Amelia Raudales: Miami as Text 2021

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.

Downtown Miami as Text

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

“Marginalization in Diversity” by Amelia Raudales of FIU at Downtown Miami, 01.22.2021

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.

Everglades as Text

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

“Nature, Culture, and Preservation” by Amelia Raudales of FIU at Downtown Miami, 02.05.2021

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.

South Beach as Text

Waldorf Towers 2021. Photo by Amelia Raudales / CC BY 4.0

“Art and Architecture”by Amelia Raudales of FIU at South Beach, 02.26.2021

Walking along the sun-drenched Deco Drive, observing Miami’s vibrant population, and appreciating its unique architecture was the highlight of my week. During this class, we passed by several buildings ranging styles including Mediterranean Revival, Art Deco, and Mimo.

There is also the natural architecture, which has been washed over centuries of development. Mangroves have been pulled off shorelines, sand has to be imported from Jamaica every year, and the government has sponsored destructive digging of the bay and coral to make room for more cruise ships. However, you can see remnants of nature in the statues and buildings which illustrate water, grass, and marine animals.

As lively and beautiful as South Beach is, it is riddled with individualism and crime. As for individualism, there was a plethora of Miamians and tourists disregarding CDC guidelines by walking around without masks in large groups. This was not unsurprising considering the disinformation spread on the pandemic and that we as a nation normalize individual actions over collective actions. This can also be seen with the mask burning protests that happened in Idaho or no-mask mandate that happened in Texas a few weeks ago. With spring break happening in these next few weeks, it really is concerning as a Miamian the amount of people and potential cases that are coming in.

Regardless of its lucrative look, South Beach does have a high crime rate. Most crimes committed are related to property, about 6983, and approximately 859 violent crimes—including sex crimes— happens per year. Especially with Miami-Dade being one of the country’s epicenter for human trafficking— the exploitation of people for labor or commercial sex through force, fraud or corruption– our government has keep working on keeping our population safe. When talking to a representative from Glory House, Susette Valdez mentioned how our vibrant party scene, its easy for traffickers to lure people even by spiking drinks in a crowded area. She also mentioned that the lack of regulation in strip clubs makes it easy to traffic minors into this industry, which is partially why a Kristi House representative noted that 1 in 7 men have purchased sex from a minor.

When talking to Melba Pearson, she mentioned that the most common push factors behind crime include poverty, untreated mental illness, and addiction. This illustrates that regardless of the booming tourism happening around South Beach, there is still work to be done with crime prevention that does not include displacing homeless people and not financially supporting our community. We have to start addressing the root cause of our wound instead of placing a band aid on it and hoping the problem goes away.

Deering Estate as Text

Deering Estate Pine Rockland 2021. Photo by Amelia Raudales / CC BY 4.0

“Antiquity and Biomimicry” by Amelia Raudales of FIU at Deering Estate, 03.05.2021

As one of the few Environmentally Endangered Lands, it was amazing seeing so many ecosystems such as Mangrove forests, pine rocklands, and hardwood hammocks. Entering caves, finding hidden historical treasures, and hiking through these ecological treasures made me feel as if I was walking through an adventure film like The Hobbit. The bright colors, the hard and slippery ground, and the variation in plants was all so mesmerizing.

As we spent three hours walking through six different types of ecosystems, I couldn’t help but think of all the lessons we have yet to learn from nature. As defined by Janine Benyus, biomimicry is the process of using nature as a model or inspiration to solve human problems. During this journey we saw how indigenous people used shells as drills and weapons, people who created wells utilize fresh ground water, and Mr. Deering’s estate drew influence from the coastal surroundings. Even studios from artist in residence are known to take inspiration from their setting.

The biggest lesson from nature that I learned from this visit however was how the exclusion of humans from environments leads to its proliferation. We saw this with the Venice canals becoming clear after the initial COVID-19 lockdowns, how the reduction of traffic has allowed seismologists to better detect earthquakes, and even Professor Bailey mentioned how sharks and manatees have returned to the estates bodies of water. These aforementioned examples act as evidence to show how we as a society have a great deal of learning to do from nature to decrease our detrimental impact on earth and preserve these ecological treasures for centuries to come.

Vizcaya as Text

Amelia Raudales and John Bailly at Vizcaya. Photo by Annette Cruz/ CC BY 4.0

Preserving our Infrastructure, 03.19.2021

Built by approximately 1,000 workers, the former 180-acre winter villa Vizcaya was opened on Christmas day of 1916. Working alongside art director Paul Chalfin, James collected and displayed millions of dollars in art. This caught the eyes of many individuals such as the thieves of 1971 who took $1.5 million in art, of which only $250,000 was recovered. Along with the art, the villa shows influence of Italian, French, Spaniard, and Mediterranean Revival landscape and architecture.

The Italian influence was noticeable with the artwork of ruins, the Boy with Thorn statue, and even a fountain from an Italian town square. When we first walked into the estate, there was a room where the ceiling paralleled the floor, which Professor Bailly mentioned was French due to its symmetry. The ceiling also happened to match the color of the famous Ladurée restaurant, snowy mint. Even the symmetrical formal gardens resembled the gardens in Versailles. Vizcaya means a native of Biscay, a Spanish province by the coastline. The Spanish Carnival’s embedded throughout the manor also illustrated its admiration of Spain. Influences of Mediterranean Revival was seen with the fountains at the entrance which resemble those seen in Alhambra. There was even an homage to Egypt, with two sphynxes placed in front of a labyrinth (the origin of mazes was first recorded in Egypt in 5th century BC to represent a spiritual journey).

Visiting this site reminded of the importance of preserving our infrastructure here in the U.S. The U.S. only spends 2.3% of its GDP on upkeeping infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers rates our 2020 infrastructure as a C+— the first time in 20 years. Currently, 1/3 of pipelines are 40 years old, 230,000 bridges are in need of repair, and 33.7% of roads need to be paved. This is reflected with a majority of American’s believing in the importance of preserving art facilities and 80% in rebuilding our infrastructure. To safeguard the backbone of our society as well as our local culture, we must invest in our historic facilities and traditional infrastructure.

Margulies as Text

Two sculptures found in the Margulies Collection. Photos by Amelia Raudales / CC BY 4.0

Moments over Materialism, 04.16.2021

Located in Wynwood, the Margulies Collection has been home to hundreds of contemporary photographs, videos, as well as sculptures since 1999. The warehouse gallery is home to iconic pieces like George Segal’s Subway (1968), Leandro Elrich’s Elevator Pitch (2011), and multiple pieces by Anselm Kiefer. The owner of this $800 million collection is Martin Z. Margulies, and he believes that art promotes an endless cycle of learning. He shows his commitment to educating the next generation with his low admission prices. He is even quoted saying that “if I’m here in town, then I like to lead the tours. It’s what I get the most enjoyment out of.”

To further showcase his commitment to education and the community, he is a beneficiary of the Florida International University Art Sculpture Park, made a $20 million donation to Lotus House, and directs all admission proceeds to the women and children’s homeless shelter. Although Margulies does not sell his artwork, he has made an exception for the mission of the Sundari Foundation and even has an ongoing pop-up benefit happening on their behalf.

With this experience, it was interesting to see how this collection and museum is not about money for Margulies. It reminded me of the South Beach class when Professor Bailly mentioned how it is a smarter investment to spend money on experiences rather than material goods. Every time I tour galleries, visit architectural feats like Sagrada Familia, and experience events like skydiving, I am reminded of this fact. We have to celebrate the miracle of our existence and measure our life by the moments that take our breaths away.

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