Monica B. Perez: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Monica at the Van Gogh experience near Wynwood. Photo by Olga Rivera/CC by 4.0

Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer family and dialectical behavioral therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.

Downtown as Text

Dropped Bowl With Shattered Slices and Peels. By Monica B Perez/ CC by 4.0

Beauty Despite the Scars”

by Monica Perez of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08, September 2021

Nowadays, a simple stroll through any large city’s “Downtown” is bound to evoke some level of emotion. The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have left a gaping hole in our cities. Streets are empty, and businesses old and new have been forced to shut down. Downtown Miami is no different. Any native can walk down Miami Avenue and notice the difference pre-and post lockdown. Business is slow, and people carry themselves with heavy hearts missing what was lost. However, the city is not completely lost. A quick visit to some of Downtown’s cultural hotspots shows that Miami has retained her beauty despite the loss.

Lummus park is a public area just oozing with pain, beauty, and history. Upon entering through the green fence, one is met by a melancholy presence that can only be explained by the impressive Fort Dallas. The long, limestone building has seen the dehumanization of black people through slavery and a year’s worth of bloodshed. Just one touch of the rough exterior brings a montage to mind of everyone who has bled, cried, and attempted to keep themselves from collapsing right where one stands.

Just one glance to the left reveals the beauty despite the pain. The William Wagner House is a perfect symbol for what so many world leaders strive for: peace and acceptance of differences. It is so moving to know that the house once held a white man, woman of color, biracial children, and Tequesta people all at once. This is what Miami is truly about. This is not to say the figures discussed were of no fault, but this beautiful moment marked the house forever with light and warmth. The fact that these two landmarks share a space is a testament to how Miami citizens can also share in beautiful experiences despite the pain and loss that COVID-19 has caused.

Miami’s cultural diversity and appreciation reveals itself in Downtown’s public art. Dropped Bowl with Shattered Slices and Peels is a prime example. It incorporates classical Floridian imagery (orange slices) to pay respects to the reason for the city’s founding. The shattered bowl is a perfect embodiment for Miami’s place in the post-COVID world. It is an explosion of cultures and diverse perspectives. Sure, the “shattering” may be painful, but even a scarred city can be beautiful.

Overtown as Text

Stained Glass in Greater Bethel Church. By Monica B Perez/CC by 4.0

“Not just a building”

By Monica Perez of FIU at Overtown, 22, September 2021

Generation Z, nicknamed “Gen-Z”, have a radically different way of viewing the world compared to generations before them. Generational psychologists argue that this is because they were born in a very difficult time in America: the start of the war on terror. They saw the blooming of smartphones and tablets. Most of them even saw them incorporated in the classroom. Most recently, however, they are “coming of age” at a time where political tensions are rising to an alarming degree, and they are charged with the burden of “fixing” the world’s most complex issues: gender equality, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and racism. Miami’s community of Gen-Z’ers are faced with a unique set of issues that can be explored with a quick visit to Miami’s Overtown, formerly known as “Colored Town”.

On March 12, 1896, Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at the home of one of the black incorporators of Miami. Today, Miami’s Gen-Z views religion as an institution that oppresses women, LGBT+ people, and ethic and racial minorities. In the time of segregation, however, this church was one of the most empowering buildings the people of Colored Town could have built. In its prime, it allowed black people to worship, build community, and organize protests and sit-ins. There were moments where the building even functioned as a hospital because most had signs stating “whites only”. Churches were not just buildings of worship, they were the backbone of Colored Town.

Today, the people of Overtown do not fear that restrooms or restaurants be labeled “Colored” or “White”. They do, however, face complex issues, like gentrification and displacement. With this and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the pews of Great Bethel and other Churches in Overtown are emptier than they have ever been. Older members of the congregation that remember the Church in its youth mourn the empty building they have grown to love. Their friends are being displaced, and their projects are underfunded if they are funded at all. Many are tired from years of fighting and look to the younger generation to tackle the problem.

The issue causes discord in the head of a Miami Gen-Zer who wants to free themself and others from the oppression of religious institutions while also combatting the racial discrimination so many have fought to eliminate. The problem here lies in communication (or lack thereof). The older generation is tired (reasonably so), and they do not understand Generation Z’s sensitivity and view of the world. Meanwhile, the younger generation feels unheard and is simply unaware of these issues because they are not being taught in schools. It is important that children are not taught about segregation and racism like they are an evil monster that was fought and simply killed. They need to know that it evolved to become the police brutality, gentrification, and culturally appropriative monster it is today.

This may seem too simplistic or optimistic, but from the perspective of a Miami Gen-Zer, everyone (young, old, black, and non-black) needs to set their biases aside. Protecting churches like Greater Bethel not only protects the building and structure; it protects a house of religious expression, a piece of Miami’s history, and a tight-knit community that has experiences intense racism and oppression for decades.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Gardens By Monica B Perez/CC by 4.0

“House of Lies”

By Monica B Perez of FIU at Vizcaya, 20, October 2021

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of the most beautiful, yet one of the most enraging, places in Miami. As one walks down the pathway to the entrance, one is greeted like royalty by the majestic landscape and the European architecture enhanced by the carefully carved statues that represent the rich culture of the owner’s ancestors. The waterfalls and tropical greenery invite one into the villa, and when stepping in the doorway, the house comes alive. Even the floors pull guests in different directions. Each room is representative of different artistic movements and philosophies. It seems to be oozing with art and culture.

All this makes it much more infuriating that Vizcaya is really a house of lies.

Vizcaya was not always a museum. James Deering started construction of his ocean-side villa in in 1912. As one of the wealthiest Miami residents at the time, he knew he would spare no expense to build a house that would make him look like a god. He “employed” over a thousand Bahamian workers to make his dream a reality. Like the rest of Miami, Vizcaya was constructed by the very people the owners wanted to keep out, and like most other Miami elites of the time, he knew nothing about them or their home. When taking a closer look at the exterior of the house, it is painfully clear he had no interest in learning.

In an effort to keep the “dangerous poor people” out, he wanted to build a medieval moat around his precious home. Despite being warned by locals that the water would drain into the earth, Deering believed he was exempt from the laws of nature. The American prince was not used to being told “no”, so he instructed his “workers” build it anyway. As predicted, the ground soaked up all the water, and he attempted to fill it with cacti instead. Today, mere middle-class peasants unknowingly walk right over the “moat” and get their dirty sneakers all over his marble flooring. This is one of many instances that proves Deering’s blatant disregard of local/indigenous voices and labor.

European culture and artistic movements were lazily incorporated into every room. The interior appropriates French Rococo, Neoclassical and East Asian art styles. This can be seen as appreciation and cultural literacy, but the height of appropriation and abuse falls in the so called “study” and “living room”. The walls of these rooms are adorned with fake bookshelves and artwork of children Deering does not even know. The living room contains the worst atrocity: above an organ (Deering did not know how to play) sits a Neapolitan portrait of the Virgin Mary… CUT IN HALF. Deering held such little consideration for the cultural significance of the work he had in his home that he made a complete mockery of it.

Deering’s Vizcaya villa is the extravagant, historical equivalent of wearing merchandise for a band you do not even listen to. It is the product of a white, uncultured, wealthy, American man attempting to show some ounce of culture. He strung together elements of mismatched and even opposing cultures to create an infuriatingly beautiful fortress of hypocrisy.

South Beach as Text

“More Than Meets the Eye”

By Monica B Perez of FIU at South Beach, 3, November, 2021

South Beach is an embodiment of Miami’s reputation. When non-natives and tourists imagine Miami, South Beach is what comes to mind. One cannot be surprised; South Beach is home to perfect beaches, beautiful palm trees, and Miami architects’ own take on the Art Deco design aesthetic. Most natives picture South Beach as “just another place to go on the weekends”, or worse, “a dangerous place riddled with crime and crazy, drunk, spring breakers”, but they fail to recognize the historical and cultural weight of the area they take for granted.

One of the most obvious staples of South Beach is its rendition of the Art Deco Design aesthetic. It was internationally popularized in the 1920s-30s, and it was brought to South Beach at around 1923. Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is home to around 800+ buildings that include staples like white facades with pastel highlights, curved edges, and “eyebrows”. This unique design makes visitors of South Beach feel transported into an alternate, colorful, sunny universe with beautiful sights and even more beautiful people. Thanks to Barbara Baer Capitman, the district is protected as a historic site, which protects the integrity of the buildings and their Art Deco style. Tourists and natives alike are not told just how important an architectural aesthetic is for an area’s history. For some, it was a way to de-colonize their professions and artistic styles to represent a forward-thinking and culturally diverse generation.

The people of South Beach are what truly make it what it is. It an unfortunate part of Miami’s history is that not every inhabitant of Miami was legally allowed to enjoy every aspect of its beauty. Just like the rest of the country, black, indigenous, and other people of color were not allowed in certain areas of Miami, including South Beach. Ethnic minorities like Jews who today inhabit a large area of Miami Beach were discriminated against in the days of segregation and even after that.

One building continues to stand tall as a reminder of the Jewish culture and faith as it holds a significant place in Miami’s history. The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU lives in two historic Art Deco buildings that were once a house of worship for the very first Jewish congregation in Miami Beach. The museum holds years of Jewish history in Miami and across Florida. It tells the story of oppressed Jewish communities in Miami and how they were oftentimes refused service at institutions targeted at wealthy tourists. Nowadays, especially on Saturdays, one would expect to see a number of Jewish people walking down Miami Beach to their nearest synagogue for the Sabbath, but many do not acknowledge that this would have been seen as an abomination in Miami’s earlier years. After visiting cultural sites like the Jewish Museum of Florida, one can see this walk as a beautiful victory.

South Beach should not be seen as a Spring Break, touristy, party town for the wealthy alone. It is home to a beautiful amount of cultural and ethnic diversity. It is held together by the black Bahamians and other people of color that built it, the LGBT+ people that entertain its people, and the Jewish people that pray for it.

Deering Estate as Text

Deering Pipeline at the Deering Estate. by Monica B Perez/ CC. by 4.0

“Time to Heal”

By Monica B Perez of FIU at the Deering Estate, 17 November 2021

The modern Miami resident moves far too fast. They are generally unappreciative of the place they call home. They live completely unaware of how incredible their Miami truly is. This is likely because many Miami residents do not have roots that dig very far into its history. One of the most common questions residents are asked is, “Where are you from?”. Many younger residents will say, “I was born here, but my family is from [insert foreign country].” Because of these shallow roots, many natives do not feel as connected to Miami. They do not care to look at a history they do not believe to be theirs. Miami’s Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans in particular were hurt by their root countries and felt forced to move here. This creates a painful disconnect that makes young residents want to leave.

Residents who do not interact regularly with the Deering Estate may know that it is a museum or that it was a summer home to an old white man, someone they will likely never relate to. What they may not know is that it is a perfect example of what is possible when culture and consideration meet money. It was once a home for Charles Deering and his close family and friends. Today, it is Miami’s very own time capsule. As a museum, cultural/education center, and nature reserve, the Deering Estate holds its own as a historic site listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The area is home to eight different ecosystems that are indigenous to Miami and remain untouched (spare the occasional archaeological dig ). It is a near perfect image of what Miami used to be. Not only was Miami absolutely stunning; it was home to Paleo-Americans (more inappropriately referred to as Paleo-Indians), the first people known to inhabit Miami over 10,000 years ago. A hike through any of these environments stimulates thoughts about what the land was like before development… before “America”. It is important for Miami’s current residents to visit places, like the Deering Estate, that connect modern residents to their geographic ancestors, Paleo-Americans and Tequesta people.

One can never understand what it feels like to be completely displaced–to have ones whole life uprooted and be forced to start anew. People need time to heal and live with that pain. Nature is the solution. Miami residents need to feel connected to the land they live on. Hiking through the raw crevices of the land serve as a direct link to the people that were there before. Though they may not be related by blood, and though some may not have chosen to live here, they are still connected by the land. Instead of dissociating from the land and clinging to feelings of pain and loss, Miami natives need to dig their roots into the rich Miami soil. It is time to heal the generational trauma and make Miami a home.

Rubell as Text

“In Defense of Modern Art”

By Monica B Perez of FIU at the Rubell Art Museum, 24 November 2021

Modern art has long been criticized by artists, patrons of the arts, and non-artists alike. Some say it is not technically comparable to classical art movements. Others say it is lazy, unappealing, or shallow. Some criticize the way artists use it to address difficult issues like politics, sexuality, gender identity, and racial discrimination. Miami residents who feel this way are out of luck. Because Miami is a relatively new community, most of the art that calls it home is considered “contemporary” (ie. made in the very late 20th and early 21st centuries). This means that most permanent museums in Miami will showcase predominantly contemporary art. It is all around us. It is inescapable. More importantly, it deserves more credit than is given.

The Rubell Art Museum, like most other private museums, started out as a family collection in 1965 (when the very first piece was acquired). In 1993, the collection was shared with the world when the museum opened to the public. It is home to over 7,200 pieces and counting and showcases more than 1,000 contemporary artists. An art lover in Miami would not expect to be impressed with the Rubells’ collection. After visiting the Wynwood Art District, South Beach, and the extensive collection at the Perez Art Museum, one would think they had seen all there was in the modern Miami art scene. These assumptions are far from correct. The Rubells have done a beautiful job at collecting and showcasing a diverse group of artworks that perfectly represent what Miami and contemporary art stand for.

The most common criticism of contemporary art is its simplicity, methods, and artists’ perceived lack of technical ability. While these arguments should be welcomed in discussions about individual artworks, generalizing a broad movement is harmful because it discredits the artists and the art itself. Contemporary art is not created to please classical artists; it is not created to please anyone. Contemporary art is the result of artistic expression breeding with innovation because it uses modern technologies to reach a modern audience. It is in direct competition with everything else that takes up our attention: jobs, cellphones, movies, social media, etc. It makes you think. Like authors, contemporary artists use symbols, abstraction, anything they can to tell their stories- stories that have not been told from their perspective until now.

An issue with museums of classical art (private museums specifically) is that most people do not often feel represented in the dialogue. Classical European art often depicts white figures in positions of power while people of color are depicted as evil, less than, or disgustingly stereotyped or commodified (the “oriental” movement is a horrific display of just that). Contemporary art is not representative for representation’s sake. It is representative because re-presents the world in the point of view of the oppressed, the enslaved, and the silenced. Kehinde Wiley’s “Sleep” is a perfect example of this. It depicts a peaceful black man who is sleeping naked with a delicate white fabric to keep him modest. He looks angelic, regal, and delicate-characteristics rarely attributed to black men. It resembles classical (and some religious) artworks that depict white Europeans in a dreamy environment. This piece is not a threat to masculinity, black men, or classical art. It is a piece that represents another perspective on what a black man looks like.

The bottom line is that all art was new at some point. There was a point in time where Picasso and Monet were the newest and “edgiest” artists around. Art evolved just as man did. Contemporary art has its flaws like any other movement. For example, it is easy to exploit consumers by artistically vomiting on a canvas, calling it art, and selling it for millions, but that is not art. It is a disgrace. Generally speaking, however, the movement is just as viable as any other, if not more important. It is a sign that the art world is changing for the better.

Everglades As Text

“Nature’s Wisdom”

By Monica B Perez at Everglades National Park, 12 January 2022

One of the most interesting things about humans is how much we try to separate ourselves from “nature”and “the environment”. We talk about them as if we are not active participants in our ecosystem and cannot change the way it works. The Florida Everglades are one of the best examples of why this way of speaking is untrue. When Henry Flagler discussed expanding his railroad through South Florida, he initially wanted to completely kill the Everglades (or at least most of it). Though his engineers said this was impossible, they (and a few others) were able to change the way water moved through the area by destroying much of it and redirecting the water flow.

It is important to note that Floridians’ coexistence with the wildlife in the Everglades is not “humans interacting with nature”. It is nature interacting with itself. We are nature, and sometimes we forget. People like to distance themselves from nature by antagonizing it.

“This swamp is in the way of my development. I must destroy it in order to grow and survive.”

“This snake wants to kill me. I must kill it first.”

Nature is perceived as an obstacle or enemy when in reality, nature is not in the way; nor does it want. There are ways for us to coexist safely with wildlife, and doing this starts with acknowledging that we are wrong about some things. A quick trip to a raw, natural area like the Everglades shows us that while we are nature, our flawed attitudes have made it so we act unnaturally- out of harmony with the ecosystem. We take more than what we need to survive and confuse wants for needs. The rest of nature is wise enough to check itself and keep a balance. The snake only eats what it needs to, and will rarely overeat or leave food to waste. Plants grow in the water, but natural competitors ensure it does not overgrow.

Because we are able to use tools and develop technologies, we are unlike the wildlife in that we have few natural competitors. Disease and other illnesses are combatted with vaccines and medicines. Natural disasters cannot be stopped, but we have learned to build shelters that stand a chance. We need to be our own competitors and learn to keep ourselves in check. We do this by taking a page out of nature’s book. Take what you need, and keep your wants in check.

In short, humans try to distance themselves from nature when we have a very real role to play in our ecosystem. Our actions have consequences, and if we cannot keep ourselves in check, we will be our own destruction- not “the environment”. There are lessons we can learn from our ecosystems, and trips to natural, protected areas like the Everglades expose us to nature’s “wisdom”. They are a reminder that life is so much more than our wants, it is about what we can learn.

Coral Gables as Text

Coral Gables City Hall Photo by Monica B Perez /CC by 4.0

“The Grey Area”

By Monica B Perez at Coral Gables, 26 January 2022

Over the past few years, society has shifted from glorifying the past to sharing unspoken stories of the oppressed. This is such a beautiful shift because we are finally acknowledging the wrongs of the past and holding people of the present accountable for their missteps. It also lifts up the oppressed and gives them a chance to flourish. However, some criticize those who consider themselves “woke” or socially aware because some tend to hold historic media and figures to modern standards. Both points of view seem to be on opposing sides.

There are ways that we can discuss a figure’s historical significance and admit their wrongdoings. These are especially important when discussing the development of Coral Gables. The construction of Coral Gables started in 1910, when the Merrick house was completed. In the land boom of the 1920s, George Merrick quickly expanded the city to accommodate for Miami’s new wealthy citizens. Merrick and other developers relied on the work of black Bahamians to build most (if not all) of Coral Gables. Their conditions were dangerous and exploitative, and it was clear Merrick had no shame. In the 30s, Merrick advertised a resettlement plan to displace the black population of Miami and move the community across the state. Today, George Merrick is a widely criticized figure in Miami’s history, but are the critics too harsh?

The short answer is… welcome to the grey area. George Merrick is majorly responsible for developing one of the most beautiful areas of Miami. He did this by exploiting Bahamians for the sake of the wealthy. Both statements can exist simultaneously because he existed and did both simultaneously. Some choose to erase his image from buildings or fail to include him in certain conversations for fear of ruining their own image. Erasing him is not the answer to dismantling racism, but erasing his actions is just as harmful. Condemning blatant racism is not “cancel culture”, nor is it holding Merrick to a modern standard. It is actually the first step toward positive change. Sure, almost every rich white man at the time was a white supremacist, but this does not absolve George Merrick of his individual offenses.

Coral Gables is a beautiful community where the wealthy still consist of the major population. It is a town rich in history that is a product of racist ideologies of the time. Walking around the community as a solid middle class citizen of color is strange because you appreciate its beauty, but you know that you would not have been welcomed there 100 or even 60 years ago. It is a perfect example of the grey area where the history, founding members, and even present condition cannot be labeled as good or bad.

River of Grass as Text

“Fleeting Moments”

By Monica Perez of FIU at the Everglades 16 February 2022

Being a suburban, West Kendall kid has its perks. The schools are good, the neighborhoods are safe, and there is a Publix located at every corner. It is every parent’s dream. Sure, the traffic is terrible and gas prices are through the roof, but at least you know you have a safe place to call home. Sometimes, however, the schools get so good that kids stop relying on nature to teach them things. The houses are so safe, kids do not need to go anywhere else to play. The Pub Subs are so good that kids do not need to pick berries off a bush that has been deemed safe to eat from. The kids grow into adults that have responsibilities and bills to pay. They never know what it means to soak up fleeting moments in nature.

Everglades National Park was established in 1947 with the goal of conserving Florida’s natural ecosystem and primary source of clean air. It is home to native flora like mangroves and Florida’s indigenous palm tree. Deer, alligators, panthers, and other fauna call it home. It is threatened now by climate change and invasive species, but nature has a way of adapting with our help through routine burnings and clearing of sawgrass. This is important because it helps control certain populations that may overgrow or make it harder for us to monitor and care for. Sawgrass clearings also reveal solution holes filled with clean, fresh water suitable for a swim.

When hiking through such unfamiliar terrain home to some dangerous flora and fauna, it is easy to feel stuck looking down. While the view is quite entertaining (there are interesting patterns and insects on the ground), one misses everything above and around them. Native birds passing by, the way the cypress trees dance in the breeze, the cloud that vaguely looks like horse with a sombrero- all these moments are missed because the kid who never goes outside decided to take a crazy class that makes her do things she never thought she would do (like hike through untouched terrain with alligators hiding near), so she cannot help but look down in fear. She passes up the chance to swim with her peers (and professor) in a solution hole that will be swallowed by sawgrass in just a few months because she did not want to smell like swamp.

It is so important for people to spend time in their parks to get used to their local environment. It teaches them when it means to take a clean breath that gives life to their body. They learn to feel safe and aware of their surroundings their ancestors called home. It encourages them to eat sweet berries from the bush that nourish their spirits. It gives them the chance to take in the fleeting moments that nature offers them, moments they will never get back.

Wynwood Arts District as Text

“The Ideal Classroom”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Wynwood Arts District 23 February 2022

The most common misconception about art is that it is just a hobby and that it has no place in the education system. Many assert that learning about art in any way is a waste of time that distracts from real academic fields like math, grammar, and science. Those same people will say there is no money in an art career or that it is easy, and therefore a useless idea. Clearly, these people have never been to Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.

Wynwood was first established in 1917 as a working-class neighborhood. It remained so until the late 2000s, when Tony Goldman and a few others started purchasing land and dedicating it to modern art in an effort to rebrand the neighborhood as a cultural hub for Miami. It has since become somewhat of a tourist destination and important part of the Miami art scene. Now, numerous collectors of modern art use warehouses in Wynwood to share their collection with the world. In 1999, the first phase Marguilles Collection at the Warehouse was established. Since then, they have used their space to display a wide variety of works from October to April, using May to September to rearrange the art and plan their next focus.

The Marguilles Collection has a close relationship with schools across South Florida, welcoming students from the ages of about 10 to their late twenties. Students attending any university in Florida can even receive free admission to the collection on any day. The Collection sees the value in using art as a supplement to education. Art, especially that present at the Marguilles collection, teaches students about math, physics, history, storytelling, psychology, and even emotional intelligence. The materials being used in certain pieces have practical, scientific explanations for their presence. Certain pieces address important historical events and movements that affect the way our society works today. It integrates different elements of other fields with something that is entertaining, shocking, saddening, exciting, or produces some other reaction.

Art is a crucial part of the human experience. It is what makes us unique among other species, and it should be celebrated. It is also a valuable tool in teaching students about complex subjects. It is important that schools integrate art into their required curriculum and find ways to safely visit museums, private collections, and unique neighborhoods like the Wynwood Arts District.

Key Biscayne as Text

View from Cape Florida Light/ By Monica B. Perez CC by 4.0

“What I Wish I Knew”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park 16 March 2022

Growing up in Miami, Florida is one of the greatest privileges I now possess. I have a unique community of people that are similar enough to help me feel safe, but different enough from me that I am challenged in the best ways. I am comforted by the large Hispanic/Latine community here, but I am also presented with people of other cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds that broaden my perspective. One of the communities most dissimilar to my own is Key Biscayne. The island is home to (mostly) wealthy white people who share little to no experiences with me as a middle-class, hispanic person from West Kendall. This has been the area’s steady population since the colonization of Florida due to its perceived exclusivity and proximity to beaches and wildlife. Unfortunately, the stories before this population arrived are told incorrectly if at all.

Bill Baggs State Park is located in Cape Florida viewing Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The park appeals to residents Key Biscayne as a more high-end park and beach. Those outside of the area recognize it for this and the lighthouse colloquially named “El Farito”. The park makes known that the lighthouse was destroyed in the Second Seminole War. Historians will depict this day as a savage attack by uncivilized “Indians”. Even the images surrounding the park suggest this, but the Seminoles carried out a skillful, calculated attack that left only one survivor. In addition, the park provides information about how the park was a checkpoint for the Underground Railroad. Local schools, however, prefer to keep this information quiet to distance Miami from slavery, the Underground Railroad, and any signs of racism.

As I mentioned before, Miami is a diverse community that includes people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. However, schools are not doing the best job at making sure accurate local history is being taught. So many believe that the answer to the most complex racial and discrimination issues is erasure and re-writing. Erase lessons about how Miami was (and still is) a part of “The South”, which encouraged slavery and racial injustice. Re-write the Seminole people as inferior. The best way to alleviate the pain is to educate. As a Miami-raised college student in 2022, I wish I had known more about my local history, including that of Key Biscayne.

Coconut Grove As Text

Plymouth Congregational Church/ Photo by Monica CC by 4.0

“Many Perspectives”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Coconut Grove 30 March, 2022

A native “Miami-an” would categorize Coconut Grove to be “that place with no parking and lots of expensive restaurants”. It is a place where the lower-middle class goes to experience luxury, and only the upper class can stay the night. However, Coconut Grove is also home to a historically significant Bahamian community, groundbreaking faith communities, and nationally-recognized green spaces. It holds a surprisingly wholesome bit of Miami’s complicated history. Learning about Coconut Grove is essential to a well-rounded education on Miami’s history because it highlights so many different perspectives.

One of the most moving parts of Coconut Grove is the historic Bahamian community. Most educated “Miami-ans” know that there was a significant Bahamian population before white settlers colonized Florida and developed Miami Dade. This original community, neglected in the census, was responsible for actually building most older neighborhoods in Miami because they were the ones who best knew how to manipulate materials like oolite and limestone. Those honorable people now lay in a Bahamian-style cemetery that keeps their legacy alive. This style cemetery is so different from most North-American cemeteries that it inspires certain artists to replicate it as a setting for productions.

As with any other community in any part of the world, a great way to learn about Coconut Grove is to visit the different faith communities. Christ Episcopal Church, founded March 24, 1901, tells the story of the community because it represents it on their stained glass windows. Contrary to many Christian Churches that depict predominantly white figures, Christ Episcopal Church depicts significant characters in the bible, like Jesus, as black. This better immerses the community in the faith because they can see themselves represented on the walls. Plymouth Congregational Church, organized November 7, 1897, represents the land in the materials used to build it. The stone used to build it was gifted by a member of the community and sourced from Coco Plum Plaza. It is art and function created by hand, from the land it sits on.

The Barnacle was built in 1891 by Ralph Middleton Munroe, a middle-class, blue collar worker from Staten Island, New York. He built his house away from the developing city to maintain a “simple and genuine life”. Even today, few cars are allowed in the park, and little city noise can be heard from inside. The house is well known across the country for being built from the top down. The roof had been modeled similar to a boat (due to Munroe’s occupation), the second story was originally the first story, and the whole house was picked up using railroad jacks to build a first floor. Deemed a Florida Heritage site, it is a beautiful example of a hard-working, simple gentleman calling Miami his home.

Author: Monica Perez

Monica Perez is a student of the FIU Honors College pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer therapy and conduct research. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat PTSD and anxiety disorders. Her current motto is "seek radical empathy" as she strives to understand and share in others' thoughts and life experiences.

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