Daniela Arcia: Miami as Text 2020

Photo by Sophia Diez CC BY 4.0

Find what brings you joy and go there.

Jan Phillips

Daniela Arcia is a junior in the Honors College at Florida International University. She is majoring in Psychology and hopes to specialize in the field of Pediatric Psychology. She was born in Cuba and moved to Miami at the age of eight. Since that plane ride, she knew she wanted to continue traveling and exploring different parts of the world. This summer she will be visiting Spain through the study abroad program at the Honors College. Apart from traveling, her passions include dancing, health and music. Below are her reflections of important places that make up the identity of Miami.

Vizcaya as Text

“We are the Caravels” by Daniela Arcia of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Photo by Gabriela Peña CC BY 4.0

In caravels they came.

Sailing in brilliant buoyant ships bounding over the horizon.

From far and wide, bringing new customs, connecting two worlds to create a new one.

In caravels they came.

With armored suits and swords, settling into their new home. With goals of expansion and prosperity, yet they had an empire.

In caravels they came.

Bringing passion and excitement. Eccentricity and fluidity.

In caravels they came.

Rising a city from the ground. Resembling the homes of those who gave us our skin and our eyes.

In caravels they came.

Attracting those from far and wide. Making places of enjoyment where all are welcome to come inside.

From caravels we came…

From caravels we came

Growing and thriving.

From caravels we came

Reveling in our culture with no need of hiding.

From caravels we came proving sanctuary.

From caravels we came

Melding and mixing, rearranging and configured a home all of our own.

From caravels we came.

Bringing all the spices of life and the flavors of tradition from foreign lands.

From caravels we came.

Importing polished posing statues of great artists.

From caravels we came.

Landing on ivory shores not aware that the places, faces and customs we would find would remain in this place until present times.

From caravels we came.

Dreaming of gold. And although it wasn’t found, we bathe in the sun and the richness of our people with new words on our tongues.

From caravels we came.

To a place where the cultures blend. Where Creole, Spanish and English could all be heard in the same place.

From caravels we came.

Where little mom and pop shops span across, serving as portals to the lands where we came from.

We are the caravels.


“All we see is Gold” by Daniela Arcia of FIU at MOAD
Photo in bottom right taken by Thomas Connell
Photos edited by Daniela Arcia CC by 4.0

The Freedom Tower holds a significant place in the culture of Miami. It opened its doors in 1925 as the home of the Miami News and later became the processing center for the Peter Pan program. It was modeled after the Giralda Bell Tower in Seville symbolizing Mediterranean revival as demonstrated by the galleon at the top of the tower. At the sides of the galleon are the American and Cuban flags. Walking over I instantly felt a connection to the place and my heritage.

To most Cubans, The Freedom Tower symbolizes exactly that; freedom and democracy. Just the outside structure of the building demonstrates various cultures coming together which is the essence of Miami. At the age of seven I remember being in Cuba and would spend hours looking at my grandfather’s maps yet the place that always stood out to me was Miami, to me it was a golden city.

However, how Miami obtained its foundations is often forgotten by the majority of its inhabitants. The exhibit by the Kislak Center features maps, writings and artifacts from indigenous people of the early Americas. The exhibit highlights the events and personalities that shape our culture. Yet, these events are framed by a European perspective. The mural celebrating Ponce de Leon arriving to Miami is an example of this, it depicts him and the Tequesta leader on a Spanish galleon essentially symbolizing how he brought civilization to Miami. This became the justification for years of violence and atrocities demonstrated throughout the “New World”.

The exhibit also features various artifacts of indigenous people made of gold. At the time, they were unaware that this beautifully complex element would lead to their downfall. Their use for gold was mostly decorative while the conquistadors saw it as a way to win wars which led to the near extinction of most of indigenous cultures. Instead of appreciating the rich and vast culture of the indigenous people all the conquistadors saw was gold and stopped at nothing in order to conquer it. Today our society is governed by money; where we go, what we consume, what we wear, what careers we chose are all dependent on a piece of paper. Essentially, all we see is gold too.

deering as text

“Nature’s Keeper” by Daniela Arcia of FIU at Deering Estate
Photos by JW Bailly CC by 4.0
Top right photo and edit by Daniela Arcia CC by 4.0

The Deering Estate expands across 450 acres housing many historical and natural treasures. The first time I visited, my friend and I got lost trying to find the entrance and ended up at the People’s Dock. It was a windy Saturday morning and there were more people than I expected, yet there was tranquility throughout area that is rare to find anywhere in Miami. From the moment we entered, walking the path towards the Stone House, we were surrounded by nature. Unlike Vizcaya, where every plant is carefully trimmed to make intricate gardens, nature at Deering Estate can create its own beautiful path.

The nature preserve is a perfect example of this, housing an extensive amount of flora and fauna native to the area. It gives visitors a glimpse of what the area was like before our community got started. The Tequesta Midden further contributes to this, as it houses shell bits, which were once the tools used by the Tequesta. These serve as evidence of the vast Tequesta community that resided on this land before the arrival of Ponce de Leon and their devastating extinction. It’s amazing that the Deering Estate preserves these tools in their rightful place unlike other artifacts of the native people that end up in museums miles away from their place of origin.

The same can be said about the Tequesta Burial Mound which is one of two unearthed Tequesta burial sites. The fact that there is only two is upsetting to me, and as I continue to learn more about how our current community got started, I’m left with a sour taste in my mouth. However, I feel proud to have visited and continued to learn about the many wonders of Deering Estate. The Deering Estate embraces a symbiotic relationship between humans and nature as originally done by the individuals who resided there. It reminded me of how much beauty there is within nature and opened my eyes to the rich history housed within its walls.

miami beach as text

“He who holds the pen” by Daniela Arcia of FIU at Miami Beach
Photos by John Bailly CC by 4.0
Edit by Daniela Arcia

Miami Beach was incorporated to Miami Dade County in 1915, connected to mainland Miami by a series of bridges. The first of these bridges was built by Carl Fisher and John Collins in 1913 when they began developing the land into man-made islands with the purpose of building a tourist resort. This was done successfully as today Miami Beach has become a tourist destination known worldwide and is also home to the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the world. However, there are certain myths regarding the foundation of this great municipality. An erroneous picture was painted where Miami Beach was an empty waste land before Carl Fisher came across it and decided to develop it. This is a picture I grew up believing, yet I couldn’t be more wrong. This “empty land” housed mangroves that maintained an entire ecosystem acting as a barrier between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, now completely gone.

Furthermore, Miami Beach resembles Miami’s atmosphere of creativity and inclusivity, but it wasn’t always like this. While the developers of the land claimed it was empty, there is factual evidence to account for the presence of Seminoles, African Americans and Afro-Bahamians in the area long before Carl Fisher arrived. These were also people who helped lay the foundations of what Miami Beach is today, to blatantly claim they didn’t exist is outwrite disrespectful. I am reminded of the quote “He who holds the pen writes history” from the movie Colette. It was meant to emphasize that who tells the story matters. We’ve seen this throughout history, with winners who tell their version of the story, through European depictions of Native Americans and through those who aim to rewrite history for their own convenience. In the case of Miami Beach, destroying an entire ecosystem and segregating its inhabitants doesn’t paint the prettiest picture for the ultimate vacation destination. Therefore, the story written was that of an empty swamp built into the perfect tourist resort.

HistoryMiami as Text

“Our Story” by Daniela Arcia of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum
Mural of Paleo-Indians from the HistoryMiami Museum by JW Bailly CC by 4.0

HistoryMiami Museum was founded in 1940 as the Historical Association of Southern Florida. Since then it has become the largest history museum in Florida. It contains prehistoric artifacts from archeological finds, collections based on Native American settlements and pioneer life, all the way up to Miami’s industrial revolution. HistoryMiami provides realistic depictions not shying away from the “ugly” parts of Miami’s history.

The Museum pays special attention to the stories of those who are rarely told such as that of Paleo-Indians and Seminoles. The “Miami Circle” section pays tribute to the Tequesta whose devastating story is often forgotten. The Tequesta were native to the land centuries before the Europeans started expanding to the Americas. This was a fact ignored by the incoming Europeans who were only interested in the conquest of land, no matter the cost, leading to the Tequesta’s extinction. European arrival is often romanticized, being credited for bringing civilization to the Americas, yet it was already present and composed of a unique culture they simply did not understand.

The Creek Migration” section demonstrates how history tends to repeat itself, as this time the Creek tribes were forced out of their sacred lands by the United States. It also showcases the inaccurate depictions colonizers had of the native tribes which can be seen throughout history. As a result of the creek migration the tribes were forced to split up and those who moved to Florida became known as the Seminoles. The exhibit “Pioneer Life” provides a realistic depiction of what life was like for the first settlers of Miami. It also highlights how they developed a symbiotic relationship with the natives of the area in order to survive. Sadly, the native tribes receive little credit for their contributions to Miami’s early start. However, HistoryMiami manages to bring them to light while providing accurate depictions of their history and struggles. There are few exhibits throughout Miami that accurately depict this dark part of history as well as HistoryMiami does.

Author: miamiastext

Admin Account for Miami in Miami

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