I was born in Rochester, NY, a small city in Upstate NY between Buffalo and Syracuse next to lake Ontario.
Rochester is home to Kodak, Xerox and Bausch and Lomb.
When I was just 2 months old, my parents moved to Miami, Florida. Miami was a city my parents had briefly lived in when they came from Cuba in 1968.
My father had decided to move up north in search of better job opportunities. When he saw that first snow fall, I think he thought it wasn't for him and we moved back to Miami.
We lived in Miami until I was 9 years old, until we moved back to Rochester.
My memories of Miami obviously are as a child, doing what most children do, playing, and having fun. It's funny how certain memories just stand out in one's mind from one's childhood. For me it's memories of my aunt's apartment on Coral Way or the apartment building we lived in on 32nd Ave. and 17th Street. A lot of these places bring back memories of my dad Mario, who I miss very much.
Also, Miracle Mile and the Sears where I remember taking photos at when I was 7. You know, those old school Sears photos with the obvious fake background? I mean how many kids actually take a photo in the middle of the forest? I still laugh when I look at those photos and see bushes and a big tree behind my head, or when I see that butterfly shirt I had on! Don't act like you don't have some of those photos stored away somewhere, we all do.
Over the years, living up north, I missed Miami. In many ways I have always felt like feel Miami is more my hometown than Rochester is. I mean I spent my early childhood in Miami.
I have visited Miami several times over the years. In fact I am writing this from my hotel room in Miami, where I brought my sons, David who is 10, and Danny, 8 and my niece Anne Marie, 11.
I brought them down so they could see where their father and uncle spent his first 9 years. It was so cool taking them to my old school, Emerson Elementary and two my old neighborhood in Westchester.
It was fun taking them to El Brazo Fuerte bakery on 32nd and 17th, across from the apartments I lived in until I was 7.
This time I have been turning them on to cuban sandwiches and my favorite, the "Media Noche" (Midnight) sandwich, and the Cafe con leche (coffee with milk).
And they love the beach.
But I've noticed just how much Miami has changed.
First of all, Miami is packed. I mean of course I know it's a major city, the "Gateway to the Americas", but Miami is just so full. Everywhere you go, there's traffic. Going to get gas turns into a big production as one has to compete with other drivers racing to the pump. People are rude and will literally kill you over a parking spot, or if you cut them off.
I'm not kidding, it happens.
Today, I took the kids to the Everglades. It was awesome. We went on an airboat ride through the glades and had so much fun looking at all the alligators.
On our way back to Miami as we were going down Tamiami Trail (SW 8th St.) I turned my signal on as I always do when changing lanes. I must have been at least 25 feet in front of a truck, when the driver immediately starts blaring his horn at me and I could see him in my rear view mirror angrily gesturing with his hands, in full road rage mode!
Everyone is in a hurry. For the most part there is no courtesy in traffic. After days of being cut off, and having people fly by me, I was shocked when someone actually was nice enough to stop so I could get out of a laundromat exit.
Upstate N.Y. is not perfect. Far from it. But for the most part there is a certain courtesy people carry. A simple smile to a passing stranger. People holding a door open for someone. Overall, I don't see that in Miami. My aunt who is older, and has lived in Miami since she came from Cuba in 1961 can't even drive to the Publix supermarket a few blocks from her home without some jerk blaring their horn at her. She has been mugged and assaulted several times. The last time, she was dragged in a pharmacy parking lot in plain daylight and her purse was snatched. The time before that she was hit in the hard with butt of a gun and her purse was also snatched.
Another thing Miami has a lot of is the "keeping up with the Joneses" effect. It seems everywhere you look, you see a house with a BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus in the driveway, many times 3 or 4 in the same house. A few years back, on one of my visits to Miami, I mentioned this to one of my aunt's friend's husband, and I will never forget his response. He explained to me that a lot of people in Miami are in a "competition" with their neighbors where they feel they have to outdo or match someone who say, just got a $50,000 car. He told me most people are up to their eyeballs in debt, and that many live together in the same house just in order to be able to afford all their expenses.
I always wondered if I was the only one who noticed these things. I wondered if Miamians themselves also noticed the fast pace, rude, cold, curt, get out of my way or I will fly by you in my $ 50,000 car way of life.
And I found out that I am not alone.
A couple of days ago I took the kids to a Miami Marlins baseball game at the new Marlins Stadium, which I might add, is absolutely beautiful! While there, I met an older gentleman named Arsenio, who is retired from the U.S. Postal Service in Miami. He told me that he doesn't drive much and doesn't leave the house much because he doesn't like just how busy Miami is. He says he prefers to travel outside the country with his wife, but avoids any unnecessary driving around Miami.
Others I have met say the same thing, that Miami is overcrowded and just too hectic.
As a filmmaker, writer and activist whose work centers around exposing police misconduct, my recent run in with Miami Beach Police officer Eric Dominguez, who terrorized my sons and my niece because I accidentally went up the wrong way on a one way street after getting lost, and who was very unprofessional, and gave me a $ 179 ticket, I was reminded of just how corrupt the police is down here in Miami.
Dominguez is the same officer who was caught on video in March of 2011 driving recklessly and speeding on the sand of South Beach so fast that his police car went airborne, nearly missing beach goers.
Miami Beach Police officer Eric Dominguez was suspended for 40 days and was banned from driving a police car for 2 years.
How ironic that Miami beach Police officer Eric Dominguez who himself knows a thing or two about driving reckless, and who is prohibited from driving a police car, accuses me of driving reckless before hitting me with a $ 179 fine.
I love Miami, but I realized what I love about Miami is the memories I have as a child and the
natural, beautiful and simple things like going to the beach and relaxing in the ocean water. Or seeing the beautiful palm trees. Or eating a Cuban sandwich or a Media Noche, or a Queso and Guava pastel (cream cheese and guava pastry).
I don't care for the fast paced lifestyle. I don't care for the flashiness.
Give me a Cuban Sandwich and let me float on my beach tube in the beautiful ocean water, under the hot sun, and I'm happy.