If you know, you know, and if you don't know, Andrew Otazo, writer and eco-activist, will make sure you do: Miami is as beautiful as its deep need for improvement. It's up to us to choose what character we want to play in its story.
Andrew Otazo is that guy who removed tons of trash from Miami’s mangroves. Sometimes solo, sometimes with volunteers, Andrew has attracted county-wide attention for his stubborn determination to rid these guardians of the coast from debris. Described in the news as a "Sisyphean" task, his staunch defense of Miami’s natural ecosystem alludes to the mythological Greek king condemned to push a boulder up a hill eternally.
But unlike Sisyphus, Andrew has achieved better results by raising wide-reaching awareness of the mangrove roots’ superpower and the importance of cleaning the waterways for its restoration.
“I’m an optimistic person. Otherwise, I wouldn't have picked up 23,000 pounds of trash. If I had been infuriated by every pound of trash, I would have had a heart attack and died in the mangroves, and that would have been the end of me,” Andrew quips.
His satire is as epic as his cleanups, engaging thousands of online followers with his tersely cogent newsletter, short essays, stories, and memes about Miami culture, politics, and identity.
The unrealistic and impossible nature of Andrew's book, Miami Creation Myth — and its humble beginnings – defies our expectations of passionate diatribes or climate doom-ism. Instead, Andrew invites readers to view the familiar failures of Miami politics or affordability through a humorously warped lens that still preserves the beauty of our home.
“I desperately want Miamians to see themselves faithfully represented, even when I make fun of them. I want to make them laugh. I want to make them think. I want to present others’ experiences through my work,” Andrew said.
Andrew’s childhood was steeped in these world-creation tales, interpreted uniquely in Greek, Roman, Indian, and Japanese mythology. The theme of fantasy carried into Andrew’s writing, revealing itself in normalized absurdities that border on magical realism: Picture the storied Miami-Dade politician, Joe Carollo, giving a press conference, but he’s actually a grenade with the pin precariously removed from the clip.
“I think the city can and should be so much better than it currently is because I really care about it. I care about its environment. I care about its people. I care about its culture. I care about the land, the physical land, and ocean upon which we built this city. I want it to be better for everyone: for the humans, for the animals, for the plants, for everyone living here. That's the ultimate goal. And everything that I write, everything that I do is in service to that — including when I take the piss out of Brickell.”
Miami Creation Myth began from Andrew’s perspective, a Miami-born child of Cuban immigrants who has long navigated the ridiculousness and beauty of the city.
“One of the subjects I love to tackle is hypocrisy in the power structure of Miami. If you're in power, you see yourself as the default. There's a very antagonistic relationship among groups here that have been historically marginalized. So, I love to lampoon that perspective. And that's why I love satire so much,” Andrew said.
“It can be a public service to an extent because you're trying to elevate these really important issues that are otherwise not really in the general conversation or should have a more prominent position in the general conversation,” he continued.
Andrew reserves the lampooning for those in power and his own community. The principle prevents him from further marginalizing a marginalized community or speaking in ignorance. It also narrowed the field of voices represented in the book’s first drafts. Miami is largely Cuban, as is Andrew, but largely a lot of other things.
So, he changed tact.
“I wanted to write it in every single language of Miami, so that includes Haitian-Creole, Jamaican-Patois, Miccosukee, Portuguese, Spanish, and that meant that I needed to collaborate with these different people,” Andrew said. “It was an exercise in setting my ego aside.”
One of these community voices was Miami’s Seminoles. Cheyenne Kippenberger — speaker, advocate, and former Miss Florida Seminole and Miss Indian World — informed Andrew he got the chapter about them wrong, then helped him fix it.
“There's a lot of other people in the book. When it comes to what I personally write, I have no problem whatsoever changing that based on other people's feedback when I mess up or when I just don't do something correctly. But, the parts of the book that I feel are most important that I will not compromise on are those parts that other people shared with me because those are their stories. I don't want to mess with that whatsoever. I want to present that accurately and authentically, and that's not going to change.
“I really love this city. I love how culturally rich and diverse it is, but, at the same time, I don't have rose-tinted glasses on,” Andrew said. “The mission of the book is to reflect to Miamians an accurate sense of the city and themselves. So this book is just for Miamians.”
Andrew’s brand of satire balances reality and absurdity to make us Miamians consider ourselves empowered in shaping this city we call home. The complexities and conflicts of our day to day are featured rather than excoriated or glossed over, allowing for a unique sort of record-keeping that describes how the city functions.
Andrew’s plans for Miami Creation Myth are big. He’s already created an audiobook (to be released) featuring talented voices belonging to the communities he features; it’s been put on in theater and will hopefully become an animated short. As for the next phase of Miami’s creation, there’s more to come.
“I'm planning on doing two more books. One is a deeper dive into different aspects of Miami, and the last is just how every mythos ends…with an apocalypse,” Andrew said. “How's Miami gonna go down? It's climate change.”
Despite fears of climate catastrophe, Andrew speaks to the hope we can reinvent ourselves and ensure our home’s resilience.
“Climate change is an existential crisis. As someone who can't go see my family's graves in Cuba and has this big cultural canyon in my soul because I can't reconnect with my madre patria, Miami has become that. I would love to pass on a house or something to my children and my grandchildren here in Miami, but that's not possible if the city is underwater. So, it means a lot to me personally; it taps into a lot of historical trauma.
“I don't want to be another freakin’ refugee like my parents were. I don't want to have to leave this place — where I've established myself and that I care about so much.”
Welcome to Miami Creation Myth. Buckle up.
Andrew Otazo is one of the many hundreds of authors who participated in the Miami Book Fair 2023, the nation’s largest gathering of writers and readers of all ages. You can meet him at the panel, Miami Legendary:
Sunday, November 19 @ 2:00 pm
MAGIC Screening Room (Building 8, 1st Floor)
300 NE Second Ave., Miami, Fl
Please visit miamibookfair.com for more information.
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