The story “How Miami became the most important city in America” on the Financial Times this month made us think about the difference in how Miamians and Americans from other cities see this multicultural, sun-bathed metropolis. For locals arriving to the US through the top floor of terminal E in Miami International Airport, Miami is typical US. For Americans from other cities, Miami with its Art Deco hotels, over the top consumer culture, and English as a second language is a profoundly weird and a little embarrassing place, like the odd relative who parties too hard. Since Verb is a Miami company, we thought we can help reconcile the differences. There are political, historical, and cultural reasons why Miami is so different from other American cities.
Start with its political organization. Miami looks big but it is the 41st American city by population. Miami is not even the largest city in Florida, an honor that goes to Jacksonville on the state’s northeast, near the border with Georgia, with nearly 1 million inhabitants according to the 2020 census. Miami seems so big because it is one of 34 cities in Miami-Dade County. Though Miami is the main city in the county by population, with over 454,000 people, being its mayor is only a part-time job. That makes mayor Francis Suarez’s accomplishments even more impressive. The city of Miami proper doesn’t include Miami Beach, for example. The county with all its cities adds up to 2.7 million people, and if you add to that the population of Broward County to the north, you get to 4.7 million.
Now that you know more about southeast Florida counties, you are ready for the second important difference about Miami: it is not the only nor the first place in the US with that name. Miami County in Ohio was established in 1806, a full 90 years before the city of Miami was incorporated in Florida. Miami County, Ohio is named after the Miami tribe, or the “people of the Great Lakes,” who now mostly live in Miami, Oklahoma. Miami, Florida is named after the Miami River which runs through the city. It takes its name from a Native American word for “big lake,” for Okeechobee Lake, the head waters of the Everglades.
Enough about this perplexing history. You can excuse people from the north for only remembering Miami after the 1980s pastel-colored TV blockbuster show Miami Vice. Much less kind is any reference to cocaine or the war on drugs, which many Latin-American families were escaping from when they arrived in Miami. You don’t need a lot of Spanish to understand the culture. After all, American immigrants in Miami are striving to assimilate, prosper, and speak flawless English. But you can still find a ventanita. Get a top-notch cafecito and show some respect for the culture that is Miami. In Miami, everyone around you knows that the good thing about Miami is that it is in the US.