Interview with Mr. Jugnace Joseph at the Consulate since its inception [fr]
Mr. Jugnace Joseph, you have been one of the first agents hired at the Consulate while its hinges were still new. How did you hear about the job opening and why did you decide to work for the Consulate?
It was through the indication of Mrs. Charlotte de Chambéret, the secretary to the Consul General, Thierry Reynard, that I learned about the opening of such positions within the consulate. At that time, I was a student at Miami Dade College. As a Francophone, I had a real interest in that opportunity. I had an interview first with Mrs. de Chambéret and a following meeting with Mr. Reynard. I was then recruited on March 19th, 1985.
Could you describe the first hours of this brand new Consulate?
Upon my arrival, the consulate was located at the 33rd floor of the One Biscayne Tower Building. The department was composed of six people whom all came directly from France, namely the Consul General, Mr. Thierry Reynard, Charlotte de Chambéret, his secretary, and the Deputy Consul, Mrs. Bernadette Grèze. We also had Mrs. Bernadette Beck in charge of the visas, Mrs. Béatrice Beck who was in charge of the cultural and press affairs and, finally, Mr. Andre Guyot who worked at the passport and Vital Statistics section.
I remember that the desks and the chairs were lent to us by Mr. Jaques Cachot, the director of the French company CMA-CGM. Everything was done by hand and the only typewriter we had was in the hands of Mrs. Charlotte de Chambéret, the Consul General’s secretary.
The place was really spacious since we were expecting other agents. Indeed, after the opening of the consulate, which was held January 27th 1986, the members of the French Trade Mission arrived. At this time, we were also able to receive the public, which until then had to go to our Consulate in New Orleans in order to get official documents.
In the beginning of 1986, Mr. Thierry Reynard, who was also the Commercial counselor, welcomed Mr. Gilles de Laguardiare, Deputy Commercial Counselor and Capital goods specialist, Mr. Frank Albi, Commercial attaché and Mr. Jacqueline Vergniolle, accountant.
What do you remember of the city of Miami and its downtown at that time?
Along Biscayne Bay, Miami’s downtown consisted of two main towers; ours, the One Biscayne Tower , and the Freedom Tower, a historical building for the Cuban refugees, which was unused since the ’80s and was then in poor condition.
As in other American cities, Miami’s downtown ended empty by 6:00 pm, when all stores on Flagler Street were closing. At dusk, the streets were only frequented by the homeless.
We lived in either Key Biscayne or in the south or the north of Miami. Another particularity of this period was that there were only a few handfuls of tourists, and only retirees lived in Miami Beach and on Ocean Drive.
There were not many restaurants or cafes either. When we went to Miami Beach, it was to enjoy the beach. We could park there without any problem but, of course, we did not stay there after darkness has fallen!
The city having changed so dramatically, the consulate moved in 2004. What are your memories of the relocation after spending more than 18 years at the heart of Miami’s downtown? Moreover, as you were daily in contact with the public, could you tell us how the French community perceived such change?
Before moving to our current address, we had already moved from the 33rd floor to the 17th floor of the same tower. When American citizens needed a visa to travel to France, the Consulate opened an additional bureau at the 16th floor. On July 1st, 1990, when the visa obligation was terminated, the office on the 16th floor had been closed.
Indeed in 2004, the consulate relocated on Brickell, at a lower place on US1, within the Financial District, one of the arising neighborhoods of the city.
At first, the public made me aware of the fact that it was quite delicate to park on Brickell Avenue. Nevertheless, the vast majority of them seemed satisfied with the new location, and now those who live in Miami know that, it is even more difficult and more expensive to park near the One Biscayne Tower building than here, and the topic has quickly disappeared.
The French community and the wider Francophone community have grown considerably over the years. How has the evolution been translated in the community and who are the great names that have marked such period?
The first great figure was Mr. Jacques Turner, the Honorary consul of Florida before the opening of the consulate. He was hosted in Air France’s office, which was on Flagler Street in the ‘80s. He was the essential middleman between the French citizens and our closer Consulate, the one in New Orleans.
The other person, who still plays a major role in the French community, is of course, Ms. Nicole Hirsh. She was first elected Representative of the Council of French nationals living abroad, and then Counselor of the Assembly representing French people abroad and Consular council member, two elected positions that she is still bearing.
Furthermore, personalities such as Pierre Mermet-Maréchal or Anaide Govaert and her husband, the Honorary Consul of Belgium, were equally very active within the francophone community in the ‘90s.
The organization Miami Accueil also worked hard both for the newcomers and for the ones previously established in the region. In 2004, its members started to receive the public each Wednesday within the premises of the Consulate.
Actually, the French community grew considerably over the years. In 1986, we numbered 3000 registered citizens and in 1989, as the French companies settled, the number increased to reach 7000. In 1992, there were already nearly 10,000 French nationals registered at the Consulate.
One of the highlights of this period was the Conclave, organized by the French Trade Missions in 1992 in the Villa Vizcaya, which was followed a year later by a second edition while Mr. Denis Pietton was Consul General. The Conclave was a meeting with all Trade Missions of the North-American, including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. There were important encounters highlighting the French companies established in the area, such as Latécoère, Airbus, CMA-CGM, Barfield, Alstom, the Marina Park Hotel, and the Sofitel.
In 1992 and in 2005 the south of Florida was severely affected by hurricanes. How the consular team did organize itself in order to deal with these particularly destructive events?
It is impossible to forget the 23rd of August 1992 in Miami. The category 5 hurricane Andrew had not directly hit Miami’s downtown; nevertheless, we stayed without electricity for days. The airport was closed for one week and over 200 000 houses in Miami Dade county lost their roofs because of the storm. At the Consulate, we helped French tourists who were trapped here due to the closing of the airport.
In 2005, we had learned our lesson and we were better prepared. However, when Wilma came up, many people were surprised by its strength and our building on Brickell Avenue, as many other towers in the Financial District, had its windows severely damaged. Our building was closed by the authorities of the city, and we had to open a duty room at the Alliance française, which was still on Coral Way.
I also remember the crisis unit we set up after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in 2010, as several hundreds of French tourists, particularly in Orlando, could not return home.
Which moments were particularly remarkable to you during the 30 years of existence of this consulate?
In 1991 when we had Mr. Jean-François Thiollier as Consul general, I recall the presidential visit of Mr. François Mitterrand who came to Miami and then Key Largo to meet with President George H. W Bush. I also remember the arrival of Catherine Deneuve, Gérard Depardieu and Alain Delon to attend the Sarasota French Film Festival, which took place in November from 1989 to 1992.
There were other events that were particularly remarkable to me, such as the organization of the presidential elections by our Consulate; it is a national time, in which the whole team gets together during weeks and that has, of course, significant influence!