Local author Helen Muir updates her classic view of the Magic CityBy Marilyn Bowden
Miamians who don't have a good sense of the city's history have an opportunity to educate themselves painlessly with Helen Muir's classic Miami USA, just released in an new, expanded edition.
This version of the 1953 original takes the reader through such recent events as Hurricane Andrew, the discovery of the Miami Circle and the Elian Gonzalez saga.
"Interpreting Miami has become something of an international pastime," Ms. Muir remarks in her brief introduction. Readers of this book will come away with the interpretations of a trenchant observer who has watched her adopted city grow for seven decades.
Ms. Muir arrived from Yonkers in 1934 on assignment and fell in love both with the city and with Bill Muir, a young lawyer who became her husband. She's written for the Miami Herald and the Miami News, as well as a number of national publications.
Her take on Miami is that it's "actually a great northern city transplanted to the sub-tropics. It has the lure of a tropical country, but it's strictly American, with all the good and bad ingredients that America can produce."
The good and the bad Miami has produced receive equal attention here.
On the credit side of the ledger for the past decade, Ms. Muir cites the Summit of the Americas, the three-day convocation of 34 heads of government that drew international acclaim.
Florida International University, she writes, is "living up to its title.
"In the multi-cultural makeup of Miami it seems to provide a centerpiece for an explosion of new ideas."
But if multi-culturalism is among Miami's greatest assets, it is also, in this author's candid view, its flash point.
In a chapter entitled "Some of my Best Friends are Ethnics," Ms. Muir said she prefers the Tower of Babel rather than a melting pot as an image for the multiplicity of cultures that converge in Miami.
In dictionaries, she reminds us, "ethnocentricism describes the emotional attitude that one's own race, nation or culture is superior to others."
That remark is from a 1990 update. Coverage of the rescue, custody battle and ethnic polarization surrounding the case of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez shows that, sadly, time has not effected further melting.
"It had been a PR concoction," she writes, "astounding to watch unfold, this Elian saga. Some were hoping there would be some favorable results. Meanwhile, the polarization of Miami had increased."
She quotes psychologist Marvin Dunn, historian of Miami's Black community, as saying, "Miami is coming apart before the world and it is embarrassing."
Ms. Muir, though, is at heart an optimist as well as a realist. She doesn't expect the city she fell in love with to stand still.
"As for Miami in the 21st century," she concludes, "for comfort try Tennyson's Ulysses and these words: `Though much is taken, much abides.'"
It's my guess the 89-year-old author is right now taking notes on the election fiasco for inclusion in the book's next edition.
"Miami USA: Expanded Edition," 355 pages hardcover, is $24.95 from University Press of Florida.
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