Meet Andrew Otazo, the man behind Miami Creation Myth and a movement to protect our mangroves

📸: Photo courtesy of Andrew Otazo

Who are you? What do you do?
I am an Associate Director at Kivvit, an award-winning, national, full-service communications agency, where I specialize in public affairs, Environmental, Social and Governance, executive positioning, and earned media.

I also authored a satirical book titled the Miami Creation Myth and recruited a team to turn it into a podcast and animated TV series. The book is a love letter to my hometown, a wholly unique universe of gods, heroes, and legends inspired by the insanity that is living in South Florida. 

In my spare time, I’ve removed 20,000 pounds of trash from South Florida’s mangrove forests and ocean. I carried a 35-pound bag of mangrove trash (currently in History Miami’s permanent collection) the length of the 2019 Miami Marathon and led a team that hauled a 130-pound trash cart throughout the 2020 Miami Marathon, thereby raising over $30,500 to protect Miami’s coastal habitats. 

What’s your favorite Miami memory?
Planting mamey, aguacate, and mango trees in my yard with my father and abuelo.

Wax poetic for a minute and tell us: what brings you most alive about this city?
Miami is a glorious, jittering bundle of contradictions, hypocrisies, and enigmas whose myriad communities compose a globally unique metropolitan mosaic. It’s the only place on the planet where I do not need to explain myself to anyone. I repeatedly left for other opportunities in Boston, D.C., and New York, but the farther I moved, the harder Miami pulled me back. This is where I belong—in the mangroves, in the Everglades, in Ball & Chain, dancing up a storm.

If you could give any one piece of advice to locals, what would it be?
You have power. Use it. Organize, rally, demand better from our policymakers. Don’t accept our abysmal status quo. Write, call, visit, cajole, and annoy your elected officials until they address your concerns. Remind them they must serve you, and if they don’t, you can send them packing.

How does Miami help you do what you do or influence your work?
Miami inspires almost all my creative work: rather than creating a literary universe from scratch, my writing process often feels like a simple description of the daily, exuberant absurdity that is living in South Florida.

Moreover, I continue to be floored that anyone in this city actually cares about some random guy picking up trash in the mangroves. But, some crazy how, I’ve led hundreds of volunteers to do brutal work in some of South Florida’s most difficult terrain. Over a million more shared, liked, commented, or otherwise engaged with my videos and posts. You’re publishing my thoughts, including a forthcoming tirade against Brickell. Miamians of all backgrounds, affiliations, and political leanings continue to champion my work, and for that I’m forever grateful.

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about the city?
When Miami sinks into the ocean, I want Brickell to go first. Firstly, assume every motorist, pedestrian, scooter operator, whatever in that God forsaken neighborhood wants to kill themselves and you, because they do. They will happily throw themselves and their newborn infant in front of your car in flagrant disregard of all traffic laws and common sense.

Brickell aspires to the population density of Midtown Manhattan and the design aesthetic of an Ikea storeroom. Not the furniture, mind you. The empty, fluorescent lit warehouse. Every skyscraper is a big, dumb rectangle. And every new developer that waltzes into the neighborhood just reproduces the nearest metal brick, only theirs has a stupid swoosh at the top branded by Michael Kors or some other soulless luxury brand, which just means they can rent a studio for $4,000 a month to some equally bland, equally characterless recent transplant from the Bay Area who wants to live in the “heart of Miami,” but, in actuality, moved to its spleen.

Is any of this actually an unpopular opinion? Don’t care. Will I exploit any opportunity to dunk on Brickell? Absolutely.

If you could eat only one meal from a local restaurant for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I reject the premise! I’d have a home cooked meal from my mother, the indomitable Cruz “Cuqui” Hernández Otazo.

Outside of the obvious stop above, share your other top destinations for where you’d go on your perfect Miami day.
My day begins with a hike out to Bear Cut Preserve. The sun rises over the Atlantic, shooting bright green shafts through the mangrove leaves. I spend ten hours cleaning trash in a flow state, only stopping to hydrate and eat lunch. After biking home, I shower, nap, and get ready for la pachanga. It’s Café La Trova for dinner with friends followed by Ball & Chain for a night of dancing salsa, merengue, bachata, and reggaetón.

What’s your favorite local social media account to follow and why?
@MiamiFreedomProject. They post fantastic content and, more importantly, they actually care about this city.

What are you looking forward to this year?
Encouraging more Miamians—especially the city’s younger residents—to become civically active. I want to help them use all the tools at their disposal to dismantle the systemic inequities previous generations waved away as too entrenched to tackle.

That’s a wrap on this week’s Locals to Know. Know someone who ought to be featured or would like to be featured yourself? Reach out by sending an email to [email protected] with the subject line “TNT Locals to Know 2022.” If chosen, you might just see yourself or a friend in a future newsletter.