Miami’s Citadel food hall misappropriates a revered symbol of black resistance in Haiti

Haiti’s Citadel was built in the early 19th century as a fortress of resistance against European invaders.
Haiti’s Citadel was built in the early 19th century as a fortress of resistance against European invaders. U.S. Army

On Jan. 1, 1804, the 14-year Haitian Revolutionary War culminated in the defeat of the French, Spanish and British armies and the declaration of the first black republic in a sea of slaveholding colonial states. The fundamental threat of re-enslavement, however, continuously loomed over Haitians’ nascent freedom. Viewing the Haitian Revolution as a temporary defeat, a small French garrison remained in Santo Domingo for much of the early 1800s.

Taking this implicit threat to Haitian freedom seriously, King Henri Christophe built the Citadel La Ferriere, a 10,000-square-meter fortress 3,000 feet atop a mountain between 1805 and 1820. One of the largest fortresses in the Americas, the Citadel let Haitians spot and rebuff any encroachment of European invaders.

Without any sense of irony, the latest monument to the gentrification of Miami’s Haitian community has appropriated the name of this Haitian beacon of resistance to white tyranny and encroachment, and whitewashed it to the degree that it’s even in a Haitian neighborhood.

The Citadel Food Hall, constructed by the UrbanAtlanticGroup calls itself a “fortified stronghold for culture and community” where one can enjoy $18 truffle shuffles, $14 bufala caprese salads and $23 crab fried rice without having to interact with either the local Haitian culture or members of the Haitian community that has been systematically left out of economic development for decades.

The gentrification of Miami’s Little Haiti through trying to rename it, encroaching on its boundaries, rebranding its unique cultural elements with broad Caribbean stereotypes, refusing to renew leases and raising rents to push out traditional residents and business owners and selling it off piece by piece to the highest bidder has been a cruel process of erasure. The aggressive attempts to promote a whitewashed version of Haitian culture and landmarks in which both local and foreign tourists can enjoy Little Haiti without the inconvenience of its actual Haitian residents is despicable.

To make matters worse, the Citadel has tried to aggressively rebrand Little Haiti as “Little River,” causing a group of residents to protest outside of its recent soft opening.

The first Haitians arrived in Miami in 1963, followed by more a decade later. Little Haiti was soon established in the 1970s and ‘80s by Haitians fleeing political persecution — only to be faced with discrimination upon arriving here. Miami’s Haitian community has survived scapegoating in the national arena, exclusion from and by Miami’s other ethnic minorities, racist immigration policies and being relegated to the informal economy.

However, the billions in investments and political support for developments like the Citadel in an area where residents are among the poorest groups in Miami-Dade (Haitians are overrepresented in low-wage jobs, earn less money and spend larger shares of their incomes for basic necessities) is a reminder that Little Haiti’s decades of poverty and marginalization have not been by mistake but by design.

The intentional destruction of this cultural center of the Miami Haitian community through gentrification and displacing local businesses and community stalwarts that have allowed Haitian culture and traditions to survive despite Miami’s prejudices is itself the latest manifestation of American colonialism. Not only have others encroached on our spaces, they’ve also gentrified our legacy by turning the Citadel, a symbol of black resistance, into a white-constructed fortress of exclusion and capitalist exploitation and then attempting to reverse the hard-won battle the local community fought to codify the area’s official boundaries.

The decision to take the name of our historical landmark in Haiti and erase our local presence is a reminder that the latest colonists aren’t solely satisfied with our land, they must have our dignity too.

France Francois is a Miami writer and activist. She has worked in international development throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.