Vivian Acosta: Miami as Text

Photo by Anthony Velasquez CC BY 4.0

Vivian Acosta is a senior at Florida International University majoring in psychology. She has always been passionate about highlighting the importance of mental health and other’s well-being. After exploring different psychology areas, she discovered that helping organizations create a healthy environment for their employees is what she wanted to devote her time to; therefore, she is specializing in industrial-organizational psychology.
During her free time, she likes to spend quality time with her family and friends or playing sports. She also visits her home country, Honduras, often and plans to expand her vacation destinations.
Vivian enjoys learning about different cultures, history, and societal issues. She believes that all of these topics merge through art, so she decided to enroll in the Art Society and Conflict course thought by the French American artist John Bailly.
Below you can find Vivian’s reflections.

Deering As Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“Pieces of Miami” By Vivian Acosta of FIU At Deering Estate on september 9th, 2020.

A hidden treasure is in Cutler Bay, treasuring unique gems: nature, art, architecture, and history. Undisturbed mangroves, trees, and animals guard the land, bodies, and remains of the Tequesta, one of Miami’s first inhabitants. In there, we get to see a different side of Miami, a lot simpler one. 

Charles Deering’s Spanish Villa, the Stone House, and his winter home, the Richmond Cottage, face Biscayne Bay. Manatees and fish visit the boat basin regularly—if I could, I would too—such a tranquil and breezy place. As I stood there, I paused and contemplated the view while the wind caressed my face. 

The Richmond Cottage was an inn about 100 years ago. Then, it became Charles’ self-sufficient winter home. The Richmond Cottage has a pioneer home design and is currently one of the oldest structures in Cutler bay (Historic Structures).

The Stone House is a three-story house with a Mediterranean revival design. The arched-shaped windows inspired by Islamic architecture give the place a dramatic yet elegant look. Throughout the house, I got to appreciate a diversity of adornments, designs, and architectural styles from all over the world: some contemporary and some historical ones.

A French gate hugged by vines and colorful flowers watch one of the rooms. The gate looked delicate and romantic; I could visualize Cinderella twirling in that room. I also got to cross Charles’ Chinese Bridge. This bridge allowed Charles to cross Cutler Creek. Unique art decorates the house, but my favorite piece was a mosaic made from pieces of Miami. Hundreds of small seashells, rocks, corals, sticks, and starfish assembled to form a unique shape decorate a ceiling. I never expected to see that above me. An Islamic design created by Afro-bohemian men on a Spanish Villa out of Miamian pieces. What an original work of art. It holds the essence of Miami: the diversity and rich culture that makes the city unique.

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

Even though there were various styles and designs within the house, they fit in perfectly—just like us, Miamians.  During my Deering Estate visit, I discovered a little more of Miami through its landscape, early architecture influence, and historical figures, which translated to the Miami we know today.

South Beach as Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“The Beautiful and The Ugly” By Vivian Acosta of FIU at South Beach on September 23, 2020

About 100 years ago, South Beach was a barrier island enriched with mangroves, marine life, and mosquitoes. People occasionally visited to spend a day at the beach. This changed when Carl Fisher decided that the island covered with mangroves should become an independent city where tourists could visit regularly. Carl Fisher accomplished his vision, scaring the environment, and Bahamian workers, physically, emotionally, and historically. The same figures who cleared thousands of mangrove trees were eventually banned from the land they helped building. They were used. They couldn’t enjoy the results of their hard work. Fortunately, South Beach has evolved over the years. The city welcomes everyone, and anyone and differences are celebrated. The atmosphere encourages people to show their true selves. The festive atmosphere and vivacious people match the unique scenery.

Walking down Ocean Drive, I came across different architectural styles. Pastel-colored buildings, European-looking structures, and contemporary designs. The style that matched South Beach the most, without a doubt, was Art Deco. Warm hues, neon-lights, and unique structures. An authentic combination that sets a tropical yet lively mood.

A diverse color palette, unique geometric ornamentations, and asymmetrical buildings are connected by the buildings’ horizontal detailing, guiding one’s eyes down Ocean Drive. These buildings match the beach, the weather, and the people. South Beach has the world’s most extensive collection of Art Deco buildings, which were once in danger of being demolished. Developers wanted to destroy the buildings to then build contemporary structures. Years of history, rich heritage, and the cultural essence of South Beach could have been deliberately whipped out if it were not for a visionary, persistent woman, community activist, Barbara Capitman. Capitman brought together a group of like-minded, conscious people, and prevented that disaster from happening. Today, the city conserves the iconic architecture that characterizes South Beach.

I realized that many important details go unnoticed due to our lack of information. If we perceive something, and we are uninterested–  either because it doesn’t make sense, we don’t understand it, or it looks ordinary– our brains ignore it, which prevents us from fully appreciating our surroundings. Things don’t stand out until we learn what they are and what they mean. When we finally learn the symbolic representation of things, we begin to “unlock” details that we didn’t pick up before from our surroundings. I experienced this during our visit to South Beach. I have been to South Beach countless times, but how didn’t I notice the piano keys painted on the sidewalk of Lincoln Road before? They were just a pattern of black & white rectangles on the ground before Professor Bailly pointed out the architect’s intention. H&M never had a metallic sign with the words “Lincoln Theater” with neon lights, and I could have sworn the ziggurat roof and low relief decorations on the Guess store had just been added on that day. “Ocean Beach Park”—”a play of words” I thought.  WRONG! South Beach was originally called “Ocean Beach” before it was turned into the vacation destination it is today. This is a worthy detail of South Beach’s history that everyone should know. The numerous coconut trees decorating the city? They are remains from the Lum brothers’ failed coconut plantation. Just because we are looking does not mean we are noticing everything around us, and the more we learn, the more we open our eyes to the beauty and the ugly: the truth of our surroundings.

Bakehouse as Text

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“One Change at a Time” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at Bakehouse on October 7th, 2020

Coral Reefs are beautiful structures under the ocean. They are home to millions of species, and they also protect our coastlines from storms. They are essential for the survival of many species, including ours. As rational beings, it should be common sense to protect them; however, we have been doing the opposite, and they are dying faster and faster. Irregular changes in their ecosystems’ temperature, pollution, and intentional removal of corals are just some causes of this species’ disappearance.

Scientists have highlighted this issue for a significant amount of time, but somehow, we overlook it and consciously keep on causing harm. Why do we insist on harming something so precious and vital? Perhaps the way the information is shared does not catch our attention, or we just fail to connect with the issue. Maybe if we all got to see the greatness of these structures, the unique and diverse fauna, and this ecosystem’s importance, we would have the drive to save them! Articles, news, and different initiatives worldwide are doing what they can to spread awareness on this issue, but nothing seems to change! We all need to come together to make a change, and for the majority of people to just ignore issues because it does not affect their present, it sparks a combination of frustration and helplessness in me.

Through Lauren Shapiro’s Future Pacific Project, I learned that change starts somewhere, and it does not happen overnight. My hopes went up, and I realized that we only control our actions and that sharing the message little by little adds up. Years of research, articles, news, and different projects have sparked initiatives little by little. These initiatives attract people from all around the world, who are willing to make a change, change that begins with the individual, and has a collective impact.

Future Pacific uses a unique technique to spread awareness of this issue. The project spreads science knowledge through the voice of art– a beautiful, creative, unique, subjective voice. The intended message, or the idea, is there, but everybody will perceive it in a unique, personal way, and that’s the beauty of it.

I had the unique opportunity of creating corals out of clay—this is part of Lauren Shapiro’s project. Some figures were small, while others were big, but what amazed me was the final result. Hundreds of coral forms made one by one added on to a huge coral mountain, just like those in the ocean. It was breathtaking. Helping create such structures ignited a unique connection and responsibility between me, the project, and the project’s intent: making a change to save the corals. I can say that I was part of the project, and now, that project is a part of me!

Rubell Museum as Text

Photos by Jennifer Quintero CC BY 4.0

“Appreciating the Unknown” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at the Rubell Museum on October 21st, 2020

The Rubell Museum is a contemporary art museum where Mr. and Mrs. Rubell’s precious art collection is shared with the public. Mr. and Mrs. Rubell have been collecting art for about 54 years. Their collection includes pieces by various artists with different styles; therefore, at their museum, you can encounter a diversity of works–from minimalistic canvases to breathtaking, realistic portraits. Contemporary art is unlike any other art style. There is a lot more freedom in the themes, mediums, and rules; therefore, this museum is filled with unique aesthetics, ideas, and experiences. 

The erroneous belief about art is that art should be aesthetically pleasing, but that is not necessarily what art is. Art is anything that one creates with the intent to express one’s ideas. Art is not mainly about aesthetics but about artists’ creativity when expressing their thoughts through their artwork. That is why, at times, many people fail to appreciate art, including myself– especially with a style that gives artists more freedom to express themselves like contemporary art. Some pieces’ intended message can be obvious, while others are open-ended or even unknown.

Mr. and Mrs. Rubell mentioned that they choose pieces that speak to them to add to their collection. Quite frankly, I did not understand what that meant. I realized that I was trying to understand art too hard. When visiting a museum, we should go in with an open mind. Things do not have to make sense necessarily. We have to appreciate the ambiguity, enjoy the experience, and allow ourselves to come up with our own interpretations. When you are able to engage with the art piece and enjoy the expression, that’s when the artwork speaks to you. If nothing of that happens, then move on to the next work, or simply stop trying to make sense of everything. Art is subjective—while one person can feel moved by an art piece, another person could think it’s boring. I realized that loosening up and being curious and open-minded was what I needed to experience the unknown.

Deering Hike as Text 

Photos by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“Where it All Began” by Vivian Acosta of FIU at the Deering Hike on November 4th, 2020

Miles away from the city’s commotion rests a spot that preserves a piece of Miami’s history. A natural preserve protecting acres of nature, history, and beauty lies in Deering Estate. Pure fauna and flora take us back to enjoy what Miami’s ecosystem was like before conquerors, before industrialization, and before the city was in a rush. The vivid greenery covers the path that Native Americans, such as the Tequesta, and native species once walked in. Different shades of green guide the way in this vivid place. In this natural preserve, it is difficult not to get lost physically, but it’s easy to find inner peace, harmony, and become mindful. Without the unavoidable disturbances we face daily, getting in touch with nature, ourselves, and our past is inevitable. Visiting a place like this hidden gem allows us to create a connection with our history, a much simpler time, where it all began.

Walking in the natural preserve, you will encounter mangroves, tropical hardwood hammocks, the Miami Rock Ridge, solution holes, a crashed airplane, and the Tequesta mound. My favorite part in this hidden gem is a hidden treasure, the Tequesta burial mound. Approximately 12-18 Tequesta buried, and an approximately 500-year-old oak tree is growing over the mound. I like to believe that the tree protects the bodies of the Tequesta. In the past, mounds have been disrespectfully uncovered since they’re “in the way” of “developments.” Nowadays, superficial things are valued more than history, or perhaps this part of history is purposely ignored by some.

Native Americans deserve more respect and more recognition. They inhabited Miami before anyone else, and outsiders came and took over. After that, Native Americans were basically pushed out of their home. Our history is told from the conquerors’ perspective, leaving Natives out of the picture for the most part. History should be told exactly how it happened, not how it’s more convenient. Deering Estate highlights Miami’s pioneer inhabitants’ truth and protects and preserves their land, our land, a piece of Miami, the unbothered Miami.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photo1 by Vivian Acosta and Photo2 by Lorena Cuenca CC BY 4.0

“Hidden Historical Figures” By Vivian Acosta of FIU at Downtown Miami on November 25th, 2020

Our geographical ancestors used to settle in places where there was a source of water supply nearby. The Miami River was used by the Tequesta and other Native Americans. Many Tequesta settled near the mouth of this body of water. Today, the Miami River is highly polluted, and it is home to several businesses. The Tequesta left behind several mounds along the Miami River. However, none of them remain since they were in the way of developers’ plans. Only a handful of mounds have survived urbanization. I do not understand how something so significant to Miami’s history can be consciously destroyed. On the other hand, there are countless memorials, statues, and streets to commemorate conquerors and developers.

A little after Ponce de Leon’s arrival in Miami, Native Americans were pushed out of their land, and some of them died as a result of diseases brought by Europeans. Europeans “conquered” the land of the Tequesta; however, I would use a different choice of words when referring to stealing land and harming locals. The Tequesta’s history has been marginalized along with other Miami pioneers’.

Julia Tuttle, a Miamian businesswoman, noticed Miami’s potential in being a prosperous city, so she encouraged Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to here. Since then, Miami began to grow exponentially. I have always learned about Flagler, but the first time I heard Julia Tuttle’s name was recent. I never knew that it was a woman’s initiative to develop Miami. Instead, all the credit has been attributed to a wealthy man, Henry Flagler.

Fort Dallas is a historic structure located in Lummus Park, Downtown, Miami. This building served several purposes over the years, including Julia Tuttle’s property, a military base, and a slave porter. Slaves built many of Miami’s structures, and they were also taken advantage of, discriminated against, and dehumanized. This part of our history is not highlighted; however, centuries later, racist attitudes are still prevalent.

The stories about our history are carefully selected, so ideals remain consistent over the years; however, these modified stories do more harm than good– they reinforce negative perspectives. Native Americans, Slaves, and women in our history deserve more credit and appreciation than what they are receiving. The truth of Miami’s history should be told, and the sacrifices people made should be highlighted, not only the wins of the historical figures we hear of today. The losses people had in order for “powerful” men to achieve their ambitions should also be known.

Everglades as Text

Photo by Vivian Acosta CC BY 4.0

“a Magical place” By Vivian Acosta of fiu at everglades national park on january 13th, 2021

Approximately an hour away from Downtown Miami’s commotion lies a parallel natural environment. The atmosphere is nothing like “current Miami’s,” but definitely like the one Miamian pioneers explored. You can find numerous ecosystems, habitats, animals, and organisms in the Everglades National Park. 1.5 million miles covered with sawgrass, pine trees, cypress trees, mangroves, and water. The park is inhabited by a diversity of birds and other animals including reptiles, and the Florida Panther.

Standing in the middle of a slough and being welcomed to wildlife’s habitat was a unique experience. It is human to feel scared, especially since we are so fond of being in control– in here, Mother Nature rules. Away from our hectic routines, unavoidable distractions, and rushed pace, time slows down a little, and one finally has the liberty to celebrate life—not only our lives but also the lives of the thousands of species populating the Everglades.  I rarely take a minute out of my day to admire the beauty in my surroundings, but in this River of Grass, it is inevitable not to notice. Thousands of creatures co-existing harmoniously. “Where is north? Where is south? What’s underneath?”, one wonders while being surrounded by tall grasses and trees.

Without my mind on what’s next on my to-do list and my phone blowing up, I got to acknowledge how magical nature is. How are we impressed by human-made objects, but not by other living things and how their environments work? Different, unique, natural systems contribute to nature’s collective wellbeing. Different species play unique and significant roles in their ecosystems! In the Everglades, algae and bacteria absorb contaminants to clean the water, similar to how we use filters to make water clean and safe to drink. I also found it interesting how tiny needles of cypress trees fall into the water, eventually decomposing, leaving acid behind: this eats away the limestone on the bottom, causing solution holes to deepen. These solution holes become home to alligators! It is incredible how nature works, how everything is connected, including us. However, this could be a double-edged sword; we have to be cautious because a small change could throw off nature’s incredible equilibrium. We have the power to destroy gems like this one, and with our selfish actions, we already are! Exposing ourselves to these kinds of experiences in which we are present and involved is crucial to learning about our environment and contributing to its preservation.

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