Review of "Coming to Miami"

On page ten of Melanie Shell-Weiss’s Coming to Miami: A Social History, the author state her intent to broaden the regions historical latinization by broadening the epoch to show the tensions which existed prior to their migration, and to develop that history with concern to extra-regional developments (those things impacting Miami but not necessarily originating there) as well as the role of race, labor and sexual relations. The net effect of such a process is the progressive unfolding of how it was that capitalist social relations developed and underdeveloped Miami and how it was that various communities attempted to resist such exploitation.

Shortly prior to Miami’s incorporation, Malthusian pressures encouraged a number of Bahamians to leave the islands and make their way to Miami. Initially the Bahamian population benefitted from their education within the British colonial system, greater capacity to obtain investment capital and familiarity with natural conditions that initially made them invaluable in the assistance of the burgeoning agricultural industry. These boons, which had the effect of making them the small business owners in the non-white neighborhood and a somewhat decreased capacity for Floridian police to used naked force against them put them at odds with the African Americans already living there. Racial alliances were tenuous and at moments when they did exist, as in the UNIA, there were disconnections between leaders and the rank and file which even when attempted to be corrected highlighted the middle class nature of the movement – a position most often held by the Bahamians.

These tensions within the highly qualified “black community” was slight compared to those that existed with between the African Americans and whites of Western European descent. Thought they literally made the structures of Miami and Miami Beach, they were prohibited from owning land these, visiting if not working and were generally placed within a system of etiquette where violations could result in gross bodily harm. Lacking the capacity to earn from land speculation and paid barely above the level of self-reproduction the infrastructure of the areas allotted to them were of much lower quality than those found in the white areas. Beachfront mansions were thus predicated on unpaved streets and shotgun housing with ad-hoc sewage facilities. The poverty that existed in these communities was a rare sight to visitors, who normally stayed in the white-capital created tourist facilities.

Organized attempts at correcting this took the form of civic and church associations rather than through economic groups such as unions as following such attempts accusations of communism could be made with their implicit threat of American Legion, KKK or police violence. With the increase of first Jewish and then Hispanic migration there were additionally considerations that complicated that already highly pressurized communities. While these two groups also faced discrimination, they were to become seen as if not allies than as preferable partners with which to exploit for labor. The transition to civil rights discourse and with its increased solidarity-oriented political consciousness changed this to a degree, but the damage done due to the previous physical isolation of these communities and their political marginalization made the effort a largely uphill battle.