Just when we thought we'd outgrown childish name-calling ...
By Michael Lewis
Miami's most welcome change has been to smooth ethnic frictions. A community once divided against itself along ethnic lines has grown far closer together even as it has grown more ethnically diverse.
First, as persons flock here from around the globe, they bring more urbanity and none of the intolerance that once poisoned the stew.
Second, it's hard to be "us against them" when there are so many different "thems" out there.
Third, as opportunities have blossomed, it has become easier for all to improve economic status. Not that everyone catapults ahead - just that the opportunities are there.
Fourth, we've come to realize that the divisions of opinion that touch every city are usually based on something other than ethnicity, and we've learned not to characterize all frictions as ethnic divisions.
Fifth, respect for one another grows as we know and understand each other better and keep a civil tongue in civic discourse. And with respect, evils like envy and meanness and downright hatred shrivel and die.
Pockets of poison do remain here, but they're marginalized by a propensity to look beyond labels, be they ethnic, racial, gender-based or ideological. Responsible institutions and individuals have given short shrift to fringe players whose tongues shoot poison-tipped arrows of ethnic and political bigotry.
At least, that's what I thought until Saturday, when the Miami Herald resurrected the name-calling fringe and dignified it with a platform.
Miami Today several times has reported the background of that story, as recently as two days before Saturday's Herald article — developer Mehmet Bayraktar, whose company is to develop a $480 million project on city-owned Watson Island, plans two upper-end hotels there, one being the first Shangri-La in the US. The hotel company is based in Hong Kong.
The Herald's headlines on its story will turn stomachs in Miami after years of ethnic harmonies: "Hotel plan bashed for communist ties" and, in massive type on the story's continuation, "China link angers Cubans."
The Herald story quotes three persons who are upset that a company based in China could be allowed on a city site, saying it is a slap in the face to Cuban Americans, who are anti-communist.
Note up front that nobody can link Fidel Castro to a company that operates 48 luxury hotels very capitalistically on multiple continents - except in the minds or on the tongues of professionally virulent name-callers.
Of the three quoted hotel foes, two are radio commentators who make a living by trying to link disliked individuals and organizations to Fidel Castro. They do it well enough to persuade the Herald that when three persons speak, a newspaper should respond with "China link angers Cubans" - a vastly broader group than the three represent.
Take the two people who defended the deal in the article - Miami City Manager Joe Arriola and Miami-Dade County Commissioner and former city manager Carlos Gimenez. Last time I checked, they were also Cuban-American - and persons of considerable standing.
So at worst, the headline should have read, "China link angers some." Three persons are upset, but the ethnic group that's cited comes down squarely on both sides of the issue, showing that this is a political story, not an ethnic division.
At best, the headline shouldn't have existed at all because a responsible newspaper with thousands of stories available would have considered the source and realized that all it had were three folks who could be counted on, if asked, to say exactly what they did say. Is that a major news story in Miami?
Now, I'm not defending the hotel or the whole Watson Island deal. Lots of questions can be raised. It's a proper subject of rigorous debate. After all, they're not making any more waterfront land hereabouts, and the city is custodian of a very valuable tract that has been handed to a single developer. All sorts of serious economic and land-use questions are proper.
What's not proper is a headline that states that the hotel has communist ties - because that's what "Hotel plan bashed for communist ties" says. It doesn't say "alleged communist ties" - it assumes that if "activist and radio personality Ninoska Perez-Castellon" and city commissioner and radio commentator Tomas Regalado bash it, it's got communist ties.
That's worse than allowing name-calling in print - it's not only dignifying the ridiculous in a major newspaper, it's accepting the name-calling as fact.
That's what this community got away from years back. That's what we escaped when we stopped stirring the caldron of ethnic poisons and branding one another communist and instead started dignifying one another.
Hasn't that newspaper noticed the reports of China's growing ties around the globe, including plans to set up bases in Miami as links to Latin American markets?
Haven't editors noticed that another company based in Hong Kong, Swire, has been developing Brickell Key for decades in a highly capitalistic manner - including bringing in the renowned Mandarin Oriental Hotel, about to celebrate its fifth anniversary here as one of our most luxurious hotels?
Hasn't that newspaper noticed that Florida International University is about to open a branch of its own renowned hotel school in China, where Cuban-American professors from Miami will be teaching Chinese students how to manage luxury hotels like the Shangri-La in the best capitalistic traditions? Do they know that the president of FIU, Modesto Maidique, is a proud Cuban American who is also very proud of his university's links with China?
Don't they know that just because three people criticize something - anything - it's not necessarily news in a county of 2.3 million potential critics? Some news judgment is required.
One of the wonderful things about living in the United States is that we in the press are free to say whatever we please.
Radio commentators can call virtually everything they don't like communist.
A newspaper can unthinkingly agree in its headlines and go on to say that the community's hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans agree, based on two radio commentators' assertions.
And I could characterize them all in print.
But in the spirit of healing the wounds that they've inflicted, I'll skip the name-calling.
You can decide which media sources you also want to skip.