The year was 1973, the beginning of October, and for our Indian-origin family of five, the beginning of our new life.
I had just turned 6 and my first memory of our new hometown was actually one of fear. Everything here looked so big and spread out. The city’s bright lights especially scared me. Before moving to Miami Beach, we had lived all over England.
I’ll never forget the drive from Miami International Airport to our two-story apartment building on Normandy Drive. The neighbors living beneath us, Ralph and Betty, spoke Spanish, a language we had never heard before.
My father Virendra Bhuta, a 40-year-old physician, had only come to the United States a few months prior. My uncle had been telling my dad for years to move from the UK to the United States. He also advised him that there were only two possible places where he should choose to live: California or Florida.
After applying to a ton of medical residency programs throughout the country, Miami ultimately came calling Dr. Bhuta. What did my parents know about Miami before coming here? They knew only three things – sunny beaches, beauty pageants, and lots of millionaires!
My father, who had practiced reconstructive plastic surgery before coming to the U.S., unfortunately had to give up his love of being a surgeon. He did a medical residency at St. Francis Hospital in Miami Beach. In 1973, he was only earning an annual salary of $10,000, not much to support a family of five. After only a year of training, my dad eventually turned to emergency medicine. Baptist Hospital in Kendall had the privilege of his expertise in their ER for more than 30 years.
Pravina, my mom, also did more than her fair share. Being 11 years younger than my father, it wasn’t easy for her to take care of my two brothers, ages 4 and 8, and me. She put my older brother, Amar, and me in Treasure Island Elementary. Incidentally, the school’s principal was Christina M. Eve, who would eventually have an elementary school named after her. .
Soon my mom also became an Avon lady and receptionist at nearby Mount Sinai Hospital. Her best customers were the employees at the hospital. Her monthly Avon meetings were around the corner at Howard Johnson’s.
My parents really took full advantage of achieving the “American Dream.” In October 1973, we were living in a two-bedroom/one-bath apartment in Miami Beach. By January 1976, they had already purchased their first home. It was in Kendall, a four-bedroom/three-bath home with its very own swimming pool. My brothers and I attended Blue Lakes Elementary. In fact, we were there the year it “snowed” in Miami. I still remember the snowball fights.
We also went to Glades Junior High and Southwest Miami Senior High. Our higher education came from Miami-Dade Community College, Florida International University, and the University of Miami (where we were national football champs for my senior year). My older brother, Amar, eventually went to Ohio State University medical school to become a doctor.
We have enjoyed many things growing up here in Miami. My dad and brothers would enjoy going to Dolphins games at the Orange Bowl. Of course, we didn’t move here until the year after their perfect season. We also remember attending the spectacular Orange Bowl Parade for New Year’s. I recall the aroma of roasted peanuts and delicious chocolate in the air, along with all the decorating of Winnie-the-Pooh teddy bears.
My teen year weekends always included visiting Burdines and Jordan Marsh in Dadeland Mall. The Falls being built seemed so luxurious, now that we had a Bloomingdales. Eating at LUMS was always a treat, as was being a spectator at the annual Bed Races in Coconut Grove. The Seaquarium and Parrot Jungle were always places to take our out-of-town guests. We also enjoyed showing them the colorful sails gliding on the water at Key Biscayne every weekend. Crandon Park beach was also always a fun time.
My mom even got to chaperone a few beauty pageants in the 1980s. They were all broadcast from the Knight Center in downtown Miami. She did Miss Universe, Miss Teen USA, and Miss USA (the one where Halle Berry was Miss Ohio).
I feel very fortunate to have lived here for most of my life. While I am now 45 and have traveled extensively, I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Miami. Yes, I’ve seen many changes here over the years, but for the most part, they’ve been beneficial for our community.
My parents still live in Kendall, in a different home, near Norman Brothers. My husband, Rajesh, is an interventional cardiologist, practicing mainly at Baptist Hospital and Kendall Hospital. I help with the bookkeeping for his solo practice. I have three daughters.
Seeing my own children and husband live where I grew up is such a great feeling for me.
It’s as if everything has come full circle. For me and my family, Miami will always be our wonderful “Home Sweet Home.”