MIM Ineffable Miami Fall 2019: Riverside by Jessica Horsham

Jessica Ann Horsham is a currently studying international relations at Florida International University, and is in her senior year as an FIU Honors student. She is heavily interested in pursuing a career in law, with current aims to focus on human rights and injustices within the justice system. Though her career will eventually divulge her in tons of paperwork, Jessica loves to explore the outdoors, exercise, and be near the beach; traveling is one of her favorite things to do as she loves to emerge herself in different cultures and truly learn about what makes each place special. Her current endeavor, the Miami in Miami class taught by John W. Bailly, will take her on a journey of emerging herself in her very own hometown to discover all of its unknown and secret places, one of which she has uncovered. These are her findings. *All images CC by 4.0*

Geography

The Riverside neighborhood in Miami is often known as East Little Havana and is located on the west side of the Miami River, across from Brickell.  As one can see based on the map above, it encompasses a large area consisting of Calle Ocho, the Marlins Park, about 3 green spaces, and the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and the Visually Impaired. As the neighborhood follows along the long, curvy, and natural Miami River, it makes it prime real estate for many developers. However, despite its increasing property value, these homes were not always priced as such and tend to be much older than the rising giant across the river. Almost none of the buildings were over 3 stories high, much smaller, and despite being close to one another, on certain properties there was some land space. There were also a ton of churches on about every other road; it was very similar to the Caribbean lifestyle in this aspect. There were all types of churches of all different, mostly similar religions, and many of the churches were spelled out in Spanish—an indicator of the demographic of people that it serves. However, one of the most obvious and transforming geographic features of this neighborhood is its quickly changing landscape. “Follow Detour” and “Detour Ahead” signs flood the narrow and winding streets as tall cranes lead the way to multiple construction zones. Almost down every street the foundations were being torn up and something surely newer and more expensive is going to take its place.

History

Riverside, otherwise known as East Little Havana, received its name from its promising location next to the Miami River and across from Brickell. It gained its name as Little Havana much later when Castro transformed Cuban into a communist state and the U.S., specifically in Miami, began to receive waves of refugees. Their overwhelming presence helped lead the City of Miami to create a recreational and cultural space for these diverse refugees to help reintegrate into society and to express themselves freely, this space is the neighborhood of “Little Havana.” The City of Miami began to purchase large plots of land near the river side to help develop it further into this cultural area. In 1980, when they had originally begun the designs for the Jose Martí park, it was temporarily delayed due to the government using this land to house the large number of Cuban refugees arriving in a so-called, “Tent City,” until they were properly processed. This same park is also the ancient remains site for the Tequestas, who were the Native people to Florida and who have been largely erased from history. Upon excavations, there were many things recovered such as pottery remains, shell tools, and even graves, yet the building of this area and its surround, continued. While strolling through Riverside, one may notice many buildings, schools, and portraits in honor Jose Julian Marti Perez. Jose Marti was a Cuban poet, writer, professor, translator, publisher, and important activist and political figure for Cubans who did not have the voice he had to scream their concerns and advocate for their liberties. He was a political activist from an extremely early age and was largely considered the man who united much of the Cuban community in Miami, he is often regarded as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence.” While Riverside has remained rather left alone and isolated within its own bubble, this has increasingly not become a reality for its residents. Today Riverside residents are undergoing ongoing pressures to sell their homes and properties to real estate developers who plan to “upgrade” the community. Most of the new buildings being built will be way out of budget for many of its current residents and these buildings are beginning to resemble the Brickell neighborhood that is increasingly encroaching onto Riverside. Riverside is now being dominated by cranes and many complete building knockdowns and renovations; rather than preserving these old buildings as part of Miami history, these developers aim to create another area of high-end apartments that would effectively displace and kick out many of Riverside’s original inhabitants. A perfect example of this is the massive “Riverside Miami” project currently underway a few miles down the Miami River. This development project will be a new place to “eat and drink and socialize in Brickell” (Ogle, 2019). As developers, along with the city fight to demolish and silence those who live in the Paradise Mobile Home Park, in order to turn this into another massive project, this will become the reality of many residents’ lives as Riverside continues to remain in the spotlight for prime real estate (Flechas, 2019)

Demographics

Stepping into East Little Havana or Riverside is like stepping into Cuba. This area is so mixed and infused with Latin, specifically Cuban, culture. In the language being spoke as people are walking along the street, the menus from the restaurants, and even the art screams Latin culture at you. It is as if you are in an entirely different country and it is beautiful. Besides the increasing number of tourists and big red busses passing through the neighborhood, many of the people who were local to the area were a mix of young people with the multiple generations of theirs living nearby or in the same house. Along the roads, there were many older people sitting outside playing chess, checkers, or dominoes. Especially on Calle Ocho, many older gentlemen could be seen playing intense rounds of dominoes or lounging at store corners, or under the verandas, smoking cigars. However, my favorite part was definitely the soul of these people that was simply radiating. There we no parades or any festivals (though Art Basel may have had some influence), and yet the people were alive and happy and interacting with one another. There were live bands playing latin and latin jazz combinations for all passing by to hear and maybe women and men would stop to spin and dance for a few minutes. The soul of this place was not in its buildings or landmarks but truly within its people. One of the artists, Olga, selling her items down a side street next to the home for Viernes Culturales, briefly spoke with me and stated that the bands and the people that were roaming around behind us is what attracted her to this area. Today, she was selling handmade dog collars, dog clothes, and donations for the Animal Cancer Care Clinic, where her own beloved animal fought cancer. Unfortunately, he passed away, however items such as these are extremely popular and unique to this area as many people around, whether visiting or residents, value handmade goods rather than expensive name brand or quick fashion. One of the main things she noted changing about the area was that the construction was truly making an impact by quite literally changing the landscape—so many new buildings are being put up fast and they stand out against the older buildings, creating another division between wealthier people moving into the neighborhood and those who had lived here for many years.

Landmarks

CubaOcho is a free mini museum and performing arts center that is home to the largest privately-owned Cuban art collection in the world. The pieces, which are all over the space are truly mind blowing and exceptional. On the outside of the building, it is decorated with pieces that represent some of the most influential and important Latin figures in history. It also depicts them all in an extremely unique style. Not too far from this, celebrating some of the most profound and influential Latin artists, hosts, authors, painters, etc. is the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame. At first thought, this may just seem a cute play off of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in California, but it is so much more than that. This acknowledges many people who have been forgotten or overlooked in history because of their race or nationality; many who have been overshadowed because of their beliefs or even those who had to work twice as hard to prove themselves in a position that would have just as easy for anyone else. This Walk of Fame acknowledges true fighters and those who had major impacts on an often-oppressed community. Nearby is the famous Domino Park, where older, typically Hispanic men, gather to play competitive dominos. The real noise in this park comes from the dominoes being slammed onto the tables while they lean over and whisper things under their breath. This historic park is so significant that there are multiple tourists standing around simply watching one game or as seen in one of the pictures, a man is recording the intense matches that are happening in the crowded park. This was easily one of my favorite stops. Nearby is also the Little Havana Veteran Statue which commemorates all war veterans, “including our Bay of Pigs veterans,” and above the plaque flew an American flag, high and proud. I greatly admired this as I truthfully do not think that as a society, we properly take care of our veterans or honor them, and here the people of East Little Havana are doing it more than most. Further, especially considering the current times and issues with ICE and the current administration, to see the flag still flying high was quite revealing about the people, who may or may not be documented but respected the U.S. nonetheless. Or even those who white nationalist groups disregard as American, but here they are, embracing the country and those who, too, are often left behind and forgotten. Similar in thought and theme, is the Bay of Pigs Monument located not too far away that was completed in 1971. The Eternal Torch of Brigade 2506, the soldiers who gave their lives in the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba, is extremely powerful and moving. Even today, flowers and gifts lie outside the square by those who come to pay their respects to these soldiers whose names are engraved onto the monument. This powerful monument is reflective of the blended Miami culture as it reminds me of the many multiple eternal flame monuments across the world. The Bay of Pigs invasion was a huge turning point in U.S.-Cuba relations as well as with Cuba in itself, soon after this another major wave of immigrants began to make the journey to the U.S. in often unsafe conditions to obtain a future and a better life for themselves. Many Cubans also saw this as the U.S. attempting to protect them and even though they may not have been born here, they feel an extremely strong affinity for the country because of this event; it truly changed everything for many people.

Green Spaces

When one generally thinks about the true purpose of a greenspace, the general conclusion that they can reach is that it is used to escape from the noisiness and craziness of the nearby city. However, in the two main parks located in Riverside, Riverside Park and Jose Martí Park, this could not be farther from the truth. Of the two, Riverside Park was more intentionally for the kids. This park has a main playground area for kids to use, get outside, and simply have fun. According to its website (2019), the park also hosts free fitness classes, and helps to facilitate special giveaways and fundraising events. In addition to this park, there is also the Jose Martí Park which lies right on the banks of the Miami River. This park is rather large, hosts various paths for runners and bikers, has a shelter with chess tables, a pool, and there was even a small local band playing Latin music for a live Zumba class. However, while these areas do serve as important spaces for people to connect to and seemingly unwind, they are not your typical greenspace. One of the biggest issues with both parks is its proximity to major streets, as seen with Riverside Park, and the massive highway that almost runs right above Jose Martí Park. Not only this, but since this area is close to the airport, the Jose Martí Park will occasionally have loud planes flying overhead disrupting any peace of mind you have been out there to search for. Nonetheless, the residents of these areas have grown accustomed to these challenges and have flourished under it as they continue to use these parks to escape form their day to day lives and relax under a tree or the shelter. The last

Transportation

When driving further away from Calle Ocho and its craziness, it was not hard to miss the many bust stops all around the neighborhood—the streets were fluttered with bus stops, though I did not see as many people as I expected to be using the bus. Then again, each time I visited the area, it was earlier during the day. Now, with Marlins Park dominating its entire area and drawing a lot of attention to the area, it does make sense as to why the Miami Metro has a spot specifically for this area. Efficiently, it is aimed to reduce traffic in this area, however, if you are ever around near games, the residents living in the nearby houses would gladly park your car on their lawn for sometimes half the price that the park charges you. However, it would be much more cost and time efficient to jump on the metro and off at the Civic Center and take the bus over towards Riverside as it tends to get extremely busy later on in the afternoons. Also, another interesting feat about this neighborhood is its proximity to Brickell. One turn down a street automatically placed me right in the heart of Brickell City Center. As Brickell becomes more populated and popular, they must also invent new ways of managing traffic and time. Interestingly enough, in an effort to get people to truly experience Calle Ocho on every 3rd Friday of the month, where Viernes Culturales hosts an art and culture mini festival, there is a free trolley service to transport people to and from Mary Brickell Village and the Brickell Metrorail Station and Riverside. This does aim to help alleviate the traffic in the area however, upon driving through the various roads of houses, almost each home had a car parked outside of it or a scooter and often times a bike. However, it is important to note that not each person residing in a household will have a car specifically for themselves.

Food & Businesses

The food in this neighborhood is nothing short of authentic and truly amazing. The tastes of each country really shine through these dishes; many of them are reflective of our society and little “bubble” in Miami as they have truly become infusions of many different types. Some of the best homemade ice cream can be found at Azucar located on Calle Ocho, I highly recommend the guava and cheese flavor or the cuatro leches one. They also have a rotating seasonal menu, however, if you are looking for daily-freshly made ice cream to cool down in the Miami heat, this is the place to go—you cannot go wrong with any flavor. Another extremely popular spot, that is sure to have a wait time, is Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina. Located right next to Domino Park, this restaurant truly transports you to Havana Cuba. Its immaculately detailed restaurant truly serves its purpose to give tourists and visitors a truly authentic Cuban experience; they even have a live band to play on the weekends. The next two places are primarily known for their tacos and neither one of them disappointed, El Santo and Taquerias El Mexicano had the most authentic tacos and it was simply delicious. Both restaurants also significantly went above and beyond to ensure that their restaurants had its own unique atmosphere that was different from the culture on the streets. However, for the absolute best croquetas, in quite possibly the world, you must stop into El Cristo. For a restaurant and bakery that was nowhere near overpriced, this place beyond impressed me. The croquetas were fresh and warm and imply calling my name. It was fantastic and filling.

            Further, when observing the surrounding businesses, many of them seemed locally owned and not part of a larger chain. There were many laundromats, numerous restaurants, tailoring shops, and many, many guayaberas and “authentic Cuban wear” clothing stores. While these were all amazing to look at and did give some insight into another area of fashion, the most interesting thing to me was the amount of dollar stores that were located within the neighborhood. As already discussed, the residents who call Riverside home are not necessarily the wealthiest people. Now, as reported by CNN (Meyershon, 2019) and other researchers, many dollar stores are continuing to pop up around the U.S. in areas where poverty runs high and residents cannot afford to shop elsewhere or choose not to since these goods are so cheap. While these stores are bringing goods to many people, it is still important to note that much of the time, the food sold by these stores are packaged, preserved, or even frozen, food that it is not necessarily healthy nor nutritious enough for one’s body. Nonetheless, these stores’ popularity continues to rise and they have become one of the fastest and largest growing corporations in the U.S. This seems to correspond with data that as poverty and low-income neighborhoods rise in size, these stores take advantage and are able to move in; this is the case for Riverside and it is happening right before our eyes.

Summary

Overall, this vibrant neighborhood is absolutely beautiful and full of life and culture and true soul. I was beyond surprised upon my discoveries in this neighborhood and I truly do admire it for all of its quality and vibrancy. However, the issue of an expanding population but not enough places to hold them is an issue that is sure to plague the community, especially as developers are moving forward from Brickell straight into this historic neighborhood. If residents and their neighboring communities do not rally around one another for support and truly come together, major areas of this neighborhood will be lost, and as part of that so too will part of what makes it extremely special. Another major issue for this neighborhood is the lack of parking and small, narrow, winding streets. Once again, city planning has completely failed these people who struggle to find parking even by their own homes; there are empty lots, however, these all are great spots for residents to be towed. Moreover, this issue is exacerbated by the fact that this population is growing and as such, more people are buying cars and other means of transportation. Better public transportation needs to not just be to add more bus stops, but also to reintroduce faster and more efficient trolleys to the metro so that it may be easier for residents from all areas to access. Now, while I greatly wish their greenspaces could truly live up to the true purpose of a greenspace, I believe the fact that they do have such massive areas is a good thing and should be preserved. These spaces include additional areas for the community to come together and get to know one another, one of the most important things needed to truly battle the intervening corporate power in this area. This neighborhood is such a hidden gem to many and it is finally increasingly rising in popularity and visitation by tourists, if this increased traffic will continue, they may be able to halt some of these projects and preserve their own unique and  natural culture as that is what people travel to see, to experience. This neighborhood is undergoing many transformations but must be saved at all costs—its soul is unmatched and speaks to the essence of Miami and must be preserved for future generations.

Sources

Flechas, J. (2019, September 30). Miami wants to demolish a riverside mobile home park. Residents want a chance to stay. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article235385247.html.

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://viernesculturales.org/mainvc/.

Meyersohn, N. (2019, July 19). Dollar stores are facing backlash across America. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/19/business/dollar-general-opposition/index.html.

Ogle, C. (2019, May 9). Brickell’s new hot spot opens this summer on the Miami River. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/miami-com/article230227359.html.

Riverside Park. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.miamigov.com/Residents/Parks-Directory/Riverside-Park.

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