Verónica Guzmán Betancourt : Miami as Text


Verónica Guzmán Betancourt is a 19-year-old Junior at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Born in Cali, Colombia, Verónica lived most of her childhood in her home country before moving to South Florida in the fall of 2009. Ever since, she calls the Sunshine State her home. Graduating from high school in 2020, she is now pursuing a double major in Psychology and Natural and Applied Sciences, as well as being part of the Honors College. With these degrees, she plans on furthering her career by attending medical school to become a licensed psychiatrist.

Downtown as Text

All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0

They say that time is the best healing tool; however, many fail to acknowledge that we forget about experiences that are traumatic, so much that our brain removes them from our conscience. How might this be relevant? History. Everything we know, everything that makes us a cohesive race and society comes from history. We take what others have learned and done, applying it to our daily lives without even knowing. If it were not for textual and visual records left, many of the historical events we know about today would be forgotten in existence, like they never even happened. 

World War II was a collection of harsh and weary years that our society endured. What once started as an act of self defense ended in the assassination of innocent people. All for power, to have the upper hand, because being loyal and pure of race was more relevant than basic human rights. One of the most important symbols of the war was the Berlin Wall. Concrete that separated people, that divided a country, even more so the world. This wall represented the discrimination and oppression of people for power, all in the name of progress. 

Why is this wall important today, so many years after the war ended? This piece of the Berlin Wall stands in Miami, the melting pot of cultures. A city that thrives on a diverse and rich civilization. There is no city like Miami anywhere else in the world. A city that rose from the wild, from segregation and female foundations. Today this city is a beacon of hope and inclusivity for many who seek a safe haven. Miami is the home to anyone who needs a one, she will open her arms and take you in. She will provide you with life and warmth, regardless of where you come from. 

The Berlin Wall once stood to break apart, to isolate, to create an us and them. Today, it stands in a city plentiful of everything it once promised to end. Today, people from all over the world walk by it without even realizing what it once meant. Many have no idea that this vital part of our history even stands in our city. Ironically enough, so much time has passed by that it is considered just a graffitied wall, a random piece of art, on the sidewalk by the Miami Dade campus downtown. Time has led us to forget what our ancestors fought for, to give us the privileges we enjoy today. There is history everywhere you look, even if it might seem like there is nothing there. 

Overtown as Text

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Windows at the Greater Bethel AME Church in Overtown, Miami. All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0

I have called South Florida my home since 2009 and after so many years one would think that I would know everything there is to know about it. Unfortunately, that is not the case for me. I have lived here for 12 years and I must admit that I still feel like a tourist in Miami. 

It is crazy to think that I have been missing out on the culture and history of the city that I frequent so much. My experience in Overtown was beyond everything I expected. Being able to experience it first hand and learn from the natives was so touching and valuable. The things that I learned are not in any textbook or website out there. These were stories and facts told straight from the source, from people who actually were there seeing it all happen with their own eyes. 

We visited Greater Bethel AME Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church, both locations that witnessed vital and historic events during the Civil Rights movement. I stood in the same places in which people like Martin Luther King Jr. once stood. I saw the impact leaders like him left, both in the people and environment. 

Both of these churches rose from the ground, they were brought up with the intention to solidify and grow a community. A goal that faced adversity in a time of discrimination and intolerance. The building of these churches took years, there was no money to hire a contractor or any company to plan and carry out the construction. Given the fact that it was also in Overtown, no reputable (white) company would get involved in the area. The walls of these churches were brought up by its members, people of the community who donated their time and talents. 

The beautiful stained glass windows found at the Greater Bethel AME Church were done by people that came from out the state, particularly from Texas. These talented artists devoted their time to beautify their place of worship. 

These churches were and are more than just a place to go pray. These places united a community, provided support of every kind to anyone who needed it. These churches were education centers and health service providers, resources the community did not have back in the 1900s. It is heart-warming to see how much Overtown has grown, how it has expanded and withstood the past challenging years. At the same time, the churches have fought against the law to stay afloat. They now stand as landmarks in order to avoid being torn down as new people and companies move into the city trying to modernize the area. 

The legacy and history of Overtown will forever stay in the minds and hearts of people. No matter how much is torn apart or destroyed, you cannot erase history. 

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