New Jersey, the American microcosm


I thought about our conversation when reading a review of a book by Yolanda Prieto, The Cubans of Union City: Immigrants and Exiles In A New Jersey Community. Union City is the next bus stop from North Bergen, and I remember our North Jersey neighborhood (across the Hudson River from New York City) as having no slums or aristocratic class. It was mostly middle class, upper-, lower- and mid-middle. And very ethnic — mostly Irish, Italians, Jews. Today, it is very Latin.

If Miami — known for its influential Cuban community — is just settling as part of American history, as the review of the Prieto book states, Union City “is a grand dame.” Prieto arrived in New Jersey from Cuba with her family in 1963. They worked hard, went from laborers to entrepreneurs, sent their children to college — just as our parents before them did. One product of that milieu is now U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Union City now is “Cuba’s northernmost province,” Prieto writes.

Currently, the Cuban population is mixed with “an ongoing influx of Colombians, Central Americans and Dominicans.” Spanish is spoken widely. Pizza parlors and Jewish delis have been replaced by bodegas.

My former New Jersey neighborhood becoming so Latin is a phenomenon probably mirrored in many communities in America. Certainly, it is the case where I now live half the year outside Miami. But referring to those recent natives as exiles is a mistake. Maybe their parents were exiles in the days right after the Castro revolution. My sense is that these folks are immigrants now, never going back, happier here, as my ancestors were. I thank God they came to America, and New Jersey.

Deal with that reality, America. New Jersey is the microcosm.


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