This time, my message is personal. At a recent social function, the mayor of Miami Dade County, Carlos Gimenez, in response to a now familiar charge that Miami is so foreign, reminded folks that “we are close to the United States.” It drew a chuckle from the audience but I laughed out loud.
I am a near third-generation member of my family in/of Miami. My great-grandmother built 10 row houses in Overtown in 1917 but she would not live here fulltime. She called Miami the “country” and retreated back to Key West, where she had been living since the 1880s after the great migration of Bahamians and Cubans to that city and to Tampa. But she was a frequent visitor to see family here in the “country.”
In 1924, my grandparents came with the first five of their eight children to Miami, where my mother, the seventh child, was born in 1926. Miami was a boom town for them. My grandfather was a carpenter and a few of his houses are still standing – and occupied.
I was born in Overtown.
I have been in this town/city through the desegregation of schools (I integrated Immaculata-LaSalle), opening housing and the beaches (ours was better) to blacks; the Cuban Missile Crisis; the cocaine cowboys; three major police-related race riots (1968, 1980 and 1981); a series of “first blacks” who were either elected, appointed or otherwise anointed to participate in the growth and development of the community; and through many more inaugural events and notable personalities who have come – and gone.
I have had the good fortune to be on the front lines, in the primary mix, and/or sometimes actually leading some of the initiatives that have made a difference in Miami, my hometown. I have received a few recognitions for my contributions here and for them I am grateful.
So here’s the skinny: I have left home only for the obligatory reasons: to attend college, when after graduation, I got married in Miami; stayed for two years and then left for another eight years. I returned in 1976 to stay, seemingly for good.
I spent a brief interlude in Palm Beach County but I returned to Miami so frequently (for weekends, parties, Links meetings, etc.) that many folk never realized that I had actually moved. I returned home to care for my aging family members (my aunt and dad, who are now deceased, and my mother who has been living in California for the past year).
Early in the New Year, I realized that I am totally free to move around the country.
And so I’m off to Dallas, Texas, to seek another set of fortunes – and a fame of my own making.
Already, I know what I’ll miss most of all: the people, my people. I am Miami and Miami is me.
But I am also already planning my visits around the birthdays of my grandchildren: September, December (yes, during Art Basel) and March, the most beautiful time of year here, after the winter and before the rainy season.
I know that on my return visits I will smell Miami before I actually even see Miami: the fresh fried yellow-tail snapper, the café Cubano, the profusion of garlic and herb in the foods cooked by Caribbean islanders, demarcating Little Haiti from Little Havana only by a spoken accent.
Miami will call out to me with its Afrocentric/Latin-infused rhythms as soon as I get to either of the region’s main airports. And the ship horns at the port will call me to want to cruise the sea – again – even though I know the routes are mostly a series of circles and zigzags.
These are a few of the favorite things that I will miss and long for, to revisit each time I come back to see all of you, when I’m here to celebrate the birthdays of my grandchildren, to attend a business meeting, to attend the birthday club dinners, to participate in a Links luncheon, et al, or just to catch up with old friends on the beach. (I said on the beach, not in the water!)
I will continue to write this column. None of what I write is tied to a specific territory but I will always have a Miami/South Florida perspective. I look forward to learning more about Texas, not what I have read or heard through media, and especially not from Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.
I am looking forward to learning about the pioneering grit of the folks from south of the border, from those who left other southern states and especially from the Native Americans who were always there.
I can still be reached by email, so let’s stay in touch – and thank you for reading.
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at email@example.com