Spatial Politics in Metropolitan Miami, 1980-1992: Cuban American Crisis, Community Development and Empowerment
In this paper I examine the urban history of Cuban American empowerment in metropolitan Miami from 1980 to 1992 through the concept of “spatial politics” – the use of space by urban communities to claim government control. By combining archival research, GIS mappings, visual documentation, and interviews with retired metropolitan planners and community development specialists, I consider how Cuban Americans engaged in performative, discursive, electoral, planning-oriented, and allied activities over three stages – crisis, community development, and empowerment – which resulted in the transformation of Miami’s political status quo. Metropolitan planners contributed to this spatial politics by producing demographic data that facilitated the development of a Cuban American community development system, which in turn engaged public policy, economic development and housing. These provisions led to the concentration of ethnic bloc voting and the election of Cuban American leadership at the municipal and county level. This untold urban history, situated in the aftermath of the Mariel Boatlift, demonstrates that urban historians need to analyze how urban space is contested, produced and managed by immigrants in order to fully understand how immigrant incorporation and empowerment operates in American cities. Spatial politics is a conceptual tool to aid in this understanding.