Multiculturalism in Miami and Rome:
How Our Differences Unite and Divide Us
Over the course of the semester, we have explored the rich and forgotten history of Miami. From the Tequestas living off the land thousands of years ago to the recent immigration influx from Latin American countries, Miami has become a melting pot of diverse identities. With a variety of cultures, religions, races, and ethnicities, its multiculturalism highly resembles that of the Roman Empire thousands of years ago.
Multiculturalism is defined as the presence and coexistence thereof of several distinct groups, such as cultural or ethnic, living together in a society. The Roman Empire is a perfect example of this coexistence. With the sheer size of the Roman Empire, how could it not contain such a diverse population? It spanned over 1.5 million square miles, from parts of the Middle East to North Africa to most of Western Europe; it even included most of what is today the United Kingdom.
With that being said, it is evident that the Roman Empire was home to many different races as it spanned three continents. This may actually come as a shock to some people. For example, in 2017, BBC came out with a cartoon depicting an interracial couple and mixed family from ancient Rome.3 People were infuriated with this “inaccurate” representation as they believed the empire was solely white, albeit that is not the case. Additionally, as a major source of entertainment, Hollywood does a terrible job at portraying the true racial representation of the Roman Empire. In modern depictions of these ancient times, we see movies and shows that predominantly cast white actors and actresses in every role. For example, Gladiator (2000) and HBO’s limited series “Rome” (2005) both have an almost completely white cast. Because of this, people tend to think the Roman Empire was homogenous.
This could not be further from the truth. As Nandini Pandey very elegantly states, “Rome was at its heart a nation of immigrants, built on a foundation of pragmatic pluralism.2” People from around the empire would intermingle through trading, travel, military conquests, and more. It was not divided by race nor place of birth, but rather united by shared common practices and similar values. The intense racism that has plagued the United States in the past few centuries since its conception was not a commonality at this time. For instance, there were four African emperors who ruled the vast empire.4 Yet, the United States has only seen one black president and two African American Supreme Court justices to date. It is interesting to see how a whopping 2,000 years earlier, the Roman Empire was more advanced in some social aspects where the United States is lagging to this day.
As previously mentioned, Rome was a hub for immigrants and people of all backgrounds. Conquered people across the empire had the chance to become partial or complete citizens and could continue their local customs and self-governance. The only thing that they had to do was pay taxes, acknowledge that they were under the Roman rule, and follow the law.5 Others who were not conquered people were intrigued by the business prospects and economic gain they could achieve. The diversity of people in all areas of the empire is what made it truly unique at the time. Similar to this, I feel that Miami today acts as a hub for people all over the world to come together, especially Latin Americans of all nationalities.
Since Miami’s founding in 1896, it has experienced a great influx of people who have helped shape it into the bustling city it is today. Most notably, after the Cuban revolution in 1959, waves of Cuban immigrants fled to Miami to avoid Fidel Castro’s dictatorship. The United States created the Cuban Adjustment Act, later amended to the Wet Foot Dry Foot Act, which granted any immigrants who entered the United States while fleeing the persecution of Cuba’s government a residency and fast-track to citizenship.9 Just like in the Roman empire, Cuban immigrants who entered the U.S. have all the same freedoms as the citizens as long as they uphold themselves to the same standards, like paying taxes etc. They have the right to practice their own religion, speak their native language, continue practicing their own customs, and keep their culture alive even in a different country. It serves as a beacon of hope and unity. Not only does it have a large Cuban population, but Miami welcomes all cultures, nationalities, and religions with open arms. For example, Little Haiti is host to the growing Haitian population. It displays the vibrancy of their culture through art, music, and food across the community.
Miami’s multiculturalism is not only rooted in the vast ethnicities and nationalities, but also the different religions practiced around the city. From Roman Catholics to Orthodox Jews, everyone is allowed to practice their own beliefs due to religious freedom. These differences don’t divide the city, but rather make the city a unique bubble as compared to the rest of the United States. Similarly, in Ancient Rome, religion was not forced onto people. Everyone was free to practice their own religion, and this is what kept the Roman Empire so strong.6 Aside from polytheism as the main belief, other monotheistic religions also arose within the empire, although in the minority. Judaism became legal and tolerance for it rose throughout Rome. Christianity also spread and was legalized by Emperor Constantine.7
However, it is important to note that these religious freedoms did not come as easily as they do now in the states because of our first amendment rights. The minority populations who practiced monotheism faced heavy persecution before their religions became legalized. Even then, their treatment was not equal to those who practiced polytheism. Since Jews and Christians believed in one god, they would not participate in the religious festivals and traditions that honored the Roman gods.8 Romans took this as a sign of disloyalty to the empire and increased tensions between the two communities.
- Bailly, John. “Bailly Lectures.” Bailly Lectures, https://baillylectures.com/.
- “The Roman Roots of Racial Capitalism.” American Academy, 20 Aug. 2021, https://www.americanacademy.de/the-roman-roots-of-racial-capitalism/.
- Higgins, Charlotte. “Mary Beard Is Right – ‘Romans’ Could Be from Anywhere, from Carlisle to Cairo.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 7 Aug. 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/shortcuts/2017/aug/07/mary-beard-romans-ancient-evidence.
- “Severus: Rome’s First African Emperor.” Sky HISTORY TV Channel, https://www.history.co.uk/article/severus-rome%E2%80%99s-first-african-emperor#:~:text=In%2n.d.%20193%2C%20Lucius%20Septimius,transformation%20and%20founded%20a%20dynasty.
- “How Did Roman Authorities Treat Conquered Peoples?” Lisbdnet.com, 4 Jan. 2022, https://lisbdnet.com/how-did-roman-authorities-treat-conquered-peoples-2/.
- History Guild. “Cultural Diversity – the Making of Rome.” History Guild, 24 Sept. 2021, https://historyguild.org/cultural-diversity-the-making-of-rome/.
- Sutori, https://www.sutori.com/en/story/religion-in-ancient-rome–g7Dsm9En6LpfwEUdgFHUAPVe.
- “Bria 13 4 b Religious Tolerance and Persecution in the Roman Empire.” Constitutional Rights Foundation, https://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-13-4-b-religious-tolerance-and-persecution-in-the-roman-empire.
- Florido, Adrian. “End of ‘Wet-Foot, Dry-Foot’ Means Cubans Can Join Ranks of ‘Undocumented’.” NPR, NPR, 15 Jan. 2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2017/01/15/509895837/end-of-wet-foot-dry-foot-means-cubans-can-join-ranks-of-the-undocumented.