West of Collins Avenue: A Novel About First Generation Cuban Americans in Miami

West of Collins Avenue: A Novel (photo: Martin Ezequiel Sanchez)

West of Collins Avenue: A Novel (photo: Martin Ezequiel Sanchez)

A novel about five Miamians aged twenty-seven, West of Collins Avenue brings you into their daily lives as they navigate the murky waters of finding love, establishing careers, maintaining friendships and honoring culture in the Magic City.

The land in Miami has been bought and sold so many times over the past century that the city has very few historical landmarks to speak of. Its most enduring legacy is that of a city tourists value for its beaches, bodies, drugs, clubs and now casinos.

There is little else about Miami that outsiders seem to care about. But the most interesting part of this city lies just beyond the fluorescent lights of the art deco district.

Miami is an exotic ethnic melting pot with a considerable concentration of first generation Hispanic Americans who learn to differentiate between ethnicity, nationality and culture early on in their lives as a way to make sense of who they are.

While race relations have become a hot button issue in other parts of the country, a popular Miami radio station features a game called ‘Black, White, Hispanic or Other’ on their morning show, where callers guess the ethnicity of a criminal based on his or her charges in order to win concert tickets.

Gender wars wage on in national politics and marriage equality triumphs in the Supreme Court, but you couldn’t really tell if you were eavesdropping on a couple’s conversation over dinner in Miami – gay or straight.

There is a complacency in heteronormativity here that has driven out most of the queer culture, yet South Beach is still sold as a gay destination to people from around the world.

The Wynwood art district has received global attention as a center for art, but not the type of art that you hang on the wall. Street art has flourished on the exterior walls of the industrial area and, ironically, real estate prices there have skyrocketed, driving artists north to Little Haiti to find affordable studio space.

There are few places as misunderstood as Miami is in the twenty-first century and even less as absurd – just ask the natives.

Dr. María de la Covadonga García

Coco sat in the driver’s seat of her gray hybrid sedan sipping a steaming hot cortadito as the sun rose over Miami on an uncharacteristically cool Friday morning. While most twenty-nine year old professionals were hitting snooze on the alarm clock to avoid starting the workday for another ten minutes, Dr. María de la Covadonga García was trying to stay awake after a twenty-four hour shift at Jackson Memorial Hospital. She scanned her phone for missed text messages, phone calls or emails that would require immediate responses before pulling out of the parking garage.

A nickname she adopted officially after her first day of kindergarten, Coco was the name her father gave her when she was a baby and the first word she spoke. Having recently become engaged to her boyfriend, she was confronted with the question of whether to legally change her first name to Coco when she went downtown to change her last name. The idea of changing either one of her names made her feel uncomfortable in a way that none of her girlfriends in Miami could understand.

The only message that required an immediate response was one from her mother asking if Coco would be going by to drop off a guava cake later that morning. Unable to attend her great aunt’s birthday brunch because of her work schedule, she had offered to make a homemade rum cake with guava filling for the event and send it in her absence.

Coco baked the cake that Wednesday night and left it in the refrigerator of the Miami Beach condominium she shared with her fiancé, Sebastián, for him to deliver to her mother on Friday morning on his way to work.

Sí Mami, Seba te la va a llevar
a la casa antes de las ocho
de la mañana como te dije ayer.
Tengo que manejar y acostarme
que ya no puedo ni abrir los ojos.
Mandale un beso a tía. I love you.

Before putting the car into gear to head home, she activated the bluetooth system to call Sebastián and remind him about the cake.

Sebastián Salinas

Sebastián Salinas drove down the MacArthur Causeway leaving Miami Beach in his brand new hunter green pickup truck with the sun rising behind him as he made his way to West Kendall to drop off the guava cake that his fiancé, Coco, made for her great aunt’s birthday brunch. Wrapped in a thin layer of tin foil, he had placed the cake on the the tan leather passenger’s seat of his truck along with the commercial real estate listings he was going to show his client after making the delivery.

With thick black hair, fair skin and deep-set crystal blue eyes that slanted slightly downward toward his ears, Sebastián earned the nickname Gallego in high school because he resembled a Spaniard more than most of his peers. As children he and his twin sister, Stella, would spend their summers in Spain learning to speak spanish with a castilian accent, which always sounded funny compared to the spanish spoken by most Miamians.

There was very little traffic leaving the beach in the early morning, as most commuters drove east from the suburbs to work downtown. There was a small red coupe in front of him as he reached the exits for 836 West and I-95 South. The coupe was on the right lane furthest from the 95-South exit, Sebastián in the middle lane headed west when the coupe abruptly made a hard left turn in a dangerous last minute attempt to get off on the 95 exit. Sebastián had to swerve into the right shoulder of the highway to avoid a head on collision with the other driver.

“¡Me cago en la puta madre que te parió, joder!” he screamed as the cake and all of his files flew toward the windshield and made a mess of the frosting and MLS printouts he needed for that morning.

His car stopped just a few feet from the railing of the overpass overlooking the medical buildings of the Jackson Health System. Infuriated with the reckless driver who proceeded cut him off without a second thought, he punched his steering wheel with just enough might not to set off the airbags.

Knowing that Coco was just finishing up her shift at the hospital and likely in no mood for bad news, Sebastián placed his left hand over his eyes and tried to figure out what to do about the cake.

After the shock and anger wore off, he put his truck in gear. He would have to go buy a substitute cake and deliver it with enough time to go to his office and reprint all of his comps and listings before his client meeting.

Before he pulled back onto the expressway, he noticed the words Seven Urban Poets spray painted onto the side of the overpass in front of him. Sebastián was not a fan of the street art movement that had taken over the Miami art scene in the years before, but he was intrigued by the bold display which would likely be painted over in the coming weeks.

María Estela Salinas

It’s twilight on a Friday and the setting Miami sun paints the walls of Stella’s fifth floor office bright pink. Overlooking the green canopy of treetops that umbrella Coral Way, the couture committee of her nonprofit startup, Maison Vizcaina, is gathered around her Ikea desk settling in with Starbucks beverages in hand.

María Estela Salinas, as she is referred to only by her mother and her driver’s license, dangles two Oprah Chai tea bags over her steaming venti cup, careful not to ruin the fresh coat of red polish on her long cat nails.

The building that her office is situated in is a few decades old. Even though there’s a fresh coat of paint on the walls, the creaky wood floors and aluminum blinds give the space an old Miami feel – and smell. The elevator in the building is silver and volatile, with numbers above the doors that don’t light up.

After allowing the last drops of chai to drain into her cup, Stella tosses her tea bags into the waste bin and asks the three college students sitting in the ghost chairs across from her what they have prepared for the meeting.

Mariana, a Native Miamian like Stella, crosses her smooth, tan legs and pulls the shorts of her blue and white romper down to cover her exposed thighs. As chair of Maison Valentino’s annual gala, she was reviewing the minutes of their last meeting and following up on action items.

“I want to start with the initial sketches for the gown that we still need to source fabric for,” Stella began as soon as Mariana finished. “I don’t want to be running around at the last minute again this year dealing with dress fittings. I don’t care how fast you can sew, I want all of the gowns that are part of the presentation fitted a week in advance so that we can actually enjoy hair and make up on event day.”

Mariana smiled and pulled a piece of paper out of her olive green quilted Marc Jacobs handbag and handed it to Stella. The committee sat in silence, sipping their beverages, waiting to for a reaction.

“Holy shit.”

Jordan Rovirosa

After a long workout and a steaming hot shower, Jordan Rovirosa stands at the threshold of his balcony air drying while the sunset ushers in another Friday night in Miami. He stares out at Biscayne Bay from his downtown condo, his white towel thrown on the large black sectional in his otherwise empty living room. Vocal jazz music plays on a bluetooth speaker placed in the corner of the room as he sips on his favorite single malt whisky.

Standing over six feet tall with an NFL build, his hands almost reach the ceiling as he stretches his bare torso. The ocean breeze is warmer than the temperature inside his apartment and walking out onto the balcony feels like walking back into the bathroom after his shower. The warm air is thick and it coats his tan body with a fine layer of moisture.

Jordy places his lowball glass on a plastic white table next to the balcony door and picks up the bootleg bong he made out of a coconut water bottle when he got home from work. While most people would think twice before venturing out onto their balconies to smoke weed in the nude, Jordan feels comfortable considering that he hadn’t seen a neighbor on his floor since he moved into the building.

Dark clouds have settled over the bay, giving it an ominous look in the absence of the sun. After months of living in his dream apartment in the sky, Jordy wants to look out at the water and feel like he’s actually living the dream, but there’s something about facing east while the sun sets in the west that makes him feel like there’s a storm coming.

He hears his Samsung chime inside as he takes another sip of his whiskey. It’s a text message from his boyfriend, Julian, asking for his estimated time of arrival. Jordan is supposed to be on his way to South Beach to meet him for dinner, but he had decided earlier that he would use the traffic on the causeway as an excuse to buy him a few minutes for a drink at home before starting his night.

In the uber. Traffic. See u now.

Jordan leaves his phone charging on the gray granite countertop in his kitchen and goes back to the balcony for his drink. He looks at the red tail lights of the cars driving toward South Beach on the causeway in the distance. He used to look forward to getting onto that causeway when he would drive in from West Miami to party in his early twenties. Now in his early thirties, he wants nothing more than to get high, order food and binge watch TV shows on Netflix.

As a tax attorney for one of Miami’s largest firms, he feels lucky to have even gotten home before 8pm on a Friday night. Even though he would kill to stay in, Jordy takes a final hit from his bong, grabs his drink, and walks back into his bedroom to get dressed.

Julian Cuesta

“Are you seriously starting another argument about my sexuality right before the sushi comes out?” Julian asks his boyfriend Jordan. The couple sits under the orange umbrellas of Sushi Samba, an asian fusion restaurant located on a busy corner of Lincoln Road, on a muggy Friday night.

“I’m not starting anything,” Jordan says. After spending an hour sitting in causeway traffic on his way to meet Julian for dinner in South Beach, he is suffering from a severe case of post-sitting-in-Miami-traffic irritability. “You’re the one trying to start shit by flaunting your bisexuality in front of the waitress like you wanna get laid tonight.”

Julian lets out a laugh.”I wasn’t flaunting my bisexuality – something you clearly have serious issues with, I’m learning.” He pulls back his chin-length, dirty blond hair with one hand and his sun-kissed cheeks, large green eyes and white teeth radiate light. Working for a design startup from his apartment in South Beach gives him plenty of time to spend kite surfing in the Friday afternoon sun. “I was flirting… and you know what? I do wanna get fucking laid tonight, Bruh.”

“Yea? Good luck with that.” Jordan says without resuming eye contact with Julian. He takes a sip of his scotch and gazes off at the diverse groups of tourists walking past them toward different hotels and retail stores with colorful plastic bags, suitcases and frozen yogurt in their hands.

Realizing that his boyfriend’s mood seems to be trending downward for the night, Julian decides to shut down the conversation to avoid an escalation in conflict. “You know what? You don’t have to pick a fight with me if all you wanna do is go home. Just be a man, say you wanna go home and call an Uber. I’ll eat your fucking sushi.”

Forthcoming

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