Dear Miami

Mar 10, 2011

Author Diana Abu-Jaber, who teaches at Portland State University, splits her time between Portland and Miami. In her ode to Miami, she compares the city to a disheveled party girl – beautiful but not the kind you settle down with. Before she came to Miami, people warned her that the city was a vacation destination, not a place to call home. Sure, everyone sees the superficial, but few see the heart and mind beneath the flash. For this Arab-American girl who couldn’t sit still in one place, the city understood her. Those who don’t quite fit in anywhere else, somehow do in Miami.

This letter comes to us via the nationally-broadcast NPR/PRX radio program, State of the Re:Union (SOTRU). For the opening of its second season, the show is collaborating with Under the Sun on an episode about Miami.

Abu-Jaber is the author of Crescent, Arabian Jazz, Origin and The Language of Baklava. Crescent won the 2004 PEN Center USA Award for Literary Fiction and the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award. It was also named one of 2003′s 20 best novels by The Christian Science Monitor. Arabian Jazz won the 1994 Oregon Book Award and was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Here’s the full text of her letter:

Dear Miami,

Oh, pretty girl in a torn party dress, didn’t your parents didn’t love you enough when you were a child? All the makeup, the surgeries, flashy TV shows and tight clothes—is this how you want the world to see you? What about your mind, young lady? What about your soul?

Before we moved here, friends warned us—Miami isn’t a place where people really live—they just go there for vacations. Miami, you’re a fun gal, just not the kind to commit to.

Perhaps the problem is that you’re too beautiful. You invite every stranger to your door. Tourists come for a good time: they drink your mojitos and mango margaritas, dance all night on your moonlit beaches, swim the sparkling Bay of Biscayne, then leave their garbage and never call again.

When I’d first arrived, a friend pointed out a swimming pool on one of your sunny campuses and said, “That’s where the students go to show off their work.” By work, I thought he meant research papers….Of course, he meant implants and tummy tucks.

Neither Cuban nor Jewish and elderly, I thought I wasn’t your type. People predicted we’d leave. But over time, you and I recognized something in each other—our stowaway hearts. You snuck under my skin. I was an Arab-American girl from a mixed up family, a genetic Bedouin with a habit of switching cities every other year. And you said, yes, I get you.

Because we all come to you in the end. The seekers, the third chancers, the orchid thieves, the exiles, the painters, the crazies, the intellectuals and the partiers—wild life who don’t quite fit anywhere else….Here, somehow, we do. We stroll together down Lincoln Road, past nostalgic art-deco hotels and men pushing tabbies in baby carriages.

Beneath the human parade, your natural beauty unfurls. You open to us, like a plumeria, an orange blossom, a bird-of-paradise. And the scent of jasmine, the sulfurous mangroves, the bright call of wild parrots and the ethereal limbs of the banyan trees have spilled into my writing. And there is more: I found your bookshops and book fair, neighborhoods and gracious communities, your foods and music of a 100 different cultures. Your heart and your mind. Despite homicidal drivers, impossible waiters, crude tourists, you are there, under the green palms, the bluest translucent waters, heaven on earth. If only you could see it for yourself.