My name is Amaranta Mattie Bailly and I am a proud Cuban-French-Floridian. I have grown up in Miami for the Majority of my life but have had the privilege to travel much of the world at a very young age. My education, passions, upbringing and goals drive me to constantly learn more about the world that I live in and how I can better it. I consistently find myself fascinated with various forms of artistic expression, as well as the environment and understanding its intricacies. Understanding the profound history and facets of my hometown Miami will undoubtedly provide more clarity regarding where I hope my life, as well as hard work, will take me.
Downtown as Text
“The Origin Story,” by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University at Downtown Miami, 1 September 20201
For 19 years I have lived on these streets, going to the beach with family, grabbing food with friends, and exploring with anyone willing to join me. It was both riveting and shocking to learn that I didn’t understand how my city came to be the undeniable wonder it is today, and that I had been denying myself the privilege of truly understanding what lay just below my feet. It was disheartening to realize I hadn’t seen this statue before class. Not only did I experience Miami in a different light on an educational level, but observing the physical landmarks I had passed by for so long was a wake up call. I quickly recognized that I need to become more aware of my surroundings.
Throughout the day I absorbed what seemed like an endless amount of information that revealed or involved the development of Miami economically, socially, politically and environmentally. Somehow, Oldenburg and Bruggen were able to narrow these incredible and at times heartbreaking stories down into a single sculpture, that somehow sits at the near center of our city. This piece was developed to display how Miami grew as a city; explosive, stunning and through chaos. On top of how unique to our state and city it is, seeing as how the Orange has been a Florida staple for decades, the shattering glass properly reflects the literal groundbreaking work that was required to build from the ground up.
The Fort Dallas and William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters in City park display a perfect parallel between the darker and lighter parts of history. The stone unit, although it was relocated, emanated a physical and evil energy that will never leave those walls. It was built approximately 200 years ago by slaves themselves, and holds tales of horror that are incomprehensible when compared with the Miami that surrounds the structure today. The quarters were passed down through generations as well as the plantation until 1849, when the Army claimed the land and used it as a base during the Seminole Wars. I was standing in front of a building that had been used as an aid to commit mass genocide as well as strip the humanity from individuals, individuals who were treated as less than mules, I felt and still feel disgusted. Professor Bailly recommended that we become physical with the structure but I almost couldn’t bring myself to move so close. I felt nothing but repelled by the mass before me. He then had gone on to elaborate regarding his request, and stated that he felt connected to the slaves building this quarter, and not the stories that had occurred within them. I then proceeded to hold the same rock a slave had held 200 years before, and the sensation of the grainy material beneath my hand brought about feelings of extreme sadness and sympathy. I began to ponder how exactly a city can host such tragedy a mere 200 years ago, and morph the diverse and cultured beaut it is today.
The answer I had quickly begun to search for was found earlier than expected in the neighboring building. Not more then 20 feet from the slave quarters stood a home from the same time period, but told a strong opposing story when looked at from a moral perspective. William Vagner was a German man who had immigrated to the United States in the earlier 1800s and met a woman named Evelyn Emair. They had fallen in love but unfortunately were forced into keeping their relationship a secret because interracial marriages were not legal at the time. They lived a beautiful life together and had 15 children. It stunned me that even during this dark time period, there were tolerant people who looked past societal standard to find happiness. Professor Bailly then went on to discuss a seemingly frightening encounter with a Group of 17 seminoles. William had come across the unit with his wife and daughter Rose, and seeing as how the political situation at the time was rough to say the least, its natural to feel a certain level of fear when the intentions of others are unknown. Instead of insighting violence or being verbally aggressive in order to protect his family, William invited the Seminoles to his home for dinner. Together, 17 seminoles, an interracial couple and several biracial children were more than capable of sitting at a table and have a meal together despite the judgement and war raging on the outside world. William formed an alliance with the seminoles, and attempted to bring peace between peoples throughout his life. My admiration and respect for William grew to unimaginable proportions as the minutes passed. He has a vision that not many had at this time and was not influenced by the fact that because of his origin or the color of his skin, he could have abused his position in more way than one. Instead, because of his endlessly tolerant mind, he found love within Evelyn, faith in his children, and peace with the Seminoles. He used his divine insight to make people stronger in a time where everything was divided amongst the masses.
I am thrilled that I was able to become more educated regarding the origin story of the city I was raised in and adore. I was fortunately raised around a largely diverse group of people. My family is from various different countries and continents, as are my friends. Now I don’t have to question the ways to which we reached this peace in this place we call home. Now I know that even in the darkest times, there were people out there who saw the light in others. The extent to which these people fought to save that light now gives me the privilege to do the same, and gave others privileges that I won’t take for granted anymore.