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.
Deering as Text
“The Classroom Inside the Hidden Gem”
by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at the @DeeringEstate, 13th September 2020
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).
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.
SoBe as Text
“The City That Sits Upon the Sea”
by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram at South Beach, 23rd September 2020
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:
“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…”
“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”
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.
Bakehouse as Text
“Molding More Than Clay”
by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @theBakehouseArtComplex
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.
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.
Rubell as Text
“Eliciting a Reaction”
by @LocalEnvironmentalist of @FIUInstagram @RubellMuseum
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.