Dear South Florida,

Originally from the shadows of NYC on the industrial northeast edge of New Jersey, when I first washed up on the shores of your young region, I was a young teenager. I was an ambitious lad with a chip on my shoulder. You were an ambitious region with a chip of your own.

It was the late eighties and your only local college football team at the time was dominating, Dan Marino was rewriting the NFL record books, and you were still accepting logo suggestions for your upstart NBA team. South Florida, you seemed like the place to be. I immediately noticed your buzz. Everyone appeared to be excited a lot of the time. I wasn’t sure exactly why, perhaps the yearlong warm weather, or the college national championships, or the 2 Live Crew, or the loud colors, or the beaches, or…whatever the reason, people were moving from one good time to the next.

After Cuba but Before Miami, There Was Jersey.  Photos from NJ and NY, From Late 70's thru Early 80's. Includes my sister Lourdes, my parents and my abuela.

After Cuba but Before Miami, There Was Jersey. Photos from NJ and NY, From Late 70’s thru Early 80’s. Includes my sister Lourdes, my parents and my abuela.

Don’t be upset South Florida, but I recently returned to North Jersey. It was just for a visit, though. Like you, the immigrant stories of struggle-to-success are all over my hometown. I drove down Morris Avenue in Union, NJ, which runs along the perimeter of Kean University, the third largest state school after Rutgers and Montclair State. It’s grown soo much since I used to drive by their campus as a kid. More buildings. Bigger buildings. It’s presence looming large along Morris Avenue. It’s clearly not our father’s Kean anymore. It’s a new day for Kean and North Jersey. Like us here in South Florida, they are going through growing pains. Kean is currently at the table with state and local governments as well as big-pharma (the pharmaceutical industry is huge in New Jersey and own their fair share of land). Kean is negotiating for increases in space to expand their physical footprint and the transformative opportunities higher education institutions are suited to provide. As a staunch believer in education as the most powerful tool to uplift society, I’m pulling for Kean.

Kean University of New Jersey

On my way back home to you, South Florida, I could not help but to draw some parallels with your own public institutions of higher learning, anchored by FAU (Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton) to the north and FIU (Florida International University in Miami) to the South. The public university offerings here in South Florida are impressively and rightfully better today than they were when I arrived to start high school here in the late eighties. I check into your FIU, my alma mater, with regularity. A drive, bike ride or stroll down the west end of Calle Ocho (SW 8th Street) in Miami, reveals this grand, dynamic, sprawling public research university bustling with energy, creativity and intellect standing tall. The people coming and going are speaking every language conceivable. The tapestry of ethnicities is beautifully woven across the university as it is throughout much of your region. In short, it’s clearly not your father’s FIU anymore. It’s a new day for FIU and for you, South Florida.

FIU - Home of the Panthers Modesto Maidique Campus, Miami, FL.

FIU – Home of the Panthers
Modesto Maidique Campus, Miami, FL

I am grateful to my North Jersey upbringing because it taught me early that everything worthwhile must be earned and education and hard work are keys to a better tomorrow. As for you, South Florida, I’m thankful to you for soo much, including, but not limited to:

• EDUCATION: When I arrived, I didn’t have a high school diploma yet. Now, I hold multiple degrees from Miami’s excellent state university. Thank you, South Florida.
• ECONOMY: When I arrived, I hadn’t held a paying job yet. Working at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop flea market with my mom on weekends and at the Lou-Al Thrift Store during the week, the small business my parents owned, was more a labor-of-love and strict compliance with parental authority than anything else. Now, I lead my own growing business in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District. Thank you, South Florida.
• ENTERTAINMENT: When I arrived, we cheered for the Seikaly-led Miami Heat to bring us that elusive first NBA win in franchise history, which came 18 games later. Now, UD, Wade & Bosh have hoisted the NBA Championship trophy multiple times. Thank you, South Florida.

Heat Lifer

Miam Heat. From Rony Seikaly to Dwyane Wade. What a fun ride. #HeatLifer

We’ve come a long way, South Florida, and the best is yet to come. You are bigger, better, faster and stronger than ever before. I’m doing my best to keep pace and trying to help others do the same.

I guess what I’m saying is…I love you, South Florida. You’ve made me better. I will do all I can to return the favor.

(Deep Humble Sigh)

What’s your “Thank you, South Florida” story?


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