Fields | A new place to play in Little Haiti

Miami | A cultural renaissance in Miami’s La Petite Haiti (Little Haiti), the most populous Haitian neighborhood outside the Caribbean nation, continues as a community complex and soccer park conceived 10 years ago come to fruition.

A series of soccer games on 3 May will conclude two days of inaugural events, including an art exhibition at the 15-acre site at Northeast Second Avenue and 59th Street (see Laura Morales, “Soccer Park, Cultural Center Near Opening,” Miami Herald, Feb 4). The Little Haiti Soccer Park offers a full-size pitch with covered grandstand, practice field and floodlights to begin compensating for the lack of open space in the zone of shops and restaurants that has been a focus for the Haitian diaspora since the late 1950s.

Architect, caricaturist and painter Alfred Bendiner‘s (1899–1964) main sporting interests were gridiron and baseball, according to niece Julie Pool. Yet Bendiner “also enjoyed the circus and any joyous event which came his way … as long as he had a pen or pencil and something to draw on whether it be paper, a linen napkin, a paper bag or whatever.” He also used a personalized memo pad, shown above, for a series of undated watercolors of Haitian footballers. (Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Alfred Bendiner Memorial Collection. Published with permission of the Alfred Bendiner Foundation.)

Bounded roughly by Interstate 95 and the Florida East Coast Railway and stretching more than 30 blocks along Northeast Second Avenue north of downtown, the neighborhood’s population is estimated at 33,000. Close to a quarter-million Haitians live in South Florida, the legacy of emigration that dates to the rule of François Duvalier and that continued, beginning in 1972, with first arrival of refugees by boat. As many as 100,000 made this harrowing passage without documentation.

Little Haiti, in a former agricultural area once known as Lemon City, offers a French and kreyòl blend—the city’s undisputed destination for gros savon (soap) and beurre chaud (bread) as well as slices of Haitian cultural life such as the bookstore Libreri Mapou, the workshops of artist Edouard Duval-Carrié and a 24-hour Haitian-owned radio station, Radio Méga 1020 AM.

During the 2006 World Cup qualifying campaign, the Haitian national team, given an ongoing rebellion against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, set up permanent base in the area. They practiced in a South Florida park.

The island nation’s cultural ties to football are fierce, a narrative encompassing the deeds of Joe Gaetjens, who scored for the United States versus England at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, and the late Emmanuel Sanon, who scored twice when Haiti competed in 1974 as the first World Cup qualifier from the Caribbean. Haitians greeted the Brazilian national team as liberators when the Seleção bested the home side 6–0 in a Port-au-Prince friendly in 2004. Brazilian troops have taken a leading role in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) that began that year.

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