Jennifer Quintero: Miami as Text

Jennifer Quintero where she is happiest, Everglades, 2020

Jennifer Quintero is a Senior at Florida International University currently majoring in Sustainability and the Environment and Public Administration with the goal of working in the public sector as an environmental educator and policy maker. Between studying full-time and participating in extracurriculars, she works part-time for Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation as an environmental educator. During the semester she also works as a naturalist on campus giving tours and leading volunteers on the university’s Nature Preserve, all in the hopes of encouraging a culture of sustainability. When not working she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and learning all there is to know about the outdoors.

Deering as Text

“The Classroom Inside the Hidden Gem”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at the @DeeringEstate, 13th September 2020

The Stone House Gallery. Photo taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

My first impression of the Deering Estate was: “Wow, that’s a lot of kids.” Granted I was there for an interview to become an educator while Deering was in the midst of hosting its annual summer camp, so definitely not a typical circumstance. One interview, some bureaucracy, and a phone call later and I found myself as the youngest member in the Learning Department. Now the Deering Estate has a lot of things: a museum, a park, a nature preserve…but its main function is actually that of a classroom. No one goes to the Deering Estate and leaves without learning something, especially me. In the past year of my employment there, I have found myself in each of its ecosystems gawking at the vast biodiversity that hides right along the edge of a mega populated city. I’ve had the privilege of going into its archeological sites and seeing fossilized dire wolf teeth for myself (better perks than any other job I’ve had I’m sure).

Raccoon teeth found on a hike through the Cutler Creek. Photo taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

The most wonderful thing I’ve had the pleasure of seeing though, is people leaving with something that they didn’t know before. I’ve taken people of all ages through the houses and the hikes, but I think the kids are my favorite because they see the extraordinary in the smallest things. One of my favorite experiences though is when I lead them into the gallery and tell them all to lay down on the floor and look up: The first thing they do is grumble, then they notice the chandeliers, but finally they really look up at all the golden tiles on the ceiling and inside each one they find plants and animals. Nature influences art and vice versa. Deering is one of the places where this bridge is strongly made. This is also where the nature of Charles Deering really shines, he wasn’t just an art collector after all, he was an early preservationist and a lover of nature. The Deering Estate is a place where people can be surprised at how much they didn’t know, from college students like me, to kindergarteners, to seniors, and learn to see nature (and Miami) from a different perspective.

The ceiling of the Stone House gallery. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

SoBe as Text

“The City That Sits Upon the Sea”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at South Beach, 23rd September 2020

Natural dunes in South Point Park. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

The pastels and the lights

In this city at night

would never give it away…

This resort stay, had so much to say

You only had to open your eyes. 

This is a city that rose from the sea

It turned one day and said to me:

“Even the buildings have character”. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

“This is a place of history 

Where you and I can feel free

Where rainbows fly and people sing 

Where diversity reigns kings

We have food and we have spice

But our history is not so nice…”

“Preservationist: Like Recognizes Like”. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

“We were built upon a shallow bay 

Where fish and birds all came to stay

dredged out the home they had created 

Saw this beautiful land and manipulated

The narrative, so you would think 

This home to natives was on the brink 

of empty desolation.

But you’d be quite mistaken…”

“On Miami’s shore there were people:

The Tequesta who called this place home.

Then came the Spaniards, who looked all around them

And acted like this land was unknown. 

Before their burial site, stood a barrier island

That was protecting the inland from storm

To a “pioneer” Fisher, it was song of a siren

And his ideas started to form”

“The city became a vacationers dream,

but the people who built it were pushed to the seams

They were not allowed to relish in what they created. 

This is the history of SoBe that goes unstated”

“How a city looms”. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

But just because this history isn’t pure, 

doesn’t mean that you should be unsure 

about enjoying what makes SoBe grand

Beautiful buildings and soft white sand 

A place where pride flags fly free

The city that sits upon the sea. 

The city from the pier. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Bakehouse as Text

“Molding More Than Clay”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @theBakehouseArtComplex

Reef forms in clay. Images taken by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Right off the coast of Miami Beach is another city. This one isn’t as flashy and if you look out while you’re on the beach sun tanning, you might never even know it’s there. This city, and those like it, are home to a quarter of all life in the big blue and affect us in more ways than we know. The South Florida Reef Tract is many things, a barrier for oncoming storms, a host to biodiversity, and a provider of food and new medicines. This relationship is not one sided though, we also affect the coral reefs in many ways. From dredging to climate change to nutrient run off, we put corals through a lot. I don’t think we do it on purpose, but we fail to be aware of it and as a result, cause more harm than good. It is because of this that becoming aware is the first important step in making a difference in this issue and many others.

The big picture. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

ARTivism is the bridge between people and social issues. At the Bakehouse Art Complex, artist Lauren Shapiro is creating Future Pacific: a bridge between people and science. The project is more than just an art piece, it’s a way to engage the community. We got the chance to sit with the artist and talk about the importance of coral reefs and ways we could reduce our impact on the environment all while using clay to mold coral reefs textures and forms. When people are given the chance to do something like this, they’re given more than just the opportunity to mold clay. They’re given the chance to mold the future of the environment and the world. 

Its in your hands. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Rubell as Text

“Eliciting a Reaction”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @RubellMuseum

They’re like me! Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Contemporary art is supposed to comment on the world and start a conversation. That’s what we were told as we walked through the galleries of the Rubell Museum. While I was there, not much was said aloud between our small group, but there was certainly a conversation going on within myself. Browsing through the artwork, I had some pretty strong opinions, and not all of them good. This was pretty conflicting. On one hand I wanted to appreciate ALL of the art, but on the other hand…I saw a neon orange square of popcorn ceiling and a guy photographed with a pig.

Painting or advertisement? Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Still, as my blood boiled at these, I realized that this was the point. The art was eliciting a reaction out of me whether I liked it or not. Yes, some of it made me think: “it’s just a bunch of rich people giving social commentary on things they don’t deal with themselves” laced with “you’re missing the point if you just ascribe this to shallow pretentiousness,” but some of it filled me with emotions that were closer to catharsis. Seeing Karon Davis’ sculptures, Kehinde Wileys’ painting, and Keith Haring’s work…I was filled with a certain sadness and awe.

Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)
Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

They were like looking through a window at someone else’s reality and seeing the difference in each other’s perspectives. In a way, you knew those differences were always there, but through art they’re made apparent and you are forced to face them. They felt genuine in their expressions about our society and ascribed beauty to them. The Rubell Museum in this way felt like a place that said “art isn’t just for rich white dudes to peruse, its a place where bridges between people are made and conversations can start”.

Deering Hike as Text

“Bulldozed, Filled in, and Washed Away: Miami’s History is Underneath Our Feet”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @DeeringEstate

In our element. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

“In Rome you can touch the Colosseum and know that a millennia ago, another human being carved it,” (John Bailly, 2020). Hiking through the Deering Estate, you don’t find a Colosseum, but you do find an equivalent. In the form of the environment, you can find that there is another museum not contained inside the two historic houses. This one is much buggier, more humid, and just as beautiful. Our hike at Deering gave us a look at the hidden history of Miami, one of the Tequesta and the real Old Cutler Road that they once traveled. While at Deering, we walked on this road and got the opportunity to take a look at what the Tequesta left behind from a myriad of tools to one of their Burial Mounds.

Tequesta tool, so cool! Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

It’s cathartic to think about what lives they led in these ecosystems and how they interacted with them. Learning about how they utilized the plants and animals around, whether its as medicine or tools, makes it more concrete that the environment around us shapes our cultures and connects us. We have severed this connection however. We have cut down the pine rocklands they called home, drained the tropical hardwood hammocks life flourished in, and bulldozed the mangroves that kept the land safe. We have essentially buried our geological heritage underneath our feet. Deering is a time capsule in this sense, its what the Spanish saw when they got here, it’s what we should feel connected to just as much as the Art Deco in Miami Beach. These narratives aren’t separate from one another, they both make up Miami. After all, a plane sits rotting away in the mangroves of the Deering Estate. An old freshwater pipeline runs through it. There’s railroad spikes on the road the Tequesta’s walked. There’s history underneath our feet that connects us, we just need to recognize it.

A plane sits in the mangroves, waiting to be discovered. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Downtown Miami as Text

“A Study in Contradiction”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at Downtown Miami

Downtown Miami is a city of oxymorons and irony. It is in itself, a story where the words are spelled out but never spoken. Downtown Miami tells us the story of Native Americans that were pushed out of their own homes and subsequently victims of genocide. It tells the story of the black Americans that built the city and were then segregated from it. It shows us how our culture has shifted over time. From the architecture to the cafes, these stories can be seen in all aspects of the city.

Break it open and look at the inside, there’s always more than meets the eye. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Downtown Miami is a city that sparkles and moves and breathes. It’s alive and has a rich history. During our journey, our class met in the quintessential Cuban cafe, right below the looming Government Center. The smell of coffee as much the soul of the city as it is the lifeblood. On the other side, you can find a dynamic piece of public art. Both offer a sense of pride, but stroll a few blocks down and you’re faced with plantation slave quarters, lovingly named for its later history as “Fort Dallas”.

Fort Dallas…plantation slave quarters…what history are you trying to tell? Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Walk back into the heart of the city to the courthouse and you find a statue of Henry Flagler, known for bringing prosperity to Florida with no mention of the less savory aspects of his work. The common thread here is that Miami sugarcoats its past or fails to mention it at all.

What does justice really mean? Who gets to receive it? Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Taking a trip down the Miami river, the heart of South Florida’s early civilization, you can’t help to feel anything short of sorrow. The pollution floating on the surface of its murky depths paired with the boaters who show little regard for the last of the wildlife that may be present…it shows how much we’ve lost with all we’ve gained.

There’s more than manatees in this water. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Still, the city on the edge of the Biscayne Bay with its sparkling buildings and displays of art are hard to hate, keeping with its dedication to contradiction. 

Even knowing its bad parts, I can’t make myself hate the whole. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Everglades as Text

“See What I See”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @EvergladesNPS

It always feels like I’m coming home. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

The Everglades is my favorite place in the entire world. This is not a new sentiment, I am @LocalEnvironmentalist after all, but it wasn’t always this way. I did once shriek at lizards and cry over mud, the Everglades does wonders to change one’s mind though. My affection towards the River of Grass began during my senior year of high school, when my eccentric AP Environmental teacher slogged us into the center of a cypress dome. With chill, clear water up to my chest, the far away sound of high schoolers yelling over getting stuck in mud, and one of the most beautiful sights in the world, I realized my life’s purpose: to protect the environment for the rest of my life and show everyone what I see.

Is there any other choice but to feel wonder? Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Cut to my senior year at FIU and another eccentric teacher, this one an artist, takes us into Everglades National Park with the same goal. Same chill, clear water, same apprehensive classmates, and same breathtaking ecosystem. This time is different though, this time we stop and reflect the way that high school students don’t. We stand together as Ranger Dylann, our wonderful guide for the day, reads us a poem by Anne McCrary Sullivan. It’s here that I feel a kinship with someone I’ve never met before, I know she sees what I see and it makes me ache. Its always surprising when art captures how you feel so entirely, it reminds me of my goal of trying to show everyone what I see when I stand out there.

I really hope they see it too. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Being out there after learning so much as a naturalist has really changed the experience for me from the first time going out there to now. Where I loved the way the aquatic plants drifted in the water as a teen, I can now appreciate their role and laugh at their name (especially bladderwort, which is actually carnivorous!). Where before I saw birds flitting among the trees, I now hear the song of the northern cardinals and appreciate the drums of the woodpeckers. I see an alligator and know that this harmony is impossible without them. Learning about the environment has filled me with so much love for the world, it’s made the experience rise above just aesthetics. As my classmates and I hiked together, they would laugh at the number of times I called something beautiful or gorgeous or astounding, but wouldn’t you once you knew how lucky we are to even have it at all?

Purple gallinule, you really are beautiful. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Margulies as Text

Somehow, I Always End up Discussing the Environment.”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @MarguliesWarehouse

I have an appreciation of the arts. I also have an appreciation for the environment. Oftentimes, when these two collide, it’s the most spectacular thing. You get art that reflects the awe people feel when they’re out there breathing in nature. But other times, people see the environment and think that its inherent beauty lends itself to be a tool of art, rather than a muse. It is these cases that leave an acrid feeling in my mouth.

Is anger a source of inspiration too? Image by John Bailly (CC by 4.0).

Before I get to this though, visiting the Margulies Collection was a wonderful change of perspective. I’ve never considered myself a fan of contemporary art. This class has challenged that over and over again. Despite my predisposed opinion, I found myself fascinated with so many of the pieces I saw. From the “Unfired Clay Torso” made of bronze (!!!!!) to Ernesto Neto’s hanging spices (which I was so scared to smell at first). I could’ve stayed there and talked and talked and talked for a good deal longer than our visit.

You should’ve seen my face when they told us it was bronze. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Unfortunately as our visit came to a close, we spoke about one last piece. Richard Long’s “Leuk Stone Circle”. Made entirely of river rocks, it was the single most infuriating piece of art in the entire collection. See, many people assume that rocks, being the “lifeless chunks of Earth”that they are, serve no purpose. What many people don’t know is that rocks, especially river rocks, are extremely vital to an ecosystem. They are breeding grounds for many amphibians and fish. They’re homes. They’re sanctum. When they’re disturbed, there’s a ripple effect that is detrimental to the environment. Art has the potential to change people’s minds (see: myself, above). When art does something harmful, even when coming from a place of ignorance, it threatens to perpetuate a dangerous mindset. Who has the right to go in and alter an entire ecosystem for the sake of art? Even through my anger, I can’t help but wonder, if the artist had known what he was doing, would he have still done it?

Stolen homes. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Bill Baggs as Text

“The Importance of a Little Barrier Island”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @Bill_Baggs_State_Park

Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Staring up at the Cape Florida Lighthouse- stark white against the bright blue of the South Florida sky- it’s easy to understand why Bill Baggs State Park is considered one of the best beaches in the United States. With the relaxing sound of the waves crashing on the sandy beach, it’s hard to imagine that this place didn’t always look like this. Considering the lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in Miami, I couldn’t imagine that its surroundings would have changed much since it was built in 1825. (I should have realized by now that the Magic City is just going to continue to surprise me.) Still, I was in awe with Ranger Shane’s talk. Between the region being the final destination for those navigating the Underground Railroad, the lighthouse’s role in the Second Seminole War, and the complete natural restoration of the whole park I was flabbergasted at how important one small barrier island could be.

The path to freedom. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

To me, it was the last part stuck out the most. Looking around at the natural landscape, one where I’ve hiked and bird watched and swam in, I couldn’t imagine it as the result of human efforts. Ranger Shane elaborated on how we don’t really know what used to live on the island before its time as a coconut plantation, which is a sad thought on its own but paired with the knowledge that all the trees around us were hand planted…well, it filled me with hope. If this land could be naturalized again, what’s to say we can’t save others? 

The atala butterfly, once thought to be extinct, on its host plant: coontie. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

River of Grass as Text

“Water Reflecting the Sky”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @EvergladesNPS

The Hole in the Donut. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

We stood amidst an expanse of exposed white limestone and stared into a pool reflecting the sky. The land we stood on was once a tomato farm and later a desolate impenetrable field of Brazilian pepper, but you’d never know it from looking out as the white tailed deer roamed. It’s places like this that are so hopeful to me, where we acknowledge the harm we’ve done as people and work to fix it. It’s here we remember that we are not separate from nature, but part of it. In the Everglades, you find evidence of people almost everywhere you look. From the Calusa to the Tequesta and the later settlers, the Everglades is a beacon of life on a latitude of deserts. It is quite simply, like no other place on Earth. It is our life blood and our history as Miami natives.

The oldest structure. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

We looked like a flock of ibis as we waded through the sawgrass marsh. Looking out from the road it seems like there is no end to the gold, greens, and blues of it. The clouds towered above us and the light painted the landscape as we hiked. We slogged until we reached the oldest structure in the national park. You would never even know the old dilapidated farmhouse was there, but being the first class to see it and touch it…it was like we were unlocking a part of our history together. As the roseate spoonbills and ibis and egrets took to the skies before us, I never felt more connected to home.

The elusive roseate spoonbill. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Frost as Text

“Art Society Conflict”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @FrostArtMuseum

As we waltzed through the Frost Museum’s minimalistic space, I feared I would spend a day bored out of my mind. Though, considering the nature of our class, I should’ve known better. When we entered the Accumulate, Classify, Preserve, Display exhibit, an archive of Roberto Obregón’s work, I will admit I felt my eyes roll a bit. Something about it came off as pretentious, which may or may not be a consequence of how society tends to paint art as this “high-class” thing. As our guide Amy began to speak of Obregón, a late Venezuelan artist, and how he dissects the rose and its meaning obsessively to represent concepts of life, time, and decay…I found myself growing very fond of the exhibit on both an aesthetic level and an intellectual level.

The Sick Rose. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

The next exhibit, Tesoro, felt completely different. In its array of colors and chaos, it was like a wall broke down. This is because John Bailey, of course, took a sledgehammer to it. As an assortment of masks stared down at us and we stared back at it, Bailey made an important assessment: Was this ethical? Was taking these objects, all from different cultures and places, putting them up on a wall with no distinction from one another, right? This launched us into a discussion about neo-colonialism, racism, cancel culture, and art’s role in perpetuating harmful ideals. At this moment, I stood there looking at my classmates, all different from each other, in this room full of art from who knows how many places, and I understood why this class was named Art Society Conflict.

Staring down at us. Images by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Coral Gables as Text

“Through a Lens of a Lens”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @CoralGablesMuseum & @BiltmoreHotel

The land may have changed, but at least the clouds stay the same. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

Coral Gables is what I always considered a “rich people area”. I gave it no distinction past that. I saw it as a city trying to be something that Miami just wasn’t; Playing off this Spanish look that just wasn’t organic. This was, as I learned in my visit to the Coral Gables Museum, intentional and kind of genius. The architecture of Coral Gables is Mediterranean Revival, you can see Moorish Spanish influence all around the city, especially in the Biltmore Hotel. The origin of this influence is what I found so fascinating though, because it came from the lens of a lens. The city was founded by George E. Merrick, a man who started off as a guava farmer with a knack for novels and a big imagination; I like to imagine that this is because sitting under the hot South Florida sun in the middle of a pine rockland isn’t exactly the most exhilarating thing in the world. Even so, looking at depictions of the ecosystem before the birth of the city still filled me with a deep sense of loss and resentment, no matter how much I admire the thought and planning put into it.

My jaw dropped. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0)

The city is a testament to the importance of building and preserving an identity, rather than tearing things down for the sake of raking in more money. This identity has a tinge of sadness to it though because, as John Bailey mentioned before the city hall, we didn’t look to our own land and its people for it, we looked to Europe. Still, it was refreshing to walk along Coral Gables’ streets, made me long for cities built with people-not cars-in mind. I didn’t think visiting Coral Gables would be so exciting, but it was like being transported into the past. Walking through the Biltmore and through buildings in the city that will soon be 100 years old may not seem like such an incredible experience when places like Rome exist, but to a native Miamian, where everything is torn down and replaced…wow.

Where else in Miami can I feel like a princess? Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Vizcaya as Text

“The Beginning is the End”

by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @Vizcaya_Museum

The Patron Saint of Miami: Bacchus. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

For our last meeting as a class, we took a step back in time and visited Villa Vizcaya. Completed in 1916, Vizcaya was created by James Deering, an early industrialist and conservationist, who built it as a Mediterranean Style estate. Besides setting the precedent for the style that would later dominate the city, he also perfectly encapsulated what it means to be Miamian long before Mr. 305. From the statue of Bacchus standing before the mantle, to the spring-like pool underneath the home, to the ship shaped barge with a mermaid statue carved into it: James Deering knew exactly what it meant to flex and have fun in the Miami fashion we now know so well.

I’ve never wanted to take a swim so bad in my life. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CCb y 4.0)

Unfortunately, despite the beauty of Vizcaya, there is that same sour history that needs to be acknowledged. Much like the rest of the city, the hands that constructed the beautiful museum today belonged to the Bahamians who inhabited the area. Those whose hands have been used over and over in Miami’s creation, but whose culture didn’t make a cut into the legacy that was left behind. Instead, at Vizcaya Deering celebrates the Age of Exploration. So much so that at its entrance is the fictional Spanish explorer Bel Vizcaya and Caravels act as a motif throughout the property. He ships in beautiful pieces from Europe to adorn the rooms in styles ranging from Neoclassical to Rococo. Its all very beautiful, but it’s not really Miami. What really felt like Miami at Vizcaya was the limestone carvings, the native flora, the mangroves lining the coast…it was a reminder that without James Deering, the region would likely all be skyline. That’s definitely something to celebrate.

Caravels and Seahorses. Image by Jennifer Quintero (CC by 4.0).

Author: Jennifer Quintero

Jennifer Quintero is a Junior at Florida International University currently majoring in Sustainability and the Environment and Public Administration with the goal of working in the public sector as an environmental educator and policy maker. Between studying full time and participating in extracurriculars, she works part-time for Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation as an environmental educator. During the semester she also works as a naturalist on campus giving tours and leading volunteers on the university's nature preserve all in the hopes of encouraging a culture of sustainability. When not working she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and learning all there is to know about the outdoors.

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