Sana Arif: Miami as Text

Photo by Aliza Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Sana Arif is a sophomore at the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences degree with a minor in International Relations. Sana is slowly developing her interest about the world and the many cultures, religions, and deep history within it. In her free time, she likes to watch documentaries to learn about events such as various genocides and the effect of war and poverty on different groups of people. In addition to learning, she has an arsenal of adorable photos of her Green Cheek conure named Zuko, and would love to show anybody who asks (Warning: it might take a couple of hours before she lets you go). She hopes to learn more about Miami by engaging in this course, and is excited to have a refreshed, refined, and accurate perspective on South Florida.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos and editing by Sana Arif (CC by 4.0)

“Miami’s Untold Truths,” by Sana Arif of FIU in Downtown Miami on January 30th, 2021

As soon as I stepped out of the car to walk to Government Center in Downtown Miami, I was in complete awe. Living in a suburban area filled with old people and nothing much to do, I am not used to walking in bustling areas of what is truly considered “city life.” While the streets were not nearly as crowded as they may have been pre-Covid, I still felt like the main lead in one of those coming-of-age movies. Although I was scared for my life at the thought of possibly having to cut off my feet (Professor Bailly had pointed out earlier how my flat boots were not compatible with the amount of walking we would have to do), I emerged from this journey with an abundance of more knowledge than I had originally expected.

As someone who has never walked around Miami to enjoy its immense culture, I was surprised to learn about the racial history behind many structures around the area. This may be because my history classes failed to mention anything about Florida except Ponce de León’s arrival, or because famous singers Pitbull Mr. Worldwide and Enrique Iglesias focused my attention on the livelier aspects of Miami.

I was able to experience a glimpse of the past when I rested my bare hands on one of the stones of Fort Dallas. Professor Bailly had instructed us to imagine having to be one of the enslaved African Americans building their own quarters in the 1840s, and I felt a wave of sadness and guilt at the thought of not having known about the history of slavery in Miami. I learned of how Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami,” was the catalyst of forming Miami into the grand city it is today, but was swept aside for the more grand economic achievements of Henry Flagler. I learned of the hardships endured by the Native population in Miami, and about the safety and sanctuary the Freedom Tower brought to Cuban refugees seeking political asylum from Fidel Castro’s regime.

Professor Bailly brought us inside the Gesù Church, the oldest Catholic Church in all of South Florida, serving as a sanctuary to many since 1896. It was my first time stepping foot inside a Church, and I felt immensely calmed by the beautiful stained glass windows and silent atmosphere of reflecting worshippers. We were given the opportunity to observe more architecture via the Freedom Tower, which we learned was modeled after La Giralda in Seville, Spain, built as the minaret for the Great Mosque of Seville during the Almohad Dynasty. Although not of Cuban origin, I too was able to find a sense of comfort from the Freedom Tower, behind the inspiration for its architecture, and by stepping foot inside the building, which resembled a mosque atmosphere.

My trip in Downtown Miami was characterized by a profound sense of realization to pay respect to the brutal past of Miami by learning of its history. How can we become more educated on our history and reflect on the past, and bring awareness to the history of our standing structures? While this is a difficult question to answer, re-naming structures such as Fort Dallas to the William English Slave Plantation Longhouse so Miamians are no longer misguided to forget important history can be a great first step.

Everglades as Text

Photos and editing by Sana Arif (CC by 4.0)

“Finally Finding Florida,” by Sana Arif of FIU in the Everglades February 12th, 2021

The cold water rushing into my shoes as soon as I took a step in the water felt… unreal. As I walked further into the murky brown water, I took a look at all the trees around me, and was able to somewhat smell the clean air around me through my mask. It was a juxtaposed experience, both unnerving yet comfortable. My classmates surrounding me made me feel at ease, but I still felt as though I was on a separate planet. My feet kept getting tangled in the intricate roots of the cypress trees and other flora, and I kept losing my balance initially, but as we stood in silence to admire the atmosphere surrounding us, I began to appreciate where I was. I was simply a humble guest, nothing more, privileged to be able to hear the swift croaks and groans of the cypress trees swaying and dancing above me, an admirer of the beautiful warblers darting in them.

At one point, a cardinal appeared in the muted grey and green colors of the wetland ecosystem, beautifully contrasted with its bold red colors. Professor Bailly excitedly pointed out the handsome bird, and we watched as it hopped from branch to branch, occasionally disappearing from view, only to surprise us with its display in a fleeting moment. This is how the trip through the Everglades felt, like I was waiting for little surprises to show up along the trail. One moment that astounded me was when Professor Bailly asked us to turn around once we had walked far enough, and we were able to observe the dome-like structure that the cypress trees had formed. The trees were intertwined like an extensive community, and that is what I learned about the Everglades that day. This land was not a separate planet, but it was an ecosystem that even I was a part of. Park Ranger Dylan had addressed issues of pollution in different areas, and it is our job as Floridians to respect the Everglades and the species within it, and to take care of our home.

Slough slogging in the Everglades is definitely an experience I will never forget. I can still remember the feel of rushing through the water, seeing mosquito fish dashing around my legs. I had even observed a mutated form of the fish, a blotchy black and white mosquito fish, stand out amongst its translucent friends. I am glad I was able to hear the story about the Everglades from the wise trees and many species within. If you listen closely, you might be able to hear it too.

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