Downtown Miami as Text
“Tourist in my own City” by Anette Cepero of FIU in Downtown Miami on August 31, 2022
It’s easy to be alive-
At 5 years old I moved to Miami from Cuba, and have been living here ever since; at least I thought I was.
The heart beats without thought, the lungs breathe without being told, and the brain sleeps when it’s tired. A plethora of involuntary functions allow us to be alive; however, they do not allow us to truly live. Often, people confuse being alive and living. Being alive is to be stagnant; it is to let life pull you through repetitive, routine motions as you carry on with each day. It is to let people push through you in line or bump into you as you emotionlessly walk the busy streets. It is breathing in and out between gulps of coffee as you rush to make it on time. We inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide; for we do not think about whether or not to breathe, we just do it. It’s not difficult to keep yourself alive, in fact it is quite possibly the most uncomplicated function we will ever engage in. However, we do not commend human beings for being alive, we commend people who show us a glimpse of what it’s like to truly live. Many people are content with just simply breathing in and out. I never believed myself to be one of those people until my first Miami in Miami Class of the 2022 Fall semester.
On August 31, 2022 I felt like a tourist in my own city. Suddenly, places I had spent my whole life visiting and streets I had walked hundreds of times felt completely new to me. Where before I saw the Miami River, I now saw the reason for our very city. Instead of just a river, I now saw the life source of the Tequesta, the real Miami Natives who inhabited the banks at the mouth of the Miami River for nearly 2,000 years. I felt ignorant and hypocritical upon claiming to be a Miami lover, often using the slang phrase “305 til I die” without barely scratching the surface of what Miami truly is. The Miami that I, as well as many Miami locals nowadays jokingly refer to as “Northern Cuba” is nowhere near that. From its very roots, Miami has been a melting pot inhabited by people from all over the world; the Miami we know and love today came to be thanks to people from just about every continent in the world except Asia. Beyond that, I learned that Miami, although a relatively young city, has always been remarkable. Founded by a woman in 1825, this was unprecedented and is unheard in the major cities of the world considering the oppression women faced during those times. At first upon learning all this and more, the Miami that I have grown up in felt like a stranger, yet simultaneously I had never felt more connected to it than on that day. I felt a deep sense of pride to have been able to live practically my whole life up until this point in a place with such rich culture right from its start. However, I could not help but feel cheated out because I had somehow learned more about my city in a day than in 14 years attending Miami-Dade County Public Schools. 5 year old me would have loved to know the story about how Julia Tuttle became the mother of Miami. I think that as citizens of Miami it should be our duty to truly get to know the place we call home. Those we have elected to lead us should be held responsible for preserving its unique history and passing it along to the younger generation in order to inspire greatness with stories of our own history.
I moved to Miami from Cuba on March 10, 2008, but started living in Miami on August 31, 2022.
Truly living is leaving your skin, it is allowing your soul to feel each emotion and thrive in every moment. We are not defined by the bodies that are given to us; we are defined by the dreams we chase and the paths we follow. Being alive does not allow you to notice the way the ocean glistens when the full moon shines above it, or how the bright sun reflects off the freshly fallen snow. If you are content with only being alive you will never experience the beauty of the world or the opportunities it has to offer. You will settle for the information handed to you and never long for the answers to the unknown or ponder the impossible. Those who allow themselves to just be alive will never enjoy the hidden treasures of life because they will always be too busy breathing…
⁃ It is much harder to live.
Overtown as Text
“Over-town and Over-Looked” by Anette Cepero of FIU in Historic Overtown on September 14, 2022
So many people think they’re so easily forgotten-
That their presence didn’t matter to that person, or in that moment. We all are quick to believe that in a blink of an eye, our being is erased from the minds of others. We don’t believe we can be subconsciously embedded in someone’s mind forever. We don’t see the way someone smiles when a memory of us is brought back by a certain sound or smell, or the way someone quietly laughs when they think about the two left feet you have while dancing. You don’t know when someone is reminded of your presence in the most random moments or places.
According to Mariam Webster dictionary, gentrification is “a process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.” I decided to research gentrification beyond its dictionary definition, on a more personal level, by attempting to find thoughts on it by someone who had actually lived it. As Alexa Tolentino described in her Thought Catalog article, “Gentrification is the feeling you get when you walk down a neighborhood that used to hold all of your childhood memories, just to see it completely saturated with cafes, boutiques, and now a Starbucks.” For the citizens of Overtown, this is something that resonates with them and it goes way beyond that. This “displacement” actually leads to a gradual fading of their culture and community. I couldn’t help but wonder why other historic areas of Miami such as Historic Coconut Grove are so well preserved and protected while others, like Historic Overtown, which had the potential to be the “New Orleans of Miami” as Professor Bailly referred to it, are being torn apart. The more we learned about Overtown, which in the era around the Civil War was the segregated area referred to as “color town” or “darky town” (I know it sounds like a bad joke, but sadly it’s not), the more this answer became evident to me. This was not a mere coincidence; in fact, it has always been this way. Overtown has always been overlooked and essentially deemed as a “do not enter, just pass through area”. Not only by the vast majority of citizens of Miami, including myself, which although having lived lived in Miami for 14 years now, had never been to Overtown, but also by our city’s own government. When I95 was constructed in the 1960s, “thousands were forced out of their homes in the 1960s to make room for Interstate 95 and later, Interstate 395” (WLRN South, FL) and it tore right through Overtown, which is where the neighborhood actually got its name from. Suddenly it seemed that nothing was a coincidence; even down to I95’s location, which passed right next to the Greater Bethel A.M.E Church. I95 was not just a wonderful advancement and addition to the city of Miami but also the noisy highway that conveniently served as a disturbance and annoyance to the Civil Rights movement’s gatherings at the time, which were primarily taking place at the church.
One of the many stops my classmates and I made that day was at the Greater Bethel African Methodist Church. We were having some trouble getting inside until we ran into one of the men who takes care of the church. He happened to be leaving and was nice enough to allow us in; beyond that, we had the privilege of speaking of speaking to him. Wendell spoke to us about some of the church’s history, even pointing out that the altar which we were standing right next to was the original one from when the church started all the way back in 1896 (making it even older than the city of Miami). Our conversation with him quickly turned to a more serious topic when he shared how attendance and funding for the Overtown community’s beloved historic church and landmark had been getting lower by what seemed like the minute due to all the new condos being built in the area. Tears started to fill his eyes as he explained to us how some of his lifelong friends and members of his community had been left with no other choice but to leave their homes due to the rising prices of cost of living in the area. As someone who has no connection to Overtown whatsoever besides being a fellow citizen of Miami and human, it was disheartening to hear and see first hand how this cultural hub had been getting ripped at the seams piece by piece. Walking along those streets, there were truly only aa few preserved pockets of the past spread out in between now shut-down down stores, restaurants, and newly built “luxury condos.” The story of the places we visit and some of the people we meet, leave an imprint on us forever. To me, Overtown was one of those places and Wendell was one of those people, I wish he knew that.
We don’t think we impact every person we encounter with our actions. Like the person you helped without knowing they haven’t been themselves in weeks. Just that simple act of your kindness can run a memory forever in their brain. That person you once labeled your best friend but slowly grew from and the way they smile when old photos come up. It just so happens that the simplest things can run countless memories. How a certain song can make a person think of you that night on the highway scream singing the lyrics with the windows down, or a perfectly painted sunset that you shared, or that rainy day when you forced your friends outside to dance when no one wanted to move. The truth is we impact everyone our paths cross with. Be the version of you that triggers someone’s smile when they remember a moment with you. Even if it was a small passing moment your presence is there, and we believe it just vanishes.
– You’re so easily missed, less easily forgotten.
Biscayne Bay/Chicken key as text
“Time Flows” by Anette Cepero of FIU in Biscayne Bay/Chicken Key on October 5, 2022
The Passage of time –
When you don’t know what to do, which choice to make, where to go or whatever the case may be, let time show you. Usually we start to worry about a decision that looms so far into the future that we make ourselves sick over trying to figure it all out. It’s an unresolved need to control -let it go. Enjoy the passage of time in between big moments or when you find yourself wallowing in stagnant energy. Let time show you what’s next. I, myself, struggle with the need to “be ahead” and control what goes on around me. I like to have an escape route before one’s even needed, just to make sure I can get out before things crash and burn. This is self sabotage. YOU standing in your own way of what could be some of life’s greatest gifts because impatience and control issues got the best of you, let it go.
As humans we are so quick to move on to the next thing all while somehow simultaneously worrying about the past, present, and future. We have trouble letting go and trusting that we will end up where we are meant to be. Similarly to water, our lives are constantly moving, flowing, and changing over time, leaving us little room to “stop and smell the roses” (or so it seems). In the middle of midterms, we used an otherwise normal Wednesday to disconnect from our fast paced lives and enjoy nature. As my friend and I, got into this heavy canoe and focused on paddling our way against the current towards Chicken Key, suddenly that was our only focus. Now in retrospect, I notice how within minutes my mind was cleared and fully present in the moment. We were so focused on paddling and keeping our rhythm that we made it more than 3/4 of the way to the island while the rest of the group was way farther back. Upon turning back, I was thinking how even in this, in which there was no set time frame, we were so used to going full speed ahead that it was almost as if we had gone fully auto pilot. Simply focused on our goal of getting to the island, rather than taking the time to notice the crystal clear water we were in which gave us a perfect view of the bed of seagrass below us. The very seagrass beds which “serve as a food source, habitat for small marine organisms, and regulate water quality by stabilizing sediments and cycling nutrients” as found on http://www.miamiwaterkeeper.org. From that point on, I focused on taking it easy the rest of the day and truly soaking everything in. I can wholeheartedly say that I had not enjoyed myself that much in that way in so long. I felt like a kid again exploring an unknown place and seeing so many new things for the first time. Had I not slowed down I would have not noticed so many of my favorite things I saw that day, including all the hermit crabs we encountered!
We are so eager to jump into the next phase of our lives that we take certain things for granted-one of them being time. More often than not, that thing or that stage we are most looking forward to is not coming because we are not ready. This is when we are gifted with the time to rest and heal from the last big chapter of our lives. We overlook the simple things because we long for chaos or something “new”. This is when the universe will force us to be patient; it will give us the time to breathe and recollect ourselves to understand the lesson we just learned. Usually, we don’t even think we need this time or we get restless when we have all of this “stagnant” energy in our hands; be an alchemist. Trust the timing of your life.
– Things unfold when they are meant to.
Vizcaya as Text
“Miami’s Mirror” by Anette Cepero of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on October 12, 2022
The sky is so raw and beautiful. –
It is untouched, unedited, and simply incredible. So why do we judge ourselves and others in our raw form? We don’t sit here and compare sunrises to sunsets, they’re both different yet equally as beautiful. However, we spend all this time comparing ourselves to our peers and to strangers that are plastered all over magazines or people on street corners. We’re constantly rushing out of bed to fix our appearances as if our purest form of beauty isn’t enough. But for what?
Miami is coined the magic city and seen as one of the top destinations worldwide for people looking to party, bask in its beaches, and enjoy luxury, all while surrounded by beautiful exotic people. However, behind all of this lies a heavily materialistic culture which has been ingrained in Miami for hundreds of years. Mariam Webster Dictionary defines materialism as a “preoccupation with or stress upon material rather than intellectual or spiritual things”. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, once known as Villa Vizcaya was once the winter home of James Deering. As one of the wealthiest men in America at that time, Deering spared no expense when transporting Europe to Miami and creating his dream home. Upon walking in, it is evident that this was a passion project for him. From bringing an entire ceiling from Italy into a room, to hand-picking marble, and taking part in virtually every minuscule detail, I could not help but wonder about the eccentric man who lies behind the mansion. Upon doing some research, I found a 1961 newspaper story from High Point Enterprises which referred to Deering as a “prissy bachelor who preferred bourbon to women.” As seemingly the ultimate host, he “staged wild parties” at Villa Vizcaya, a setting designated and carefully crafted for pleasure. One of the walls at the main house even has a quote in Latin which translates to “Take the gifts of this hour. Put serious things aside.” Vizcaya in all its glory is the personification of everything Miami is…or appears to be. Right at the very entrance of the home, guests are welcomed by Deering’s very own “arc de triomphe”. According to the tourist page, http://www.cometoparis.com, “The [French] Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, with the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces.” Deering was by no means a war veteran, but thought he needed one of his own. Imagine having tons of money and being able to do with it as you please, to him that meant partying and showing it off. Just like Miami, Vizcaya is a place of opulence used to disguise many secrets. Many rumors, accounts, and several hints present in the home point to James Deering being gay, which was greatly frowned upon at the time. Thankfully he was able to include secret passageways from room to room in his house and even had acres upon acres of stunning lush gardens to sneak away to. I can imagine frolicking with a lover in those gardens and sneaking away to Venus’ grotto for a forbidden kiss. Vizcaya is certainly a preserved image of the past which simultaneously foreshadowed what would be Miami’s future.
The term beautiful does not have a fine line definition. It is whatever is believed to be beautiful within the eye of the beholder. Beauty comes from the way smile lines show on a person’s face after hours of laughing, or a bloated stomach after that huge meal they’ve been eagerly waiting to have. Beauty comes from knotted hair after driving with the windows down or tear stained pillows after a sad movie. Beauty rings within the voice of your favorite person or the laughter and touch between one other. Beauty is not stationary. There is not a set definition or a correct answer for it; beauty is what you want it to be.
– Until the word ugly leaves our vocabulary, we will never center our attention on loving each other for the souls that inhabit the shells that we call our bodies.