Frank Mediavilla: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Photograph taken by Wanessa Montoril. Rio de Janeiro, 2022

Frank Daniel Mediavilla Ponce is a Sophomore majoring in Computer Science at Florida International University. He is an international student from Manta, Ecuador. He enjoys exploring the city, going cool places and doing fun stuff, so this class was the perfect fit for him! (Also because Honors Study Abroad in Japan was way too expensive for him.)

Photograph taken by me. Miami, 2022

Shohjahon is an Ecuadorian-Brazilian-American frog who loves to go out on adventures with his papi Frank. He’ll be a recurring part of my journey, so be on the lookout for him!

⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐

= Downtown Miami as Text =

“same story, different setting”

The capital of Latin America, The Magic City, I had always heard about Miami and its many names. I had always been told about how great it was, about how it was different from other American cities, about how it may have been founded an American settlement, but was truly built and developed by us, Latinos.

Photograph taken by me, 2022

Admittedly, before our first excursion, I knew little about the history of the city I’ll be spending the next few years in. I knew Florida was a Spanish colony just like home back in the day, and that Miami had been founded over 125 years ago, but that was about it. Of course, I was curious about the history of Miami, but to be honest, I did not expect much in the way of an interesting story.

Turns out, I was wrong.

I am no stranger to Government Center, its imposing station tower, its public art, its rusty bus stop benches. I had been to this place several times before, but never had I strayed too far from the station itself, anyhow, the station itself was not the highlight of the class, so we promptly left and started our excursion.

Seminole, Tequesta, Ponce de Leon, Professor Bailly introduced me to these weird names I was completely unfamiliar with, part of a story, a part of Miami unknown to those who live outside its borders.

As he continued his lecture, we visited some other historical places and learned about their story: Fort Dallas, quarters built by slaves and later repurposed as barracks by the military to fight off the Seminoles, the Wagner cottage, home to a couple who fled because of their forbidden love, and made unlikely friends in the way: the Seminoles.

Soon enough, those names started to make sense to me, as part of a bigger story I was already well acquainted with. I realized Miami’s history was not that different to that of my hometown, thousands of kilometers south: the Manta, the Inca, Francisco Pizarro and the atrocities he committed; same story, different settings.

My city also had an aboriginal tribe of its own, it too witnessed their demise at the hands of the Spanish, it was too built atop the literal ashes of an extinct civilization, and it too continues to have heavy Spanish influence, centuries after its independence.

We continued to walk around the Miami River -or what’s left of it anyways- and we stumbled upon a sign telling the story of Julie Tuttle, the so-called “Mother of Miami.” It didn’t take much walking until we stumbled upon another important figure in the history of modern-day Miami: Henry Flagler.

By this point, Professor Bailly had done a great job at explaining this land’s precolonial history, but now we were going to learn about the origin of Miami as a city. On paper, the founder of Miami was Julia Tuttle, but in practice, was she really? And what about Henry Flagler? What about Ponce de Leon? What about the Seminoles? What about the Tequesta?

Miami  has no mother or father. The Old World did not “discover” or “settle” this land -or this continent, for that matter- either.

Colonization is fueling a civilization through the decimation of another one. This is true both here with the United States and the Seminoles, and back home with the Spanish Empire and the Manta and Inca cultures. This so-called “New World” was built atop the ashed of another one, and that’s nothing to be proud about.

Back in South America, we live the aftermath of colonization on a daily basis: systemic racism, inequality, the slow but certain death of our indigenous cultures.

Back home, I’ve been to the ruins of ancient Inca temples, I’ve walked the roads they built and experienced what’s left of their culture. This class, I feel like we did the exact same, all in under 7 hours. Needless to say, I think this city’s history is far richer than I expected, and I am excited to learn some more.

Stay positive, stay safe. Peace out ✌️ ~ Shohjahon.

⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐ ~ ⭐

= Overtown As Text =

“divide and conquer

I have always believed there’s strength in unity. Civilization as we know it would not exist if we were in eternal conflict with each other. Collaboration between nations and between their different peoples, the mixture of their ideas and knowledge has given birth to innovation in every field imaginable.

It is part of human nature to collaborate, to create with others.

Unfortunately, so is our desire to destroy, to be selfish and to trample others if that ensures our own progress -or just out of jealousy.

The Overtown we explored in class is but the shadow of a once thriving community. Also known as “Little Broadway,” this neighborhood attracted artists from all over. It certainly helped fuel Miami’s growth, making it a renowned center for the arts. The only problem with Overtown? It was not controlled by the white people who ruled the city.

Segregation had been the rule since the city’s birth, and it only made sense for those in power to keep on enforcing it. Jim Crow meant Miami Beach could benefit from their talent, but they could never truly enjoy the city’s amenities. It was a win-win for those in power, but it soon backfired.

It was segregation that gave birth to Overtown in the first place, and it too was the fuel that made the district become an artistic powerhouse back in the day. For the black people of Miami, Overtown was more than just a set of arbitrary borders. It was a community, their community. In addition to its world-class art venues, it had its own churches, schools, and just about anything else a small city of its own would. In other words, they had turned Overtown into something big.

Perhaps just a little too big for the rulers’ content. So when they had to decide where to effectively raze to make room for the new Interstate Project, Overtown was a no-brainer.

Natural disasters can decimate a community, but they always return more united and stronger than before. But when you divide a community, you weaken them, and ensure they remain that way forever. I am no stranger to this.

To ensure the colonies in the Americas never became too powerful to revolt, to ensure their voices remained silent and . The Spanish empire applied the same measures centuries ago. They divided the Americas into small, weak departments, each with their own interests and challenges, sharing only their loyalty to the crown. And that is how they maintained their grip on them for centuries.

Now that Overtown is split into 4 by the infamous Interstate project, now that its growth has been halted and the voices of its people silenced, now that it’s been devalued, gentrification is looking like it will be the last nail in Overtown’s coffin. “New” developments mean the demolition of historic buildings, and the displacement of the neighborhood’s population. It is truly a shame that a such a rich place, historically and culturally speaking, is being destroyed right in front of our eyes en pleno siglo XXI, and I wholeheartedly hope that they fare better than South America did.

Stay positive, stay safe. Peace out ✌️ ~ Shohjahon.

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