Life is Weird, Gritty, and Beautiful in the Everglades

Mechanization of farming jobs, disease, and isolation left Belle Glade poorly developed. Less than 50 miles away on the island of Palm Beach, billionaires including Donald Trump live in mansions.

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Aug 18 2016, 12:00am

This story appeared in the August issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

For the past year and a half, Sofia Valiente has been living in the heart of Belle Glade, Florida, a swampy little town in the Everglades that local historian Lawrence E. Will once called "one of America's last frontiers." Today, high poverty, crime, and poor housing make life difficult for a diverse population of residents, including scores of Caribbean workers who stayed behind once work dried up. Beginning in the 1930s, Belle Glade was developed like a labor camp, and companies constructed buildings that maximized usage for the seasonal workers who came there to cut sugarcane and pick vegetables. Mechanization of farming jobs, integration, and isolation, left Belle Glade poorly developed. But decades later, the town is still vibrant. Jamaican-born residents own clubs and support one another through domino tournaments and round robins. Other locals hunt rabbits and sell them in town for a couple of dollars. Meanwhile, less than 50 miles away on the island of Palm Beach, billionaires including Donald Trump live in mansions. These folks may be rich, but as one pioneer put it, this whole region was built "from the same swamp."