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?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: