Miami, Florida

By Jerilyn WatsonThe southeastern city of Miami, Florida, is one of the most popular holiday cities in the United States. People who live in the Miami area are a mix of races, ethnic groups and cultures. I'm Shirley Griffith.And I'm Sarah Long. The story of Miami is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.About two-million people live in the area in and around Miami, Florida. People who live in the Miami area are from many places. An estimated fifty-percent are from Spanish-speaking countries. About four-hundred- thousand are Cuban-American. The many other Spanish-speaking people in Miami are from countries in Central America and South America. Miami also has many people from Haiti, who speak Creole. And there are people from African countries and from Russia.Many older people who were born in the United States also live in the Miami-Dade County area. They come from all over the United States to retire in Florida. These Americans like the area's warm weather and tropical plants.

Miami has thousands of manufacturing companies. It has a large agriculture industry. It is an important center for international trade.

Tourism is one of the city's most important industries. About ten-million people visit the Miami area every year. Visitors provide more than eleven-thousand-million dollars for the area. There are more visitors from other countries than from the United States. Most of the tourists come from Canada, Europe and South America.

Visitors to the Miami area can enjoy museums, zoos, gardens and natural areas. They can attend performances of music, theater and dance. They can see many kinds of entertainment and sports events. They can shop in fine stores and go to different kinds of eating and drinking places.Miami is separated from Miami Beach by Biscayne Bay. Miami Beach is an island about sixteen kilometers long. Visitors can stay in large hotels near the Atlantic Ocean. They can see more than eight-hundred colorful buildings designed in the famous art deco style of the Nineteen-Twenties and Nineteen-Thirties. They can travel on wide streets with tall palm trees. They can sail on boats. They can feel the warm sun on beautiful ocean beaches. Miami Beach is home to many famous movie stars, writers and singers.

The music of singer Gloria Estefan [es-STEF-an] represents some of the culture of the Miami area. Ms. Estefan was born in Cuba. She came to the United States as a young child. She and her husband, Emilio Estefan, started a band called Miami Sound Machine. Listen now to "Conga," a song that helped make the Estefans famous.

((CUT TWO: "CONGA"))The world has heard a lot about Cuban-Americans in Miami recently because of Elian Gonzalez. Elian is the six-year-old Cuban boy who stayed for months with family members in Miami. They cared for him after his mother drowned while trying to reach the United States from Cuba in a boat. Elian's father now is taking legal action to get permission to take the child back to Cuba.

Gloria Estefan was among the many Cuban-Americans who have protested against the possible return of Elian Gonzalez to Cuba. They are among thousands of Cuban refugees and Cuban-Americans who militantly oppose Fidel Castro and his Communist government in Cuba.Most Cubans in the Miami area came to the United States in the Nineteen-Sixties and Nineteen-Seventies. They came after Fidel Castro ousted the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista (fool-HEN-see-oh bah-TEES-tah) in Nineteen-Fifty-Nine. Another one-hundred-twenty-five-thousand Cubans arrived in Miami in Nineteen-Eighty. The last major group came in Nineteen-Ninety-Four.

Today, most Cubans who want to move to the United States must win government permission. This is done by a system of chance. Each year about five-hundred-thousand Cubans try to get travel documents. But, the United States limits the number who may receive visas to twenty-thousand.

Other Cubans try to get to the United States illegally, like the mother of Elian Gonzalez. Most of them sail on small boats through the dangerous waters of the Florida Straits. People seized by the United States Coast Guard at sea usually are returned to Cuba. Those who reach American shores are permitted to ask for asylum.Many people who arrived in this country from Cuba have earned a great deal of money. Their children are doing the same. Cuban-Americans also play an important part in area politics. For example, Alex Penelas (pay-NEH las) is the mayor of Miami-Dade County. Miami's city mayor is Joe Carollo (cah-ROW-yo). In addition, two members of the United States Congress from Florida are Cuban-Americans.

Some Cuban-Americans in Miami live in a small area called Little Havana. Many people from Haiti also live together in the city in an area called Little Haiti. An estimated one-hundred-fifteen thousand Haitians live in the Miami area.

((CUT THREE: "CONGA"))The Hispanic influence on Miami seems natural because the city's first settlers were Spanish. Religious workers first settled in the area now called Miami in the sixteenth century. Miami was just a small village until Eighteen-Ninety-Six. That is when Henry Morrison Flagler brought his east coast railway to Miami. Mr. Flagler developed the area as a center for holiday activities. Miami became a city in Eighteen-Ninety-Six.

Miami grew quickly in the Nineteen-Twenties. A sale of land in Florida brought twenty-five-thousand land dealers to town. The growth was slowed in Nineteen-Twenty-Six by a terrible ocean storm that damaged the city.

Miami began growing again after World War Two. The city became a leading center of trade with countries in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. More and more hotels were built for visitors. Many people from other parts of the United States moved to Florida permanently to enjoy the warm weather and sunny beaches. Older people found it a good place to live after they retired from their jobs in cold northern cities.Miami Beach was once a wetland area. The island was home mainly to snakes and insects. In Eighteen-Seventy, an adventurer named Henry Lum decided to grow coconut trees there. His business failed. But the tall palm trees still are growing on the beaches.

Later a farmer named John Collins bought the island. He wanted to grow avocado trees. But his business also failed. So he decided to develop and sell the land.

In Nineteen-Twelve, Mr. Collins began to build the world's longest wooden bridge. He wanted to join his holiday area, Miami Beach, with the city of Miami across Biscayne Bay. But he did not have enough money to finish the project. Instead, a rich inventor named Carl Fisher finished the bridge. Mr. Fisher brought sand from Biscayne Bay to make beaches. He built large hotels, huge houses and areas to play golf. Miami Beach became a city in Nineteen-Fifteen.Like most cities, Miami has problems. A very angry political campaign for Miami mayor several years ago left divisions in the community. Hostility often exists between the police force and the city's black citizens. And the debate about the future of Elian Gonzalez also is creating tension.

Still, many people would not think of living anywhere else. A woman who recently arrived from Cuba says, "Here I can look at the palm trees and the ocean. I can hear my language spoken. I am very happy that Miami is my new home."

This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Paul Thompson. Our studio engineer was Efim Drucker. I'm Sarah Long.And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.