Class Act

If you want to know where many of Miami's social and political elite got their start, check the playgrounds at Belén

It is the continuities with the old ways, after all, that most define Belén. The students wear the same school-uniform colors their Cuban counterparts once wore. The school remains affiliated with the Catholic Church, even if only a small portion of its faculty is ordained. Mass is still held every morning, once before school begins and again during homeroom. Theology classes are a required component of the curriculum.

In many ways the current incarnation of the school more and more resembles the Cuban Belén, if not in its physical appearance (though architectural echoes of the Havana fortress remain) then in its social and cultural function. It is once again the place that successful, prominent, and connected fathers send their sons so they, in turn, may become successful, prominent, and connected. "My five-month-old is going to go to Belén," vows Jorge Blanco. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla's son already is there.

And the school continues to nurture good relations with the area's political stars, alum and otherwise. Belén boasts, according to Pat Collins, not one or two but "a slew" of students working in Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen's Miami office. Internship opportunities in local government may expand next year if attorney Manny Diaz, Belén class of 1973, succeeds in his Miami mayoral bid.

Students who once poured out of the doors of Belén's Little Havana location (bottom) now reign as Miami's political elite, thanks, in no small part, to social studies teacher Patrick Collins (above)
Steve Satterwhite
Students who once poured out of the doors of Belén's Little Havana location (bottom) now reign as Miami's political elite, thanks, in no small part, to social studies teacher Patrick Collins (above)
Students who once poured out of the doors of Belén's Little Havana location (bottom) now reign as Miami's political elite, thanks, in no small part, to social studies teacher Patrick Collins (above)
Steve Satterwhite
Students who once poured out of the doors of Belén's Little Havana location (bottom) now reign as Miami's political elite, thanks, in no small part, to social studies teacher Patrick Collins (above)
Dentist Jorge Blanco: "We were like a small family growing up in a little apartment"
Steve Satterwhite
Dentist Jorge Blanco: "We were like a small family growing up in a little apartment"
Joe Garcia, 1981 and today
Steve Satterwhite
Joe Garcia, 1981 and today
Ringing in the new Bellennium: Sergio Gonzalez (left) and Juan Mendieta
Steve Satterwhite
Ringing in the new Bellennium: Sergio Gonzalez (left) and Juan Mendieta

Nevertheless those associated with the institution maintain the school confers no special advantage beyond a good education, a desire to succeed, and a commitment to reach out to others. "Folks believe there's a network," stresses Sergio Gonzalez, excusing himself for a meeting with Juan Mendieta, acting director of communications for Miami-Dade County. "Did I mention he went to Belén, too?" Small world.

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