I’m from Miami. As in, I was born and raised in the county of Dade. I moved to Orlando a little over a year ago and this is the first time I’ve felt homesick.
This is a frustrating feeling for me because there were so many reasons I wanted to leave and, in some ways, had to leave. As almost anyone from Miami can tell you, feelings toward Miami as a hometown are very complicated.
On one hand, since it is my hometown, I have a certain amount of affection for it and some of the experiences and friends I’ve made there. Most of my good friends still live in Miami and I was very involved in the local music scene in the Miami-Ft Lauderdale area.
There are good things about being from Miami: learning Spanish, the food, and despite the “stay-away-from-me” attitude that most people have, it teaches you about other cultures and sexual orientations. There’s a prevalent acceptance of nearly everyone (as long as you speak or understand Spanish, but that’s a different issue).
On the other hand, now that I’m an adult, I’ve had to come to terms with the type of place my hometown is.
Miami is a corrupt, backwards city that cares solely about tourists’ comfort and sucking up money at the price of its infrastructure and residents’ comfort. It’s a frustrating place to live in and grow up in because the government is either stealing money, doing the opposite of what the residents want, or starting construction that feels like it’ll never be finished.
For example, the former mayor of Sweetwater, a small town located close to the south campus of Florida International University (FIU), was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud and sentenced to a little over three years in federal prison in 2014. According to The Miami Herald, the fraud he was convicted of committing was:
“illegally splitting $60,000 in cash and checks for official favors and concealing those payments from the public. Both [the mayor, Manuel Maroño, and his lobbyist, Jorge Forte, who was sentenced to one year for pleading to fraud conspiracy] agreed to promote a sham federal grant program for economic development that was peddled by FBI undercover agents who paid them bribes for their political support in Sweetwater.”
Maroño was also a close friend to the current Florida governor, Rick Scott.
Then there’s the time in 2011 when voters in Miami-Dade County voted to get rid of the mayor of Miami up until that point, Carlos Alvarez. The two biggest reasons were because of a property tax increase as well as a raise for county employees “in a county struggling to recover from the recession,” according to the Washington Post. Another reason was largely speculated to be because of the catastrophic stadium deal Alvarez “urge[d] the county commission to approve” as well as ignoring then County Commissioner (and later mayor) Carlos Gimenez’ suggestion that they look at the Marlins’ books to see if they were really as broke as they claimed (spoiler alert: they weren’t).
The deal, according to the Miami New Times, was:
“a true sweetheart deal — without a public vote.' Local taxes will pay for 70 percent of the $515 million project. (Compare that to baseball-mad St. Louis, which footed just 12 percent of the new Busch Stadium, or New York's voters, who picked up 27 percent of Citi Field's $600 million budget.) By the time the bonds, largely funded by hotel fees, are paid, taxpayers will eat $2.4 billion.”
The SEC even opened an investigation spanning five years beginning in 2011. It has since ended with no charges likely to be filed probably because, according to The Miami Herald, they were “probing whether bond investors were misled during the financing of the stadium and four municipal parking garages, and whether elected officials had been unduly influenced by campaign contributions” and, it seems, couldn’t find anything.
The interesting thing about this, as the “Herald” article continues, is that “Miami is still fighting the SEC on a separate case in which the city has been accused of playing shell games with its crumbling finances in the late 2000s and committing securities fraud by making material omissions during bond offerings.” A jury has since found that the city did, in fact, do this but the SEC investigators have not said how much they’re going to look for in civil penalties. This has also given Miami the infamous distinction of being the only place in the U.S. to have been convicted twice for securities violations.
Then, across the bridge in Miami Beach, is the embarrassment that is the Miami Beach Police. I can’t speak to how they’re run now, but there was a big story while I was living in Miami in 2011 about two officers’ behavior “on duty” at the famed South Beach hotel The Clevelander. Instead of responding to a 911 call, the officers, Derick Kuilan and Rolando Gutierrez, thought it was a fantastic idea to pose with the bachelorette party that was at the hotel that night. As the Miami New Times noted, it took them over an hour and a half to respond to said 911 call. Their supervisor, Sgt. Mike Muley, didn’t bother to check why it had taken them so long.
With no one checking on either of the officers, Kuilan got the bright idea to not only start drinking but also to give the bride-to-be a ride on his department ATV without the headlights on. They later ran over two tourists sitting on the beach and seriously injured both of them.
Kuilan and Gutierrez were both fired and Kuilan was later convicted of reckless driving and sentenced to a year-and-a-half in jail as well as a year-and-a-half under house arrest. Three other officers, including Muley, were demoted and two were suspended without pay.
I could go on. Even digging that up made me sad, because who doesn’t want to love their hometown? Miami just makes it impossible.
Then there’s the three prevalent attitudes: everyone being out for themselves, being apathetic, or just being out to scam some kind/gullible person because they can. It’s hard to feel like you’re living in a community when that’s your daily existence, never mind if you’re looking for a helping hand.
Upon graduating from FIU in 2012, I struggled to find the right job, which was partially because I didn’t know what I wanted to focus on and partially because of my inability to speak fluent Spanish. There were also external factors like the radio station I wanted to intern at closing down about six months before graduation, the still recovering economy, and the field I’d studied (public relations) being particularly hard to break into.
I kept the job I’d had almost all throughout college: working the front desk at said college. I thought at the time: “at least it’s a job, right?” The more time passed, though, the unhappier and more complacent I became.
Eventually I got laid off of that job, since you had to be a student (and I’d been graduated two years by that point) and management changed. This led to a number of decisions made out of desperation, including taking another customer service job I knew was likely to make me miserable, but I was so scared of not having money that I did it. After all, I did have a cell phone, credit cards, and a car to pay for. I couldn’t ask my parents for help as, ever since I’d gotten a job, even if it was minimum wage, they would act as if that was the be-all end-all.
I was right about the job I took out of desperation so I quit, especially since I was only getting one day a week anyway. I was suddenly forced to think about what I really wanted to do with my life. That led me to where I am now. I moved to Orlando out of a mixture of desperation and desire for a better life than working as a cashier.
I’ve relied on music to keep me sane during my darkest moments so, naturally, I’ve always wanted to go into the music business. When I was still a teenager, I read somewhere that the best way to start was to get involved in your local scene. I started going to local shows at the only venue that allowed 18-year-olds in, Churchill’s Pub. This eventually snowballed into me doing music journalism and photography, mostly about rock bands since that was my favorite genre (and still is). Ever since I figured out it was a thing you could make a career out of, I’ve wanted to be a (paid) music journalist/photographer.
I don’t think I have to explain that Miami is a terrible place for rock music. Despite well-meaning attempts to put a rock radio station where there was clearly a demand, inevitably, it ended up getting flipped to something else like a salsa station or an easy listening station within six months to a year. The one thing about the music industry though: if your city doesn’t have a rock radio station and you’re in a geographically undesirable area for touring, like Miami, your favorite bands are a lot less likely to play there. Put that together with the city closing down almost every smaller music venue and you have a recipe for frustration.
Even now, although there is an alternative music station making waves, most bands and fans still have to schlep the 30 minutes (or longer depending on where you live) to Ft. Lauderdale for a local show. That has its own share of problems as well: a lot of venues only want cover bands, the fact that there are few all-ages places now that Anonymous Guitars and The Talent Farm are closed, and the fact that a lot of people just don’t want to make the drive.
Never mind that smaller, independent acts usually skip the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area entirely and just go an hour or so north to West Palm Beach, where there’s a steadier rock scene and South Florida’s only (small but existing) rock radio station, 93.1 The Bar. This doesn’t present many career opportunities for anyone who’s on the music business side, like me.
Then there was the home situation I had: me and my parents have never been close and have had a mostly adversarial relationship with each other, moreso with my mom than with my dad on my part. It took more of a toll on my mental health than I think I realized at the time. In 2015, I reached my breaking point and knew I had to get out. It was as if I was standing at a crossroads staring down two possible paths my life could take.
The path staying in Miami presented was terrifying: I’d never felt like I fit in there since I’ve never been much of a partier, I’m not Hispanic, I was constantly frustrated by the apathy, pretentiousness and corruption in the community, and going into the marine/hospitality/customer service industry wasn’t something I wanted and it was becoming harder and harder to fake like it was. I was tired of feeling like I had to hide or fake like I liked something I didn’t just to survive. This feeling became stronger the longer I did music journalism because I could be my most honest (but constructive) self there. Most importantly, I knew deep down I’d probably never be happy living in Miami. The thought entered my head: how was I supposed to leave everything I’d ever known and basically start over?
I’ve always been good at soul-searching (to the point of my own detriment sometimes), so I took a moment to think about what I really wanted. It wasn’t something I’d done a lot of, sadly, and I wish I’d thought to do it earlier, but hindsight and all that. It was becoming clearer to me that I needed to be doing something with writing, despite having it drilled into my head growing up that I couldn’t make money at it.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to move far since I’ve been in a state of constant broke-ness since I got my first job back in 2006. Plus my car at the time was a used car on its last legs that I couldn’t afford to fix, so it was important to find a place that was just far enough. I’d always loved Orlando and, in fact, had been going there about once a month for concerts with friends of mine. I figured if I was going to live any place in Florida, I’d live there – and it was only four hours away. My car could make a four-hour drive.
I typed “community colleges Orlando” into Google and the rest is history. Valencia College’s digital media technology/mobile journalism program has only strengthened the direction I want to go in career wise and I’ve found the community I was so desperately searching for. It’s one that has supported and encouraged my aptitude for writing and has even helped me to look outside of just music journalism for writing jobs. The community has also helped me stand again when I’ve been knocked down by certain circumstances like job delays, having no money for food, and having to find a place to move to in the middle of the school year.
I’ve been able to buy a new car from a dealer that actively tried to get me the best/affordable deal I could get with my budget. I’ve been able to (finally) get health insurance and quality mental health help, things I wasn’t able to get in Miami. I’ve even started to get involved in the local music scene in Orlando and found a series of survival jobs. You could say I’m more stable now than I ever was in the 27 years I lived in Miami.
So why I am so homesick? It doesn’t make sense, this longing for a place I know rationally doesn’t exist. Maybe it’s just longing for the familiar in a sea of uncertainty, who knows. All I know is I’ve started building a life here in Orlando, but somehow I can’t seem to find the energy to be excited about it. All I want is to be home with my friends and going to local shows there again.
I don’t regret this move for a second and it’s definitely been for the better, yet my brain still doesn’t seem to recognize the disconnect between how Miami actually is and my sentimental feelings regarding memories with friends and bands/artists/working people in the local music scene in Ft. Lauderdale/Sunrise.
I think to myself, ‘why would I be homesick for a place that only holds appeal for visiting friends?’ The only thing that pops up in my mind is that old Tootsie Pop commercial that ends by saying, “the world may never know”.