My name is Jahelly Maxwell and I am a sophomore majoring in Interdisciplinary Engineering with a secondary field in Industrial Engineering at the Honors College within Florida International University. Every day I become more and more passionate about exploratory research and culturally immersed travel. I would describe myself as intuitive, ambitious and resourceful and I am incredibly excited to embark on this study abroad journey! (:
Deering As Text
Miami is typically romanticized as a vibrant city, with spectacular nightlife and flashing lights. Its beginnings are often neglected. The Deering Estate, though, shows a different Miami. Consisting of 8 different ecosystems, the Estate is a cultural resource and historic site dedicated to preserving its diverse rich grounds. Located in the city of Cutler Bay, The Estate is actually on one of the first established roads and is also a burial site of the Tequesta. The Tequesta were a Native American tribe, mainly hunters and gatherers, that essentially settled near Biscayne Bay in the present-day Miami area.
Learning about the history of the Tequesta on the hike was incredibly fascinating as well as it was shocking because I realized I have been living in Miami for almost my entire life, and not once has it ever occurred to me to speculate about Miami’s tribal ancestors. At the Deering Estate I gathered that evidence of a large Tequesta community was actually living on the land. There were also these shell tools lying around that were used by the Tequesta which I found quite impressive. From an engineering perspective I thought it was interesting to note that these Native Americans were so crafty.
The most memorable part of the experience was visiting the Tequesta Burial Mound. It was so touching to appreciate how the Native Americans were buried in a circular formation under a massive oak tree whose roots almost seemingly embraced those buried beneath. As I stand before the immense oak tree I am simply taken aback and my only thought quite literally was “wow.” Honestly, I was speechless in awe at the idea that respect and homage was paid to our ancestors.
The most lingering thought I had after the earthly excursion was that the history of the Tequesta should be given some more dedication in elementary, middle and high schools. Our society continues growing and evolving, yet never knowing where we come from and how we came to be. My main takeaway from The Deering Estate is; To know your past, is to know your future.
Vizcaya As Text
Stepping into the beautiful Villa that is Vizcaya you are welcomed by a grand entrance. Similar to the Deering Estate, owned by Charles Deering, Vizcaya is actually owned by James Deering, (his brother) which explains the resemblance in some architectural structures that both places share. An interesting concept I was fascinated by is how these siblings were one of the first environmentalists because they valued the greenery and forestation of their establishments. For their time, this was really advanced and environmentally friendly, as they insisted on preserving nature.
Entering the house is a really different experience because as you are entering, you are greeted with a big Dionysus sculpture that is meant to be at the end of the house. So in essence, visitors really enter through the back doors of the building. I enjoyed learning about the meaning behind the Dionysus (or Bacchus) statue because he is known as a god of wine and ecstasy. The double meaning behind the choice of Dionysus was intriguing to me because it is used as a symbol to represent the hedonistic pleasures that are essentially the intrinsic qualities of Miami in the modern day. For example, Miami Beach is often depicted as a fun, beach vacation destination and is known for its crazy clubs, all-night parties, stunning beaches, and art deco architecture. These ideologies were formed so long ago and still play such an important role in today’s society. Piecing the puzzle to these connections was a really eye opening experience.
The European-inspired gardens in the Villa I thought were absolutely beautiful. The gardens have an abundance of statues with complex details, they also have elaborate fountains. My favorite garden was this one called the Secret Garden. It’s purpose was for people to discuss private matters, oftentimes about sensitive or intimate topics. The architectural statues of the gods were quite interesting because they are positioned in ways to portray their godlike power to control nature.
Overall, the visit to Vizcaya was useful in providing better insight as to why the culture in Miami is the way it is. The influence of the Deering brothers extensively helped in shaping how our local society is today, which is nice as it provides a better understanding of the roots.
Downtown As Text
Downtown is truly the epicenter of Miami. So much history and culture lies within the streets and avenues of Downtown. I had always envisioned Downtown Miami as this common part of the city but after exploring I realized that it is heavily packed with ancestral backgrounds and art that is also very symbolic of the city.
In the middle of Downtown Miami there are these massive orange peel slice sculptures that explode from a bowl which serve to represent the booming city of Miami. This blew my mind because oranges are native to Miami and though sometimes we don’t realize, we see them hidden throughout the city; for example, the Miami license plate has two oranges that divide the 6 digits on each car plate.
Within Downtown also lies the division between North and South as well as East and West. The intersection consists of Flagler Street and Miami Ave. Because it is home to skyscrapers, modern architecture, shopping malls, cultural organizations, and green spaces, downtown is often known as the Heart of Miami.
Miami’s oldest known standing house is also in Downtown. The house was built in the 1850s and was designed by William Wagner, who at the time was a young European man, married to a black woman. This was scandalous and unheard of at the time, but what could be more Miami than that!
In Downtown Miami there are also many institutions that make up the city like the The Miami-Dade County Courthouse, the Freedom Tower, the Adrienne Arsht Center, and the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum. Overall, the excursion was really immersive in terms of learning about the history of the city in which I live. I love living in Miami.
SoBe as Text
Walking along Deco Drive was easily the highlight of my week. During this class we were able to observe Miami’s vibrant population, and appreciate its unique architecture. We toured several buildings varying greatly in styles including Mediterranean Revival, and Art Deco.
Class began at South Point Pier, and as we faced the beautiful beach it was difficult trying to imagine how this ample land was previously full of mangroves and virtually deserted. The most persistent thought running through my head as we walked through the Deco Drive was the possibility of how South Beach could’ve turned out, if it were any different than the way it is today.
Barbra Baer Capitman, the founder of the Miami Design Preservation League, was a determined activist in her neighborhood who pushed for the preservation of the iconic Art Deco district. As numerous investors began to buy the long-neglected structures and construct buildings that had little to do with Miami Beach’s past, Barbra began to push harder for the preservation of the Art Deco district. The cultural and artististic aspect of Miami’s famous Ocean Drive was essentially crafted by a woman.
As a result of the increase in tourism from all over the world, Miami Beach has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and it is all thanks to Miss Barbra Baer Capitman. She knew that if those buildings were not protected, the true history and original culture of Miami would be forgotten. Because of her, Art Deco on South Beach continues to live and flourish.