Daffodyle Saget is a senior graduating this spring 2021. She is a double major in Sociology and English with a minor in International communications. Saget was born in Haiti but moved to South Florida at the young age of five and has specifically been a resident of Miami for four years now.
Little Haiti is located in what is considered to be the heart of Miami. The neighborhood’s exact coordinates are 25.8327° N and 80.1962° W. It is located to the right of Liberty square and above the Design District from 54th to 87th ST. covering around 3.5 miles. it is easily accessible by I-95 and the Florida East Coast Railway. Little Haiti has an elevation of 7′ making it less susceptible to rising sea levels. This geographic facet has garnered it a lot of attention from developers as the wealthy try to escape the consequence of environmental degradation The neighborhood’s high elevation is the motivation for its recent gentrification pushing out the immigrant group that has made it their home and culture mecca.
Before Little Haiti was Little Haiti it was Lemon city. Lemon City was home to White populations that moved down and Black Bahamians that moved up. The very first residents were just squatters forming the first real community under the name “Motto” in 1889 after many applied for the homestead grants. Homestead grants allowed citizens mostly white to apply to receive government-owned land during the mid-1800s. The Black Bahamians had also already successfully created a thriving Black neighborhood with their own churches, post office, and “colored” school.
Haitians began coming to the neighborhood in high numbers during the mid-1960s. The motivation was the cruel dictatorship of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. He was the son of Haiti’s first Dictator Francois Duvalier who gain power after a military coup d’état. He terrorized the nation with his undercover death squad called the “Tonton Makout”. Many started fleeing as political refugees creating a massive Brain drain on the nation. Between 1977 and 1981 Haitians began to regularly come to Miami’s shores and an estimated 70,000 migrants had arrived. The highest amount came in the year 1980 at almost 25,000. Many traveled via small boats in hopes of seeking asylum. They were not meet with welcome upon arrival to American soil like many Cubans had during their flee from Castros Cuba. Haitians were continuously deported and denied refugee status by the American government.
One Haitian migrant seeking asylum was Viter Juste an advocate for democracy in Haiti partnered with Msgr. Bryant O. Walsh to help advocate support for Haitians arriving to Miami. Walsh who helped in operation Peter Pan getting young Cubans in Miami was successful again in helping get Haitian refugees the attention they needed. Viter Juste is often called the father of Little Haiti. He is credited to help in giving the name to the neighborhood. He wrote a letter advocating that it be called “Little-Port-Au-Prince” to The Miami Herald but the editors thought the name too long and instead title the article “Little Haiti”. Since then that is what the neighborhood has been referred to and it has grown to resemble its namesake not just in demographics but in aesthetics as well. The Viter Juste did not stop there in his pursuit of building “Little Haiti”. He invested in the community with businesses like “Les Cousins” selling books and records and even launched a newspaper for the community. He also co-founded the Haitian American Community of Dade and help Haitians learn how to get asylum, jobs, and learn English.
Little Haiti began to grow crossing Lemon city into Little River and going as far north as North Miami Beach. To this day its borders are still contested. Like all immigrant communities Haitians lived in fear of deportation because many were undocumented. Haitians also face a lot of discrimination from fellow migrants and were not fully accepted by the established African American community. It was a combination of things that cause this rejection. Racism because the vast majority of Haitians were Black. Xenophobia because their blackness was not what was familiar. As well as the stigma caused by Anti-Haitian propaganda created by the U.S for being an independent Black republic during enslavement and Jim crow.
Haitians were not deterred but kept building and creating institutions in their new home. A Haitian radio station, the first of its kind, was founded by Carmelau Monestime connecting the community at large. In 1981 the Notre Dame D’Haiti Catholic Church was founded. In 1990 Little Haiti marketplace was founded modeled in the style of the gingerbread architecture common in Port-Au-Prince and the first chef creole opened in 1992. The famous Serge Touissant started painting murals around the neighborhood contributing to its now recognizable aesthetic. Little Haiti started being noted as a landmark of Miami and receiving lots of attention from outsiders. In 2009 the official Little Haiti cultural center was founded and the “Big nights in little Haiti” cultural festival was started in 2011. Little Haiti begun attracting artists and galleries began to open. Now Little Haiti is facing gentrification as developers like Magic City move in. Around eighteen acres of little Haiti is set to be developed into buildings up to 25 stories tall. Slowly it seems Little Haiti might disappear despite all it took for it to create it.
The estimated population of Little Haiti is about 12,791 residents. Out of that 12,791, 6,354 men are making up 49.68% of the population. Women make up about 50.32% of the population at around 6,437. The median age in Little Haiti is estimated to be 36 years old which is only four years younger than the median age of the city of Miami at large which is estimated to be 40 years old.
The majority of Little Haiti at 54.67% are United States-born citizens. Those who were not born in the United States but have obtained citizenship are around 25%. The education level of the population is as follows: 43% went to high school and around 15% had earned a bachelor’s but 31% had some college education. Most of the workers are categorized as white-collar in the area around 80% and the rest were blue-collar at around 20%. The majority were employees at private companies at 72%, after which 12% were self-employed, and 10% worked for the government. The remaining 5% were employed by a nonprofit organization.
The average household income came out to be an estimated $65,931 and the Median household income was $40,948. The majority of the residents lived above the poverty level at 9,322 and the rest at about a quarter of the population lived below poverty at 3,160. In terms of houses themselves, there are about 5,288 with most build around 1964. It is recorded that 4,602 of these housing units were occupied. Most were not owned but being rented at 65%. (Little Haiti Demographics)
Looking at these statistics it is easy to see how Little Haiti has been quickly brought up since most of the residents do not own the property they live on. A third of the population being in poverty means when gentrification pushes these residents out homelessness is possibly the reality many will face. Little Haiti has been able to fight and slow down the transformation of the area and hold developers accountable and that may be because of its highly educated population who mostly occupied white-collar jobs and a significant amount works nonprofit.
Little Haiti has many cultural landmarks many of which pay tribute to or resemble the aesthetic of Haiti the nation. The following three are very popular spots :
The Little Haiti Cultural Center
To start a tour of Little Haiti it would be best to throw yourself right into its colorful culture. The Little Haiti cultural center was conceptualized by the late city of Miami commissioner Arthur E. Teele Jr. and construction in the beginning of 2006. The center is centered on the arts and also has a museum. It showcases Haitian art in various forms from paintings, sculptures, to crafts. It is hard to miss in its colorful grandeur. The building is built in the Ginger-bread style with complex fretwork and intricate woodwork most notable around windows, doors, and all the edges of the building. The colors of the building shout at you in bright yellow, blue, and orange giving it an afro Caribbean twist to the European style. Inside art classes are offered to the public and the building has a two hundred and seventy-seat theatre where live music and dance is performed. Other events you may catch at the center include the Caribbean Market day which is held Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm and sounds of Little Haiti which is on the third Friday of each month and runs from 6pm to late in the night.
Notre Dame d’Haiti Mission
Located at the heart of Miami’s Little Haiti. First Known as a mission of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. After the flood of Haitian migrants to the area during the 1980s father Marcel Peloquin, an Oblate missionary expanded the church to better serve its new influx of members. The church has been a community hub for Little Haiti and has supported the population in developing and administrating programs to help Haitian refugees. The large beige building with its coral roof and huge cross right in the center can be called a cornerstone of the neighborhood. It is an important part of the community and should not be skipped over.
Smile Lil’ Haiti Mural
There is a lot of art in little Haiti but the Smile Lil’ Haiti Mural captures its soul best. Designed and painted by famed local artist Serge Toussaint the mural is located at NE 2nd Avenue and 60th Street. It has three parts, the first part depicts a man holding a camera recording onlookers from the beach. He is wearing a Haitian flag t-shirt. In bold red letters to his left side is “Smile” and on the right in the same font is “Lil’ Haiti is Watching”. The next two parts feature aspects of Haitian history. The second part centers on a large Haitian flag with the year of Haiti’s independence at the top. On either side is an arm with broken chains. The left side under the arm says “Libre” and under the right side is “Fiertee” translating to “free” and “proud”. The last mural is of Citadelle Laferrière, a Haitian fortress designated as a World Heritage site, and standing next to it is Henri Christophe one of Haiti’s revolutionaries. The Mural is meant to celebrate Haitians and rebuke any detractors.
It is an unfortunate reality that Little Haiti is a poorer area and until developers came in got very little attention from the government. This means that its green areas are limited. These are some of the better parks in this historically underfunded neighborhood.
Athalie Range Park
This green space is located at 525 NW 62nd St, Miami, FL 33150. It is named after Bahamian American civil rights activist and politician Mary Athalie Wilkinson who advocated for better schools for Black children. It features a playground and swimming pool. This would be a great park for a quick visit to let young children play but not much else is offered.
Lemon City Park
Keeping the original name of the area, Lemon City Park is located on 27 NE 58TH ST, Miami 33130. It has a playground and a recreational center where children can sign up for many different camps like summer, winter, and youth camps. Dogs are also allowed in the park on leashes.
Little Haiti Soccer Park
Open from 8 am to 9 pm on weekdays and 8 am to 6 pm on weekends Little Haiti Soccer park holds many amenities besides its large soccer field. There is outdoor gym equipment, a playground, and a recreational center. The recreational area allows reservations and offers computers to the public. This park gives a lot to the community and could be a great place to plan an event like a birthday party. It is located on 6301 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33138.
Little Haiti being ignored by local government most of its history has meant it is not always considered when major things like transportation are planned. Getting to Little Haiti had two ways. It was either the bus or the subway. Little Haiti has only three main bus routes that travel to or near it. They include bus two, fifty-four, and nine. If traveling by subway to get to Little Haiti the green line must be taken. Only recently in 2018, a new method was offered. A new trolley route was opened and it runs from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm seven days a week. The stops are located along Northeast 2nd Avenue or Northwest 2nd Avenue. There was also a bike-sharing initiative started that year that works on an hourly, monthly or annual basis with an hour pass that cost $6.50 or a subscription up to $25.
There are numerous restaurants in Little Haiti but if you asked around most people will suggest The Citadel. A bi-product of gentrification it offers no real taste of Haitian culture. If you want to support locals and get an authentic experience then the following are great options.
Chef Creole Seasoned Kitchen
The most famous restaurant in the area has to be Chef Creole seasoned kitchen. Owned by Haitian celebrity chef Chef Wilkinson “Ken” Sejour, the colorful restaurant offers outdoor seating styled like a beach shack and walls of famous rappers and actresses who have visited. It has predominantly Haitian food but also has Bahamian and other afro Caribbean dishes on its menu. A menu that includes griot (fried pork), pikliz (spicy cabbage slaw), and lambi (conch). It is located at 200 NW 54th St., Miami, FL 33127.
Naomi’s Garden Restaurant
Naomi’s Garden restaurant and lounge is decorated with murals with a garden that has a patio. It is located at 650 NW 71st St., Miami, FL 33150. Its menu features plantains, collard greens, and pumpkin soup and is very vegan/vegetarian friendly.
Chez Le Bebe
Chez Le Bebe is located on 14 NE 54th St., Miami, FL 33137 and has claims to have the best griot in Miami. Foie (liver), ragout (pig feet), taso (fried goat) are stables at this spot which has been open for thirty four years.
There seem to be three types of businesses in Little Haiti. The first being Haitian own, the second a non-Haitian business that came before gentrification and is considered a community member, and finally the businesses that are outsiders of the community. The following places fall under one category or another.
Libreri Mapou is a Haitian-owned bookstore in Little Haiti founded by Jan Mapou, a Haitian playwright and activist, in 1986. The bookstore has books in Haitian Creole, French, and English spanning every genre from folklore, grammar workbooks, to sociological studies. You can also purchase newspapers from around the world from Port-Au-Prince to Paris.
Founded by local artist Lauren “Lolo” Reskin a local DJ, Sweat Records is an indie record shop located on 5505 NE 2nd Ave, Miami, FL 33137. Records from every genre can be found from hip hop to metal, to experimental to folk. Sweat records also has an onsite vegan coffee shop and hosts live performances. It has been opened for more than a decade and is considered a member of the community.
If you want to explore Little Haiti’s path to gentrification then the galleries are a great place to start. Galleries are the first to appear following after the young starving artist before gentrification takes hold. A great gallery to see would be Nina Johnson. It is located at 6315 NW 2nd Ave, Miami, Florida 33150. The Gallery is a curation of unique designs and sculptures from both international and Miami-based artists. However, nothing about it is Haitian and it is not for the local population to use in any way. These types of businesses are becoming more and more dominant in the area.
Little Haiti is home to a resilient diaspora that has forged a home against all obstacles. Migrants running from a cruel dictator having to plead to an apathetic America who then was isolated in to a poor underserve area have made it a colorful beacon celebrating who they are. Unfortunately, it seems all they have struggled to make theirs is slowly being taken from them through gentrification. Visiting you can already see Little Haiti being erased. However, they are ever more visible and they may be able to sway the audience to support them in protecting what they built and not just investing in the community for the enjoyment of outsiders but to better the lives of the residents.
Gabriel Poblete, et al. “Gabriel Poblete.” South Florida Media Network, 23 May 2019, sfmn.fiu.edu/little-haiti-artist-says-his-new-mural-is-for-the-community-and-those-who-threaten-it/.
“The Best Things To Do In Little Haiti.” MiamiandBeaches.com, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/plan-your-trip/miami-trip-ideas/insider-guides/insider-s-guide-little-haiti.
“Fighting for the Soul of Little Haiti.” Grist, 16 Mar. 2021, grist.org/Array/fighting-for-the-soul-of-little-haiti/.
Gabriel Poblete of the South Florida News Service -, et al. “New Little Haiti Trolley and Bike Rental Station Changes How Residents Move around the City.” Miami’s Community News, 15 Feb. 2018, communitynewspapers.com/aventura-news/new-little-haiti-trolley-and-bike-rental-station-changes-how-residents-move-around-the-city/.
Staff, Eater. “Haitians in Miami: A Story of Resilience: MOFAD City.” Eater.com, 17 Aug. 2016, http://www.eater.com/a/mofad-city-guides/miami-haitian-history.
“Where to Eat in Little Haiti.” MiamiandBeaches.com, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/restaurants/where-to-dine-in-little-haiti.
“Little Haiti Demographics.” Point2, http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/FL/Little-Haiti-Demographics.html.