Italia Spring 2020 Ineffable Miami: Westchester by Catherine Santana

Photo by Catherine Santana (CC by 4.0)

Biography

Catherine Santana is a freshman at Florida International University as a part of the Honors College, currently majoring in a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry. She is a part-time phlebotomy technician and aspires to become a cardiologist in the future. Although most of her time is dedicated in science related activities, she enjoys reading and traveling attempting to immerse in other cultures. Catherine will be graduating in the spring of 2023 and is currently enrolled in the Italy Study Abroad course with Professor JW Bailly; below is her Ineffable Miami Project.

Geography


US Census Bureau/Public Domain

Westchester is bounded by SW 8th street on the north, SW 40th ST on the South, SW 117th Avenue on the west, and the Palmetto Expressway on the East. It has total area of 4 square miles (all land) and a 3-foot elevation. Although it is a census designated place (CDP), it is considered an unincorporated community.
Westchester has an ideal location. It is situated in the center of Miami, and is relatively close to other neighborhoods and cities, as well as access to expressways.

History

Westchester Miami, Fl/ Public Domain

Westchester was first developed after Henry Flagler extended the East Coast Railway. It had not been previously developed since it was considered ineligible due to its propensity to flood along with negative environmental conditions of the area. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the city started to implement different drainage canals, and projects, under the provisions of Federal Legislation, which transformed Westchester into a residential area.
Westchester was predominantly Jewish before the 1980s, due to the fact that Jewish immigration in the city increased after War World II. In the 1980s the population started to shift, there was an increase in Hispanic immigration during this period, especially Cubans related to the Mariel boatlift, which led to Westchester now being 92.3% Hispanic.
The residential area started by different projects in the twentieth century remains today in a neighborhood where 67% of the houses are own, and it is considered a dense suburban neighborhood.

Demographics

According to the Data USA website which was previously updated as of 2017:


Westchester has seen a great population change over the last 50 years. It shifted its recognition as a predominantly Jewish area to a Hispanic majority. The neighborhood has a population of 30,516 people and a growth rate of 1.52%. The population ethnicity is composed of 92.3% Hispanic or Latino, 6.36% white, and 0.59% Asian. The median age is 44.9 and the poverty rate is 16%. There is a median household income of $48,018, which experienced a -0.245% decline from 2016 to 2017. In 2017, male employees in Westchester made 1.34 times more money than females. Although the majority of the population is Hispanic, the average salaries recorded for Asians and Whites are the highest.

Photo by Leira Suarez/ CC BY 4.0

Biography of Laura Suarez (a Westchester resident)

Laura Suarez was born in Cuba on January 18th, 2001 and she moved to Westchester when she was 10 years old. Since then, she has been living with her parents and attends Florida International University as a Communications Major. She is pursuing a graphic design certification along with her bachelor’s degree in Communications and loves to paint in her free time.

She works in the Miami Dade County after school program for elementary schools.

Some thoughts of the neighborhood:

Catherine: What is your favorite part of Westchester?

Laura: My ability to stay exposed to Cuban culture, but also interact with some other ethnic backgrounds.

Catherine: What is your least favorite part about Westchester?

Laura: I would love to see more galleries and museums. Although it has cultural value as a neighborhood, it lacks places that focus in art expressions.

Catherine: Have you enjoyed the years residing in this neighborhood?

Laura: Yes! Breakfast in La Carreta and the Hispanic culture are close to my heart.

Catherine: What changes would you make if you had the opportunity?

Laura: I would open more places related to art. Some galleries or live performance “bars” for new musicians to get exposed.

Landmarks

Photo by Carlos A. Trellez. Local Guide, Google Pictures

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Florida International University:

The Frost Art Museum is one of the largest academic art museums in South Florida. It provides free access to the community to thousands of objects from different cultures and time periods. The permanent collection and exhibitions contribute to education of the arts and provides a place to appreciate arts in the suburbs, further away from the galleries in Miami beach. It welcomes hundreds of guests during Miami Art Week.

Photo by Marcelo Morandi. Local Guide

The Youth Fair:

The Youth fair is a seasonal event that occurs in March and April every year. The Youth Fair is not only a place to recreate, but also a fundraiser to give back to the community and provides hundreds of students with scholarships. The fair exhibits art works from students in different categories. In 2019 only, they exhibited over 63,120 pieces. It creates a magical place for the community, engenders the interest in art, and makes art more accessible to young minds.

Photo by Mythical Phoenix. Google Maps Local Guide

Santa’s Enchanted Forest:

Another Miami’s rite of passage from November to January every year. Santa’s is one of the most visited attractions in Westchester, and Miami in general. The carnival provides food, rides, shows, games, and attractions for the family.  

Green

Westchester counts with numerous small parks in different residential areas. Most of these smaller parks have areas designated for children. Some of the most popular activities include running, playing sports, picnics, and activities with children. As I have noticed in the parks and the frequency of visits provided by Google, they are mostly visited in the weekends. This could reflect the lifestyle of its residents, since the most common jobs in the area are related to Office and Administrative Support and Management Occupations (Data USA).

Google Local Guide

Tropical Park:

Tropical Park is one the most famous parks in Westchester. It attracts more than a million visitors each year because it provides a wide array of services. Paved pathways for bicycling, running, or walking are accompanied by fitness courts, boxing centers, baseball rental, sports competitions, equestrian shows, a tennis court, and a Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Photo by Eric Bellins. Google Maps Local Guide

FIU Nature Reserve:

A project by the Office of Sustainability that aims to reduce FIU’s negative impacts on the natural environment. There are several volunteering opportunities, as well as internships and research projects to get students involved in sustainability.

Transportation

Photo by Laura Suarez. (CC by 4.0)

According to Data USA 83.9% drive alone, 9.24% carpool, and 3.54% work at home.

The majority of people use their cars as their means of transportation.  There is an average number of two cars per household and  an average commute time of 29.2 minutes without traffic, which may significantly increase in rush hours. Although Westchester’s residents have an average 29.3 minutes commute, it is considered advantageous compared to other parts of Miami due to its central location and access to expressways.

As for public transit it was steady from 2013-2017 with an approximate between 300-490 people using the available public transportation. Although there are bus stops throughout the neighborhood, the longer commute time and problems found in Miami’s public transportation may be the cause of the low percentage of people relying in public transit.

To move within the neighborhood people, use their cars. A small number of people move around walking or cycling, and it is mainly as a form of exercise.

Food

Top: Photo by Margarita Serrano. Google Maps Local Guide
Bottom: Photo by Idalia Mercedes. Google Maps Local Guide

Cuban Cuisine

La Carreta was founded in 1976 as an attempt to serve authentic Cuban food to the growing Cuban population. I have visited one of their most popular locations in SW 40th ST multiple times. Although the menu is based in popular Cuban staples, they have some classic American dishes in their kid’s menus, and for each of their meals. This decision caters different immigrants’ generations and tourists. Some of their most requested dishes include frijoles negros, ropa vieja, vaca frita, and moros. I also find their less traditional dishes such as pollo al ajillo (chicken in a garlic sauce) and palomilla steak very tasty.

Besides the food, the decoration of the place is similar to a museum. They have pictures and objects that describe their history as a restaurant, and their Cuban heritage. Service is excellent. Most of the staff speak Spanish as their first language and wear guayaberas to add to the overall experience.

Google Local Guide

Argentinian Cuisine
Graziano’s
An Argentinian restaurant founded in 1962 which offers different services in one location. It functions as an indoors market with an array of fresh products. Next to the market there is bakery and restaurant. All ingredients are fresh, and the service is warm. They also have one of the largest South Florida wine collections. A Sunday barbeque with Graziano’s selection of meat is among the most delicious family traditions in Westchester.

Top: Photo by Arjun Berry. Google Maps Local Guide
Bottom: Photo by Ray Bonilla. Google Maps Local Guide

Tasca de Espana
Tasca de Espana is fusion of Spanish and Indian flavors. Although a relatively small and inexpensive place, it makes a great impact providing live music. Some Havana nights, Latin American, guitar shows, and the iconic Sunday night flamenco are among their most popular shows. They menu has great diversity; however, the seafood paella is most requested dish.

Businesses

There are numerous small family own businesses in Westchester. Some of the most popular cater towards the residents with services such as gardening, construction, accounting, flower shops, coin laundries, beauty salons, gyms, travel agencies, and tech-repair. There are multiple small bakeries and restaurants. Most businesses are located in small plazas which combine national chain stores, small businesses, and places such as pharmacies and grocery stores

Photo by Laura Suarez. (CC by 4.0)

Dos croquetas A croqueta bar that provides a great variety of the classic Hispanic staple. They have multiple flavors, and reinvented classic dishes incorporating other classic Hispanic foods. Their presentation is typical to that of bars, and the overall decoration of the place is a contrast of the solicited “instagrammable” aspect and rustic features. They have implemented national shipping of their famous croquetas, cater parties, and use “La Ventanita” to reach more customers

Photo by Janette Rodriguez Google Maps Local Guide

La Sin Rival Bakery:

La Sin Rival Bakery serves classic Cuban pastries, and in the past few years, they have incorporated typical Venezuelan dishes with the increasing Venezuelan immigration. They are known for their excellent service, authenticity, and classic on the go breakfast.

Summary

Although Miami is represented by the media as one of the epicenters of debaucherous lifestyles, Westchester is not part of this overall description. There isn’t a night life, but rather small live performances in some restaurants. The neighborhood; however, showcases Miami’s ethnic diversity and Hispanic culture.
The Hispanic population comprises the 92.3% of the total population. Despite Cuban descendants are the majority of this Hispanic composition, there are several Colombian, Peruvian, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran roots that enrich the community. The Asian percentage of the population own several businesses, including small restaurants, which provide a great contrast to the Hispanic majority.
Florida International University is located in the perimeters of the neighborhood. It provides numerous job opportunities and it is one of the most popular universities the students in Miami Coral Park Senior High School, Columbus High School, and St. Brendan (high schools of the area) decide to attend.
This residential neighborhood, although small, has great cultural influence in the identity of Miami. It is not as recognized as Coral Gables, Brickell, or Miami Beach for its luxurious landmarks; however, it speaks to the middle class and the essence of Miami as a Mosaic of cultures.
Overall, you can be in Westchester arguing that the neighborhood is different from some Miami stereotypes, and at the same time listen to a political debate by a group of elderly people wearing guayaberas while having breakfast in La Carreta, that makes you acknowledge some stereotypes are indeed true. Miami is comprised by different cities and neighborhood that speak to different souls, and sometimes even the same soul is called to different places at different times.
If your soul is called to the best combination of authentic food from different places of the world, a quiet walk in a small park, and the amiability of the people I would recommend a tour around Westchester.

References

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum.” Florida International University, frost.fiu.edu/.
“Home.” Sustainability, sustainability.fiu.edu/.
“Home.” Graziano’s, http://www.grazianosgroup.com/.
“Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition – Home Page.” Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition – Home Page, http://www.thefair.me/.
Services, Miami-Dade County Online. “Tropical Park.” Miami, http://www.miamidade.gov/parks/tropical.asp.
“Westchester.” FIU Digital Commons, digitalcommons.fiu.edu/mpo_dade/105.
“Westchester, FL.” Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/westchester-fl/.
“Westchester, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 10 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westchester,_Florida.
“World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park.” Santa’s Enchanted Forest, http://www.santasenchantedforest.com/.
“World’s Largest Holiday Theme Park.” Santa’s Enchanted Forest, http://www.santasenchantedforest.com/.

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