The Miami I belong to spanned my family's immigration from Zambia in 1979, when I was 5, to my exodus after graduating college at 23. Those 18 years in my life are significant, especially as in that time I attended school and University, lost my virginity, fell in love, got my first job, endured Hurricane Andrew, and learned to drive on its treacherous roads.
Although I have lived in many cities since, like Ms. Druckerman, Miami is pretty much it for me, as far as any connection to a childhood, and I resent that I cannot recognize myself in its current reflection.
The Sun Sentinel recently put together a collection of movies filmed in the South Florida area and I realized, much like the roster of shite on that list, I haven't been impressed with anything produced in the city since 1998. I can effectively draw a line under There's Something About Mary as the beginning of the end for Miami and I.
The fact that there are only 15% Anglo Americans remaining in Miami put a figure to what I had witnessed with every return. While I am proud of any city which embraces immigrants, celebrates diversity, and encourages assimilation, that is not what multiculturalism looks like.
Especially when the model for immigration in Miami has been either illegal or reserved for the privileged. Starting with the Pedro Pan flights and followed by the Mariel Boatlift, the template for immigration came with little to no regulations or similar concessions (nor generosity) for the Afro-Caribbean, especially Haitian, communities.
Once you cross that Miami-Dade border though, you might as well be at the world's end. Some Latinos are encroaching north to Broward County but the hub of Latin activity remains firmly within Miami, and the citadel which has been constructed around it. Business and culture have responded accordingly so an "American" raised in Miami would now be struggling to find a job or friends without ingratiating themselves into the dominant Cuban/Latin culture which does not translate beyond its own borders.
My sister married a man with Spanish and Cuban roots yet she has resisted learning Spanish. She keeps her social circle small; having realized years earlier that she can drink the coffee and eat the food but will only ever be a guest at the table.
The other aspect of Miami that Druckerman described is the ostentatious displays of wealth and vanity. She says "Florida had always attracted people with “an inordinate desire to get rich quickly with a minimum of physical effort,”" This exploded in the late 80's and early 90's as modelling agencies, drug money and real estate collided.
It is difficult for me to not feel slovenly, sweaty, and flabby in many Miami neighborhoods but that isn't reserved to just the 305. Money and vanity have decimated the authenticity of cities from London to Los Angeles. What makes Miami's glossy veneer that extra inch of insulting is, much like the movie sets, its all style, no substance.
The natural beauty that defined South Florida for centuries has been sold off to the highest bidder. Aggressive towers block the sun along the shoreline, while McMansions have cleaved their way into Miami's Old Florida/Spanish style homes, which used to sit on large, lush lots; much the way Plastic Surgeons reconstruct the lips and labias of its women beyond recognition.
My parents actually left Miami the same year I did and relocated to Palm Beach County, about 90 miles north. I moved back a few years ago to attend Graduate School and settled mid-way between the two in Delray Beach, which was voted America's Most Fun Small Town in 2012.
It's not all fun in the sun though.
The onslaught of Addiction Treatment Programs and Half-Way Houses (as well as the coterie catering to those 'in recovery') have infested the area. All the attention has spurned the sale of quaint, historical landmarks to large developers. Once again, more money than sense prevails in South Florida.
Miami, Delray Beach, these aren't my towns. They don't define, embrace or inspire me. I might never see myself reflected back, wherever I may live. For years I've searched for a life that looks good on Facebook. Chasing the elusive coolness of my Zeitgeist.
As an immigrant, I understand the need for approval and desperately want to demonstrate the value of my contribution. I don't mean to discredit what Latin Culture has brought to Miami or the seriousness of addiction. I just don't feel connected to any of it.
Nevertheless, as I was scrolling through my Instagram photos recently I realized that, at a certain point, the images changed abruptly. What were once landscapes and city sights became the faces of my family and home cooked meals.
I might eventually make peace with South Florida and stop looking for validation in a location. But if home really is where the heart is, and I can't reconcile people vs place, is there at least an Instagram filter to make it appear that way?