Paola Castro is a senior majoring in Computer Science at Florida International University. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, and later coming to pursue higher education in south Florida, she was able to meet other people of various cultural backgrounds and learn more about the vibrant communities of south Florida. As someone who is interested in the history, art, writing, and politics of the Caribbean and south Florida, she is eager to explore Miami in this course.
Little Haiti is located in Miami, just above the famous Design District and to the left of Biscayne Boulevard, spanning from 54th Street to 79th Street. Although the neighborhood is only a few miles in diameter, the bustling cultural and entrepreneurial spirit really makes one feel the sense of thriving community and vigor at the heart of Little Haiti. From the kompa music blasting outside of local businesses to the smell of tasty authentic Haitian food and children speaking animated Haitian Creole as they play in one of the neighborhoods’ few parks, the community comes to life and showcases Haitian culture in many ways – not least of which through the residents who contribute and connect with this culture.
However, due to a certain geographical facet of this community – namely, the fact that it has an elevation of around 2.13 meters above sea level – these immigrant communities are being pushed out by gentrification resulting from the wealthy moving further inland to escape rising tides. Already you can begin to see the signs of drastic change in the community, one of which being the approval to build the Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti. This 17 acre luxury living and shopping complex has the potential to change the neighborhood – and its inhabitants’ livings – in one fell swoop, accelerating the already occurring suburbanization of Little Haiti exponentially (Iannelli).
Before the incorporation of the city of Miami, the area now known as Little Haiti went by a different name. At the time, there was an influx of squatters that later applied for homestead grants and eventually created a sort of community. They did this by erecting a library, churches, schools, and the first U.S. post office in the area, called “Motto”. This office was so important for the community at the time that the neighborhood adopted its name for the community at large, henceforth known as “Motto”. Later on, in 1893, the neighborhood changed its name and became known as “Lemon City”. Lemon City was overshadowed by the rest of Miami, however, and only began the process of becoming the Little Haiti we know today beginning in the 1970s.
The beginning of the 1970s is when the first mass arrivals of Haitian refugees arrived in south Florida. They came to south Florida largely to escape the militaristic rule of the Duvalier dictatorship, which lasted from the 1950s to the mid 1980s. The peak of this migration came in 1980, when upwards of 20,000 Haitians came seeking political asylum (Goyanes). Despite the support for Cuban refugees coming to Miami at the time, the Haitian refugees were not given the same treatment and were largely deported after coming to seek asylum in the United States. Viter Juste, a Haitian activist and a man referred to as ‘the father of Little Haiti’, was troubled by this and enlisted the help of Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh and the Catholic Church in helping Haitian refugees come to America to build a community (Goyanes). Thus, with the Haitian refugees together and safe in south Florida, Little Haiti was born.
To help paint a better picture of what kinds of people live in Little Haiti in the present day, we can look at its demographic data. Currently, there are about 12,791 residents living in Little Haiti, with 50.32% of them being women and the rest being men. The median age in Little Haiti is 36, and the median income is $40,948. As of right now, 65.65% of housing units are rented, not owned, making Little Haiti residents particularly vulnerable to displacement due to the rent increases that come with gentrification (“Little Haiti Demographics”).
Interview with Resident Business Owner: Madam Saint Fleur
Q: “How old are you, and how long have you lived in the area?”
A: “I’m 64 as of this year, and I moved to south Florida in 2008.”
Q: “How long have you owned your shop in Little Haiti?”
A: “Well, this shop actually belonged to a friend of mine, who later passed it onto her daughter. Sadly, her daughter passed away, and I took over the ownership of the shop afterwards. So this shop has been here since 2008, but I only acquired ownership in 2019. It was then that I renamed it Saint Fleur Family Boutique.”
Q: “What do you sell at your shop?”
A: ”I mostly sell imported Haitian goods, which can be hard to find anywhere else in Miami. That ranges from imported food to imported clothes, hair and makeup products.”
Q:“Have you seen the demographics of Little Haiti change in the last few years? Does this translate to a change in your customer base?”
A: ”Slowly I have definitely seen a change in the people in Little Haiti. Every year, there are less and less Haitians here. As for my customers, since I mostly sell Haitian products, rather than seeing a change in my customers I am just losing business as more Haitians are pushed out of Little Haiti.”
Little Haiti Cultural Complex
The Little Haiti Cultural Complex, while it includes a thriving art gallery and museum, is a community center first and foremost. The complex offers event space in its community venues for rent, and also offers a variety of classes on Haitian dancing and art in their educational classrooms. The Complex itself throws events as well, such as ‘The Sounds of Little Haiti’, a free outdoor concert that is held on the third Friday of each month (“The Best Things”).
Right next door to the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, local vendors sell their goods at the Caribbean Marketplace. The Caribbean Marketplace is a modern replica of Haiti’s colorful Iron Market where Afro-Caribbean cuisine, entertainment, and fashion is showcased for any visitors to Little Haiti (“The Best Things”). If you’re lucky, you may even catch the bi-monthly Black Roots Marketplace, which is a variation of the market that aims to support local African-American owned businesses and give them some publicity.
General Toussaint L’Ouverture Statue
While passing through Little Haiti, be sure to make a stop at the monument to the leader of the Haitian revolution General Toussaint L’Ouverture. As leader of the revolution, he fought to overthrow the French and free Haiti from slavery, pulling off what is considered to be the most successful slave revolution in history. In 2005, this statue of his likeness was commissioned by the city of Miami as a symbol reminding the community of its strength and of the importance of continued activism (Shulman).
In general, Little Haiti does not have many green spaces due to it being in the heart of Miami (meaning it largely has an urban landscape) and also because of all the new construction going on due to its gradual gentrification. However, the few green spaces it has are the following:
Athalie Range Park
Athalie Range Park, which is located on 62nd Street and named after civil rights activist Marie Athalie Wilkinson, is a wonderful green community space. It offers outdoor recreation and open spaces under the maintenance of the city’s parks department. Not to mention, it has begun to dabble in nature preservation efforts recently (“Athalie Range Park”).
Lemon City Park
Lemon City Park, which was named after the Little Haiti area’s old namesake, is located on 58th Street. It has a playground for children, and even offers different camps throughout the year in its resident recreational center. In addition to that, it allows pets to roam around the park as well, as long as they’re restrained in some way with either a leash or harness.
Earth N’ Us Farm
Located on 79th Street, Earth N’ Us farm is an urban ecovillage and learning space for children and adults. Visitors can learn about sustainable living, volunteer in the garden, participate in a community mentor/mentee program, and much more. Not to mention that the farm hosts many events, including but not limited to a vegetarian potluck, drum circles, volleyball games, and hosts pop up vegan restaurants from time to time (Shulman).
Little Haiti has many different public transportation options thanks to recent years’ efforts to provide the community with more support. As of right now, the forms of transportation available to Little Haiti’s residents are the bus, subway, trolley, and newer Citi bike rental stations. According to data regarding how the residents of Little Haiti travel for work, it was found that 12% used the bus or trolley to get to work, 2% walked, and around 2% biked while 84% still used their cars (“Little Haiti Demographics”). This data clearly shows that although there are many options for moving around Little Haiti, they may not offer the routes needed to serve the community best, since most still default to using their own vehicles instead of using public transit.
Chef Creole, located on 54th Street, offers an incredibly delicious authentic taste of Haitian cuisine with a focus on fresh seafood. Despite its casual environment and beach stand-like decoration, the restaurant has won much critical acclaim. In fact, Chef Creole has gained so much acclaim over its amazing dishes that there is an entire photo wall filled with famous people that have dined there in the past. Thanks to the longtime owner and famous Chef Wilkinson “Ken” Sejour, the beach shack-like restaurant is a staple of the community (“The Best Things”).
Lakay Tropical Ice Cream
Located just off of 54th Street, this local Haitian bakery is well known for its rich and creamy ice cream desserts. Offering ice cream in tropical flavors like pineapple, passionfruit, and coconut, their sweet treats are a must have on a hot and sweaty day in Miami. Besides their delicious desserts, however, the establishment also offers delicious meat patties, stuffed with your choice of either chicken, beef, or herring. Overall, this bakery is a great place to go for a quick treat during your visit to Little Haiti!
Piman Bouk Restaurant
Located on 2nd Avenue near the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, Piman Bouk is a cash-only local Haitian eatery, serving the tried and true classics such as fried goat, oxtail, and stewed pork in a traditional way. Overall, the restaurant has a cozy atmosphere with wooden tables, low ceilings, and ceiling fans to keep you cool – giving the impression that you’re stepping into a home rather than a restaurant. With the homegrown feel and the delicious dishes, Piman Bouk is a place you don’t wanna miss.
Libreri Mapou is a local bookstore containing the largest collection of French and Creole literature in Florida, with over 3,000 rare books. Not to mention that they also have a vast selection of international newspapers. In addition to having an extensive rare book and newspaper collection, the store holds a number of events – from panel discussions to poetry readings and even small concerts (Shulman). The bookstore, located on 2nd Avenue,was opened in 1986 by Jan Mapou, a Haitian playwright and activist, and continues to be a great place to visit while in Little Haiti.
Sweat Record, located on 2nd Avenue, is an indie record shop bursting with original vinyls, indie music, and merchandise. It also houses a coffee shop, so you can get a cup of coffee as you browse through their selection of music ranging from hip hop to punk to jazz and more, with no genres left out. Additionally, Sweat Records throws a number of events, such as concerts, summer block parties, and comedy shows (Shulman).
Saint Fleur Family Boutique
Saint Fleur Family Boutique is a small family shop selling food, clothing and beauty products imported from Haiti. It is owned by Madam Saint Fleur, who I interviewed previously and who has run the shop since 2019. Not only does it offer homegrown products, but it offers them all at a bargain price, considering that most products had to be shipped over. If you want to support a local small business, give this boutique a try.
Overall, Little Haiti is home to a vibrant community of people, who have formed a close-knit community from what once was an insignificant area of Miami. Over time, they have maintained their cultural identity, and continue to actively contribute to and connect with their heritage and neighbors despite all the hardships the community faces. However, they still have a fight ahead of them, with special interests and wealthy landowners slowly transforming the neighborhood to fit their own needs, profiting off the work the longtime residents there put in to make a home out of their neighborhood. Only by visiting, supporting the local businesses, and raising awareness of the problem can we be allies to this community and help them preserve this colorful, lively corner of Miami as it is now.
“Athalie Range Park – Miami, FL (Address and Phone).” County Office, https://www.countyoffice.org/athalie-range-park-miami-fl-04d/.
Goyanes, Written by Rob. “Big History of Little Haiti.” The New Tropic, 1 Feb. 2016, https://thenewtropic.com/history-little-haiti/.
Iannelli, Jerry. “Little Haiti Activist Sues to Stop Massive, Controversial Magic City Development.” Miami New Times, Miami New Times, 20 May 2021, https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/little-haiti-miami-activist-sues-over-magic-city-innovation-district-development-11231715.
“Little Haiti Demographics.” Point2, https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/FL/Little-Haiti-Demographics.html.
Shulman, Sara. “The Top 9 Things to Do in Little Haiti.” TripSavvy, TripSavvy, 4 June 2019, https://www.tripsavvy.com/top-things-to-do-little-haiti-miami-4171790.
“The Best Things to Do in Little Haiti.” MiamiandBeaches.com, https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/plan-your-trip/miami-trip-ideas/insider-guides/little-haiti-guide.