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Sunday, 24 February, 2002, 11:48 GMT
Crisis sends Argentines to Miami
Miami coastline
Miami may have more than 180,000 Argentines
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By the BBC's Lilian Zac in Miami
Argentine immigrants are beginning to make their mark in Miami society, but many still face financial hardship and isolation from their families back home.

Marina is 29 years old.

When she arrived in Miami with her husband and two small children last year, her passport was stamped with a note giving her three months to stay in the US as a tourist.

"We moved to Miami when my husband lost his job," she said.

"It was hard, but we took the decision because we knew some people who'd already emigrated there, and we thought they could help us to find jobs - even if we were not legally authorised to work in the United States".

She did not need to get a visa beforehand - but if she overstayed the three months period, she would become an illegal immigrant, and if caught, she would be deported.

Economic impetus

But that is a risk that many Argentines, including Marina and her husband, are willing to take these days.

Argentine cafe in Miami
Argentines are beginning to form their own distinctive community in Miami

Since its independence from Spain at the beginning of the 19th Century, Argentina has been a recipient of immigration itself, especially from Spain and Italy.

Moreover, it actively promoted immigration as a way of dealing with its chronic labour shortages.

Argentina's current economic crisis has meant that an increasing number of Argentines feel that they have no option but to look for opportunities abroad.

This means the land of their forefathers in Spain and Italy, and as part of the mass migration of Latin Americans to the US.

Large numbers

Many of the new arrivals who leave their country in search for stable future in the US end up in Florida and in particular Miami.

These days you see very few people of my age there (in Argentina). In this sense there is like a hole

Argentine immigrant Gustavo Velez
They often come as visitors, tourists and shoppers and become immigrants as the idea of a future in Argentina becomes increasingly uncertain.

The 2001 US census counted more than 22,000 Argentine residents in Florida, but many experts estimate this figure does not reflect the real numbers because illegal immigrants tend to be too scared to respond.

The Argentine consulate estimates that between 40,000 and 60,000 now live in Florida.

Other organisations estimate the figure could be as high as 180,000.

One of the main advantages of Miami is that it is almost a bilingual city, which makes it very easy to manage one's business in Spanish.

Helping settlers

The large immigration of Argentines has began to make its mark in the city, in particular Miami Beach where most of the new arrivals have settled.

Ira Guevara at work on her computer
Ira Guevara writes an orientation guide to aid recent Argentine immigrants

The growing demand for Argentine meat and the typical Argentine pastries - empanadas - have made them an ordinary feature in the menu of many shops and restaurants near the beach.

Ira Guevara, editor of a new immigrant orientation guide called El Paracaidista in Florida, said they had been able to help some of the new settlers who find themselves in desperate situations.

She also said the impact of Argentines in the Miami beach area has been really strong, with hundreds of Argentines going to the beach in the weekends, playing their traditional card games there and drinking a traditional Argentine hot drink called mate.

In many parks you can see football schools geared mainly to and run by Argentines.

Uneasy transition

Despite this, the transition has not been easy for many Argentines, who have often left behind a certain level of social status, and savings, not to mention members of their family.

Gustavo Velez
Gustavo Velez is one of many young Argentines who have left to find better jobs

This phenomenon of divided families is something new for Argentine society, and many of those who emigrate are young, professional adults.

For these people are the ones who are leaving the country in droves as they are unable to secure employment in Argentina.

They hope that their skills will allow them to build a better life in the US, and, at the same time, give the ability to send money back to families at home.

Gustavo Velez's story is fairly typical - he left his village, Santa Rosa de Calamuchita, in the centre of Argentina.

"The big reason I came here is that I had a very close friend of mine who had emigrated six months earlier," he said.

"There are a lot of people from Santa Rosa here, most of them are between the ages of 18 and 25 and that is very noticeable when you go back to Santa Rosa."

"These days you see very few people of my age there. In this sense there is like a hole."

Tourism slowdown

The events of 11 September last year have had a major impact on Florida's tourist industry, which is one of the biggest employers of Argentine immigrants.

The slowdown in tourism has meant that a large number of them have been laid off.

But despite the difficulties, many have abandoned the idea of returning to Argentina in the near future.

They say that they trust the American economy's capacity to recover from the recession, but they have no such hopes for the Argentine economy.

See also:

12 Jan 02 | Americas
Crisis prompts Argentine exodus
22 Nov 01 | Americas
Cuban immigrants feared drowned
09 Apr 00 | Americas
Miami divided over Elian
07 Jan 00 | Americas
Legal action planned over Cuban boy
03 Jan 00 | Americas
Haitian boat people repatriated
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