I am a son of Miami—the good, the bad and the loud. Miami is and will always be home. This city holds the stories of family histories filled with struggle and eventual success. Having been raised in a Cuban-American household, family and faith are central pillars in my life. I have witnessed firsthand the pain of exile, the importance of a quality education, and the rewards of hard work and determination.

This is My Miami Story, and it’s what I have gathered family and friends to talk about during My Miami Story conversations. My grandparents were exiled from Cuba in the 1960s and found asylum on Miami’s shores. Their journey afforded my parents the opportunity to become professionals, which in turn would open up endless possibilities for my siblings and me. Our My Miami Story gathering over dinner created the space for the younger family members to ask about what life was like then and how the elder generation feels about the Miami of today.

I firmly believe that Miami has a tremendous asset in our immigrant and first-generation American residents who hunger to succeed. I was reminded of this during this year’s My Miami Story conversations. I joined Knight Foundation’s lunchtime meet-up and walked away feeling incredibly enriched and hopeful. Two main takeaways stood out: 1) Miami is a city of incredibly resilient people, and 2) Miami is still too hard to break into; we need to make it easier for folks to join the many amazing happenings in town.

Pictured above: Raul Moas, Miami program director for Knight Foundation.

Miami is a city of incredibly tough and resilient people

The human capital potential in Miami is often overlooked and underestimated. Knight Foundation, like many other organizations in town, has many people who aren’t from here. But, day to day, we don’t often take the time to stop and share our own stories with each other. My Miami Story conversations gave us a chance to do that. I got to learn about the histories of people that I didn’t know before. Our residents are strong.

Miami has the highest number of foreign-born residents than any other city in the world. We’re a resilient place, made up of people who are here because they chose to be here. They, like my grandparents and those of many others who live here, came for something more than what life was offering them. They wanted better for themselves and their children. The people of Miami persevere; we hustle.

We need to make it easier for folks to join in

Miami is also a paradox of sorts. On the one hand, we’re considered a welcome mat, especially for diasporas from Latin America. On the flipside, it’s hard to break in to Miami if you’re not from here, especially if you don’t identify with the cafecito culture or speak Spanish. I see so many great people come to town and have a hard time finding like-minded peers. During our My Miami Story conversation, one colleague who’d just arrived to Miami six months prior, spoke up and shared about how they didn’t quite feel at home yet, that they hadn’t found their tribe. Others chimed in and echoed the sentiment.  The conversation brought out nuances of our community that we don’t normally talk about or see in our daily interactions.

Hearing from colleagues struggling to find that sense of place in my hometown was a reminder that people have sacrificed a lot to get here, and we need to do better by them. Our work can’t just be about receiving out-of-towners upon their arrival at Miami International Airport. It also has to be about making sure they find the on-ramps into community that encourage them to plant roots here. As Miami’s global profile rises and more folks look at spending a significant portion of their personal and professional lives in the 305, more needs to be done to grow our city’s ability to truly welcome the contributions of incredible people in a lasting way.

My challenge to you, Miami, is this: connect. Connect with one another. Connect with newbies. Connect with the place you live in. Discover Miami’s hidden pockets, that’s where you’ll find the city’s soul. We can start by simply listening to one another’s stories. At Knight Foundation, our mission is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. Especially today, bringing it back to the table and breaking bread with folks might be one of the most effective ways to rediscover community and the people who make them great.

The On The Table initiative and My Miami Story conversations create that platform. You can read more about the nationwide On The Table findings in Knight’s latest report, which summarizes findings from thousands of conversations held across the country with ten community foundations serving as partners.

Raul Moas is Miami program director at Knight Foundation and a Miami Fellows Class VIII alum.

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