Catherine Santana: Miami as Text 2020

Photo by Catherine Santana CC BY 4.0

Catherine Santana is a freshman at the Honors College at Florida International University, majoring in Biochemistry as a pre-med track. Medicine and the benevolence and humanity envolved in the art of healing and helping others is her passion. Although, she aspires to enlarge her cultural scope by traveling and coping with different cultures in order to not only flourish as a professional, but also as a person.

Vizcaya as Text

“Vizcaya: A mosaic,” by Catherine Santana of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

Just as the beautiful mosaics found in the gardens, including an interesting seashell interpretation, Vizcaya is a mosaic of cultures and art. From the moment walking through the entrance a classical sculpture of Bacchus welcomes visitors with the promise of art grandeur and extravagance from the god of passion and wine. Walking through the house fulfills Bacchus’ promises in an art enlightening to visitors that rarely experience a compilation of art and architecture from a number of backgrounds. Vizcaya produces a synergetic effect, all of its architectural Italian, French and Spanish influences add up to create a sense of fantasy, I felt like I had immersed myself in my favorite shows, documentaries, travel guides, and books. From the “arc of triumph” outside to the variety of marble and Chapel like stained glass in the Italian room, the experience was beyond what I had anticipated. Every room is filled with a story, culture, and art. The beauty of having a sculpture outside of the telephone room symbolizing patriotic Roman ideas in America, lay down on the floor in garden appreciating  the intricate design in the ceilings as if it were an Italian church surrounded by trees, admire Spanish ships, and extravagant French rooms is an opportunity rarely found in one space.

James Deering, the owner of the house when it opened in 1916 created along with Hoffman, Chaulfin, and Suarez a place that has transcended a century as a landmark of European art in the middle of Miami. Deering’s irony is how a man that seems slightly egocentric, given the “J’ ai dit” when going to the second floor, built a relatively small bedroom compared to the size of the property. It was perhaps a matter of the outer appearances, but maybe an artistic license to engage himself in more attractive tasks putting together an equation with variables such as Baroque, Renaissance and Mediterranean styles to add to a perfect discordant harmony.

Perhaps this house (let us emphasize that it was built as a house) surrounded by a mote, with a hidden door to defeat Prohibition, gardens full of sexual symbols, and intricate designs from European influences is able to describe Miami more than many other places. Some attribute Vizcaya’s beauty to cultural appropriation; however, what is Miami but a city that has absorbed multiple cultures and made them its own? The discordant harmony in Vizcaya can be seen in several menus, demographics, and composition of the city, it is in a way a growing Vizcaya. Miami is also a mosaic, Vizcaya is Miami.

Museum of Art and Design as Text

Photo by Catherine Santana CC BY 4.0

“Saying goodbye to Cuba” by Catherine Santana of FIU at Museum of Art and Design.

There wasn’t any homeostasis. The Cuban Revolution and Castro Regime made thousands of people to seek refuge in the United States after watching their country submerged in communist actions that obliterated freedom of all kinds. Therefore, starting anew is something that generations of Cubans have known for the past decades. The Museum of Art and Design portrays the exodus through several exhibitions, showcasing the courage and the obstacles faced by immigrants.
Let’s start from the beginning. I had never been to the Freedom tower. My father and my father’s friends told me stories , but I was only able to understand its importance until I saw the Cuban flag dancing in the air contrasting the colonial architecture with modern buildings. I was compelled. I am an immigrant, but my time has allowed me to stay in contact with many of my family members and friends. Was this the case in the 1960s? I felt an empathy for people that I never met and their sacrifice. They were the dancing flags that searched for a better place and expressed their individuality. Walking down the halls and observing their exhibitions, I was able to relate to many of the highlights on the posters. I was able to identify myself with the spam and eggs breakfast, the impatience, and the unknown. To Cubans, this is our Ellis Island even for the younger generations that embrace its historical relevance.

However, my favorite feature of the “Cuban Exile Exhibition” was the honesty of portraying the obstacles faced by Cubans after arriving, adjusting to a new country and culture rather than presenting the story as a “Happily Ever After”. For instance, pictures that captured the desperation of mothers that left children behind, innocent faces waiting to be processed, and geographic adjudgment provide more dimension to the story than a superficial view of the issue. Overall, it’s a place that creates identity and transmits endurance to not only Cubans, but any immigrant that has had similar experiences. It’s a place that irradiates its historic increasing entropy.

Deering Estate

Photo by Jusy Duran. Google Maps/ Public Domain

“A Natural Enclave”, by Catherine Santana of FIU at Deering Estate.

The Deering Estate was built by Charles Deering, a Chicago industrialist, environmentalist, and art lover in the beginning of the 1900s. The house provides 444 acres of beautiful architecture and natural diverse paradises. Today, it offers programs for the community such as poetry readings and expositions, as well as environmentalist tours.

The Deering Estate makes a significant contrast to its geographic location. Although, the years have made Deering Estate one of Miami’s most beloved places, the architecture and environmental value seem different to where the estate is located. Beyond the Richmond Cottage, the Mediterranean Revival Stone House, and the Deering Estate Artist in Residence program there is a world of adventures and natural diversity. The Estate was added to the National Registry of Historic Places, in an attempt to preserve its historic value.

However, beyond the historic buildings and art endeavors, the Estate provides a natural enclave in Miami. Contrary to the fast-paced growing city, many of Deering’s Estate natural locations offer as Anne Shirley would say “so much scope for the imagination”. The boat basin allows people to enjoy the beauty of wildlife. The supply of fresh water allows manatees to thrive in this area, and at the right moments, some other species can be seen as well. Another must do is the Nature Preserve Tour. The time travelling opportunity provides allows visitors to enjoy wildlife as centuries before human intervention. There is an abundance of species, patterns, and surprises to be admired in this guided tour by a conservation and research specialist.

Some other attractions include the Tequesta Midden and the Tequesta Burial Mound. Both made reference to the inhabitants of the area in the 16th century. It is believed that a number of bodies of this extinct population remain in this mound, and the Tequesta Midden allows visitors to observe the shells the Tequestas used as tools. Along with the Cutler Fossil Site, the Deering Estate allows an average person to feel like a historian and archeologist in the not so often considered as historic Miami.

Other attractions include the Chicken key, a small island one mile away from the shore, the geologically significant Miami Rock Ridge, and the Tropical Hardwood Hammock. There are also two free access places, The People’s Dock and the Deering Point which allow visitors to enjoy of Biscayne Bay and spend time in a natural paradise.

Overall, the Deering Estate is extremely valuable providing Miami of artistic and natural diversity. It is an escape room for people to admire local art and nature’s divine design. A perfect detour from the chaotic Miami, to enrich visitors’ imagination.

“Deering Estate History: Historic Miami Mansion & Gardens.” Deering Estate, 26 Mar. 2020,

“Deering Estate Walking Tour” tour/

HistoryMiami Museum

Photo by Kevin Harris. Google Maps/ Public Domain.

“Miami’s true colors”, by Catherine Santana of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum.

The HistoryMiami Museum is located in a privileged location in Miami. It is part of the Smithsonian Institution Affiliations Program and provides different collections that capture Miami’s highs and lows. Their exhibitions highlight the history of the city, including negative aspects such as social injustice and discrimination. Their numerous programs attempt to create a sense of place, promulgate our history, and create a community.

The museum offers permanent collections and seasonal exhibits. One of their permanent collections seeks to highlight the history of the city starting with the first inhabitants and includes modern day pieces. “Miami, The Magic City” captures the development of Miami through photographs in chronological order. The museum’s core exhibition Tropical dreams: A People’s History of South Florida shows the progression of the city throughout the years. There are many artifacts from the early settlers, many of them collected at Deering Estate.

Its walls are filled with art inspired by history and stories that inspire people. The exhibitions not only touch upon delicate topics, but also provide in depth information. Art and photographs refer to the first African American communities, derogatory terms used to describe different tribes, and the waves of immigration to the city.

More than anything, HistoryMiami seeks to engage the community in the study of their history. Most people in Miami are not knowledgeable of the history of the city since schools do not prioritize this subject. The Museum has different programs to include children in hands on learning. The Summer Passport Program provides free access for all children, including legal guardians, in Miami-Dade County to experience the museum in the Summer months as an adventure. They also have Free Family Fun Days to promulgate learning history as part of family traditions. The Museum hosts the Miami Street Photography Festival and classes with historian Dr. Paul S. George.

Overall, the mission of The HistoryMiami Museum is accomplished by providing exhibits that capture the essence of the city of Miami. Paintings, artifacts, and photographs describe the trajectory of a culturally diverse community and allows everyone to be included in telling stories. The museum links the community to their history, and does not shy away from controversial topics, setting an example for new generations and a precedent of social justice. All generations are called to learn and reflect in a place that shows Miami’s true colors.

HistoryMiami Official Website
JW Bailly Lectures

South Beach

Photo by Daderot/ CC BY -SA 4.0

“Behind the façade” by Catherine Santana of FIU at South Miami Beach.

Miami is known around the world for its beaches and night life, which are the epicenter of the tourism industry in the city. However, there is much more to know about the area and the history behind the popular tourist spot.

The city evolved from a farmland to an area that attracted the upper class to settle, after Ocean Drive became suitable for automobile traffic. Today, the vision of the founders remains true as it is considered a rather elitist and glamorous place, with higher costs of living. It has also become popular as a scenario of debaucherous lifestyles and luxurious real estate.

Miami Beach has numerous places dedicated to culture, including galleries and museums. However, one of the most notable aspect is the characteristic Art Deco architecture. When I first moved to Miami, I was greatly impressed by the pastel facades in Miami Beach. Although, I didn’t know the type of architecture I admired the curved edges and windows that transported me back to another time period. There have been several figures over the years that have dedicated their time to advocate for the conservation of the artistic value of Miami Beach’s unique Art Deco.

Behind Miami Beach’s glamour and luxury, there is a sacrifice story. Sadly, the area was built aided by gentrification, racism, and environmental damage. Miami Beach was racially diverse before its development, but the pressures faced by the vision of the city pushed African Americans and Native Americans away. Jews were also repressed in the development of the city. Derogatory banners, and discrimination in public places was ubiquitous, despite the increasing number of Jews moving to Miami Beach, especially after World War II. Today, the history of Jews in Miami Beach is portrayed in the Jewish Museum of Florida. However, the museum not only tells the story of over two centuries of Jewish History in the state, but also exhibits modern art related to Judaism. In order to eradicate social disparity and the negative consequences of the development of the city, there are several projects designed to combat the gentrification of the area.

Despite the negative aspects of South Beach, the area is of significant value to the identity of the city. It provides more than the popular beaches and parties known around the globe, but it is also a place of significant importance in the arts through architecture, paintings, poetry, and many others. South Beach is far more than tourist spot, but rather a place for artistic expression, identity, and turbulent history.


John Bailly Lectures
Funcheon, Deirdra. “Miami’s Historically Black Neighborhood Is Poised to Gentrify Like Harlem.” Bisnow, 12 Feb. 2020,
“South Beach History.” South Beach | History,

Author: miamiastext

Admin Account for Miami in Miami

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