Greater Miami: A tale of many cities

Photos by Marlena Skrobe

From Beach’s Glitter To Ethnic Communities

Tourists the world over are drawn to Greater Miami – some to enjoy tropical temperatures, luminous beaches and Miami Beach’s Art Deco District, others to immerse themselves in South Florida’s strong Latin and Caribbean presence.

Greater Miami boasted a record 12.6 million overnight visitors in 2010, according to the Greater Miami Convention &Visitors Bureau, the majority for leisure and vacation. It was an increase of 5.6 percent. Of those, 6.5 million were domestic visitors and 6.1 million were international visitors.

The stereotypical glitter, often highlighted on television and cable, draws many.

Sid Shaikh, 22, a student in Leeds, United Kingdom, is planning to visit Miami to see for himself what he’s been exposed to through television.

“I’m attracted to Miami after watching Miami Vice and CSI Miami,” on television, Shaikh said. “It’s clean crisp landscape, palm tree-filled streets and perfectly formed people.”

Pull up a Google search using the term “Miami” and the first page will produce many images that support these visions, whether accurate or not.

But beyond the glitter, there’s another Greater Miami populated with dozens of ethnic communities, punctuated by its large Hispanic presence. It offers a rich chapter in American and world history, one that transcends state and national borders.

Paul Bosworth, a 45-year-old computer tech, enjoys traveling to Miami due to the difference he sees from his hometown in New Orleans.

“I would say it’s a European city in a Caribbean setting,” Bosworth said. “You’ve got Latinos, Jamaicans, and Cubans. You’ve got a lot of Caribbean aspects.”

Beautiful in its exterior and seen as the crossroad to the Americas, Miami – surprising to some — is only one of the 35 cities in Miami-Dade County.  Although the county has a population over 2 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the City of Miami has only 400,000 people.

Although Miami gives its name to Greater Miami, Miami proper is a city that differs from the rest.

Miami traces its origins to Paleo-Indians who inhabited the land 10,000 years ago. The Tequesta Tribe later occupied the area hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492.

In the 16th Century the area fell into the hands of the Spanish. This later led to an influx of Caribbean islanders who arrived in hopes of finding treasures left behind by sunken battle ships. Simultaneously, Seminole Indians and runaway slaves converged to seek freedom in the area.

Miami as a city is relatively young, especially among East Coast cities.

In 1891, Julia Tuttle gave Miami’s development a push after she realized the land she had bought around the Miami River would be of no use without a railroad.

Her persistence paid off when she convinced Henry M. Flagler to connect Miami to the rest of the nation with a railroad system that led to the city’s birth in 1896.

During more than a century since, people from all around the world flocked to the new city, leading to a unique blend of ethnicities and races.

The Latin community in particular grew at an astounding rate in the 1960s after Fidel Castro’s revolution took hold in Cuba. More than half a million Cuban exiles fled to their new home in South Florida.

And Miami’s Little Haiti grew as poverty drove many from Haiti to seek new opportunities in Miami.

As a result, Miami has become a city that has brought together people from many Latin American and Caribbean countries, with customs and languages unfamiliar to some.

“Well, as a Hispanic I am used to the Spanish-speaking that goes on in Miami,” said Marcos Castells, a Cuban American living in Miami. “A tourist would experience culture shock if they are a non-Spanish speaker.”

Turn on the radio while entering Miami’s neighborhoods such as Little Havana, Coconut Grove or Liberty City and many of the stations will be blasting salsa, merengue or reggaeton music to cater to the Spanish-speaking communities.

“You get a taste of different cultures in the sense of people and food,” said Gabriela Largaespada, who has lived in Miami for 23 years. “We have everything from Nicaraguan food to Cuban to Colombian.”

But many residents like Largaespada would argue that the image of Miami often seen in the media is not the most accurate one for the city.

“The beach is not my backyard. It takes me about an hour to get there,” Largaespada said.

“People that see Miami in that way are only really thinking about Miami Beach. They don’t really know what it’s like here.”

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2 responses to “Greater Miami: A tale of many cities”

  1. Guy G. says:

    I can see how someone from another state or country who’s never been to Miami can experience a serious culture shock. What tv portrays and what it truly is, is highly polarized. I liked the article. It’s enough to raise questions or a debate about Miami’s reality.