It is a developer’s nightmare: Archeologists discover significant historical remains of an Indian civilization in the development of a lucrative project that will require costly changes in design. This is the case of MDM, whose MetSquare development in downtown Miami includes a hotel, cinemas, restaurants and more, might have to undergo a full redesign of the project after the discovery of an extraordinary ancient Tequesta Indian dwelling.
As unfortunate as this is for MDM, it cannot be totally shocked, for it is not the first archeological finding of this type in the area. Because of its importance, local and state authorities need to work to preserve this 2,000-year-old Tequesta village, which is considered by many historians the birthplace of the city of Miami.
This discovery of Miami’s roots comes at the time of a testy exchange between two Miami-Dade County commissioners over who “made” Miami, meaning who is most responsible for transforming Miami into the progressive, international city as it is known today.
Cuban-American Commissioner Javier Souto argued last week that the County Commission should be politically sensitive to the Cuban-American community because, among other things, it is responsible for Miami’s transformation into a dynamic global city. Commissioner Dennis Moss, who is African American, angrily replied that blacks have a long history in Miami, including his ancestors, and that they built Miami.
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Who is right? They both are. Cubans, blacks, Anglos and Jews, to name a few, have led Miami to become what former Miami U.S. Rep. Dante Fascell coined in the U.S. Congressional Record in the 1950s “the Gateway to the Americas.”
Miami has always attracted developers and entrepreneurs such as William and Mary Brickell and Julia Tuttle. Arriving in the 1870s, the Brickells became wealthy traders, and later Tuttle became a successful citrus farmer acquiring more than 600 acres at the mouth of the Miami River.
Seeking the American Dream like all others, Bahamian fishermen settled in Miami and were well accustomed to work in the harsh heat of the wetlands. They were pivotal in the clearing and development of the land in Miami. They were also conscientious as well. When residents voted on Miami’s incorporation in 1896, 100 of the 300 votes cast came from black voters.
In that same year, Henry Flagler brought his railway down to South Florida, connecting Miami to the rest of the country.
Over time, the wealthy fell in love with the natural warmth and beauty of the city, bringing developers and entrepreneurs. Anglos, Jewish retirees and blacks also called Miami home. While tourism played a significant role in developing the region, it also sported a small but thriving downtown and business community. With the exception of hurricane season, life in Miami was more or less predictable until 1959.
Cubans were not the first Hispanics in Miami. Wynwood was originally a well-known Puerto Rican neighborhood, but the thousands of Cuban political exiles who came to South Florida in a small span of time completely transformed the character of Miami from a somewhat Southern city to a vibrant, bilingual one. This was fertile ground for hard-working and well-educated Cubans who took any and every educational and economic opportunity available.
Over time, the greater metropolitan area diversified into a more glamorous tourist destination but also into a center for international business and finance. Being a bilingual community in both English and Spanish was important in attracting significant Latin America business and investment but it also caused divisions. There were many who moved away from Miami because they felt disenfranchised by the foreign language and culture.
Blacks, who had endured years of segregation in the city, now felt displaced not only because of this, but also because Hispanics tended to hire Hispanics.
Thankfully over time, the cultural, ethnic and racial differences became embraced as cultural diversity, appreciated as a gift and not a blemish for the community. Today, Miami-Dade County can boast of a Haitian-American and Colombian-American commissioner among Cuban-American, Jewish and Anglo members. Miami has certainly come a long way, but after what we heard on the county dais last week there is clearly further to go.
Who “made” Miami? Everyone! There is no one group that can claim all the credit or all the blame for where Miami is today. It all started with the Tequesta Indians, whose historical legacy is evident for all to see and should be preserved.