During the mid-1950s, when opposition to Cuba’s Batista dictatorship began to assert itself, a trickle of Cubans started arriving in a predominantly Jewish section of Miami then called Riverside. The trickle became a flood when Fidel Castro took power in 1959, and the area became Little Havana, populated by the affluent Cuban middle classes who had the most to lose under communism.
These original immigrants were joined by a second influx in May 1980, when the Mariel boatlift brought 125,000 islanders from the port of Mariel to Miami in just a few days. These new arrivals were poor and uneducated, and a fifth of them were fresh from Cuban jails – incarcerated for criminal rather than political crimes. Bluntly, Castro had dumped his misfits on Miami. The city reeled, and then recovered from this mass arrival, but it left Miami’s Cuban community utterly divided. Even today, older Cuban-Americans claim that they can pick out a Marielito from the way he or she walks.
That said, local division gives way to fervent agreement when it comes to Castro: he’s universally detested. Despite failing to depose the dictator, Cuban-Americans have been far more successful at influencing the US government. Since the 1980s, Cubans have been vociferous supporters of the Republican Party, and therefore one of the main reasons that the US embargo of Cuba (imposed in 1962) remains in place, for now at least.