Young Americans embrace socialism, even among Miami Cuban community
Miami (US): Andy Vila's mother remembers her son as a bright, rebellious child who enjoyed Harry Potter books and dressing up as the US president.
But when he began to embrace the same ideology his family had fled in socialist Cuba, she pleaded in vain for him to stop his political activism.
His socialism made Vila an outlier in his Miami community and opened deep rifts with relatives.
He was briefly exiled from home, and his mother entered therapy to bridge their differences.
To mention socialism at family dinners, "that's a no-go," Vila said.
Relatives would "look at me funny and say, 'We've escaped that.'"
At 21, Vila is part of a wave of young Americans openly supporting socialism, even among Miami's staunchly anti-left Cubans.
Although the definition of the ideology varies widely, it is making particular inroads among millennials and Generation Z voters, who are expected to make up 37 per cent of the 2020 US electorate, according to the Pew Research Center.
While more than half of Americans rejected socialism in a recent Gallup poll, 43 per cent surveyed said some version of it would be good for the country.
The popularity of self-described democratic socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has influenced the 2020 Democratic candidates, several of whom say they at least partially support socialist-style policies.
Vila emigrated from Cuba with his parents in 2004, receiving asylum and a pathway to citizenship.
Initially optimistic about a new country where anything seemed possible, he became disillusioned with the American dream after his family lost its home during the Great Recession.
As a teen, he identified as a Libertarian-style Republican and spent hours watching YouTube clips of conservative provocateurs lambasting liberals.
He served as a congressional intern for longtime Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican, and joined a conservative college group.
But something began to shift during the 2016 election. Donald Trump and the Republican Party's increasingly hostile stance toward immigration alienated Vila, though he agreed with the party on other issues.
Course readings led him to question his beliefs further.
He started attending left-leaning campus events, interacting with students of varying racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. He discovered a Miami beyond his manicured suburban neighbourhood.
By year's end, he had developed a disdain for capitalism and the political right.
Now the sociology and geography major wants sweeping reforms, including Medicare for all, free access to higher education and a Green New Deal.
Americans who came of age during the last recession often embrace a larger government role in social policy.
They cite stagnant wages, student loan debt and a decrease in employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions, according to University of California-Irvine political sociologist Edwin Amenta.
Younger Americans are less threatened by socialism than older generations, who might associate it with Soviet or Chinese rule, he said.
"Today's socialism for younger people means the Canadian health system and the Swedish welfare state," Armenta said.
More than half of Miami-area Cuban Americans are Republican, though an increasing number register as independent, according to a 2018 Florida International University poll.