami
Language is the basic form of communication for most people. The more languages one speaks, the more one will be able to communicate with others. It's sad that Mr. von Brendel and G. Wulf prefer to waste energy bitching about Cubans speaking Spanish to them rather than devoting that energy to learning Spanish so they can communicate with non-English speakers in this city. Miami is the gateway to the Caribbean and South America. Spanish will always be a popular language in this city because of the constant influx of refugees and immigrants. Stop the childish name calling, stop using stereotypes to belittle us, stop Cuban bashing and learn about us. Take advantage of our rich culture, music, dance, and food, which is at your disposal. Enjoy it. Don't fear it because it's different from your own. Keep your ethnic ignorance in check; someone may confuse it with racism. Remember, ignorance equals bigotry.Freddy RodriguezWest Kendall
G. Wulf's comments only illustrate the immense ignorance envious "Americans" possess regarding Cubans and their adoption of the good ole USA as their new country.
While most "Americans" recognize and welcome the undying efforts of Cubans and their awesome contributions to Miami's economy, and in turn most Cubans respect and appreciate the opportunities they've received, foolish people such as G. Wulf continue to run their mouths.G. Wulf spent a great deal of her letter detailing the criminal actions of certain Cubans, suggesting that the vast majority of Cubans follow suit, but provided no evidence to support such a claim. Meanwhile, Cubans have the highest percentage of students who graduate from high school and go on to college among all Hispanics.
The greatest factor separating Cubans from the rest of Hispanics is that Miami Cuban-Americans did not enter this country into an Anglo-dominant area. "Your" people failed to create such a power structure, unlike California, New York, and Chicago, and so Cubans had the opportunity to assimilate and dominate while retaining their culture. Cubans were not internally colonized. They get out and vote, engage in politics, and actively lobby for policies that reflect their wishes. Cubans don't sit on their butts, they kick butts. God bless America.Rene V. Mesa, Hialeah
It is U.S. citizens like G. Wulf who are Cuban haters, to the point they hate any minority, even their own. They created all the regimes that are leaving our homelands poor, ignorant, deprived. It's they I hold responsible for the situation in Cuba.
Spanish is not a secret language, and not everybody who speaks Spanish is Cuban - and she had better believe me. She should study, learn, improve herself. And then she'll realize that she is the problem.
Andrea Castillo, Miami Beach
Freddy Rodriguez has got it so wrong that he could be George Bush's press secretary. Rodriguez asserts that in America, many ethnic groups are being denied their "rights" - especially Cubans. The only group that has denied Cubans their rights are other Cubans. The hysterical right - pompous, puffed-up old farts - has threatened museums that dare exhibit Cuban artists with a different perspective. Musicians have been threatened and boycotted by the Cuban right merely for shaking Castro's hand - Cuban athletes as well. These jerks aren't hurting Castro; they are hurting freedom. Freddy says we should enjoy the rich Cuban culture. I would if it weren't being suppressed so the only "approved" culture we get is Radio Marti, Calle Ocho, polyester, neon TV shows, and car bombings. (This is what the Cuban right reflects.)Freddy cites that other cultures are being denied "cultural rights." Not true. Many groups from other countries have kept the cultural dowry of their homeland. In ethnic neighborhoods, customs, language, theater, and newspapers thrive as witness of the right to practice a culture. In New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, the sounds of many languages exist side by side: Chinese, Italian, Polish, Spanish. However, on common ground, in neutral territory, in business, in government, English is spoken, and every immigrant did his utmost to learn it. They learned Anglo-speak and took pride in their efforts - not as a kowtow, but out of gratitude to be in a country that once was fertile with promise and where effort, not caste, counted.
The Cuban exiles have been kid-gloved by immigration and the State Department as no other ethnic group (not because they love Cubans but because they hate Castro). My people are Italian and Native American Indian. The Italians were disdained as "greaseballs" by those already here. And the Indians, America's only true aristocracy, were almost exterminated. Jews, Poles, Irish - all have been through the wringer but they made it out of the ghettos without benefit of government patronage. The greatest sin of all, besides the treatment of Indians, is the suffering inflicted on the elegant African dragged in chains to the "promised land" and used as chattel. To this day the chain (now invisible) remains. Blacks and Indians have had their rights denied and culture smashed, but you haven't, Freddy, and neither have other Cubans. You've had it easy, so give it a rest. Stop being a crybaby. It's time after 30 years to start thinking of America as home and not an exile motel. Stop silencing the culture of other Cubans. Let's see and hear the full spectrum of the Cuban soul, not just this male-dominated, hard-ass, right-wing shallowness that hogs the spotlight.
James Martin, Miami Beach
In respect to and in response to Freddy Rodriguez and his view toward the United States, I am satisfied. But let's clear up a definition here. English is not just the "popular" language of the United States; it is the "official" language of the United States. All of the laws which govern this great country of ours are in English, as well as our Constitution and our Bill of Rights, thus making English our "official" language.In respect to wanting to speak your native tongue, that is fine, but imagine the United States if everyone spoke his native language! This country surely would not be where it is today. This is a country of immigrants (as I am sure you know) and everyone would love to speak his native tongue, but we need to communicate with one another, so English (as it always has been, and will continue to be) is our "official" language of communication.
Communication is the problem in Dade County. Immigrants coming to the United States must remember that they came here. Americans should not have to assimilate to anyone's culture, nor should it be forced upon them. We should focus our attention on living with one another, not separated from one another.
I hate to be slanderous or personal toward Mr. Rodriguez, but two other issues must be questioned or clarified. First, why is it so important for Americans to be bilingual and not for Spanish people? (After all, who is in whose country?) And second, I like how quick he is to cite the African-Americans' "rape" in the U.S. Surely he must not have forgotten the atrocities performed by the Spaniards on black slaves, as well as the even worse treatment of the indigenous people of the Caribbean and South America. Let's end this American and Cuban bashing now. If someone does not like our language or culture in the U.S., he should immigrate somewhere else!
A. Vivino, North Miami
After reading Freddy Rodriguez's letter, I felt compelled to write my own response. Mine is a viewpoint seldom heard by anyone.Let me begin by agreeing with Mr. Rodriguez: Americans should learn Spanish and partake of Hispanic culture, as well as those of other peoples. One can only be enriched by the introduction of new ideas and means of expression. But sadly, although many Hispanics stress these virtues, few are willing to accept Americans who actually fulfill them.
I admit that this is the reaction of one gringo, but I believe that it is representative of others. The explanation that my Spanish is not good enough is invalid, as most Hispanics acknowledge my command of the language. Many are surprised that I am not Hispanic (these people speak Spanish to me until they find this out).
The answer is simple discrimination. People do not speak Spanish to me because I do not have la sangre. Occasionally some are bemused by the gringo who speaks their language, but this interest is of short duration. Most who do speak Spanish to me have difficulty with English, and they prefer that I speak English to them so that they may learn it. Virtually all American-born Hispanics refuse to speak Spanish to me. In fact, they become angry and resentful when I speak Spanish.
In conclusion, if more Americans learned Spanish, both the American and Spanish communities would benefit. On the other hand, why should Americans learn Spanish if they cannot use it?
Name Withheld by Request, Miami Beach
I was born in Miami in the year 1966. I went to elementary, junior high, and senior high all right here in Miami. Amongst people who predominantly speak Spanish, I have lived here for 24 years, and I can speak and understand a small amount of Spanish. I have spent a lot of money on Spanish classes and I have found it is too difficult for me, academically and monetarily. Though after the fact that I have tried to learn "your" language, I really try to use what I learned whenever I need to, but I still get disappointed.Whenever I try to use what I know, I receive three common responses from the people who only speak Spanish. One is a hostile stare, as if I should not be speaking in their faces if I cannot speak fluently. Second is a loud, belligerent reaction like I have some nerve for even trying. Last but not least, the third response is a nice, caring attempt to cross the language barrier with me. The first response included no service, and name calling in Spanish in the second instance. I have been called names in Spanish, gossiped about in my face, and frequently employed on condition that I can speak some Spanish. I feel, as an average Anglo-Saxon, that I am getting my face kicked in, instead of the respect that my forefathers earned for me by pioneering this land, so that you can speak your language in freedom. I cannot reveal my name, but I will let all of you know that I do live near Little Havana.
Name Withheld by RequestWest Miami
The recent Hispanic-Anglo "debate" (called "bashing" by some) is, in my opinion, a healthy development of free expression not often found in other papers. I'm from the North, of mixed ethnic genealogy, and know several languages, including Spanish. Here are some of my impressions of the South Florida scene:Middle-age Cuban women working as store clerks and complaining to each other - in Spanish - about the English-speaking customer's body odors. The hags seemed unaware of the possibility that the English-speaking customer may have been bilingual.It is quite understandable for an English-speaker to resent being "left out" when he or she is with a group of bilingual fellow workers and they suddenly switch to Spanish. That's bad manners - a thoughtless lack of consideration - on the part of the Hispanics. But then there are the arrogant Anglo psychopaths who seem to think that their English language makes them the superior race! They resent hearing strangers speaking Spanish and - irrational as it is - they seem to think that their culture is being "destroyed." Their anger is, in part, a subconscious attempt to rebuild their damaged egos. They often seek positions of exhibitionistic authority such as lifeguards, firemen, and policemen.Then there are the grouchy, brash, and nasty old Jews complaining about everything - and the Jewish little old ladies hitting you with their shopping carts at the supermarket and trying to sneak in front of you in line. What the chamber of commerce won't tell you is this area is a complex concoction of conflicts, casual capriciousness, cockroaches, crime, crazies, corruption, crack cocaine, cunning Cuban capitalists and crooked cops. Except for the Cubans, the same can be said about some other American cities up North - where I come from. So let us not be all negative. I think that Florida is the most beautiful state in the continental U.S. - almost as beautiful as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti, and other islands. And hey, there are some very nice people around regardless of their ethnic, cultural, and language differences. I'm glad I'm not in politics, because if I were, I wouldn't be able to honestly express myself.
Don Renato Ortiz, Miami Beach
I'm a native Miamian, and by the time I was ten years old, my neighborhood in Grapeland Heights was probably 90 percent Cuban. When I attended Miami High in the late Seventies, the ethnic make-up of my neighborhood was, if anything, even more heavily Latinized. Every day as I walked the two miles home from school, I would stop at a grocery store or sidewalk cafeteria along the way to buy a soft drink or a pastel. Almost invariably my feeble and halting attempt at ordering something in Spanish would be greeted by a warm smile and an equally feeble and halting response in English.
That was thirteen years ago. Today many of the Cuban shopkeepers and homeowners in my old neighborhood have been replaced by immigrants from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Colombia, and half a dozen other countries in Latin America, all of whom have taken their place in American society, and whose sons and daughters will, like my classmates from Miami High, go on to become doctors, lawyers, soldiers, policemen, journalists, entrepreneurs, and other contributing members of our city. Those who would deny the efforts and achievements of our newest citizens are relics of an earlier time, whose opinions and prejudices have been shaped by a Miami that no longer exists. Perhaps they, more than the people they condemn, deserve our understanding and sympathy.Jim MurphyCoconut GroveJust a simple question, why do your letter writers all hate Cubans so much? Is it because of our success? And you know what? We built this city out of nothing.
C. Molina, Miami
We all agree on the fact that Cubans have made Miami what it is today. Miami is traffic, blowing horns, hurriedness, cursing, high-rate insurance, clutter, a rude and inconsiderate society. Miami was lovely before the Sedano's Supermarket signs began to clutter the streets. Miami was more than just land.
Most Cubans will never understand why non-Latin Americans dislike the Cuban population. Cubans in Miami are the only Cubans in the U.S. who still act as if they are in Cuba. I hear one language and it is not English. These "wordly Cubans" know one world - their own.Refugees flee to Miami for a better way of life and freedom. We as Americans can accept such reasons. What we cannot accept is to have our way of life and freedom taken away in the process. Non-Latin Americans have lost their homeland to a society that cannot speak the English language or attain the desire to learn the English language. These reasons and more have caused the non-Latin community hardship and have caused a great many to leave Miami. Sadly, the Cuban community remains unconcerned. Non-Latin Americans have paid an enormous price for welcoming refugees from Cuba into Miami. The price was as much as losing communication, respect, and consideration from our neighbors. Even more was the loss of a city we once felt proud of and where we felt welcomed.Diana ElizabethMiamiI see New Times won six first-place awards in the Florida Press Association's Better Weekly Newspaper contest. What - no first-place award for "most bigoted and hate-filled letters published"?
As about 80 percent of the letters to the editor are hatemongering tripe, and only about twenty percent are in response to the "guts" of the newspaper, I suggest you fire your award-winning staff and hire your letter writers to do the job. No columns or stories need be run. Just increase your hate-letter section to about ten or eleven pages (I'm sure your weekly supply would easily fill that many pages) and you'll have guaranteed success - and a lower payroll! Your staff will be so pissed off they'll begin sending in hate letters, too. See how easy this can be?
Let's see now, hate mail, futon and bikini ads, a fitness "meat factory" or two for good measure, and presto - another award-winning year.
Harvey Slavin, Miami Beach
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I should not be deprived of service or be treated rudely because I don't speak Spanish. This is the U.S. Here we speak English!Language is the basic form of communication for most people. The more languages one speaks, the more one will be able to communicate with others."Your" people failed to create a power structure, so Cubans had the opportunity to assimilate and dominate while retaining their culture.
Spanish is not a secret language, and not everybody who speaks Spanish is Cuban. Freddy says we should enjoy the rich Cuban culture. I would if it weren't Radio Marti, Calle Ocho, polyester, neon TV shows, and car bombings.Imagine the United States if everyone spoke his native language! This country surely would not be where it is today.
I feel, as an average Anglo-Saxon, that I am getting my face kicked in so that you can speak your language in freedom.Non-Latin Americans have lost their homeland to a society that cannot speak the English language or attain the desire to learn the English language.
I suggest you fire your staff and hire your letter writers.... Increase your hate-letter section to ten or eleven pages and you'll have guaranteed success.