Amelia Raudales: Miami as Text

FIU Honors College and Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab, Our Stories 2020. Photo by Darian Muñoz/ CC BY 4.0

Hi everyone! My name is Amelia Raudales and I am a junior studying International Relations with certificates in Public Policy and Human Rights & Political Transitions. I love to focus my attention on philanthropic initiatives addressing social justice issues such as human trafficking, poverty alleviation, and gender discrimination. As a 2020 Millennium Fellow, I started a small venture raising hundreds of dollars for anti-trafficking and anti-abuse initiatives by selling hand-sewn products. I currently co-run two organizations, LEAD Team and the Panther Community Action Board. Additionally, I serve as the 2020-21 Honors College SGA Senator and a student representative on FIU’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Council. Under the Honors College’s Diplomacy Lab, I conducted research on trafficking and smuggling laws in the Western Hemisphere, which is pending publication, and am now conducting research for MITRE.

“Marginalization in Diversity” by Amelia Raudales of FIU at Downtown Miami

Downtown Miami 2021. Photos by Amelia Raudales/ CC BY 4.0

Miami. Originally inhabited by the now-extinct Tequestian tribe, a city whose first citizen was a Bahamian, and at one point the land was owned by a woman, Julia Tuttle.

Miami. Home to Miami-Dade County, named to glorify a man who played a role in the genocide of the Seminoles and Black Community. Our streets are named after Flagler, who although is responsible for the creation of Miami, also legitimized segregation. Our skyscrapers are built on indigenous land and bones with only the small Miami Circle in a dog park to remind people of our diverse beginnings.  

The architecture was one of the most outstanding parts of this walking tour as it symbolized how easily we normalize paving and building over history to avoid uncomfortable realities. Touching the coarse stone house that acted as a slave’s quarters, courthouse, and post office was a bit of an emotional experience. Our cultural center’s architecture is inspired by a Spanish fort, which overlooks our cultural, ethnic, and socio-economically diverse population. Even the Freedom Towers has a Spanish mosque minaret on top of it and the structure reflects the La Giralda in Seville. Standing on the Miami Circle—whose shape represents unity and interconnectedness—surrounded by construction and novel buildings seemed like something out of a science-fiction novel.

The remnants of events that happened decades ago still carry powerful legacies today.  The legacy of Flagler’s segregation of pushing Miami’s Black community into “Colored Town” is seen with the legitimization of the economically devastating I-95 being manufactured through Overtown rather than Downtown Miami. The juxtaposition of Miami’s diverse yet divisive history highlights how institutionalized social justice issues are. This is even seen in Miami-Dade’s public budgeting, as 11% of our budget is spent on health and society and 14% on economic development. Yet how effective are these initiatives with anti-homeless legislation such as anti-feeding and anti-tenting ordinances as well as anti-homeless infrastructure?

The paradox of marginalization in diverse communities is something we should strive to correct to achieve equity for our community.

“Nature, Culture, and Preservation” by Amelia Raudales of FIU at Downtown Miami

Amelia Raudales in the Everglades 2021. Photos by Linabel Armas / CC BY 4.0
 

Crystal clear water, beige and sage green foliage, and home to the largest wetland in the world.  Culture involves the process of interpreting our surroundings, and nature plays a big role in molding behavior and belief systems. The way we adapt our clothing to the everchanging weather conditions, having our art be inspired by colors we see outdoors, or molding the manner in which we interact with animals is all inspired by our connection to nature.

That is why it is heartbreaking to learn that 1.7 million acres of the Everglades has been drained and a mere 2% of the original wetland’s ecosystem remains intact. It was astounding seeing the detrimental effects of Henry Flagler from segregation in Downtown Miami to the draining and development in the Everglades. Who thought that an industrialist that profited off the exploitation of convict leasing should be trusted when he wanted to build through an ecological treasure? This is why passing through the stone structure where deer would be enclosed in an 11-mile radius to entertain people in what was Paradise Key seemed like something out of Jurassic Park.

The main take away from this trip however had to do with the importance of prioritizing conservation efforts to maintain our depleting biodiversity. In the 1920s, the United States Army Corps of Engineers—whose main focus is on engineer regiment, military construction, and civil works— played a big role in the draining of Lake Okeechobee after the government was unable to collect drainage taxes or bond payments. In the mid-1980s, there was a plethora of nutrient runoff from neighboring farmland ending up in the wetlands and thus tarnishing the water and phosphorus quality. Most recently, the Everglades is plagued by tens of thousands of invasive Burmese pythons which were introduced to the ecosystem by humans who had them as exotic pets.

The issue surrounding conservation efforts is one that is bigger than just the Everglades. Worldwide, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) recognizes that there are 20.4 million environmental migrants. These are people who have fled their home due to hazardous environmental concerns caused by deforestation, infrastructure that overruns natural spaces, and the ever-growing levels of greenhouse gases. Setting the precedent of not holding government officials and private companies accountable for their effect of the environment will only legitimize the extinction of our rare biodiversity.

We must vote and become activist as if our future depends on it, because it very much does.

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