Italia Spring 2020 Ineffable Miami: Flagami by Elaine Arias of FIU

About Elaine

CC BY 4.0

Elaine Arias is a sophomore at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry. She has always hoped to work in the medical field because of her love for science, but it was her passion for animals that led to her aspiration of one day becoming a veterinarian. Elaine is currently the community service chair of a student organization for students in pre-health tracks called Alpha Epsilon Delta. When she is not in school, she enjoys spending time with her loved ones and shadowing a small animal veterinarian. However, one of her favorite things to do on her free time is to go stand-up paddle boarding with her close friends. After moving to the United States from Cuba, Elaine lived in Flagami for the first half of her life. Although she no longer lives in the area, the small Miami neighborhood will always feel like home.

Flagami: The Small and Overlooked Miami Neighborhood

Location

CC BY 4.0
Retrieved from Apple® Maps. Apple Maps is a registered trademark of Apple Inc.

Flagami is a relatively small neighborhood found north of Coral Gables and south of the Miami International Airport. It is enclosed longitudinally by the Tamiami Canal and 47th avenue, and laterally by SW 8th street and NW 7th street. The neighborhood’s name is a combination of the neighborhood’s two main streets: Flagler and Tamiami Trail, or SW 8th street.

History

This lively and colorful neighborhood is a prime example of the diversity the city of Miami is known for, and the history of the area definitely explains why. In the 1960s, there was a huge influx of Cuban immigrants fleeing Cuba. The Cuban Revolution had just ended in 1959, resulting in a new communist Cuba (Cuban). As the quality of life in Cuba worsened, more immigrants began to flee in search of freedom and opportunities, which was the foundation of the United States’ appeal. While many settled in the well-known neighborhood of Little Havana, a large amount of these Cuban immigrants settled in Flagami (Rodriguez). Before 1959, Cubans would mostly visit Miami with the intention of later returning to the island. In fact, most of the immigrants living in the area were of Caribbean or African origin.

After the initial wave of Cuban exiles arriving in Miami, there were three more significant waves of Cubans that slowly realized Cuba was a lost cause. The economy continued to deteriorate and political freedoms became a thing of the past. At this point, the Cubans that had already settled in Miami began helping their relatives leave Cuba to do the same. The last of the four waves came shortly after the end of the Cold War and Cubans were seen arriving using anything that could float as their means of transportation. And of course, they all settled within the Cuban communities established by previous Cuban immigrants.

Over time, immigrants from other Latin American countries began settling in the Flagami area as well because of its large Hispanic community and cheaper housing. Today, Hispanics are scattered all over Miami neighborhoods, but Flagami remains as one of the most significant, as children of immigrants inherit their family’s homes and serve as a magnet for more Hispanics to move to the area as well.

About the Locals

Demographics

As of 2018, Flagami has a population of 37,922 residents of which females are the predominant gender (Flagami). 93.6% of these residents are Hispanic or of Hispanic origin (Race). Most residents speak only Spanish or Spanish and English.

Interview With Flagami Resident – Luis Rivero

CC BY 4.0
CC BY 4.0

Luis Rivero was born in Trinidad, Cuba in December of 1999. He migrated with his parents and sister in the year 2000 on his first birthday. He has lived in Miami his entire life and considers it his home, despite being of Cuban origin. Before Luis had his own car, he would walk everywhere and became very familiar with his neighborhood as a result. Luis is currently a sophomore at Florida International University and hopes to pursue a career in medicine.

Elaine: How long have you lived in the Flagami area?

Luis: I’ve lived in Flagami since my family and I moved to the United States when I was just 1 year old, so basically my whole life.

Elaine: What would you say is your favorite thing about living here?

Luis: My favorite thing about Flagami would have to be the food.

Elaine: What about your least favorite thing?

Luis: My least favorite thing is definitely the traffic.

Elaine: Where is your favorite place to get a bite to eat?

Luis: My favorite place to eat is Montes De Oca Pizzeria where they sell the best Cuban pizza and “crema de queso”.

Elaine: Is there anything you can share that only the locals know about the area?

Luis: The first thing that comes to mind is a small pet shop, which is only accessible through an alleyway behind a group of buildings. Only locals know this is the spot for the cheapest and most variety of fishing bait.

Elaine: If you could give a piece of advice or suggestion to someone who has never visited Flagami before, what would it be?

Luis: My only advice would be to eat at any small local restaurant in the area and try something new. You’ll be surprised at what you end up liking.

Urban Design

Architecture

Image capture: Mar 2019 © 2020 Google
Image capture: Mar 2019 © 2020 Google

Flagami’s architecture is very flat with few tall buildings in the area. The tallest buildings are usually apartment buildings and condominiums, which are quite common along main streets like 7th and Flagler. Renting a home is more common than owning one in this neighborhood, which explains the popularity of apartments due to the less expensive cost of living. The houses in the area are relatively small compared to other Miami neighborhoods and are typically one-story, ranch-style houses. Houses are often split into duplexes or have obvious external additions for a second family. This reduces the cost of rent because of the minimized space from a previously larger house. Another notable element of Flagami’s architecture is the abundance of strip malls and corner stores found on almost every block of the main streets like SW 8th, NW 7th, and Flagler.

Green Places

Image capture: Mar 2019 © 2020 Google
Image capture: Mar 2019 © 2020 Google

There are multiple public parks in the Flagami area, but the most popular is the Antonio Maceo Park (pictured above). This park, located on NW 7th street near 51st avenue, is the only waterfront park in the area. Visitors have access to a ramp where many take their jet-skiis out for a ride in the Blue Lagoon. There are even several docks along the water where locals often cast their fishing rods. For those that are more watchers than doers, there are multiple picnic tables and gazebos where visitors can just sit and enjoy their surroundings. There is also lots of green grass with shade provided by the cluster of tall palm trees in the center of the park.

At Kinlock Park, located on 47th avenue near NW 4th street, and West End Park, located on SW 2nd street near 60th avenue, the scene is a little different. The visitors of these parks are mostly children and teenagers that live in the area. Both these parks are found within residential areas, as opposed to Antonio Maceo Park that is on one of Flagami’s main streets. This makes the parks just walking distance from many homes, making them easily accessible for kids to hang out with their friends on the weekends or after school. Both of these parks also have basketball courts, which are always full in the afternoon during weekdays and all day during weekends.

Finally, right at the border between Flagami and Coral Gables is the Coral Gables Entrance Park. Commonly known as the Coral Gables’ Granada Entrance, this park is located on 8th street and 49th avenue. It mostly consists of large grass spaces, but there are also several stone structures like arches and columns. These were actually built in the 1920s as a series of welcoming entrances to the city of Coral Gables. Many photographers often use this park as the backdrop for their photoshoots.

How To Get Around

Image capture: Mar 2012 © 2020 Google
Image capture: Mar 2012 © 2020 Google

Just like most Miami neighborhoods, the streets in Flagami are organized into grids and have numerical names. This makes it quite easy to get around, even if you are unfamiliar with the area. As of 2018, most Flagami residents travel by car, although the second most popular form of transportation is either the bus or trolley (Flagami). Many Flagami residents also walk to nearby destinations.

There are not many bike lanes, which could be a reason why traveling by bicycle is not very common. Three main streets (Flagler, Tamiami Trail, and NW 7th street) intersect the neighborhood, so there is usually a significant amount of traffic throughout the entire day. Driving during rush hours is a total nightmare, but is also impossible to avoid.

Public bus and trolley stops can be found on what seems like every corner, suggesting many residents put them to use. Every time I drive by a stop, I see at least a couple of people waiting. Since walking to places is not unusual among Flagami residents, this could explain why there is an abundance of crosswalks in the area, not only under traffic lights.

Monuments and Other Notable Places

Photo by Sheila J. on TripAdvisor.
Photo by Sheila J. on TripAdvisor

There is only one true monument in the Flagami area and that is the Bay of Pigs Memorial (pictured above). It can be found inside the Bay of Pigs Memorial Park, located on 56th avenue and SW 2nd street. The memorial is in honor of Nestor A. Izquierdo, a United States Army soldier who fought in the Bay of Pigs Invasion. During the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Cuban exiles attempted and failed to overthrow Fidel Castro’s new communist government using United States weapons and resources (The Bay). The United States had the intention of removing the communist government that was now in their backyard during the Cold War. The memorial consists of a statue of Izquierdo holding a rifle and a bust of Manolo Fernandez in the front. Fernandez was recognized for his patriotism during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, which he expressed through his music. He is most famous for his line, “solo con la fuerza lucharemos por la paz,” which translates to “only with force will we fight for peace.”

Image capture: Mar 2019 © 2020 Google

The notable places of Flagami cannot be discussed without mentioning the infamous Flagami motels (pictured above). Whether you are driving along 8th street or Flagler, it is impossible to miss the ridiculous number of motels adjacent to each other. Even though the neighborhood of Flagami borders the Miami International Airport, it is obvious the motels must serve a purpose beyond providing inexpensive stays for tourists. According to the Miami Herald, there has been an ongoing issue of these motels being used as hot spots for prostitution and drug dealing (Dixon). Most, if not all, of these motels offer hourly rentals which promote using their rooms for illicit activities. There have been attempts to eradicate this, such as trying to implement a fine on motels that are caught providing hourly rentals. However, they continue to carry the stigma and suspicious individuals are still seen strolling the area.

Image capture: Feb 2019 © 2020 Google

Although Le Jeune Cinema 6 (pictured above) is a few blocks east of Flagami, it is definitely worth mentioning as it is a popular movie theater among Flagami residents. Commonly referred to as “O.B.” by locals, Le Jeune Cinema 6 is located on 42nd avenue and NW 7th street within the Ocean Bank building. It is rare to find an outsider here as most people are unaware that there is a small and relatively cheap movie theater hidden inside. For even the most anticipated releases, the theater is usually quite empty, making it the best place to catch a last-minute movie. Established in 1989, it is the oldest and only movie theater in the area.

Places of Worship

Image capture: Apr 2019 © 2020 Google
Image capture: Apr 2019 © 2020 Google

There are a few places of worship in the area, most of which are Catholic. Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church (pictured above) is located near NW 4th street and 57th avenue. This church is particularly interesting because there is not a large Ukrainian population in Flagami. Other Catholic Churches in the area are Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, located on Flagler and 48th avenue, and Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church, located on NW 7th street and 59th avenue. There is also the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, located on 1st street and 52nd avenue.

Within Flagami is the Mount Nebo Memorial Park. This Jewish cemetery stretches from Flagler to NW 7th street and is three blocks wide. It is bisected by NW 3rd street and a small residential area is surrounded by the cemetery. At Mount Nebo Memorial Park, funeral and burial arrangements are made to honor the deceased. People can visit their loved ones’ graves throughout the entire year, with the exception of any major Jewish holidays.

Local Businesses

Image capture: Jan 2019 © 2020 Google

A neighborhood is made up of its local businesses just as much as it is of its inhabitants. A huge staple of the Flagami area, which can be confirmed by anyone of the residents, is Bolufé Auto Sales (pictured above). This small dealership, unique to the Flagami area, is located on the northeast corner of 57th Avenue and Flagler. Bolufé has been open for over 28 years, offering a variety of used car options for anyone with any credit. From luxury cars to more affordable ones, they have tons of options. They also make sure to thoroughly inspect their cars for functionality and safety before making them available for purchase in order to ensure the best quality for their customers.

The King Barber Shop is another popular Flagami business. This barber shop has three locations, two of which are within the neighborhood of Flagami. The original location is on 8th street near 48th avenue. The King was named in honor of Elvis Presley, who was known as “the king” of rock and roll in his time. Since Elvis’s music was popular among all races and cultures, this barber shop aims to be a place where different people of all ages can get together and relax while getting a haircut. With their professional barbers and affordable prices, anyone who comes here surely leaves satisfied.

Finally, La Sorpresa Supermarket is a prime example of the aforementioned corner stores that are seen everywhere in the Flagami area. La Sorpresa definitely encompasses what Flagami is all about. Located on 45th avenue and NW 7th street, locals can come here for affordable groceries or even just to grab a bite to eat. Inside La Sorpresa, there is a cafeteria area for customers to order breakfast or lunch at great prices. It may not look like much on the outside, but inside there is a huge variety of items and friendly employees ready to help customers in any way they can.

Famous Flagami Grub

Image capture: Apr 2019 © 2020 Google
Image capture: Apr 2019 © 2020 Google

Finally, everyone’s favorite part of any city or neighborhood: the food! Flagami is home to many unique and delicious restaurants. A personal favorite of mine is Montes De Oca (pictured above). This Cuban pizzeria has two locations, both of which are either within or near Flagami. The Flagami location can be found on SW 8th street and 52nd avenue. The menu offers a variety of pizzas and spaghettis as well as some uniquely Cuban selections. For example, the crema de queso is one of their most popular menu items, which is simply a hot bowl of cheese soup served with two garlic rolls on the side. And of course, you can’t visit this Flagami icon without ordering Spaghetti Napolitano and a personal Cuban cheese pizza.

Another exclusively Flagami restaurant is Sweet Dogs 305. Located on SW 8th street and 47th avenue, this family-owned restaurant does not sell your average hotdog. There is such a wide selection of topping combinations, you can order a different one each time you visit. Their most popular combinations are named after Miami’s sports teams, such as the Dolphins and the Heat. If simplicity is more your style, the Mr. Bean hotdog – a hotdog covered with the best baked beans in the world – is my absolute favorite. And if you were wondering what the “sweet” in Sweet Dogs stands for, they serve a fun-sized chocolate bar with every hotdog. They also sell refillable cans of their delicious homemade kettle-corn, and even offer customers unlimited samples of any flavor while you wait for your hotdog.

For dessert, Flagami has Miami Coppelia Ice Cream on NW 7th street and 47th avenue. This small ice cream shop, while unique to Flagami, is inspired by a popular ice cream chain in Cuba called Coppelia. All of their menu items have the Cuban Coppelia names, although you can still order a simple scoop from their huge variety of flavors. I usually order a vaca negra, which is just a vanilla ice cream Coke float! Karla Bakery is popular in all of Miami, but Flagami is home to the very first Karla Bakery, located on Flagler near 65th avenue. However, the famous bakery is not just limited to desserts. Apart from classic Cuban pastries, they also sell various breakfast items. And the best part: they are open 24 hours! There is nothing better than picking up a fresh guava pastry and a Jupiña soda as a midnight snack.

Summary

The Miami neighborhood of Flagami is one of a kind. But like all others, not all of the things that make it so unique also add to its charm. Something that cannot be ignored about Flagami, which applies to the rest of Miami too, is the traffic. Although Miami is known as one of the top three cities in the country for having the worst traffic, Flagami is definitely one of the areas where a lot of that traffic is concentrated. During most hours of the day, Flagami’s streets are packed with cars. Most Miami locals are used to these backed up streets, but between about eight to nine o’clock in the morning and five to seven in the afternoon, it’s impossible not to get frustrated. At these peak hours, people from all over the city of Miami are using Flagami’s main streets – Flagler and Tamiami Trail – to get to or from work. Both of these streets stretch across most of Miami, allowing drivers to travel east or west along them without interruption. Since Flagami is located right between Downtown and the West Miami area, there is not much that can be done to fix this as Miami residents will always use these streets to travel through the city.

Another big issue for the Flagami area is the suspicious activity concentrated around the 8th street motels. Although both the city of Coral Gables and the city of Miami have made efforts to eradicate this problem in the past by adding fines and restrictions to the motels, there are still sketchy people loitering near them at night. The motels also affect the appearance of that part of the neighborhood because they don’t exactly have nice exteriors and some of them are not even well maintained. A few of these motels are also on Flagler street, very near an elementary school on 53rd avenue. This alone is a reason to do something about the problem, because a school should not be a few blocks away from an area known for prostitution and drug dealing. I believe there is no reason for there to be so many motels in that area in the first place, and something should be done to force them to relocate or close.

Despite these issues, Flagami is still a lively city with a strong sense of community. Many people in Miami do not even know their neighbors’ names, but in Flagami, the residents in each residential area tend to know each other well and some even consider each other friends. This is not unlike the small neighborhoods in Latin American countries, where neighbors are practically members of the family. Flagami’s food scene cannot be ignored when describing the things that make this neighborhood great. With restaurants like Sweet Dogs 305 and Montes de Oca unique to Flagami, food is always an excellent reason to keep coming back. Flagami has many family-owned restaurants with surprisingly amazing food, from Chinese take-out to Nicaraguan fritanga.

Overall, between the rich history of Flagami and its residents, as well as the food and relatively affordable cost of living, Flagami is a wonderful neighborhood. Even if you don’t live here, it’s hard not to continue to visit the area for all that it has to offer.

Works Cited

“Cuban Exiles in America.” American Experience. WGBH Educational Foundation, 2005. pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/castro-cuban-exiles-america/. Accessed 1 April 2020. 

Dixon, Lance. “Two Cities Look to Tackle Prostitution and Drug Dealing Along Calle Ocho.” Miami Herald, 2017. miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/coral-gables/article131978959.html. Accessed 3 April 2020.

“Flagami Demographics.” Point 2 Homes, 2018, http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/FL/Flagami-Demographics.html#MeansOfTransportToWork. Accessed 1 April 2020. 

“Race and Ethnicity in Flagami, Miami, Florida.” Statistical Atlas, 2018, http://www.statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Florida/Miami/Flagami/Race-and-Ethnicity. Accessed 1 April 2020.

Rodriguez, Rene. “Located Just South of the Airport, Flagami is One of Miami’s Best Bargains.” Miami Herald, 2019. miamiherald.com/news/business/real-estate-news/article232239517.html. Accessed 1 April 2020.

“The Bay of Pigs Invasion Begins.” History. A&E Television Networks, 13 November 2009. history.com/this-day-in-history/the-bay-of-pigs-invasion-begins. Accessed 3 April 2020.

Leave a Reply