Jesse Velazquez: Miami as Text

As I travel through space and time on this rock we call Earth, I hope to partake in as many riveting experiences as I can. Currently studying biology at FIU, my dream is to research different ecosystems around the nation and hopefully the world. The realization that we have such a short amount of time to experience our lives has driven me to learn about new philosophies and new outlooks on life. I believe this course will allow me to appreciate my home city of Miami in a new light, acknowledging the untold histories and unspoken forms of expression evident through the constant change Miami endures. I strive to make everyday an adventure.

Deering as Text

“Take Care Not to Burn Your Bridges” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Deering Estate on September 9, 2020

Photo taken by Annette Cruz / FIU Honors

Before South Florida has become the cultural epicenter it is today, Charles Deering made his home in what is now known as Cutler Bay. Surrounded by the lush green jungle that is the pine rocklands and wetlands, he erected a lone bridge to aid him cross a creek on his evening walks around his estate. Unbeknownst to him, the bridge has become a symbol of much more.

As the lands of Florida were developed, the natural flow of water from the Okeechobee was greatly disturbed. The creek that this bridge was built over had now disappeared. The bridge stood for years as a glimpse of what used to be. It was not until recently, scientists have been able to restore this flow of water through the use of new technologies (Staletovich, Wetland). As a research assistant currently studying the effects the draining of the Everglades have done to the native flora and fauna, it brought joy to my heart to know that there is a chance for change.

During our time at the estate, we were asked what art meant to us. This question resonated with me as I took this course to try and understand what art can mean to me. I still wouldn’t be able to give a clear answer but the bridge came to mind. Built by the hands of black men on land they were eventually restricted from inhabiting, in an ode to an architectural style that originated halfway across the world, now standing as a testament to the past and how man is able to correct the wrongs of his elders; I believe nothing in the estate truly encapsulates what art can mean than the Chinese Bridge.

I can’t help wonder what others in the early 1900s must have felt when coming across the bridge. In the middle of what was then nowhere, stands a brightly colored bridge with intricate designs reminiscent of a distant land. It is evident Charles Deering tried to bring different aspects from around the world to his home. I wish I could ask the men building it what they thought. It amazes me how much can change in only 100 years.

Source: Staletovich, J. Urban wetland at Deering Estate offers glimpse at successful Everglades restoration. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1962423.html.

South Beach as Text

“The Drug Store Massacre” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at South Beach on September 23, 2020

The “world famous Hollywood Landmark.”

When I was about ten years old, one of the scenes that was forever imprinted in my mind from Scarface was the chainsaw bathroom scene. I believe it was that scene that set the tone for the rest of the film. The story of a man in search of the American Dream is a story that hits close to home for many Cubans that have migrated to Miami. You would imagine that a movie that has brought so much attention to Miami would be celebrated.

As we walked down Ocean Drive, the streets told stories of a time before. Light blues and curved lines, reminiscent of the ocean waves. Wide buildings structured like cruise ships. The buildings gave me a sense of optimism from the past, the buildings were designed to be an everlasting aesthetic. A prediction of the future from the past. The neon accents that outline the strong lines at night add to the sense of modernity. For the most part, each building was designed to stay.

The trend continued until we came across a CVS. The building was a flat and dull structure. There was no idea being expressed, no lines to move your eyes, no colors to elicit emotion. The developers completely rejected the South Beach design, it was a disrespect to those who had a vision for the future of Miami. Then as we approach the building, in a small corner away from view reads a sign. “This scene depicts the chainsaw massacre (from Scarface) and is a world famous Hollywood Landmark.” To add insult to injury, they have transformed what housed an iconic scene in film to an incorporated drug store.

It seems that this theme of disregarding the past is prevalent in the development of Miami. The entirety of this city is based on the destruction of wildlife and homes of minorities. The history of Miami is a history of massacres. This class continues to open my eyes to the reality of this world and how humans have so recklessly altered it.

Bakehouse as Text

“Sea of Change” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Bakehouse Art Complex on October 7, 2020

Photo taken by John Bailly / FIU Honors

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution scientists have warned the public of the dangers of the American lifestyle. Thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted daily by human activity. Whether through the use of cars or from industry, these greenhouse gases have settled into the ocean. With unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the ocean has begun to acidify. With such rapid change in ocean chemistry, many organisms are at risk. Corals have been one of the biggest groups affected by ocean acidification.

As a student focusing on environmental biology, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the science of global warming. Constantly reading articles and studies about the harm humans have done to the planet, at times one can feel hopeless. Speaking with Lauren Shapiro made me realize how inclusive science can be. I have always appreciated music and art, but never tried to combine it with my love for science. I believe there is so much ground that can be covered this way. It was inspiring to hear from artists bringing awareness to heal our local ecosystems.

The best way to seek support from all walks of life is to find something everyone can connect to. Lauren’s project is a means to connect with the public. There aren’t many opportunities when one can have a hands-on experience like this project allows. Being a direct part of an art piece inspires people to take part in art projects of their own and makes the topic in focus fun and digestible to the everyday person. As we were able to recreate a coral reef system using molds crafted from real corals, I wanted to learn more about these beautiful creatures.

As Lauren stated, scientists and artists can gain a lot from each other. A collaboration of knowledge at this scale can produce life changing results. I hope to do something similar with science in my future. My goal is to lead research initiatives in different parts of the world, while connecting with local artists. I hope I can spread my message of conservation wherever I go with the community through song or visual art, motivating the youth to pursue a life in the arts and sciences.

Rubell Museum as Text

“Rude Boys on Ice” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Rubell Museum on October 21, 2020

When I first saw this piece, I immediately thought of the two-tone ska movement of the 1980s. Black and white photographs of men dancing in full suits were a staple of this genre. The “rude boy” aesthetic became synonymous with the entrancing upstrokes of ska guitar. The most famous dance of this scene was the skank, a march-like dance in which the body would swing along to the music. Circular mosh pits filled with skankers was a common sight in this scene.

As I read about the artists thoughts behind this piece, I tried to put myself in his shoes.  My interpretation of the piece is that Robert Longo was trying to capture the commotion and kinetic energy behind music. His whole approach to this piece was similar to the way one would write a song.

This piece opened my mind to the true meaning of violence. What is the true definition of violence? Where is the line drawn when an act is seen as violent or expressive. From the outside a mosh pit may seem like a cesspool of anarchy and hate. Once you are in, it feels like a natural flow of energy. The movements are an extension of the song. I believe these pictures are meant to highlight the relationship between man and violence.

This trip to the art museum was an unexpected experience. I have never really sat down and observed art to try and understand its meaning. I would like to immerse myself in more similar conversations. Hearing how others view things and often times the world can open one’s mind to new outlooks. I hope to view things more like an artist in my life.

Deering Hike as Text

“The Dead and Mounded” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Deering Estate on November 4, 2020

The incessant rains and hurricane force winds that hit the coast of south Florida make it almost impossible to give current Floridians an idea of how life before colonization was. Luckily for historians and appreciators of Florida’s history, the nomadic Tequesta tribe have offered a peak into their lives. In the Deering Estate Nature Reserve stands a large oak tree towering over a large mound.

Photo of Tequesta Burial Mound by Jesse Velazquez

The mound holds over ten bodies of tribal members, all forming a circle. In a time when energy was conserved because one’s next meal was never promised, it took the manpower of at least 15 men to form this hill and bury the dead.

I find it extremely powerful that the members of the Tequesta tribe decided to plant an oak tree at the top of the mound. Whether they transplanted an already developed tree or placed a seed to be nourished by the decomposing bodies of their fallen members, an understanding of the cycles of nature and giving back to the land that provides to them is obviously present. I believe this was a site of prayer or ritual practice. I am sure this became a place of contemplation, possibly a place of gratitude for the seasons and good weather. The tree grows up and out to the sun. Oak trees are some of the biggest trees in south Florida.

Such a sacred monument to their elders tells a lot of the morals of the Tequesta tribe. Unlike many depictions of native Americans as savage warriors ravaging lands, the mound shows that they mourned their lost brothers and sisters. They reflected on their lives and the significance of family. I believe we have much to learn from our past.

Downtown Miami as Text

“The Hand That Feeds, Also Kills” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at Downtown Miami on November 25, 2020

The more I learn of Miami and the world, the more I realize the extent to which humans have taken it upon themselves to completely alter it. I sometimes forget that places like New York City and downtown Miami were once thriving ecosystems full of flora and fauna. As the professor mentioned, I tried to truly immerse myself into the world that was before. I like to imagine a time-lapse of the land. A land devoid of concrete structures, covered in green. I wonder what the natives thought when they saw the Spanish ships of Ponce de Leon land on their shores. It would have impossible to imagine that in a few centuries their lands will be tainted with buildings replicating the architecture of this distant land. The influence these “visitors” have completely overshadow that of the original inhabitants. Paths that have been used for hundred of years will be renamed as streets of the white man. Statues will be erected glorifying these white men, giving no appreciation for the natives for years to come.

Though I do wish the natural landscape could have been preserved more carefully, there is a point when I believe you must accept what has happened and look to the positives. Miami has become a cultural center evident through the different influences in architecture and languages. As we walked through the city, graffiti was present all throughout. Whether a full mural or a simple tag, it is the voice of an unheard group trying to be noticed. Similar to cave paintings the Tequesta may have done, those that inhabit the inner city try to say something with their art. The more I learn about Miami the stronger my love-hate relationship grows.

The Everglades As Text

“The Tranquil and the Inconsequential” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Everglades National Park on January 14, 2021

The Amber Bloom / Photo Taken by Jesse Velazquez

The reason I have been drawn so much to nature is the same the poet spoke of in “Pahayokee.” To me, nature reminds me of my true role in the world. The ties to work and stress are all cut loose. I am surrounded by the untouched. There is no deadline, there is no worry. We have become so entangled in our own personal problems we forget of the constant balance found in nature. Every push has a pull, every up has its down. There is no waste in nature, everything serves its unique purpose. All processes happen at the pace it was meant to be. The trees grow, the water flows, and life is but a means of supporting another. A cycle that knows no good nor bad, only the necessary.

I remind myself that this is not an escape, but a reminder of the truth. Park Ranger Dylann Turffs spoke of the disconnect among people and the natural world. I believe the more people reach out and spend time in the outdoors, they will realize the importance of conservation efforts. These efforts are not merely for the preservation of land that is “nice to look at,” but a protection of what is true on this Earth. Millions of years of evolution have led to the world we live in now, and in a mere hundreds we may lose it all. Every day it seems we are told of new ways we are different from each other; things that pull us apart as people. Nature is the only thing we all truly have in common.

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