Miami in the eyes of a local

A warm breeze blows softly along the Atlantic Ocean’s coast causing the palm trees nearby to sway. Beautiful tan bodies dressed in their cutest bathing suits stroll on the sand with flip flops in hand. The sun sets, lighting up Art Deco buildings and dazzling tourists with their restaurants and clubs blasting a mix of Latin American and Caribbean music into the night.

It’s often strange walking along South Beach, which is only a 30-minute drive away. The city I call home seems to constantly live up to its sexy reputation in this promenade with its beautiful sites on the coast. For me, I always found this small sector on the island of Miami Beach as our way to trick tourists to invest in the city. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s truly a beautiful place with a dynamic environment, but it’s not what I think of when I think of my hometown of Miami.

As a child of Venezuelan immigrants, I was incredibly privileged to grow up in an environment where I was not alone. According to the US Census between 2012-2016, in Miami-Dade County, 52.2% of the population is foreign born, majority from the Caribbean or Latin America. If my friends were not the child of immigrants, like me, they were immigrants themselves. Miami’s proximity to these nations makes it a hub of rich cultures and traditions. Growing up in the overwhelming embrace of diversity in both professional and casual spaces enriched my understanding of the world beyond the issues that face me directly.

Surprising to outsiders, you don’t need to know English to live comfortably in Miami. Spanish-speaking households greatly outnumber English-only households, which is why you may have heard conversations in Spanish in your walk around Dolphin Mall. With a rising Haitian population, sounds of Haitian Creole may also graze your ears on your South Florida visit. It’s normal for your waiter at a restaurant to have a thick accent because many of our people are also English-learners. Rather than forcing them to speak a language difficult for their lips, we welcome what they can offer to our culturally expansive city.

Do we love to go to South Beach? No. Parking is so limited, and the tourists can be obnoxious. Are we sun-kissed tan? Some of us have beautiful rich, dark skin, but many of us, me included, still risk sunburn with lighter skin. Is Miami a bubble of overwhelming diversity? To a certain extent, yes. But it is our greatest strength as a city.

When you plan your trip to my beautiful city, yes, go to all the touristy spots. Instagram your sundresses with #MIA on the beach. Sip your Piña colada at Bayside Marketplace as you shop overpriced wrap skirts. After you have done all of the things expected on your trip to Miami, take some time to embrace the diversity we offer. Order a pastelito de guayaba (guava pastry) from a small Cuban bakery. Visit Little Havana and play dominoes with the locals.

If there’s one thing I miss about living Miami now that I am in school in Wisconsin — its diversity. I encourage anyone who takes a trip to my hometown to understand the uniqueness of its demographics. Beyond the beaches and the parties, Miami, to me, is my home and a community I will always I identify with.

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