The Cuban Revolution Explains Why Younger Cuban Americans Supported TrumpRoundup
tags: Florida, Cuba, 2020 Election, Latino/a history, Cuban American history, Cuban history
William Kelly is a PhD candidate in Latin American and Caribbean history at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, and his dissertation explores urban housing struggles, everyday life and revolution in Cuba in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
As the country awaits the final results of the presidential election, some are surprised by President Trump’s decisive showing in Miami-Dade County, where his appeals to Cuban Americans appeared to pay off. On the one hand, the result is unsurprising: Cubans have consistently supported Republicans for decades, and the Cuban exiles who emigrated in the years following Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959 have tended to vote conservative. Yet, more recent migrants were thought to lean more Democratic. The Obama administration dramatically broadened relations with Cuba, something that older, hard-line Cubans who fiercely oppose the Castro government were wary about but younger, more liberal family members were more likely to support.
But turning this perceived wisdom on its head, recent polling of Cuban Americans found not only that Trump still enjoys broad support within the community, but that his support has actually increased among Cuban Americans who arrived in the United States after 1995 — and who were the least likely to vote for him in 2016. Even more shocking, the poll found that 76 percent of Cubans who arrived between 2010 and 2015 — a group with deep, personal ties to Cuba — identify as Republicans. This data was borne out on Tuesday, which saw significant gains for Trump among Cuban Americans when compared to 2016. How can this be?
To understand the allure of Trumpism to younger, recently arrived Cuban Americans, we need to look to the history of the 1959 Cuban Revolution and its continued resonance. Once seen as a leading nation in the struggle against oppression, Cuba since the 1990s has experienced material strife that for many Cubans feels divorced from a larger purpose. As a result, recently arrived Cubans have embraced Trump’s vision, in which personal success, and not one’s willingness to sacrifice on behalf of others, is the true benchmark of inclusion in the national project.
Fidel Castro, who served as Cuba’s leader until he handed control to his brother Raúl in 2006 for health-related reasons, personified Cuba’s revolutionary project. For decades, Fidel Castro’s oratory, and the example of the Cuban Revolution and its self-proclaimed fight against American imperialism, inspired millions of oppressed people throughout the world to direct action.
Castro’s government, acting independently and against the wishes of the Soviet Union, supported decolonization struggles in Latin America and Africa, especially in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. From 1975 until the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba maintained a military force abroad, engaged in the decolonization struggle, that exceeded, relative to the island’s population, the size of American forces in Vietnam at the height of that conflict.