For a city populated by so many transients and foreigners as Miami, activism of any kind is rare. In fact, political and civic involvement in the United States has been on a steady decline.
Traditional means of engagement (i.e. sparking public debate via protests, political, door-to-door canvassing for a political candidate or cause or appealing to masses through conventional media) have been reduced by the younger generation’s tech crazy, “everything is solved online” attitude and perhaps, more important, the realization that to stand up for beliefs means that sometimes you have to go against the grain and be the proverbial stick in the mud.
I recently shared a, greasy, “dietarily incorrect” breakfast in Little Havana with Grant Stern, a Miamian whom I respect and admire for his willingness to stand up for his beliefs and his openness to always sit and share a café to discuss issues that affect us all in our Magic City.
Years ago, I realized that I’m a proud Cuban American and, particularly because of the American side of the hyphen, I identify more as a Miamian. Truth of the matter is, I have more in common with Grant Stern than I do with Jose Garcia, who may have arrived from Cuba last week.
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Grant and I share concerns about our city, our county.
In my 20s, when my political involvement was about righting the wrongs that befell my Cuban family, someone — who at that time I immaturely and prematurely sized up as a “gringo bigot” — said to me, “We will never become a united city until you and your people realize that this is home.”
The statement stung. Even at an early age, while I was in the middle of what former FIU professor and author Damian Fernandez labeled the “politics of passion,” I realized that the struggles for a better Cuba were illusory and built on a fragile foundation.
As it turns out, Cuba is currently being shamelessly negotiated, dealt and bartered as part of a major political/economic transaction that suits the overall interests of the United States.
You can imagine how much weight and effect my opinion or that of any other Cuban in Miami has over such dealings — absolutely none.
However, in this beautiful city where my daughter was born and my parents died, where I have a stake in its future, I feel it’s my responsibility to get involved and stay as informed as I can.
“Miami was not a wonderful place in the ’80s,” Grant said as he scarfed down his steak and eggs. “Then came the tectonic shift after Hurricane Andrew. Anyone who had any sense hightailed outta here,” said the 38-year-old mortgage broker. “I’m one of the whacky folks who stayed. I’m from here and I’m never gonna turn my back on my city.”
Grant Stern’s political activism began a few years ago when he publicly opposed Walmart’s move into Midtown, claiming the retailer was not fair competition for the local merchants. Instead, he argued in an opinion piece on these pages that the giant store was a “predatory competitor.”
“Political activism is the foundation of American democracy. The minute we cave in to apathy and laziness, we are forfeiting our future and foreclosing on hope,” said Grant, who hosts and funds the Only in Miami radio show where local issues are discussed every day.
The unsanctioned, unpredictable and yes, even Third World, “Am I in the United States?” nature of Miami is part of its allure for those of us who enjoy living here.
However, all of those attributes make it all the more vulnerable to carpetbaggers and swindlers who impose their cockamamie schemes upon our city. I’m thankful there are Miamians like Grant Stern to challenge them.