This is the 6th part of an examination of a piece published in The Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine in 1988. The piece was written as a fictional look back over the 20-year period between 2008 and 1988. As we have seen some of the events described by the author, John Dorschner, have actually come to pass.
Intro, Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3 , Part 4, Part 5
THE RISE OF THE “LITTLES,” THE “HAITIAN MIRACLE” AND THE ’93 CONFLAGRATION
In early 1993, economic conditions in Cuba had become so bad that “consumer demonstrations” took place in the streets of Santa Clara and Santiago. The Cuban government arrested the leading demonstrators and discovered 5 caches of Chinese-made weapons hidden in their houses. Several demonstrators confessed they had been in contact with CIA agents. In the ensuing war of words between Havana and Washington, the ’87 pact crumbled: Immigration from Cuba was halted completely. Altogether, during the 5 years of the pact’s existence, 90,000 Cubans had settled in Miami. (Another 25,000 had found homes in other parts of the United States.)
Economic conditions in Cuba during the early 90s were terrible but the root cause was something that Dorschner did not contemplate, the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1994 violence broke out in Havana in a riot now known as the Maleconazo. Needless to say there were no Chinese weapons and no CIA connection. An immigration pact with Cuba did not end at that time, but instead began. The visa lottery and the hated wet/dry foot policy were implemented in response to the rafter crisis which peaked in 1994. It’s estimated that more than 25,000 Cubans took the sea, most settled in South Florida however many perished in the straits of Florida.
But immigrants from other countries continued to flow steadily into South Florida. “Little Neighborhoods” popped up all over Dade. Little Santo Domingo and Little Panama took over what was once called Allapattah. There was a Little Kingston and a Little Bogota, a Little San Juan and even a Little Barbados. Little Managua to include most of Sweetwater.
No doubt we continue to be a magnet for immigrants from the Caribbean but the projections here were a little over the top. Allapattah is still Allapattah and Sweetwater is still Sweetwater. Dorschner did not predict that in 1990 the Ortega and the Sandinista’s would lose power in Nicaragua (nor that they would return in 2006).
Little Haiti became almost as large as Little Havana: At its center on Northeast 2nd Avenue was the magnificent Iron Market, built in 1990 and named after the famous market in Port- au-Prince.**15 It was a maze of small stalls, featuring crafts and arts from local entrepreneurs, and by 1994 it was one of the top 10 tourist attractions in Miami.
The economic boom in the Little Neighborhoods was at least partially created by the hype of outside developers — “Come to the ‘Littles,’ Visit A Dozen Countries,” boasted the ads — but much of it was authentic, giving Miami a lively mix of cultures found nowhere else in the United States. It also, of course, created problems.
The new immigrants, sociologists found, tended to have less education and fewer resources than the original Cubans, and that led to a growing division within the Hispanic community between the affluent Cubans and the struggling new arrivals.**16
By 1993, 31 percent of Miami Cubans had been born in the United States, and their incomes tended to be as high as Anglos. **17 Demographically, 1st-wave Cubans were much more like Anglos than the newer Hispanics, but the new Hispanic immigrants kept the Spanish language and Hispanic culture thriving. As the countless sociologists who flocked to Miami would point out, that made assimilation into the “American mainstream” a very different process than in earlier immigrant waves in American history.**18
Miami Haitians, meanwhile, were showing some remarkable economic successes. Along with newcomers from Jamaica and other Caribbean islands, these budding Afro-Caribbean entrepreneurs attracted attention from journalists around the world. The “Haitian Miracle,” many called it. The phenomenon was often overstated — many Afro-Caribbean immigrants remained impoverished — but there was enough truth in it that a considerable number of American-born Blacks felt resentment toward the immigrants.**19
By the early 1990s, the Black underclass in American cities was mired in despair. Many government-supported programs had vanished, and so had the Black middle class, which had moved to the suburbs. In South Florida, underclass conditions were even worse because lower-class Blacks had lost many unskilled jobs to new immigrants. In 1992, a team from the University of Chicago concluded that Miami’s underclass was worse off than any other group in the country.
In retrospect, the result now seems inevitable: Frustrated by the relative success of immigrants, entrapped in wretched economic conditions, their political power eroding, Liberty City residents rose up once again in violence.**20
It began over an incident on a street corner. A rookie police officer was attempting to arrest a teen-age crack dealer at the Sugar Hill apartment complex when a crowd began pelting him with stones. The cop fired 3 times, trying to scare the crowd away. A 6-year-old girl was shot through the heart.
Enraged, the crowd stoned the cop to death. Snipers killed 2 more officers when they arrived to rescue the 1st.
For 5 days, Liberty City burned. A “copycat riot” — to use police terminology — broke out in Broward’s Black sections. (Only later did sociologists observe that, because of Broward’s urban sprawl and the movement of jobs to the suburbs, Broward’s Black unemployment rate was even worse than Dade’s.) Damages were twice as high as during the ’80 riots. Altogether, 17 Blacks and 7 whites were killed.
Within a month, riots broke out in Detroit, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia. Everywhere, civic leaders began seeking solutions. In Dade, the first step was to carve the city of Miami and Metro-Dade into legislative districts, guaranteeing Black (and, not so incidentally, Anglo) representation.
Marvin Dunn, a Miami psychologist, proposed a Peace Corps- style program: volunteers — Black, Hispanic, Anglo — would be given major tax breaks to move into the inner city where they could organize neighborhood activities and serve as role models for the underclass.**21 In Washington, the new Bradley administration seized on Dunn’s proposal, and the president personally twisted some congressional arms to get Liberty City declared the 1st experimental “Dunn Zone.”
Meanwhile, tourism plummeted. Businesses once again became fearful of locating in South Florida. Many Blacks, disillusioned and desperate, joined the Yahwehs, one of the few organizations that promised them a way out of their misery.**22 Yahweh membership soared. (The most recent estimate: 47,000 members, $298 million worth of property.)
Yawheh members renounced drugs and alcohol, and several leading sociologists believe that despite their past radical reputation, the group exerted a positive, stabilizing influence on a highly demoralized population.
There’s a lot to digest there. Needless to say, a lot of it was wrong. I think Dorschner understandably focused on racial tensions because of how volatile the 80s had been. Violence did come to Miami again but it was much sooner than he predicted (1989) and that’s been the last of it. The boom time of the 90s helped lower crime and keep such conflicts to a minimum. But he really goes over the top, even predicting that racial violence in Miami would lead to violence in other major cities.
The replica of the Iron Market did open in 1990 in Little Haiti but it never succeeded financially and a 2004 Herald article reported that it was slated for demolition. I believe it’s still there though.
He mentions “President Bradley” in passing. Not sure if he meant Bill Bradley (the former Senator) or Tom Bradley the former mayor of Los Angeles.
Part 7 here, and you’ll be shocked at how close Dorschner came to actually predicting what happened.
15. Local architects Rufus Nims and Charles Harrison have prepared plans for this.
16. The theory of Lisandro Perez, sociologist, FIU
17. Census data shows this to be basically true now.
18. Theory of Lisandro Perez
19. Marvin Dunn predicts Haitians and other Caribbean will do well because “they come filled with hope and possibility, without the racial baggage native born blacks, on the other hand, have suffered through generations of defeat and they have an absence of role models. This will be a real dilemma for American blacks -because they’ll have to look beyond racism for reasons.”
20. Virtually every expert interviewed for this story thought it likely that there will be more violence in Liberty City.
21. Dunn suggested during an interview.
22. Civic activist Tom Peterson has observed that in Dade public housing projects, the only persons he saw regularly knocking on doors and asking if there was anything they could do to help were the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Yahwehs.