MIAMI GARDENS — A stream of diners shuffles through L.C.’s Roti Shop, a funky eatery tucked away between a fish market and tag and title agency on the leaden corridor of high-traffic U.S. 441 in Miami Gardens. L.C.’s is the kind of colorful place that relies on nostalgia for its revenue.
Next week, the customers of this Trini-owned mainstay will see their Caribbean nation of 1.3 million thrown into the world spotlight as U.S. President Barack Obama and 33 other hemispheric leaders gather for the Fifth Summit of the Americas.
Some Trinidadians in South Florida view the high-profile conference with alacrity, others with suspicion. But this much, they say, is for certain: Trinidad and Tobago will shine.
“For a small country, it’s going to be very big – both politically and economically,”
Garth Ferdinand, 37, a North Miami Beach businessman said over lunch at L.C.’s. “The [world] interest will be focused right there – in the center of the Caribbean.”
Ferdinand and other South Florida Trinis say they’ve been inundated in recent weeks with tales of the Summit’s elaborate preparations. Streets are cordoned off. Checkpoints have surfaced. The capital, Port of Spain, gets a face lift.
Many of those stories swap across the counter at L.C.’s Roti Shop at the Caribbean Shoppes Plaza in Miami Gardens. The owners, Elsie and her husband, F. Chin, came to Miami more than 35 years ago from Victoria County, in south Trinidad.
Like many Trinidadians, Elsie is of South Asian descent; her great grandparents decamped from India in the mid-1800s as indentured servants to replace the recently emancipated African slaves who worked on sugar cane plantations. Her husband is of Chinese descent; his ancestors arrived in the Caribbean the same way.
In 1986, they opened the restaurant in unincorporated North Miami-Dade and, a year later, moved to Miami Gardens; through all this sought affordable advertising. Neon-sign manufacturers charged by the letter – Elsie became L.C. These days, the red neon glows against a dining-room wall decorated with quirky plaques, newspaper write ups, and a Trinidadian flag.
“I think it’s a good thing for the Caribbean – they've never had this before,” Chin, 60, said about the global attention. “I hope Trinidad knows how fortunate they are to have him – he could be anywhere.”
Chin added that she hoped that Obama would use the forum to shed light on immigration issues in the United States. She said many of her friends have been deported to Trinidad for minor infractions – a South Florida cause almost certain to be echoed in Port of Spain next week.
To be sure, some view the event with caution. Trinidad, they remind outsiders, is a prosperous and stable country that's currently enjoying an oil boom.
“The main concern for me is why such an interest in Trinidad at this time,” wondered Ferdinand. “Prior presidents haven’t had much interest in the island.”
Still, the Summit is the buzz among some South Florida Trinis.
One businessman wanted to go but nixed his plans because of the economic woes. But he sees the conference as an exciting chance to see his homeland on display.
“I just hope the exposure we get – from everybody visiting and the news coverage – will help Trinidadian businesses grow and expand,” said Irvine Headley, 54, a Homestead business owner. “I'm very, very excited about the opportunity that Trinidad will get to highlight itself.”
For more information about the Americas Summit, please log onto miamiherald.com.
Photo by Trenton Daniel/Miami Herald Staff. Elsie Chin