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

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. 

Vizcaya as Text

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

Walking into Vizcaya feels as though you are walking into another dimension. Coming in from the busy city of Miami, the serenity and green landscapes of James Deering’s villa will blow your mind. It is astonishing to see such architecture hidden beautifully within nature from the constant gaiety of the city. With construction beginning in 1914, over 100 years ago, the grounds still hold the same magic and breathtaking views that once mesmerized every soul who set foot at Vizcaya. The perfect blend between the characteristic warmth of the city and the blissful, fresh ocean breezes makes Vizcaya something of a paradise on Earth. 

One of the things that captivates the attention of those who visit Vizcaya is the diversity within the estate. There is not a single detail that was not taken into consideration. The intricacy of every room is unmatched. James Deering proudly adorned his property with items personally designed and requested by him. Nowadays many questions still remain as to why certain artworks and items were brought to Miami by Deering. 

This villa has been the epicenter of many important events through the history of the city of Miami. Among the most significant events held at Vizcaya was the meeting in 1987 between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. A moment in time that signified the coming together of democracy and faith in one of the most distinct places in the country. Miami has always been known to be a city full of life, culture, and diversity. Even so, Vizcaya stands out in a place where everything is already one of a kind.

SoBe as Text

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

Miami is one of those places where the more you see, the more mesmerized you are. This time around, my journey in South Beach made me realize how much I take South Florida for granted. Even though I have lived here for over a decade, I must admit that my knowledge of the area is miniscule. There is so much valuable substance right at my fingertips, entire cultures and oceans of history that just sit there waiting for me to come discover it. 

Now that I am a college student, my mind is far more educated and open than I thought. I remember the very first time I visited Ocean Drive was a couple years ago when I was still in high school. It was so captivating, so much so that it left me feeling like a tourist in my own backyard. Growing up in the age of technology, playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was what gave me some sense of what Miami was like, South Beach in particular. Coming from Colombia from such a young age, I did not even understand what Miami was. In my head, the Miami I knew came from video games and movies. That video game was what introduced me to Ocean Drive, to the beaches, and the architecture. Coming to see this, in real life, as an adult gave me nostalgia, without even knowing any of the true history that built the streets I walked upon. 

Walking through Ocean Drive today, even in the times of a pandemic, still has its magic. No matter how many times you pass by, there will always be something you never noticed or knew about. Regardless of the day or time you go visit, the streets are full of life, whether it be the tourists or locals, the beautiful palm trees and ArtDeco buildings with vibrant pastels and neon also bring a fantasy to life. Having the ocean right in front of you as you enjoy a coffee or dinner with your family, is an experience like no other. With something as simple as taking a stroll through, breathing in the atmosphere, as the sun hits your skin, makes you feel like the main character of your own movie. 

Still, it feels as though I have not truly processed the fact that there is no place like South Beach anywhere else in the world, that I walk the streets many dream about. In reality, that is all it is, the distinctive vision of people who were not afraid to stand out in a rigid world. 

Rubell as Text

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

Being creative takes an immense amount of courage. Your creativity is innate, it is born with you and shaped as you go about experiencing life. That is the true beauty of art. It does not have to be about what technique you use or what you are doing in your work, the key is in expressing yourself. Your art allows people to see other perspectives, it opens people’s minds to other worlds. Art is like seeing the world in different colors. Art is to the eyes as taste buds are to your mouth. It is everywhere, in the building you drive by every morning, the billboards you see on the streets. 

The Rubell Museum in Miami offers an immersive experience with contemporary art. Their collection is absolutely beautiful, representing cultures and people from all over the world. Every work has a space dedicated to it, respecting the uniqueness of it while providing the recognition it deserves. 

This museum is also home to some of Cajsa von Zeipel’s work. She is a Swedish born sculpturist, mainly using silicone to bring her works to life. The sculptures she makes can be described as “dramatically adorned figures and contorted figures [that] delve into identity, queerness, normativity, and fantasy” (Rubell Museum Cajsa von Zeipel). I understood her display at the Rubell Museum as a criticism of influencer culture and modern sexualization of women. It portrays women in particular, doing the most attention seeking things one could imagine. The clothing itself, full of color and disagreement in theme, shows how eccentric and bizarre the lives of these women are. The sculptures, to me, are a representation of the material world as they include technology and designs from luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton. The use of cute animals and pastel colors brings attention to how these influencers target the most impressionable audience, children. Even though the sculptures are extravagant, they have a charmingness to them, captivating the attention of those who land their eyes upon them.


“Cajsa Von Zeipel.” Rubell Museum, 

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