This area was here before Haitians got here, she said. Why should the name be changed to suit them? I dont care what the city wants to do Lemon City is not in Little Haiti.
Ayers accuses Haitian activists of disrespecting Lemon Citys history by trying to force another name onto the historic community that gave birth to Miamis first school, the Lemon City School, and one of its early markets, Rockmoor Grocery, which later became the first Winn-Dixie grocery store.
They have no right to change where I was born. Where my momma was born, Ayers said.
Little Haiti gained its name as Haitian migrants, fleeing the regime of Jean Claude Baby Doc Duvalier, began to populate the neighborhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Haitian pioneer Viter Juste wrote a letter to the Miami Herald calling the area Little Port-au-Prince, the newspaper headlined the letter Little Haiti.
The name stuck.
As Haitians have prospered, their story mirrors that of most immigrant groups. They moved out of the immigrant enclave to suburban neighborhoods. Today, North Miami, North Miami Beach, Homestead and parts of South Broward have sizable Haitian populations.
Those supporting the plan to make Little Haitis boundaries official say much of the rhetoric brings them back to an ugly time when Haitians first arrived to Miami and were deemed less than by other ethnic groups.
When you hear someone say, why would you want to name this after a deforested country, or a poor country, you know its coming from a racist place, Metellus said.
At a City Commission meeting in September, Spence-Jones called the tone of emails on the topic disrespectful.
Its almost embarrassing to hear all of the lies and the hate that has come from this exercise, she said.
Metellus said making Little Haitis boundaries official would not erase existing neighborhoods.
We can coexist side-by-side if we need to. I dont have a problem with recognizing the Lemon City neighborhood which today is known as Little Haiti, said Metellus. But dont tell me that we should not call this area Little Haiti.
Name changes for long-time neighborhoods have occurred, and continue to occur, all over Miami and the nation, said Paul George, the MDC historian.
Shenandoah, once a core Miami Jewish neighborhood, for example, today is largely considered Little Havana. Like Little Haiti, Little Havana does not have official boundaries.
George, who gives historical tours around Miami, said he considers the Lemon City area as Little Haiti. The challenge for the city, he said, is to find a way to honor the past of Lemon City while also acknowledging the Haitian communitys contribution to Miami over the past 35 years.
In America over the past decades weve seen a rapid change of neighborhoods, he said. Its a conundrum. But somehow you have to have people remember what was there, but today it truly is Little Haiti.