Land of the Elian Invasion
by Isabel Lyman
11 June 2000
Miami, Fla. - Ah, the palm trees, the ocean, the crime.
In the few days I've been here, the media has reported that a) one Fernando
Pereira Leite Filho confessed to killing his mother and arranging the body in
a crucifix position and b) a Mexican transsexual claims to have been raped by
a guard at an immigration detention center.
It is fitting that the television drama Miami Vice was filmed in South
Florida. The popular show featured cops wearing designer clothes who chased
criminals peddling designer drugs.
Lately this tropical paradise has been the setting for another successful TV
program: As the Elian Gonzalez World turns, a soap opera.
The trials of Janet, Juan Miguel, Lazaro, Donato, Marisleysis revealed to
outsiders what the natives already suspected: real life in Miami is more
entertaining than anything crafted by Hollywood script writers.
But it's not all bizarre. Miami-Dade's Hispanics, who comprise roughly 60
percent of its 2.2 million inhabitants, live fairly conservative lives. The
Cubans, Nicaraguans, Colombians, Dominicans go to church, have close-knit
families, and launch small businesses. Indeed, it is their hard work that has
produced Miami's booming global economy.
Some of Miami's sons and daughters are also quite accomplished. There's
singer Gloria Estefan, U.S. House Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart and
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, actor Andy Garcia, and Liz Balmaseda, the Miami Herald's
Pulitzer-prize winning columnist.
No lack of role models; no glass ceiling on dreams. A little Latina girl can
boast, I will be the mayor when I grow up. It would be unthinkable here to
tell her she can only aspire to being a maid.
Of course, English only proponents or John Rocker could find plenty of
ammunition for their opinions in the cruise capital of the world. Miami's
public schools, after all, were the first to launch a bilingual program way
back in 1963.
In the suburbs, where my Costa Rican mother has lived for 30 years, near Jose
Canseco Street, a stranger quickly realizes that this is not your father's
USA. You can buy Capri pants from the Gap or drink a latte from Starbucks,
and do all your business in Spanish. There is no dearth of restaurants that
offer a menu of fried plantains and black bean soup, served by friendly
waitresses named Olga or Rosario. On street corners, old men smoke big
cigars, play dominoes and fondly recall the Bay of Pigs invasion. A sign on a
fence invites the public to an event celebrating Venezuela's independence.
Miami has loads of immigrants - arriving by raft or by plane - who have not
assimilated and can't converse in ingles even after years of living here.
Indeed, for every immigrant who comes to Miami, the Washington Post has
noted, a white non-Hispanic will leave. White flight.
I can't blame those who flee. It's tough being a monolingual gringo in a
place where the residents have more in common with South Americans than with
American southerners. Traffic jams and congested neighborhoods are the norm.
Voters repeatedly elect public officials who get accused of running a
banana republic. Drug gangs arrange dozens of drive-by shootings. A
never-ending, three-ring multicultural circus.
Still, it is Miami's fiery, Latin soul that will continue to be its greatest
strength ... and that which guarantees its isolation from the rest of the
This column appeared in The Edmond Sun on June 11, 2000.
Isabel Lyman lives in Edmond, Oklahoma. A former editorial columnist for the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Massachusetts, her views have appeared in various national publications, including the Wall Street Journal and Investors Business Daily. She holds a doctoral degree in Social Science and is currently completing a book, The Homeschooling Revolution. Ms. Lyman may be contacted via e-mail by clicking here.
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