Jennifer Rodriguez: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Jennifer Rodriguez is a sophomore at FIU majoring in Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor in Education. She was born in Miami to a Colombian mother and a Cuban-American father. She dreams of being able to teach valuable skills to children in underserved communities and handicapped children. Her favorite hobbies are cooking, puzzling, and reading.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Progress?” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU in Downtown Miami on September 7th, 2022

Pictures taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez/ CC by 4.0

When most people think about life 10,000 years ago, they would never imagine a self-sufficient society. How could they when most can’t even imagine a world without their cell phones? Walking through downtown, I saw the industrial and technological advancements but all I could think of was the people who lived before Miami became what we know today, not just 10,000 years ago; but even more recently, dating back to the early 1800s when Miami was just starting out.

As we started our walk, we arrived at Lummus Park where we saw Ft. Dallas, originally known as the William English Plantation Slave Quarters. William English, who was a “pioneer” at the start of Miami, came down with his slaves to start a plantation. He forced the slaves to build their quarters to live in while they were working at the plantation. Professor Bailly made us realize that there is no way we could possibly know how these human beings felt having to survive with little to no resources while their white counterparts lived far better; but, he told us to feel the house, the bricks, the stone, how we are touching what they were touching during that time. I could feel the roughness and sense the strength it must have taken for these people to carry those stones, knowing this was where they would live for the foreseeable future. One could only hope that it would get better, right?

A couple of years after the construction of the quarters, it was renamed Ft. Dallas and used as barracks during the Seminole Wars. What was once a home for people believed as “less than”, was now where those very people would live while they destroyed another culture. There was progress happening in the eyes of the army and the people of Miami, but what about the Seminoles? I often wonder how could progress have such a positive connotation when in most cases, there was so much destruction in the name of “progress”. The Seminoles were pushed out of their land and almost eradicated just so some colonizers could push their greedy agenda of conquering the world.

This post was titled “progress?” because when we were there, and professor Bailly was talking about the evolution of this building, all I could think about was whether or not this should be considered progress. The building was no longer being used to house slaves during the Seminole Wars, so that was good, but then it was a symbol of destruction. Eventually, it was recognized as a historic site, but only as Ft. Dallas. The fact that it was originally slave quarters did not get mentioned until much later, as a sign in front of the building. it is almost as if they chose what they believed was the “better” of two evils, or at least one that boosted their egos, and acted like the other never existed. Erasing the past could never be considered progress and I am glad this class is helping me better understand the truth behind the creation of Miami and how it became what we know today.

Hialeah as Text

“Greed vs Humanity” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU in Hialeah on September 21st, 2022

All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez/ CC by 4.0

Miami has always been a melting pot of cultures, and Hialeah is just one of the pieces in the pot. Most recently habited by a diverse Latino community, Hialeah is a thriving community and has been since before the Latino community made the neighborhood their home.

Before the city was established in 1921, it was a trading ground between the Seminoles and the residents of Miami. The people of Miami wanted things only the Seminoles could provide, and the Seminoles knew they needed to cooperate to survive. The people of Miami were greedy and allowed a truce among the two groups so long as the Miamians got what they wanted. When trading was not enough to satisfy their greed, they looked to something that is still plaguing the world today: gambling.

On January 1st, 1925, the Hialeah Racetrack was opened. The racetrack was basically like the Disney World of Hialeah. It had a rollercoaster, a horse racing track, and a greyhound racing track, where you could bet on the possible winners. It even included “Indian Exhibits” like a stereotypical village and a snake catcher. All these things just fed off the money of tourists who seemed to be amazed by the animal and human attractions.

All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez/ CC by 4.0

Walking with Professor Bailly and the group, he showed us where everything was and how it used to be. I felt as though the creators of the racetrack had chosen to trade their humanity to line their pockets a little thicker. We saw pictures of incredibly famous people who came to this place to bet on the horses and waste their life savings because they had a “feeling” they would win the next round. These owners chose to stereotype the Seminoles and Miccosukee to make them more attractive to the mass, ignoring the rich and INDIVIDUAL cultures of each tribe who were just trying to survive the destruction that arrived thanks to the people of Miami.

Thankfully, a horrendous hurricane destroyed the racetrack and all the attractions only one year after its opening. When Joseph Widener bought it, they rebuilt it, maintaining only the racetrack. At least now, they were not dehumanizing an entire culture, but they were still choosing their greed over the lives of the animals that were forced to race against each other. The horses would be paraded around in a circle while the elite would place their bets on which horse would make it to the finish line. Widener spent thousands of dollars transforming the building into a place for only the elite and wealthiest of the world. Our walk showed us pictures of known faces, the one that stood out was Winston Churchill, one of the most prominent people during World War II. 

We checked out the second floor of the racetrack that almost seemed frozen in time. We sat down where the rich sat, pondering the crazy things they must have wasted their money on. All I could think was, “how could people not notice the harm they were doing to themselves, their families, and the horses?” They idolized the horses, and the stained glass pictures of them in most public hallways showed proof of that. However, that was not a show of admiration but a depiction of how valuable they were to Widener’s bank account. 

Once horse racing was outlawed, the gambling did not stop; it simply adapted. The greediest of people always find a way to the money coming in. In the present day, the park is a casino, a dark hole where people come to drain their bank accounts. Since I am 18, I do not know much about casinos, but this class showed me that 90% of the time, nothing good would come of going into one of them. A peer explained to me one of the tactics they use: tinting the windows, so the people lose track of time; even Professor Bailly mentioned how usually alcohol would be free, even back then, because the drunker you are, the more you were willing to throw your money at them. 

People like Widener, who only care about their bottom line, let their greed win in the battle against their humanity. I have seen what gambling can do to people, and it saddens me to see how deep the ties to gambling and greed are in our community. I know I will do my best to remind myself of these moments in the past when greed won, and choose humanity. Every choice towards humanity in our internal battles, is a win towards the larger war between greed and humanity in the world.

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