Nelson Mandela
8:10 am
Wed December 11, 2013

The 'Mandela Snub' How I Remember It

Credit South Africa The Good News / Wikimedia Commons
Hear Karen's radio essay.

  It was the summer of 1990. I was home, living with my parents, working part-time at a Miami television station as a production assistant. I made an aspiring journalist’s wage, $6 an hour.

A multiracial group of students back at my Washington, D.C., college had staged sit-ins calling for the school to divest from South Africa. I remember campus-wide "reverse apartheid" protest days. We were learning about modern-day, systemic racial segregation.

But in 1990, Nelson Mandela, who'd spent 27 years as a political prisoner, was released.

The world applauded, cheered and cried. The city of Miami, on the other hand, looked away. Five Cuban American mayors in all -- formally condemning Mandela for comments he made in support of Fidel Castro.

My jaw dropped to the floor. I couldn't believe it. Individual citizens had every right to protest Mandela's comments, but Miami's mayor putting the pain and politics of a single constituency ahead of what should have been the city's world view? If felt like an insult.

This was a seminal moment in Miami's racial history. The local black community fought back with dollars and not riots. Attorney H.T. Smith crafted a savvy three-year boycott that cost our community upward of $50 million.

There was an extra brand of resentment that came with this issue for Miami's black community.

African-Americans had waged the war for civil rights that local immigrants were and now are benefiting from. I hope that fact never gets lost in translation again, as we mature into a more united community, one where Miami is home to those who arrived yesterday and those who arrived generations ago.

Karen Rundlet was born in Jamaica. She grew up in Miami since age 9.