By Ariel C. Armony, co-author with Alejandro Portes of The Global Edge: Miami in the Twenty-First Century
“We can acknowledge that immigrants—both documented and undocumented—are the backbone of our country, and enact policies that support them. We can embrace the diversity around us that makes America such an attractive destination for foreign investment and creativity, and help it thrive.”
While it may not be a popular refrain in today’s America, it is an indisputable truth that immigrants not only built our country—they continue to build it. And I am not referring solely to our infrastructure and our economy, but also to our cultural landscape. Our identity as a nation is rapidly changing. The United States is quickly approaching minority-majority status, and a number of major cities already reached that threshold years ago. Perhaps no city is as indicative of this ethnic mosaic as Miami.
When Alejandro Portes and I set out to write The Global Edge: Miami in the Twenty-First Century, we could not have foreseen the current environment in which cruel immigration policies, vilification of immigrants, and the spread of fear with tools such as denaturalization have taken center stage. Placing Miami at the heart of the conversation on cities in the United States is a radical move. If writing about Miami in the twenty-first century seemed important two years ago, it is a vital undertaking today.
Miami is a city that has been defined by waves of immigration. Miami’s geographic location and unique history play key roles in its transformation. Its relationships to Latin America and Cuba, in particular, have been decisive in its recent social and political trajectory. It is a city that encapsulates an entire world drawn between the ocean and county lines, with countless languages, cultural traditions, and personal histories of migration and displacement. It has thriving arts, business, real estate, and unfortunately a level of wealth disparity not seen in most American cities.
Placing Miami at the center of the conversation about urban transformation is also critical to talking about the impact of climate change. Warming oceans pose an existential threat to Miami’s future as the city rapidly sinks. As is often the case, the most vulnerable residents—often undocumented immigrants and African Americans—are the ones who are being displaced from their neighborhoods, as the growth machine seeks to build more condos away from the rising waters.
We chose to write about Miami to describe why our tradition of immigration is one to celebrate, investigate, and debate. As we suffer through the gasps of people clinging to an antiquated vision of America, we can look to the future through cities like Miami. We can acknowledge that immigrants—both documented and undocumented—are the backbone of our country, and enact policies that support them. We can embrace the diversity around us that makes America such an attractive destination for foreign investment and creativity, and help it thrive. We can find creative ways to adapt to global warming protecting the underserved. We can explore xenophobia and inequality and work to eradicate them. And we can change the narrative on urban development by giving the “Miami Experiment” that role it deserves in academic and policy discussions that tend to marginalize cities that defy traditional analysis. Through understanding how the forces of globalization have shaped our country and our great cities like Miami, we can turn academic work into an effective tool for transformational activism.