Miami Encounter as Text
“Local Tourist” by Jane Osowski in Miami on January 27, 2023.
A couple years ago I discovered my passion for world travel. Learning about history and nature, trying new foods and finding an understanding with the people who live around the world has become my new hobby.
I’ve also been living at Florida International University in Miami while I’m not traveling, and I always felt I understood the city and its people. Why wouldn’t I? Miami is famous. The Cuban influence, clubbing, beaches, warm weather. People from all over the world know this American city of Miami.
This year I moved off campus to a neighborhood in Miami and began to see a different culture. This neighborhood is much different than the Miami I thought I knew my entire life. It’s even more different than the town I grew up in, located in the Midwest. The neighborhood looks and feels more like Central America than the United States. In a way, I began to feel out of place in my own country.
But what meets the eye isn’t what made me feel alienated. Often it was the intangible culture traits. The people who live here have their own set of social rules, manners, and family relationships that often contradicted mine. However different, this cultural divergence is fascinating to me. I began to realize that just because two cities are a part of the same country, it doesn’t mean their people are going to be any bit similar.
This got me thinking, what else is there to discover about Miami and its people?
I enrolled in Miami in Miami and became a tourist in the city I live in. With the help of Professor Bailly, I uncovered the layers of history, rich with indigenous people, women and Black/Afro-Bahamian culture. The indigenous people were the first to learn to live off this land. The Afro-Bahamians were the main people to build on it, creating Miami as we know today. A woman, Julia Tuttle founded Miami.
Yet today Miami isn’t known for these indigenous people, this Afro-Bahamian population or its powerful women. When most people think of Miami, they think of Cubans or other Latinos who have immigrated here in the more recent years. It’s crazy to think how easily moldable Miami is. It’s a place of hope for so many people and because of that, a diverse set of people have made their mark on Miami.
My experience in Miami so far has changed my perception on travel, more than any city I’ve been to. You can walk around for years thinking you know a place, you know its people and its origins and then one day you realize you don’t know a thing, because you weren’t looking in the right place.
What I am most excited about for this semester of Miami in Miami is uncovering new pieces of Miami history and culture to change my perspective on the world.
Everglades as Text
“A Moment of Reflection” by Jane Osowski in Everglades National Park on January 11, 2023.
I was standing knee-deep in cool Everglades water, my feet sinking into the mushy sediment below. The water was so still I could see my reflection amongst the cypress trees and bromeliads. The cypress trees were growing out of the water and the bromeliads sprung out of the air. Yes, it looked as outlandish as it sounds. I closed my eyes and breathed in the silence. Swooshes of water in the distance transported me to a floating comfort akin to a mothers womb. I felt so far removed from the hustle of Miami from which I came earlier that day.
I was startled by a noise. Was it an alligator bellowing nearby or a car passing on the road? I felt comfort in telling myself it was the latter. With my eyes open now, I became aware of how frightening it would be to be out in the Everglades all alone. Yet at the same time, it was so peaceful and quiet enough to hear my own thoughts. I began to reflect on what I had experienced on the hike so far:
Miami and the Everglades seem like and are talked about as separate beings. Yet, they are just a short drive away. The rangers told us how much Miami relies on the Everglades for water and for clean air. No matter what we think, Miami and the Everglades are connected.
The issue I see with today’s society in most parts of America is that we are so far removed from nature. We fear wildlife. We crave the ease of our man made civilization. Houses with separate rooms and unlimited hot water have become necessities. The ability to move from house to car to work without being inconvenienced by wildlife or natural phenomena such as rain is expected.
The fault of this separation from nature is that it has damaged this Earth and created new issues for us. Humans have a history of exploiting nature, even unknowingly. For example, the Everglades rangers told us that in the past, the Everglades was used for farming and there were roads cutting through the Everglades. These disturbances upset the balance of nature and disturbed the natural flow of freshwater.
Today our society is the same, but we realize these mistakes. We realize that we need nature. We need water for drinking, insects for pollination, plants to clean our air, the list goes on and on. In the Everglades, the natural flow of water has been restored. Around the world, there are laws and protected areas to restrict human use and access to these essential areas and species.
It’s interesting that our society enacts these laws to protect ourselves from ourselves. But I don’t believe we are inherently bad or unintelligent people, I feel we have lost our connection with nature. Generations are passing and we are losing our natural and ancestral instincts to survive in wildlife, protect it and value it. Just as there are indigenous people who value, protect and can survive in the Australian Outback, there are stories of indigenous humans peacefully coexisting with the Everglades. It is possible.
My question is, are we capable of bringing back this coexistence or have we strayed too far to return? I feel that a free map, advice from the rangers and trek through the Everglades is a great way to try.
Coconut Grove as Text
“Mariah Brown: An Immigrant’s Inspiration” by Jane Osowski in Coconut Grove on January 25, 2023.
We peeled off of Main Highway in Coconut Grove onto the historic Evangelist Street. This street gave us a glimpse of what Coconut Grove could have looked like in the late 1800s. This is the time when it was an African-Bahamian neighborhood and not yet overrun by restaurants. It features the Stirrup House, Mariah Brown House as well as the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery, known as the Bahamian Cemetery. All the sites were historically intriguing, yet the Mariah Brown House stuck out to me.
At first glance, the house appeared dilapidated. A sign nailed to the porch read: NO TRESPASSING. All of the windows were boarded up. There was mold creeping up from the floor, creating an ombre of black over the white-painted slash pine. Most passersby would feel inclined to walk away…quickly. Unless you noticed the educational sign posted in the front yard, you would be surprised to learn that this house is a landmark listed in the Florida Black Heritage Trail. The house has prevailed for over a hundred and thirty years thanks to its intelligent Bahamian architecture, designed to withstand extreme tropical weather.
The significance of this house comes from its first owner, Mariah Brown. She was a mother of three daughters while working at the Peacock Inn, a hotel in Coconut Grove. She had immigrated from the Bahamas and was trying to create a new life in Miami, so she worked hard to save up 50 dollars to buy a plot and build this home. Mariah’s family was one of the first black families to settle in Coconut Grove, paving the way for an entire black community to follow suit (Bailly).
Miami is known for its hard working immigrants that fight each and every day to build up their new life in this city. Mariah Brown’s sheer determination to start a life in Miami should be the hallmark of all of Miami today. In addition, her house should be a place of inspiration, if not a place of revered history for Coconut Grove.
Other than the few renovations to the house over the years, I can see the Mariah Brown House is not getting the attention it deserves. On the strength of the Bahamian architecture and construction, the house probably does not need much structural maintenance. It can hold its own, just like Mariah Brown, and this resilience should be noted. Although, it would be nice to make it a little prettier and draw more attention to it so that people actually want to stop and read the historical sign.
Today Evangelist Street is called Charles Avenue and the rest of town lacks traces of this rich African-Bahamian culture that once ruled Coconut Grove. Unfortunately, it’s typical for much of Miami’s African-Bahamian history to be swept under the rug. But this piece needs to be comfortably talked about so that immigrants, people of color, women, mothers, little girls and the people of Miami can be inspired by this powerful woman.
Bailly, John William. “Coconut Grove.” Bailly Lectures, 29 Mar. 2022, https://baillylectures.com/miami/coconut-grove/.
Coral Gables as Text
“Everybody Will Enjoy a Walk Through Coral Gables” by Jane Osowski in Coral Gables on February 8, 2023.
There are certain cities or towns around the world that just feel safer. This may be because the people are naturally more friendly or maybe the town could exist in a country with a stable economy and government. But what about how the urban design of the town can influence how safe it feels?
There are a few notable researchers who have documented how the layout of a town can influence its general safety. One of these researchers, Jane Jacobs has coined the phrase “eyes on the street” to explain that if a neighborhood is pedestrian-friendly, it will likely be safer. She claims that if more people are out on the streets (not in cars) this will encourage people-watching behavior from businesses and homes. When locals are constantly people-watching, there are always eyes on the street and crime can be stopped or reported (Shuping).
Coral Gables in Miami is a phenomenal demonstration of this idea. Along Miracle Mile, there are broad sidewalks that encourage a stroll. Shops are evenly distributed; you can walk to a coffee shop or restaurant from pretty much anywhere in Coral Gables. There are pedestrian-only areas such as Giralda Avenue which offer outside seating, bringing more people out into the streets.
Not only are there broad sidewalks, frequent shops and pedestrian-only areas, there is natural greenery all over Coral Gables that draws human attention. The banyan and oak trees along the walkways work to shade the people passing by, making a stroll through Coral Gables quite comfortable despite the hot Miami sun. As an added benefit, certain patterns in nature can make people feel calmer. Research shows that exposure to fractals, which are repetitive patterns found in natural systems such leaves or flowers can significantly reduce stress, enducing happiness (Lambrou). So, the people coming to walk in Coral Gables may feel the urge to return because of the calm that the nature provides them.
This successful neighborhood design was no coincidence. George Merrick designed Coral Gables based on these concepts that he had seen already in other parts of the world. It must be mentioned that Coral Gables was created during a time of segregation. Black Bahamians significantly contributed to this creation of this wonderful neighborhood, but were not allowed to live in it (Bailly).
However controversial, this neighborhood design is to be praised. Everybody will enjoy a walk through Coral Gables.
Bailly, John William. “Coral Gables.” Bailly Lectures, 4 Feb. 2022, https://baillylectures.com/miami/coral-gables/.
Lambrou, Peter. “Fun with Fractals?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 7 Sept. 2012, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/codes-joy/201209/fun-fractals#:~:text=The%20results%20of%20many%20studies,physiological%20resonance%20within%20the%20eye.
Shuping, Katrina. “Exploring Theories of Neighborhood Safety in European Cities: A Study of Safe Neighborhoods in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan and Rome.” The Macksey Journal, vol. 2, no. 58, 2021, pp. 4-5.
Norton as Text
“Art: The Basis of Our Realities” by Jane Osowski at Norton Museum of Art on February 22, 2023.
While walking around the museum, I was stopped by interest in a contemporary art piece by Joseph Kosuth. The piece was an illuminated phrase on the wall: “The wrong picture confuses, the right picture helps”.
The irony of the positioning of this phrase is that the Norton Museum of Art is filled with paintings and drawings from all different time periods. How are viewers supposed to know what the right picture is and which is the wrong? It’s not like there’s a sign over every picture labeling it accurate and inaccurate. What if the picture is neither right or wrong, what if it is just there to be?
This lack of coherence is the exact profound power that art holds. Art can be interpreted however the audience wants. Viewers can choose to believe the nuances folded into the media or they can reject every bit of it. More often than not, viewers like me do not reject their vision and are somewhat impacted by the art piece. Joseph Kosuth’s art piece in the Norton Museum of Art could have provoked other ideas in other viewers or could have been created with a different purpose, but regardless it made a specific impression on me.
In the European exhibit at Norton Museum of Art, there are paintings of Jesus and Mary. Both were painted with pale white complexioned faces and bodies. At many churches in Miami, we can find the same religious figures painted dark skinned. Which illustrations are right? Or does this divergence exist because nobody really knows what Jesus looked like? Jesus nor Mary were present for any of those paintings. So in reality, none of the paintings can be considered accurate.
What I find most interesting is how artists can indirectly influence millions of peoples’ perspectives. There are people in the world who swear that Jesus and Mary had light skin, and there are others who swear Jesus and Mary had dark skin. Most likely, those people’s perspectives were influenced and supported by the art surrounding them.
The danger in this arises when one realizes that these painters can paint whatever to represent a story. And from that moment on, everyone who sees the painting will associate that image with the story. These painters in the past held so much power that they determined how history would be remembered for as long as the painting survives.
I see this phenomenon not only with old paintings, but in our current days with all types of art. One prominent example is the art of the Black Lives Matter movement, specifically photography, videography and writing. These artifacts were created and collected in different ways to either give support to the movement or criticize the movement. One real situation was manipulated into two, and possibly more, different realities. When future generations look back on what happened in 2020, their education will depend on the art pieces from which reality is shown to them.
The definition of art is fluid today, but we do recognize art as something created that holds beauty or emotional power. This includes music, writing, videos and much more that we willingly subject ourselves to, almost every second of our waking lives. Just like Joseph Kosuth’s art piece, art can contradict your beliefs, leaving you confused. On the other hand, art can support your beliefs, making you feel complete. Art is powerful.
The viewer has to make a choice when they subject themselves to profound art. Will you let the art into your subconscious to influence your being in the most beautiful or destructive way? Or will you remind yourself that art has this power, reflect on yourself and go forth to create your own story?
Key Biscayne as Text
“Natural Sanctuary” by Jane Osowski in Key Biscayne on March 15, 2023.
We took the only public bus as far south as it would go down Key Biscayne. The last stop was in a beautiful neighborhood of contemporary and Mediterranean-style houses. As we walked through this neighborhood, we realized something felt different. Something felt more peaceful here compared to the urban neighborhood that we woke up in this morning. After keen observation, I concluded this peacefulness is owing to the quiet, narrow streets and luscious nature interwoven into the neighborhood.
When we crossed over into Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, the tranquility was amplified. Several forest entrances tempted me to step in and explore. We approached the beach, it was much emptier than the well-known South Beach. I felt like I was on vacation. No high rises were in sight, the highest structure was a cute white lighthouse at the very tip of the key. I wondered what it would have been like to work and live in that lighthouse back in time when nature was more populous than people in Miami.
After a day at Bill Baggs Park, these feelings of peacefulness lingered. I began reflecting on the importance of this natural sanctuary, so close to the hustle and bustle of Miami. History shows that both Native Americans and Blacks once used Key Biscayne as a place of escape. Key Biscayne used to be part of the underground railroad before the lighthouse was built (Bailly). Today the size of this state park allows people to get lost in nature–mentally, and possibly even physically. Either way, people can escape the stress and worries that exist in the city.
Other big cities I’ve visited in the world also have large-scale sanctuaries such as this one. For example, New York has Central Park, Paris has Bois de Boulogne, and London has so many that I wouldn’t be able to name them all. A quick metro ride can get you to any of these beautiful parks and back to the city center in no time. I imagine a lunch break or after-work stroll through a park is quite calming. Personally, I would do it every day!
It is unfortunate that the only quick way to get to Bill Baggs from the city is by car. In my situation without a car, I had to take the bus and then walk for thirty minutes. There are nice bike lanes in Key Biscayne, but if you’re coming from anywhere off the key, it is not ideal and almost unsafe to bike. Metro would be a fabulous option. The only issue is that we do not want the disturbance of nature that would occur if a metro was built. Also, an expensive innovation like this is not likely to arise due to the idea that the city is predicted to be underwater by 2100.
Key Biscayne is not easily accessible, so this park often goes unnoticed by tourists, which is great because it makes it a special place for locals. Although, I feel Bill Baggs State Park is not reaching its full potential which it could, be by helping the citizens of Miami destress in nature during their work week.
Bailly, John William. “Key Biscayne.” Bailly Lectures, 15 Jan. 2023, https://baillylectures.com/miami/key-biscayne/.
University Park as Text
“University Park: A Neighborhood Brimming with Potential” by Jane Osowski in University Park on April 2, 2023.
University Park gets its name from Florida International University (FIU) which is the key feature of the neighborhood. Before the university was opened in 1972, all that existed there was Tamiami Airport. Today, University Park consists mainly of FIU, Tamiami Park, and residential streets.
Without a doubt, most of the action in University Park is centered in the block of FIU and Tamiami Park. In Tamiami Park, you can find a 22-lane swimming pool and the Fair Expo Center. The Fair Expo center holds events such as the popular Youth Fair. At FIU, you can find events at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center, athletic stadiums, and the Frost Art Museum.
During the week, the FIU campus is the most active. The pedestrian-friendly walkways make it easy and safe to get from one place to another. There are plenty of restaurants from Crepe King to Chick-fil-A to all-you-can-eat dining at 8th Street Kitchen. People come from all over to take part in pick-up basketball, soccer, or volleyball games outside the FIU Campus Recreation Gym. For using the facilities inside the recreation center as well as for using the Panther Pool, guest passes can be purchased for only $5. Although, guests must know an FIU student to receive this pass.
Plenty of nature is interwoven into the FIU campus. People can spend a relaxing few hours strolling through the 11+ acres of the FIU Nature Preserve and hanging out with the turtles at nearby ponds. Near the FIU Nature Preserve, you can find a big garden and greenhouse with big compost stalls outside. In the past, these compost stalls have been filled with scraps from 8th Street Kitchen and turned into compost to be used for the garden. Composting at this rate is likely not happening anymore because as of today, only 1 of the 4 stalls is being used. These stalls are big enough to eliminate all food waste at campus restaurants. They could even be expanded to accommodate food waste from student housing. By not taking advantage of this facility, FIU is missing out on a positive environmental impact opportunity.
On the weekends the campus is a ghost town. It is strange because over 3000 students live on campus and many more live nearby (Florida International). This is likely because there is not much to do in University Park on the weekends. Almost all restaurants are closed at FIU on the weekends. Unless there is an event at the Fair Expo Center, there’s not much nightlife in University Park besides getting Night Owl Cookies or going out to dinner. Some of my favorite places are Dos Croquetas, Jasmine Sushi & Thai Cuisine, and ordering takeout pizza from Al Forno.
Unfortunately, walking to these dinner places at night is not enjoyable. Most of the streets are busy with cars and if you’re a woman like me, you will get honked at and yelled at several times. I know this because I have attempted this walk several times. There aren’t any bike rental options in the neighborhood either. So if you don’t have a car and you’re a woman, you’re out of luck.
Due to the weekend closures and unsafe walking atmosphere, people look for things to do outside of University Park on the weekends. This draws people away from the local businesses in University Park. If there were better weekend activities and a quick metro that reached FIU from other parts of Miami, I predict that University Park would be a booming neighborhood.
In all, University Park, and specifically FIU is brimming with potential, but falls short environmentally, with transportation, and on weekends. University Park has plenty of attractions and reasons for people to visit. They just need to be able to get there and the businesses need to stay open! Additionally, in today’s world where environmental consciousness is a factor of success, I feel University Park is missing out on an opportunity to be successful by not offering bike rentals nor composting to residents.
“Florida International University Student Life – US News Best Colleges.” US News & World Report, https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/fiu-9635/student-life.
Wynwood as Text
“Through Art, Wynwood Turned to Gold” by Jane Osowski in Wynwood on April 5, 2023.
I had visited Wynwood several times before but had never been to the Margulies Collection at the WAREhOUSE. This nonprofit institution is carefully curated with magnificent art pieces owned by Martin Z. Margulies.
We had the pleasure of touring the collection with Mr. Margulies. He emphasized the importance of education. For one, he made this collection completely free for Florida students to tour. Mr. Margulies not only emphasized that you can learn from the art, but you can learn a great deal from the artists as well. When choosing the art in his collection, he shared, “It’s not about liking or not liking artists. It’s about what you can learn from them.”
I learned a lot from the artist Anselm Kiefer today. Although I did not get to speak with Kiefer, I heard him speak through his art. We were told that Kiefer is German and was born during the end of World War II which may greatly influence his works. In one of the works in the collection, titled: Geheimnis der Farne, Kiefer alludes to the Holocaust through sculptures resembling gas chambers. This might be uncomfortable for some people but Kiefer felt it was an important part of German history and shouldn’t be forgotten about.
Kiefer’s art we saw at the Margulies Collection used natural materials and earth tones. As a part of his Geheimnis der Farne piece, there were 48 framed pictures, many including ferns and charcoal. His message is quite powerful, once you realize the connection between these ferns and charcoal.
“The first trees were ferns. They are primal. Charcoal and oil are made out of ferns that existed at the beginning of life. There are many stories about plants having memories. If this is true, ferns could tell us a great deal about our beginnings. Like forests, ferns may contain secret knowledge.”Anselm Kiefer
It’s interesting that oil and coal have great value in today’s society, much greater than the vegetation that they come from. Through his art, I see a powerful statement of the connectivity of substance on this earth and how we give it worth. The irony is that he directly portrays this phenomenon by creating a piece of art out of irrelevant “ruins” and “plant clippings” now monetarily worth much more than those materials alone.
In the case of Mr. Margulies, art can be worth so much that it can be used for opening the Lotus House, which is a resource and residential facility for homeless women and their children in Miami. This facility has been transformative for Miami and wouldn’t have been possible without the value of art.
Margulies gives back to his Miami community in so many ways, which I see is not only due to his kindness and selflessness but is necessary to rectify the placement of his collection’s warehouse. Wynwood is one of the many neighborhoods in Miami that have been gentrified. The powerful value of art has changed the Wynwood neighborhood from being impoverished and dangerous to being popular and safe.
Although the historical situation with Wynwood can be seen as less harmful than the gentrification you see in other areas of Miami, this shift still indirectly harms lower-income residents due to the creation of vacation rentals such as Airbnb and the increasing property value of a tourist neighborhood.
Margulies and his collection leave more positive than negative without a doubt through the education and positive transformation of Miami. I always knew that art was powerful, but after speaking with Mr. Margulies, I learned that what you do with art can be worth more than gold.
Chicken Key as Text
“Individual Sovereignty” by Jane Osowski at Chicken Key on April 19, 2023.
The Deering Estate behind us, Biscayne Bay to the left, endless ocean to the right, and a mangrove island ahead of us. We were paddling out like the early Tequesta, crossing over deceivingly shallow waters and crushing through the oncoming waves. I hadn’t felt a silence like this in Miami since I hiked out into the Everglades. It allowed me time to think, practice teamwork, and time to connect with my paddling partner Delano.
We arrived at the mangrove island, today called Chicken Key. Feeling my sore arms after an hour of paddling, I thought about how skilled the Tequesta must have been. They made their own boats and were able to use them for travel and hunting.
The old hunter-gathers had animal-like instincts they could sense a whale coming or know what to do when they woke up in a swarm of mosquitoes. They probably could sense a hurricane coming too. They knew how to kill an animal, what plants you shouldn’t eat, and which ones could be used to heal.
I looked around me and realized I knew none of that. I dug out a sealed plastic water bottle from the dirt and knew I could drink from it if I really needed to. I found shoes and a shirt that could keep me warm. I knew that those articles used to belong to other humans and those humans had stories of their own. But I couldn’t identify a single species on Chicken Key that could be used for my survival.
People tend to think today’s society is more intelligent than early indigenous people. I decline to agree. One look at the Aboriginal Australians or Mayan peoples and you would be shocked by their intelligence.
Scientifically, we may have improved the quality of life because we have extended the human lifespan. But at what cost? Millions of starving children, homelessness, and never-ending disease. The majority of people are struggling day-to-day to keep their families alive. I wouldn’t say everyone is better off for this revolution.
Our dependence on society today makes us privileged humans feel we are more intelligent because we have constant food at our disposal and a hospital ready to receive us. In reality, we have been stripped of our natural survival skills and left to the mercy of society.
During both outings to Chicken Key I witnessed this disparity first-hand. We uncovered boat wreckage that was painted blue, signaling this was from fleeing immigrants, likely Cuban. These immigrants were subjected to a society that was not favorable to them, leaving them with the only hope of sacrificing their life to escape to the United States.
It seems that today our personal sovereignty lies with our wits and creativity. With the newly emerging AI and working robots, what will we have left? We might as well call ourselves robots just the same.
I left Chicken Key with a sense of uneasiness. The stories that have washed upon shore lingered in my head. To care or not to care. That’s all I have left.
Miami Final Reflection
“One Woman’s Paradise is Another Woman’s Hell” by Jane Osowski in Miami, Florida on April 22, 2023.
I’ve lived in Miami for almost three years and I feel I understand more of the history, politics, and culture than most people who have lived here their whole lives. This is thanks to the Miami in Miami class. We were taken out of our comfort zones, mine being the FIU campus, and thrown into the real Miami. I watched my peers grow, connect and completely shift our perceptions of Miami.
Over the past three years and specifically in the last year during this Miami in Miami course, I have learned the history, talked with locals, and spent many days navigating like a local.
Being able to efficiently travel through a city is a great way to get to know the city. Miami has a Metrorail which is phenomenal if you live downtown, or somewhere within walking distance. But if you don’t live by the Metrorail, getting around by car is the better option. Taking the bus or biking across town is 3x slower than driving, and can be unsafe in both situations. Personally, I lived very far from the Metrorail and was not able to explore Miami as much as I wanted to during my time here.
Before I took the Miami in Miami class, it wasn’t so obvious to me that the Tequestas used to dominate the land. Their history has been covered up by skyscrapers and attempted to be rectified by a commemorative word or mural. The arrival of the Europeans such as the Spanish, was much more predictable because that is what is taught in our history classes.
What I thought was interesting was why the Europeans started creating settlements in Miami. They came here when they got old and sick, or on vacation to heal with the fresh air and sunshine. We still see this today as Florida is a big retiree and vacation state. Miami was also a place of refuge for escaped slaves and Bahamians searching for a better life. Now Cubans and other Latin Americans continue this search for refuge in Miami.
When I talked with the locals, I learned about the injustices of the gentrification of the city, the struggles for the undocumented immigrants and most importantly I realized that not everyone was raised with the same values as me. Keeping in mind there is great diversity in the culture here in Miami, I recognized three main Miami cultural traits that differ from where I grew up, which is a town in the Midwest.
First, Miami runs on “Miami Time.” For me, this means that people try to live life as chill as possible. It is normal to arrive late, spend weekends relaxing, and work smarter, not harder.
Second, there is less of a sense of respect for nature. Absurd littering is commonplace, even on the most beautiful beaches where locals spend their weekends. The infrastructure for environmental sustainability appears ten years behind most other cities I’ve visited. For example, cars are the preferred mode of transportation, grocers encourage shoppers to take an excessive amount of plastic bags, and true recycling or composting is rare to find.
Third, Miamians are loyal to their families. It’s common for college students to live with their parents and want to stay in Miami to stay close to their families. This value is quite endearing. Although as an outsider, I see flaws in this value for fear of independence.
When young adults do not step out of their comfort zone and become independent, they are shielded from the outside world and from outside opinions that could alter their perspectives of life. I can see this being harmful in terms of self-education and finding understanding with people of values other than their own.
In a devastating and extreme example, I witnessed the beating of a woman by her husband. After I reported the domestic violence incident, the police officer shared his findings from interviews with domestic abusers. I learned that the men who commit these crimes to their families were brought up to believe beatings are the only way to effectively teach lessons.
This is how young women learn to obey men and how young men learn to teach, so the abusers don’t see anything wrong with it. The women tend to keep it a secret and often decline to testify due to fear, loyalty, or because they are undocumented.
The most profound takeaway from this opportunity was the ability to realize how complex culture is. You think you can understand a community, but you realize you don’t when you learn the history that isn’t so obvious, talk with locals, and spend a few days navigating like a local.
Culture should be respected and appreciated. Just because every aspect doesn’t line up with how I was raised, doesn’t mean it is wrong. There are positives and negatives in every culture. One woman’s paradise can be another woman’s hell.
You would think that with my frustrations with public transportation and environmentalism, I would draft up a plan to “fix” Miami. In reality, I don’t see any of that working unless the people who live here are fully educated on the topics and then actually want and work for those changes.