Sydielim Chong: Miami as Text

Photo taken by Jennifer Escalona (CC by 4.0)

Sydielim Chong is a passionate 19 year old student at Florida International University. Sydielim is on a pre-law track majoring in criminal justice while also applying a minor in statistics. Sydielim is a full time tutor for Bright and Brainy Tutoring. Sydielim also enjoys watching movies, especially thrillers, and loves going out on adventures in hopes of exploring new things all over the world. As a part of Art Society Conflict, she hopes to learn more of the valuable history behind Miami and the artistic culture rooted in the city.

Deering as Text

“The Unknown” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on September 9th, 2020.

The Deering Estate is one of Miami’s oldest historical pieces of land. Once having crossed the wooden gates at the front of the property, it’s like going back in time. The Deering Estate is made up of over 400 acres of land, two houses, and tons of preserved wildlife and nature. One of the first things noticed upon arriving are the two houses as they look nothing alike. Used by Mr. Deering and his wife as the “main house”, the Stone House has a more contemporary and medieval look and feel to it. The Stone House was designed to represent the different places Mr. Deering himself had traveled to and made connections with. Simply looking at it will take you back in time through history. The rooms inside of the house were specifically made in order to represent different religions and cultures. The first room to the left when walking into the house has no doors, instead a black and gold gate, like those used in Spanish culture. Mr. Deering used this room as an art gallery, putting up over half a dozen artworks which he collected throughout his trips to Europe. Looking up at the ceiling, Mr. Deering had the constructors manufacture special tiles that represent everything seen in Miami, from dolphins and seahorses to leaves and palm trees. The second room to the right of the entrance is a study. In contrast to the art gallery which was bright and prestigious, Mr. Deering’s study was a dark room filled with books, a desk, and art, including a portrait of himself. Mr. Deering specifically designed this room so that if there were any fires in the room, it can be withheld in order to preserve the rest of the house and the artwork in it.

Right by its side, there’s the Richmond Cottage which was used by Mr. and Mrs. Deering as a winter home. The Richmond Cottage has a modern and classical look to it. Although classical and modern are contrasting types of houses, this is what made the Richmond cottage special in a unique way. The cottage entailed smaller rooms with more detail. When walking into the cottage, the first room seen is a simple room, a fireplace, a table, and a counter stored with food. The Deering’s stored this food because back then there weren’t any local markets in the area. The next room consists of a prepared dining table. On the walls hang more of his beloved artwork as well as the head of a deer. Being that everything in the cottage was smaller, compared to the Stone house, made the cottage seem like a perfect fit for a winter home as it made everything seem warmer the minute you walk in.

Each house was designed and manufactured to represent the history of Miami and show that the city of Miami has always been a mix of religion and cultures from all around the world.

The Stone House basement, perfectly reconstructed to imitate the original.

One of the most interesting things about this historical property is that it has made its way through time, all the way from the 1900’s to 2020. The state of Florida has tried to preserve the land and the houses by making copies of the original artifacts since after Mr. Deering passed away, most of his belongings were sent to a Museum in Chicago. The one thing that was kept exactly the same until 1992 when hurricane Andrew hit Florida, was a neat room in the basement. This room had been hidden for over half a century as it was behind a huge safe. The Stone House was built during the prohibition era and Mr. Deering was clever enough to make a room, hide it, and keep it stocked with alcohol that was shipped out to him from other countries. This detail shows how Mr. Deering was smart and at the end of the day, did what pleased him and what he liked. This safe room wasn’t found until 1992 and even then, the state of Florida had to fly someone out from another country just to get the safe open because it was that difficult. Mr. Deering was a bright man, a man who loved the world, he loved living his life, and a man who always appreciated art, culture, the environment, and religion. It is because of Mr. Deering’s appreciation for the simple and good things in life that the people of South Florida now have a beautiful piece of history to turn to when the facts of our roots have been forgotten.

South Beach as Text

“Cultural Massacre” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on September 27, 2020.

You would be shocked to find out that a place that seems like one of the most natural and rich places in the world, was actually torn, beat, and renovated in order to be what it is today. South Beach in Miami, FL is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, however, not many know the true history behind it.

The Jewish Museum of Florida; photo taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Florida, the first of American territories to be discovered and settled, didn’t allow Jews to settle until the early 1760’s. In Miami, Jews were only allowed to live south of 5th street. The segregation of Jews in Miami was “normal” back then.

Carl Fisher, who was considered the “father of Miami Beach,” refused to sell any property to Jews as he turned the swampy stretch of mangroves into what lies there today, Fisher Island, a beach resort. Furthermore, in the 1930’s many advertisements for these beach resorts and hotels would use slogans such as “Always a view, never a Jew” (Remembering Miami Beach’s Shameful History of Segregation and Racism, 2016)

Interestingly enough, in the same way that Jews could only live south of 5th street, African Americans were not allowed to reside on South Beach as it was predominantly white. While whites would use African Americans for their talents, such as singing and dancing, and have them perform at their restaurants, hotels, and night clubs, after their shift was over, they would simply have to ride out of town and stay at a hotel or rent a home in what is now known as “Overtown, Miami.” The majority of the population in this city is now African American and the reason for this is because back then, African Americans had no choice to but to reside there as it was the closest city to where they worked but were now allowed to live or stay.

Once taking a stroll through South Beach and doing some research, ,you will come to find out that it was not always like it is now. Now, people go to South beach because it is representative of all cultures and races, because as soon as you walk in, you feel at home. However, this was not always the case. Miami is a massacre of mixed cultures, identities, and personalities and that is what makes Miami so special.

Bakehouse as Text

“Together for Corals” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on October 11, 2020.

Coral reefs are one of the world’s most active and complex habitats and are often overlooked. Coral reefs supply a massive range of marine life with shelter and food, they help protect our marine coasts by reducing wave energy from hurricanes and storm, and also attract residents to enjoy activities such as snorkeling and scuba diving, which also provides a great source of income.

Florida is the only state in the United States with shallow coral reefs formed along its coasts. Today, many coral reefs have experienced a health decline due to factors such as water pollution, climate change, rising temperatures in oceans, and coral disease.

Imitation of the coral reefs; photo taken by Sydielim Chong. (CC by 4.0)

Above is a picture of a coral reef imitation put together by the class of Dr. John William Bailly of Florida International University on October 7th, 2020. This picture represents what can be done if everyone were to understand the importance of keeping the coral reefs safe and healthy. This picture symbolizes teamwork, dedication, and love for the planet and the ground we walk on.

As aforementioned, coral reefs are at risk and this is something that society can help. “It starts individually” words by Lauren Shapiro, the artist and the voice behind it all. When one takes the first step in preserving the nature, the rest will follow.

Rubell as Text

“Collecting and Inspecting” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on October 25th, 2020.

I’d never thought about collecting art. Sure, I like going to museums and viewing artwork as I try to understand what the artist is trying to portray through the piece. However, even with having friends who are artists, the thought of actually buying art never came to mind.

That is, until I went to the Rubell museum and met the woman behind it all, Mera Rubell. Mrs. Rubell spoke to me as she tried to get my class to understand the importance of collecting and valuing art. After this conversation is when I went back around the museum and really tried to understand the beautiful pieces that were right in front of my eyes.

Photo of photo by Zhang Huan; taken by Sydielim Chong (CC by 4.0)

The photo above represents the over-crowdedness Huan faced as a child. This piece of artwork really caught my attention as it made me think of all the children who aren’t as lucky as I and many others have been with life. As soon as I look at this photograph, the first word I think of is ‘desperation.’ Desperation because of the look on his face, desperation because of the bugs all over his body, desperation because, looking at this picture, anyone could tell this man is tired and desperate for better.

After speaking to Mera Rubell, this is the picture I thought of. This piece of art, out of all the ones in the entire gallery, was the one that truly spoke to me. This piece made me feel the most grateful to be myself while also teaching me that although I may not have it all, in somebody else’s eyes, everything I have could be “all” they’ve wanted.

Deering Hike as Text

“Miami before Miami” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on November 8th, 2020.

The Deering Estate is known for its historical context and beautiful architecture. Having only been there once before, I didn’t get the full experience as to how eye-opening it could be. Events I never knew happened, places I never knew existed, all in one location- the Deering Estate.

Although personally, I did not make it through the entire hike, what I did get to experience was definitely breathtaking. Beginning with the wide range of plants, nature, and wildlife and ending with the history and architecture throughout the Deering Estate. Because of this, I got to see firsthand a glimpse of Miami before Miami.

Photo of Tequesta tool; taken by Jennifer Quintero of FIU (CC by 4.0)

Nightclubs, beaches, and spring break- these are what most people think of when someone says “Miami.” However, what people don’t know is that Miami has a history and places filled with it, places such as the Deering Estate.

Originally, the land was occupied by Paleo-Indians, the Tequesta, and the Seminole. Though difficult to believe, the Cutler fossil site is what revealed where the Paleo-Indians used to live. It is proven that the Tequesta also inhabited the estate through the symbols and artifacts found throughout the hike. For example, the picture above is of a shell the Tequesta used for carving, protection, and hunting.

Sometimes it is hard to believe the Miami we live in today was home to others in a past that was very much different than what we experience today. Before this class, I never knew nor would have imagined this much history in my hometown. I look forward to experiencing more and learning more of the city I was born and raised in to where one day I can educate the people around me as well.

Downtown Miami as Text

Progress in Miami” by Sydielim Chong of FIU on December 6th, 2020.

Walking through the streets of downtown Miami, one comes at a crossroads in time. From its architectural landscape comprised of buildings erected during the 60s throughout the 80s to the high rises constructed to scratch the itch that is evolution to its over spewing of development and construction to nearby areas such as that of Wynwood, the area possesses a sense of new horizons and modernity at every crosswalk.

Photo by taken Lorena Cuenca (C.C. by 4.0)

The picture of the Spanish style building above is just one of many in the Downtown Miami area. Just looking around the area, the culture in each becomes obvious to anyone. Downtown Miami represents the juxtaposition of Spanish style buildings right next to the glass front empires holding a distinctive sense of the ethnic melting pot that is Miami. Walking through the streets, one can hear Spanish, Creole, French, Hebrew, Arabic and just about any other language from every walk of life.

To me, the city represents progress from the beacons of wealth and cultural exhibits sprung ever day. To me, the city is what motivates, inspires, and drives me to become the version of myself characterized by abundance, self-improvement, and overall titan of industry, politics, culture, and art. I see a multitude of paths defined for me here every day with the city posing the question as to which path I want to take and to the conducive environment for which it will provide.

Author: Syd

Hi class! My name is Sydielim (Syd for short) and I’m currently a sophomore studying criminal justice and statistics. I hope I get to know all of you a bit better through the semester!

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