Fabiola Santiago: Professionals who left Miami are missing rewards that exiles built

04/22/2014 7:00 PM

04/23/2014 9:44 AM

Blame the bout of premature nostalgia on the aroma wafting from the Café Versailles counter at Miami International Airport’s D-7, gateway to my spring break bliss along the country roads and rocky coast of the Northeast.

Rare thing this feeling when I’m more accustomed to Miami-induced cabin fever. I haven’t yet left and one prominent family’s concession score becomes the heart’s tug-of-war. I’m already missing my comfort zone, my homeland, my state-of-being.


Nothing to do but reframe the travel picture from talk of whale-watching and farm-made ice cream to getting in line. I add to my carry-on a box of pastelitos and ham croquettes to feed the winter-induced homesickness of my Connecticut family.

Alas, little is assuaged by the stowaway taste of home under the seat in front of me.

A perennial seeker and worshiper of other geographies, as I fly over a denser yet striking skyline and a Rickenbacker Causeway, more dreamy than real, rising over the bluest ocean, I can’t help but lament that my children are part of the exodus from Miami of young professionals, and that they’re missing the rewards that immigration and exile built.

The experts characterize the flight of my children’s generation as a shortcoming — the “ brain drain” of Miami-raised students and professionals, those promising high school and college graduates who leave home and never return. They see Miami, with its high cost of living and below national level salaries, as a tough place to launch a business or build a career.

I know the issue intimately as a parent, and until I had to consider where my grandchildren will be raised, I thought about the moving-on in romantic terms.

I gave my daughters wings — and they used them.

Their choices, in turn, bring me new opportunities to get to know other destinations, not as a parachuting tourist or journalist, but by experiencing the ebb and flow of ordinary days.

Getting to know the virtues and vices of other locations helps put maligned Miami — and wacky Florida — in perspective.

Compared to so many other cities, we’re real estate wealthy and have better maintained roads. The one thing snowbirds have on us is efficient, predictable public transportation. In one word: Trains. It’s a breeze to travel from central Connecticut to Grand Central Station to spend the day in New York City. A no-hassle, entertaining ride through mostly quaint towns and a borough in which one business advertises “homemade libations.”

Traveling anywhere brings one question to mind: Is everyone in this country in a hurry? It’s quite an experience to be in the midst of drivers flying (rain and snow days included) through the pothole-distressed roads of the Nutmeg State, no matter if it’s a highway or a small town lane. Like tanning salons, tire companies don’t need to advertise.

Another universal concern: The future of our children.

“Doomed youth,” a graffiti artist in New Rochelle tagged a wall I see from the train.

My 5-year-old grandson sits next to me, observant. That we’re here together learning is enough for now. But maybe if the civic efforts to reverse brain drain are successful, Miami will be his start-up town someday.

He’ll knock on my door, or better yet, use his own key to my door, and fall in love with Miami.

All this reckoning on the road at the whiff of pastelitos.

About Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago


Fabiola Santiago was born in Cuba. She was exiled to the U.S. in 1969 on one of the historic Freedom Flights. She has been a Herald reporter and editor since 1980.

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