New exhibit showcases the importance of Miami’s historic Little Haiti neighborhood

There was just something about Little Haiti that Edouard Duval-Carrié couldn’t escape.

It was the early 1990s and the Haitian artist had decided to move from Paris. A canceled flight allowed him to spend some extended time in Miami and Little Haiti, among all places, just enthralled him. He loved that everyone spoke Creole. He loved seeing the spires of the Caribbean Marketplace. He loved that it felt like home. Within two years, Duval-Carrié had purchased the very same studio he currently occupies nearly three decades later.

“I felt like it was the only place in the world that had Haiti attached to it other than Haiti itself,” Duval-Carrié said, surrounded by a towering bookshelf and his artwork. He never predicted gentrification that would began in the early 2010s – “I said ‘I’ll be in the ghettos for the rest of my life,’” he quipped, “And that’s the idea that I loved” – and has since begun to chip away at the neighborhood’s identity. Or maybe he did – just subconsciously. “I would tell other Haitians that you should be investing here.”

Duval-Carrié is one of the many artists featured in the new exhibition, “I Am Little Haiti,” which seeks to reframe the narrative of the historic neighborhood. On display from May 11-Aug. 10 at Green Space Miami, the show combines essays, mixed-media art, photography and videos to demonstrate not only Little Haiti’s multilayered history but provoke meaningful conversations about its future amid the ongoing changes.

“There is this need for the people who see the importance of Little Haiti to unite not for their own personal gain but because of what they’ve been given needs to be protected,” exhibit curator and Miami Herald photographer Carl-Philippe Juste said. The exhibition title itself, he added, is a declaration rooted in “the perpetual existence of this space.”

Juste has a unique personal connection to Little Haiti. It was his father, Viter Juste, who moved to Miami in 1973 and coined the name “Little Haiti.” The senior Juste also played a very active role in Miami’s fight for immigrants’ rights, founding Haitian Florida, the first local newspaper for the growing Haitian community, and successfully advocating for the children of undocumented immigrants to attend public schools.

And thanks to Duval-Carrie, the younger Juste was able to rent part of the artist’s studio in 2007, effectively giving him a voice in the changing neighborhood that his father worked so hard to help build.

“A lot of Haitians are being pushed out because they don’t have long term leases,” Juste said, later adding that Haitians alone “can’t save Little Haiti.”

The exhibit therefore embodies one of his father’s biggest philosophies: although Little Haiti provided a somewhat familiar environment for many immigrants to start fresh, the neighborhood is still just a part of the rich tapestry that makes Miami such a magical place.

“My father understood that Miami was cosmopolitan,” Juste said. “It was a place that was unique. It was not an American city. It didn’t belong to the United States; it belonged to the world. If the Cubans could have Little Havana, the Haitians can have Little Haiti. He understood the coexistence – that we’re not blending into a soup but we’re more like a salad. We have our distinct ingredients and those ingredients needed to be valued.”

Still, it’s no secret that the area’s Haitian population has steadily shrunk as developers pounced. A few aspects made Little Haiti rather desirable: its proximity to popular neighborhoods like Design District and Wynwood; high elevation above sea level; cheap land. Small mom and pop shops began to move out due to raising rents. Younger relatives began to sell their family homes to start anew elsewhere. Even the future of the beloved Caribbean Marketplace was recently in question. The result: the Haitian population of Little Haiti has dropped a third between 2000 and 2020, according to the latest Census data.

“I Am Little Haiti,” the final chapter in a multiple-year initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation through Florida International University’s Commons for Justice: Race, Risk, Resilience project, thus seeks to coalesce the disparate elements that make the neighborhood more than just a collection of streets and structures.

“It’s not a matter of saying ‘Hey come in and destroy these iconic, historic structures,’” said Rebecca Friedman, the director of FIU’s Public Humanities Lab who helped curate the show. “But rather, ‘Even if you try, we’re still here.’ And the we in that may not be limited to Haitians – it’s them and allies.”

But the places are important: As visitors walk through the gallery, they can read about the importance of Toussaint Louverture Elementary School, read about the importance of Chef Creole, read about the importance of Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church.

“Those are very real things,” Black Miami historian Nadege Green said, referring to the potential loss of Little Haiti’s iconic structures. Green penned an immersive essay that interweaves Creole and English as she chronicles growing up in Notre Dame, an experience that helped lay the foundation for her work Black Miami-Dade, a multimedia history archive. “It’s important not just what’s happening to the neighborhood but the need to archive these memories, who do we remember, how do we remember.”

The other elements of the show serve as a time capsule of sorts. There’s a collection of various ornaments that immigrants brought from Haiti to serve as a reminder that nostalgia always played an important role in the neighborhood’s existence. Duval-Carrié’s portrait of Toussaint Louverture entitled “Toussaint en Saumon” pays homage to revolutionary spirit of Haitians. And the collection of photographs, many of which show the faces of the community, depict the people who give the enclave its rhythmic heartbeat.

“Little Haiti is a gift to Miami-Dade County,” Juste said. “It’s a place where Haitians can flee persecution and be in a place where their past and present is valued.”


WHAT: “I Am Little Haiti” Exhibit

WHEN: noon-6 p.m. Wednesdays- Sundays from May 11- Aug. 10

WHERE: Green Space Miami, 7200 Biscayne Blvd., Miami