After L.A., I knew I belonged in Miami

In the mid 1990s, it was painfully obvious that if I wanted to follow a traditional track in my filmmaking career, I would have to relocate to New York or Los Angeles. Seemingly, there were no opportunities in Miami for me. And this point was reiterated, highlighted and drummed into me by every one I knew in the media business. “Miami is a dead end for film.” “The only work in Miami is in Spanish television.”

These were the echoes of my daily milieu.

By the late 1990s, after producing a couple of films that were broadcast nationally on PBS, I built up enough buzz and credibility to get signed on with an agent, and I headed west to test the uncharted waters of the City of Angels. I was ready to take on new challenges and live different adventures. I had had more than my fill of Miami’s bad service at retail stores, congested traffic, corrupt politics, and disturbingly superficial nightlife — or so I thought.

California is laid back, and not just in “valley girl” parlance but in its way of life. Almost immediately, it clashed with my neurotic, Hialeah biorhythm.

Everything in L.A. was a political statement. Latinos crowed and bragged a bunch about “being Latinos,” yet spoke no Spanish. In fact, most of the Latinos I met could barely name two cities in Latin America much less understand the complex dynamics of growing up in a truly multicultural environment.

The Latinos who actually spoke Spanish and understood a thing or two about the continent directly below us, were generally not involved in the entertainment business — sadly enough, they tended to be new arrivals, who worked tedious jobs and lived quietly and invisibly.

I also quickly realized that projects and jobs that were being offered to me had nothing to do with the reason I became a filmmaker. I wanted to tell my stories, stories that were real and were happening in the most exciting crossroads in America — unfortunately, that place was not Los Angeles but rather the place I had so eagerly left, my hometown, Miami.

I quickly gathered my Willy Chirino CDs, sundry Miami Hurricane caps and my vaunted disco ball and headed back to my little Southeast corner of the world.

Has it been easy to work as a filmmaker in Miami? Absolutely not. However, I now realize that the pull of Miami for me was far greater than dollars and cents.

I understand this city’s quirks and glitches. I soak up the sing-songy twang with which we speak and enjoy the live-and-let-live attitude this place affords. I feel Miami is home.

Growing up here it was difficult to develop a sense of community or belonging because it is such a transient city full of folks who have fond memories of somewhere else — be it another city or country.

The beach here was never as lush and sandy as Varadero, Cuba and the pizza was never as thin and cheesy as the one in Greenwich Village.

Miami was off the pop-culture radar for a long time. Outside of a couple of media blips on the national news, mainstream America had not gotten a glimpse of Miami since the 1950s and 60s when Jackie Gleason beamed his show on national television and headliners like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. regularly scheduled shows at the big hotels on the Beach.

Then suddenly, at least to outsiders, came Miami Vice, the cocaine cowboys and Uncle Luke and his nasty booty music, among many other unique Miami cultural and historical flashpoints. To those of us who grew up here, it wasn’t sudden at all. These events, fads, trends had all been building up in our city long before they grabbed national headlines. These happenings began to forge a commonality among us — an identity. It is this identity that keeps true believers here.

We are Miamians.

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