Michelle Puentes: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Michelle Puentes is a sophomore student pursing a double degree in Art and Psychology with a Certification in Italian Language at Florida International University. She loves to explore and travel, learn new languages, draw and paint, play guitar and serve in her church. She aspires to become an art therapist for children with emotional or physical struggles, and wants to travel around the world to immerse in different lifestyles and appreciate the art and cuisine.

“A Piece of Germany in Miami” by Michelle Puentes of FIU at Downtown Miami Sep 8,2021

A multicultural city bursting of everyday nightlife and heavy Latin culture, Miami is home to many immigrants from all over the Caribbean and South America, with many from Europe and Asia coming over as well. A city I personally never knew or associated myself with deeply to heart, I simply thought of it before as a dangerous nightlife place. Growing up in Broward, my parents rarely took me to a trip south unless a foreign family member came to visit or if we had to attend an event there. But even at the borderline between Miramar and Hialeah, a whole world is seen from across the line. Getting to fully know and explore Miami for the first time was a new eye opening experience for me. From every single little detail in the events Professor Bailey spoke to us, I never knew the immense rich history behind the Magic City. From hearing about the first natives of Miami to witnessing the immense new infrastructures in Brickell, the piece that stood out to me the most was the chunk of the Berlin Wall.

Photograph taken by Michelle Puentes/ CC by 4.0

This unique concrete block had been the one to divide the state of Germany from 1961 to 1989, separating people from the same culture and language into two distinct political sides (“Berlin Wall”). The purpose of this wall was to keep the Eastern Germans eyes away from the attractive Western culture influenced by Americans and West Europe. Before the wall was built, in 1958, tensions between the Allies and the Soviets flared up as a massive amount of Eastern Germans fled to the other side to seek for a new opportunity. Similar to Cubans fleeing to Miami from their communist government, many looked to the other side of the border to search for the way to a better life. The idea of freedom has been implanted in the power to have the right to speak and act without restraint or consequence. America being founded on these rights, it has been a symbol of freedom for many years. Though many Americans take their country for granted, the freedom to speech, democracy, choice and education cannot be found in many countries surrounding us. While the Berlin Wall stood tall for 28 years, 171 people were killed trying to cross the border in many ways attempting to escape East Germany (“Berlin Wall”). Similary, an estimated 16,000 to 100,ooo Cuban raft riders have died trying to reach the United States (Ackerman, 169-200). The proof of freedom being constantly pursued, millions of immigrants sacrifice their lives to reach the land of opportunity. This chunk of wall not only represents the destruction of the oppressive, socialist state of Eastern Germany, but the sacrifice of seeking to arrive to the land of the free in the own city of Miami through Cuban and Haitian immigrants.

Going back home from this trip, I took the moment to reflect at the greatest opportunity I have been given by God to live in this country. A land where many dream of living and becoming who they want to be, I have the chance to attend a university where I can fully grow and learn what I am passionate about, with hundreds of opportunities in scholarships to fund my education. All I need to do is work hard to earn what I want to be in life, and I thank God everyday that I am allowed to do that here. I wish to never take this for granted, and that I may help others reach this blessed land so they as well can become who they want to be.

Photograph taken by Michelle Puentes CC BY 4.0

Cited References

“Berlin Wall”. HISTORY, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall. Accessed 19 Sept 2021.

Ackerman, Holly. The Balsero Phenomenon, 1991-1994. 26th ed. Cuban Studies, 1996. Print.

“Flamingoes of Hialeah” by Michelle Puentes of FIU at Overtown as Text Sep. 22,2021

photograph taken by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

Admiring the beautiful green landscape across the ruins of the horse racing fields of Hialeah Park, it was an eye opening experience knowing the deep history that runs through the veins of Miami’s heart. The park that was once filled with the most beautiful racing horses, celebrities, presidents, amusement rides, and even the Prime Minister of England, is now an empty deserted island where flamingos find their sanctuary within (“History”,2015) . Opening almost 100 years ago, Hialeah Park opened its doors for horse racing including a dance hall, rollercoaster, and casino. Built in the highest standards of architecture fashioned from Monte Carlo and Paris, it’s beautiful structure was admired by many artists, architects, poets and heads of state. It had been visited by extremely well known people such as Nixon, Kennedy, Churchill, Sinatra, Crosby, Princess Grace of Monaco and more (“History”,2015). None of this rich history had been known to me at all; rather Hialeah was just known to me as a Latin-filled city with heavy Cuban influence where almost everyone knew each other. But getting to know the long past of this city was a new lesson learned. Never had I known that flamingoes weren’t even native to Florida, but instead imported from Cuba (“History”,2015). The peculiar choice of colors of the architecture of the Hialeah Park with pops of pink and splashes of aqua explains the reason for Miami’s signature colors, adding its European influence with terraces and balustrades influenced from Monaco (“Hialeah Park”,2021) . Being able to walk through the green smooth fields imagining where the greatest horses raced and the crowds were filled with noise and cheer is definitely being able to revisit history in your imagination. Overall, learning that even the smallest city where you thought nothing happened can have so much deep rich history behind it, having brought the most important figures in the 20th century around the world. This leaves the last lesson of always figuring out the historical context of wherever you step foot on, because it will leave you with a lasting impression that you can never forget.

Sources: “History.” Hialeah Park Casino, 2015 https://hialeahparkcasino.com/about/history#main. 

“Hialeah Park.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2021 https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalhistoriclandmarks/hialeah.htm. 

“The Shallow Glory of Vizcaya” by Michelle Puentes of FIU Vizcaya as Text October 20, 2021

Photographed by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

A smooth, white marble figure of Dionysus rose high above a stone platform, rays from above illuminating his striking figure holding the symbol of festivity, madness and pure pleasure. Walking through the curtains of glittering, green leaves embellishing the pure white statues and tinted pink platforms, the glimpse of a rich man’s life almost seemed enviable to attain. However, the most heavenly impression was the diamond waters being a carpet to the breathtaking Mediterranean revival style mansion dressed in baroque inspired art that came from the heart of renaissance art, Italy. At last, the world of the rich elite was revealed to me for the first time through the gates of a man who simply spoke and received. James Deering, a wealthy, successful executive in his father’s Deering Harvester Company, led to develop one of the most beautiful houses in all of Miami, Vizcaya. In the abundance of his richness, nearly everything he desired was placed upon his lap at the expense of money. However, the majestic beauty of this palace was nothing short of an empty shallow soul attempting to fulfill his needs through materialism. Displaying his god at the back entrance of his Vizcaya, it showed that most of his life consisted of only living in the moment of pleasure . However, as pleasure is only a temporary feeling, his longing for something more could be seen in his delusional house decor reflecting the opposite of who he was. Placing several paintings of random people he pretended to be family, establishing symbols of honors that only the worthy heroes earned, and creating a own god of himself in a statue, it displayed his need to feed his delusion that he was something more than an ambitious, crude man. Having the grounds of his glory built by Bahamians and his bread served by immigrants, his arrogance surpassed the hard work of these people as he simply looked down upon them and shed away their sight from his filthy guests. Nothing of what he desired for was given at the end, which was for his nieces and nephews to enjoy their family inheritance of the Vizcaya palace (James Deering). Shortly however, the nieces Marion Deering McCormick and Barbara Deering Danielson could not keep up with the costly maintenance of his castle, giving it away to the government of Miami Dade (James Deering). At the end, it only turned into a majestic museum for the public to enjoy, instead of a elite’s inheritance being enjoyed fully by his generations to come.


“James Deering.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 30 Oct. 2021, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Deering. 

“The Art Deco Beauty” by Michelle Puentes South Beach as Text November 4, 2021

First arriving at the Pierre Point of South Beach, the bright, vibrant blue green waters softly crash against the sea rocks, as a stray cat lays in between soaking up the sun’s rays and enjoying the ambience of South Beach. Similar to the cat, many tourists take the same approach at South Beach putting on their best swimsuit and relaxing by the flawless manmade beach that is the image of Miami. However, beyond the glamorous Versace house and fresh soft pasteled- art deco houses that reside by the blue waters, South Beach has had a deeper history beyond its riches. South Beach is home to the only Art Deco buildings in the world, where there bright colors and futuristic style are what brings people from all over the world to come and visit. Barbara Capitman was Art Deco’s savior, as she fought in the 1970’s over the preserving of the brightly colored art deco hotels (Dembling, 2014) . She often made rallies and protests in order to keep the buildings from being demolished into more modern structures that were deemed to be more efficient and money producing as large towers. In 1976, she founded the Miami Design Preservation League which fought for the neglected art deco buildings (Dembling 2014). Her effort’s rewarded her a place on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 (Cook, 1990). Her accomplishment allowed for future generations to continue enjoying the unique 1920’s and 30’s Art Deco buildings that give South Beach it’s edgy, space-age theme with ziggurat inspired buildings that borrow from Egyptian and European art to compliment it’s sleek pastel colors. 


Cook, Joan (1990-03-31). “Barbara Baer Capitman, 69, Dies; Created Miami Art Deco District”New York Times..

Dembling, Sophia (2014, September 3). Barbara Baer Capitman: South Beach’s Art Deco Hero: National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Our Geographical Ancestors” by Michelle Puentes Deering Estate as Text November 17, 2021

Photographed by Michelle CC by 4.o

Since nearly 500 years ago, the Tequesta People roamed and ruled through Florida’s southeast coasts, raveling through the mangroves and utilizing any of nature’s material to survive their way through the jungle of Miami. The Tequesta survived through being hunter gatherers. They used dugout canoes to move across the bay and hunted for deer, alligator, fish and shells as food (Early Tribe Tequesta). They often wore clothing made of palmetto for men and skirts of Spanish moss for women. Even though the blood of Tequestas was never carried out through Miami’s generations, one connection does remain, which is the geographical ancestry. As citizens of Rome relate to their geographical emperor and soldier ancestors no matter the bloodline, the one thing they have in common is the land and soil they are on. The homeland one lives on is one they will cherish forever, with endless memories of childhood, adulthood, and even until senior years. The seasonal weather and unique smell of the homeland will always be one that every person holds deep in their conscious to forever hold. More specifically, the thick humid weather and endless sun and rain that fall upon the coast of Miami is something every Tequesta, Spaniard, English, Seminole, Cuban, Bahamian, Venezuelan, Colombian and more have all experienced on this coast. But through the constant changing of the landscape into modernism, it has become more of a blur into what Miami will be in the future than what it meant in the past.

Visiting one of the only two Tequesta burial sites in the world at the Deering Estate was something unique and impacting. Recognizing the importance of acknowledging those who made it possible for us to live where we are today was the first moment I felt a true connection to the place I call home. Knowing those who truly kept the nature of this land pristine and fertile is the key to being grateful and appreciative of what others have done for us. Despite the Deering Estate now being one of the only small chunks of the original Miami, it’s also important to recognize the efforts of others who have made it possible to keep the land intact. Having treaded through the muddy mangroves, crossing the crystal clear flowing waters, and walking under the long trees roofing the entire trail was a splendid experience of calmness, serenity and reflection. Although it’s an experience not desired or unknown by most inhabitants of Miami, it has been an opportunity I am grateful of to have. Hopefully in the future, more will desire to remember the land that was built by nature and not man.


info@fusedog.com, Fusedog Media. “Early Tribes: Tequesta.” Tequesta, Historical Society of Palm Beach County, http://www.pbchistoryonline.org/page/tequesta. 

“The Business of Art” by Michelle Puentes Untitled as Text, December 1, 2021

Photographed by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

Entering the world of contemporary art for the first time, it was a different than expected experience as an artist. At first look, most of the art has been created in a form of modern technology, often seeming more simplistic and abstract, with some dizzying patterns and disturbing faces across the canvas. However, behind the art is a price tag, more expensive than the cost of a car or college tuition. In the art world, a whole new world moves around, the business of art. The world of pure luxury and unnecessary indulgence is seen through the heavy costs of all these artworks where one pays millions for a canvas with three brush strokes of paint. The buyers strut fashionably with their name brand clothing across the booths, looking for their next piece to decorate their second homes. Coming out of the fair, they talk about their plans for the week to attend a playboy party at some mansion, as art vendors are outside struggling to sell their cultural paintings for 99% less of what they have just purchased at the fair. The amount of undistributed wealth is seen in what art is really made for in the real world. However, the renowned artists are not to blame, as their art is made for what they believe in or feel needs to be spoken in society… it was simply a matter of luck for them to have been discovered by the rich and known. With this, for artists who simply want to make a living with their paintings or drawings, it’s a matter of luck and opportunity, not just skill, that will make them known. Perhaps if the wealthy could ever for once take a walk down the street and buy the painting of the humble artist who seeks to pay for his daily meal – wait never mind, it’s not hanging up on a white wall at an exclusive fair with $6 coffee to purchase.

“What is left of Florida” by Michelle Puentes, Everglades as Text, January 12, 2021

Photography by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

The brisk wind gushes across the white frosted trees bare from the winter season, as the cavernous brown colored waters slush across the legs. Almost seeming like a fantasy winter world, the ethereal beauty of Florida can been seen here, showing what’s more beyond the classic palm trees and electric loud Miami skyscrapers. This small part of the massive Everglades proves how diverse and eclectic South Florida’s natural ecosystems are, with different worlds emerging in every corner of any acre. Furthermore, the types of people visiting these natural wonders happened to be more tourists than actual native Floridians, which leaves me astounded to know most people living here don’t know about an entire different planet behind their backyards. Florida being compromised of more than 8 distinct ecosystems, it is a stunning state filled with many natural wonders that few know of. However, with the constant infrastructure development and future perspective of Florida becoming a nightlife vacation state, how much longer will the raw, pure parts of Florida remain for?

Since the 1800s, the natural flow of the Everglades has been disrupted by human action, draining and transforming this natural swamp into residential and agricultural areas. This has unfortunately caused critical states in the ecosystem of the Everglades to develop, disrupting the balance of flowing freshwater (Protecting the Everglades). This unbalance causes certain sea plants to either overproduce or die due to little freshwater. It then chain reacts to fishes survival in food depletion, and affects our food source as well. With this ongoing interference of human’s greed and the perfect balance of nature, it won’t be much longer until nothing but dry, destroyed land layered with concrete walls and floors are left.

However, in 2000, the Florida Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project was taken into action in order to restore the natural flow coming from Lake Okeechobee into the Everglades, projecting 30 years to complete (CERP Project Planning). Has progress been made? According to a National Academies Report, the CERP has accomplished a couple of their goals since 2017, including increased water flow from the Everglades and improved adaptation to droughts and extreme rain weather (University of Maryland, 2017) . However with climate change, it has been unsuccessful in readapting and calls for the CERP to be updated in order to address these issues.

Photography by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

With the usual mess of humans attempting to stick their hands into reforming nature, its an irreversible action that can cause lasting harmful impact to the environment. With more call and awareness for the protection of the environment, more plans and projects have been funded into attempting to fix what went wrong in the past. However, not even all the money in the world could ever fix what was once perfect in nature… all what’s left is to maintain and improve only what’s left of the pure, green beauty of what Florida once was entirely.

Cited Sources:

“Everglades Restoration Report Shows Success, but Climate Change Remains a Challenge.” University of Maryland , Phys.org, Phys.org, 6 Feb. 2017, phys.org/news/2017-02-everglades-success-climate.html. 

“CERP Project Planning.” South Florida Water Management District, http://www.sfwmd.gov/our-work/cerp-project-planning. 

“Protecting the Everglades.” National Wildlife Federation, http://www.nwf.org/Our-Work/Waters/Great-Waters-Restoration/Everglades. 

“The Fruitful Merits of Power and Wealth” by Michelle Puentes, Coral Gables as Text, January 26, 2021

Photographed by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

The stroll along the beautiful Spain inspired city was a fruitful walk, with a lot for the eye to see and ears to hear. Learning about the inspiring story of George Merrick and his efforts in constructing a uniformed style city with classic architecture was interesting and left a lot to admire. But one thing that truly stuck out the most to me during the entire trip was the way power and money influenced people. Entering the Biltmore Hotel, we were cancelled last minute by our tour guide and told the administration wanted us to pay a great deal of money in order to have a tour, simply due to the truth that offended them. We entered the hotel as regular public guests, admiring the glimmering beauty and luxury the hotel offered. Yet despite all the hassle and bitterness, a kind hotel worker greeted us all into his space. He all gave us wonderful advice and let us know a little bit more of what the hotel has to offer. At the corner of my eye, I saw a wealthy looking man sitting down and glaring at us as we invaded “his space”. How much humbler and warm hearted a person is when they know the true meaning of life is in sharing, not money and power. It’s almost a mirrored reflection of Coral Gables founder, George Merrick : innovative, wealthy and powerful, but stingy, cruel hearted and evil.

George Merrick came to the land of Coral Gables from Massachusetts, getting 3,000 acres. He had a vision and plan to construct Coral Gables out of the finest details and focus on its aesthetics, inspired by the architecture of Spain. With determination and perseverance, he was able to complete the city in three years, including the Biltmore hotel and other community buildings (Merrick, Miami and the story…). Although his hard efforts left him a legacy with a beautiful city visited by many, he also had an ugly side many refuse to see. In the 1930s, Dade County Planning advocated for slum clearance, and George Merrick along with others proposed “removing every negro family from the present city limits” (Mohl, “Making the Second Ghetto”). It was incredible to see what money and power can do to weak minded individuals such as himself; allow families to be displaced from their homes for their own personal gain. Where do politicians and city officials living off of taxpayer’s money own a right to dictate where people should and should not belong? Especially towards a vulnerable community who were neglected due to the color of their skin, how can these individuals exist with themselves knowing blood is on their hands? Of course, this is not a concept pertaining to only Coral Gables; it is only a minuscule fraction comparing it worldwide. How much more can money and power deteriorate those in the government, living off the hard earned money of the people of the nation, often stealing and becoming rich for their benefit. What is so appealing of having more and more money while throwing people’s lives away, only to never spend it and have it accumulated in their own miserable dynasties? It’s truly astonishing how history seems to repeat itself everyday, those in power live off the backs of those who work. But it’s not surprising, as the downfallen nature of humans is selfish and greedy. As George Orwell best quotes “Man serves the interests of no creature except himself.”

Photographed by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

Cited Sources:

Mohl, Raymond A. “Whitening Miami: Race, Housing, and Government Policy in Twentieth-Century Dade County.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 79, no. 3 (2001): 319-45.

“Miami and the story of its remarkable growth : an interview with George E. Merrick”The New York Times. March 15, 1925.

“Over the Law” by Michelle Puentes, Deering Estate as Text, January 28, 2021

During the 1920s, the Prohibition Era was set in the United States, forbidding the sale of alcohol in all states in hopes of reducing crime, improving lifestyle, and protecting young people from the dangers of alcohol. However, certain individuals were made an exception from the law: those who were above the law. And the founder of the Deering Estate happened to be one of the exceptions, due to his wealth. Because with great wealth comes great power. 

In his Stone house, designed by Phineas Paist, Charles Deering held a wine cellar located on the first floor, and stashed away his extensive collection of wine and alcohol. Moreover, the stash was so well hidden, it was only discovered after Hurricane Andrew. Hidden behind a built in cabinetry, it was a perfect masterplan for the wealthy to enjoy their alcohol while the others got fined or arrested for selling alcohol. It can be asked, what are the circumstances when the rich are above the law? Is it the same issue of money being the reason the justice system may sell themselves out for a few millions more? Charles Deering as a wealthy man who came from a affluent family, found his gold rush through the backs of Bahamian workers who were paid low wage and worked in horrible slave like conditions. The lives of 5 of them were taken during the construction of his majestic estate, which is not publicly recognized to this day. Of course, had any charges been pressed again Sir Deering for slave working like conditions or held responsible for the young men’s deaths? Most likely not. Somehow, it seems the lives of those who own plenty are more valued than those who own nothing. Those who do not own a property, or do not have abundant luxuries today are often looked down upon as unsuccessful and lazy, only working a minimum wage job because they could not “work harder for more”. It’s a comparable analogy to make to the time of America where those who did not own property could not vote, yet all men were created equal in the Constitution. Sometimes the law is made for those who are not enough, and surpassed by those who are more than enough, leaving a never ending loop of disproportioned populations always remaining in their ancestral generation’s state of living. 

“The Old Reality” by Michelle Puentes, River of Grass as Text, February 16, 2022.

Every hour, news about the Metaverse flushes through the internet, discussing everyone’s opinions and the potential future it will have. Created by Mark Zuckerberg, he hopes all of humanity will soon have the amazing opportunity to create their own idealized reality through the magic of the virtual world. He claims this will be the next future, allowing people who want to work from home be able to take it to the next level and develop their life in the comfort of their screen.

Indeed, nothing will make Zuckerberg happier than having everyone turned into a bunch of loner individuals who will depend on a strapped screen to feel accomplished in this world.

Already living in an era where education is conducted online, work meetings are done through Zoom, and virtual study abroad exists, the internet is becoming a rapidly, adaptive environment for us to detach from reality and put our focus on a lit up screen. Everyday the comfort of our homes lures us in to wrap ourselves in a blanket and live our lives looking at a screen, so we avoid the awkwardness of real social interactions and the hassle of having to wear nice clothes. How annoying is that, huh?

But truly, has anyone taken the opportunity to see how to vast blue skys gently touch the brim of the Everglades waters, creating a never-ending blue canvas? Or seen how the wild birds span their enormous wings across the sky, casting a large shadow above the ground? Or felt the refreshing, cool water from the solution holes on their feet as they slug across the crystal waters containing life?

Can that same feeling be replicated in the Metaverse?

Probably… the only difference being your eyes will hurt after you take off the VR headset.

The only thoughts that rushed through my head while at the Everglades was the pure fortune I had to be immersed in the raw state the REAL world was created in; to be able to create a lifetime memory of soaking up the warmness of the sun while I interacted with my classmates and learned of them while we experienced the same reality.

And realize that it may soon not be the reality for anyone anymore… something our children and future generations will refuse to experience…. something outdated and dangerous that will no longer be desired.

Photographed by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0



“The Modern Day Battlefield” by Michelle Puentes at Design District February 23, 2022

Photograph by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

On February 19, 1954, the unveiling of the Marine Corps War Memorial by De Weldon was held in honor of all the Marines who have fought for the United States since 1775. A beautiful bronze casted sculpture inspired from the 1945 photograph, it depicts six Marines who raised the American flag on top of Mount Suribachi during World War II. For centuries, honorary figures and celebrated individuals were honored a statue in their favor, remembering their legacy and influence for a long time. This honorary way has been presented since the past millenniums, dating back to the Egyptian statues of Pharaohs. But dating now, contemporary art has taken its form and done the opposite.

Depicting the photograph taken in 2011 by Peter Souza, the “Situation Room” depicts Obama and his national security team viewing the live updates of Osama bin Laden’s killing. Described by historians as a “New Change in American Landscape”, its best known as showing the “crossing between racial and gender boundaries”. However, Will Ryman took a different approach and expressed differently. He created a life size sculpture made out of charcoal that took three years. He stated that in his work, he had drained “the nationalism, romanticism and Shakespearean feel from the strategically taken photo” through using crushed black charcoal and leaving the plain postures and shapes of the photo. Two different points of view from historians and an artist, the essence and meaning behind this sculpture is not to honor anyone, but rather express and immerse the viewer in one of the most pivotal moments in U.S history. As stated by Ryman, it was not intentioned for any political statements, but rather leave the viewer to form their own thoughts towards the modern battlefield of this day.

In my view, this sculpture is made out of material that reflects exactly what the government is made up of : an odorless, tasteless, black porous solid made of carbon, that is obtained through heating wood, plant or animal materials with minimal oxygen. It’s seen so perfectly… the lifeless politicians who absorb much of the power and wealth off the hard working people of the nations, standing and sitting there behind a screen as they take control and decide the lives of many across the world, while the earth burns and crumbles to the floor.

Cited Articles:







“The Waters to Freedom” by Michelle Puentes Key Biscayne as Text, March 16, 2022

Photo by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

In 1513, Ponce de Leon stumbled upon the land of Biscayne Bay and named it after the Bay of Biscay, north of Spain. Being described as a “bright nameless great bay…and fresh springs in the rocks”, Biscayne Bay has attracted numerous amount of tourists for its stunning azure waters and pristine clear shore. Relying on water that flows directly from the Everglades, Biscayne Bay is a large part of South Florida’s ecosystem, and home to diverse communities of corals, sea grasses and sponge. Fresh water springs bubble from the ocean, and it is possible to catch a pail of water and drink refreshing clean water from the saltiness all around. However, Biscayne Bay also has an immense historic importance, being an Underground Railroad for runaway slaves and natives.

During the 1800s, the Saltwater Underground Railroad was a fugitive escape route to the Bahamas, which was under British rule. Bill Baggs State Park played an important role in this route, being a central point for boats coming to pick up runaway slaves. The land of this park was owned by Spain during this period, and it posed a lower risk for slaves than American controlled land. When news of United States purchasing Florida from Spain spread, many slaves came to Key Biscayne before undergoing American control in 1821. However, it was also a risky trip across the Atlantic Ocean. Travelers would either go on Bahamian vessels by paying or go in Indian dugout canoes and small boats, risking the ocean’s deadly waves for 123 miles to Red Bays. Not only the ocean was feared, but they also had the potential of facing unpredictable weather, slave hunters or pirates. But the risk for freedom was worth it.

America being the promised land of many for centuries, it was also the hell for slaves who escaped the promised land to find their liberty. With irony, the land that should have allowed every man and woman to find their opportunity for freedom since its establishment was the land that gave freedom only to a certain group of men. Its important to remember that the clear, pristine waters of Key Biscayne is the same waters that runaway slaves and black seminoles risked their lives in order to gain liberty.






“The Bahamian blacks who built Miami” by Michelle Puentes, Coconut Grove as Text, March 30, 2022

Photo by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

During the late nineteenth century, Bahamians immigrated to Florida, and were among the first West Indians to come. Having visited Florida from before throughout the early nineteenth century, Bahamian blacks had been familiar with the land of Florida Keys, and often interacted with the Seminole Indians through trade. The large immigration to the Florida Keys came for two primary reasons, the close proximity and low economic opportunity in The Bahamas. The booming development of Miami after 1896 attracted many new immigrants, and any Bahamian that wanted labor could find it here. About one fifth of the entire population of Bahamas immigrated to Florida between 1900 and 1920, making Miami the largest foreign-born black city in the United States besides New York. They mostly settled along South Florida, developing their own cities such as Lemon City, Coconut Grove and Cutler Bay. However, racism persisted during these times, and state laws limited their opportunity and freedom in Florida. Despite this adversity, Bahamian Americans flourished in their labor work and are the reason Miami stands today as it is.

When Bahamians arrived to Florida, they were employed in several occupations and actives, being adept in many areas. They were known for their masonry skills, and especially skilled in working with oolitic limestone, which was common in Bahamas. Many historic structures and touristic housing in Miami today is built from limestone, and Bahamian blacks were the masters in sculpting this rock, despite their horrible working conditions. During Flager’s railroad construction to the Florida Keys, the heavy clearing work was assigned to Bahamians, along with Cayman Islanders. They were also assigned the industrious, rough labor to James and Charles Deering’s homes, including the construction and limestone work under Florida’s pressuring heat and insect filled conditions. Agricultural work was also given to them, as Bahamians often worked in the local citrus industry around Coconut Grove and in vegetable farms during harvest season. Though most of this work was given to men, Bahamian women also contributed to the labor in Miami. They worked as maids, cooks, laundry and service workers in Miami’s new hotels and restaurants, but at the same time were refrained from even stepping foot on these places unless they were on the clock. From all this, Bahamians have served a massive contribution to Miami’s development, having their hard work ethic and perseverance reflected on Miami’s success today. Despite the cruel treatment they faced during the nineteenth and twentieth century, Bahamians still persisted through their hard labor. If it were not for this successful, diligent group of immigrants who came into Florida during Miami’s peak development period, one of the most touristic and desired cities of the world would not exist without them. Although nowadays much credit and honor is given to the selfish, rich tycoons such as Henry Flager and George Merrick, the real title is owned by those who sacrificed and dedicated their full lives to making a living out of hard work, and the Bahamian blacks are those who did.

Author: mpuen017

Michelle Puentes is a sophomore student pursing a double degree in Art and Psychology with a Certification in Italian Language at Florida International University. She loves to explore and travel, learn new languages, draw and paint, play guitar and serve in her church. She aspires to become an art therapist for children with emotional or physical struggles, and wants to travel around the world to immerse in different lifestyles and appreciate the art and cuisine.

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