Diana Marie Cortada: Miami as Text 2022

Photograph of Diana Cortada in the Vizcaya Garden taken by Destiny Perez and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

Hey everyone! My name is Diana Cortada and I am currently a senior at FIU majoring in Psychology on a pre-Physician Assistant track. I am on the road to preparing and applying to PA schools this upcoming month. Since the start of my college career, I always felt as though I wanted to have a different college experience. I wanted to eventually join a program through which I could travel, study and meet new individuals who I’d eventually call friends. Although I’d made the attempt to study abroad back in 2020 and the pandemic did it’s finest work at not allowing this to happen, I made a second attempt two years later and I’m finally proud to say it’s been much more successful than the first time around. This is all thanks to Professor Bailly, whose grandiose efforts have pushed us farther into allowing for the fruition of this class and this trip. I’m so excited to see what I’ll learn from this course, from this culture and from myself.

Deering as Text

“An EnDeering Experience”

By Diana Marie Cortada of FIU at The Deering Estate on January 28, 2022.

The famous Mediterranean Revival Stone House established at the Deering Estate exemplified a history so rich it was astounding in the sense that the very little details we often miss, were what made this exhibit so captivating. My first experience in Deering Estate was my quinceañera photoshoot, where I chose the location for its diversity in nature and rustic architectural style. However, little did I know at the time that both the Stone House and the Richmond Cottage were historical landmarks built on Tequesta land, the indigenous inhabitants that resided on the Bay before the arrival of colonizers, on the backs of African-American and Afro-Bahamian workers. Some of the intricate, architectural details of the house included the use of native animals in the structure of the columns and the visible manifestations of Islamic culture as viewed in the structure of the windows. This Spanish looking villa made of Florida’s illustrious limestone was actually built in 1922 based off of Charles Deering’s home in Sitges, Spain.

La Tierra Tequesta

The heading reads “The Tequesta Land” as they were the very first inhabitants documented of what came to be Miami before Ponce de Leon’s arrival at Biscayne Bay in 1513. Professor Bailly led us to the Tequesta Midden where we were shown to what seemed to be shells that were used as tools by the Tequesta to cut food, shuck shellfish, and fight amongst other daily tasks. What was most impressive was that the indigenous tribe showed signs of using the earliest form of a drill with only a conch shell and a stick. The Tequesta would insert a stick through the hole of a conch shell and spin it rapidly to create that drill effect.

Evidence of the Tequesta remains on the land dates back to 500 BCE, 2,500 years ago and proof of this was their burial mound. It was said that members of the Tequesta were buried in a ritualistic manner, whose bodies would form a circular shape around their heads placed in the middle and all of it was covered in the shells and sand from Biscayne. The remains of the Tequesta in the 10 foot mound now feed the roots of a 600 year old oak tree. When viewing the mound myself, it reminded me that life continues to build on without our presence eventually. We become the nutrients of future trees, plants, animals and this, I believe, depicts a beautiful narrative that we are one with nature no matter how far we stow away from it with technology and the lack of preservation as the years go on.

When visiting the Deering Estate, Professor Bailly was very fond of the natural habitats in the environment. There were so many different ecosystems we were exposed to, I truly couldn’t wrap my head around the possibility that salt water and freshwater could reside in the same place. Within the mangroves of the estate, there are clear spacings that are freshwater springs. Wildlife is so diverse that crocodiles and shellfish live in what seem to be the same waters! Sightings of manatees were apparent by the Boat Basin where watercraft is prohibited because of the many threatened species residing in the basin. I found it fascinating how the human species and wildlife species all have a tendency to compete, especially over partnerships. After Professor Bailly’s explanation on manatee mating in the basin, I couldn’t help but to compare how we show some of the same characteristics of mating. During puberty, males tend to mature, hormonally, much quicker than females. As testosterone levels increase, the desire for mating increases as well which in turn increases the competition of “who gets the girl.” Making these connections also relates back to the idea that no matter how far we stow away from nature, we will always be one with nature, and what better way to prove it than through science?

Although it was an enlightening visit in the sense that I left with more knowledge about where I actually took my quinceañera photos, there was also a common theme in each of Professor Bailly’s walking lectures that were not so “endeering” after all. The historical landmark was built in a time of racial segregation. Afro-Bahamians and African Americans worked to create what we now see in Deering Estate and still, the white man continues to profit off of these hardworking individuals. This is an issue still present today. Although it is much more subtle than it was in the 1800s-1900s, it is still very much present and such events come to light on social media. Because of social media, we remain informed and while there is still racism in our communities today, we continue to advocate for black voices against the injustices of the police, the justice system, etc.

There is beauty in the structural and environmental aspects of Deering Estate, the land has much to offer in different categories including architecture and nature. But, it functions as a facade to distract from the true horrors that occurred when constructing such a space. Although the arrival of colonizers eventually led to Charles Deering’s presence in Miami, it wiped out an entire civilization of indigenous peoples. So long as we continue to educate visitors at the Deering Estate about the true history of Miami and how Deering Estate came about, we can remind them that this is not the kind of behavior we want from society in the future and we acknowledge that America was built by slaves, not the white man.

Vizcaya as Text

“If Miami Were an Object”

By Diana Marie Cortada of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens on February 18, 2022.

Photographs of Vizcaya Villa taken and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

Miami is known for its playfulness and cultural diversity. Its reputation has been upheld for those who have an affinity for fun, adventure and ecstasy. No other establishment embodies such a representation of Miami as Vizcaya Villa and Garden. The museum and gardens reveal several sexual innuendos, continuing to show Miami’s mischievous and erotic tendencies. Some examples of these implications could be seen majorly in the garden where a marble statue of a woman, Leda, is seen kissing a swan, symbolizing Zeus’s masculine desire for romantic domination over Leda.

James Deering allows for the culmination of Spanish, Italian and French culture through the indoor and outdoor architecture of Vizcaya. The intentional addition of caravels in each of the loggias gave significance to the adventurous visitor and exposed an appreciation for the Spanish settlers who landed in what is now called Biscayne Bay, who allowed for the beginning of what we now know as Miami’s cultural culmination of eroticism.

Many of the architectural details of the house had different artistic interpretations. James Deering was able to create an ambiance in the house as if each room consisted of a different personality, one of which my very own OCD tendencies would not allow me to do. He remains playful with the style, the architecture, and the art as if the house was just one, big three dimensional masterpiece. This can be seen by the difference in the linear and structured symmetry of the Entrance Hall where one who visits experiences a sense of balance, contradicting the Living Room of the house, where there are a mix of cultures within each art piece like the Mudejar carpet.

Photographs of Vizcaya Villa West Entrance Loggia taken and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

In the west entrance loggia of the house, one is greeted by a statue of Bacchus, the Roman God of wine and ecstasy. This man stands over a bath tub as he pours grapes, representative of the wine, into it while children watch from the sides. His stance portrays a more relaxed tone. This statue is what Miami would be if it were an object. The addition of children with playful expressions, the dominating yet relaxing pose of the God showing powerful yet pleasurable expressions. Miami is a hotspot and this is the atmosphere that James Deering was able to embody and create with the Vizcaya Villa in 1916! The characteristics that make Miami what it is today all stemmed from James Deering’s architectural components of his Villa and now visitors get to experience Miami in 1916.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Patria y Vida”

By Diana Marie Cortada of FIU at Downtown Miami on March 11, 2022.

Photograph of Freedom Tower taken and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

When people say that Miami was built different, they aren’t wrong. Even before its official establishment as a city, so many different feet had walked the land of Miami. From the Tequesta as the known, original inhabitants of the land, to the Spanish and Northern settlers, to the Bahamian laborers and the Seminoles. So many paths have crossed in the place we now call our hometown and I found this fascinating as Miami is still, to this day, so culturally and ethnically diverse.

Similar to the statue of Bacchus that greets its guests at Vizcaya, there is artwork all over Miami that attempts to portray the authenticity, the diversity and the playfulness of the city. Artists such as Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen and other unknown street artists come to an impromptu agreement that Miami art should scream chaos and representation. This is clearly shown by the broken bowl of sliced oranges whose creators felt the fruit was “very Miami.” I’d have to disagree with the artists in that oranges are mainly a Florida thing but there are so many other, more representative objects that exemplify Miami culture. A mango, guava, or a croqueta would have better represented this portrayal of Miami culture since it stems so heavily from Cuban culture.

In addition to the abstract art all throughout the city, I found it particularly interesting the kinds of connections I made with the past and how I could possibly envision myself walking the streets of Downtown Miami in the late 1800s. The presence of balconies and windows in the architectural construction of the older buildings was a way of communication and the start of drama during this time. People would look out of the balcony or window and see someone they knew arriving to town, as elucidated by professor Bailly. I could envision myself mainly because of the windows. Although used as a form of communication In the past, they’ve been repurposed to what we call “la ventanita.” La ventanita is now a well known window used in Miami coffee shops and restaurants to sell coffee and allow for customers to order at the window and chat with other customers. La ventanita and Cuban coffee are staples in our city and it was interesting to see how its development came about and how it was historically made for a different purpose. One can’t imagine la ventanita serving any other purpose but to buy coffee.

Walking Downtown Miami, I also saw unpleasurable sights of a city rummaged in pollution and littering. Even though Henry Flagler began building Miami’s reputation with the construction of his hotel, the Royal Palm Hotel, I can’t help but to think what Miami would have been like if the Miami River remained clean and the Tequesta culture was celebrated rather than obliterated. The ceremonial remains of the Tequesta as found in the Miami Circle were sold as souvenirs and I can’t help but connect that to how the world is today. Today, and even in the past, we’ve lost touch with humanity. It really is every man for himself in this lifetime. The fact that Flagler placed profit over cherishing the lives of those lost, regardless of their race or ethnicity, just shows how out of touch we are with being sympathetic and this has also been exposed with the COVID-19 pandemic. People have no regard for the health of safety of others, only if it happens to them personally. This is definitely something that as a species we need to reconsider and improve in later years for generations to come.

Photograph of Posters of Cuban Immigrants in The Freedom Tower taken and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

Patria y Vida

Walking into The Freedom Tower and observing the posters, all I could think about were the struggles of my family’s journey to the United States. Unfortunately my grandparents were busy raising my newborn mother, aunts and uncle back when the Cuban immigration took place in search of liberty so I have no history of family members who walked through these same halls that I did. Every Cuban can tell you their journey is different. Each story, however, come with a common search for freedom from the Communist regime that ruined what used to be such a culturally-rich and beautiful country. The hardships faced by Cubans who were lucky enough to make it to the United States and raise their future generations here are obstacles I can’t imagine facing and for that I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to live freely and have been offered choices in this country thanks to my parents sacrifice of leaving their family and their homes, stepping out of their comfort zone to provide me a future without poverty, starvation and exploitation, all while given the freedom to have a voice and fight for my rights. Cubans living in Cuba currently have unfortunately not been gifted with this opportunity and although they’ve been shown much support for their desire for freedom in the country by Cubans living in Miami, Cuba is currently in a state of emergency and despair. They were so hungry that they ate their fear, “tenian tanta hambre que se comieron el miedo,” was a statement made in protest against the Communist regime still taking place after 60 years of keeping its citizens in impoverished conditions.

SoBe as Text

“Thank You Barbara”

By Diana Marie Cortada of FIU at South Miami Beach on April 1, 2022.

Photograph of Building in South Miami Beach taken and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

Visiting South Beach, I could smell, taste, feel, and hear the Miami culture that surrounds it. This is Miami. It overstimulates your senses with its overwhelming depiction of ecstasy, fun and freedom. I felt almost like a sense of pride learning about the history of the streets I’ve walked and biked my entire life. It brings me much joy to know that Miami was, and still is, the city you go to with ideas, dreams and to live this luxury of a life. Luxurious in the sense that it is a city that people come to to live the best parts of life. There is so much diversity in the culture of Miami, including adopted cuisines, music, and architectural and structural adaptations, there’s simply no way you can’t not get a taste of every bit of the world in this city. Take for example, the Art Deco themed buildings that line all of Ocean Drive. Adoptions from several different cultures can be seen such as the Mediterranean style roof tiles on Gianni Versace’s Italian inspired mansion and even on the building located next to the Ocean Five Hotel with symmetrical Egyptian art depictions at the top.

Out of all of the architectural styles seen along Ocean Drive, the white facades with pastel highlights along with the neon and glass bricks were the most aesthetically pleasing in my opinion. These styles were popular in the 1930s, however, they remain semi-popular to this day and the white with pastel highlights are actually now seen in every day fashion. It’s like the past is slowly but surely making a comeback but with an added modern twist. I can’t quite put my finger on what I mean by “modern twist” but I think it’s because a lot of the styles popularized in the ’70s through the ’90s are now becoming popularly worn by generation Z fashion enthusiasts but with certain aspects that are visibly different.

Photograph of Barbara Baer Capitman Memorial taken and edited by Diana Cortada | CC by 4.0

Barbara Baer Capitman was an activist and a preservationist for the South Beach Art Deco district. She founded the Miami Design Preservation League and fought along side its members to keep the Art Deco architecture intact. South Beach’s authenticity would be demolished if it wasn’t for her passionate and courageous efforts. I wouldn’t imagine it would be easy for a woman to actually be heard, much less succeed and accomplish her goal. I have so much to thank her for. Because of her, I was able to build wonderful memories with friends and family. Trying my first alcoholic drink at Leslie, speed walking the streets of Ocean Drive with friends to make it on time to our dinner reservations at the Sugar Factory, spending teacher planning days at Ocean and 7th street eating watermelon at the beach, and biking and rollerblading past the Clevelander Bar. Because of her role in preserving the architectural art of Miami Beach, I was able to experience Miami like people experienced Miami in the ’20s and ’30s and build my own memories in such a historical part of this landmark.

Author: dcort028

Dog lover and travel enthusiast pursuing a career in medicine as a physician associate.

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