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Identification issues and mediatic stigmas

The arrival of so many migrants in one short period caused no little pains to head the government U.S., for all the negative[1] values attributed to "Marielitos," compared with precedent emigration Cuban. It is necessary to remember that, at this stage, the American' laws excluded not heteronormative immigrants. Because of that, the arrival of a vast number of homosexuals was problematic for the host government. On the other hand, the exodus mass of Cubans was proof of the failure of communism in the middle of the Cold War. However, the process of identification by part of the American state gaze was inconsistent and full of contradictions. Susana Peña lists very well what those problems were:

Homosexual Cuban immigrants presented three significant complications for this receiving nation. First, homosexual Cubans embodied many of the existing contradictions and ambiguities of U.S. immigration policies governing homosexuals and Cubans as separate categories. Second, the identification of Cuban homosexuals was complicated because Mariel Cubans were processed differently by several federal, state, local, and voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) in a range of locations throughout the United States. These bureaucratic and jurisdictional differences inevitably led to disparate identification procedures. Third, the flood of national media attention that enveloped Mariel further complicated such processes. (491)

What is paradoxical is that homosexuals should show their homosexuality to get out of the country in Cuba and then had to camouflage it in the United States because such identification was problematic for authorities. The Service of Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) forbade, from the past give each of the fifty, the entry of those who were identified as gay. But they had to make an exception for the Cubans. Almost at the end of the departure, the INS rectified its policy of exclusion. Therefore, this institution felt the need to clarify their mechanisms to deal with the sudden flow of migration and the increase of the interest media about the migrants gay Cubans (Peña 57).

Besides, the INS mechanisms were weaker by that date than before because the American Association of Psychiatry, in 1973, ceased to consider homosexuality as an illness. Nonetheless, It took five more years to stop these procedures (Luibheid 21).

Within such uncertainty involved in the emigration process was challenging to find evidence that the official U.S. formally identified, enumerated, or processed differently to non-heteronormative subjects in the population. Cultural texts such as The Troubleseeker refer to the consequences of proving one's gay identity before emigration authorities. In this case, Antinio, the protagonist of the novel, had to wait more than ten years to receive his green card because he confessed to the interviewer why he was expelled from Cuba. René Valdés, the person behind the character of Antonio, kept all the documents related to this process and are available now in the Tretter Collection of the University of Minnesota. These materials are of utmost importance for the present investigation because they testify to one of the most challenging processes for a queer diasporic subject.

Although it is not possible to count with the protagonist's physical presence, the archive remains through the act of inquiring into René's collection. He compiled all the documents regarding his application for permanent residency and the judicial proceeding that he was forced to take by the homophobia of the INS. A slight trace of his emotions has been impregnated in his notes to the official letters and in some fragments of his diaries.

In the same way, Nelson D'Alerta's testimonies confirmed that they were asking for their sexual practices in some cases. The immigration officers inquired about his sexual preferences and wrote the word "homosexual" in the folder with his data. His honesty will cost the same delay to obtain the permanent residency than to René Valdés.

One of the governmental segregation strategies was the focalization on those who brought some criminal background from Cuba. Although just a few of them were actual criminals, the "dangerousness" of them has turned into one mediatic scandal that affected the generality of Marielitos:

Although the press reported that a high percentage of those who entered the United States through Mariel maritime bridge were hardcore felons, recent scholarship estimates that less than 4 percent had committed severe felonies in Cuba. Most of the people whom the American government deemed serious felons were taken to the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama, pending further investigation. The media heavily focused on these felons and the estimated fifteen hundred mentally and physically disabled people sent to the United States. (Capó Jr. 276)

In the first group, they included some gay refugees with charges of "public ostentation" due to homophobic laws in Cuba. But more than the quantitative accuracies, it is evident how the U.S. press and other cultural discourses contributed to creating negative perceptions, which hindered the social insertion of many of them.[2]

[1] To delve more deeply into how the press contributed to creating negative perceptions of the Marielitos, you can also read the article Cubans in the Tundra, by Omar Granados, published in 2016 by the magazine Cubacounterpoints; and The Cuban Refugee Criminal: Media Reporting and the Production of a Popular Image of Jillian Marie Jacklin, published in 2019 by the journal International Journal of Cuban Studies.

An excellent example of this is the stereotype of a Cuban mobster who became famous with Scarface. He related to Marielitos with drugs and crime in Miami Beach.


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