Guy Del Russo is the grandson of Italian immigrants. But when it comes to welcoming America's newest refugees next door, he says, "They can pitch their tent in the Everglades."
Del Russo, head of the Homeowners Group in the Country Club of Miami Estates, rallied a hundred suburbanites Tuesday night to protest a plan for a refugee processing center near their North Miami homes. They carried placards such as "In America, We Speak English," and "Deport Illegal Aliens. Save Your Jobs."
"Our ancestors settled this country as political refugees," says Del Russo, 44. "But we're in a different time now. Let's not overdo it. I don't think it's America's job to take care of the world. We can't afford to take care of ourselves."
Such sentiments are rife here in what is called the "Anglo" community, a group that feels increasingly surrounded and isolated by Miami's booming Latin majority. The new wave of Cuban refugees -- more than 20,000 have arrived in the last two weeks -- is threatening to set off a backlash against open immigration policies.
Gov. Rober Graham, sensitive to the explosive politics of the issue, abruptly canceled plans to process refugees on two abondoned Nike missile bases near Del Russo's home after he learned of vehement community objection. b
In addition to Tuesday night's rally, two small demonstrations at the Federal Building downtown Tuesday and last Friday featured honking caravans of trucks and cars. Marchers, carrying such signs as "Crime and Disorder Will Increase," objected to the numbers of both Cubans and Haitians -- the latter landing on Florida shores at the rate of almost 1,000 a month.
Radio talk shows are filled with disputes between callers who refer to "spics" and Cuban-Americans who decry exclusionary rhetoric. The new refugees have rekindled "an unreasoning fear," a Miami Herald editorial warned today.
"Fear of being inundated by people speaking another language. Fear of job competition in a coming recession. . . . Unless this fear is allayed forthrightly and soon, it will dwarf the momentary disruption that the new tide of refugees has brought," the editorial said.
Forty percent of the new Cuban refugees have relatives in Miami and at least that many are expected to settle here. The city already has a 55 percent Latin population, while Dade County is 40 percent Hispanic.
The government announced that it will not prosecute about 700 youths arrested last week when police broke down school gates here to stop a demonstration supporting the strike.
"The backlash is fairly widespread here," says Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, who is of Puerto Rican descent. "Part of it is pure bigotry. Another part is economic fear. But there's also what I call the 'climb up-and-pull-the-ladder-after-you' crowd. They say, 'We have such a lovely place. We don't need any more people, especially people who are different.'"
Cuban leaders acknowledged that jobs and housing -- in a county with a 99.95 percent occupancy rate -- are big problems. "It's understandable the Anglos are concerned," said Eduardo Padron, head of the Spanish American League Against Discrimination here.
"But the record shows that, whether it's education or economics, the Cubans have done outstandingly. We pay five times more taxes than we ever got from the [federal] Cuban refugee program."
He adds, however, that all refugees without relatives here should be resettled elsewhere to relieve overcrowding in Florida.
For many Anglos here, however, the refugees are the last straw. They are tired of sending their children to bilingual schools, tired of buying aspirin at farmasias and meat carnicerias. Tired of the cliqueness of Cuban neighborhoods.
"You get that desperate feeling," said Garnette Anderson, a widow who lives in a mobile home near the Nike site. "You run into street after street and you never see a sign in English. A lot of people are scared to death we're going to be like Canada, which allowed a second language and now faces a separatist state."
Del Russo says, "Miami is already Latin enough. People are oppressed by it. They are incensed. We don't mind a secondary language, but Spanish is becoming a primary language. Salesmen in stores refuse to speak English. I don't know any other country which allows people to take citizenship [test] in another language."
Other Anglos, however, have welcomed the large numbers of Latins, crediting them with reviving Miami's failing tourist economy and converting the city into an international capital of Latin America. Many Anglo businesses, and volunteers have donated time, money, food and clothing to the refugees.
Fred Gladstone, of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees and Bartenders Union, said his local, one of the largest here, "welcomes the refugees. These people will unquestionably come into the hotel and restaurant business in large numbers. And that's fine. If you look every day in the newspaper, it's full of ads asking for help in hotels, and this isn't even the season."
Says Mayor Ferre, "We're getting both a backlash and a reverse backlash. People are calling and saying, 'I didn't feel this way before, but I've seen these people's faces in the newspaper and I've seen their children crying. I've heard the hatred on the talk shows, and I want to say that, as an American, I believe in what you're doing.'"