Roger Masson: Miami as Text 2020-2021

Robert is Here, Homestead, FL. Photo by Roger Masson/ CC BY 4.0.

Hi classmates! I am excited to share a little about me with you all. I was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban parents and I moved to Gainesville at the age of four. I moved back to Miami in 8th grade and the only thing I can remember about my time up in North Florida is the countless prayers at night to move back home- that just goes to show how special this city is to me. 

I am currently a senior studying International Relations with a minor in Political Science. I look forward to getting to know the city I love and create lasting memories with my classmates.

Deering as Text

Deering Estate, Miami, FL. Photo by Roger Masson/ CC 4.0

“A Day to Remember”

by Roger Masson of FIU at Deering Estate, 2 September 2020.

A visit to the Deering Estate is much more than just a beautiful day in the park—it’s a journey to a million places at once. To say that this destination is magical is an understatement; there was something special about the ambiance of the Deering Estate that took my breath away, more so than the hike. 

During my time at the Deering Estate, I remember commenting that I felt everywhere but in Miami. In certain instances, it seemed as if I were in the rural regions of Colombia. In particular, the first picture that I attached below transported me back to the road trip I went on with my best friend, Laura, and her dad, who happens to be a truck driver in Colombia. On our way to Bogotá from Cali, I recall seeing acres full of banana trees just as the one located in the Deering Estate. Later on, when we were exploring the Miami-Dade County Pine section, immediately, I was back on the expressway near my childhood home in Alachua—an area with an abundance of pine trees. It is remarkable just how certain details can trigger so many lovely memories at once. 

Throughout the course of this tour, I took the time to reflect and appreciate the special connection I have with my environment. Our brief stop by the Tequesta burial site, gifted me the opportunity to view my identity through a different lens, along with our unique relationship to the city of Miami. Although my parents are from Cuba and my great-grandparents came from the Canary Islands and France, I was born in Miami and my geographic ancestors are, in fact, the Tequesta—a group that I had never heard of before this excursion. It is quite unfortunate that a great portion of our background and history has been washed in such a way that does not allow for us to find unity through this shared identity and ancestor.

There is no doubt left in my mind that a trip to the Deering Estate is both worthwhile and memorable.

South Beach as Text

South Beach, Miami Beach, FL. Photo by Roger Masson/ CC 4.0

“Not Your Average Beach Day”

By Roger Masson of FIU at South Beach, 16 September 2020

For eleven years of my life, I dreamed of the day I moved back to Miami for many reasons, but living close to the beach was among the top three reasons. South Beach had always been my ultimate favorite place to go, there was always something unique about this area. Undoubtedly, there is a whole lot more to South Beach than picturesque views and world-renowned restaurants– a significant portion of its uncomfortable history has been silenced and pushed under the rug. After our class on Wednesday, I have a more profound appreciation for South Beach, along with a clearer picture of its history and culture. There is so much to be gained from properly assessing and discussing the extent that we have progressed from the past.

It would not be fair to enjoy the lovely aspects of South Beach without honoring the individuals who built it and, for so long, did not get to take advantage of the fruits of their arduous labor. Great detail went into the construction of this area, but both the Bahamian and African Americans were given a check with insufficient funds as Martin Luther King Jr. once described. As a city, Miami has made indispensable strides towards ensuring racial justice and inclusivity; however, there are countless examples of systematic disparities that demonstrate that we are far from where we should be. I took the time to analyze the population of Miami Beach and only four percent of the population is Black or African American; there is something to be said about the cyclic nature of history.

With regards to the LGBTQ+ community, the neighborhood of South Beach represents freedom of expression and to love the person of one’s choice– which is quite remarkable.  South Beach has always been a safe place for me. Growing up in a Hispanic household with strong Catholic values, going to South Beach was always a memorable experience since it served as a beacon of hope; a place 45 minutes away from where I would be able to express myself without that overwhelming judgment. I know that sooner than later, this will be the case for all of Miami. Love is love, it deserves to be out and professed without the fear of facing discrimination or intolerance.

Work Cited:

Downtown Miami as Text

Downtown Miami, FL. Photo by Roger Masson/ CC 4.0

“Two Worlds in One”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Downtown Miami, 30 September 2020

Spending the day in the Downtown sector of Miami is akin to stepping into two distinct worlds— a divide entrenched in its historical foundation. While it is easy to fall in love with the glamour of Brickell, it is indifferent to overlook the evident socioeconomic gap that characterizes the Downtown of Miami.

It could be said that Henry Flagler and Major Francis Langhorne Dade laid the blueprints for the city that we currently live in. They have been revered and esteemed for their contribution to Miami, yet there is little said about their racist nature that corrupted Miami’s potential to be a more welcoming city from its inception. 

Our tour of Miami began at the Government Centre Metro Station and we made our way to Lummus Park, on the other side of the 1-95. This park features great history, but so does the surrounding neighborhood. Henry Flagler designated this area to be referred to as “colored town,” which became the Overtown area of Downtown Miami throughout the years. To compare the infrastructures around Lummus Park to that of opulent Brickell Avenue, it is clear that the repercussions of the past are ever-present. It is surprising to see how much changes while walking a few blocks in this area. One moment you are walking by a popular shopping mall, like the Brickell City Centre, with stores like Saks 5thAvenue and Cartier, and the next you are in a working-class neighborhood with Section-8 housing. It is important to keep these social issues in mind while we appreciate the magic of Downtown Miami.

Chicken Key as Text

Chicken Key, Photo by Roger Masson/ CC 4.0

“A reflection of our impact”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Chicken Key, 14 October 2020

Our journey to Chicken Key was unforgettable, even so that it was worth the countless ant bites and sore arms that just happen to be part of this excursion. It was such a delightful experience to bond with the entire class for the first time this semester; it was also a true inspiration for us to make this one-time event a reoccurring trip and contribute our grain of sand to make this world a better place. 

In my other posts, I make mention of the need for reform and social change in Miami, but it was refreshing to finally have the opportunity to participate in this change. The environment is one of the few free things in life, unfortunately, we have not done our part to preserve it and care for it with sufficient effort. In the limited time that we spent picking up, there were uncountable items inappropriately placed—blemishing the ecosystem—where nature should instead flourish freely. Each time Brittany and I thought we were making a dent in the clean-up, we uncovered even more waste in the form of sandals, wheels, water bottles, beer cans, and a big blue banister trapped between two trees at the edge of the island. I kept remembering the times that people around me, carelessly, threw away water bottles with assurance that one bottle was not going to make a difference. It is evident that it does, in fact, make a tremendous impact. Each item that we do not make the conscious decision to recycle or discard of through the required means, we are augmenting this issue.

There is hope that the future holds a different fortune compared to the trends that have led to the current state of our environment. We are the future; we have the key to make the critical amends to rectify our past wrongdoings and provide the conditions for nature to thrive.  

Bakehouse as Text

Bakehouse Art Complex, Wynwood, FL. Photo by Roger Masson/ CC BY 4.0.

“Saving the Coral Reefs, one clay Coral at a time”

By Roger Masson at FIU at Bakehouse Art Complex, 1 November, 2020

My trip to the Bakehouse Art Complex might have gotten off to a rough start, since I was involved in a car accident, that caught me completely by surprise and left me in a state of nervousness. Luckily, I was able to take care of everything and make it to class and transform the sourness of that morning into a delightful day. 

 I have always been an admirer of art and projects that touch upon issues that are pertinent to our community, but it was just amazing to be able to partake in such a neat project with the same purpose; and the fact that we were able to do it as a class made this experience even more enjoyable. After our class at Chicken Key, it was clear that the dire condition of the environment necessitates the assistance of each and every one of us. The opportunity to volunteer our time through a different approach, to raise awareness for the urgency of saving the Coral Reefs, greatly complemented the themes that resonated most during our last session. 

Coral Reefs are invaluable for the ecosystem, and have, unfortunately, taken a significant hit in the recent years that threaten their vitality. If serious measures are not taken, the effects of completely killing off the coral reefs will, in turn, harm our livelihood as human-beings—as well as countless other organisms. Research indicated that the two elements most detrimental to Coral Reefs are climate change and pollution. It is evident that pollution is not a thing of the past, as we saw on our trip to Chicken Key. Moreover, many governments around the world (including the U.S.A) have been hesitant to make the crucial changes instead of acting meticulously to dilute the factors intensifying climate change. While it may be that we are not in a governmental position of power—we are in control of the impact we can have on those currently in that position. Through these art statements, there is no question that this message is clearly communicated.

 One day at a time, and in unity, change will occur, and we will leave an inerasable mark on our planet. Fortunately, artist like Lauren Shapiro encourage entire communities to keep fighting for justice and environmental change!

Rubell as Text

Rubell Family Collection, Allapattah, Florida. Photo by Roger Masson/ CC BY 4.0.

“One Last Adventure”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Rubell Museum, 22 November 2020

Our visit to the Rubell Family Collection Museum was the perfect place to culminate our fall semester, even though it was quite bittersweet knowing that our next meeting is months away. 

During our tour, I was able to reflect on the effect this class has had on my life on a broader scale. I have been pushed outside of my comfort level and encouraged me to experience things that have certainly left an unerasable mark on my life. Something as simple as going to an art museum was not the same before taking this class; I used to feel out of place, and frankly, lost. It is incredible to see the evolution, in such a short time, since I have developed a curiosity to investigate what I am not familiar with and learned to appreciate works of art genuinely. 

The vast diversity of art that makes up the Rubell Family Collection is indeed exceptional. Our one-and-a-half-hour class felt like thirty-minutes with the many things that are available to see and enjoy. All in all, there were many captivating exhibits with thought-provoking and engaging attributes. Interestingly so, there were a few of those exhibits labeled as controversial or even radical for a selective group. These particular pieces might not settle well with a certain crowd, especially those with more conservative or traditional views. They could very well be averse to taking a second to understand the meaning of the work as a whole and its overall significance. I thought about the uneasy reaction that my grandmother, or even my mother, might have if they encounter art like the exhibition of the nude man performing a sexual act, for example. They would not be as predisposed to take a step back and listen to or read about the artist’s purpose and message behind such a piece; that is the key to appreciating contemporary art, as mentioned by professor Bailly. Thus, it is imperative to ignore the preconceived notions that might dissuade us from truly understanding the idea behind a given work of art; and its power to spark vital conversation among others.

Everglades as a Text

Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida. By Roger Masson/ CC BY 4.0.

“UNESCO World Heritage Site in our Backyard”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Everglades National Park on January 20, 2021

            Categorizing the Everglades National Park as an incomparable, one-of-a-kind place is definitively an understatement. The Everglades radiates energy like no other and offers its visitors the opportunity to connect with mother nature truly. During our day in the Everglades, our class was privileged enough to see the many things that the park has to offer with ease given that we were accompanied by Professor Bailly and a ranger that knows the ins and outs of this area. What impacted me the most throughout our excursion and slogging adventure was the fact that this park is located 20 minutes away from my house yet visiting this park had never crossed my mind. This led me to reflect on how common it is to take the treasures unique to our community for granted, overlooking their great significance to our culture. This manifested itself most when our exceptional Park Ranger, Dylann, mentioned how popular the Everglades was among tourists and researchers from all around the world and the fact that it was even classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site. As residents of Miami, these details give us another reason to feel incredibly proud of our city and appreciate its many elements of distinctiveness. We live in an extraordinary place. 

Aside from the natural beauty and tranquility that epitomize the experience that is visiting the Everglades, it is necessary to mention that we owe the Everglades an immeasurable level of gratitude and respect. The South Florida community reaps the benefits of being in such close proximity to the Everglades in the form of water supply for both drinking and agriculture. (National Wildlife Federation) It is worth highlighting that we have a responsibility to protect this area from the evils of pollution and other human-made phenomena that might pose a threat to the well-being of this irreplaceable ecosystem. 


Wynwood as a Text

Margulies Collection, Wynwood, Florida. By Roger Masson/CC by 4.0.

“One Day, Two Museum, Thousands of Memories Made”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Margulies Collection at The Warehouse, 3 February 2021.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to visit a world-renowned art museum like the Margulies Collection with a VIP tour by Mr. Margulies himself—and free of cost. Given my major being international relations museum, it is rare for me to have an entire class day dedicated to art. This week’s visit truly sparked a realization from my affinity for contemporary art and this undiscovered love for visiting our museums, along with my desire to learn more and more about this topic. It was quite enriching to share our thoughts as a class and gain first-hand knowledge from such a prominent art collector and supporter of artists, both in our community and internationally. It was refreshing that even though our class is not directly related to the study of art, and for the most part, we are not well-versed in this subject; however, everyone was able to add something to the conversation and learn from one another. 

Throughout the tour was stood out to me, in particular, was a museum’s enormous effort to make art accessible to the community. Mr. Margulies is unquestionably committed to making art as democratic as possible. His mission to include the community in his collection, to enjoy by all regardless of socioeconomic factors that can hinder one’s ability to experience the magic of an art museum visit, is truly commendable. 

Making art accessible to the community is of great cultural value. Art not only provides us with enjoyment and leisure, but it can also convey poignant messages in such a way that words are unnecessary. Undeniably, Mr. Margulies’ emblematic art collection contributes to the enchantment and charm of Miami.

Bill Baggs State Park as a Text

Bill Baggs State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida. By Roger Masson/CC by 4.0.

“Bill Baggs State Park holds the Key to Happiness”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, 17 February 2021.

Ever since I can remember, Bill Baggs State Park has been the go-to spot on the weekends or special occasions. A getaway to El Farito has always been emblematic of an enchanted time, a place where creating everlasting memories is inevitable. My family and I have a particular history with this park; we have spent some of the happiest moments here.  Visiting this park as a class was extraordinarily special for many reasons, especially since I could share this place’s incredible magic with my wonderful classmates and professor. Moreover, the opportunity to learn about Key Biscayne’s historical background and the Bill Baggs State Park was just an exceptional experience.

Acknowledging the complex history of the places we love adds a degree of specialness and allows for a deeper appreciation. During our tour, each of us enjoyed the park’s beauty and what it has become over the years, but there is something profound about the past that speaks volumes to this day. One of the historical events that most stood out was the Lighthouse Attack and its respective art piece, representing this incident ever since. The Seminole and African American individuals fought for the right to have a territory to call their own—where they could live safely and freely. The lighthouse in place represented the means to intersect the underground railroad for runaway slaves. It also served as a symbol of American oppression on the land that was once a haven for these groups that were increasingly displaced. With this information in mind, it is disheartening to witness how historians portrayed such an event—animalizing the indigenous and African Americans while simultaneously making the American members seem like victims. This shows the power of historians to disseminate accounts based on their bias and how that impacts future generations’ views, producing a vicious cycle of ignorance. 

 We must actively discern between the official story reported by history books and between what actually happened, constantly questioning the veracity of what is being reported when it comes to delicate topics such as this. Having such a deep understanding of the places we love truly bolsters the connection we have with them. 

River of Grass as Text

The Hole in the River of Grass, Everglades National Park, Florida. By Roger Masson/CC by 4.0.

 “A Trip back in Time

By Roger Masson of FIU at Everglades National Park, 3 March 2021.

During our day-to-day lives in Miami, we are seldomly exposed to scenery mirroring the way in which Florida looked like thousands of years ago. As is the case for most major cities, the impact of developers and other actors looking to shape the landscape of the respective cities in a way that facilitates further growth, in a sense, erases the beauty of untouched nature. There is definitely something to be said about the achievements attributed to modern humans and their influence on the environment. Yet, it feels as if there is a missing piece left behind by the limited opportunities to appreciate the pristine natural world’s splendor.

As we stepped into the river of grass, our class had the exceptional chance to take in the enchantment that is the Everglades, once again, and catch a glimpse of the landscape that has best preserved its essence for the past years. In this particular region of the Everglades, the only signs of modern civilization were the distant road paved, which enabled our excursion, and the dilapidated home used by the farmers who inhabited this area. It was a truly surreal experience to be immersed in nature—with no cellphone service and far away from the city’s noise. Ranger Dylann informed us of the past mistakes involving the agriculture initiatives that once took place in the Everglades and certainly disrupted this area’s environment. In the past few years, there has been a restoration movement to reconcile the past errors and allow for this park to thrive once more. Given the incredible importance of the Everglades, as previously discussed in my earlier post, it is comforting to know that there is such a great effort to restore this area’s original form.

Frost Museum as a Text

Sick Rose by Roberto Obregón. Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, Miami, Florida. By Roger Masson/CC by 4.O.

Life is but a Rose

By Roger Masson of FIU at Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, 17 March 2o21

After countless adventures throughout the beautiful city of Miami, our class was lucky enough to return to the birthplace of this course. Florida International University is one of the most emblematic structures in this city. Undoubtedly, this university is known for its academic excellence and for providing its alumni with the required tools for lifelong success. Through the illustrious Frost Museum and art displays around campus, FIU provides its students with these critical tools for success.

Since 2008, the Frost Museum has been part of FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus, with captivating and conversation-starting exhibits and around 10-12 shows each year. Given the global situation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, this museum has been unable to perform at its usual rate. However, we were incredibly fortunate to visit two outstanding exhibits, Roberto Obregón’s Archive titled: Accumulate Classify, and Pepe Mar’s exhibit: Tesoro. 

Each exhibit observed during this particular tour was nothing but lovely. Roberto Obregón’s exposition truly transformed my view of the rose and resonated with me on a personal note. His work depicts the cycle of the rose’s decay and its link to humanity in a somewhat obsessive manner. His work led me to contemplate the nature of life itself. In the past year, I lost two significant people—my grandfather and my great aunt. It was pretty challenging to imagine life without them; they had lived many years without me, but I had never been a day without them. Knowing that they were in my life and that I could pick up the phone and hear their voice was comforting. It was terrifying to think that was not the case anymore. As months went by, their health began to decay just like the rose did. They lived over seven decades on this earth, spreading love and joy to those around them, yet their time with us came to an expiration. Nothing lasts forever; we are all heading on that same path. However, we are in control of our destiny, and we must take advantage of the days in which the rose petals that represent our lives are full of vitality and health and leave a lasting mark on this world. 

Coral Gables as a Text

Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ, Coral Gables, Florida. By Roger Masson/CC by 4.0.

The City of Wonder

By Roger Masson of FIU at Coral Gables, Florida, 31 March 2021.

            As we reach the culmination of our class’s search of Miami’s magic and authenticity, we stumbled upon a true gem of a city—Coral Gables. This city stands out for its unique architecture, captivating greenery, and majestic environment, making it a sought-after location to live and visit. Our walking tour of the city was extraordinary, given that it is of the rare areas planned around being able to walk down the sidewalk with ample room safely. Coral Gables has always been one of my favorite places to visit and grab dinner with friends. Our tour of the CG museum, where we were enlightened about the city’s history, enhanced my appreciation for this city. 

            It is interesting to note that the Merrick family’s excursion down to the Miami area is responsible for the current appearance of Coral Gables. George Merrick is known as the developed and founder of this great city—the man known for bringing a ‘Spanish’ touch to the town. His inspiration surged from the colonial influence of Mexico and other countries of Central America. George Merrick might not have been a perfect man, no one honestly is by all means, but he left an ineffaceable mark on our community. According to our tour guide at the Biltmore, Mr. Merrick paid above the average wages to the Bahamian workers that assisted in the arduous tasks that were part of this process. Moreover, he even stepped in at times and worked alongside these individuals when it was necessary. He also went to great ends to ensure that new developments did not damage the city’s architectural integrity.

Coral Gables is emblematic for its Mediterranean, Andalusian Spanish, and Arabic fuse, distinguishing itself from the rest of the city. Given this diverse city’s demographic structure, Coral Gables offers a home away from home to Hispanics or Latinos— while also giving those who were born here a connection to their roots. I might have been born and raised in Miami, but anytime I am in Coral Gables, I feel incredibly connected to my background without having to board a plane.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami, Florida. By Roger Masson/CC by 4.0.

“A place as Authentically Miami as can be”

By Roger Masson of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 14 April 2021

Being from Miami, it was pretty special that my first visit to Vizcaya Museum and Garden was with my Miami in Miami family during our last class session. After a year of creating lasting memories together, culminating our search for the authentic Miami at this location was, in short words: exceptional. 

Professor Bailly mentioned that Vizcaya is typically the first-class session for this course, but our class’ experience was nothing but typical—in a rather beautiful sense. Instead, our first-class meeting was at the Deering Estate, the home of the visionary behind Vizcaya, James Deering. James Deering spared no expense to develop a site that is incredibly emblematic of Miami— significantly contributing to the culture of this beautiful city.  

Vizcaya’s name originates from James Deering’s intent to pay homage to the provincial origin of early Spanish settlers in Miami.  Like Mr. Merrick’s concept with Coral Gables, James Deering wanted to include Mediterranean elements and style in this place. Interestingly, the Mediterranean architecture, design, and artwork, combined with our city’s tropical environment, came together to produce a place that was one-hundred percent Miami. To describe our city as proper, humble, and religiously structured might fit for some. Nevertheless, Miami can be best defined as exciting, opulent, and even debauched to a certain extent. Vizcaya’s charm encapsulates this theme and provides a place that highlights the extravagance, decadence of this city—one that is not too shy to exhibit its wealth and good fortune. What we can take away from this visit—and from this class—there is no one way to describe this gem of a city that we are fortunate to call home. Miami has many layers that work together and truly make this city stand out. Whether you are in the suburbs of Kendall or in the hustle and bustle of Brickell, each sector is distinctive and full of wonder. 

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