Tampa Cubans to Miami Cubans: "Grow Up"

Near the heart of Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood.
Near the heart of Tampa's Ybor City neighborhood.
Photo by Matthew Paulson's Flickr | CC2.0

The rivalry between Miami and Tampa's Cuban-American populations isn't just about who makes the truest Cuban sandwich. The ideological differences between the two cities' approach to Havana has never been more apparent now that the Obama administration has begun to normalize relations with the island nation — a divide explored in depth this weekend by the New York Times' Miami Bureau chief, Lizette Alvarez

The piece ends with probably the shadiest quote. E.J. Salcines, a retired appellate judge and one of Tampa's most high-profile Cuban-American citizens, basically tells Miami Cubans they should grow up.

“You can’t ignore a fundamental difference — that the Cubans in Tampa have gone through a much longer churning, maturing period than the Cubans in Miami,” he says. “Give the Miami Cubans another 50 years, and they might be sounding more like Tampeño Cubans, but they are not there yet.”

A not-so-subtle jab. 

Though Tampa has not been shaped by Cubans in quite the way Miami has, the Gulf Coast city's ties to that country go back further. The neighborhood of Ybor City was founded in the 1880s by a cigar manufacturer, and thousands of Cubans migrated there to work for the operation. The area's Cuban population today is about 80,000. 

And it's certainly no secret that Tampa leaders have long anticipated the end of the embargo and have been looking to benefit economically from it. In 2013, the city sent a collection of 38 business and political leaders, including three city council members, to visit Havana. This stands in stark contrast with what the Times calls "the anti-engagement orthodoxy of Miami." 

Tampa, for example, is open to playing home to a Cuban consulate and has even signaled it would love to be the place where some sort of official agreement is signed. 

Thirty-eight business and political representatives from Tampa traveled to Cuba in 2013.
Thirty-eight business and political representatives from Tampa traveled to Cuba in 2013.

Meanwhile, Miami leaders remain vehemently anti-Castro or tellingly quiet about the news. 

However, Miami Cubans have taken notice of Tampa's attitudes. Babalú Blog, the online embodiment of that "anti-engagement orthodoxy of Miami," has long been wary of Tampa's position in ending the embargo. 

"Having just met with some Tampa business people who are gung-ho about deals with the murderous Castro regime, I came away with the impression that some of them were hopelessly naive, not just about the risks, but — even worse — about the effect these deals have on repression within Castrogonia," Carlos Eire wrote on the blog in 2014. "Ultimately, what some of these merchants I met have in mind is making money. That is their first priority. Change in Castrogonia is not really on their minds." 

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"It seems that Tampa has now become a hotbed for apologists and proponents of the vile Castro regime," managing editor Alberto de la Cruz wrote in 2013. "This motley crew of elected officials and community leaders led by U.S. Representative Kathy Castor are expending large amounts of energy and money to defend and promote the lawless regime of the Castro family, which is the bloodiest dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere."

"Capitalism is as American as apple pie, but anyone in Tampa or anywhere else who tries to cash in on Cuba is betraying other American ideals, like freedom, democracy, and human rights," another Cuban blogger, Marc Masferrer, wrote in a blistering post titled "History Will Not Absolve Tampa," in 2011

So, obviously, the Tampa-versus-Miami war has been brewing for some time, with Miami Cubans viewing Tampa as money hungry and without respect for human rights, while Tampa Cubans view Miami as hotheaded and immature. See, it is a lot more than just the sandwich war, but in case you're wondering what Babalú Blog has to say about that subject: "As far as I am concerned, the moment you violated a Cuban sandwich with a foreign meat product, you lost all authority to speak on the subject."


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