Welcome to Miami, unofficial North American capital of the Spanish-speaking world. This sprawling, art-deco South Florida metropolis is a pan-Latin melting pot, home to a multicultural mix of Cubans, Hondurans, Haitians, Mexicans, Jamaicans and Brazilians among others. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about Miami.
Miami’s ethnic makeup is more diverse than any single Central or South American country. As such it has been dubbed Center of the New World and Latin capital of North America. In many neighborhoods Spanish is spoken more English.
Cubans need only set one foot on dry land to be granted asylum in the U.S. It is an immigration policy that no other nationality enjoys, and it came about during the 1980s Cold War-era when President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to any Cubans wishing to come to America.
Fidel Castro responded to Carter’s new immigration policy by allowing any Cuban who wanted to leave to do so, while simultaneously emptying Cuba’s prisons and psychiatric hospitals. In an incident dubbed the “Mariel Boat lift,” a flotilla of some 125,000 people — including many of the freed criminals and mental patients — washed up on Miami’s shores and were granted asylum.
Enjoying a kind of favored immigration status not seen by any other group, it is no wonder that Cubans are Miami’s largest ethnic group and control many facets of its government. As a group, Cubans tend to be politically conservative, prosperous Catholics. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla), pictured above, is one such example.
Little Havana is the pulsating heart of Cuban Miami. Cubans have been migrating to this neighborhood in the center of the city forever. Havana and Miami’s relationship wasn’t always strained. Old timers playing dominos in the park will tell you that until Fidel Castro’s 1950 revolution against the Batista regime, trade was thriving with numerous Cuban exports flowing into the city and American goods going out.
Miami is the kind of place where up-and-coming Latino musicians and soap opera starlets make their global stage debuts. We think of it as the Latin American version of Los Angeles. As such, it is easy to see why most of the major labels and TV broadcast stations – Mexico’s Televisa, MTV Networks Latin America, Universal Music Group Latin America and Telemundo, one of the biggest Spanish language broadcasters in the USA – base their international headquarters in Miami. In addition, the city hosts the hugely popular Latin Music Awards.
And then there is South Beach, which is the epicenter of Miami’s other famous cultural phenom: the model. Photogenic SoBe is the cosmopolitan heart of Miami, home to a large gay population, and a favorite with celebrities and the fashion industry. This is where the runway and super models live. Miami has been pictured in magazine backdrops so often there’s a good chance you’ll have a sense of deja vu when pausing at the corner of Eighth Street and Ocean Drive.
Speaking of the fashion industry and SoBe, don’t miss 1100 Ocean Drive. It just reopened as The Villa by Barton G., a luxury boutique hotel, but is most famous as the former home of fashion designer Gianni Versace, and the place where he was gunned down in July 1997.
In the early 1980s the vintage hotels on the streets backing Miami Beach were run down, but thanks to the work of dedicated preservationists they were rescued from demolition and turned into the Miami Beach Architectural District. It actually was the first 20th-century district to be named on the National Register of Historic Places. Today there are more than 800 buildings on the roll.