While the rest of the nation is marking Caribbean-American Heritage Month in June, the city of Miramar celebrates Caribbean heritage as a way of life.
The sounds and flavors of the islands are found on Miramar’s streets every day.
Miramar, once considered a sleepy bedroom community, has developed into an ethnic city where Caribbean-Americans have settled down to create their own American dream.
It was Miramar’s affordable housing and location between Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood and Miami international airports that made those dreams a reality.
Former Mayor Harry Rosen said Miramar’s Caribbean community began budding during the 1970s, when Jamaicans began to settle there.
“It’s been a positive growth and change” ever since, he said.
As the Caribbean community took up residence, restaurants, markets and churches sprouted around the city.
At the Charismatic Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, 6701 SW 25th St., the congregation celebrates Caribbean-American Heritage month each Sunday in June. Churchgoers march with their countries’ flags, creating a sea of colors, said Norma Martin, a member of the congregation.
Martin, 75, a native of Jamaica, moved from New York to Miramar in 1983.
The city, she said, soon became a melting pot of Caribbean culture.
“When you look at the cuisines of the different countries, they are more or less the same,” she said. “They are just made differently. But when it boils down to it, it’s almost the same thing.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 25,053 Jamaicans and 18,209 Haitians called southern Broward home in 2012. Those numbers are up by a couple of thousand since 2010.
It’s not just the larger island communities populating Miramar. Bahamians and Trinidadians also are setting up shop. More than half the city’s current commissioners have island roots.
“We realize we are a diverse community,” Commissioner Wayne Messam said. “We try our best to represent, recognize and celebrate all those communities located in Miramar.”
Magaly Prezeau is looking to bring her Haitian background to the City Commission. She has lived in Miramar since 1985, and has witnessed the Haitian community’s growth.
She wants to run for office to “make sure that the Haitian community is also included” and continues to have its voice heard.
Assistant City Manager Vernon Hargray was one of the early champions of bringing Miramar’s Caribbean influence to the forefront.
It was more than making the city a destination for sports and entertainment for the younger generation, said Hargray, who has Bahamian roots. It was about giving them a cultural foundation.
“We invest into the city infrastructure as a long-range plan for the residents today and the future,” he said.
In 2008, the city built a $22 million facility known as the Miramar Cultural Center-Artspark.
The 800-seat center, which includes an art gallery, allowed the city’s residents to have easy access to cultural events rather than “traveling to the Adrienne Arsht Center [in Miami] or Broward Center for the Performing Arts [in Fort Lauderdale],” said Camasha Cevieux, the center’s deputy director.
“It’s really a statement by the city and commission that they wanted culture in the community,” she said.
In December, the cultural center hosted its own Art Basel event with world-renowned Haitian artist Philippe Dodard.
“The center has been a focal point for the different communities of Miramar who want to excel at presenting their culture on a higher scale,” said Jimmy Moise, president and CEO of Le P’ti Club, an organization that promotes Haitian art.
In the next two years, the city has plans to build two amphitheaters for additional cultural events and concerts.
Meanwhile, Miramar is in the midst of celebrating Caribbean-American Heritage Month. But the community’s observance of its culture will not end when the month is over. It will continue to pay homage to its roots through food, music or dance, with the city providing support along the way.
“The city is very conscious of where they are and where they want to go,” Hargray said.