Oscar Roa: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

Hello! My name is Oscar Roa, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I’m a third-year mechanical engineering student from Bogotá, Colombia. I love going out and exploring Miami with my friends, working out, and playing music. I am always eager to learn from people who have different lifestyles and backgrounds from mine.

Downtown as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

Scattered Slices and Peels

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Downtown Miami 08 September 2021.

Visiting downtown Miami was an opportunity to reflect on the history of this city and examine how different events and people in the past determined every aspect of the Miami we know today.

The first picture of my collage shows the Freedom Tower, a building that stands as a symbol of hope for immigrants that come to seek a better life in Miami. This building is particularly significant to Cubans who got political asylum, it was in this building that they got their documents as U.S. citizens. There is, however, some irony in this building’s architecture. The building is inspired by the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain. Which was originally a Muslim building with religious purposes. The irony is that a building that was built as a beacon of hope for immigrants that come to Miami was inspired by a building that was part of the culture that is most discriminated against in the U.S. and that is in desperate need of humanitarian aid right now. Discrimination is, unfortunately, a big part of the history of Miami. The second picture in my collage shows the remnants of a segregated Miami where black people had to sit in the back of public transportation. A key moment for racial discrimination was when Color Town (nowadays Overtown), was established so that rich white people didn’t have to leave around black people from Miami. This had an impact that is still plausible in modern-day Miami. The demographics of Miami established around Henry Flagler’s railroads still prevail today.

Despite its history of racism and discrimination, Miami continues to be a place where people from all around the world come seeking better opportunities. This is best represented in Claes Oldenberg’s and Coosje Van Bruggen’s “Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels”. They describe Miami’s different cultures as orange slices and peels that are scattered all around the city. And that’s the magic of Miami, wherever you go there are remnants of foreign cultures.

Overtown as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

A Society Divided by Development

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Overtown 03 October 2021.

Overtown may be one of the most overlooked historic places in Miami. There are multiple remnants of segregated Miami such as the Historic Baptist church (Picture 1) and the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater (Picture 2). It is very sad to see how Miami’s progress and rapid development have forced the displacement of the African American community. Even to the point where one of the most important places in the history of the civil rights movement was partially demolished for the construction of an interstate highway.

Miami’s segregation and the mandate that all people of color had to spend the night within Overtown led to an unexpected turn of events where the most important nightclubs with the most popular jazz musicians ended up being located in Overtown, bringing a lot of money and prosperity to a black neighborhood. Artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holliday were amongst the artists who performed in the Lyric Theater. One would expect that Overtown would have become one of the most important places in Miami but, since it was a black neighborhood, there were evident attempts to disrupt its progress.

The most evident attack to Overtown was the placement and construction of Interstate 95. Many black families weren’t able to own a house at the time, so the majority of them had to rent an apartment.  These families were asked to leave their homes so that they could be demolished for the construction of the highway with little time and no compensation. This highway also forced the Historic Baptist Church to give up its clergy house.

Unfortunately, this displacement isn’t just something from the past. We have a modern-day example of the same situation going on in Wynwood. Where the rapid growth of bars and clubs has led to the displacement of African American families. Where will we draw the line?

Vizcaya as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

A Historically Consistent Lavish Lifestyle

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Vizcaya 29 October 2021.

It is no secret that the city of Miami is renowned worldwide as a paradisiacal destination full of parties, beautiful people, and a lavish lifestyle. It isn’t surprising then, that this image of Miami has developed in part thanks to the construction of two luxurious estates: Deering Estate, and Vizcaya. I will focus on the latter in this discussion.

The lavish lifestyle that James Deering was able to afford for himself was paramount to social inequality when compared to his workers and the segregated African American community in Miami. Unfortunately, however, it’s still the perfect depiction of Miami’s current reality. Like most of the developed cities of the world, Miami has a huge juxtaposition of poverty and wealth. While visiting Vizcaya I looked at its contents as well as its gardens and I thought to myself that it all belonged to a museum. But then I came to the realization that there is nothing obsolete about Vizcaya. It is a perfect reflection of modern society. The only thing that changes are the contents of these luxurious houses where the wealthy live. It is sad to see how despite all of the progress in our society and the development of new technologies, some human traits don’t seem to change with time. It appears that there will always be a gap of inequality in our society and that we will never do anything about it.

Despite its beautiful gardens, artwork, and architecture, Vizcaya is and will always be a depiction of the worst aspects of society.

South Beach as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

The Importance of Historic Sites’ Conservation

By Oscar Roa of FIU at South Beach 8 November 2021.

South beach is what most foreigners think about when they think of Miami. Beautiful beaches, art deco buildings, and luxurious cars are amongst the most representative things of South Beach. Even though it is currently a place with lots of economic growth and events such as the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, it was hard to believe that there was a period in which South Beach was under an intense economic decline.

Despite their great architectural value, the art deco hotels became rather obsolete compared to the resort hotels emerging around the world. From an economic standpoint, the most logical thing to do was to get rid of all the art deco hotels and build modern hotels that would attract more tourists. However, this would have been a great loss in terms of the historical value that the art deco district has. People like Barbara Baer advocated for the conservation of historical places, and it is thanks to people like her that this important district didn’t get lost with the development of the city. This is a great contrast compared to what happened in Overtown.

In my opinion, South Beach is a great example of a functioning modern economy that respects and protects its historic infrastructure. The art deco district attracts thousands of tourists every year and brings in money to the city of Miami. A great example of this symbiotic relationship between a modern economy and the preservation of historical sites is the H&M that was built inside the old Lincoln Theater.

Deering as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

The Importance of Natural Conservation

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Deering Estate 17 November 2021.

Deering estate is home to many unique habitats including the Miami Rock Ridge, mangrove forests, chicken key, and submerged seagrass. The fact that there is such a great variety of ecosystems in such a small area makes Deering estate very unique and valuable. Being able to hike across Deering’s different landmarks was a great experience that put me into perspective and made me realize how disconnected I was from the true wilderness.  

Even more important than its natural beauty, the Miami Rock Ridge serves as a barrier between Biscayne Bay and the interior of the Florida peninsula, protecting it from the harsh conditions of the environment and the corrosiveness of the ocean. Being able to see this habitat practically unaffected by human activity was a truly unique opportunity that opened my eyes to the importance of nature conservation. The Deering Estate could have easily been destroyed many decades ago and be just more buildings and tourist sites, just like the mangroves that were carelessly removed for the development of Miami beach. An inevitable question arises then when it comes to nature conservation. Where do we draw the line? When does the historical value of a place eclipse the potential of a city’s development?  

This question is then left for us to answer, especially in third-world countries that are currently developing. If we don’t protect untouched natural habitats, we will lose that precious connection to the past. But in doing this, we will be preventing smaller countries from developing using the same methods that our first-world countries used for centuries. 

Rubell as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

Contemporary Art in Miami

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Rubell Museum 24 November 2021.

My experience in the Rubell museum was one of the most memorable experienced I’ve had at a museum. It was a sensory overload with art that I wouldn’t have thought belonged in a museum. The contemporary artists reference issues and Ideas that I can relate to and not just something that I have to try to imagine. I was moved by many of the pieces exhibited, but the ones that had the greatest impact on me are the ones displayed above.

The Rubell Museum is one of the biggest private contemporary art collections in North America. It counts with 53,000-square-feet of exhibition space divided into 36 galleries: 65% dedicated to longer-term installations and 35% to special exhibitions, all drawn from the collection. (Rubell Museum). Seeing a privately owned collection of art as big as the Rubell Museum made me think a lot. To begin with, I felt a deep connection to the art and I was excited to see everything in the museum. It was a very unexpected experience since I had no idea about the kind of art that the museum had. On the other hand, I felt very humbled and even somewhat frustrated. It frustrated me to see that a single family can own so much for themselves.

Nonetheless, visiting the Rubell Museum was a great experience where I was exposed to state-of-the-art exhibitions that would not have been possible to create in the past because of the materials used in them.  

Untitled as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

Untitled Art Exhibition

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Rubell Museum 1 December 2021.

There is an interesting controversy around the way art is treated in galleries like Untitled. Many artists don’t like sending their art to this kind of gallery since the main purpose is to sell the art rather than exhibit it for the sake of art appreciation. I believe that there are very valid reasons to defend either stand.

On one hand, some people don’t like how art galleries work since it’s the business side of the industry. Money then becomes the main priority and the art itself and what it represents translates to a secondary plane. On the other hand, artists need to support their art and themselves. They have bills to pay and projects that they are pursuing. I personally agree with artists who bring their work to galleries and sell it for large amounts. It doesn’t take away from the value and power of their art. There were several works that I enjoyed, and I wish I could have purchased them for myself. My personal highlights of the exhibition are displayed above.

One of my biggest takeaways from Untitled was how hard it is for an artist to present their work at galleries. Seeing the long, complicated, and expensive processes that artists have to go through just for the opportunity to sell their art makes me understand why art can be so expensive. On top of course of the value that comes from their ability to evoke emotion in their audience.

Everglades as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa/CC by 4.0

A Temple of Life

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Everglades National Park, January 23, 2022.

I had the unique opportunity to immerse myself deep in the everglades and connect with nature in a way that I had never experienced before.  Not only was I able to learn about the vital importance that this ecosystem has in Florida, but I also got to connect with nature and have an introspective experience.

I was aware of the fact that the everglades provide fresh drinking water for Miami, but I did not know exactly how this water got filtrated. Turns out that it is thanks to Periphyton algae, which serves many different roles in the everglades ecosystem. It is found towards the outside of the ecosystem, acts as a shelter for small insects, and oxygenates the water. As I ventured deeper into the woods I was able to see how clear the water was and how wildlife was ubiquitous. We were lucky enough to see a snake and several Wood Stork birds up close.  

We also had the opportunity to have a minute of silence to better connect with nature and process the visual and sensory overload that we were experiencing. This was a very unique experience for me and it allowed me to realize how fortunate we are to live in a place like Miami and to be able to visit such a unique place in the world. This introspective experience inspired me to come back on my own and get more in touch with nature. But more importantly, it inspired me to educate people on the importance of nature conservation.

Coral Gables as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa and Jhon Bailly CC by 4.0

Historical Architecture & a Planned City

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Everglades National Park, January 30, 2022.

The city of Coral Gables is easy to recognize because of its Mediterranean Revival architecture and luxurious buildings. It is no coincidence that there is such a wealthy community of individuals living in this city. Planned by George Merrick, the city of Coral Gables is an example of exceptional planning and development.

Some of the most important buildings in Coral Gables are the Coral Gables Museum, the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables Elementary School, the Colonade Building, and the Coral Gables City Hall. One of the most important aspects that these buildings have in common apart from their historical importance, is their architecture and flamboyant interior design. These buildings were designed to look impressive both inside and outside to attract investors to Coral Gables. At the time, there was not much development in the city of Miami, and being able to see such buildings in the middle of a developing city was what the wealthy investors needed in order to rest assured that their investment was going to be successful.

It was because of the intentional planning of the city and its buildings that it became a place for millionaires to settle, and that is why today the city of coral gables has an average household income of $100843, and an average property value of $846100. (Datausa). Overall, like many of the wealthiest places in Miami, Coral Gables was built by Bahamians, the only people who knew how to work the oolite limestone. Unfortunately, like many of the places in Miami, the people who built them weren’t allowed to stay in them. Hence why even nowadays the demographic distribution of the city of Coral Gables is:

  • White: 91.85%
  • Black or African American: 3.07%
  • Asian: 2.44%
  • Two or more races: 1.99%
  • Other race: 0.60%
  • Native American: 0.04%
  • Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 0.00%

Source: World Population Review.

River of Grass as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa CC by 4.0

An Introspective Experience

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Everglades National Park, February 23, 2022.

            As a college student troubled by the mundane problems that come with getting an education while juggling the responsibilities of becoming an adult, visiting the Everglades National Park helped me settle down and put my life into perspective.

            Seeing nature at its untouched state is an eye-opener. It reminded me of how detached I have become from the things that matter in life, from nature, and myself. It is a fact that the everglades hold a great deal of biodiversity and that it is thanks to its natural water filtration that Florida residents have access to clean water. Those facts have been previously stated in this blog.  This reflection’s focus is more on what I learned by immersing myself deep inside the everglades. From my pictures above you can see the great variety of plants and flowers that grows in this peaceful but isolated environment. Realizing that all this magnificence of nature just goes unnoticed in my daily routine makes me realize how immersed our society has become in things that aren’t natural. Social media, social strata, economic growth, sexual appeal, among others, are the kind of things that flood most people’s minds nowadays. None of them related to our connection to nature and none of them are truly essential for us to survive.

            The importance of protecting and visiting pure natural sites like the everglades national park lies in the way one can reconnect with nature and one’s true self. I encourage anyone who might be reading this to visit a national park or, at least, to try to immerse themselves in nature and disconnect from this overly wired world we live in.

Wynwood as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa CC by 4.0

The Power of Contemporary Art

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Wynwood, March 05, 2022.

The Margulies Collection and Institute of Contemporary Art were a great opportunity for me to reaffirm the great importance that Miami has in the contemporary art world. Being able to experience artworks like the ones that you are able to see above in person was both unique and refreshing. It made me realize that museum-worthy art isn’t necessarily something from the past. Modern-day artists convey strong messages and transmit emotions that are more relevant to our generation.

            In the Margulies Collection, I saw a big sculpture that was made of shoe boxes. I particularly connected with this work of art because it reminded me of hard work and the struggle that people in many third-world countries deal with. Many of my family members are still in Colombia and they have to work very hard to fulfill their most basic needs. Being in the privileged position of examining artwork that expresses the hardships of labor from the comfort of a first-world country in a private collection gives me a sense of guilt and remorse. I feel as if it is unfair to everyone else from my family that I get to see things from a privileged perspective while they have to experience them firsthand.

            The power of contemporary art is that it makes us think about modern-day problems and it has, in my opinion, a stronger impact on younger people. I invite you to experience contemporary art museums near you every once in a while.

Key Biscayne as Text

Photo by Oscar Roa CC by 4.0

The Lighthouse

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Key Biscayne, March 22, 2022.

Visiting the lighthouse at Key Biscayne was an amazing experience. It helped me realize how fortunate I am to be in the Miami in Miami class. It is not only because of the view that I got to appreciate from the lighthouse’s top floor but because of the opportunity to connect with our history that I say this.

              The lighthouse in Key Biscayne is a place full of history. It was here that American Indians launched an organized attack against the English settlers and were able to successfully burn down the lighthouse. In my opinion, it is the best opportunity that I’ve had to connect with real American history because of its connection to the native American removal act (Indian Removal Act). It was really fascinating and disturbing to hear about the story about native Americans attacking the lighthouse. I believe it is the first time I feel that I can directly connect with history because I’m at the place where it all happened, and it hasn’t been changed. The Indian removal act was taught to me in school, but I never knew that Miami had a role in it, let alone refugees leaving from Key Biscayne. It’s a shame that we’re not taught about these topics that are so pertinent to our history and our city in school.

              I hope that American schools actually teach the students about the history of their own city so that people from Miami actually know the importance of the Key Biscayne lighthouse without having to take a college class.

Coconut Grove as Text

Photos by Oscar Roa CC by 4.0

Bahamians in the Grove

By Oscar Roa of FIU at Coconut Grove, March 30, 2022.

The city of Coconut Grove holds a special place in the history of the city of Miami because it shows how there was a symbiotic relationship between the Bahamians and the northern settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

              Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup was one of the biggest influences on Bahamian settlements in the Coconut Grove area. He was responsible for the construction of over 100 houses for African Americans, to whom he would offer the opportunity to rent the house with an option of purchase. (Stirrup House, Coconut Grove civic club). This also influenced the architectural style of Coconut Grove. One of the most common types of houses in the Grove is called the “shotgun house” which was brought from the Bahamas. This design allows air to flow through the construction for better ventilation.

              Visiting Coconut Grove as a student who knows how crucial Bahamians were for the development of the city of Miami is comforting. It is nice to see that many of these early houses are well taken care of. It is even more comforting to know that some Bahamians had a decent lifestyle for their time. Not everyone who helped build this great city lived in extreme poverty. It also feels good to learn that important historical figures are buried at a cemetery that I can visit in my city. The Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery has some of the most important Bahamians in the history of Coconut Grove buried in it. One can simply come to pay respects to the people who made Miami as we know it today possible.

Author: Oscar Roa

My name is Oscar Roa, my pronouns are he/him/his, and I'm a third-year mechanical engineering major from Bogotá, Colombia. Fun facts about me: I play the violin, I'm part of the FIU Powerlifting team. https://oscarmroag.wixsite.com/portfolio

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