Dina Kencie Denord: Miami as Text 2019-2020

Photo by Dina Denord (CC by 4.0)

Dina Kencie Denord is a Miami transplant who has learned to love the tropical weather and Cuban coffee. She is a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University double majoring in Psychology with a concentration in Childhood Development and Interdisciplinary Studies. Dina moved to Miami at age 7, and has been in love with the city ever since. Dina speaks 5 languages, and has an affinity for linguistics. She is heavily involved in community work, and hopes to one day serve as the bridge between those whose voices go unheard due to language barriers and those who can help. She also currently works as a digital network specialist in linguistics scripting and hopes to one day travel and put her love of languages to good use.

“Build over Baptist” – Miami Metro as Text

Photo by Dina Denord (CC by 4.0)

built on the backs on blacks is this city 

a piece of our history
disrespected   because           

it          was      not       their   story

they felt removed

city sought to expand                                           
never an issue
through where they asked

somewhere obscure, no one will notice
somewhere that won’t miss growth

somewhere that won’t miss success
somewhere people will forget

a fissure was caused in a forgotten community
a community once filled with people

white and black alike

a community where the hustle and bustle was the everyday norm
growth and progress were the tales passed on to children
in an era of negativity, there was a small beam

a millionaire was even seen

education for all
music for all
life for all

until there wasn’t anymore

build it straight through, they decided
doesn’t matter how we split it, they won’t care

to us, it was demeaning
damaging, painful
memories stolen

from playing in the streets to 
drinking lemonade in the miami heat

religion, a daily injection of spirit in our lives
the meeting place where everyone feels the vibes

even though they are built through
they don’t falter

it doesn’t shut the praise down

voices carry over the highway noise, 
spirit lifted hands in the air

static electricity charging the atmosphere

the meeting place is not compromised

built over baptist, they showed 

no remorse
no respect
no reverence

providing no space to move, 

to grow 

to         s          p          r           e          a          d          

relegated to a corner so we don’t spread our wings

in the city where we once were kings 

“A Mark of Ancestry” – Downtown as Text

Photo by Dina Denord (CC by 4.0)

Stumbling upon this small pioneer house was one of life’s small but good surprises, like finding a dollar in a pair of jeans or a stranger paying it forward in a coffee shop. Interestingly enough, we spoke during our last class about geographic ancestors, meaning the people who were there and the people who settled there.

Mr Wagner was an immigrant from Germany who grew up in the US and was a Mexican War veteran. Mr Wagner and his wife had what was considered an illicit relationship because she was a free black woman and he was a white man. This was before the Civil War. 

Éveline Wagner, Mr Wagner’s wife holds an interesting connection to me and my ancestry, personally. I went into FIU’s digital collections to see if I could find anything on her, never expecting to do some serious digging. Mrs Wagner was born in South Carolina, the child of a Haitian runaway slave. 

During the time of Mrs Wagner’s birth, Haiti was undergoing the slave revolt, and a small group of those slaves landed in Charleston, South Carolina. My ancestors stayed in Haiti, but I found this an interesting note in our history, considering the gargantuan amount of Haitians that call Miami home.  

Thinking about this I realized that my parents are pioneers of a sort, because they are first generation immigrants. They settled in a location with few people that looked like them (Hartford, CT) and had to quickly learn how to make a living and be able to live successfully in a place that was nothing like home. 

This small house holds a lot of history. It shows the simple way people lived in that time and plain fashion. Coincidentally, we followed this location up with Vizcaya, the grandiose, bodacious mega mansion owned by James Deering. The stark contrast between these two locations was not lost on me. The people who paved the way, immigrants and slaves, and then the rich people who profited off of the backs of those people.

“A Simple Reminder”- Deering as Text

Photo by Dina Denord (CC by 4.0)

I am proudly Afro Caribbean. My parents are both native to Haiti, and our family history can be traced all over the Antilles, especially the Bahamas. History tells us that when someone rich doesn’t want to do hard labor, they hire someone they believe is beneath them. This is regardless of the race. Asians were hired during the California Gold Rush, Black people were captured and kept as slaves, and even today, people of color typically take the hard, manual labor jobs that others won’t. 

This is the case of the Deering Estate. According to records, Charles Deering hired many Afro-Bahamian workers to help renovate and expand the estate. Some of these workers even died while building the canal that leads into the estate from Biscayne Bay. Nevertheless, the workers kept a part of themselves in history. The photograph above is only one example of pieces of my people’s past. This shell formation is akin to something you’d see as mason work in Haiti or the Bahamas. 

Walking around the estate, my eyes fell on these shells again. Shells are a reminder of home, even when you’re no where near close. Looking at a shell, I’m reminded of the turquoise waters that lick the white sand beaches of the Bahamas. I see shells, and I’m reminded of oxtail and rice, or fried conch, or fried plantains that are crispy and warm. I’m reminded of Bahamianese (a English creole dialect), I’m reminded of bright smiles, even in the face of adversity. I’m reminded of home. And that’s all I need. A reminder of home. A taste of my past. A reminder of all that I am.

“My Last Days with You” – Wynwood as Text

Photo by Gabriela Lastra of Honors College FIU (CC by 4.0)

Losing you was the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever been through.

Losing you to a disease I could not cure, a pain I could not assuage, something completely out of my control. 

The last month was the hardest. Your decline was out of my control. In your descent into the unknown, you took pieces of my heart with you. I lost myself in your illness. My anger began to rise, I couldn’t understand why you would ever leave me. I tried to change the inevitable, but the truth rose to the surface over and over. You left me. 

You’re gone. 

I miss you. I love you. 

This poem was inspired by the loss of a loved one who I cared for in their last month of life. Although on hospice, my every waking moment was dedicated to assuaging their pain that my loved one was experiencing. 

In the De la Cruz Collection, I was exposed to my new favorite artist. Themes like life and death and the regenerative force that is life have always fascinated me. Those are themes that the late Felix Gonzales Torres explored in his pieces. The above piece, “Untitled” (31 Days of Bloodwork) was created as Gonzalez Torres’ lover was dying of AIDS. In viewing this piece, it was extremely difficult for me to compose my emotions because in the moment I saw the piece, I felt the way I felt when my loved one was dying. No matter how many times I looked over the lab work, no matter how many times I administered morphine, I couldn’t change the grim reality of death. In this death, I learned to face my own mortality. The ability to face death is incredible, and in doing so, we learn how life regenerates. and everything begins anew. 

“What I See”- HistoryMiami as Text

Photo by Dina Denord (CC by 4.0)

a little girl, sent to the US to escape abject poverty 

a middle-aged man, barely making it to the US, pursuing freedom

a grandmother of six, looking for a way out for her progeny 

these are the faces i think of when i see the freedom tower

i think of those same type of faces 

in the Ellis island book i read in elementary 

i think of those people, coming to the US of all places to grow, 

to expand, to break barriers

i think of people like my mom, leaving her home at a young age looking for a future here

i think of people like my mom sitting in my classes with me

people here for a better life, chasing the American dream, whatever they define that as 

Visiting the Freedom Tower was surreal. Standing in the lobby where thousands stood and waited to be cleared for entry to the United States was otherworldly. I was remined of Ellis Island, the New York gateway to the United States during the migration era. Until 1972, that building was used as a port of entry for many Cubans who sought safety and freedom. As the welcome to America they searched for, for the familiarity of home. Looking around the inside of the building, I can only imagine their thoughts. Familiar architecture for some, the smell of coffee radiating from the streets, transporting them back home. I was immensely grateful for just the chance to step inside and discuss agriculture. Although the building wasn’t as accessible as I’d hoped, the simple chance to stand where freedom seekers stood was incredible.

“Started from the Bottom” – ArtMiami as Text

Photo by Dina Denord (CC by 4.0)
Work- “Portrait of a Lady” by Kehinde Wiley

Seeing someone I feel like I know in a background I don’t is strange. If you’d asked me anything about how I felt about this piece before this taking class, I would’ve most likely shrugged and moved on with life. Art wasn’t my thing. Probably still isn’t, but stories are, and I feel like everyone can find something relatable in art because there is a story behind every piece. This piece, entitled “Portrait of a Lady”, is by Kehinde Wiley, a Nigerian-American painter. Normally? I wouldn’t blink twice at this piece, but realizing that this man is the very same artist who painted the Presidential portrait of President Barack Obama caused me to look twice. 

Seeing someone that looks like me making art of people who look like me is important. It’s important for kids from underprivileged areas to be able to access that freely, and unfortunately, these works are not easily accessible, and if they are, nobody knows about it. If you ask me now about this piece, I can talk to you about how the style is reminiscent of French Rococo, opulent and ornate, and this highlights the regality of the black man. I can understand that because I was able to have the incredible opportunity to have access to this. 

Equal access to art is now something that I will not ever stop preaching because art helps open up emotions. Coming from somewhere where you are taught to be hardened, pushing down your emotions, it is crucial that kids and adults alike learn that feeling is ok. Access can help a girl from Brownsville see that she can turn embroidery into art, like Cote d’Ivoirean artist Joana Choumali, or that mangroves and melted ice can make reflective pieces like Miami based artist Xavier Cortada. What is important is that access be given to people who look like me, who feel like me, who experience life like me. I started from the bottom, and most artists do. Why not expose the bottom to what it’s like at the top?

Author: miamiastext

Admin Account for Miami in Miami

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