Public radio's 'Marketplace' searches for the new American Dream in Miami

Good and bad, Miami is a world-class city, says Markeplace host Jeremy Hobson. We just don’t always realize it.

01/23/2013 6:02 PM

01/24/2013 8:02 AM

Marketplace Morning Report is spending the first week of President Obama’s second term broadcasting from Miami and demonstrating what some of the president’s inaugural themes mean in real life.

The raw materials for show host Jeremy Hobson and his production team of four are Miami’s huge immigrant population, its great wealth and crushing poverty – and the enormous empty space between those economic extremes.

The first show of dozens that will originate from WLRN’s Miami studios featured an interview with Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and a Venezuelan immigrant, Nathalie Nahas Cortas, who is just beginning her new life in Sunrise.

Those are the two ends of the immigrant story, Hobson figures: one at the beginning and the other at the end of the path to the American Dream.

"It’s a place with such a huge foreign born population, it’s the perfect place to look at what the new American Dream is because you’re talking to people who have just arrived."

The Regalado interview, broadcast in two parts on Tuesday morning, was particularly eye-opening, Hobson said, and not just because of a compelling immigrant story that ends with becoming the elected leader of a multi-ethnic population.

It’s because the guy has a thick Cuban accent.

"You don’t go to almost any other city in the country and find a mayor who is speaking with an accent," Hobson said. "In fact, when he was talking to his press guy while we were setting up for the interview, he was speaking in Spanish."

To Americans in more homogeneous places, hearing the mayor of Miami speak with a heavy foreign accent is a reminder of the population trends that many say brought Barack Obama to a second term.

"Some people might be a little nervous about that," said Hobson in a quick interview between two of the seven shows he and his team will produce every morning in Miami.

"But the most important cities in the world have that. New York, London, Hong Kong, they’re all international cities. Miami has that," he said.

Still, Miami desperately needs to cure one of its laughably obvious neuroses, it’s inferiority complex.

"I’ve heard from so many people, ’We’ve got to have the best art museums or people aren’t going to take us seriously.’ Or, ’We’ve got to have the biggest stars in sports or people aren’t going to take us seriously.’"

Hobson, who believes Miami is usually regarded (outside of its own borders) as a top-tier American city, says Miami’s low self-esteem would be amusing it weren’t also so damaging. He says Marketplace is exploring a theory that Miami has undermined some of its critical assets — transportation and education, for instance — by spending too much of its money on status-conscious white elephants like sports arenas.

That was a topic for one of the Wednesday morning shows.

Being chosen by a national news program as a social and demographic metaphor for modern America may go a long way to addressing Miami’s inferiority issues, but Marketplace is already advising us not to let our heads get big.

Remember the end of the presidential campaign, with all the attention on Ohio? Back then, the important national city with epidemic issues was Cleveland. Marketplace spent a week there, too, documenting its crumbling manufacturing base and its desperate lunge for economic diversification and testing a conclusion that we’d all face similar developments sooner or later,

But right this minute, said Marketplace Morning Report producer Sean Bowditch after three days in South Florida, it’s all about Miami.

"I’m still processing what we’re hearing," he said. "It’s been a fabulous quilt of perspectives and thoughts and insights."

A previous version of this article carried an incorrect headline. Marketplace is an American Public Media program.

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