Derick Plazaola: Miami As Text 2022

Photo by Jahelly Maxwell/CC by 4.0

Derick Allen Plazaola is Honors College Senior seeking a dual degree in Geography and Anthropology with an additional certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) at Florida International University. Continuing forward in life with the compassion of discovering new locations and experiencing new memories, Derick is seeking to eventually become a GIS Analyst. His primary hobbies have included the likes of Polaroid Photography, Journaling, and Traveling. During his time at FIU, Derick has been able to become integrated into FIU’s Residential Life team as a Resident Assistant for students living on campus.

As a part of JW Bailly’s Italy Study Abroad 2022 group, Derick is extremely hopeful to fulfill his desire to travel to Italy; somewhere he would only dream of ever visiting in his life.

Here are Derick’s Miami As Texts.

Deering as Text

Photos and Editing by Derick Plazaola/CC by 4.0

“Origins Lost to Time” by Derick Plazaola of FIU in Deering Estate on January 28th, 2022

All cities have a beginning that are ingrained in the books of history for future generations to witness through the lens of time. However for the city of Miami, many of its residents live unaware of the true start to the city’s story, one which has been continually denied to be taught widespread to the cities inhabitants. The true story surrounding Miami’s birth lies deep within the heart of the Deering Estate in Cutler Bay.

At first sight, would you become fascinated by the sights surrounding the leisure of the Richmond Cottage in combination with the grandeur of the Stone House? Without a doubt, it’s a sight that captures the immediate hearts of so many visitors with its direct embodiment of remnants of Islamic and Spanish influence within its architecture. Or perhaps the crystal blue manatee-filled waters of the Estate’s Boat Basin is more your taste? The opportunity to see your reflection within it’s bright waters while looking out towards the horizons in the distance is one that entrances so many. However, so many who come to witness the beautiful sights all collected here leave without paying a single ounce of thought as to the true story of how the Deering Estate was erected into Cutler Bay.

With Charles Deering purchase of the Estate in 1916, manual labor would be needed to fully construct the Estate. This would eventually be done with the utilized labor of African Americans and Afro-Bahamian workers during a period of enforced racial segregation within Miami. This labor would be extremely intense and abusive for those working on the construction of the Estate with four deaths sadly resulting in the excavation process of the Estate’s canal. It is very upsetting that such a price had to manifest itself in the creation process of this beautiful location. However, this tragic past surrounding the pleasant sights of the Deering Estate should serve as a reminder for the lessons that need to be continually brought to the attention of its visitors.

The hospitality of the Estate’s mansion and cottage is one realm within Deering. However, the hiking trail into the nearby nature preserve reveals so much about the cultural roots of the city of Miami as a whole. Miami is widely known to have begun with the joint efforts of Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle. However, this is so far from the real truth. Miami ultimately began with the introduction of the Tequesta Indians into the lands. The lands which they primarily occupied are the ones that are directly seen in the hike into the nature preserve as we see remnants of their influence and daily culture existing until this very day. The Tequesta were the ones who had the opportunity to roam these natural areas that no longer exist within the main parts of Miami. The citizens of Miami do not have the chance to experience an authentic “Miami”; the Tequesta were the ones who were blessed with this opportunity. To live in this early version of Miami, the Tequesta utilized various tools – lying today in a midden – were the primary means of survival for them as it allowed them to complete a variety of daily objectives. Additionally, the hike exposes you to the captivating nature of the Tequesta Burial Mound, which is among only two archaeological burial sites in Miami. Upon completion of this hike, you feel as if you have just been introduced to a brand new perspective surrounding what Miami is.

This was my third time at the Deering Estate and I enjoyed it just as much as the previous two. Being able to begin anew with the Deering Estate for this new semester served perfectly as the first precursor to Italy. It reminded me of the true beginnings of Miami, with it’s “Origins Lost to Time”.

Vizcaya as Text

Photos and Editing by Derick Plazaola/CC by 4.0

“Like Ebony and Ivory” by Derick Plazaola of FIU in Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on February 18th, 2022.

In both people and places, there is a sense of duality to be discovered. Like the yin’s and yang’s of this world, there are balances that are captured within specific locations and with the people associated with these locations. This sense of duality is one that I personally see being emitted in great retrospect when analyzing the enriched, yet dark history of James Deering’s Vizcaya Estate along with the villa’s ability to serve as a centre of 20th century Miami affluence and indulgence. Even while having this duality, Vizcaya remains as a cultural reminder of Italian culture – one which I’ll be grateful to reminisce on when I eventually step foot into Italy.

To analyze Vizcaya as a whole, we must first turn our eyes towards the darkness hidden in the beauty of the villa – the yin of Vizcaya. The construction of this beautiful villa began in 1912 and this process was facilitated heavily throughout 1914 and 1916 through the employment of primarily Afro-Bahamian backgrounds. This is heavily reminiscent of the repeating idea that black labor was crucial in establishing early Miami. Though the beauty of this villa was built by these black workers, they themselves ultimately experienced ugliness with the time in which they lived in as it was a time of intense racial segregation with very little economic payment and extremely poor working conditions. It is heavily important that this dark past is one that is not afraid to be discussed in great detail as its visitors must know the real foundations to the beauty present in this great villa.

Although there is clearly an underlying dark past lying within the beauty of James Deering’s villa, it is key to engage oneself in the beauty that has emerged from this corrupted history – the yang of Vizcaya. The theme of this villa is one of celebration as there is an emphasis on pleasure through various key pieces of artwork and architectural design – all of which share a key role in equally committing towards the beauty of this location. Even though James Deering’s superficial and eccentric personality comes alive through the items and artwork he places in the villa, it does so in a way that it complements the already existing architectural choices and design, as they resonate with an overwhelming sense of Italian culture. One such example of this can be seen with the Arc of Triumph present outside the main pedestrian entrance, truly making you feel some type of grandiose as you walk through past it. Or take, for example, the greetings you receive as you enter by the Roman god of wine, Bacchus. If this kind of eccentricity isn’t your type, then perhaps the stained-glass windows are more your calling. Regardless of what your art tastes stand, there are key pieces of art here for everyone. This is even excluding the sheer number of views to be seen within the garden grounds. It is this kind of tasteful mélange that adds to the beauty of Vizcaya.

In sum: we are not meant to be perfect, but yet in the end we are meant to be whole. Vizcaya, in my eyes, stands to be an amalgamation of that which is light and dark. Not perfect in its history, yet perfect in its beauty and brilliance. Thus, Vizcaya stands hidden in the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks of Miami, displaying its black yins and white yangs “Like Ebony and Ivory”.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos and Editing by Derick Plazaola/CC by 4.0

“Ever-standing Illusions” by Derick Plazaola of FIU in Downtown Miami on March 11th, 2022.

As we all continue forward with our lives, there is one key thing to remember: Facades exist around us. It simply takes time to be able to truly discover that we are seeing exists in reality as a facade. Such is the prime case with the city of Miami and its foundational history. Miami, to the average tourist or even local, may be viewed in a light that is especially appreciative of it’s grandiose and ability to be seen as a city that thrives at night with its scenes of self-indulgence and festivities. However when one takes the time to look beyond the city’s present-day activities and vices, such as was done in today’s walk, it proves easy to be taken aback by the dark history lying in the foundation of Miami.

A major benefactor that contributes to this dark history that lives beneath the present-day appearance of Miami was the deeply instituted racism that was previously established in the city. One of the figures pushing such inequalities within the city was none other than the individual that is recognized today as sharing the same name as a busy street: Henry Flagler. Flagler was key in being push to a selfish, yet racist agenda that would severely implement segregation on a large scale. For one, this could be seen with the decision to move native blacks to what was termed “darkie town”, recognized as being Overtown in the present day. Furthermore, expansionist decisions and actions would create further destruction that could not be seen from an outsider’s first perspective of the city. Such could be seen with the city’s decision to boost development on a large-scale highway system to provide higher levels of accessibility across Miami. However, this decision would result with blacks living in Miami at the time to experience the repercussions of this action; this would notably come in the form of the decimation of Overtown due to construction projects and development. To see the repercussions of these projects be ignored and to instead focus on the glorification of figures such as Flagler – particularly noting his statue still standing tall in the court house’s presence – is flat out shocking to me.

Despite these buried injustices, there are some victories to be seen with the development of Miami. To start, the city of Miami simply would not be the same today if it wasn’t for the efforts of Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami”. Without her initiative in her business in establishing the city, perhaps we would be seeing a different city in the present day. Her efforts were joined with the effective pushes that Mary Brickell had in establishing the neighboring flamboyant buildings we saw on our walk. Additionally, on top of the influence that women had in establishing the city, we also see that there were figures that went out of their way to effectively stand against the deep racism being established during the city’s foundation. One of these figures was William Wagner, who was not afraid to stay with his Creole wife amidst the deep sentiments of segregation previously aforementioned. All of these figures held such deep impacts in being able to set precedents for the city of Miami but were sadly erased as the city progressed itself into the present day.

In place of Miami’s dark foundational history, we now see the fruits of the decisions of the city’s major historical figures. The high-rises towering over our heads serve as a continual reminder that Miami serves as a culmination of the efforts of many. Or perhaps, they serve as a reminder of the facades existing in the city – the “Ever-standing Illusions”.

South Beach as Text

Photos and Editing by Derick Plazaola/CC by 4.0

“The Neon Sands of the Southeast” by Derick Plazaola of FIU in South Beach on April 1st, 2022.

In finishing our lecture walk across the sunny roads of South Beach, the refreshing hopes of a carefully crafted cold smoothie drew my attention and successfully satisfied my cravings once I did manage to get my hands on it. However in looking upon that small experience, I realize only now that that smoothie served as a representation for what SoBe presents itself to be in today’s modern age: a mixture. How can a globally-recognized geographical section of a city be like a smoothie mixture? It’s simple: it serves as a mixture of cultural pieces and influences acting in collaboration with the physical manifestations of festivity, gluttony, and wealth. Hear me out!

Regardless of origin, one has to give praise for the high level of effort and well-thought out selection that was done with the architecture standing tall – primarily three stories tall to be exact- on the streets of Ocean Drive. Here exist three distinct flavors of architecture that all go into the concoction that is South Beach, making the city feel as if it was comparable to that of a collage painted by an artist. These three styles of architecture are Art Deco, Miami Modern, and Mediterranean Revival. Starting off with Art Deco, buildings assuming this style of architecture primarily rely on the usage of linear and rectangular elements while also including curved aspect to the structure. It’s an aesthetically-recognized style that adopts a double-edged style as it involves stiffness and fluidity both at the same time. Next, Miami Modern is a style that simultaneously emphasizes and embraces curves while also retaining minimalist elements. Finally, Mediterranean Revival is a style that does exactly what it is named after – it instills an architectural style that is highly reminiscent of what you would see in Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain. The presence of balconies is key with this style of architecture in South Beach. Overall however, all three of these distinct architectural styles act as their own unique addition but act in collaboration to contribute towards making South Beach a concoction of cultural influence. All of these factors go towards being able to create a globally-recognized section of Miami that highly values the eccentric party scenes, extensive selection of restaurants, and exclusive housing for those who sit at the top of the economic ladder.

With that being said, South Beach wasn’t always the touristy section of Miami as we know it to be now. It was appalling to realize that the coasts of Miami Beach, Key Biscayne, and the surrounding islands span back over 4,000 years in history. The South Beach we know now existed previously as a mangrove epicenter that was quickly removed to make way for economic opportunity and architectural planning. This came with it’s respective positive and negative aftereffects however as commercial boom would hit the shores of Miami but the cutting of all the mangroves would create unprecedented environmental disaster. Double-edged swords existing all around is a takeaway lesson to be learned from this example. Furthermore, the area of South Beach was also immediately infected by the influence of racism and segregation with its foundation. It goes to show that a potential dark past can be hidden behind the popularity of locations.

At the end of the day, that smoothie was well deserved! But in reflection, it was crazy to see that South Beach is an amalgamation of cultural flavors – all of which play a role in creating a uniquely crafted part of Miami. So don’t think of shying away from the thought of consuming a relaxing drink on “The Neon Sands of the Southeast”.

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