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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Welcome to Miami, Part Tres

Okay, I’ve been getting more feedback. First let me say this, I am a Spanish speaker (though my Spanish could use a bit of help) and I am of Cuban heritage, but a fourth generation type whose family fled in thirties. I accept that there are many things that I do not fully understand about the various historical perspectives of Miamians. Still, I am tired of being called all sorts of Anglo so-and-so's by a few readers! I can salsa with the best! Next, I have no problem with people who speak with an accent or who struggle with English though there is a different between an accent, which we all have, just the plain inability to speak English. For all of you who instead took me as closet member of their own racist clique, screw you! I want everyone to be part of American civic life and part of that is crossing boundaries of communication and race. I understand resentment and frustration but the way to solve our community's problems is through breaking down boundaries (not necessarily borders though).

As opposed to other parts of the nation almost 80%of Hispanics in Dade were born out of the country. I have worked and lived all over the county and I do understand that one would have to pretty much limit yourself to certain sections of the city to live around people that speak English.

I worked at FIU, Miami Dade College and with Miami Dade Government. I have also worked in the private sector. In all cases business was conducted to some degree in Spanish and bilingualism was mandatory. At FIU, when people came to apply the vast majority of people who came in did not speak English well and many not at all. Unlike other areas of the country where this might pose a problem, it does not in Miami where the majority of professionals are Spanish speakers. In fact most of the people in the records and processing offices at FIU spoke little to no English. When the people from the state accreditation office came by, we actually hid a number of the really "English challenged" staff in the bathroom. Students who spoke only English would constantly come to me and ask me to deal with financial aid officers, etc, who did not understand them. Ditto at Miami Dade College, especially Inter American Campus, Hialeah Campus, but to a lesser extent at the downtown and Kendall Campus.

In the private sector this is really pronounced. The majority of the employer participants that I put together for job fairs through South Florida Work Force would demand that workers were Spanish speakers but not necessarily bilingual. Since Miami developers and contractors are almost all Hispanic they tend to hire only Hispanics and all business is conducted in Spanish. Moreover no one speaks English. Surprisingly this often holds true in jobs in finance in Brickell as well.

In affluent suburbs a non-English speaker can get lost and ask a dozen people for directions before getting a person that speaks English.

To be more honest than I want to be, as I like to promote Miami whenever I can, there is a tremendous amount of hostility because of language in Miami. Hispanics felt left out and also do not want to be relegated as second class citizens as Hispanics (they perceive) in other cities are. This means that there is a huge amount of reverse discrimination. Language becomes another way for this to be played out. We have elected officials that can barely put together a sentence in English. Business leaders can sound like Tony Montana. Doctors and lawyers flourish that barley speak English (often leading one to question...) In Key Biscayne and many of the Brickell hi-rises for instance, many of the residents are the elite of Latin America for whom Miami is a second home. They choose to live in Miami because everyone speaks Spanish.

An Anglo correspondent new to the area who lives in South Miami wrote to Miamista saying that the problem is not so pronounced there. Long time South Miamians know there was quite a big thing in South Miami with racially tinged elections. (Okay, all elections in Miami are racially tinged.) You, New South Miamian may be able to avoid it but there is tension over South Miami because it is in danger in "going Latin". For whatever reason, the many towns and cities of Miami-Dade will get to a tipping point, and afterwards the entire White population will leave. For Anglos the problem often is that they are made to no longer feel welcome and their way of life comes under assault. Any long time Miamian will tell you of the fever pitched battles in municipal elections. And anyone will tell you that Latinos, especially Cuban Americans play some serious political hardball, of a type that would make Karl Rove wince. Two words- Ralph Arza. I really believe he has trophies of White Asses he has kicked. And I love him for it.

While a school teacher Arza took the job of football coach at a predominantly Hispanic high school because he was tired of Latinos being passed over by good ol' boy coaches for African American and Anglo players. He quickly won the top district championship with an all Hispanic team. There is another story concerning Arza and the Anglo politicians in Doral, once a haven for Anglos escaping the Latin wave. This city of low rise condos and apartment buildings, badly designed man-made lakes and its centerpiece jewel, a golf course that houses a major PGA tour. It was a place where Anglos tried to hold the line. Nevertheless Hispanics trickled in. In the early 90's as tensions increased, there was a ripple from a remark from an Anglo mayoral candidate about a Latino candidate’s unworthiness because of his cultural tendency to sleep late. Ralph Arza, a well connected though slightly shady political figure from Hialeah happened to have moved to Doral. He decided he had had enough. The politician that issued the remark was no longer around but someone had to pay. As a political manager he waged a brutal but highly efficient campaign and his slate swept the elections. That night, reportedly he and his allies called the campaign HQ’s of each opposing Anglo candidate and sang in unison, “nah-na-nah-na, nah-na-nah-na, hey-hey-hey, YOU LOST!

As for the angry Miami drivers who contacted Miamista to defend their driving what can I say? I will say that Anglos famously deride Latino drivers and again, it may be because in Latin America (where I have traveled frequently), it is a free for all. And it is not necessarily worse than in New York City RANDY. In NYC from my experience, (and I am also a part time resident of that city) people drive aggressively as heck but they will follow certain rules. A friend joked that a New Yorker will have a crack pipe in one hand, and will cut you off at 80mph but will ALWAYS signal.

Look, Miami is crazy and the comment "spiki spani?" and "no spiki ingli" may be the most overheard comment in the city but IT IS A GREAT TOWN in any language! And while it should never be necessary in America, English speakers would not be hurt to learn another language.

You know, the last thing I want to do is to make any English speaker feel that Miami is hostile. So many people leave because of that it becomes self-perpetuating and the city becomes less diverse. Which means I probably should not post this but Miamista speaks the truth.

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