This week, I turn 25. As I prepare myself for the inevitable quarter-life crisis that comes with reaching this milestone, I’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time thinking about my connection to Miami.
This is not to say I don’t already spend enough time dwelling on this city in general. Since I began as an Other Views columnist a little more than six months ago, I’ve spent countless hours agonizing over what to say about our city. More often than not, I found myself complaining about a multitude of issues plaguing our community (but this is also an occupation where cynicism is essentially required).
Among the things I’ve complained about? The city’s dearth of public spaces, pitiful minimum wage, dreadful obesity rates, exorbitant rents, lackluster transit services and poor quality of life for students and recent graduates, just to name a few.
But now that it’s dawned on me that I’ve aged a quarter of a century, I’m getting sentimental, at least this week. For almost my entire life, I’ve called this city home. In many ways, I feel like the city and I have grown up together.
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It really can’t be overstated how much this city has grown over the past 25 years. Here’s a few reminders to paint a picture of what Miami looked like in 1990, the year I was born:
▪ The county’s population reached 1.944 million; today that number has increased by nearly three-quarters of a million.
▪ In popular culture, The Golden Girls was then a Top 10 show and was upholding the image of Miami as a retiree community.
▪ Many of Miami’s major cultural institutions either had yet to be founded (Locust Projects, the public collections of the de la Cruzes and Martin Margulies) or were in the early formative years (the Wolfsonian-FIU, the New World Symphony).
▪ The Miami Heat was just 2 years old, and the Miami Marlins had yet to be created.
▪ The Manhattanization of Miami’s urban core had yet to begin, with the number of skyscrapers numbering in the dozens; today, the number of high-rises is in the hundreds.
▪ Many of Miami’s marquee events such as Art Basel, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and Ultra Music Festival were still years away from entertaining visitors.
I witnessed much of this growth firsthand as a shy grade-schooler-turned-wisecracking-teenage-overachiever. As I was growing up, I loathed living here, thinking it was too trashy and vapid. I became especially restless in my teen years, often whining about the lack of things to do for someone who was interested in the arts.
I almost left the city, but I ended up staying — reluctantly — delaying a move to a different city for a few years while I waited out the recession into which I had graduated.
But then something happened: The city blew up. This town I had shunned for so many years suddenly became cool.
I was originally hoping to move so I could experience a new city. But who could guess that the city would transform virtually overnight into a different city, a global city with worldly aspirations?
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also learned to appreciate things that made this city unique before it was cool.
Only in Miami is it socially acceptable to wear a bathing suit to a nightclub. Only in Miami can you be 30 minutes late to a party and somehow still be early. Only in Miami are phrases such as “pero like,” and “que cute” thrown around, and no one bothers to bat an eye.
But more important, this is a city that does not care where you came from or where you were born. Instead, it cares about where you’re headed and how hard can you work to get there. I can’t think of any other place in the country where someone like myself, a second-generation Hispanic American born into a working-class family of exiles, can succeed.
Although my past columns may suggest that I resent this city, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. After all of these years, I’m finally ready to admit that I have fallen for this city. But what this city really needs is tough love.
I worry about where the city is headed. Up until now, Miami has welcomed all who can accept it, with all of its flaws. But now I fear it’s turning its back on its own people by forgetting those who made this community what it is today. It’s becoming harder and harder to live here, and what we put into this city is met with diminishing returns.
Miami, as I contemplate where the next 25 years will lead me, I hope that I can grow older with you. But you must know I’m not going to go easy on you. I’m going to be hard on you — because I love you.