Olivia Guthrie: Miami as Text 2022

Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

Olivia Guthrie is a Sophomore at Florida International University currently studying Journalism. With a love for writing, she hopes to one day be living in New York City, creating media that helps better educate the public on the world they are living in, including the issues that are facing them and their loved ones. Her love of art and yearning to travel has landed her in Professor Bailly’s France study abroad class.

Deering as Text: Acknowledging Our Ancestors

Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

We all feel connected to those who came before us. Whether it is your mom or great aunt, our ancestors don’t feel like strangers, not fully. Blood ancestors are often acknowledged and respected. Even if we have never met them, we hold an esteem and regard for them and their part in our family and how we eventually came to be. This is a good thing. It makes us feel more connected to our past.

Rarely are our geological ancestors given the same respect. My teacher, John Bailly, commented on this during his outdoor lecture at the Deering Estate in Miami, Fl, moments before walking to view a sacred burial ground for the Paleo-Natives who originally lived on this land hundreds of years ago, the Tequesta. He explained to us their history, the importance of learning it, and honoring them as our ancestor’s. I have never previously thought to view indigenous people this way, associated to me so intimately. It moved me, causing a paradigm shift in my thinking.

He explained to us how the burial we were about to see is one of the last of its kind. Previous grave sites had been found, but because of greed and the American need to cover the past, they are now built over. Businesses like Whole Foods now stand on top of massive grave sites of the Tequesta. As my teacher told us the horror and disrespect given to this day to the Tequesta, I felt angry and even more grateful for this opportunity to learn more about my secret ancestors and see an untouched holy place of rest.

Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

As we walked the path to the sacred place, surrounded by a lush scenery, the beauty of nature all around us, I got chills. We came to a stop at a gorgeous huge tree (estimated to be around 500 years old) in the middle of the burial mound. It was moving to see life come up so prosperously from death.

Although there are no more living Tequesta direct decedents, they are not a forgotten people. These ancestors live on in each Miami Native who walks the same paths they did so many years ago. I am thankful that I got to learn more about them and am encouraged to learn more about the “ancestors” I previously did not know existed. Many people are a part of how you got to where you are today, more than just your blood relatives.

Vizcaya As Text: The Price that is Paid

History is made up of many silent participators. How we have what we have now is not magical and did not happen overnight. Miami is no exception. The long journey to what we now see Miami as has many parts, but starts here.

Vizcaya is a museum and garden located along the shores of the Biscayne Bay. Originally built in 1916 by James Deering (brother of Charles Deering, builder of previous post, Deering Estate) it was his “European” home in America. Paul Chalfin, head designer, and Deering collaborated to bring the love and passion Deering had for European culture to his now winter home in Miami. Gorgeous Mediterranean art and architecture are everywhere, every inch intricately detailed. The choice to incorporate such distinctly Spanish and Italian styles in this tropical climate is still seen today, as much of the stereotypical “Miami style” has those same elements. Even the lively culture of Miami got its start here, with Deering being an active lover of the more indulgent things in life.

An alcove located on the Vizcaya gardens built by Bahamians // Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

Vizcaya wasn’t built in a day, and it wasn’t without a cost. This cost is felt on the backs of the Bahamian immigrants (numerous at the time in Miami) who were the labor behind much of Vizcaya. Art aside, most of Vizcaya was built through the cheap labor these immigrants brought. Working in horrendous conditions, with little pay, and no worker rights, Black Bahamians made the beauty that is Vizcaya, and much of Miami in fact.

My professor, John Bailly, made sure to reiterate to us, even before we set foot on the grounds, how everything we saw was made by them, and how much of Southern Miami was too. Places like Coconut grove were constructed by Bahamians. The fruits of their labor weren’t even enjoyed as Miami in the early 20th century was extremely segregated. Not allowed to live in the white neighborhoods they built, the black families were moved into northern Miami, a segregation that is still partly felt today.

The story behind a statue in Vizcaya reminded me of the Bahamians. Located in the north hall, the replica of the famous statue Spinario is proudly displayed. Spinario (or Boy with Thorn) is based off the ancient Greek boys who would run from city to city naked to tell urgent news. With no protection from the elements, pushing their bodies to their physical limits, these young men partook in this job because they knew the necessity of it. This wasn’t a simple task being handed to them, but one of great importance that they did because they knew they needed to help in any way they could to protect their people and their families.

Much in the same way, the Bahamian Immigrants worked in those horrible conditions for such little pay because they had to. They had families to feed and bills to pay. The sacrifices they made, coming to America, pursuing a better life for them and their loved ones, is the backbone of the “American Dream”. Their story is still felt today. Miami is still a hot spot for many Caribbean and Latinx immigrants who too are hoping to find a better life within these red, white, and blue walls.

Downtown as Text: Blood on the Ground We Walk On

America has a history, and it’s not always a pretty one – this we know. But to learn more deeply about the dark (sometimes sadly not too distant) past of the very city you live in is a horrifying, but necessary self-education.

On my lectured walk-through Downtown Miami with my professor John Bailly, I got to experience this again. 

We began at the government center, a high-rise that houses all county level local governing. In the midst of downtown, and with a metro station right next to it. Here you can feel like you are in a true city.

Part of our walk was through Lummus Park, which is a historic district located near downtown. There we got to see both the Wagner Homestead and Fort Dallas, buildings that were both built in the 1800s. Wagner Homestead was home to an interracial family, who used it as a haven to live their lives without the racially motivated hate that ran through all of America (particularly the south) at the time. Fort Dallas’ building has been used for many things: a military dorm (as the name suggest), a lady’s tearoom, and most notably – a slave house. The entire area was once part of a large plantation owned by a man named William English. When I learned this, it was chilling. Of course, as Americans we all know of our horrific past, but to touch the building and walk on the ground I know slaved Black folks cried, bled, and died on was jarring.

My professor mentioned how most of us in the class had lived in Miami for years, and even attended part of our K-12 education in a Miami-Dade school, yet none of us knew of this place. It is a shame how the education system fails us. With critical race theory becoming more and more of a controversial topic, and even being outright banned, it’s only getting worse. Not the fault of the children the system let down, now as adults it is in our hands to fill in the gap our education made.

Another lesson never taught to us is about the Tequesta, the native people of South Florida. Part of our walk was through Brickell. Here we passed by a Tequesta memorial, which is also used as a dog park… and the Whole Foods in the area, home to a hidden crime. Beneath the Whole Foods, where hundreds of people get their groceries for their families every day, lay around 500 Tequesta bodies. We learned during a previous class how during the construction of this Whole Foods the largest Tequesta burial mound was found and instead of turning the area to a memorial they continued with construction, not even moving the bodies. You can’t help but feel sick to your stomach as you walk atop these neglected corpses. This building (recently made) is only one of such crimes against our indigenous Floridians.

Henry Flagler, a key person in the creation and development of early Miami, also had a part in Tequesta disrespect. The man behind the segregation of Miami and the beginning of the horrors mankind has laid upon the Florida environment, he also destroyed a Tequesta burial mound at the mouth of the Miami River, with no care given to the bodies found.

It is sad how so much of history gets washed away and quite literally built upon. Marginalized communities across this country know this to be true. It is important to be seen, to be heard, to know the past of your people – your past – is not forgotten. And it is not forgotten.

Poem written by me that feels fitting. Inspired by this quote from Audre Lorde, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive”

Who Are You?

.

I am a black queer woman

A buy one get three free on oppressed groups

The beginning of a joke

.

I am a queer Christian

A traitor to those of my faith

A contradiction to those of my sexuality

If you think I am going to hell – I guess I’ll see you there

I am a woman

The giver of life

Though nothing in my life has been given to me

.

I am a Black American

Blood of my history soaked into the ground you walk on

Bloody footprints in your shadows, though you pretend not to see

Loyal to my country

Even if my country won’t be as loyal to me

.

I am a human

Made from the same flesh and bones as you

Feel pain and love just like you

You ask me to define myself, so I do

But know I am more than the labels society has put on me

I am more than the boxes you try to fit me into

I am me

Unapologetically

SoBe as Text: History of an Island – Diversity All Around

Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

South Beach (SoBe) is a worldwide known destination. The “Miami” people think of when they think of Miami. A beach with a past, and an interesting one at that.

For Miami natives, SoBe doesn’t have the sparkle it seems to have for outsiders, but a recent walking lesson with my Professor John Bailly re-opened my eyes to the marvel we have here.

Humans have inhabited the area dating back 10,000 years, but it became a more developed area, and began its progression to what we now know as SoBe, in the late 19th/early 20th century.

Originally an integrated city, the emergence of Carl Fischer and his development of the area in 1910 instituted a segregation banning Black people from the space. This segregation lasted decades. Present day the beaches host people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. People from around the world come to sit on the white sands and dip their toes into the blue Atlantic Ocean.

There is also a very large and prevalent Jewish community here. Though originally faced with much anti-Semitisms. Now it is home to one of the highest per capita Jewish populations in America. The Jewish Museum along with the Holocaust Memorial are both landmarks to stop by and learn more about the history of Jewish people.

Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

Located at the southern point of the island Miami Beach, SoBe is a small neighborhood and huge tourism spot with over 20 million visitors passing through each year. Ocean Drive, with its famous name, is housed with the novel Art Deco buildings the area is known for. The origin of Art Deco, coincidentally enough, began in France shortly before the first World War. No longer seen there, the architectural style is alive and well here. Noted for its colorful geometric style. Walking the boardwalk is a treat for the eyes, particularly at night when the neon signs are bright.

Versace Mansion. Photo by Olivia Guthrie // Shot with NOMO CAM Toy F.

Among the destinations to stop and marvel at along the strip is the infamous Versace Mansion. Gianni Versace, renowned Italian fashion designer, made SoBe his home. As a gay man, he helped create the culture South Beach is known for: open acceptance, a place where you can be shamelessly you. He was drawn to this place where, in the 90s, it was hard to live and be yourself (as a queer person) without hate being thrown at you. Particularly hard for gay men, with the aids epidemic adding increased fear and stigmatization to the community, SoBe was his haven. Tragically murdered on the footsteps to his house, Versace’s mansion has come to be a somber location on the lively strip.

To this day SoBe is a queer hot spot. An epicenter for inclusion, it is home to South Beach Pride (happening this week) and has many drag shows and gay clubs in the vicinity. The colorful buildings themselves reflect the rainbow associated with pride.

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