Gabriel Marrero: Miami as Text 2022

Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

Gabriel Marrero is a 20-year old Junior at FIU working towards a double major in Accounting and Business Analytics. Born and raised in Miami, he is proud of his hometown and has a deep desire to explore the culture and history of one of the most diverse cities in America.

Deering as Text

“Miami’s Forgotten Past”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at the Deering Estate, January 28, 2022

Photos by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

As I walked through the wide, wooden gates I didn’t know what to expect. Despite living in Miami for two decades, I had never heard of this place. A short walk later and I found myself standing before a stone building more than a century old: the Deering Estate. The architectural design inspired by the Moors of Spain was beautiful. The view of the bay as the wind blew the towering palm trees was breathtaking. The stories of Charles Deering and his almost obsessive desire for alcohol during the Prohibition Era was both interesting and wildly entertaining. I was simultaneously amused and impressed by Deering’s secret wine cellar, stored behind a large shelf like it was straight out of a detective movie. The magnificent art displayed throughout the estate further enhanced an experience that would have been sufficiently satisfying. However, the remaining portion of the tour would prove to be far more impactful than I could have ever imagined.

As we transitioned from the estate into the nature preserve, Professor Bailly showed us small, sharp tools that were used centuries ago by a people I had never even heard of. A forgotten people that existed before Miami: the Tequesta. This discovery absolutely shattered my preconceived notion of Miami’s history. I was under the impression that South Florida was previously a swampy, deserted area overrun with wildlife and nothing more, but I couldn’t have been more wrong! The Tequesta inhabited the Miami area for thousands of years, with some human remains dating as far back as 6,000 years. Recognizing that I was standing right where these natives used to live, I was in awe. This appreciation for my city’s geographic history was only heightened at the sacred Tequesta burial site, unfortunately the only preserved Tequesta site that exists to this day. 

Since then Miami has been transformed into a thriving, multicultural city, but for a moment, I experienced what Miami was originally like. I experienced the “true” Miami that a people forgotten by most called home thousands of years before I did.

Vizcaya as Text

“J’ai dit”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, February 18, 2022

Photos by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

Flashy cars, bright lights, and luxurious, wild living – all stereotypically associated with Miami. Take a single walk down Ocean Drive and you will come to find that these stereotypes are actually very well justified. Widely regarded as the hedonistic capital of the United States for decades, Miami is mostly well known for its thriving nightlife and excessively lavish lifestyle, but perhaps there is an underlying reason as to why Miami is the city it is today. 

James Deering might as well be named the founder of Miami, as his decision to construct the Vizcaya Villa would foreshadow the city that it would eventually become. Built in 1912, the grandeur of the site is striking. From the extravagance of the architecture to the lavish art and sculptures, Vizcaya was created to embody luxury and indulgence. Deering acquired art from all over the world and placed it in his villa without regard for the significance of the work simply because he could. Most notably, he split a painting of the Virgin Mary in half as a cover for his organ, an instrument which he never even played. Deering also made sure to have the most exclusive of luxuries of the time: the telephone. His quest to display his lavish lifestyle was further enhanced by a statue of Bacchus, located at the west entrance of the villa. Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and ecstasy, appeared to be inviting guests to indulge in the hedonistic pleasures available at Vizcaya. Lastly, one of the stairwells displays the phrase “J’ai dit,” which translates to “I have spoken,” similar to when “God said, let there be light.” This engraving exhibits Deering’s God-complex, suggesting what he speaks will come to be, and embodying a self-centered and superficial world view.

I see much of modern Miami in the design of Vizcaya; people drive the flashiest cars and flaunt the latest luxuries. They spend their nights wildly drinking and partying at renown Miami clubs similar to Deering and his guests endlessly drinking at his villa. Unknowingly, James Deering set the tone for the indulgent city that Miami would become, and perhaps he was correct when he stated “J’ai dit” after all.

Miami as Text

“A Melting Pot”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Downtown Miami, March 11, 2022

Miami is undoubtedly one of the most diverse and multicultural places in the world. In this melting pot of a city, it’s very common to meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures than that of your own. More than half of Miami-Dade County’s population was born outside of the United States, and as I walked through downtown, I saw a city with an endless number of people, each with different races, ethnicities, nationalities, and stories. I identified a culture that was the result of a mixture of countless other cultures. I examined buildings of staggering heights and beautiful architecture with influences from all over the world. However, it was the one building in the entire city that didn’t fit in, the single building that was frankly, quite dull, that would produce the most awe inspiring imagery for a city like Miami. The building I am referring to is the Wagner Homestead, “the oldest known house standing in Miami today.”

William Wagner was a German immigrant living in Miami in the 19th century. He was married to a French-Creole immigrant at a time in which interracial marriages were unfortunately looked down upon, and as a result, he and his family would face endless discrimination. Also at the time of his settlement, tension between the Seminoles and the white settlers was quite high. One day as he walked outside with his son, Wagner ran into a group of over 15 Seminoles, all very understandably angered and threatened by him and the rest of the settlers. In order to deescalate the situation, Wagner invited the natives to his home and had his wife make dinner for them, creating a beautiful scene that resonated with me. A white German immigrant, a black, French-Creole woman, mixed race children, and Native Americans all sharing a meal together at the Wagner Homestead – a moment filled with people from different races and stories, all brought together under a household for a meal, a Miami Thanksgiving. This reminded me of my city and the diversity it boasts, and although Miami has its dark history of racial injustice, that moment in the Wagner Homestead was a foreshadowing as to the kind of multicultural city that Miami would one day become.

SoBe As Text

“The Miami Touch”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at South Beach, April 1, 2022

I hear people say it all the time: “that’s so Miami.” I’ve never questioned the statement because it usually makes sense. There’s a certain look and feel to Miami that is distinguishable from almost any other city in the world. But what exactly is it that gives this beautiful city that “Miami” look? I can’t even begin to count the amount of times I have gone to South Beach, but this visit was the one that finally explained to me why there is only one Ocean Drive in the world.

It’s all in the architecture. South Beach has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world, literally making it a one-of-a-kind location. The buildings are distinguished by linear, sleek designs, often resembling machinery like a rocket ship. Highlighted by bright pastel colors, they reflect the sky, water, and tropical landscape of the beach. One of the most interesting, yet unnoticed details is the “rule of three.” Created by a city law that required buildings with more than three floors to have an elevator, most construction planners reduced costs by designing only three story buildings. In contrast with the Mediterranean revival architecture seen in other areas of Miami, the roofs of Art Deco buildings are influenced by ancient ziggurat designs, and the walls fashioned with “eyebrows” that look like unfinished balconies. Lastly, there is one Art Deco design that is most directly associated with Miami Vice: neon. The neon lights on Ocean Drive are what gives the area such life and vibrance at night, promoting the exciting nightlife Miami is most known for.

However, just because Miami was created and designed this way did not mean that it would always remain this way. Without the efforts of people like Barbara Baer Capitman, the Art Deco district would have been destroyed and replaced with high rise condominiums to produce more profits for venture capitalists. Instead, the city’s history and life was preserved, forever establishing that unique, distinctive touch of Miami.

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