Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

We’re better than this


OUR OPINION: Souto-Moss dust-up reveals ethnic fissures that must be confronted

Commissioner Javier Souto speaks at a 2011 meeting.
Commissioner Javier Souto speaks at a 2011 meeting.
WALT MICHOT / Miami Herald Staff

Anyone who still expects elected officials to take the high road, to represent us all, to listen to their better angels was disappointed, yet again, with the verbal jousting at the Miami-Dade County Commission meeting last week — set off so unnecessarily by Commissioner Javier Souto.

The debate was over whether the county should do business with Odebrecht USA, a company whose Brazilian parent company has an affilitate that does work in Cuba. This, understandably, irked Mr. Souto, who then overreacted with a chest-thumping contention that Miami, basically, was nothing — nothing! — before Cuban exiles arrived. Commissioner Dennis Moss, just as understandably, came back blazing that, basically, African Americans did all the heavy lifting before exiles arrived.

Understandable, perhaps. But unseemly and unacceptable words from people held to a higher standard.

Taking responsibility for finding a “ Kumbaya moment” in all the back and forth, Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa offered that: “We are one community.”

Sadly, both Mr. Souto and Mr. Moss were likely speaking for others in this community who would beg to differ with Ms. Sosa. Who, among non-Cubans, has not heard the resentful murmur, “Who do these people think they are?” directed at the Cuban community. And how many African-American residents have felt marginalized and dismissed, especially when trying to conduct business? On a recent WLRN broadcast of The Sunshine Economy, the African-American owner of a construction firm said that a Hispanic contractor told her, bold as can be, that he would have hired her if her name “ended with a z.”

Such a shame. We are so much better than this, and in many quarters, it shows. It’s clear that generations of Miamians of all races and ethnicities have evolved, and attitudes of the younger populations are different from those of the Baby Boomers who were here when the multi-culturalization of Miami began in earnest.

But the dust-up on the commission recalls the bad old days of stultifying resentment, bias and misunderstanding that greater Miami has made great strides in moving past. It also makes plain that, for all of Miami’s progress — as the “capital of Latin America,” as a burgeoning tech community, as a place where the arts are flourishing — vestiges of those bad old days are not behind us yet.

The harsh words spoken on the commission last week are, in reality, a call to action. We are a community of diverse people — with a shared destiny.

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