Why this Miami filmmaker focused her lens on Little Haiti

Big things are reshaping Little Haiti. New developments are going up, some longtime residents and business owners have been pushed out, and local organizers are working to hold on to what’s left of the neighborhood’s culture.

As for the artists in the neighborhood, they’re telling more stories about who — and what — might be lost as mom-and-pop shops make way for mixed-use developments. And Miami filmmaker Monica Sorelle is sharing some of those stories at the Oolite Arts exhibit “On the Road II.” 

Monica has spent the past few years capturing photos and videos of life in Little Haiti as a way to memorialize what could fade from the neighborhood. We spoke with her about her work and what she hopes people will take away from her photos.

What’s inspired Monica’s work?

Monica said it’s her Haitian roots and the freedom she has to express her culture in the 305.

“I didn’t realize how much of a privilege it was to be Haitian in this city,” Monica said. “This kind of freedom to practice your culture not just in your house, but in school, and in your neighborhood is really unique to Miami.”

But beyond her identity, Monica’s inspired to capture interesting lines, colors, and shapes. And Little Haiti has been the perfect place, she said,  to find all those elements.

How did her photo project come together?

She documented Little Haiti’s colorful buildings and people and asked herself a question: What would still be around when big development starts to spread?

“When I submitted these photos I referred to Little Haiti as a ‘ghost town’ and I wanted to honor what will be left behind but also celebrate what is there,” Monica said.

For example, one of her photos shows three empty chairs outside a Little Haiti business that are generally occupied by local residents engaging in lively conversation.

Monica Chairs

What does Monica hope people will take away from the show?

She said her goal is to archive the area at this inflection point in its history and to highlight Little Haiti’s role in Miami’s story. 

Monica also hopes the exhibit can raise awareness for folks — and maybe prevent the kind of rapid change that disrupted neighborhoods like Wynwood.

“We can’t stop it from changing,” Monica said. “But I think how it will change, is something we can help [with], and is where we can make a difference.”