The Boston Market people can't decide which booth they want," says Ann Sterling as she surveys a large blueprint of Miami's Bayfront Park. Dozens of small rectangles cover the blueprint, each representing a stand where a food vendor will sell arepas or hot dogs or, in this case, roast chicken at the July 28 celebration of Miami's 100th birthday. "They know that if they take this booth here," Sterling says, pointing to a rectangle located next to a main sidewalk, "they'll probably have more business from all the people that walk by. But they are thinking about taking this booth here." She points to a rectangle alone near the entrance to the Bayfront Park Amphitheater. "They tell me, 'Ann, we're Anglo food, and we really want to be as close as we can to the Anglo stage.'"
Sterling, a marketing coordinator for Miami City Commissioner J.L. Plummer, must assign each of the party's 175 food booths to an appropriate vendor. As Boston Market hedges, and as competing arepa vendors jostle for prime booths near the Latin stage, she can't help noticing how race flavors almost every activity in Miami, even a birthday party. "All the vendors want to know what the stage is," she explains. "They don't care who the act is, they want to know the stage: Is it Latin, black, or Anglo? That's what's important."
Locating the vendors is one aspect of the extraordinary challenge facing Sterling and the other organizers of the AT&T Miami Centennial Birthday Extravaganza, as it is officially called. How do you throw a party that will attract all the people of Miami, with their different languages and tastes -- and their tendency to live in communities often bitterly segregated from one another?
Most of the problem solving has fallen on the shoulders of Randi Freedman, a consultant hired by the city to plan the whole party. As the calendar races toward the big day, Freedman scrambles to coordinate the different acts, the fireworks display, the stages, the police protection, and thousands of other details, including the baking of a 16-by-25-foot birthday cake. "I live with this," she deadpans as her staff swirls around her. "I don't sleep. This is my life."
The solution she and the organizers have settled on -- three stages catering to Miami's three predominant ethnic groups -- was not a deliberate attempt to mirror Miami's racial divide. But in the effort to draw at least 150,000 people (enough to earn recognition by Guinness as the world's largest birthday party), there was a need to reflect the city itself.
"What makes Miami so wonderful is its diverse cultures and communities," Freedman boasts. "In order to exhibit that diversity or try to cater to it, we needed several stages of music. The result is a party that will be very representative of our community. Extremely so. More so than I have ever seen."
Puerto Rican salsa star Mark Anthony tops the Latin stage, on Biscayne Boulevard near the Hotel InterContinental. Anthony will be joined by Willy Chirino, Hermanos Rosario, and other Hispanic acts. The Anglo stage (Bayfront Park Amphitheater) will swing to the sounds of Harry Connick, Jr., and his funk band. A third main stage, tucked east of the Hispanic stage, will feature predominately black acts such as the Gap Band and Sister Sledge.
Advertisements in Spanish-language newspapers tout only Anthony and the other Hispanic acts. Advertisements in English-language newspapers (including New Times) mention only the Anglo and black acts.
As with the city itself, the party's racial divisions fell together by happenstance. Initially Freedman toyed with the idea of many more stages featuring country music, Top 40, and R&B. When she realized the impossible logistics of so many little venues, she planned only one or two stages.
Then the Cuban military shot down two civilian planes flown by Brothers to the Rescue.
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"We kind of inherited the Latin stage from Calle Ocho," she explains, referring to the fact that the wildly popular street festival was canceled this year to protest the fatal Brothers to the Rescue downing. "When Calle Ocho didn't come off, there were many jilted sponsors who had invested a lot in the festival and in Miami. We were able to help them find a home, and in return we have a terrific Latin stage."
In the center of Bayfront Park, Free-dman plans to erect a fourth stage. And although it isn't one of the main stages and won't attract any name acts, the Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami stage reflects the promise of Miami's future. A cosmopolitan mix of more than 30 acts, each allotted a brief twenty minutes, will share the spotlight. Some examples: the Scala Miami Puerto Rican Review, the St. Andrews Pipe Band of Florida, the Italian Renaissance Festival Dancers, and something called the Chinese Ensemble. "This stage, smack in the middle of it all, is really so fabulous," Freedman gushes. "There will be some 400 performers A Mexicans, Peruvians, Haitians -- singing and dancing. It really offers something for everyone."
While many food vendors requested booths near specific, racially defined stages (for some reason, almost no one wants to be located next to the black stage), most will sell near this community stage, massing into a melting pot of gyros, arepas, jerk, cappuccino, and more.
Ann Sterling reports that after much deliberation the folks at Boston Market forswore their prominent spot near the Anglo stage and settled on a booth facing the middle of the park and the community stage. Did they abandon racial redlining to symbolically join the cultural fusion? "Actually," Sterling says, "they feel that at that location they'll make more money.