Skye Duke: Miami as Text 2022

Photograph taken by Tayjah Barrington / CC by 4.0

Skye Duke is a junior at Florida International University, majoring in Criminal Justice and Disaster Management, with a certificate in Political Transition and Human Rights. She is passionate about criminal justice reform, specifically rehabilitative efforts and the prison system, and hopes to one day play a role in significant legislature change. She intends to pursue a career relating in some form to human rights and disaster relief efforts. When she’s not reading, she’s most likely consuming some other form of escapism, romanticizing the mundane and willing the fantastical into existence.

Deering as Text

The Deering Estate / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Unearthing the Roots

By Skye Duke of FIU at The Deering Estate on January 28, 2022

Visually, stepping into the Deering Estate is very much like entering a bubble. Where suddenly modern city life is whisked away, and your eyes are fighting to take in the vast expanse of ocean, the greenery, the houses in which seem stolen from a different time. Everything feels quiet, slower. There is a sense of calm that is so unique to a place situated so close to the lively city of Miami.

It is only once you begin to venture beneath the surface, to consider how the Deering Estate came to be as it is, that the calm becomes far more nuanced.

While the Deering Estate is serene and peaceful, there is a deep well of history that is loud, demanding, working to be heard. It moves beneath the earth. Sits within the foundations of the buildings. It sings along with the wind. The Deering Estate serves as a capsule of the past, offering an insight into how people shape the land. How history and nature intersect. The estate offers a raw glimpse into the way people can influence a landscape and the world around them for hundreds of years to come.

The Tequesta may have lived on the land that is now Miami back in 1513, but their presence is still strong at the Deering Estate. The tribe lived off the land, and their tools crafted out of shells can be uncovered in the Tequesta Midden. The Tequesta Cutler Burial mound is also hugely important. As the tribe were connected with the earth in life, their deaths remain tied to the soil. Twelve to eighteen Tequesta are buried in a circle, surrounding a tree dated back 400 to 600 years. The burial ground can be visibly observed from a platform designed to leave the mound undisturbed. The tribe is now extinct, there is no documentation of their language and formal education rarely acknowledges their existence. That is why taking the time to absorb the information that can be obtained from the Deering Estate is so hugely important. It holds a piece of history, remnants of a group of people that the earth is almost willing the world to remember.

Stone House at The Deering Estate / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Charles Deering purchased the Deering Estate in 1916, and built Stone house in 1922. He bought it with the intention of being a self-sustaining homestead. The house was built with 18 inch poured concrete walls, utilizing features reminiscent of Mediterranean style with coffered ceilings and an Otis elevator. The house held secrets though, with a prohibition era wine cellar enabling Deering to cultivate an extensive collection of alcohol. In 1916, during the construction of the People’s Dock of the Deering Estate, four workers died and five were injured. These deaths can be attributed to the poor work conditions and the complete lack of urgency that was demonstrated when seeking help – this occurring most likely due to the fact this incident occurred during a period of racial segregation and the workers were African American and Afro-Bahamian.

From first glance, the Deering Estate serves as a beautiful retreat from the outside world. Once a person begins to consider what lies right beyond the surface, there is a great amount of history to unearth. It is important that we, as people who call Miami our home, continue to dig at the roots and to understand the world that existed before us.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya / Photograph taken by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Oh, to be Wealthy!

By Skye Duke of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on February 18, 2022

Decorative ceilings imported from Venice, gardens reminiscent to that of Versailles, fictional explorers, and a moat surrounding the grounds. To revel in luxury and salute the beauty of European culture, a celebration of all things Mediterranean, Neoclassical and Rococo. To stand within Vizcaya is to exist within a different time period.

Built in 1916, Vizcaya museum and gardens offers a glimpse into a past foreign to so many, and experienced by a privileged few. The grounds serve as a lasting symbol that is both at odds with the modern landscape of Miami, along with a historic representation of the values that are ever present in today’s social climate. The building itself bares no resemblance to the surrounding city, ornate and rooted in the past. Yet, it is clear that it was built with the purpose to promote frivolity, an ideal prominent in Miami’s current social culture.

James Deering, the brother of Deering Estates owner Charles Deering, built Vizcaya Village with the intent to have a comfortable home to live in upon retirement. That being said, Deering worked to promote a sense of hedonism within the villa, the luxurious design choices not negating the obvious attention placed upon indulgence and pleasure. Vizcaya is a testament to Deerings personal life and his personal values. Whilst it is clear the estate is built upon a general sense of grandeur, it is also easy to identify James Deerings ego in the smallest of elements within the design elements. In a panel of stained glass, the words “J’ai dit” are written, meaning “I have spoken”, which can be applied to James’ role in the existence and creation of Vizcaya. It also can be interpreted as Deering’s own initials.

Vizcaya / Photograph by Skye Duke

It cannot be denied that Paul Chaflin, the artistic director behind Vizcaya, is truly gifted, his eye for design evident in every detail. Drawing upon mediterranean architecture and various periodic styles, the villa is a visual culmination of artistic influences, all of which emphasize opulence and luxury. It is important to note that whilst his design choices bring forth elements identifiable in an array of styles and cultures, there is a sense of erasure in that Vizcaya does not exhibit any cultural elements of those who had inhabited the land before Deering, examples being the Tequesta, Seminole and Bahamian people. In fact, Vizcaya itself was built by Bahamian workers who at the time faced racial segregation and significantly poor work conditions. There is no acknowledgment of this in Vizcaya’s design along with its present day appearance.

Vizcaya village was established to be self-sufficient, requiring around 18 staff and 26 gardeners to maintain the grounds. With spaces for crops and livestock, along with a kitchen with fairly advanced appliances, the village functioned efficiently. Vizcaya opens up to Biscayne Bay, built with the ability to have boats approach and sit within calm water, protected from the harsh ocean due to a stone barge. At each turn within Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, there is a new view to marvel at, and it is truly a place of beauty.

Vizcaya Gardens / Photograph by Skye Duke

It is important that these places of grandeur and wealth exist, so that we may contemplate the heavy topics in which sit beneath the prosperity. Should each of us ever obtain such wealth, I wonder, would we throw it into a show of our earnings? What compels a person to feel such need to create a physical embodiment of their wealth? Was Deering motivated by a love of art and design or is wealth so fickle that it needs to be presented in a tangible form for it to be observed as valuable in the eyes of those peering in from afar?

I personally found Vizcaya absolutely beautiful, and struggled to comprehend the fact that for so long, I had lived a five minute drive from such a place. Despite all of the questions I previously posed, I cannot condemn James Deering for pouring his money into art and design and bringing a place like Vizcaya into the world. Perhaps more than anything, I envy his ability to build a moat around his home.

Downtown Miami as Text

Downtown Miami / Photograph by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Built to Bury

By Skye Duke of FIU at Downtown Miami on March 11, 2022

To venture into Downtown Miami is to walk among the tourists, to dodge people rushing to work, and to stand among buildings that feel as though they reach the clouds. It takes the crazy and high energy that Miami is known for, and condenses it into a small area of constant movement. I lived in Downtown for a while and attended the Miami Dade College downtown campus. For a couple of years it was my home, and yet in the three hour time span of my most recent visit, I realized how little I knew of a place I had so deeply explored.

Fort Dallas / Photograph by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

In a park where children play sits a building which at first glance seems so out of place. And in a sense, it is, as it serves as a remnant of a past in which the surrounding city seemingly works to erase. Located in Lummus Park, rests one of the only remaining buildings from the pioneer era in Miami. Utilized as slave quarters and then army barracks (Fort Dallas), the building can be dated back to 1844. Having lived in the area, I had no idea that this building existed, and it is likely that those nearby children are also unaware. This fact alone speaks to failures of this country’s education system, along with a pattern of consistent erasure and institutional racism.

I have lived in Miami for seven years, and yet at the age of twenty, I am learning for the first time about the events which touched the soil that I stand upon. I lived in a building where I could peer out of the window and see the Miami Circle, a Tequesta Midden, and I had no understanding of its significance. It’s another example of a historical landmark in which’ existence is barely acknowledged when it should be taught and discussed. It is perhaps out of shame that the government and entities of authority seek conceal and distance themselves from stains upon their nation. And yet they are becoming a part of a new problem, where children will grow up detached from the realities of their own history. 

A shocking revelation I have recently been made aware of is the fact the Whole Foods in Downtown is built upon human remains. It is difficult to understand how a large corporation got away with building upon a significant piece of history. I find it disturbing to know that I shopped for groceries there for so long, without knowledge of how the store came to be. Downtown Miami is a largely developed and constantly growing area, where buildings are constructed in the blink of an eye. And yet, one must consider with each addition, are we moving further away from the past, in a way where important truths are being forever buried? If our education system does not teach us to understand the past and how it intertwines with our surroundings, and we are quickly losing all physical representation, how do we preserve it?

It is potentially a sinister truth, that Downtown Miami serves as a symbol of the blatant repression and denial of the past, which speaks to a much larger issue at hand. This is a harsh thought to consider, as it requires the re-evaluation of all other aspects of our day to day life. If such actions like building upon a gravesite can be swept under the rug, what else is merely sitting below the surface, waiting to be unearthed? 

And are we complicit in our ignorance? 

South Beach as Text

South Beach / Photograph by Skye Duke / CC by 4.0

Brightness Forged in the Dark

By Skye Duke of FIU at South Beach on April 1, 2022

It is not hard to understand why the tourists flood to South Beach, traveling from all around the world to have the chance to swim in the crystal blue water and to feel the white sand between their toes. The overly exaggerated perception of Miami, one built on the party/ vacation culture, can be traced back to this strip of land. A beach trip to South Beach entails astronomical parking fees, overpriced ice cream and tourists roaming as far as the eye can see. Despite my love for the ocean, I have always had a rather adverse opinion of the beach, often feeling suffocated by the endless crowds. Yet, upon diving deeper, considering the facts of the area, I’ve come to appreciate the South Beach as a whole much more… along with understanding that it is built upon a dark past that is practically erased from the present.

Park Central Hotel / Photograph by Skye Duke

South Beach stands out from all other beaches in Florida, not only due to its immense popularity but also the stylistic choices littered around. The most notable element of South Beach is its artistic style – Art Deco. Revered from a far and a source of the abundant tourism, the building styles create an environment that truly differs from the rest of Miami, which seems all too eager to make a shift towards the modernization of architecture. Ocean drive screams Art Deco, a style that originated in France, around the time of World War 1. It is not limited to buildings but fashion, furniture, jewelry and much more and utilizes geometrical and symmetrical designs. Park Central Hotel is a great example of this style, the architect being Henry Hohauser, a prominent figure in the Art Deco scene. The buildings are colorful and can be seen lit up by neon lights at night.

The Rainbow Crosswalk / Photograph by Skye Duke

Despite my distaste for the tourism centered vibe of South Beach, it cannot be denied that it does serve as a symbol of acceptance and love, encouraging people to embrace their truest selves. With that fact alone, I find myself warming up to the beach. Located on Ocean Drive, the Rainbow Crosswalk is a physical reflection of the way in which the area embraces those from all walks of life. The design is a part of a larger movement where cities work to promote inclusion and emphasize support for the LGBTQ+ community. This particular permanent crosswalk was revealed to the public in 2018, having been a temporary art installation since 2014. Whilst the design has changed over time, the sentiment has remained, and surrounded by drag clubs and the home to the annual Pride festival, South Beach has become a key location to celebrate our differences and the freedom to be ourselves.

Beneath the current colorful and bright nature of the beach, there is also a well of history that much like the other parts of Miami remains unspoken and unknown to the general public. The area has a dark history of significant segregation, so much so that people of color were banned from certain beaches. The land has been inhabited by a vast array of people, from the Tequesta, to the seminoles, Afro-Bahamians and African Americans, though today’s Ocean Drive does not reflect its vast past. It was the development of Miami, at the hands of Carl Fisher that prompted the area into such segregation. The area also holds a history of discrimination directed specifically at the Jewish community, also at brought on by Fisher along with Henry Flagler. Utilizing phraseology such as “Gentiles only”, Jews were discriminated against by businesses in the nineteenth century through the 1950’s.

In conclusion, whilst South Beach is colorful and preaches positivity and acceptance, it has not always been this way. Like all the other places we’ve visited recently, it is important that the past does not get buried to enable the present to flourish. It is as much of South Beach as the current hotels, bars and stores are. It is built into the foundations, merely feet beneath the sand that hundreds of people walk among every day. South Beach is to be enjoyed, but it is disturbing that so few people understand how it came to be.

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