"Teen Miami" Exhibit Documents the Phenomenon of Growing Up in Miami

​Whether you spent your teen years applying mascara only to cry it off or boozed it up with cheerleaders, everyone loves talking about their youth. Those transformative years may not have been a ball, but it's fun to complain or reminisce about them. If you grew up in Miami in the '90s, for instance, you remember Velvet Creme and someone you know getting roofied while clubbing on South Beach.

Shared experiences bring us together as a community. That's why the HistoryMiami is conducting a three-year research project collecting oral histories from folks who were teenagers in the 305 between the '30s and '90s. The interviews are conducted by current Miami teens and some of the stories will be used in the "Teen Miami" exhibition on display in September 2012. We spoke with Teen Miami Coordinator Mariela Rossel and folklorist Mike Knoll about the project.

Are you participating in the project?

Mariela Rossel: I will participate only if we don't have enough oral history candidates that represent teenage life in Miami during the '90s.

What are some memories you would include having grown up here in Miami during your teen years?

MR: Oh, my!  Hobie Beach! Gables, skipping, prom, getting my first car, hanging out with friends, how it all changed when I went to college. I have so many memories I could talk forever. I think the teens questionnaire would help me guide my thoughts better. Once the participants are selected, the teens will then begin a cultivation process with each participant where they will go over the questions, get to know each other and establish a rapport that will be very important for the day of the interview. I would definitely bring in a yearbook, picture, CD or something from my teen years that will help spark some memories.

Unscientifically, of course, what do you think we might hear is different growing up a teen in Miami than elsewhere?

MR: Bro, really?

I would like to think we'll see a contrast between the descriptions of teen life of the '40s, '50s, and early '60s to the teens of the '70s, '80s, and '90s, when so many other cultures had already infused themselves with Miami. There is a lot of value in learning how people, in this case teens, lived in the past and how that changed over the years. Understanding the reasons for this change helps us build an identity with our community which is what we intend to document at HistoryMiami. If someone arrived in Miami three days ago or if their family arrived 100 years ago, we are all part of the same community, we are all Miamians and therefore we share a fundamental common identity which we can use to begin building an understanding for the future... from "Miamuh" to "Meeeameee."

These histories, what do you think they will reveal, ultimately?

Mike Knoll: They'll document the teen experience in Miami area over time, across cultures, et cetera. This should give us a sense of what teen culture, social norms, and more were like in different eras, for different communities. We should be able to compare and contrast these experiences to better understanding the story of teen life in the area.

What do you think the benefit is of collecting oral histories versus people writing down their experiences? 

MK: Oral history documents an interviewee's voice, emotions. On video, it also captures an image of the person, their gestures. All of this is good for documenting what makes an interviewee unique, as well as the meaning of what the interviewee is saying. Unlike with written testimony, an oral history interviewer helps the interviewee tell their story; this is done through conversation, follow-up questions, etc. This can lead to more stories and information, and to clarifying information. In our case, doing oral histories (as opposed to written surveys) allows the teens to connect with the interviewees and the past in a more engaging and meaningful way.

Using oral histories recorded on video or audio, we can create more engaging products, such as documentary videos, exhibitions, website content. This wouldn't be the case with written testimony.

If you'd like to take part in the project, visit hmsf.org/teenmiami and historymiami.org.

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Liz Tracy has written for publications such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, Refinery29, W, Glamour, and, of course, Miami New Times. She was New Times Broward-Palm Beach's music editor for three years. Now she plays one mean monster with her 2-year-old son and obsessively watches British mysteries.
Contact: Liz Tracy