Haitian rights activist Gepsie Metellus walks along Miamis Northeast Second Avenue at 59th Terrace, pointing to the colorful Caribbean marketplace, an open-air center under renovation that is supposed to be a showcase of Haitis culture.
This, she says, arms spread wide, is Little Haiti.
Less than two blocks away, Miami businessman Peter Ehrlich stands in front of one of his many warehouses in the neighborhood which to him, he stresses, is not Little Haiti, but historic Lemon City.
We feel people should use whatever name makes them comfortable, Ehrlich said.
For several years now, Miami residents have been quietly debating what to call the area.
Nobody has a true definition of Little Haiti because there are no formal boundaries. Its pretty subjective, said historian and Miami Dade College professor Paul George.
The issue of what is and what is not Little Haiti an area broadly defined by the city as running from 38th Street to 79th Street between Interstate 95 and the Florida East Coast Railway is expected to come before Miami city commissioners Thursday as they contemplate setting official boundaries for a cultural or neighborhood conservation district.
Proponents of setting Little Haitis boundaries on maps and official city registries acknowledge that any officially designated area is likely to be much smaller. They say Little Haitis southern and northern borders are really 54th and 82nd streets.
Whatever the boundaries are, the desire to officially establish the name Little Haiti has sparked a backlash and reignited old ethnic tensions and cultural divisions.
Every day you hear of a new group encroaching into what we know as Little Haiti, said Marleine Bastien, a Haitian activist pushing for the designation. These groups moved into Little Haiti, so I dont understand why they dont want it to be named Little Haiti anymore.
Opponents of the plan argue there is no need to make Little Haiti official. The designation, they say, will endanger the character of neighborhoods encompassed by the area known as Little Haiti, including Lemon City, Little River and Buena Vista, and could make the area less attractive to potential investors.
Names do matter, Ehrlich said.
The debate over what to call the area has been going on for years, but the controversy has been reignited by a push from City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones whose district includes Little Haiti for a study to determine which area should be officially recognized by that name. Spence-Jones did not respond to requests for an interview. Thursdays City Commission will be last, so whoever is elected Nov. 5 to replace her is likely to inherit the issue.
Emotions are running so high that opponents of formalizing Little Haiti have sent out letters and email blasts.
Changing the name from Lemon City to Little Haiti would further marginalize the presence of Lemon City as a part of Greater Miami. It will show disrespect for the existing name of Lemon City and its historical contribution to Greater Miami, wrote preservationist Enid Pinkney in a letter to the City Commission.
Georgia Ayers, a descendant of the Bahamians who pioneered Lemon City, has long taken exception to the name Little Haiti. Ayers, an outspoken African-American activist, has spent years campaigning to restore the name Lemon City.