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Arnold is good for us
Engagement in American politics

By Abtin Assadi
May 27, 2004

First a full disclosure, I did not vote for Arnold and many of my friends will disown me if they see the article's title followed by my name. But hear me out; you might also be surprised at my recent epiphany.

It all boils down to political influence. Take Cuban-Americans for example. They wield extraordinary powers over the political establishment given the size of their community. Every president, regardless of party, has to go to Florida fifteen times during their presidency and kiss many Cuban-American babies. To top that off, they also feel compelled to punish Fidel Castro by yet additional sanctions to appease this community. The latest example is President Bush's orders to tighten U.S. sanctions on Havana on Feb 24, 2004.

Now the question is what do Cuban-Americans possess that Iranian-Americans don't? I don't recall any presidential candidate, let alone a president, descend on an Iranian-American event and declare, if elected I'll fix all of your problems like good candidates always do. You may think I am just jealous; damn right I am. Not even once has any major candidate gone through our community, praising our vision and conviction. Not even once was any of our children's cheeks slightly bruised by a camera-loving candidate squeezing them too tightly too many times. That's cold.

Venting aside, there must be a number of reasons for such undue influence. Let's see if we can compare obvious characteristics of the two communities for a clue or two, so here goes nothing.

In my research, I was looking for points of contrast, but conversely I found more similarities. Cubans have a saying, "Next year in Havana!" that sounds very much like "Two more years" to me. Large numbers of Cubans have gazed toward their native island from American shores since 1959, when Castro deposed Batista and thousands of middle-class Cubans fled to the United States. This is very similar to our own story. Exchange Batista with Shah and change the year to 1979, voila.

Cubans much like us are not voluntary immigrants, but exiles forced by the rise of a brutal autocrat. Whereas immigrants typically try to forget their pasts and forge new futures, exiles try to remember their histories and recover what they have lost. Immigrants want to assimilate because, by and large, they have brought with them unhappy memories of their native countries.

Additionally, Cubans have assumed the look of a remarkably accomplished immigrant community; they enjoy high levels of income, employment, and home ownership, among other indicators of success. It sounds awfully familiar does it not? I refer you to the latest report on Iranian-Americans by Iranian Studies Group at MIT.

So the deeper I dug, the closer we looked. So where are the differences? There are a few, for example they started this process 20 years ahead of us. It's a difference but that does not explain it. Cuba's geographical proximity has created important defining moments in American history like "The Bay of Pigs" and "The Cuban missile crisis".

These important events have caused a tight linkage between the Cuban community and Washington insiders at the highest levels. Well now, this is plausible. But in my humble opinion the most important difference is the state's political leaning. The state of Florida is a swing state. Arguably, W owes his presidency to Cubans, besides Katherine Harris of course.

California, on the other hand, is Democratic all the way. Republicans did not win a single office in California in the 2002 election. We voted for Dems in the last four presidential elections and both of our Senators are Dems. So, in short, in the last 20 years political parties had no reasons to care about groups that are mostly concentrated in a safe state.

That leads me back to Arnold. For the first time in a long time Republicans feel they might have a slight chance in California. The terminator has rejuvenated a party that was left for dead after Pete Wilson left office. So, if California's politics become a bit more competitive, we'll have a chance to play the kingmaker. Of course that's contingent upon our level of engagement and participation. How to engage and participate you ask? Well that will be my next article.

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