Anusha Ghaffar: Miami as Text 2022

Photo By Aliza Ghaffar (CC by 4.0)

Anusha Ghaffar is a senior at Florida International University, pursuing her degree in Nutritional Sciences. She is a first generation student and her future goal is to be on Optometrist, and she will be attending Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry starting fall of 2022. Anusha is in the Honors College, participating in the Spain study abroad program, as she loves to travel and broaden her mindset about the world. She is excited about the various things she will learn in this course, especially about the culture and history in Spain and how they influence one another around the world. 

Deering Estate as Text

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC BY 4.0)

A Walk-Through Miami’s History.”

By Anusha Ghaffar of FIU at Deering Estate on January 28th, 2022.

The humidity filled the air as we circled around the entrance of the first walking classroom style lecture of the semester. The big gates masked what Deering Estate possibly looked like in my head. As we walked in, two unique houses were standing there, calling our names to learn about the origins of how they were built and by whom. As we kept walking, the symmetrical basin’s view took my breath away even on the gloomy, cloudy day. Calling myself “from Miami”, even though I live in a suburb 40 minutes away, I was excited to find out the origins of this beautiful city called Miami, and who lived here before “America” existed.

This beautiful estate, built by Charles Deering in 1920, went through many monumental time periods of history. One specific one that was talked about is the prohibition period. Deering tried to build a lighthouse near his basin but got denied. This did not stop him from getting his alcohol. He used lights on the entrance of his stone house as a marker for his boats, coming from Cuba with his fresh shipment, which was very clever of him. We also saw the secret wine cellar. The bottles from the time are still there, although empty. This was illegal during the time, and it shows how if there is a will, there is a way, which can be admired in history because it reminds me that humans will always be humans, and people always find ways to do what their heart desires with their own deceits.

Although Charles Deering built property here, the rest of land shows live evidence of habitants from up to 10,000 years ago. We walked by Tequesta burial ground mound, where it was about 24 feet high. The quietness that was there reflected the many that were buried under the mounds for years, overtaken by the old oak tree. We also touched the tools they used, left on the ground for us to discover. Touching it took me back in time thinking of the different ways they were used and for what. It was crazy holding something a Tequesta held 10,000 years ago.

Through the walk of history, more proof that everything is connected in history was shown. The houses were built by Afro-Bahamians, showing the Islamic tied influence on the architecture with the dome like design. The Bohemians also carved their own designs, such as a pelican looking bird and a pineapple design shown on the picture to the bottom left. It is amazing to me how decades later we were looking and touching something that used to be someone’s home and is now a work of art and history to us. Learning about Miami’s origin outside of a textbook was an exceptional experience, and Deering Estate was the perfect location in doing so.

Vizcaya as Text

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC BY 4.0)

Vizcaya: Europe’s Melting Pot.

By Anusha Ghaffar of FIU at Vizcaya on February 18th, 2022.

 The drive from a gentrified Miami Outskirt to Coral Gables to Vizcaya felt like I had traveled through different terrains in the span of 20 minutes. The greenery engulfed the entrance of Vizcaya hiding the hot sun as we drove inside, noticing the various Italian Baroque sculptures that seemed like they were being disclosed by the various trees. Vizcaya Museum & Gardens was built by James Deering and was finished with its construction in 1916. It was named after Vizcaino, who was a Spanish explorer who resided with Tequesta Indians. The first thing I noticed is that this once home to James Deering was like no other. It felt like we were in a different country as the diverse decoration and architecture fit in together like a puzzle piece to make this melting pot of an estate in Miami, Florida from Europe.

Before we walked inside, a statue of Ponce De Leon was looking over us, which signifies the start of exchange between Florida and Europe and foreshadows what will be seen inside. The first thing seen inside were two fountains. These were not ordinary fountains, rather linear, stair like waterfall fountains that were lined up symmetrically, pointing grandly to the main house. The water of the fountain reflected the sky and gave a serene vibe to it. The professor explained that this fountain was Islamic style, made for pondering.

Photo by Anusha Ghaffar (CC BY 4.0)

 As we entered from the back entrance, Dionysus was looking down at us with his pitcher of grapes. The Greek god of wine and ecstasy did not fail to personify the entire house of James Deering just by his statue presence.  Each room of the house with its different personality and pieces from different countries in Europe. From glass-stained windows with fake marble painted into the walls, to a music room with an untouched harp, to a room with imported ceilings, to a library with fake books and paintings of children that were not Deering’s, leading to a room with a painting of Virgin Mary sliced in half so it is easily imported and an Mudejar art carpet mimicking Islamic art. It was like walking through pieces of the house, and every room was distinct but somehow managed to fit in together to create a big picture. The main entrance of the estate blinded my eyes from the dancing reflections from the deep blue water hugging the outside of the estate. What a grand entrance, James Deering.

 The outside areas were also filled with various anecdotes. From the bush maze, to the lover’s bench, to the swan and man statue, each area of the garden was filled with the bushes whispering with the wind, eagerly waiting for its story to be heard. Although there were many fictional stories, the real dark truth was masked by the grandeur of the whole estate. Although seen as a piece of Europe, the bottom line is that it is in Miami, masking the Tequesta, Seminole, and Bahamian people that had resided there before they were forced to leave. At the time, racial segregation was prominent. The thick walls and beautiful garden of Vizcaya conceal the blood, sweat, and tears of black Bahamian under terrible working conditions and extremely low wages. The dark truth must also be looked at through what is shown outwardly as a glorified estate.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC BY 4.0)

“Miami: A Full Circle.”

By Anusha Ghaffar of FIU in Downtown Miami on March 11th, 2022.

As someone who lives 40 minutes away from Miami, this was my first-time stepping foot in downtown Miami for the purpose of exploring it, rather than cruising in my car getting glimpses of the skyscrapers. Being from Broward, I had not even thought about Miami’s history and was shocked that people in the county itself also had not learned about it.

The first stop was the government center, which was a bland long building in the middle of Miami, not matching the diverse vibe of the rest of downtown. The bursting oranges springing into every direction with a water fountain in the middle represents the uncontrollable continuous growth of Miami. I was shocked to learn that Miami out of many cities has one of the highest budgets for the arts, thinking it was only known for beaches and partying.

The next destination was Lummus park, which was the oldest park in Miami. Professor Bailley explained the story of Miami thanksgiving being held here. We proceeded to then touch Fort Dallas, trying to picture the slaves building this for their own slave quarters. Each brick put forth with hard work, and we have the privilege of touching this aspect of history.

The Henry Flagler monument was the next stop. It is ironic how he used black slaves to build the railroads and hotels, and those same railroads were used as divider to segregate the colors in “color town”, commencing the segregation in Miami. To tie the ironic history into a bow, Miami Dade was named after a commander who decided to explore new lands and was defeated by the Indians. This was all during the genocide of the indigenous people, and the Seminoles did not surrender and had won, but the battle was named after the defeated commander.

While walking by the Miami water and enjoying the crisp breeze next to the freshwater, we had encountered a mama and baby manatee. Seeing life in an urbanized area like this gave me hope that the ecosystem here is not fully degraded, and with carefulness, can be salvaged.

To end this walk, we had gone to the freedom tower, evidently portraying Spain architecture. It is a duplication of the Giralda Tower in Seville, which we may get to see very soon this summer. With a picture of the two architectures side by side to it, they are clearly replicas of each other. This is a very significant place for many in Miami as it served as a liberty sign for Cuban immigrants, and a vast majority of Miamians are Cuban. This building reminds me of the talks in class of how Cubans are really Spanish but are not actually claimed to be Spanish due to the diverting of the cultures. It is funny how their liberty tower is one that is exactly like a building in Spain. Full circle?

South Beach as Text

Photos by Anusha Ghaffar (CC BY 4.0)

“Vivacious South Beach.”

By Anusha Ghaffar of FIU in South Beach on April 1st, 2022

I arrived at South Beach an hour and a half after I had left my house, feeling like I had just arrived at my destination from a road trip. Moving from inside my car to witness the crisp, windy air slapping my face while the clear blue skies reflected on the beach water was very well worth the stopped traffic and crazy driving.

As we got to the pier, the water taunted me to jump in looking like I could drink it up like glacier freeze Gatorade. Apparently, the rite of passage to be a real Miamian is to jump off South Pointe Pier. As the lecture started, the same thing that was mentioned in the downtown lecture was said; after the railroad developed there was apparent segregation. To add to this, when Miami Beach was built, which I found out is all fake including the sand, African Americans, Afro-Bahamians, and Seminoles had no access to the beach. This is outrageous because they had been living there their entire lives, and there is no reminiscence of their existence. Although now Miami beach is all inclusive, this was not necessarily the case in all its history.

As we step out of the beach area, the different styles of architectures were observed. The professor explained Art Deco and Mediterranean revival. These were distinct and easy to spot as we went through South Beach. Art deco looked like industrial materials like a boat and have curved in buildings with eyebrows for balconies. Mediterranean revival style architecture was apparent, as we saw it in downtown Miami.

It’s interesting how the period in time influences architecture, as in the 1920s, the hype on the pyramids in Egypt was rising. The architecture had zygorettes on it and mimicked king Tut’s tomb with similar designs. The focus shifted from Europe to a country in Africa, which is a sudden and unusual change.

Strolling down a very popular tourist destination now without being blindsided to its past is bewildering. The history of what built up to Miami beach is bottled up with many facts that I have heard for the first time. From the struggle of the LGBTQ community, Gianni Versace’s home and assassination location, the Palace Drag club, which we saw a show from afar, a specific spot where the Jewish people were permitted to move in, all ties the bow of what is now a walkable city called South Beach. The beach, architecture, landmarks, and hardship is what makes this vivacious city today.

Anusha Ghaffar

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