As a follow-up to my post about Magic City, I wanted to share a little bit more about my memories of growing up in Miami in the 70s and 80s and compare them to the Miami of the late 50s as portrayed in the show. The next season will be starting soon and I am looking forward to see how things advance. As for growing up in Miami, my father still remembers all the beautiful cars that are shown here: only 57 T-Birds and Chevys, old Caddy ragtops, wonderful cars of the late 50s. Miami was a bit more carefree before the 80s and the massive shift in the underground economy towards drug imports. Growing up in the 70s, I had no exposure at all to drugs and there was little or no violence in school. That changed in about ’85 with the race riots in Little Haiti which actually spilled into my high school with a PE coach getting a chair smashed over his head and someone pulling a gun and then half the Miami police department shutting down the school for the rest of the afternoon. This was actually kind of a rude awakening because up to that point, I hadn’t really been aware of the tension or violence happening in other parts of the city. Miami is, I guess like all big cities, a place that evolves rather quickly but where there are isolated pockets where most of the violence is concentrated and vast stretches of suburbia going as far as you can drive without falling into the Everglades. When I was a kid, the city ended about 15 miles east of the ‘Glades if that gives you an idea of the rate of expansion that Miami has seen over the last 30 years.
When Magic City is taking place in 1959, Miami is still a small back-water town with just the first wave of Cuban immigration about to take place. It was this generation that really built the modern Miami as it exists today because it was primarily the privileged class that supported Batista and was fleeing Castro. They had a deep entreprenurial spirit and had a massive, lasting impact on the cultural vibe of the city. The Muriel Boatlift in the 1980 and succeeding ones brought a more unstable population into Miami as Castro emptied prisons and insane asylums and allowed those folks to mingle with the scattered remains of the middle class as they paddled their way across the Carribean to Miami. This was the wave that brought a deeper and more sinister criminality to Miami and once again changed its character rather drastically – this time for the worst. It was this Miami that I remember the most and the one that I left in 1987, preferring to go to University of Florida and getting a change of air and attitude.
You get a feel for the racism in Miami a little bit in Magic City, but it was far more palpable in the late 80’s than what was shown on the screen. I grew up in the Caucasian minority (about 35% of the population at the time vs. 55% Cuban and South/Central American, 9% black and 1% vietnamese and others) and saw the great White Flight from many of the neighborhoods including where I grew up near Bird Road and Red Road and further north where my grandparents lived over by 8th St and Red Road. These two neighborhoods are 100% hispanic today as I have confirmed a few times by driving around and trying to recognize my old haunts. The problem is that many of the more recent immigrants have come into a situation where they are in the majority as Spanish-speakers so they don’t bother to learn English. This raises the blood temperature of native whites who are bigots for English (although they don’t know a second language either I might point out). White on black racism is of course present (this IS the South after all), but as the conditions for blacks in Cuba were nearly slavery-like conditions under the pre-Castro regime, there is also a deep-seated racism in the Cubans towards the blacks as well. I didn’t really wake up and feel all of these with a bit of perspective until years later, but as mentioned earlier in this article, I do recall a race riot in my own high school pitting the Cubans (the ones with the guns) fighting the blacks (the ones that bashed the Cuban PE coach over the head with a chair) and with the whites running for shelter. It was quite nerve-racking.
I don’t know if that helps at all to get some perspective on Miami, but that’s pretty much what I remember and how it sort of relates to Magic City. Season 2 is reported to start on March 20, 2013. I am looking forward to it as I love the bad guy, Ben Diamond.