Andrew Vazquez: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Photograph taken by Jose Villavicencio // CC by 4.0

Andrew Vazquez is a senior at Florida International University studying history. He is planning to pursue a graduate degree either in history or law. He his hoping to find a way to utilize his love of early modern history in his future career.

Downtown As Text

“The Wagner House” This house was built by William Wagner in 1855 and is the oldest building in Miami. Photo by Andrew Vazquez/CC by 4.0

Miami’s forgotten People

By Andrew Vazquez of FIU at Downtown Miami, 31 August 2022

If you ask someone to say what comes to their mind after hearing the word “Miami” you would get any number of responses ranging from beaches to Scarface, to sunny weather but few would mention Native Americans who lived in the land before the Nothern “Pioneers” arrived. Whether it be our territorial ancestors of the Tequesta, the Seminoles who were pushed into the land by American aggression or perhaps another group unknown to us today, people have lived-in modern-day Miami for thousands of years.

The Tequesta people were some of the first to be encountered by the European conquistadors with the first meeting coming in 1513 when Ponce de Leon came to Miami. Imagining what the Tequesta must felt when looking out to the sea from the mouth of the Miami river they saw massive ships flying an unknown flag approaching their home. The Tequesta were an incredible group of people who managed to maintain their alliances with the Spanish until they fled to Cuba following the British acquisition of Florida in the seven years war.

After the Tequesta were forced to flee their native home by the British the Seminoles originating in Georgia quickly replaced them as the newly formed American state began their wars of extermination against the natives. There were three “Seminole Wars” in a period of roughly 50 years, with many years between conflicts the Seminoles interacted with some of the northern settlers such as William Wagner.

With this the main point of this blog post begins to reveal itself. The remnants of the Native civilizations that came before us. The Wagner house is the oldest structure in Miami and hosted a group of Seminoles for dinner along side its owners, this is perhaps the most wholesome monument regarding either the Tequesta or Seminole peoples in Miami. The last intact monument to native peoples we saw in our walk was the Miami circle, a large hole near the mouth of the Miami river that is believed to have been the center of the Tequesta capital. The other memorials we have to the Tequesta are unsavory at best, with the most notable of which being found in a Wholefoods. This Whole Foods was shamelessly built over the largest found Tequesta burial site and instead of being persevered and properly shared with the public is was built over with only a mural to commemorate the dead.

The pure disregard that we have shown to the Native people that once inhabited the land we now call home is disgusting. Despite the fact many members of our class have lived in Miami-Dade all their lives some had never even heard of the Tequesta people. We must encourage areas where we can learn about these Native groups and the Miami History Museum is the perfect place for it. The History Museum had tons of information regarding the Tequesta their culture and history. This is what we need more of.

Overtown As Text

Destruction of History

By Andrew Vazquez of FIU at Overtown, 14 September 2022

Carl Sagan said, “You have to know the past to understand the present,” but how can we know the past when it is actively being destroyed. When Miami was founded in 1896 it immediately became a segregated city just like many others in the south. The same people who voted to incorporate the city were forced to lived outside the new city in what is now called Overtown. After the hurricane of 1928 and the subsequent rebuilding, Overtown became an entertainment hub. With Miami being a segregated city, black entertainers were not allowed to spend the night near the venues they had just performed. Some of the most famous black performers of their time such as Billie Holiday, and Josephine Baker would go to Overtown after their shows and perform for the people there. The lyric theatre was the heart of this “little Broadway” and is one of the few historic buildings still standing in Overtown today.

                Overtown is the site of some incredible history particularly during the civil rights movement. With both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr speaking to the people of Overtown. Sadly, the historical places which should have been preserved have not been given the protection they deserve. The Greater Bethel AME church, a place in which Martin Luther King gave his first speech for the “Crusade for Citizenship,” is falling apart. The greater Bethel church is not alone in this fate with the Dorsey house, home of the first black millionaire in Miami, also looking like its seen better days. Instead of looking for ways to preserve these parts of our history we are looking for work arounds of the limited protection they have. The destruction of these historic places would not be new to Overtown the highway system and I-95 systematically tore through Overtown and the civil rights movement in 1957, displacing many with short notice and no recourse. I-95 was not the last way Overtown was dismantled with massive amounts of gentrification overtaking the neighborhood. High-rises now take the places of schools and parks. During our short trip we heard from Wendel a worker at the Greater Bethel Church how the congregation has been displaced and diminished with the construction of new apartments.

               The question must be asked again, how can we know the past when it is being actively destroyed?

Chicken Key as Text

Emerging from the Mangroves. Photo taken by Andrew Vazquez/CC by 4.0

Majesty of Nature

By Andrew Vazquez of FIU at Chicken Key, 5 October 2022

Standing by the water at the Deering Estate is one of the most beautiful scenes in Miami, the seemingly endless Biscayne Bay only being interrupted by a patch of green rising from the ocean. That patch of green is Chicken Key, an uninhabited sanctuary with its only structure being a few benches and a fire pit. Endangered species and native plants that are rarely found in their previous territories flourish. Our visit to Chicken was to ensure their continued prosperity.

Hurricane Ian, while not striking Miami directly, did have effects on the nature of Miami-Dade. Strong winds and heavy rain lead to massive amounts of pollution being sent to the ocean making its way to Chicken Key. Due to the isolated nature of Chicken Key pollution tends to build up with many fishing nets and balloon strings getting caught in the mangroves. With the tangling in the mangroves turtles which nest on the island get stuck among the debris and eventually die. The mangrove forest that encompasses Chicken Key is a unique biome that can be found in South Florida being in the middle of the salt water bay and the fresh water streams coming from lake Okeechobee, and due to this needs to be protected. The pollution on Chicken Key does not just affect the plants and animals of the island. With the interconnectedness of nature a decrease in plant or animal life in a small island can have catastrophic effects elsewhere. 

Chicken Keys isolation means that there is no simple way to get to the island, with canoes and kayaks being a common method. This method is without a doubt the best option, not only being green but also because it allows the visitor freedom in exploring the island and neighboring mangrove tunnels. The feeling of emerging from the mangroves, seeing light peering into an otherwise dark tunnel, it is like rediscovering the world. While it can be a struggle to fight against the current on the way to the island, it made landing all the sweeter. Once on the island the work began. Trash piled on the western side of the island and nets were found all along its perimeter. Even debris from the Caribbean could be found with garbage originating from both Cuba and Haiti being previously reported. Once all the trash was gathered the trip back could begin, this was significantly easier with the help of the current guiding the canoes back to their home in the Deering Estate. It was truly freeing sailing back to the Deering Estate sitting among the waves seeing the world move around you. 

The fun day of canoeing and swimming was beautifully paired with community service resulting in an experience that while tiring was incredibly rewarding. As someone who does not often volunteer their time this was an eye opening experience, working to protect our environment is not only necessary it can even be fun.

Vizcaya as Text

Making of Miami

By Andrew Vazquez of FIU at Vizcaya, 19 October 2022

Ponce de Leon blvd, Granada blvd, and the name Florida itself are all ways in which we can see Spanish and Mediterranean culture influencing our city. Perhaps the most grandiose building that displays Mediterranean influence is Vizcaya. Biscayne bay and by extension Vizcaya are named after a region in the Spanish Basque country near the western border with France. It was following the shipwreck of some Spaniards native to the region, in what was once Tequesta bay, that the body of water was renamed.

James Deering being a rich man in the 19th-century spent time in Europe to become cultured, while his brother seems to have taken to European art caring about even the most minor details, James seems to be more focused on the appearance of being cultured. Vizcaya is the perfect example of appearances triumphing over all. Vizcaya could be considered Mediterranean revival but in a deeper sense it is a mismatch of styles, all of Mediterranean origins. Paul Chalfin the interior decorator and artist mind behind Vizcaya can also be shown to have been heavily influenced by the Mediterranean styles training as an artist in Paris before beginning his career.

There are two elements of Vizcaya that are particularly interesting in understanding the Mediterranean influence of Miami, the triumphal arches leading to the gardens and the two explorers that seem to guard the estate. Triumphal arches are usually associated with the Roman Empire which would build them to celebrate military victories, but the most famous example is in France. James Deering had no grand military conquest, objectively he had no right to construct these arches, but money talks more than tradition. The two explorers immortalized outside Vizcaya are one Ponce de Leon and Bel Vizcaya. Ponce de Leon is familiar to Florida and Miami in particular. Ponce de Leon was the Spanish explorer who led the first Spanish exploration of Florida. While Ponce de Leon is honored in Miami with a major street, Bel Vizcaya is nowhere to be seen. That is because Bel Vizcaya does not exist and was made up by James Deering to justify the name Vizcaya. These two aspects seem to embody Miami just like the Mediterranean revival style found commonly across the county.  

James Deering and Vizcaya are interesting characters being influenced by the Mediterranean. In Vizcaya’s every room appearances are key, ranging from rococo to baroque. Vizcaya with its grand appearance and Mediterranean character perfectly embodies Miami.

South Beach as Text

The Making of South Beach

By Andrew Vazquez of FIU at South Beach, 2 November 2022

South beach is a place where fashion reigns supreme. While this does include fashion in the traditional sense, with visionary Gianni Versace once calling south beach home, I’m referring to architectural fashion.

There are three main styles that encompass south beach showing the evolution and preservation of the island through time. 

The first style seen in south beach is renaissance revival. Renaissance revival is incredibly popular throughout the Miami area with Vizcaya and the city of Coral Gables being the most relevant examples. This style harkens back to the Spanish legacy of Miami, once being a colonial possession of Spain. Key aspects of this style include the clay tile roofs commonly associated with south Florida.

The next style seen in South Beach is the most famous of south beach, Art Deco. Art Deco is not only the most famous but in my opinion the most interesting. Art Deco is fairly common in south beach with the island hosting the largest Art Deco neighborhood in the world. Because of the uniqueness of the style, it is important to understand its underlying history. Around the same time Art Deco was developed vast technological improvements were being made and people began to look to machines as a source of beauty. This idea of machines being beautiful can be seen all throughout Art Deco with many buildings being reminiscent of toasters or fridges. The influence of technology can also be seen with the use of neon and rocket imagery. Finally the cultural elements of Egypt are evident with King Tut’s tomb being recently discovered at the time. The style itself can be explained in the rule of three. Art Deco is typically three floors, and is divided into three sections. While there are many other aspects that define Art Deco these are the major ones. 

The final style commonly seen in south beach is MiMo or Miami Modern. This style, similar to Art Deco, looks to objects as inspiration, with many buildings looking like ships. This style can also be seen with the appearance of shapes being stuck together in odd fashions and of course with the pastel colors of Miami.

There are many things that make south beach one of a kind, and the convergence of ideas and culture is exemplified by its architecture. Most areas, even if their architecture is impressive, stick to one style, the previous example of Coral Gables also applies here, while it is beautiful it fails to capture the imagination the same way as south beach. It is also this mismatch of styles that attracts tourists to the island. While the beach is beautiful it is not unique to south beach, but its architecture is.

The Deering Estate as Text

The Real Miami

By Andrew Vazquez of FIU, 16 November 2022

Miami today is a metropolitan area where we go from air-conditioned box to air-conditioned box. In a city such as this, it is easy to feel disconnected with nature.

The Deering Estate is a picturesque view of what Miami was before the Spanish colonization. A place that is untouched by man, barring a crashed plane. It is rare to find a place, not just in Miami, in which just three ecosystems are in such close proximity to one another. The Deering Estate is unique in the fact that eight ecosystems are found within a few minutes’ walk from one another. Walking through the eight different ecosystems it was impossible not to feel at one with nature. With the metropolitan nature of Miami being in these ecosystems felt like being transported to a movie and with each transition to another area it was like a shift in the movie’s genre.

The tropical hardwood hammock felt like a classic exploration movie taking place in a jungle. In this ecosystem there were unnerving amounts of foliage surrounding you. Being placed in this environment one cannot help but feel like you are an uninvited guest in the home of the plants. Being completely surrounded by green did however provide the best views and interesting stories, with a beautiful bridge and a freemason well.

The other ecosystem which I will address was my favorite and bordered the tropical hardwood hammock. The Pine Rocklands was once a dominant ecosystem in Florida but has been reduced to roughly 3% of its historic ranges. This destruction is not entirely like others with humans simply wanting more room to build. While that is a factor, most pine Rocklands today are being overtaken by other ecosystems such as the hardwood hammock. Pine Rocklands are incredibly interesting in their need to catch on fire every few years, with its plants all being adapted for this. However, people tend to be afraid of large swaths of land catching fire and have been quick to put out any such fires leading to the decline of the ecosystem. Because of this, even within the Deering Estate where routine fires are conducted the encroachment of the hardwood hammock can been seen in the Pine Rocklands.

Through the Tropical Hardwood Hammock, Pine Rocklands, Salt Marsh, Mangroves, Submerged Sea Grass Beds, Deering Estate Flow-way, Remnant Slough, and Beach Dune Chicken Key, the real Miami can be seen. These ecosystems, many of which used to span the entire state have been reduced to a shadow of their former selves, rely on institutions like the Deering Estate to preserve them and their many inhabitants. We must also work to preserve the native environment in any way we can as it not only gives us a place to get away from the world but also an insight into our own pasts.

Rubell Museum as Text

Vanity vs Virtue

Vanity vs Virtue, what is the Rubell Museum? The Rubell museum is a privately owned contemporary art collection with two locations, Miami, and DC. The Rubell’s collection has a vast array of work, as is the nature of contemporary art, dating back to the 60’s when the couple first started collecting art. With the Rubell family collection now standing at over 7000 pieces not all can be displayed at a single time, but the museum is not short on fantastic and original works. These works range from a portrait of the Rubells in the form of a mattress to world famous Kusama infinity rooms. One key aspect of the Rubell museum that separates it from the numerous galleries in Miami is that the work is not for sale, it truly is a personal collection.

               While there is nothing strange about having a personal collection, in fact many members of the art community have a collection themselves. This does not mean that the Rubell’s are not a special case, as not many make their galleries open to the public. Their display of artistic splendor can be interpreted in many contrasting ways, as a simple vanity project or a display of virtue. An important question is why would this museum be considered a vanity project? As was previously stated this museum is made up of the personal collection of the Rubell’s, some may consider this a display of wealth rather than a service to the community. Through my discussions with gallery owners during Miami art week I asked if they ever displayed their personal collections in their galleries. To this question I received the answer “no” because they considered it vanity.

               On the other hand, this collection could be considered virtuous. Throughout the years the
Rubell’s have collected some fantastic pieces from now world-renowned artists. There is no obligation to allow others to see your property, it would not only be easier it would be cheaper for the Rubell’s to keep their collection private. As a historian I can only appreciate the collection being available to the public as it allows the critical examination of these works, and the acquisition of information on a broader scale.

               I believe the Rubell Museum to be a virtuous project. In allowing our FIU class to enter free of charge the Rubell Museum displayed their desire for communal interaction. This community driven nature was only further amplified by the presence of Mera Rubell herself. Mera Rubell happened to see our class navigating our way through her massive collection when she approached us to discuss art collection and the history of the museum. Unprompted Mera Rubell taught a class, containing no art majors, about the history of contemporary art and the history of individual pieces within the collection. Most significantly Mera Rubell offered life advice that will stick with me for years to come. Imagine a butterfly on a ship in the middle of the ocean. While I do not remember the exact wording it was along the lines of, “If you are not paying attention, you will never stop to think about the butterfly, but the magic of life is stopping to wonder how the butterfly got there.” So, is the Rubell Museum a simple vanity project or a virtuous project? Like art everyone will have their own interpretation centered around preconceived biases, but after meeting the people responsible for the museum, the answer is clear.

Miami Art Week as Text

Eye of the Beholder

The Untitled Art Fair is a part of Miami’s illustrious Art Week, this particular exhibit finding its home in South Beach. Untitled focuses on contemporary art, what I now know is a very broad range of pieces. Galleries from around the world came to Untitled to display their works

               The first important thing to discuss is the commitment to community displayed by everyone involved in the Untitled event. Omar Lopez-Chahoud the artistic director and curator of Untitled pushed for our FIU class to be given free entry into the event and even took time to talk with us in what must have been stressful time for him with the event taking place. The incredible people did not end with Omar Lopez-Chahoud with multiple galleries talking and discussing all the aspects of gallery management and curation. The crucial minutes they spent talking to a group of students with the collective buying power of a wet napkin showed how much these people value community and understanding of the arts as they had a limited amount of time to sell their works.

                Untitled gave an insight into the world of art and how galleries function. Some galleries only showed local artists some only showed queer and minority artists, and many had no limitations to what they displayed. The most striking difference between the galleries was the non-profit gallery Dimensions Variable, it was incredible to see a nonprofit in a field I never considered possible.

               Dimensions Variable also served to permanently change my view of contemporary art. Going into Untitled I was not excited. I had a very limited view on what I considered to be art and I found some contemporary art interesting I never really appreciated it. During our viewing of the Dimensions Variable display one piece looked interesting, but it was because it was a simple pattern, something that would be on a shirt. The piece was then explained, the story behind it completely changed my impression of not just that piece but all contemporary art. What I may consider unimpressive is made completely new when the story is revealed. For this particular piece, Aesthetic Register of Covert Forces by Francisco Maso, the simple pattern is of the shirt worn by a member of the Cuban secret police. Not only is it impressive to be able to determine who is secret police, it takes an unfathomable amount of courage to expose them.

               Untitled Art Fair was a transformative experience that led to others including myself increasing their appreciation of the arts. While the galleries who spoke with us may have lost some of their selling time they successfully transferred a fraction of their passion to a class full of students who had no connection to the arts prior to this.

Kendall as Text

The Heart of Miami

Kendall is the suburban heart of Miami. With the rising of already high prices few can afford to live in Miami proper, but with the great city of Kendall they will always have a place to call home. While there are technically clear borders to define Kendall (West Dade expressway to its west, US-1 to its east, and two water ways to its north and south Snapper Creek Canal and Cutler Drain Canal respectively) any local knows Kendall is more of a concept. If you are outside the city and not in Coral Gables, or Hialeah you are in the local definition of Kendall.

               Kendall is a vast area and while it is more suburban in nature, with an endless sea of cozy neighborhoods, it is not boring. The Falls and Dadeland Mall are the two biggest shopping areas in Kendall but are by no means the only places one can go to for shopping, more niche interests such as baseball card collecting have stores around the city to fuel these hobbies.

               Cities the size of Kendall often start to fall into a path of urbanization in all its worse aspects destroying any greenspaces in favor of houses, condos, or shopping. Kendall has seen the failure of other cities and more greenspaces than one could possibly need. There are parks with playgrounds for children, and greenspaces that act as a nature reserve for endangered ecosystems.

               My personal favorite aspect of Kendall is the food. Kendall has some of the best food in Miami-Dade and there are very few types of food that cannot be found in the city. There are Cuban restaurants that you can have a full meal for $10 and on the same hand there are restaurants that might charge for just looking at the building. The number of high-quality options only increases if we utilize the local definition of Kendall and include Kendall West. The food scene in Kendall is not just about the restaurants with grocery stores from all over the world, Caribbean, Arabian, Brazilian, Korean, and many more.

               Unlike many other areas of Miami-Dade Kendall does have a decent amount of public transportation. Dadeland south and north both have stations for the Metrorail. The Metrorail is a great way to traverse Miami, or at least its most urban areas. Aside from these stations which only service the more commercial areas of Kendall the Metrobus runs throughout the city, however like America as a whole, a car is virtually required.

               Kendall is a beautiful area that is the perfect mix of urban and suburban. A great place for a family. Multiple weeks could be spent solely within its governmentally defined borders. Miami cannot truly be known without knowing Kendall first.

My Miami Final Reflection as Text

The Duality of Miami

Miami in Miami, taking Miami locals and attempting to show them the real Miami. While I had never lived in Miami before University, I had spent every summer for 18 years visiting the city and my family in it. The concept that I did not know Miami almost seemed condescending at first, but it took less than five minutes for me to come face to face with my ignorance of a city I thought I was familiar with.

               With this course I was able to see the natural elements of a city I deemed to be fully urbanized, Chicken Key and the Deering Estate showed a sanctuary from the city and an escape into nature. The environments that once ruled southern Florida such as the Pine Rockland and the Mangrove forests still remain in limited areas across the county and give an insight into how our geographical ancestors lived.

               The styles which Miami was founded on were also displayed in this course with the Renaissance Revival of Vizcaya and the Deering Estate. These two buildings show the start of what would become the hallmark of Miami for the following century. Other more recent architectural styles such as MIMO and Art Deco were also discussed with the reasoning for their implementation and their key features.

               The dirty laundry of Miami was also constantly exposed, showing the pendulum of progress in which, we live. A plaque to Colonel Dade a man whose stupidity caused the death of the vast majority of his soldiers. Aside from his military incompetence the war he was engaged in was a war of genocide against the Seminole people. Despite this our county in named after this man who died closer to Orlando than Miami and we have spent taxpayer dollars on his commemoration. The destruction of Overtown is yet another part of Miami’s dark past which is not brought to light by the school systems. I-95 which was built directly through the heart of the neighborhood to break up a hotbed for civil rights activism. Churches and other buildings which should be on historical registries are instead treated as eyesores in the way of gentrification.

               Miami in Miami has shown the good, the bad, and the ugly of Miami. Some may find the negative aspects this course unveils as a way to bash or look down upon Miami, but this could not be further from the truth.  In order to truly love someone, we must see them at their worst as well as their best. Miami in Miami does not look to discredit Miami, but it cannot and will not cover up its faults.

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