Fields | A new place to play in Little Haiti

The feeling in Little Haiti is that the park is long overdue and will struggle to accommodate pent-up demand. In fact, the facility that opens in May has been criticized for insufficient seating. Jan Mapou, owner of Libreri Mapou and co-chair of the cultural center committee, said community leaders have pushed for greater capacity. “When there is a game” featuring a local Haitian team, Mapou says, “Haitians come out by the thousands. Having a field for 750 is a joke.”

Seating has been added along an adjacent practice field to boost that number, but Mapou says that planners again may have underestimated the passion for Haiti’s national game. In addition to games in the Haitian amateur league and school competitions, the field could host sides visiting from Haiti itself.

YouTube video

One episode of the FIFA-commissioned series Football’s Hidden Story focuses on the development of Haiti’s U17 side.

The limited scope of the grandstand reflects the gradual retrenchment that has seen the project shrink from what would have been, at 60 acres, the most expensive taxpayer-funded park project in Miami history. The reduction has resulted from years of wrangling among politicians, businesses and activists that tested how much the city would push to claim patchwork parcels dotted with warehouses, trailers parks and empty lots. Business owners, in particular, objected to acquisition of land that would have forced them to relocate.

But grassroots leaders felt Little Haiti had been fighting long for political credibility, to little effect. “The overwhelming feeling in Little Haiti is that they want a park and they want it now,” Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. told the Miami Herald in 2002. “I will be damned if we will let Haitians be treated like manure in the city of Miami.”

The scaled-back park concept still has not satisfied some businesses. At the most recent community meeting on the project, a sportswear manufacturer whose warehouse abuts the park worried that the site would become a “dog, vagrant and prostitute haven” and asked for a dedicated police mini-station.

Urban anthropologist David Brown, who leads cultural tours of Miami neighborhoods and has written a Little Haiti history, said the soccer park would serve an immediate purpose as a place of socialization. “There hasn’t been a gathering spot,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if it’s over soccer or over culture. Both are important social gathering places for Haitian people. They will gather and they will socialize.”

One of the community pioneers whom Brown profiles in his work is Claire Nassar, the “mother” of Little Haiti who arrived in 1965. At that time, she recalls postal workers asking if the “Haiti” on her envelopes should be spelled “Tahiti,” indicating locals’ lack of familiarity with Caribbean geography and the newcomers in their midst.

Little Haiti Soccer Park (Zyscovich Architects)

Often entering the American news stream in a negative light—as the result of political instability and violence in the homeland or via the offensive appellation of earlier times, “boat people”—Haitians have succeeded in making a cultural imprint through such positive exemplars. Watching over part of the new park, near the Charles Harrison Pawley–designed Caribbean Marketplace that recalls the market buildings of Port-au-Prince, will be a replica of the iconic Albert Mangones statue depicting Neg Mawon, Creole for “Black Maroon.” The original, commissioned in recognition of the 13-year slave rebellion against France that in 1804 constituted the world’s first free black republic, gleams in Port-au-Prince—a striking figure, legs apart, machete in right hand, ankle chain broken, blowing heavenward on a conch shell to call an assembly.

The park plan also encompasses a theater, exhibition space and—another holdover from Haitian life—three dominoes shelters.

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