When I arrived in Miami in the early 1980s, the slogan “Miami is for Me” was ubiquitous.
As someone who had just arrived here from New York, I not only wondered what the buzz was all about, but I did not believe for one second that it could ever apply to me.
I reluctantly had relocated to Miami in 1984 because my family decided to leave the harsh weather of New York. My parents had resided in New York since their arrival in the United States from Haiti in the late 1960s. In the mid-’70s, I joined them in New York, where I attended middle and secondary school and also earned an undergraduate degree from Queens College of The City University of New York.
I remember how upset I was at the thought of moving to Miami. After all, I had just graduated from college and had a bright future ahead of me in New York. My friends wondered why I would want to leave the hustle and bustle of New York for the slow and quiet bedroom atmosphere of Miami. Several of my academic relations attempted to dissuade me from moving, arguing that there was nothing for me in Miami.
Nonetheless, armed with my undergraduate degree from Queens College, I resigned myself to settling in this new city, as my parents would not have allowed me to exercise any other option. The light at the end of the tunnel was the great opportunity in Miami to be engaged in a Haitian community whose issues dominated the public discourse.
I quickly became involved in Haitian community issues, more so than I had been while living in New York. I think this was due to the very disadvantageous circumstances surrounding Miami’s growing Haitian community, a community made up largely of refugees caused by the abuses and neglect of the Duvalier dictatorship.
This period also coincided with the HIV-AIDS crisis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had dropped a bombshell on Haitian nationals all over the world by suggesting that being Haitian was a risk factor for acquiring the HIV virus.
Remember that it was an already difficult period for Haitians in Miami: the boat people crisis; the hostile response of local institutions and of many segments of this community; the demonstrations calling for the ouster of Baby Doc Duvalier; the demonstrations decrying the hypocrisy of our government’s support for Duvalier and urging the United States to view Haitians as political and not economic refugees; the bullying and humiliation endured by Haitian students; the blatant discrimination experienced by Haitian workers, renters and shoppers.
I quickly overcame any hesitancy about relocating to Miami. I believed that since I had been schooled, trained and groomed in this country, I had a special responsibility to utilize my skills to stand up for my fellow Haitians. After all, the only difference between me and those who were mistreated, looked down upon and otherwise dehumanized was that I spoke English and I was not afraid to exercise my freedoms and rights as a citizen of this country.
Upon my arrival here, I connected with Carline Paul and Eric Magloire, friends from Queens College who had also relocated to Miami from New York. I also reconnected with Gerard, whom I had met in Montreal in the late 1970s and whom I would eventually marry.
Here I am – some 20-plus years later, reflecting on my time here in Miami. I have done exactly what I was meant to do here; I have become the person I hoped to be.
I worked in the fields of research, education, government and, eventually, community building. I became increasingly active with Haitian causes and organizations, and learned to develop relationships and alliances with individuals and organizations outside of the Haitian community.
In retrospect, I have come to appreciate Miami and agree that Miami is the place of new beginnings, given the number of people who hail from other countries, who have made Miami their home, either by choice or by necessity. Miami is replete with the stories of so many immigrants who have come in search of the American dream, and who have given this city its unique character and flavor.
It is also said that Miami is a magic city, where the American dream is realized by many, against the greatest of odds. While this is the case for all of immigrants, there are enough Horatio Alger stories to continue to feed the promise of America.
Miami is as much the Gateway to the Americas, as it represents the promise and future of America.
Here in Miami, we have the opportunity to live and experience the multilingual and multiculturalism of our nation’s future. Unfortunately, too many of us are reluctant to fully embrace this reality.
What I know for sure is that Miami has offered me a new beginning and an opportunity to become a better person. I have come to believe that Miami is for me after all!