Camila Ramirez: Miami as Text 2020

Photo by Ana Ramirez (CC by 4.0)

Camila Ramirez is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University. She is majoring in Philosophy as well as pursuing certificates in Law, Ethics & Society and in Pre-Law Skills and Professional Values. After graduating from FIU she hopes to begin attending law school in the Fall of 2021. She is passionate about animal rights and criminal reform and hopes to specialize in one of these areas during law school. She is currently enrolled in Professor Bailly’s Miami España, Ida y Vuelta Summer 2020 study abroad program. Below are her reflections of the Miami as Text portion of the class.

Vizcaya as Text

Viscera Museum & Gardens by Camila Ramirez (CC by 4.0)

“The Art of Foreshadowing “ by Camila Ramirez of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Beginning with its inception in 1910, the artistic choices made at Vizcaya seemingly predicted many of the long lasting characteristics of Miami that we continue to see today. To get to the main house, visitors walk down a pathway lined with tranquil and unadorned fountains, something indicative of the strong Islamic culture present in Europe before the expulsion of the Muslims in the early 17th century. Though the Spanish may have succeeded in their attempt to remove most Muslims from the country, the Islamic culture lived on for far longer, something that can be seen even in the architecture of Vizcaya. 

In almost every individual room of the main house, one can see the influences of various different cultures, whether it be Spanish, Italian, French, Roman, or Islamic, but much of this most likely goes unnoticed by most visitors. For instance, in the room overlooking the east terrace there are lavish Spanish style doors, bordered by abstract Islamic patterns, topped with Romanesque busts. All of these various details point to a multicultural influence in Vizcaya, and Miami is nothing if not multicultural. Miami prides itself on being a melting pot for people from all over the world where visitors and citizens alike can enjoy aspects of Latin, Caribbean, European, and American cultures. 

Furthermore, upon entering the main house, visitors are instantly greeted by a statue of Bacchus or possibly Dionysos – the Roman and Olympian gods of wine and ecstasy. This can be inferred by the grapes he is holding, however, the statue also includes a large marble tub in front of where the wine would be poured. Could this have been meant to imply an overabundance of wine, pleasure, and festivities? If so, John Deering very rightly predicted the ambiance of present day Miami.  At least in the more touristic areas, Miami is best known for its buzzing nightlife and air of sensuality. Miami gives off the sensation of a non stop party which is what attracts most tourists to it; and similar to Vizcaya, visitors are instantly greeted with this atmosphere whether it be day or night. 

Whether or not visitors take notice of the many cultures represented at Vizcaya or the reference to times of pleasure and ecstasy, these characteristics branch out far past the gates of Vizcaya into the Miami that we know and love today. 

MOAD as Text

Museum of Art & Design by Camila Ramirez (CC by 4.0)

Retelling History” by Camila Ramirez of FIU at the Museum of Art & Design at MDC

Despite being housed in Miami’s Freedom Tower, the “Kislak Center: Culture and Change in the Early Americas” exhibit does not paint a picture of freedom at all. Instead, it captures a period marked by loss of autonomy, enslavement, and genocide, though it is unlikely that many will see it as such.   

Nearly 40 years after its initial construction as a home for The Miami News in 1925, the Freedom Tower was repurposed as a reception center for Cuban refugees from 1962 to 1974. This historical landmark earned its name because of the important role it played during those 12 years by assuring thousands of Cuban immigrants a new beginning. This of course is a very different history than that of which is on display inside. 

The “Culture and Change in the Early Americas” exhibit offers viewers a look into the pre and post Columbian periods through rare books, maps, and other historical artifacts. Upon first glance, these pieces of history struck me as beautiful and their display worthy of celebration. But the more I learned about each piece and the real history that it represents, the sadder I grew thinking of the fate of the indigenous people who had crafted such beautiful artifacts. 

I went in with the mentality that the exhibit was admirably bringing light to the culture of the Native Americans, but by the time I left, this was overshadowed by the fact that much of the history presented in the exhibit praised the conquistadores instead. Of course, this should not surprise me being that history is almost always written by the victors. The exhibit is even located next to the New World Mural, originally commissioned in 1925, which shows a very romanticized version of Ponce de Leon’s arrival in Florida. The mural’s center image of Ponce de Leon and a Tequesta chief is presumably meant to invoke a sense of harmony between the colonizers and the natives, however, this neglects the fact that the later would face an eventual genocide at the hands of the former. 

It is not lost on me that the modern world would not be what it is today without the actions taken by the conquistadors, but I don’t believe that we should excuse or romanticize certain events simply because they are a stain on our history. Ultimately, I left the Freedom Tower taking in what I saw with a grain of salt, because as much as I would like not to believe it, the only people who benefitted form the ‘change in the early Americas’ were those to whom the Americas did not belong. 

Deering as Text

Deering Estate Nature Preserve (Photo by JW Bailly CC by 4.0)

An Untouched Haven” by Camila Ramirez of FIU at the Deering Estate 

 As someone who is captivated by virgin, untouched nature, there’s nothing more beautiful to me about the Deering Estate than the acres of wildlife that surround it. From marine life, to reptiles, to birds, the Deering Estate Nature Preserve and Boat Basin’s unique ecosystems are home to countless native Miami species. The Boat Basin is quite literally a sanctuary for manatees thanks to the fact that no watercraft of any type is allowed in. These slow moving animals are frequently struck by boats in other areas, and it was only a few years ago that they were able to be removed from the list of endangered species. This basin serves as an area where manatees can congregate and mate and not have to worry about their greatest predator, man. If visitors are lucky they can see anything from sharks, to turtles, to dolphins, which in my view tops any oceanarium since these animals are allowed to roam free and come and go as they please. 

Back on dry land, the Deering Estate Nature Preserve contains one of the rarest plant communities in Florida, tropical hammocks. Learning about this ecosystem reminded me how everything that occurs in nature serves a purpose. Take for example solution holes. This seemingly random natural occurrence, which forms from a combination of rainfall and acid produced by decaying leaves on the hammock floor, serves as an innate form of protection from forest fires. Solution holes also serve as a habitat for alligators, which are very common throughout South Florida. If we look hard enough I believe we’ll find that nothing in nature happens on accident which is part of why it is so fascinating. Seeing how phenomenons such as this one, something so seemingly minute, facilitate nature preserving itself and continuing to thrive is truly remarkable. 

Despite the fact that the Nature Preserve looks as if it was never inhabited by man, remains of the Tequesta Indians have been located in the forest. The Deering Estate did not only serve as a burial ground, but as a home for the Tequesta before the area was discovered by Ponce de Leon. Evidence of them having lived there is linked to hundreds of shell tools that have been discovered. Though the Tequesta are extinct and nothing is known of their culture, it is well established that Native Americans had a way of life and relationship with nature fundamentally different from that of our’s today. They left the midden exactly as they found it and if not for the few remnants found through excavation, we would have never known of their existence. 

Ultimately, the Deering Estate Nature Preserve is an area of Miami like no other. Visitors are fortunate enough to see what this area looked like before mankind placed its mark on it. Through the amazing effort put in by those at the Deering Estate, this land remains a viable home for innumerable species from both the plant and animal kingdoms. But it is so much more than just a forest. It is a piece of history, one of the few remaining places where we can learn about an almost entirely forgotten community. 

South Beach as Text

When Man Plays God” by Camila Ramirez of FIU at South Beach

Though it is true that people have inhabited the land that is Miami Beach for centuries, long before Carl Fisher ‘discovered’ and later incorporated the city, the geographical layout of the area has not always looked the same. In fact, Miami Beach can practically be considered man-made since what used to be in its place was a mangrove-populated island which created a barrier between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Once Carl Fisher and John Collins began constructing what they intended to be a glamorous getaway spot, their first mission was to dredge Biscayne Bay and cut down the mangrove forests which served a vital role in maintaining Miami’s marine life. Little did they realize that almost a century later, a mangrove restoration project would be undertaken in Miami Beach to correct this grave mistake. Even though the beautiful shoreline may seem natural to the more than 20 million tourists that visit each year, every granule of sand was placed there by man. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that creating land where it was not naturally meant to be would come with some pretty steep consequences. To date, Miami Beach has spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion dollars in attempts to keep the city above water. Sea level rise has created innumerable problems for the residents in the area, and not just on days when it’s raining. They are experiencing ‘sunny day flooding’ where areas are being inundated on days with clear skies and high tides. The City continually has to spend money to pump up sand from the ocean floor to replace the sand that is washing away from its beaches on a daily basis. Sure Miami Beach brings in vast amounts of money and tourism to the state, but at what cost? Pumping for sand can only go on for so long before it starts negatively impacting marine life as well, and all for us to be able to enjoy a day at a beach that should have never existed in the first place. Time will tell how long these measures can remain sustainable, but I doubt Carl Fisher or John Collins ever even stopped to think about what the long term effects of creating an artificial geographical feature would be for Florida. 

HistoryMiami Museum as Text

(Photo Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum ©)

Those Who Came Before” by Camila Ramirez of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum 

Though I haven’t had the pleasure of personally visiting the HistoryMiami Museum (HMM), Professor Bailly’s Walking Tour allowed me to get a feel for the history that is presented there. Unlike other historical sites we have visited throughout the semester, this museum does not attempt to conceal the many regrettable time periods in Miami’s history. 

In the exhibition “Miami, The Magic City,” visitors can see wooden implements dating all the way back from 7500 – 500 B.C.! This display alone serves as a reminder that the history of Miami, and of the United States as a whole, is so much more extensive than what most people usually realize, myself included. When it comes to South Florida, its inception is generally thought of as the day that Ponce de Leon first arrived, however, that was centuries after these artifacts were created. One of the missions of the HMM is to highlight those voices which are often forgotten when we think of the history of Miami, and the indigenous people who inhabited this place long before the Europeans laid claim to it are among the most forgotten. Indeed, the museum has more than one section honoring and informing visitors about the Native Americans who called South Florida home. Most notably, there is a section dedicated to the Tequesta Indians where visitors can read about the ‘Miami Circle’ which remains a bit of a mystery to archeologists. 

Even after the Tequesta had been eradicated by South Florida’s new inhabitants, settlers in the area managed to continue showing a complete lack of respect for the group. The museum houses a photograph which shows a Tequesta burial mound being destroyed in order to build the Royal Palm Hotel. This photo captures two stains on our country’s history in one image, since those pictured are black men who lived during a period of truly abhorrent societal norms. Racism and segregation were rampant during the late 1800s and though these men were instrumental in the founding of Miami, the HMM is probably one of the few places you would ever get the opportunity to learn about them. 

The aim of the HistoryMiami Museum is not to paint the city as one born out of hatred and atrocities, but to show that these things did happen and that they should not be brushed under the carpet. What happened in South Florida centuries and even just decades ago does not reflect on what the city is now. A trip to this museum should enlighten people about what it took to build this city, and most parts of the United Staes which share a similar sordid past. 

Author: miamiastext

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