Sofia De La Torre: Miami as Text 2021

Photo by Juliana De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

Hi, I’m Sofia De La Torre! I am junior at Florida International University studying Biological Sciences. I hope to attend medical school in the future to pursue a career as a surgeon. In my free time, I love going on spontaneous sunset drives, making jewelry, or just hanging out with my friends! I am originally from Miami and love learning about the history of the places I travel to or visit; however, I don’t even know the history of my own city. My motivation for taking this class is to learn about the hidden truths that Miami holds and the foundation that built this city to be what it is today. 

Downtown as Text

Photos and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

“The Hidden Past of Miami” by Sofia De La Torre of FIU at Downtown Miami

I am a person who hates doing things by myself. My overprotective mother doesn’t help situations when all she does is call me every 10 minutes to find out if I’m still alive. So, when I found out that I would be traveling into the heart of Miami alone, I may have had a mini freakout. Here’s a random fact about me: I don’t like driving on the highway. Therefore, the drive to get to the Government Center was an interesting one to say the least. When I arrived, I was met with creepy stares from old men and the smell of gas powered cars, which for me is not the best way to start out the first honors class of the semester.

When we began to walk to the different locations we’d be visiting that day, I recognized many buildings from trips to downtown with my family when I was younger. Downtown Miami is like a foreign world to me. Growing up in residential Miami, life is laid back, slow even. However, Downtown is lively and energetic, like a beehive where everyone has a place to be and a job to do. Walking around, seeing these places that I have seen hundreds of times in my life was fairly normal, until the history behind them came undone.

Miami was a city that belonged to the native Tequesta people, but their land was stolen from them just like many other Native American groups residing in Florida. This overtake of land was anything but peaceful and war quickly ensued. Eventually, the natives were forced from their land and are now practically forgotten. Living in Miami for my whole life, hearing these hidden truths for the first time is shocking. Never in my 13 years of public schooling in Florida, Floridian history was never taught to us. These violent truths are buried under our own feet and have yet to be unearthed to many people who reside in this beautiful city.

Although the Tequesta’s resided in Miami long ago, other minority groups have been oppressed throughout Miami’s history. Henry Flagler, for example, is highly regarded as the “Founder of Miami,” but he abused his power by using the color of his skin against others. The low income populations in Miami have also been mistreated for decades. We talked about the freeway that goes directly through a predominantly African-American neighborhood because the legislative authorities had a large pushback from the wealthy families who did not want a highway next to their homes. These minority groups are constantly taken advantage of and stripped of their voices because others speak louder, have more political pull, or have more money.

Another minority group who resides in Miami are the hispanics, primarily the Cuban population. As a Cuban myself, I have heard the hardships that my own grandparents went through in their home country , but even more in America. Coming into the U.S. with one single suitcase and $100, they had to make a living for themselves and their 4 children. The Freedom Tower is a huge part of Cuban history. It was the immigration central for all the children, and adults, who came into the U.S. in the 1950s, fleeing from their communist government. Today, the Cuban people make up approximately 25% of Miami-Dade’s total population and 50% of Miami-Dade’s foreign population.

Overall, Miami is one of the most, if not the most, diverse cities in the U.S. People of every race, religion, color, background etc. can be found here and that is what I love most about my city. Conversations need to be had and action needs to be taken to remedy the lies that have been told to cover up the ugly truth about Miami’s history. We may not be able to change the past, but we have complete control of our future.

Everglades as Text

Photos by Jena Nassar and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

“The Marvels of Pond Life” by Sofia De La Torre of FIU at The Florida Everglades

Growing up in Miami, being around water is not unusual to you. Residents of Miami live right next to the beach and the Everglades is basically our backyard. However, not enough people know of the beauty and life that the Everglades holds. This was my very first experience going “slough slogging.” My last experience in the Everglades was a field trip to the Anhinga trail in 5th grade, so it’s been a while. I was thrilled to be getting the opportunity to do this and had convinced myself that my fear of murky water wouldn’t be a problem (it definitely was).

Walking into the water was a bit nerve-racking because you never know what could be under your feet. The first five or ten minutes I was panic-stricken and paranoid about every sound and movement. As time went on, however, I became more comfortable in this foreign environment. My first thought was that it looked like I had just walked on to the set of Star Wars. It felt very surreal to be walking through the water.

The Everglades encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical wetland. It is a lush environment is home to many species of animals and plants. The ecosystem in the Everglades is struggling to survive right now though. Invasive species have taken over and are dominating the native species. For example, the Burmese python has made its way into the Everglades and has no predators, in fact they have been seen eating full grown alligators before. Many people associate alligators with the everglades, and while that is true, there is also human evidence in the everglades. The Seminole Indians and other Indian tribes were pushed from their land and into the Everglades where they had to find a way to survive.

At the end of our slough slogging adventure, we drove to a solution hole in the middle of nowhere. The plain was absolutely flat, a rare sight in the everglades because there are trees everywhere you look. This is due to an invasive tree, the Australian pine. This tree had taken over the area and was causing major damage to the ecosystem by taking resources from the native plants. The area was excavated to prevent further growth of the invasive species.

My favorite part of the day was when we all stopped and had a moment of silence to take in the scenery around us. It was so serene, and, in that moment, you could hear every sound. Every bird chirping. Every tree squeaking as the wind blew through. However, in this tranquil moment, a sign of human presence, an airplane, flew above and reminded us of the impact humans can and have had on ecosystems across the world.

South Beach as Text

Photos and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

The South Beach atmosphere is like being on a different planet. The people, the restaurants, the hotels, the clubs. South Beach offers something different for everybody. It is definitely an experience. However, my favorite part about South Beach is the fascinating architecture styles. There are three main styles: Art deco, Mediterranean revival, and MiMo (Miami Modern). The architecture is what brings people flocking to South Beach, besides the actual beach. 

The Art Deco style is meant to mimic nature, so many of the same themes and elements are seen on Art Deco inspired buildings. There are relief sculptures of animals that are native to Miami on the sides of the buildings made to blend seamlessly with the There is a rule of three in many buildings, which is shown as either splitting the building up into three sections or 3 dividing lines for decoration. In addition, many of the buildings have overhangs above the window called “eyebrows.” Their initial purpose was to protect against the sun, however, now they are seen as decoration.

Like many of the other spots we’ve traveled to in Miami, there is an unspoken history behind the making of this very diverse city. African American and Bohemian labor workers built the city in its early days, however, once finished they were segregated from most areas of South Beach. Carl Fisher bought Fisher Island from Dana A. Dorsey, who was the first African American millionaire in South Florida. He became a developer of land around the area and refused to sell land to Jews. Not only did intense segregation create tension in Miami, but anti-Semitism was also an eminent threat to the Jewish population. This is a theme that is very common throughout Miami’s history, but it is kept a secret from the South Floridian population. 

Deering as Text

Edit by Sofia De La Torre & Photos by Jena Nassar / CC by 4.0

Deering Estate is the former residence of Charles Deering who lived on the 444-acre property. The Deering Estate, once owned by Charles Deering, is now a Miami-Dade County park and is open to the public for a small entrance fee. There are multiple buildings on the property, including in-house art studios where local artists can work. Professor Bailly is one of the many artists who work in these studios. The older of the two buildings on the property, once known as the Richmond Cottage, was a hotel in its prime time. It housed travelers who were coming south toward the keys, as it was the only hotel within miles. The Stone House is the perfect example of Mediterranean Revival style architecture. I loved how the design incorporates different cultures, such as the Islamic inspired arches or the Bohemian ceiling mosaic. 

Deering is built on the Miami Rock Ridge which houses the Pine Rockland ecosystem seen in many areas across Miami. There are 8 different ecosystems amongst the Deering Estate property. During our hike we were able to walk through all these ecosystems and compare them to each other. Due to the fact that Deering Estate is built on the Miami Rock Ridge, the elevation changes are pretty major throughout the property. We went from being directly at sea level to 25 feet above sea level at some points.

Growing up in Palmetto Bay, my mother would take me and my sister to Deering all the time. There were also many school fieldtrips to the Estate. However, on none of these outings did I learn about the rich history the estate holds and the wildlife it preserves. It was a really surreal experience going from walking through the mangroves and then hiking through a completely different ecosystem less than 5 minutes later.

Vizcaya as Text

Edit by Sofia De La Torre; Photos by Sofia De La Torre, Jena Nassar, and Sana Arif / CC by 4.0

Vizcaya was the home of James Deering, the brother of Charles Deering who owned Deering Estate. Vizcaya is a lavish the 180-acre property that houses an Italian Renaissance inspired villa in the middle of the mangroves of Miami. Vizcaya is now a Miami-Dade County park and is open to the public for a small entrance fee. James Deering loved to party and loved the idea of the party town Miami would later become. 

Entering the Gardens, you drive through largely exaggerated gates that lead you into a greenery lined pathway of nothingness. Driving along the path there are Italian Baroque style sculptures that give a preview into the coming view. Then out of the shrubbery, Villa Vizcaya can be seen and suddenly you feel as though you aren’t in Miami anymore. This is the exact feeling James Deering wanted to evoke from visitors. Walking through the house is another interesting experience because each room is decorated in a different design. The “vibe” and style era of each room changes from serious and dark to lively and romantic just by walking through a single doorway.

The mansion is filled with surprises. In the first room we entered there is a hidden door in a bookshelf. There was a pool tucked in a small corner of the house, an amphitheater, and a maze garden. However, my favorite was the secret liquor cabinet built into the limestone wall next to the gondola access canal. Writing about this lavish property makes it sound as if I’m making up random things only money could buy, but I promise this is a real place. Honestly, I’m just disappointed I was never invited to a Vizcaya party.

Margulies as Text

Edit by Sofia De La Torre; Photos by Sofia De La Torre and Jena Nassar / CC by 4.0

As a lover of art and a former art student, contemporary art isn’t necessarily a new concept to me. Whenever my family travels to a new place, I’m always the one who drags them to the nearby museums or galleries in the area. The past few years the museums I’ve been going to feature classic paintings and sculptures or historic artifacts, with barely any contemporary art. Therefore, Margulies collection blew me away with the amount and quality of the work featured there. Contemporary art tells such a deep story but is hidden behind the “insane” looking façade of the piece. One of the reasons that contemporary art is so amazing is because every person will have a different outlook on the piece and interpret a different story from it.

Margulies has a collection straight out of Art Basel with hundreds and hundreds of pieces ranging in style, size, medium, etc. The gallery is somewhat interactive containing video pieces, projectors, and even a working elevator door. Each piece evokes a different feeling from the viewer, so walking through the gallery is a rollercoaster of emotions. After experiencing the art in this gallery, I have revived my love for the subject and realized how much I miss it. It was also an eye-opening experience in that galleries and museums are not just a path for one to follow and look. It is supposed to give rise to active thought and observation and reflection of one’s life.

My favorite part of the gallery was that all profits benefit the local homeless shelter, which Margulies built with money from a famous art piece he decided to sell. This is so heartwarming to see that there is still good in humanity to help others. In an industry where fraud and laundering is so common, Margulies has created a safe space for the entire community.

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