Sophia Monica: Miami as Text 2022

Sophia is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Secondary English education. Some of her hobbies include reading classic novels such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. She lives in Cutler Bay with her husband and two dogs. Her topics of interest include women’s rights, equitable education, and human rights. She enjoys spending time on her boat out in the Florida Bay, exploring new restaurants in Miami, and watching the occasional netflix show. 

Deering Estate As a Text 2022

Photo of the mangroves at Deering Estate, taken by Sophia Monica CC by 4.0

Respect and remembrance for all

By: Sophia Monica of FIU at the Deering Estate January 28th 2022

A tragic, forgotten, untaught history of Miami lies at a luxurious mansion in Cutler Bay. From the Tequesta people who inhabited the land to the black Bahamian workers that built the home, the Deering estate is the one of most elusive cultural icons in south Florida. Six thousand years ago the Deering estate was inhabited by paleo- Americans (more commonly referred to as paleo- Indians) These individuals are thought to be some of the oldest inhabitants of the South Florida region. After them came a group of native Americans called the Tequesta.

The Tequesta were a thoughtful innovative group that lived in some of the harshest tropical Eco Systems on the land at Deering estate. They drank out of fresh springs in the mangrove gardens and created midens to mitigate waste. When the Spanish came to settle in Florida they traded with the Tequesta. The Tequesta showed them how to get water and taught them of the danger that surrounded the area, they helped them build camps and find food. They viewed the land as sacred and treated it as such. Tequesta were a spiritual people, they buried 18 of their people in a mound today only identifiable by the 400 year old tree that sits atop it. Overgrown by weeds and saplings it’s hard to imagine how impressive this burial mound truly is. Standing almost 9 feet atop the ground this mound not only signifies a righteous burial, but also a culture of respect that is lost in the centuries after the Tequesta. Charles Deering found this burial mound and decided to preserve it by not touching it.

When Charles Deering bought his estate in the 1920s, it sprawled over 400 acres and included a small hotel called the Richmond cottage. Charles built his mansion and decided he wanted a place for boats to dock outside his home on the bay. He employed black Bahamian workers. An explosion occurred while building this port and 5 workers lost their lives. This part of history is rarely talked about, these workers were paid almost nothing and their work is not credited to them. Almost 100 years later and no memorial exists for them and people rarely speak of them. Unlike the Tequesta buried at the Deering estate the Bahamian workers do not get the same respect and righteous burial.  In fact the workers who were fortunate enough to just get injured during this explosion weren’t even taken to the hospital. Charles Deering prided himself on being a conservationist. He could have built over the Tequesta burial ground but instead he decided to preserve it. Yet he chose to let these black workers be forgotten. He chose to not recognize them as a vital part of his success. This juxtaposition between respecting and preserving one group but not another, by a man who prided himself with uncovering and protecting history shocked me. Walking through the grounds seeing pottery left by the tequesta I was shocked that their history was intact. Yet for the black Bahamian workers, not a trace of their history is visible at the estate. The only retribution they get is a resident artist making a movie about their history. Yet this resident artist did not know about the black Bahamians until Professor Bailly informed him. This group of people were essentially forgotten. Why is one groups history more important than another’s? And why does one person get the right to choose who is important and who isn’t? Charles Deering chose who to respect and who not to. I think it is important to remember all the groups that came before us and helped shape our history. The black Bahamian workers built one of the most historic places in south Florida. Their efforts and contributions should be talked about, taught, and celebrated. Our legacy was built on their struggle and that deserves a conversation.

Vizcaya as text 2022

Image of Vizcaya taken by Sophia Monica cc by 4.0

Sex, Money, and Alcohol a city built on vanity.

By: Sophia Monica of FIU at Vizcaya museum and gardens February 18th 2022

Sex, money and alcohol when you think of modern Miami these descriptors come to mind. Yet back in the early 20th century Mimai was not much different. In 1912 James Deering purchased 100 acres of land from Mary Brickell and built what we know today as Vizcaya. Much like his brother Charles Deering; the founder of Deering Estate, James Deering employed black Bahamian workers to build his mansion. The black Bahamian workers who built Vizcaya lived in segregated parts of Miami and when the mansion was complete they were not allowed to visit or frequent the beach at the mansion. Vizcaya is recognized for some of the most beautiful sculptures made out of porous stone called oolite. This stone was almost impossible to work with. The Bahamian workers were some of the few that could shape this impossible stone. One of the only artistic contributions of the Bahamian workers at Vizcaya, is a sculptured fountain featured in the garden. It is important to note because it is the only representation of Bahamian sculpture work on the grounds, all other sculpture was commissioned.

James Deering was considered the wealthiest man in Miami at the time and he lived as such. Vizcaya was and still is a destination. To get to it, people would come via boat and were greeted by an obscene stone party barge that they could moar up to. Upon disembarking guests would walk up grandiose stairs to the atrium of the house. The atrium was open to the elements and is clad in marble. It is truly an extravagant entrance. James Deering would host most of his social gatherings in the atrium. He would have his servants set up a 30ft screen and projector to watch movies on under the stars. Entering the house you are met with a sense of pompous and ellure. James Deering was the type of man who wanted the best. This is displayed throughout the house in various ways, in the living room it is displayed in the hilarious medieval sculptures of a lion, the expensive Admiral carpet hanging on the wall, and the seventeenth- century Neapolitan Painting hanging above the organ that was cut in half. All of these pieces were acquired by James Deering because he liked the way they looked, in other words they were cool for the time. He had little actual regard for their historical significance.

Images of the barge, lion statue, and organ mentioned in the second paragraph taken by Sophia Monica cc by 4.0

James Deering was known for being the ultimate bachelor, he would often have parties into the late hours of the morning, but was hardly ever seen with women. His sexuality is still a question to this day. There are secret passages leading to his bedroom and connect with most of the upstairs sleeping quarters. It is safe to assume his sexuality was somewhat fluid given these passageways, the art he displayed, and the lack of girlfriends. Since he was a wealthy man during the time of prohibition he was of course a consumer of illegal alcohol. On the back end of his garden grounds there is a wall with a secret compartment where alcohol smugglers would stash beverages for his consumption.

Vizcaya was built out of vanity, the grounds, home, barge, and art displayed throughout are indicators of the craving for more. Sex, money, and alcohol were the foundation of James Deerings mansion Vizcaya. It is fascinating that a century later these core philosophies of wanting to live free and hard are still the foundation of Miami culture. James Deering was a sort of Miami lifestyle pioneer with his parties, vanity, and fluidity. His legacy stands today as a cultural icon. I can’t help to think though, without James Deering what would Miami be?

Downtown Miami as text 2022

Photo taken by Sophia Monica cc by 4.0

Miami, built on the misfortune of others.

By: Sophia Monica of FIU at the Miami Dade Government Center of Downtown Miami March 11th 2022

Walking up to the Miami Dade government center you are greeted with the smell of exhaust, urine, and salt water. It is an interesting combination of smells that leaves the mind wondering “what on earth is this?” As you get closer to the giant USB shaped structure you start to see a reality that is swept under the rug in most American metropolitan cities. Every bench and ground next to, has a human laying on it. Tens of homeless men and women line the park surrounding Miami’s government building. Each of them with their own story, struggles, and dreams. As we started off our walking lecture professor Bailly began with a sort of word of caution. He wanted to make sure we were all aware of our surroundings and that we understood the severity of the problem of homelessness. Many of these individuals have mental health and substance abuse problems. They are met with rudeness more often than not. Walking past and trying not to stare you can not help but wonder, what their lives have looked like up until this point. Miami is a tough city, built on the misfortune of others.

Before the Spanish settled in Miami there was a group of Native Americans who inhabited the land, the Tequesta. I have written about them before but their contributions to the actual city of Miami were more than what you can even imagine. We walked from the government building across the bridge down a little ally path, to the path along the Miami river. Back when the Tequesta inhabited the land the Miami river was so clear you could see the bottom, there was even a waterfall at a section of it. Now the Miami river is so polluted that the once crystal water is now a greenish brown on a good day. The Tequesta settled the land and built an impressive round structure that historians can not wrap their heads around even today. In miami fashion however, this structure is no longer visible. In its place there is a stretch of green grass encompassed by high rise buildings that people let their dogs defecate on. They put a railing up around where the structure once was, not a single soul other then our class knew what the railing was for. Forgotten and trampled, history seems to be a reoccuring theme in miami. A few blocks over from this amazing Tequestan legacy, we passed a whole foods. Professor Bailly stopped and said “here is a burial mound with 500 tequesta buried underneath.” Developers discovered a burial mound which should be a sacred site. Instead of exhuming the bodies and paying homage to them, they instead built a whole foods right over top of the site.

Photo of the Whole Foods sign mentioned above taken by Sophia Monica cc by 4.0

It was hard walking past the whole foods knowing it was an ancient burial ground. Like the Tequesta site turned dog park I am sure no one in Miami knows they are shopping above 500 Native American bodies.

After the Tequesta were driven out of Miami centuries later Miami began it’s road to incorporation. Flagler decided he was going to continue his railroad all the way to Miami. His reason should not shock you… Money. Central Florida was known for it’s agriculture however, one frigid winter all of the Orange trees Flagler relied on did not produce any fruit. This was a horrible tragedy for Flagler as he would send the oranges up the coast to New York and make a profit from their sales. Someone here in Miami heard that the tree were not producing up north and sent a package of Miami oranges to Flagler. And so he built his railroad, or so the story goes. Much like everything built at the time in Miami, the railroad was built by Black Bahamian workers, conditions were treacherous and their contributions were not recognized. Once the railroad was finished Miami became even more of a destination.

It is hard to wrap your head around the idea, that such a beautiful city was built on the hardship and sacrifice of those less fortunate. The idea that one of the wealthiest cities in America could have so many suffering right outside of it’s government center is absolutely insane. Every time we remember the history of Miami we are met with a reccorance of theme, suffering. It saddens me that much of Miami’s dark history still lives on today.

South Beach as text 2022

Instagram Reel of South Beach walking tour, all video and images by Sophia Monica cc by 4.0

Live free, Love hard, and live in the moment

By Sophia Monica of FIU at South Beach April 1st 2022

An island excavated for tourism, one-of-a-kind art deco buildings almost destroyed for profit, and an entire group of people outcasted in the early years. This is what makes up the South Beach we know today. South Beach used to be a satellite island for a group of Native Americans called the Tequesta, they lived on the mainland but would travel and stay on what is today known as South Beach so they could fish the waters of the Atlantic. Back then South Beach was completely covered in mangroves. These mangroves acted as a barrier for harsh hurricanes and were vital to the ecosystem of the island. When South Beach was first being developed it was decided that the mangroves had to go, developers excavated the island and imported sand from various parts of the world. The white sand beaches we know, and love today are fake, every year more sand is brought in to keep the illusion going. If you have ever been to South Beach, you would have been met with crystal clear blue water and white sand. You probably would not have noticed a lack of marine life or vegetation. When developers got rid of the mangroves, all the fish, vegetation, and wildlife went with it. Also, the natural hurricane barrier was destroyed, which is one of the main reasons why when hurricanes hit Miami they hit hard.

 If you move inland off the beaches you are met with Ocean Drive, the iconic South Beach street. Like most of South Beach it is lined with different types of buildings, Art deco, Mediterranean revival, Streamline Modern. Art deco is the most iconic building on the island. There are no other representations of this building style anywhere else in the world. It is unique to South Beach. It follows a rule of three meaning they usually stand three stories tall. Art deco buildings also have curved edges, porthole windows, and lots of neon lights. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s there was a great debate as to whether the city should redevelop Ocean Drive and demolish these iconic art deco buildings and replace them with high rise buildings similar to the ones found in Fort Lauderdale. With a lot of conversations and protests ultimately it was decided to keep these wonderful historic buildings. I am so glad they did because the art deco buildings that line the streets of South Beach not only give it unmistakable character but also define a culture.

As we walked along Ocean Drive, we were met with a bar called the Palace. Back in the early 2000s this bar was hardly frequented but today the lines to get in go down the block. Palace is a drag bar, they are best known for their drag brunch where they put on a one-of-a-kind performance while patrons sit eat, drink, and tip. South Beach has been an American epicenter for the LGBTQ+ community since the 60’s. It has always been a place of acceptance and understanding of sexuality. In its early years it was not well known, no celebrities frequented South Beach in those years. It was hard to get to. In the 1990s a man by the name of Gianni Versace was visiting Miami on a business trip and decided he wanted to check out South Beach. He was met with a feeling like no other. He decided he wanted to buy a piece of land and build his palace. The Versace Mansion is right in the middle of all the action on Ocean Drive. He changed the image of South Beach forever, with his celebrity status and influence people from all over the world came to the beach. Versace’s sexuality and being openly gay also impacted South Beach. Without his influence South Beach would not be a destination.

While South Beach was accepting of sexuality it was not accepting of race. Like much of Miami, South Beach in the early 21st century was developed by Black Bahamians. These workers built the iconic art deco buildings, developed Fischer Island, and helped excavate the mangroves. Once their work was done however, they were not allowed on the beach or to stay at any of the hotels. Which was quite interesting because before the railroad was brought to Miami blacks, Jews, and whites alike could be found frequenting the island and beaches. Before Fischer island was built it used to be the only black beach on South Beach. When the island was sold to Fischer, he decided he wanted to build luxury condos for the wealthy, the black beach was no more. If black individuals wanted so swim, they would have to go to Virginia Key. When the civil rights movement started in the second half of the 1960s many sit ins, protests, and peace walks were conducted on South Beach. The locals at the time wanted a progressive South Beach and did what they could to make that dream a reality. Blacks and Whites alike shaped the city.

South Beach was one of my favorite tours this semester. I enjoyed the complex history, the diversity in both people and architecture, and the sense of acceptance that encompasses South Beach. Seeing my classmates jump off the south pointe pier, I was filled with what I can only describe as the Miami vibe. Live free, love hard, and be in the moment. I did not get the opportunity to jump off the pier as there was a security guard watching, just as I was about to jump in. Figures!

Sophia Monica

Help fund my study abroad in France. Photo of Sophia in front of a mural in Wynwood


Author: sophianmonica

Sophia is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Secondary English education. Some of her hobbies include reading classic novels such as Wuthering Heights and Pride and Prejudice. She lives in Cutler Bay with her husband and two dogs. Her topics of interest include women's rights, equitable education, and human rights. She enjoys spending time on her boat out in the Florida Bay, exploring new restaurants in Miami, and watching the occasional netflix show. "My hope is through my blog you will get a picture of who I am and my view on the world, hope you enjoy!" -Sophia

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