Lorena Cuenca: Miami as Text

Lorena in Downtown Miami, Florida, 2020. Image Taken by Eric Forteza (CC by 4.0)

Lorena Cuenca is a junior at the Florida International University Honors College where she is majoring in Business Administration. Lorena earned her Associates degree at Miami Dade College during high school and is looking forward to completing her college journey at FIU. She plans on attending Columbia University where she hopes to join their dual degree program for Law and Business and become a corporate attorney. While academics are her priority, she likes to dabble in performance arts. On her time off from school and work, Lorena enjoys writing music, singing, choreographing, and dancing. Lorena wants nothing more than to see the world; while Miami is a beautiful city, she knows there is so much more than what is in her own backyard.

Deering As Text

“Deering’s Treasures” ByLorena Cuenca of FIU at The Deering Estate, September 9th, 2020

Miami, a growing city, embracing change with every passing year. A somewhat overlooked example of cultural mixing represented perfectly by the construction of the Richmond Cottage and Stone House in Deering Estate. A chaotic blend of cultures including that of the American owner Charles Deering, the Bahamians who with their blood, sweat, and tears built the Stone House and the Islamic and Spanish influences embedded in the design and structure of the Stone House. Stepping into the Stone House is an experience in itself. The house bears a resemblance to something straight out of an old vampire movie or show, something Dracula would live in, holding Spanish art and Chinese pieces in the inside. Charles Deering had this house built to hold and display his pieces. Enjoying his money and youth he began traveling across Europe collecting art, with every new piece welcomed into the family as one of his own.

The first room I stepped into felt grand. What I believed to be a ballroom to hold parties and events was the room where a flourishing artist displayed his work. This was what Deering wanted. In what looked like an office, Deering displayed religious pieces he brought back from Spain alongside a number of beautifully painted pottery placed all around the room. For the first time, but hopefully not the last, I got the chance to feast my eyes on two stained glass panels. Both windows have been restored and displayed within one of the rooms inside the Stone House. The room itself was dimly lit, more so than the rest of the house, but it did not need any light. The windows allowed all the light necessary to shine through showcasing the brightly colored stained glass and the stunning image made for us to see. This house was just full of surprises; with every turn there seem to have been something new to appreciate like the creative mosaic made by the Bahamians who despite having no knowledge about mosaics nor the materials needed to make one created something much more memorable. Using seashells, coral, and a variety of other random items they build something, something new and refreshing, something to add to the outside of the house. Now the Stone House was as beautiful on the outside as it was on the inside.

The Richmond Cottage has a history of its own. The house was built by Samuel H. Richmond for himself and his family to live in. A couple of years after it was built, it was expanded and introduced to the public as the Richmond Hotel. A generation later, Deering took the Hotel under his wing and added it to his list of homes. Deering made sure the house and its surrounding nature were being taken care of. He took into consideration what was surrounding the houses as much as what was in them. He contacted botanists and architects to restore and protect all he was fond of. Charles Deering was clearly a man of fascinating interest and while I enjoyed touring one of his homes and a house built to store his prized possessions, I am looking forward to exploring the remaining part of the estate and take a look at the nature he put effort into restoring.

South Beach As Text

“Hiding A Dark Past” By Lorena Cuenca of FIU at South Beach, September 23rd, 2020

I have to admit, despite having lived in Miami for nearly my entire life I had never been to South Beach before. The thought of going just never interested me, it seemed like something I would not be into, boy was I wrong. South Beach is a uniquely beautiful place; from buildings that seemed to have been taken from different parts of the world to a pride flag at every corner this is something I was definitely missing out on. While the area puts up an interestingly colorful front with creatively designed buildings and odd structures its past is anything but. Starting off as a mess of an ecosystem being torn apart from its roots South Beach has certainly become an image of acceptance and diversity, but it was not always like that.

Carl Fisher took to South Beach, then Ocean Beach, like a “child” of his own; stripping it of its identity and turning it into a place of segregation and profit. He hired the poor and foreign to build a place they would never be allowed to call home. They poured their hearts into building up South Beach only to be pushed away and only asked to return if they were talented and capable enough to entertain the white and privileged. The Black Americans who created what we see today were only seen and heard when the residents wanted them to be. Despite all their efforts they were never allowed to enjoy the neighborhood. This treatment, however, was not exclusive to those of a different color. Even some who had the skin tone and money to live there at the time were pushed to reside south of 5th Street because the stigma surrounding their religion. Those who were Jewish and wanted to live in the center of it all were simply not allowed. There is a lot to the history of South Beach. While the neighborhood looks to be flourishing, the pain and resentment of those who built it along with the reasons behind their oppression and judgment is something that can never be erased or forgotten.

Bakehouse As Text

“Hurting Right Below Our Noses” By Lorena Cuenca of FIU at the Bakehouse, October 7th, 2020

Image Taken by Lorena Cuenca (CC by 4.0)

It is sad how we can praise and benefit from the beauty of something one minute and decide that it is no longer important to us the next. Slowly but surely we are killing everything on this planet due to our selfish advances at a “better” life and it sometimes seems like no matter how much we try, we just cannot seem to undo the damage we have done. Scientists spend their time and energy studying marine life, putting effort into uncovering new ways and methods we can adopt to better serve the flora and fauna we have been overlooking and continue to overlook. I believe it is our duty to care for the planet we live in, the planet that lends itself to our stupid desires and whims. It simply deserves better from us because, at this rate, there will be nothing left.

While it can feel like anything we do is not enough to make a difference, if we all just combine our efforts, we can change the world. Even if we lack the tools necessary to ensue change, one voice is enough. The voice of the people, the voice of the informed. For centuries, artists have used their talents and platform to bring awareness to pressing issues. They have taken it upon themselves to inform the public through their pieces. Art is something everyone can enjoy; it is something we can all appreciate. When it stands as the connection between science and society and the public, it helps us better understand what is going on that we do or cannot see. Artists like Lauren Shapiro lend their talents and skills to their craft for the greater good, to make a change. What we cannot understand from articles and scientific journals we can take from a painting or sculpture. What seems like a cluster of words all begins to make sense once we take a look at a work of art. As if everything begins to fall into place, we start to feel something while in the presence of something of true substance. There is no greater feeling than that of being a part of something you believe will make a difference. That is how I felt while using my bare hands to add on to Ms. Shapiro’s piece. I believed my lack of artistic ability would hinder me useless, but I guess there is so much more to art than talent when you have something to say. I hope this exhibit will succeed in bringing awareness to the current state of our coral reef ecosystem and how we can do something about keeping it alive and beautiful.

Rubell Museum As Text

“What I Now Know” By Lorena Cuenca of FIU at the Rubell Museum, October 21st, 2020

When it comes to art, I have never been one to enjoy it. While I understand that it plays an important role in society and that the human race can be defined by what we create, I have always had a hard time connecting to visual art. I sometimes believe that I lack the depth to understand and see the value in certain pieces because they are not aesthetically appealing to me. This hypothesis is proven wrong when it comes to my relationship with performance art. My entire life I have been creating, I consider myself an artist in that I write music and choreograph dances. I can write a song from a word; I can choreograph a routine from a move. I can literally create from the smallest of things and build upon nothing yet when it comes to a sculpture, drawing, or painting, I seem to struggle to see what others can, if anything at all. It has always been like this. My creativity shines best when it is not limited to something that is purely visual. I need to do; I need to feel and visual art has somehow never satisfied me how it does others.

However, I refuse to allow this to keep me from learning and experiencing. It might take me more time and effort to see the bigger picture, but I will always try my best. The more chances I get to visit museums, exhibits, or galleries the more I get it. With every new experience I further realize that I should not deem myself any less worthy of seeing pieces simply because I do not understand them. In art, there are a million different interpretations to one thing; there is more to be seen and understood than what is at the surface. There is greater depth, a longer story, a more difficult journey than can be seen by just looking. You have to open more than your eyes to really see what is there and at times, what is not. Art is more than brush strokes on a canvas, it is more than clay on a platform. Art is expression, to truly see what is being expressed you must open up your mind and heart. You must welcome everything being shown, even if you disagree. Art is not always “beautiful”. Art is not always right. Sometimes art is not even art.

I have learned that art is also about “community”. It is about taking others’ experiences and learning from them as if they were our own. It is about seeing life through the eyes of other people, even those we have yet to meet. Had I not visited the Rubell Museum with my class, I would have never seen the different pieces through their eyes. What to me symbolized a sense of inclusivity, a child being welcomed into the arms of people like him, or a child being let go off into the world because he was deemed ready through the placement of deer antlers on a sculpture was seen as a symbol of divinity. There is a lot to learn from art and even more to learn from each other, all it takes is creativity and openness to new perspectives.

Deering Hike As Text

“Hidden Beauty” By Lorena Cuenca of FIU at the Deering Hike, November 4th, 2020

There is a lot to be said about the world around us. Unfortunately, we never care enough to pay attention and give it the credit it deserves. The Deering Estate is home to a plethora of fauna and flora unknown to the general public. Visiting the estate and participating in the hike opened up a whole new world to me. I learned more about the people native to the area. The Tequesta inhabited the area before the Spanish took control over Florida. Evidence of their inhabitance can be seen through the presence of the shell tools found near the water and the burial ground where it is believed that ceremonies were held to commemorate the passing of their fellow family and friends.

Not far from this area, we found a well so precisely dug as if done by a machine. On one of the well walls, there was a carving of a Free Mason symbol. This was the most fascinating aspect of the well to me. It was as if while the well was being “built”, its creators decided to leave a message; a mark of their own to let others know who was there and what they stood for. Going deeper into the hike, we set out to find a fallen airplane that was apparently abandoned in the mangrove filled waters after crashing, never to be removed. We continued on our adventure, talking about the animals that lurk the areas along with all the different plants that exist on the estate like the gumbo limbo trees with peeling bark and adaptable independent branches, these violet colored flowering plant commonly known as Gayfeather, and key lime trees that feed some of the animals on the grounds. The last part of the hike was my favorite. The beautiful greenery, butterflies, and dragon flies made it look like some fairytale oasis, a location right out of a movie. It was peaceful, nothing could be heard other than the wind the blew and shook the tree branches. On our way back, it was even more stunning. The Spanish moss that hung from the trees looking like the perfect seasonal decorations made me enjoy the moment that much more. It felt unreal and I loved every minute of it. I learned that there is so much more out there for me to discover and love. The world is an incredibly beautiful place, and I cannot wait to continue to have the opportunities to experience it in all its glory before it is gone.

Downtown Miami As Text

“What History Buries” By Lorena Cuenca of FIU at Downtown Miami, November 25th, 2020

To think that I have spent the past four years walking the streets of downtown, completely ignoring the beauty and history it was trying to share with me leaves me ashamed. I was so worried about my own struggles and pain, running around completely blinded that I overlooked what was right before my eyes: history. Built on the sacrifice of the indigenous people who first inhabited the area, Downtown Miami was nothing but barren land with potential. This potential was seen by Henry Morrison Flagler, whose vision helped shaped Miami into the bright and “thriving” city we now know and love. With the upgrades made by Flagler to Miami during the late 1900s hundreds using the hard work from the natives of the area, Miami quickly grew in popularity with Downtown being one of the most populated areas at the time. Despite its quick growth there is a lot about Miami, downtown alone, that its residents are unaware of when it comes to its history.

After Spain lost possession over Florida, the United States set into motion the Indian Removal Act forcing Seminole Indians further away from home and closer to South Florida. The Second Seminole War began in 1935 and was “marked” with the killing of Major Francis Longhorn Dade, whom the county was named after. Downtown Miami is marked with a collection of tragedies that have been covered up like buried bodies. The Longhouse, located in Lummus Park and placed there during the 1920s to be saved from being demolished, was built somewhere between the 1840s and 1850s by some of the enslaved Africans under Colonel and Senator William F. English. Holding the title as the oldest preserved building in the city of Miami, the Longhouse has withstood the test of time in American history. Downtown Miami, a place built on sacrifice, still carries a great array of passion, only that now it is transmitted in art, beautiful scenery, and incredible places to visit on your time off. So beautiful and full of life with a fun and exciting night life secreting a dark history, holding back the voices of the people who were never even given the right to speak.

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