By David Cazares
The questions have come just about every week, especially the past few months.
Why did you leave Miami for Minnesota? What were you thinking?!?
The short and simple answer has to do with the economy. After a long career working for newspapers, I was laid off. Managers of a chain mired in bankruptcy eliminated my job.
More than a year ago, I decided to move north for a new start at Minnesota Public Radio. No regrets.
Born and raised in Indiana, I’m comfortable in the Midwest, a region with the four distinct seasons and hills that I didn’t see in the bottom of the country. I also like my new home’s sense of order, its cleanliness and friendly people.
Still, the move has been quite an adjustment.
I do miss the tropical weather. But mostly, I long for the loud, boisterous, vibrant and colorful combination of accents, people — and characters — in South Florida; its ethnic and cultural enclaves and diverse neighborhoods; relatives, neighbors and friends from Jamaica, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Israel. And plenty of transplanted New Yorkers.
I moved to South Florida in the early 1990s to be as close to the Caribbean as possible. The place quickly grew on me. It’s where I met my wife, and where my children were born. It’s a place where you can read, hear and watch the news in Spanish, Haitian Creole and Portuguese, where a buck will buy a good cup of strong and sweet Cuban coffee.
My favorite is the cortadito — a shot of espresso and a shot of slightly frothy milk. Just try ordering that from a coffee franchise in Minnesota.
The trip north reconnected me with my Midwest roots and reintroduced me to that “other” America, a largely homogenous region where life is quieter and the tone much more civil.
But as much as I appreciate the politeness of my new neighbors, I can’t forget that there are other ways to interact. I’m used to the at times in-your-face nature of interactions in Miami, where people can be quick to say what they think, even if they regret it later.
I miss living in a place where collectively minorities are the majority, where ethnic and racial politics, even when they spark division, are growing pains in a nation that truly is changing. Such conflict proves that sharing is hard, but so necessary — a precursor, perhaps, to what will happen across the United States. The discourse can be a mess, but it’s a lovely mess.
That’s not to say I haven’t found diversity here. In the Twin Cities and beyond, I’ve happily encountered many people from other cultures and countries — even New York. But they’re largely scattered.
You’ll find during times of crisis, such as last year’s earthquake in Haiti, which inspired a multicultural relief effort at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis.
I’ve met Somalis at events in Mankato and Rochester and am fortunate to work with some cool people at the Latino Communications Network, home to La Prensa and La Invasora 1400-AM.
An aficionado of Afro-Cuban culture, I was pleased to find a very good Cuban Film Festival in Minneapolis, and a great dancer from the island in Rene Thompson. One of my favorite things is a night at the Dakota, the jazz club that Miami can only dream about, with its world-class pianist, Nachito Herrera.
I’ve also discovered winter fun: tubing, sledding and ice skating. I learned how to operate a snow blower, remembered to turn into the skid when my car slides on ice, and can finally use a fireplace again.
There are days when I think I’m definitely in the right place, when I remind myself that I don’t miss the traffic, the urban congestion and the rat race of working in hectic South Florida. Trust me, living there and visiting are two different things.
After a year, I’m only now beginning to push aside my other home for a new one in Minnesota. But I’m not sure I’ll ever embrace winter as “real Minnesotans” do.
When does spring arrive?
David Cazares is the print and Statewide Blog editor for Minnesota Today