Michelle Munio: Miami as Text 2020

Photo by Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

Michelle Muñio is a junior in the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in Psychology and minoring in Chemistry. Following her graduation in the spring of 2021, Michelle plans on attending Medical School to become a neurologist.

Michelle loves learning new things, and although Miami is where she was born and raised, she is excited to gain a different perspective of her home. She appreciates art- food even more- and people the most. She is very much delighted to share her unique experiences in the adventures that await in this course.


“The Magic City” by Michelle Munio of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Vizcaya’s very own Dionysus, structured garden and marble everything. Photo by Michelle Munio CC by 4.0

Tourists visit the City of Miami for a number of reasons, whether it be for the weather, the beaches or the parties, all tourists share a common mantra “let’s have a good time.” This was exactly what James Deering was thinking more than a century ago when he designed the alluring palace known as Vizcaya.

The attitude of Miami is illustrated immediately upon entering the gigantic house. There is an immense sculpture of Dionysus, God of wine and ecstasy greeting your arrival, then a short path leading you to an open space in the center of the house. Spanish caravels (official symbol for the Vizcaya villa) are hung from the ceiling, reminding me of disco balls in a nightclub with the open space serving as the dance floor.  Like many of the Miami tourists, James Deering loved to show off his status and wealth. It’s exhibited in the house décor with marble, a luxurious adornment at the time, plastered all over the tables, walls and even floors. His sense of grandeur is further demonstrated with the words “J’ai dit (I have spoken)” written on top of the north staircase.  

The picturesque greenery behind the villa was another characteristic of Vizcaya that really stood out to me when I visited. Whenever I hear the word “garden” I think of naturally growing plants and colorful flowers over a large green area. The garden in Vizcaya however, had a lot more structure to it- the foliage was cut in sharp lines with perfect angles. Again, this green space was designed to show off his rank, since having the ability to control nature in turn made you seem more powerful and wealthy. Miami’s eventual gentrification of the most visited neighborhoods (i.e. Miami Beach, Wynwood, etc.) mirrors this unique cultivation of nature, and with that I say Vizcaya as “The Magic City” embodying the true essence of Miami before we had any idea of what it would become.


“The Beginning” by Michelle Munio of FIU at Museum of Art and Design (MOAD)

Photo of Michelle Munio, CC by 4.0

The Freedom Tower is as much of a staple of Miami culture as tapas are of Spain. It represents the diversity of the people who arrive and the determination of the ones who stay. At the time that it was a processing center, this building meant so much to the locals that the government would refer to the Freedom Tower as the ‘Ellis Island of the south.’ Immigrants would come from all over the world, especially Cuba to get their paperwork done before they went on for the rest of their life as citizens. In a way you can see this tower as the beginning of a new journey. A journey including endless possibilities, unlimited opportunity and resources galore. This building signified a new home for my family, who were processed here while my grandmother was pregnant with my mother’s older sister.

In 1925 the Freedom Tower was built by the Miami News. This was  a time of huge industrialization, as new technologies were being invented, people, resources and ideas were being developed all throughout the world. This was symbolized through the Guttenberg press that is illustrated on the walls of the building’s entrance. As you proceed through the museum, there is a very romanticized and immense mural of Ponce de Leon coming to Miami that cannot be missed.  The artist was trying to depict the Columbian Exchange, a significant period of interchanged ideas, technology and  culture between the Old World (Spain) and New World (The Americas). It’s a beautiful painting consisting of Spanish galleons, clear seas and adorned Tequestas; however, what the mural showed more of, was the attitude of the conquistadors at the time. They claimed Native American resources as their own, using religion as their purpose and reason. They used gold embellishments innocently worn by the inhabitants to wage wars on other lands. To them, just like the Freedom Tower would be centuries later, America was a place of endless possibilities, unlimited opportunity and resources galore.  An obscure beginning for conquerors, inhabitants and immigrants.


“Self-preservation” by Michelle Munio at Deering Estate

Photo by Elisa Rolle, CC by-SA 4.0, license Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

As a student majoring in psychology, the trait of the Deering estate that seemed most eminent to me was the effortless beauty of it self-preservation. Self-preservation… defined as an instinctual act of behavior that organisms do in order to ensure their survival. We do this all the time without even noticing- whether it be exercising, sleeping, learning, the list goes on. But what James Deering and his employees (with a little help from nature), executed so perfectly was to transform the land of the estate into a self-preserving world of its own. No wonder it has been standing tall and mighty for more than a century!

The cement walls and coffered ceilings led a sturdy foundation for the Mediterranean stone house, with a boat basin creating a symbiotic community between nature’s inhabitants (including manatees, turtles, birds) and residents (like Charles Deering and S.H. Richmond) whom made this place their home. The nature in the Deering Estate seemed the most eminent to me as keeping the community not only alive still but flourishing after a century. Solution holes emerged to protect one of the rarest plant communities in Florida, tropical hardwood hammocks. The plants and luscious ferns were another self-preserving feature which also became to be a picturesque view of the cutler creek bridge. In addition, the cutler fossil site which contains hundreds of bones of extinct and/or endangered species became a protecting site for its hidden gems through its concealment and elevation. Finally, there’s Deering Point which became a place where people, nature, and the sentiment of the Deering Estate collided to preserve the land’s spirit.

Miami Beach as Text

“Art Deco Aesthetics” by Michelle Munio at South Beach

One of the many buildings in the Art Deco district of Miami Beach (Photo: JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

Walk to Ocean Drive and the first thing you’ll see,
are the many buildings abiding to the clever “Law of Three;”
according to city codes elevators were not required,
so buildings with more than three stories were undesired.

Just like colossal cruises you pass on the drive,
are porthole windows in buildings specially designed.
Even if you arrive through the Miami-Dade transit,
You’ll recognize SoBe art as abstract and oceanic.

With the sea to you left and buildings to your right,
you’ll observe plentiful white walls with pastel highlights;
to reflect the environment in which they exist,
of clouds, breeze, and an ambience you really can’t resist.

Buildings were made with uncommon geometric shapes,
like rectangles or trapezoids in a pyramid landscape;
ziggurat rooflines made up the Art Deco impression,
merging ancient designs with modern technological progression.

Inside the hotels are picturesque terrazzo floors,
many patterns and colors like movement of ocean shores.
The geometry and symmetry are apparent in design,
with glass bricks welcoming the dazzling sunshine.

Soon you will detect a common theme in the Art Deco structure,
white accents and curved edges making up its unique conjuncture;
long horizontal shades resemble balconies of white,
comparable to eyebrows squinting in the bright sunlight.

Breakwater, Tiffany, The Carlyle and more,
make this the perfect area to effortlessly explore;
the Betsy Poetry Rail is one more place I had to mention,
since it features poems influenced by Miami’s expression.

Go at night and the view will not end,
for neon lights allow the party to blissfully extend;
not only to reflect 1930 cosmopolitan sophistication,
but to make it the ultimate place for an unforgettable vacation.

History of Miami as Text

“A Motley of People” by Michelle Munio

Entrance of the History of Miami Museum (Photo by Daniel Di Palma, CC by-SA 4.0)

Many Miami natives like myself like to joke around and refer to Miami as a state apart from the rest of Florida. This is because Miami is so unique in its culture, people and ambience from most western cities in the country. Even with just a 5 hour drive up north, the disparity of culture is so prominent. After participating in the History of Miami Museum tour, I have noticed that the diversity of Miami has always been evident. According to the most ancient artifacts found, Miami’s diversity all started with the Pre-Columbian  “First Arrivals” of South Florida. Bones and shells were used as tools for survival, aged at over 2,000 years-old. Tequestas, as they were called, developed the first-known society in Miami, as seen through the ‘Miami Circle’ holes built for ceremonial and political reasons.

After the Americas were discovered, different types of people began to explore and inhabit Florida. “The Creek Migration” was one of the first migrations to Miami, in which creek tribes were forced to migrate south to escape genocide. Other creek tribes migrated to search for fresh fields to plant crops. Their descendants, known as the Seminoles , became known as one of the first Florida Indians.

As people migrated to South Florida, they had to adapt and learn from the land. Thus, friendships were born between Indian inhabitants and new settlers. Seminoles taught them how to cultivate crops like comptie to feed and sell, developing a community of their own. Black men were also a huge part of the growing society in Miami, as they helped build businesses such as the Royal Palm Hotel during the second Industrial Revolution. Last but certainly not least, the makeshift boats created by Cubans and Haitians propelled migration to Miami. Especially after the Mariel Boatlift of 1980, an estimated 125,000 Cubans migrated to South Florida in search for a better life. Miami services, schools and resources could almost not sustain the huge influx of people, but fortunately with the perseverance and spirit of Miami, migrants and inhabitants became well-adjusted and helped establish the diverse and inclusive community that Miami is today.

Author: miamiastext

Admin Account for Miami in Miami

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