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More Stories - The Way We Were

Allapattah - A Mix to the Max
1 | 2 | 3   The area flourished until the 1980 Mariel boatlift, bringing approximately 100,000 Cubans to our city, quite a few of whom were outcasts, criminals or mentally handicapped, and many of whom settled in Allapattah.  This influx also coincided with the worst of our racial riots, which burned out most of the beautifully redeveloped main business area on NW 36th Street.  Then crime took such an upward turn that numbers of the better educated and more affluent Cuban families, many of them professionals or business owners, moved out to the suburbs.   Rushing in to fill the void came Nicaraguans, Dominicans, Haitians and others by the thousands.  

In some ways parts of Allapattah have improved; in others they have gone downhill.   We have a big gang problem (but what big city doesn't?).  That's the price we pay for having young people in the area again.  During the devastating 1992 Hurricane Andrew, damage in some parts of Allapattah was worse than that found in the next several miles south, a mystery since the center of the storm was so far away.  We were once again 10 days without  electricity.   The City of Miami itself has bad financial and political problems that has put us on the national map once more.

Despite odds, many long-time Allapattah residents hang in; about a third of my neighbors have lived here since the mid to late sixties.  We're known as a feisty bunch.  We may have a higher crime rate, but police sources say a higher percentage of Allapattah residents are armed and ready to give back what they get. There's the usual amount of armed robberies and holdups in Allapattah businesses, but many ended up with the perpetrator shot, often as dead as a doornail. 

For instance, a few years ago an elderly Cuban man, ordered by his doctor to take a stroll after dinner instead of a nap, was attacked and beaten just three blocks down the street by two armed robbers who wanted his billfold, watch and jewelry.  The man was resisting and being pistol whipped.  A young well-dressed fellow in a nice, new car stopped to help.  One robber took off; the other objected to the interruption so the Good Samaritan pulled out a gun and shot him dead.  Neighbors, safe in their apartments, had called the police who were on the spot immediately.  They verified the story; the young man, a Colombian with residency papers, all his identification in order, a driver's license and gun permit, was allowed to leave.  On further investigation, it turned out every shred of ID led nowhere; they were all false.  He was apparently part of the major drug distribution system that existed in Allapattah in the '70s and early '80s, in which many Miami cops were gleeful participants.

My husband went to corner convenience store in the '70s to buy milk from a cooler located at the rear of the store.  As he came back around to the register from the wrong direction he ran into a man, gun under his shirt, in the process of ordering the cashier to fill a paper bag with money.  The robber whirled around, pointing the gun at Floyd's stomach and shouting "Don't move!"

Floyd, outraged and without thinking it through, thwacked the gun out of the guy's hand (it turned out not to be a real gun, actually), and gave chase for three blocks and over two chain link fences, as the robber threw out handfuls of money, hoping to distract him long enough to get away.  One of the store owners and a few customers jumped into a car, circled around in front of the robber and grabbed him.  Others followed Floyd, at a distance, picking up money.  Floyd staggered home, dropped into bed, red-faced and panting, and said "I'm getting too old for this."

A recent crisis between Allapattah and Little Havana was the Elian Gonzalez incident as recounted in Miami's Three Ring Circus.  We mostly stayed home, and I passed the time by publishing (and sampling) the Miami Sundae.

We finally were picked as part of a federal empowerment zone; a long strip of Allapattah situated halfway between the airport and Port of Miami is slated for economic development.  That, plus activism on the part of many residents, has us once again picking ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

In the Citrus Canker flap; we've lost our citrus trees as I predicted in Orange Blossom Special.  After multiple protests and law suits and numbers of canker crew members being shot at, the program is partially on hold, but too late for our own healthy, uninfected trees.  We are supposed to receive a Wal-Mart voucher to buy $100 of replacement (non-citrus) trees.  Wal-Mart, however, doesn't sell trees!  Typical in Florida where SNAFU seems to be rampant.

Houses, businesses and apartment buildings are cheek to cheek in Allapattah now, but there's still many trees left and the area is overrun with illegal chickens; it's a pleasure to the ears of this country gal to hear the roosters crow early in the morning.  We have more imported exotics, including geckos who only come out at night to eliminate roaches and are "toilet trained" to a single spot in one's house, a yellow-throated bright green foot-long lizard from Central America that eats mice and baby birds and has been known to jump out of trees onto peoples heads,  and a Philippine snake- very tiny, black, startling and fast as greased lightning!  

Perhaps one has to like a challenge to live in Allapattah. 

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