Miami is a gorgeous, gaudy city, resting on the edge of the Caribbean like a tropical paradise, at least climate-wise. The people on the beach are as tan and toned as they are on TV, and the weather rarely dips below balmy; there are lazy palm trees everywhere, and wide, golden beaches spacious enough to seem empty even on a sweltering Sunday in high season. And, for a place built on holidays and hype, Miami lives up to, and revels in, every cliché: sleek Art Deco hotels; pumping, hedonistic nightlife; cafés full of aspiring models - you'll likely see all these things even during a brief stay. Miami's not all beaches and beautiful people, though; what few visitors expect is the city's diversity, exhibited in its glorious tropical gardens and excellent modern art museums, plus vibrant Cuban and Haitian immigrant communities.
Founded little more than a century ago, Miami has grown up fast from its beginning as a humble trading post, first losing its backwater feel with the extension of Henry Flagler's railroad in 1896. In the 1920s, local businessmen aggressively seized the chance to capitalize on the new vogue for vacations in the sun, and a hotel building boom in Miami Beach ensued, producing some of the greatest Art Deco masterpieces in the country. Aside from a brief period during World War II, Miami remained a prime vacation destination until the early 1960s, when the first wave of Cuban refugees arrived, fleeing a newly installed Fidel Castro and his communist regime. This set the stage for a further flood of immigrants from Cuba and other Latin American countries; indeed, more than half of Miami-Dade County's current population was born overseas. Because of this, to many further north, Miami is seen as barely part of the US, a place that's tropically lawless and suspiciously bilingual.Yet at the heart of the city is a glorious contradiction: to Venezuelans, Peruvians and other new Latin arrivals, it's a quintessentially American town, ordered, safe and filled with opportunity.
In some ways, both sides are right. In addition to dealing with its transformation into a multi-ethnic metropolis over the course of a few furious decades, Miami endured violent, headline-grabbing race riots, an alarming murder rate that was at one point the nation's highest, and a role as a prominent port-of-entry for the drug trade. However, by the 1990s the situation was improving, thanks to a stronger local economy and a number of city revitalization projects. Miami's makeover as a hip, hot city was cemented when South Beach was "discovered" by fashion photographers, bringing swarms of beautiful people, both models and visitors, in their wake. Some of that glamorous sheen has already, perhaps inevitably, worn off, but so have some of the more damaging parts of the city's reputation - making for a constant and welcome defying of expectations for the casual visitor....Continua