© 2020 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Miami Gets Its Very Own Creation Myth

Designed by Guzman Labs. Courtesy Andrew Otazo
Cover art for "The Miami Creation Myth" by Andrew Otazo. The first chapter was published in The Acentos Review, a Latinx literary journal, and a book is in progress.

When Andrew Otazo decided to write his version of Miami’s origin story, he didn't draw from history, but from Greek mythology and the Bible’s Book of Genesis.

“Almost every civilization has their own creation myth. I wanted to do that for Miami because it deserves its own obviously completely ridiculous and hyperbolic set of myths," he said.

Written under the pen name Bobby D. Foster, “The Miami Creation Myth” was first published in The Acentos Review, a Latinx literary journal. It takes readers on a bilingual, psychedelic, eco-conscious odyssey.

Pachango the Creator awakens atop a “divine pin pan pun” (Cuban slang that doubles as onomatopoeia for the sound a rollaway bed makes) and he goes on to create several gods who rule over sky, sea, the Everglades and earth. There’s also an antagonist, the god of chisme (Spanish for gossip), floating croquetas and Mount Tropical Park.

Otazo, who’s adapting his story for the stage at the Villain Theater this weekend, spoke to WLRN about the story’s humorous references, the challenges of myth-making and the “mythical land” of Broward County.

WLRN: Pachango on his divine pin pan pun. What are these references?

Otazo: Pachango has two sources. First is the word pachanga, which in Cuban slang means "party." And then there's Changó, who's one of the main gods of Santeria. Para Changó. So Pachango.

And pin pan pun?

I had to actually look this up because I didn't know the English word. It's called a rollaway bed. I love this word in Cuban slang because it's literally the sound the bed makes when it opens.

Did these two examples have anything to do with your own experience growing up in Miami?

Yeah, I'm Cuban American. My parents were born on the island. I was born here. My first language was Spanish. I had a very Cuban upbringing.

You're also an environmental activist. Earlier this year, you got some buzz for carrying 30 pounds of trash in the Miami Marathon.

From the mangroves. It wasn't just trash from my house. When I was younger, I would go into the mangroves and I'd walk in there and I would see a landfill. So one day, I decided, let me start cleaning it up systematically day after day.

And you find all kinds of stuff out there, right?

Everything you can imagine: bumpers from cars, car tires, just diapers, so many used diapers. It is infuriating.

How does your kind of environmentalism express itself in your writing?

We look at Miami. We look at downtown. We look at all these buildings, everything we've built. We think there's no way this could go away. But there have been thousands of cities throughout history, and it was believed that they would exist forever. There's nothing inevitable about Miami's existence.

You're talking about some of the climate change impacts like sea-level rise, right?

Absolutely. The way things are going right now is not good for Miami's continued existence, and that needs to be part of the story of Miami. Nothing's guaranteed that this place will be around in the next hundred years.

Why did you choose to write under the pen name Bobby D. Foster?

It's three very important people who passed away. I went to West Point for two years after high school. I eventually broke a shin and got some permanent hearing loss so I left at that point. Lots of live grenades will do that and not wearing hearing protection and being 18 and really stupid.

At West Point, my team leader, his name was Bobby Collins. He was basically my mentor. I was a cadet private. He was a corporal and he taught me the ropes. He was killed in action, unfortunately, in Mosul. So that's Bobby. There's the "D." That is named after Daren Hidalgo, another buddy of mine from West Point. He was killed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. And there was Coach Arthur Foster, who was my track coach in high school and he passed away from stomach cancer in 2008. My pen name is an homage to all three.

"This is a love letter to my city. It deserves its own obviously, completely ridiculous and hyperbolic set of myths." - Andrew Otazo

A lot of the story has to do with the creation of Miami, but there's also a mention of Broward County.

In my parallel universe, it's composed solely of South Florida, and there is this giant chasm at the Miami-Broward border. There's this mythical land of Broward that's supposed to exist, but no one really knows if it really does. That's making fun of the fact that Miamians are very Miami-centric.

This story is part of a larger collection you're working on. Tell us more about that.

"The Miami Creation Myth" is the first chapter of a book by the same title. I know my limitations. As a Cuban American, I have a propensity to see this city from a Cuban American lens, but then I definitely made a very concerted effort to include the stories, the languages, from Portuguese, to two different dialects of Jamaican patois, to Haitian Creole to Miccosukee, to Hebrew. It's all the languages of Miami. That's the point.

There will be a staged reading of "The Miami Creation Myth" at the Villain Theater in Little Haiti on Saturday.