Flavia Argamasilla: Miami as Text 2022

Flavia Argamasilla is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Pre-Law Skills. She was born in Havana, Cuba, but has called Miami home since she was six years old. After graduating, she plans on furthering her education by attending law school.

Deering as Text

“Two Americas” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at the Deering Estate on January 28, 2022

It was a perfectly breezy day to visit the Deering Estate and take in the history that runs through its grounds and structures. As we all walked into the Stone House, it was abundantly clear that we had just walked into the 1920s era home of a millionaire. The Stone House was specifically built to be the winter home of Charles Deering, complete with an at-home elevator, inches of poured concrete, and Miami limestone on its exterior walls. One of the aspects of our tour around the Stone House that stuck with me most is that the era of prohibition did not stop Charles Deering from enjoying his drinks and ‘roaring’ parties. In fact, during the time, the general working-class public had to find alcohol from bootleggers or find their way into a speakeasy. It was all very secretive so that law enforcement wouldn’t know. All the while, Charles Deering’s estate boasted an impressive cellar, hidden behind a bank vault and a false shelf. The cellar housed bottle upon bottle of illegal wine and liquor.

Charles Deering’s hidden wine and liquor cellar. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

It is safe to assume that, even by 1920’s standards, he threw the best parties of his entire friend group, being able to offer everyone as much alcohol as they wanted. We saw firsthand the stark difference between the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy right there, in Charles Deering’s wine cellar. Although seemingly such a simple idea, in actuality, the cellar represents the contrast that, arguably, still exists in our legal system and how our laws are applied to the different classes. There are two different versions of the same America, the one the wealthy live in, and the one everyone else does, and this is true for our past as well as our present. It took me by surprise to see that we can learn so much about our country’s past and present by touring a millionaire’s 1920s estate.

Vizcaya as Text

“Something’s Missing. Hint: It’s Everywhere” by Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on February 18, 2022

If you’ve ever been inside Villa Vizcaya, you know that the mansion is exceedingly extravagant, with its multitudes of paintings, and chandeliers, and statues, and fountains, and ocean views, and stained glass; the list goes on. A particular aspect of the décor is so subtle, it might go unnoticed: the abundant number of children depicted throughout the home. It’s interesting because James Deering never married or was associated to any women. One can’t help but question whether seeing children everywhere in his home wasn’t a constant reminder of that which Deering did not have: a wife, real children, a family of his own to roam the halls of his spacious winter home. It would certainly explain why, so often, he had guests over for big get-togethers, and how lavish he wanted everything in his villa to seem. From fake, hand-painted marble, to having an entire ceiling imported, Deering certainly kept his home as expensive and elaborate as he could. The entire estate, gardens and all, screams ‘rich.’ However, was it always solely for entertaining guests and maintaining a reputation, or did he ever aim to one day sit in his study and stare at a painting of his own children instead of random ones?

Depictions of children inside Vizcaya. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

Or maybe in a way, the statues and paintings didn’t serve as a constant reminder, but as a distraction for what he was missing in real life. Maybe his headspace was so caught up in all the children décor, that it was his escape, a chance to forget about that unfilled space in his life. After all, mansions like Villa Vizcaya don’t just decorate themselves overnight. Who needs any persevering family ties when you have an enormous mansion by the bay with all the art you could possibly buy?

Downtown as Text

“An Imperfect Bowl, Shatteredby Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at downtown Miami on March 11, 2022

On that strikingly hot afternoon, our very walk through Miami’s downtown reflected the diversity of the city- students of all different backgrounds, from a university whose middle name is ‘International’ walked through the crowded city streets. Miami is a meeting place for many different races, ethnicities, social groups, etc. Everywhere you look, you see something that doesn’t seem to fit ‘perfectly’ in the environment. I remember, as we were walking back towards our parking garage, passing a Cuban pork restaurant that was right next to a phone repair shop. At that very moment, I realized that Miami is truly a melting pot filled with personality. The randomness that the city has to offer is completely unique; you’ll never find the combinations you find here anywhere else.

Art structure outside government center. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

The art piece we stopped by in front of the government center best describes this. A bowl of orange peels fell to the ground, shattering the bowl, and releasing the peels to every which way. In Miami, all of us are the orange peels, we’re constantly interacting with each other and coming together into a shattered bowl of cultures and differences. The city itself is one of the only ones to have been founded by a woman, Julia Tuttle. On top of this, the first registered citizen was a man of color, Silas Austin. Nowadays, this may not come as a shock, but for the olden times, this was a sign of what Miami would be. It was already displaying signs that it would become a spectacularly diverse place. While it’s not perfect, the best way I can describe the city I love so much, is as a perfectly imperfect mess.

South Beach as Text

The Woman Behind South Beachby Flavia Argamasilla of FIU at South Beach on April 1, 2022

Most people would agree that it’s hard to come up with any names when asked about the women who have shaped Miami throughout its years. Unfortunately, even I had no clue about Julia Tuttle or Marjory Stoneman Douglas before these walking lectures. However, it’s important to remember these women, and what they did for this city. More specifically, we must recognize the activist behind South Beach’s Art Deco neighborhood, a woman named Barbara Baer Capitman.

Art Deco architecture and Capitman’s statue. All photographs taken and edited by Flavia Argamasilla/CC BY 4.0

When you walk around South Beach, down all of Ocean Drive, you can’t help but wonder if something similar to what you’re seeing exists somewhere else. The answer is: no. The people, the art, the climate, the architecture, the colors, knowing there is a beautiful beach a couple of steps away, and the sun beaming in your face all blend together and form the environment at South Beach as it is. Barbara Baer Capitman saw the beauty and uniqueness in the Art Deco architecture of South Beach. After all, this neighborhood is what tourists come looking for, it’s what Miami is famous for, shown in all the movies and music videos we are popular for. She knew this piece of uniqueness had to be preserved for future generations to enjoy and she was the reason for the naming of South Beach as a National Historic District, the first to be within the 20th century. Her efforts certainly did not go unnoticed at the time, as she even managed to create the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL). However, history failed her in other ways. Most people who visit or even live in Miami probably couldn’t tell you her name, or her importance, yet she’s the reason why we enjoy these beautiful pastel-highlighted ocean liner-inspired buildings. It’s not enough to have her statue on the street, we must also tell her story everywhere we can. Those who come here for the views can’t leave without knowing about the woman whose idea it was to preserve them…

Author: Flavia Argamasilla

Flavia Argamasilla is a senior in the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a degree in Economics with a minor in Political Science and a certificate in Pre-Law Skills. She was born in Havana, Cuba, but has called Miami home since she was six years old. After graduating, she plans on furthering her education by attending law school.

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