Cuban-American teens struggle to believe a concept that may be fading.
When Junior Ramos first started the paperwork for his immigration from Cuba to America, he was 11.
Seven years and a couple of plane rides brought Ramos to Hialeah late last year.
He knows that it’s not going to be easy; in fact, he doesn’t believe there’s an American Dream.
“Over here, you have to work long and hard,” Ramos said in an interview conducted in Spanish. “Here, nobody has the American Dream.”
However, Ramos’ belief contrasts with those of another man who came in 1961, two years into Castro’s rule.
Like the man, who didn’t want to be identified for this story, many Cubans were faced with the decision to either stay on the communist island or to leave.
The man said the desire “to look for freedom of speech and run away from communism” was what forced him off the island.
“I expected to find a new job and make a new life,” explained the 69-year-old Cuban-American. “The American Dream is very much alive.”
These conflicting Cuban-American perceptions revolve around the generational divide, according to Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American long involved in U.S.-Cuba relations and now the nominee for director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy.
“They lived a significant portion of their lives within the communist regime, so their perspective is a little bit different,” said Garcia of the political views of Cubans who came to Miami after 1980.
When Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Cubans began to leave the island in waves in pursuit of another life.
But not all Cuban-Americans ended up leaving for the same reasons.
Earlier immigrants came to America for political reasons, while later immigrants came for economic reasons, according to Vanessa López, research associate at the University of Miami’s Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
Today, with the United States in the midst of a recession, jobs are hard to come by. So teens like Ramos are disenchanted.
Statewide unemployment rates were more than 10 percent as of May 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Hialeah, where the population is predominantly Cuban-American, that number has been as high as 13.5 percent, according to Mayor Julio Robaina.
However, Cubans who came to South Florida during the earlier waves were fortunate enough to find themselves in an economic vacuum.
“The first wave of immigrants saw an enormous amount of success, just because there were so many opportunities and everything was still so raw, especially in the South Florida community,” Robaina said.
Therefore, these hard-line, first-generation Cuban-Americans have a much more optimistic view of the American Dream.
“The economic opportunities were greater for the ones that came earlier,” Garcia said.
Not only have they had more opportunities, but earlier generations have also had more time to adapt to the economy.
Therefore, the “grandmother” would be unlikely ever to return to the island to live, said Giancarlo Sopo, a democratic strategist at Bendixen and Associates, the Miami-based polling and consulting firm.
However, according to the mayor, younger Cuban-American immigrants may consider returning, even if their only intention is to enjoy a nearby vacation.
“I think that the more recent generations, the ones that don’t have strong roots in this community, are going to weigh their options,” Robaina said.
“Yes, I would go to visit,” Ramos said, “but not to stay and live.”
Even Cuban youths who were born in America have considered returning to Cuba.
This group meets the subject with similar ambivalence.
“If the communist system fell then yes, maybe,” said Barbara Rassi, 18, of moving to Cuba, where she has family.
A Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High graduate, she will be attending Harvard this fall.
But for now, many Cuban-Americans will have to rely on faith in the United States and faith in the expectations that brought them here.
“Even though we’re in a crisis,” Ramos said, “it is going to continue to be a great country.”