Miami’s greatness as a global city transcends the bountiful natural beauty with which it has been endowed by our Creator, and even the crossroads of world geography that have placed us in the strategic center of the Americas. Not even our powerful economic punch as an international banking and commerce center, as well as our world-celebrated tourist attractions, gives us a rightful claim to a star role on the global scene. Rather, it is our rich, diverse population from every corner of the globe, and the cacophony of more than one hundred languages spoken in Miami-Dade County, which round out our place among the world’s elite destinations.
And what about our history? We must ask ourselves the following question: When the rest of the world looks at Miami from the outside, what are the epic events in our history that have earned us a place in the world’s history books?
Back in 2004, a group of Cuban Americans with long and deep roots in Miami began to plan for a place where one of the greatest chapters in modern American history could be preserved and showcased for the millions of visitors who come here every year. This will be a world-class museum, at the level of a Smithsonian, highlighting the key role an American city played when the Cuban Revolution unquestionably changed Cuba and Miami forever.
The first country in the Western Hemisphere to become a Soviet ally, sparked the largest refugee exodus from a communist country to a single American city.
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Our intent is to shine a light on the triumph of the American Dream that those refugees attained, and our dream is the Cuban Exile History Museum: From Tyranny to Freedom.
In the planned 75,000 square feet of its exhibition space, visitors to the museum will be able to walk into permanent interactive pavilions depicting old Cuba, the downfall of the Republic, the communist takeover, the first exiles, the Bay of Pigs, Cuban freedom fighters in South Dade, the beginning of the mass exodus, Operation Pedro Pan, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Camarioca boatlift, the exiles’ adoption of Miami as home, the Freedom Flights, Miami’s other exiles from communism/terrorism (such as Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Central America, etc.), the 1994 rafter crisis, the Elián González tragedy, Brothers to the Rescue, exiles attaining the American Dream, and many more chapters of this unique American story.
In searching for a site, its founders knocked on many doors. One of the central elements in the conceptual plan for our building is the history of our relationship as a people to the sea. We come from an island nation defined by the sea, which we have crossed to come here, and to go back and fight for freedom, with hundreds of thousands also having come on boats and rafts riding those very waves. Many thousands of them have perished en route and are now buried under that sea.
One of the sites suggested initially by the City of Miami was on the grounds of the Marine Stadium, but officials decided that building on that site was not feasible.
When we knocked on City Manager Pete Hernandez’s door, he suggested Parcel B. In 2007, the Miami-Dade County Commission approved by a unanimous vote a resolution requesting that a feasibility study be done with regard to erecting a Bay of Pigs Museum on Parcel B. This project was the precursor of, and eventually evolved into, today's Cuban Exile History Museum. That study was finished in 2008 and found that there was no legal or technical impediment to proceeding with this idea. Unfortunately, this initiative was shelved.
Since then, AmericanAirlines Arena (AAA) opened and to this day, Parcel B has remained isolated from the public, used only for private overflow parking. That is until Miami-Dade County Commissioners Esteban Bovo, Jose Diaz and Juan Zapata presented their resolution.
On July 17, the County Commission approved, by a vote of 8-3, the resolution that asks Mayor Carlos Giménez to negotiate an agreement with the Cuban Exile History Museum in order to develop Parcel B into a four-acre urban public waterfront park. After the relevant details are worked out between the museum’s board of directors and the Mayor’s Office, this matter will return to the County Commission for review and approval.
Among the highlights of our proposal are the following: This $120 million project will be implemented at no cost to Miami-Dade County’s taxpayers; the four-acre site will be turned into a state-of-the-art urban park, and the museum will be built over slightly more than one acre, above a courtyard that will also be freely available to the public; the Miami Heat’s and the AAA’s requirements for parking trailer trucks during events and playoff games will be accommodated, utilizing innovative sod designs that will support the weight of these trucks and can be used as a green park when not in use; and it will feature a kids’ soccer field on one corner of the site, as well as ample green area for the community’s use.
What about the proposed Miami-Dade College/Miami Herald planned Cuban exile experience exhibit at the nearby Freedom Tower, the historic home of the Cuban Refugee Center? We are delighted and flattered that Miami Dade College and the Miami Herald will launch a Cuban-exile experience exhibit at the nearby Freedom Tower in September. Since MDC acquired the Freedom Tower in 2008, it has been our fervent hope that the building’s hallowed history would be honored in a dignified fashion. Similarly, with regard to the Cuban Museum currently under construction on Coral Way, which is principally devoted to art and culture, we have also reached out to them about entering into a mutually beneficial relationship. Furthermore, the Cuban Exile History Museum has been in contact with some of the world’s many other collections of Cuban historic documents, memorabilia and audiovisual records, with the intention of establishing proactive, cooperative and exhibit exchange relationships with each of them.
We are confident than when our museum building is completed, the entire community will be proud to have it anchor the southern end of a world-class urban waterfront park complex.
Nicolas J. Gutierrez, Jr. is the secretary and a board member of the nonprofit Cuban Exile History Museum, Inc.