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Off South Dixie Highway in Naranja, down at the southern end of Miami-Dade County, is the winter home of a low-rent traveling carnival. On a football-size field, amusement rides in spiral shapes and bright colors stand jumbled together in various states of disrepair. A row of buses and the trucks of concessionaires flank a far fence.
It's a sunny day in November, and the carnival is packing up to head to Puerto Rico. Workers move giant crates with backhoes and tinker with attractions. On an adjacent lot a half-dozen identical, decrepit concrete houses intermingle with trailer homes rooted to old foundation slabs. The houses and the slabs line up barracks-style, neatly divided in two rows with a street down the middle; these are temporary accommodations for barkers and ride operators, though the buildings themselves predate the carnival.
Back in the 1960s, a migrant-farmworker camp occupied the entire property. Today the fields of tomatoes, pole beans, and strawberries have receded to the south, and there is little but dilapidated buildings to recall the bustling community of workers that existed here nearly 40 years ago.
Bored, raggedy carnies idle on the doorsteps. Their attention is focused on a woman walking down the road between the buildings. They have never seen her before. Despite their stares she seems oblivious to their gawking. The woman is attractive, her ethnicity hard to place. A diminutive figure standing only about five feet tall, her skin is a creamy coffee color. Faint smile lines extend from her eyes, topping high cheekbones. The woman's most striking physical trait, though, is her hair. Thick and black, it pours down past her waist. Not European, black, or Hispanic, at first glance she could be from someplace in the Mediterranean. She appears, in fact, to be Native American. It's not unusual for the secret of her origins to follow her like a lingering question mark.
The woman is Eve Marie Smith. She spent her formative years here when it was still a migrant camp. It is only the second time she has returned in the nearly 35 years since leaving. In the interim Smith has fashioned a career as an Internet trailblazer, Website developer, and civic activist.
A few weeks after her visit to the migrant camps, she will conquer a wide swath of South America's cyberspace. Over a period of days this past December, the 39-year-old Smith methodically captured hundreds of Web addresses that include the names of ten Latin-American nations as well as their major cities. She's added generic key words like apartment, guide, travel, and real estate to create domain names such as www.Hotels-Chile.com and www.BuenosAiresTravel.com. Smith grabbed the names in three languages: Spanish, Portuguese, and English.
Smith's South American domains are new additions to an Internet kingdom she has assembled over the past several years. Among her holdings are addresses of greater relevance locally, including Miami-Dade.com, MiamiDade.com, Miami-Dade.net, and MiamiDade.net, along with countless other variations of the name. If domain names are real estate, Smith owns the metaphorical Boardwalk and Park Place; she has a virtual monopoly of many of the county's best cybertitles. Indeed the names could make her a major player in cyberspace -- and potentially the plaintiff in Internet property lawsuits as courts assert control over this new frontier.
Yet chances are that if you've come in contact with Eve Smith, it is not because of her business endeavors, but through her volunteer work. Smith devotes much of her time to grassroots community activism. She has placed her Internet skills at the service of some of Miami-Dade County's most important civic struggles, including municipal incorporation, elimination of political corruption, accessing public records, and freedom of speech. Her most notable effort to date is MiamiCircle.org, a Website credited by many with being instrumental in rescuing the ancient downtown archeological relic from destruction.
Until now Smith has kept a low profile. But convinced that her latest activities will bring her notoriety whether she wants it or not, Smith agreed to several interviews with New Times. What emerged is a portrait of an intensely private woman whose desire to preserve her privacy has made her an enigma to many. She also is fiercely determined, both in her business dealings and in her commitment to promoting government accountability.
The origins of Smith's social conscience and her ambition began here in the migrant camp, where she spent the first five years of her life. Her memories from this place are of violence and want. She tells of witnessing the attempted murder of her uncle when a gunman fired through an open window into their crowded home. Smith and her siblings were forbidden by their mother to leave the house while the adults worked in the fields. As an added precaution, she remembers her mother dressing the girls in two pairs of pants held extra-tight by safety pins in case someone tried to rape them.
It was at the camp that she says she had her first cognizant thought. Smith believes it happened when she was about the age of three, while playing with other children. "I was very, very hungry that day," she recalls. Although there were bologna sandwiches, they were off-limits to all but the adults.