Deering Estate as Text
A Moment of Silence
By Serena Correia of FIU’s Honors College at the Deering Estate, dated January 28, 2022
Charles Deering, the former owner of the Deering Estate, held a cultural orb within his hands. It is a treasure that, unfortunately, does not lie within the hands of the people of Miami, Florida. The Deering Estate does not appear on tourist Instagram pages nor is it featured in teenage TikToker’s pages despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The self-absorbed, glamor-crazy nature of Miami may need to turn away from their all-natural spray tans and vegan diets by stepping into nature. Though every individual in Miami seeks to walk to the rich and famous Star Island, not many speak of another island: Chicken Key! The island of Chicken Key hosts its own ecosystem—it is but another reason why Miami should turn its back on the superficial and take a look in their backyard.
Upon discovering the Tequesta Midden, I held a small bit of shell that fit perfectly in my hand. Upon my other travels that ranged from earthly forests filled with pinecones or long beaches filled with seashells, I would often take a piece of nature to remember the beauty of the location. Unlike my other travels, I did not feel it was right to take a piece of the Deering Estate’s beauty. Instead, I left a piece of beauty behind for Paleo-Americans and Tequesta. As we neared the Tequesta Burial Mound, I leaned on the wooden bridge that held us above the ground, closed my eyes, and said I was sorry for everything they had endured. I just wish it was enough.
The gorgeous tropical hardwood hammock habitat invited me to smile more as I let my thoughts about the Tequesta people dwindle. Their light green hues glowed from fern to fern, it was an absolute delight to be overwhelmed with nature. The tropical hardwood hammocks are one of the rarest plant communities within Florida because various plants and trees within these habitats originated in the Caribbean Islands. It is imperative to note that this habitat is experiencing serious declines and remains listed as a threatened habitat type despite its beautiful nature.
Though it may not have always been within Deering’s vision that his former home for his close friends and family is now a museum, cultural center, or nature reserve—his space has impacted those who never thought they could enjoy Miami’s very own time capsule.
Vizcaya as Text
A Moment of Elation
By Serena Correia of FIU’s Honors College at Vizcaya, dated February 18, 2022
James Deering, the former owner of Villa Vizcaya, crafted a mirage of celebration, pleasure, and love. Within his hands, Deering framed his estate with the outlining of the ocean, mangroves, and tropical hammock and filled his canvas with his love for Mediterranean architectural components. Vizcaya imitates the spirit of Miami by creating an entrance that exerts pomp and luxuriance. The impression that visitors in the 1920s received when entering the Mediterranean villa is akin to the diners that raced to Sexy Fish —a new hot Miami restaurant with high-end glamour and surrealist décor.
Bacchus and I sat as equals at the West Entrance Loggia and a feeling of elation filled me. The house of James Deering spoke to my ego. It was enthralling to hear Professor Bailly speak of visitors being invited to take a wine bath or indulge themselves in the drinks smuggled despite Prohibition. I wandered mindlessly throughout the villa without walking in the footsteps of the black laborers who build Villa Vizcaya and Vizcaya Village in the early twentieth century. The beauty of the villa was overpowering at times but I fought to hear the weird chant of the Nassau black worker rising above the click of the shovel and hoe. I chose to think about the worker’s shells that were incorporated in some sculptures as well as their marble carvings of food and stories that filled tall monuments.
Vizcaya is a celebrated location within Miami that receives thousands of dollars from events (e.g., weddings, reception halls, photography shoots, field trips). This venue must pay tribute to the Bahamian black laborers that built Vizcaya. These individuals faced tribulations beyond imaginable. To say the least, their pay was poor, working conditions terrible, and they were forced to live in segregated parts of Miami. Vizcaya is decorated with lively orchids both outside and inside the villa, it can create a meaningful homage to those who built this villa with their blood. Though this villa exudes pleasure—it excluded the architects of its beauty.
Though Villa Vizcaya’s dark past presses in the back of my mind, I sigh of elation to feel it’s surrounding beauty. I entered James Deering’s house with a purse strapped around me, but I left with a tiny glass of whiskey in one hand and in the other a cigarette, sipping first from one and puffing from the other.
Downtown as Text
A Moment of Truth
By Serena Correia of FIU’s Honors College at Downtown Miami, dated March 11, 2022
Henry Flagler, the Father of Miami, is credited with the success and plans of initiating the City of Miami. However, his ruthlessness in these three grievances must echo to those who wander around Government Center and those who live in the Brickell skyscrapers:
- Flagler relied on relying on Black laborers to build his railroad and hotel and initiated the segregation of Miami with the creation of Colored Town.
- Flagler knowingly demolished a Tequesta burial mound at the mouth of the Miami River and made no consideration of the disposal of the human remains.
- Lastly, by having the raw sewage of the Royal Palm Hotel discharge directly into the Miami River, and thus into Biscayne Bay, he initiated the environmental degradation of Miami’s environment.
After reveling in the trenches of history with Professor Bailly, I couldn’t bring myself to appreciate the beauty behind Downtown Miami. Within Downtown, it was noticeable that most locations had a sorrowful story behind its past or current state:
- Government Center: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the plaza that was once thriving with different languages, music, street vendors, and traffic in every direction had come to a halt. Instead, eerie vehicles offering COVID-19 tests sit in the very center of Government Center. The liveliness is replaced with unfortunate individuals who wander looking for their next meal.
- Wagner Homestead: It was heartbreaking to learn how one of the sons of mixed race couple Mr. William Wagner and Ms. Eveline Aimar was shot due to discrimination.
- Fort Dallas: Slaves built their own quarters to live in when working on William English’s plantation which was located near the mouth of the Miami River.
- Miami-Dade County Courthouse/Major Dade Plaque: African Americans walk through the Miami-Dade County Courthouse holding the following titles: attorney, legal support staff, court employee, witness, and more. However, a sizable plaque is seen on the walls of the courthouse that reads the following atrocity: “In Seminole War was sent with 117 men to aid Gen. Clinch at Ft. Drane; Ambushed by 200 Indians and Negroes.” One must ask oneself, how is it acceptable to have this plaque hang on the doors of a building that looks to exude justice, fairness, and equality under the law?
Downtown Miami begs the following question: Where is the beauty behind Miami’s history? Where is the richness of culture, luxuriance, and celebration of ego?
South Beach as Text
A Moment of Understanding
By Serena Correia of FIU’s Honors College at South Beach, dated April 1, 2022
In my 22 years of living, I had not stumbled onto Ocean Drive although it was just a short car ride away. As my skin scorched under the heat, I found myself missing the atmosphere of South Beach (SoBe). I felt like a stranger within my own city as I bumped into hasty tourists from Indianapolis and Chicago that were gorging on the beachy energy that encompassed Miami Beach. After Professor Bailly ended his teaching session on South Beach, I couldn’t help but wonder why my eyes had missed the history behind the Art Deco buildings, long-lasting environmental damage within the previous mangrove-populated barrier island between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, and the segregation of black from Miami Beach. Alas, my ignorance and complete apathy towards the history behind Miami Beach is now a thing of the past.
It disgusted me to learn the following notions about Miami Beach’s past:
(1) Carl Fisher erased the existence of African Americans, Afro-Bahamians, and Seminoles that had long established the region after the Tequesta were pronounced extinct.
(2) Mangroves along the coast were removed to create Miami Beach as we know it. However, the abundant marine life and freshwater springs ceased as a result.
(3) The Seminoles utilized essential freshwater springs and marine life to live. Therefore, the Seminoles way of life was affected because Biscayne Bay was dredged, and the springs were drowned by saltwater intrusion.
(4) During a strong storm that occurred in the 1920s, Miami was flattened due to the lack of mangroves. The habitat destruction led to the elimination of the environment’s first line of defense (i.e., mangroves).
(5) Since Carl Fisher began the development of Miami Beach as a tourist resort, African Americans and Afro-Bahamians were ordered to remove mangroves along the coast to aid in Fisher’s goals despite harsh conditions.
Though South Beach contained troubling reminiscent aspects about its history, the beauty behind the Art Deco buildings did not cease to amaze. The following are characteristics that were picturesque to see:
(1) Certain buildings contained ‘eyebrows’ which were additions to the building that did not have a functional purpose however they were essentially shades that could be deemed as unfinished balconies.
(2) Few buildings featured ziggurat rooflines that were reminiscent of Egyptian artwork (i.e., flat, stiff individuals within artwork) instead of the European flair that are in Coral Gables (i.e., tile roofs).
(3) Many buildings reinforced the ‘rule of three’ which details buildings are often three stories tall and the facades are divided into three. This may be because past city codes/regulations: buildings containing more than 3 stories must have an operating elevator.