This past week has been a whirlwind of new experiences. Since arriving in Miami last Friday, I feel as though every day has brought with it something unique and exciting. For instance, our group started last Saturday by visiting downtown to see the Miami Circle, a series of rock structures arranged in a perfect circle, made by the Tequesta Native Americans who predominated in the area prior to the arrival of Europeans. The monument, surrounded by the skyscrapers of downtown, serves as a reminder of both the multicultural history of the area as well as the tension between urban development and the preservation of cultural heritage.
Later, we visited the famous Little Havana neighborhood, historically known for its large Cuban population but which – along with Miami in general – has in recent years become home to people from other parts of Latin America and the Caribbean. The neighborhood was vibrant and active, with reggaeton music playing outside shops, people playing dominoes in the park, and monuments and cultural landmarks throughout the area dedicated to Hispanic cultural and political icons. It was incredible to see so much culture and heritage maintained until this day despite many of these groups having been in the area for decades. While here, I also tried Cuban coffee for the first time, which – much to my delight as an avid coffee drinker – went beyond my expectations and is something I’ll definitely continue to seek out while in Miami.
On Sunday, the group visited the art studio of Edouard Duval-Carrié in Little Haiti. His artwork is diverse in its style, but in general, much of his work incorporates various aspects of Haitian culture and serves to offer social and political commentary on current issues. As I was walking through the studio, taking in the almost magical quality of his work, I stumbled upon something familiar. There, sitting on top of a cabinet at one end of the studio, was a statue of Ganesh, a Hindu god. I looked around the room and sure enough, all along the walls and shelves were countless paintings of other Hindu deities and scenes from Hindu mythology. Having grown up with these traditions at home, I felt a sense of familiarity in seeing these paintings, but I also couldn’t help but wonder why these paintings were in the studio of a Haitian artist whom I wouldn’t initially expect to be associated with these traditions. Curiosity got the better of me, and with genuine interest I asked him what drew him to have these paintings in his studio. He explained that he was fascinated by the culture and the artistic styles common in Hindu traditions, and that he oftentimes incorporated color schemes from these images in his own work. This goes to show the role of art as a medium in forming cross-cultural connections and is just one of numerous examples of the cultural syncretism that can be seen in a multicultural hub such as Miami.
This diversity goes beyond just neighborhoods and art; it permeates all aspects of daily life. For example, where I work at Catholic Charities Legal Services (CCLS), every day I hear Spanish, Haitian Creole, and English spoken all around me, sometimes even by the same person within a single sentence. I knew before coming here that Miami was a multilingual city with one of the highest Spanish-speaking populations in the country, but upon arriving I was surprised to hear so much Creole spoken as well (likely because I’d never been exposed to it before). All signs and pamphlets in the office are written in all three languages, and most of the CCLS employees speak either Spanish or Creole in addition to English. This is so different from the “English-only” culture that predominates in other parts of the country, but I think the multilingual atmosphere, in addition to facilitating employee-client interactions, also serves as a testament to the rapidly changing demographics of the nation as a whole in which knowing only English is no longer as sufficient as it once was. During this summer, I hope to meet people from the various cultural and linguistic backgrounds that contribute to Miami’s unique identity, putting to use my Spanish skills and exploring the “Capital of Latin America.”