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City Ponders Racial Unrest : Latino Impact Stirs Anger Among Blacks of Miami

Times Staff Writer

Cathy Staten sensed right away she wouldn’t get the job at the cable TV company. There wasn’t another black face in the office. The help all spoke Spanish. They drank coffee from tiny paper cups, the way Cubans do.

And that figured. At times, it seemed to her this city might as well be called Havana instead of Miami. She was angry when she got back to the employment office. “Latins hire other Latins, not blacks,” she told them.

So much is different these days. When Staten was born here 29 years ago, Dade County was only 5% Latino, and this was a past-its-prime resort trying to brush on the civic mascara for Yankee tourists. Now, about 46% of the population is Latino, and the city often styles itself the Capital of Latin America.

With smarts and tenacity, the immigrants have revived an economy that had gone to mildew. But not everyone likes the changes. Many native Miamians feel the city has been overrun and colonized. That sentiment is especially strong among blacks who think Latinos--primarily Cubans--have nudged them aside for jobs.

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As the city recovers from its fourth spasm of racial violence in eight years, Miami is again in a period of self-analysis. Much of the introspection has to do with the resentment of blacks toward Latinos.

Two months ago, blacks took to the streets after a Latino policeman shot and killed a black man speeding near him on a motorcycle. In the week just before, images of another sort had dominated the news here: an outpouring of support for thousands of weary Nicaraguan refugees arriving by the busload.

Many blacks complain that government seems to help the huddled masses from somewhere else more readily than the poor in its own back yard, and that, given a leg up, the refugees climb right past them on the economic stepladder.

Black unemployment in Miami is higher now than in 1980, while the rates for whites and Latinos have gone down. “Are these newcomers taking our places on the payroll?” blacks often ask.

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Although similar questions are posed in dozens of other cities, in no place are they more pressing than here--or perhaps more difficult to answer.

“Blacks feel more out of it in Miami,” said sociologist Max Castro, who studies Dade County. “Other cities have a dominant white, or Anglo, culture. In Miami there is a second, defining essence . . . . But that doesn’t mean Hispanics have had to push blacks down to get to where they are. That may be the perception. But there’s little direct evidence that it’s true.”

Standard Reply

That is something of a standard reply: Latinos outpace, but do not necessarily displace, blacks in the job ranks. Why would they have to? Blacks have never done very well here.

“There has never been much of a black middle class in Miami,” said historian Raymond A. Mohl of Florida Atlantic University. “Blacks worked primarily in service jobs while this was a tourism haven . . . .

“Traditionally, this has also been one of the most segregated cities in the country. It remains that way . . . .”

In fact, Miami can be thought of as less a melting pot than a Lazy Susan tray divided into three parts. Blacks have the smallest part of the votes and the money and the political clout.

Only one of five city commissioners is black--and one of nine county commissioners. The mayor of Miami is Cuban. Latino ballots are the ones that are multiplying.

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Population Numbers Shift

In 1960, the Miami area was 80% white, 15% black and 5% Latino. Now, in a population of 1.9 million, those numbers have shifted to 34% white, 21% black and 46% Latino. (The sum exceeds 100% because some blacks are also Latinos.)

This trend is expected to continue. Miami is a place where refugees can find neighborhoods as familiar as the ones they leave behind. Fully a third of Dade County is foreign-born and about two-thirds of those are Cuban.

Success stories abound. Thousands of professionals fled Cuba after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. An accountant may have had to start anew as a busboy, but he eventually recovered a foothold in the middle class.

One immigrant helped another. Over the years, an entire society seemed to transplant and thrive. Cubans opened their own banks and insurance companies, restaurants and stores, newspapers and TV stations.

“Cubans pulled themselves up by their bootstraps,” said Marianne Salazar, a regional administrator for the state Department of Labor. “They washed dishes by day and went to school at night.”

Beset With Afflictions

In the meantime, blacks made great strides in civil rights but few steps ahead in the marketplace. By the 1980s, Miami’s impoverished black community was beset with the same self-destructive afflictions of ghettos around the nation--single-parent families, high crime rates and drugs.

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Miami’s Establishment has not been entirely neglectful of these woes, but social decay seems such an intractable problem--and one usually less immediate--than the task of feeding and sheltering immigrants.

More than 100,000 Nicaraguans have arrived here since 1979. Cubans proudly lend a hand to the newer arrivals, brothers to them not only in language but in hatred of communism. The eastern part of Little Havana, one of Miami’s first and best-known Cuban neighborhoods, has been renamed Little Managua.

Of course, to people like Cathy Staten, all these refugees mean only that more of her city will become less familiar. Billboards go up in Spanish. Conga lines shimmy along during street festivals. “So many jobs want you to be bilingual,” she complained. “Well, how many black people are bilingual?”

Garth Reeves Sr., publisher of the black weekly newspaper, the Miami Times, believes there is no question that Latinos have dislodged blacks from the workplace.

“This has always been a tourist town, and those tourist jobs have always been the property of blacks, or just about all of them, anyway,” he said. “Now who do you see working the hotels? Latins, that’s who.”

Not Supported by Numbers

But though this is a widely held belief among blacks and whites, it is not supported by the numbers, according to Alex Stepick, a sociologist at Florida International University.

Stepick cites U.S. Census Department figures and concludes that more blacks were employed in Miami restaurants and hotels in 1980 than in 1960.

“The shift in employment is from Anglos to Latins, not blacks to Latins,” he said. “Relatively, blacks may feel like they’re losing out, but by absolute numbers they are not.”

Still, there are other considerations. There is a scramble for the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. The constant stream of immigrant labor keeps the wages for entry level jobs low.

Then there is the matter of bias. If employers are more likely to hire their own, blacks are at an immense disadvantage. According to estimates of the Dade County Planning Department, 80% of local businesses belong to whites, 18-20% to Latinos (more than double that in 1982) and only 1% to blacks.

Admits Past Bias

Latino employers are the ones most often accused of hiring only their own. “I will admit there has been bias in the past, well, perhaps a tremendous amount of bias, but certainly we intend to put an end to this,” said Marcia Morgado, executive director of the Hispanic American Builders Assn.

In fact, since the latest civil disturbance, there have been well-publicized pledges by Latino employers to hire more unskilled blacks. But do blacks want the jobs they are offered?

The city, cooperating with the county and state, opened employment offices in the heart of three neighborhoods hit by the recent violence. Huge signs were strung on the sides of buildings: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.

But the response has been disappointing. Initially, there was a rush of applicants, but this soon slowed to a trickle. Most of the opportunities were at entry-level wages.

“They want to make $10 an hour and they don’t have the skills to make $10 an hour and they don’t want to get the skills either,” said Salazar, of the state labor department.

“On the other hand, to immigrants coming in this seems like the land of opportunity. They might have been living in a house with a dirt floor. They’ll take $3.50 an hour.”

Call Comparison Unfair

Some black leaders say it is unfair to compare the work habits of refugees with those of the hard-core black unemployed.

“Our family structure is different; so is our culture,” said Johnnie McMillian, president of the local NAACP. “We don’t live like they do. If one of them finds a place, then everyone moves in. They pool their resources. One can go to work or school and someone else takes care of the children.

“So there is a different mind set, a different set of expectations . . . . We’ve been oppressed for so long, we’ve come to believe we ought to start above the entry level, then we suddenly discover we haven’t been trained well enough to do that and we end up feeling hopeless and helpless.”

T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, said jobs are no longer the solution for the black underclass. “Our problem is that we have been jobless for so long there is no appreciation of the work ethic.

“If the Cubans had not come here, would we have made any more significant progress? I think the answer is no. They haven’t done this to us. We did it to ourselves.”

But this jumble of explanations does nothing to help Cathy Staten, sifting through the job offerings at the employment office. “Bilingual preferred,” she sees on one form after another.

“That means I don’t bother with it,” she said. “That means I don’t have a chance.”

Times researcher Anna Virtue contributed to this story.


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