Annette Collazo is a teacher, Engage Miami board member, and founder of ¿Que Pasa, Hialeah?
Activism is a derogatory term in Hialeah. It is essentially working for free, which, for many Hispanics, is at best a waste of time and at worst Communism. But as in all communities, having a group of engaged members, whether we call them activists, volunteers, or concerned residents, is key to creating a place we actually want to live in.
But why Hialeah and why now?
Hialeah is part our own memory and part nostalgia we inherited from our parents. We can point to Amelia Earhart Park, Zayas Bridal, West 49th Street, Roberto’s Taco Shop, the JFK Library, or Westland Mall (or “Wasteland” as many of us bad kids used to call it) and say That is Hialeah.
But the real character of the city is found in the stories people tell. That’s the thing with Hialeah and all of us who consider ourselves “Hialeahen.” Our stories — of eating typical meals with our family; hearing shouting from our rooms where we escaped to listen to Sonic Youth or Snoop Doggy Dog; watching water ants parade through the kitchen — are rife with love and hate, sadness and longing, and intense disdain for Fidel Castro. This is true for our non-Cuban Hialeahens too, whose parents were also refugees from Latin American countries with corrupt governments and entrenched poverty.
We grew up hearing our parents, uncles, aunts, and spuriously related cousins backhandedly express their love for the country they left. “La carne de aqui no tiene sabor” (The meat here has no flavor) or “Este platano no sabe a nada” (This banana tastes like nothing), they would say. The inevitable “Por que no hacen eso en Cuba?” (Why don’t they do that in Cuba?) in response to news like the 1991 US campaign in Iraq.
Our parents were stuck in limbo, resenting both Fidel’s Cuba and the American ways they had to accept. “Aqui la gente no se hablan” (Here people don’t talk to one another) or “No hay nada que hacer” (There’s nothing to do), they would say, while yearning for home, family, and for tamales that taste like the real thing. For them, Hialeah was a watered down experience of Cuba.
But as their families grew and we, the first generation Americans, were born, Hialeah came into it’s own. It became what one sees in the sitcom ¿Que Pasa, USA?. To us, Hialeah was not watered down at all, but supersaturated with all of our parents misplaced longings. And we hated it.
We hated getting yelled at to speak in Spanish, we hated Spanish music, and especially hated Spanish variety shows with their blatant sexism.
We hated the going-nowhere-nothingness of Hialeah and we swore that as soon as we could, we were going to get the hell out of there and escape the ignorance it represented. And we did, whether it was just next door to Miami proper, or Orlando, or New York, or California, or overseas with the Peace Corps.
But then a lot of us moved back, for family, friends, maybe because of love, maybe for school. We came back, ready to adult. One part of that love-hate relationship with Hialeah had to give, and, because we were planning on staying a bit anyway, we chose love.
That’s where ¿Que Pasa, Hialeah? comes in. It began last October as a ¿Que Pasa, USA? themed party. Friends gathered around boozy cocktails, listening to J Cole and playing chess. Paul Hernandez, the city’s progressive councilman, was there and spoke to us about his punk rock youth and his career in politics, his Leah Arts District vision, and the need for community involvement. We left motivated to bring change to the city.
We formally became a “group” in January, modeling ourselves after the fun civic culture of Emerge Miami and Engage Miami. What were our common threads? We all had a tenuous relationship with Hialeah, both mocking it and defending it; we were all tired of driving to BFE (the boondocks) to have fun; and we wanted to turn our teenage angst into action.
Nostalgia idealizes the past and makes us look at the present with jaded eyes. QPH members came together not because of our shared nostalgia, but because of our resistance to letting it run the city today.
We know there are homeless in Hialeah, that we are not an exception to the declining purchasing power of the lower and middle class; that senior citizens and children are treasures, that we love nature and want to see it thrive around us; and that if government is not made to be held accountable it won’t be.
Hialeah is changing, just as any place does. We want to have a say in how that happens.
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