A few years ago, I was sitting outside of a gelato place with a friend when we overheard two women talking about a place that was "amazing and where EVERYONE speaks English." I couldn't tell if they were tourists or if they were talking about a place near us or not. I do remember that my friend looked at me and we both smiled knowing it was kind of ironic to hear that in a city like Miami.
Miami, Florida, is known for its opulence and for its cultural diversity. If I ask, "What comes to your mind when you think about Miami?" … Spanish language will probably quickly come up. You don't have to walk for too long in the neighborhood of Little Havana to realize that Spanish is the most spoken language. However, if you drive 10 minutes north and visit Little Haiti, you will immediately notice the billboards and signs in Haitian Creole. Conversations could go long between first and second generations and the languages they speak. Miami is a city where you can witness cultural diversity in many ways, and everyone who comes – regardless if it's for vacation or not – is exposed to it no matter what.
In the article, "Hearing across culture," I shared that "Culture is such an important thing in people's identity. It's not only about language. Culture is reflected in lifestyles, traditions, food, music and beliefs. It's reflected in how we dress, how we greet each other, the time we arrive at places, and the amount of water we pour in our coffee. Many times we find ourselves judging someone else without realizing the cultural implications that influence their actions." Miami is not the exception, however; even in a city like this, people still struggle to coexist among different ways of life.
Many describe The Magic City as a "melting pot," but I like the idea of comparing it to a salad. The lettuce doesn't become something else, nor do the cultures that are present in our communities. As you notice how greatly diverse the city is, you will also see how it's strongly segregated. Here's when this whole topic of diversity shows a different side. The struggles of having different cultures in the same place bring deep-rooted challenges. What happens when being exposed to other cultures challenges your way of doing things? How can we become a stronger community if our differences are non-negotiable? What if you are an obvious outsider? What if assimilation is the expectation for some and a threat or challenge for others?
Decades ago, Wynwood, the neighborhood formerly known as Little Puerto Rico, was "the sketchy part of town nobody should go to." In the past few years, wealthy developers came and completely changed the area. Now, known as the Wynwood Arts District, this neighborhood attracts tourists from all over the world who walk surrounded by big and colorful murals and hip restaurants, and pay a lot of money for a cup of coffee. A few blocks away from a very well-known hipster coffee shop, in the original residential area that keeps semblance of the Puerto Rican culture, there's a local baseball park named after Roberto Clemente where a woman once told me, "The arts district isn't the real Wynwood." The struggle here comes with a divided neighborhood where one side doesn't connect with the other. One side feels invaded while the other side brags about "making the neighborhood better." People look different on both sides, and many – in the name of gentrification – could even talk about the positive impact of "bringing new people to Wynwood." But the way those changes happened is what brings challenge to this particular community.
We can't talk about diversity without talking about relationships, and building relationships takes time, especially if they're between people who have nothing in common. We shouldn't think of diversity as only having people who look different in a same place; we also have to pay attention to who's in power. Work toward intentional diversity has to come from a place of empowerment and not the opposite. That's why, before thinking of how diverse our congregations are, we have to consider how much diversity exists in the leadership. From gender, ethnicity, age to socioeconomics and academic background – just to mention a few – how diverse are the people who have power to make decisions? How different would it have been if the original community of Wynwood was part of the "development" that happened in their backyards? How many of our churches look like Wynwoods where there's a clear division between groups?
It's interesting to see how there's an obvious Latinx representation in Miami politics; however, the reality is that Cuban representation still holds more power over other Hispanic/Latinx voices. I am not saying that is wrong (Cubans are the Hispanic/Latinx majority), but if we don't pay attention to this, we may end up overlooking how other groups lack representation.
I am not saying this is an easy job. The intentional work of cultural diversity is hard and uncomfortable. If there's something that Miami has taught me, it's that it takes time and requires a lot of willingness to build those bridges. But being exposed to different things will broaden our perspective of the world and will make us more empathetic with the issues that affect all of us. Going to a worship service that doesn't look like what you're used to will broaden your image of God. Spending time with people who have different experiences will challenge your privilege. Spending time in a diverse environment will dismantle stereotypes and will call into question what you call "unsafe" because it's unknown to you.
Although there's a lot of work to do in Miami, this is a place where we get to witness different stories. We need to seek spaces where we have this exposure. Learning from a variety of perspectives may make us feel uncomfortable, force us to yield power, or may put us in a vulnerable position, but this is the work we are called to.