Built on artificial land, unforeseen dreams of businessmen, promise of money and glamor, and exploitation of cheap labor – has much changed in Miami?
Miami is a tale of boom and bust, each era marked by a hurricane, building boom or political riot. As the chaos settles, in true Miami fashion, another era lurks in the corners to redefine Miami as we know it.
The story of the Greater Miami is one of opportunity, displacement and refuge. The collection of cultures, ideas, people and motivations makes Miami a hotbed of innovation, but not one without controversial footnotes. Corruption, crime, neglect, segregation – Miami’s history is hardly the flawless image of bikini-clad bodies walking down South Beach. The reinvention of the city is propped on the backs of recent refugees, entrepreneurs and college students. This is Miami; this is home.
After being demolished by the 1926 Great Hurricane, Miami rebuilt and became a sleepy beach hideaway where old retirees settled. Art Deco characterized Miami and tourists flocked to the glamorous beach living seen in ads. Then, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, Walt Disney created Disney World in Orlando and the Caribbean became the preferred tropical destination. Refugees replaced tourists, and a Cuban-American identity formed.
In the late 1970s, Castro declared that anyone who wanted to leave Cuba had open access to the docks. In this, an estimated 25,000 prisoners and mental patients were transported via rule of Castro, shattering the stereotypical image of a wealthy Batista-exiled Cuban and introducing more crime to Miami.
The Mariel Boatlift met the Cocaine-Cowboy era, and Miami became the ultimate backdrop for a “paradise lost.” In 1986, Miami-Dade county had a record-breaking 12,000 crimes per 100,000 residents, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, compared to 2016 data of only 4,118 crimes per 100,000 residents.
Pulled up from the bootstraps thanks to the promotion of “Miami Vice” and the work of the Miami Police Department, modern day neighborhoods in Miami began to take formal roots. For example, Haitian immigrants fleeing economic refuge found a home in North Miami Beach and the historic Lemon City. Today the majority of Miami’s neighborhoods are a conglomerate of Latin American and Caribbean cultures. Doral, to most, is an enclave of Venezuela. Kendall, the home to a “true” Miamian. Coconut Grove, the local free spirit. Wynwood, the artist. Pinecrest, a Jewish subculture. Like other big cities in the country, the makeup of Miami is separated by culture and group.
“You have your pockets and you stay in your pockets,” said Edward Julbe, a school of communication professor at the University of Miami. Julbe grew up in North Miami Beach in the 1980s to two Cuban parents, both of whom left the island in the first wave of Cuban exile. Julbe remembers his childhood as a time dominated by an Anglo-American middle class, the “typical 2.5 kids” and all, but by the mid-90s and the influx of Haitian refugees, North Miami Beach began to change.
Currently, in Miami-Dade County, the foreign born population is 52.2 percent and the Hispanic population is 67.7 percent, according to latest Census Bureau records in July 2016. Of the 1.46 million county residents defined as “foreign born,” 92.9 percent were from Latin America, according to Miami-Dade’s 2017 County Summary Profile. Of those, 47.3 percent identified as Cuban.
“People take what their culture is and they don’t change it when they get here,” Julbe said. “It’s all encompassing anywhere south of Broward – Miami envelopes everything.”
Today, many Miami natives are of Cuban descent. Junior Amanda Fuentes is Cuban on her father’s side. Her grandparents originally left Cuba for the Canary Islands in Spain, where they lived for about a year until they were granted access to the United States. Fuentes, who grew up in Kendall, notes being shaped by the Hispanic environment she has always lived in.
“I don’t think I could’ve ever grown up somewhere without culture … Miami is so colorful,” she said.
Senior Alexis De La Rosa also feels that the culture of the 305 has contributed to her identity.
“In Miami it’s almost assumed that you’re from somewhere different, speak a different language, are diverse,” De La Rosa said. “Here in Miami, we interact with people from all over the world all the time.” De La Rosa, who lives in Miami Springs, has a lot of family in Miami, and they try to get together once a week to catch up.
“We’re really close and really tight-knit. I don’t know what I would do without them,” she said.
It was the reputation of the School of Communication, her tight-knit family and her unconditional love for her city that made her want to stay here for college.
“I’ve been here for 21 [years] and I still don’t have enough … I love it here,” De La Rosa said.
Junior Tiffanie Gonzalez-Quevedo, who grew up in Doral and currently resides in Sweetwater, is Cuban on both sides of her family.
“I feel like a lot of my personal views and a lot of things I do, the way I am … even the way I talk, my heritage really plays an impact on it,” she said.
Junior Sofia Estevez, who now lives in Miramar in Broward County, has fond memories of growing up in Hialeah. Even after she moved to Miramar in first grade, she still spent a lot of time in Hialeah, both at school and at her grandparents’ and great aunt’s house.
Estevez calls her upbringing a “nice mixture” of Cuban and American, and discussed some of the “funky traditions” Cubans have, like eating 12 grapes for each month on New Year’s Eve and making a wish on each grape.
“Something else you do, you take luggage and you run around the block with it and it’s supposed to give you good travels for the year,” Estevez said.
Both Fuentes and Estevez noted the influence the Miami culinary scene has had on them.
“I love my Cuban food and when I want a croqueta, I want a croqueta,” Fuentes said.
One of the most beloved Hispanic traditions among all of the students is Nochebuena, or Christmas Eve. To them, Nochebuena is more important than Christmas Day. On Nochebuena, Hispanics have a feast that consists of rice, beans and the main dish, lechon, or roasted pork. The pork is roasted all day, and even though the real celebration isn’t until night, Fuentes’ family makes it an all-day affair by hosting a barbeque while the pig is cooking.
For the Gonzalez-Quevedo family, Nochebuena is a holiday that brings generations together. Each year, they go to her grandparents’ house on her mother’s side, where her grandfather cooks the pig.
“Now he’s teaching my cousins and my brothers because he’s, like, 82 already, but he’s been doing it all these years,” Gonzalez-Quevedo said. “All of our family – even our family friends – everybody comes to it and it’s the biggest thing of the year.”
The diversity of the 305 and the ability for residents to maintain their heritage makes Miami particularly unique. It is the amalgamation of many cultures in Miami’s melting pot that creates a scenario conducive to being “on Miami time” – a time in your own world and culture, and maybe (definitely) a little late.
words_marissa vonesh & lizzie wilcox. photo_gianna sanchez.