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.

Chicken Key as Text

“Lost in Trash” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at Chicken Key on October 5th, 2022.

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

The Biscayne Bay has been a crucial pillar to our environment since before the first known civilization arrived. Sadly, once the migrants and explorers arrived, they pushed out the natives who appreciated the wonders the bay gave them, and abused its resources. They dredged it, built around it, and diverted the sewage water into it. What was once a beautiful Eden, full of a lively and diverse ecosystem, was now dying, lost in marine debris.

The bay has a long and arduous road ahead of it before it can be restored to its former glory. It was full of mangroves and seagrass beds; the water was brackish so it provided a wonderful feeding ground for many incredible species, and it also provided a passage from the inland to the ocean for the natives that surrounded it. While on our trip to Chicken Key, a southern barrier island about 1 mile off the bay, we were able to see where the fresh water and the ocean merge. Being able to canoe through the mangroves and watch how the light bled through the branches on to the water, I didn’t even feel like I was in Miami anymore; I had teleported to a remote island far away from the destruction. I could feel, even if it was slight, as though I could have been where the Tequesta were when they went hunting so many years ago.

Now, when we were going to Chicken Key for the clean up, I underestimated the amount of trash we would see. Professor Bailly warned us about the severity of the trash that would be there, especially after the hurricane, but I didn’t think much of it until I saw it with my own eyes. The marine debris was scattered everywhere, and my only thought was how could we be so cruel to a place that provides so much for us. I am not what you would consider an environmentalist, but I understand that throwing plastic into the ocean or just littering in general is not good. Whatever doesn’t end up in a dump ends up in the ocean. The trash will always find its way to where it will hurt our ecosystem the most.

Our group chose to travel around the perimeter of the island given that there were a lot of people on land picking up everything that had washed up after the hurricane. As we set out for this journey on our canoe we wanted to make sure we picked up all the trash we could. We found plastic bags, rope and fishing line, large items like buckets and a life vest. All things that someone could have easily taken with them after their trip to the beach or disposed of in a recycling bin. Yet our “progressive” society choses to let our ecosystem suffer, now they are drowning in the trash. Some have finally taken notice but they are simply lost in a dump of their own design.

The final product after 6 hours of work. There was still more we couldn’t get to. All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez/ CC by 4.0

The bay will never look like it once did, but at least recently, more and more people are taking action and we have been able to see results. Our professor mentioned to us how the island has become a nesting ground for an endangered species know as the Diamond Back Terrapin. I was personally able to see a baby manatee swimming joyfully with its parents. Our environment can be better than it is now, and I am grateful to have placed my feet on the path to a better tomorrow by cleaning up a beautiful island. I hope to continue doing things like this and bringing in friends and family so they too can be a part of making the world a better place for us and our future.

Vizcaya as Text

“Delusions of Grandeur” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at Vizcaya on October 19th, 2022.

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

You can go to any city and talk to any person and I can guarantee that there is an 80% chance that person will say that money can give you everything you want. James Deering was one of these people. He was the richest man in Miami when he chose to move down here and he wanted to make sure everyone knew it. Paul Chalfin and 2 other people were hired to design and bring to life the incredible home Deering had envisioned for himself. He wanted t bring “culture’ to the swamp. What better influence of culture than Europe, right? Like every white man in the late 19th to 20th century, the cultures that were already established in the west were not valid to them. Deering wanted his own little European sanctuary in the middle of all the Bahamian and Native cultures.

Deering had been traveling through Europe and wanted his home to have a little bit of everywhere he had visited. He deemed himself quite the explorer and conquerer and felt he deserved this home as a tribute to his amazingness. He even created this imaginary hero called Bel Vizcaya to signify all the explorers and conquerors who traveled the world. One can only imagine this was his humble way of comparing himself to the one and only Ponce de Leon, who was undoubtedly the first person to usher Florida into the European exchange. Both statues are right across from each other at the entrance of the park where our class started the lecture. When I saw this, all I could think was how delusional this entitled rich boy was to think that just because he visited a couple of cities, he was deserving of inflicting the European ways on an already ethnically rich community.

This delusion of grandeur is embedded throughout the entire property. Whether it be in the rooms depicted in different artistic eras, the untouched instruments, or the garden’s design; all of it screams wealth and indulgence. One of the most incredible structures I saw was Deering’s very own Arch. of Triumph. What was he triumphant over? The world will never know. He simply say It in his travels and demanded he get his own. He had the money for it so, why not?

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

My issue with what Deering does is that it feels as though he never actually cared about what all these things meant. Not just for the Europeans but also for the culture he was pushing aside by not involving them in his vision. The home and gardens were all built by the Bahamian immigrants who were paid little to nothing and segregated during this time. Nowhere on the property will you see anything that shows you who built it. Towards the end of our tour, we saw what could be the smallest influence; next to the little lake, there were two hollowed-out columns and the roofs had a shell mosaic indicative of their culture. It was professor Bailly who pointed it out and I couldn’t believe that with all this land Deering could not give the Bahamians a proper dedication.

I also wanted to mentioned his lack of understanding of the European culture he was bringing over. Most of the exterior architecture is made out of a Florida naturally occurring stone called oolite. This stone is very porous and not suited for intricate carving, yet Deering was determined to get his Greek statues and fountains. If it was possible with what he had on hand he simply imported it from wherever it could be done, primarily Italy. These are the kinds of people who disregard historical context and only look at outward appearances because, yes, the place is gorgeous; but, did it truly belong in Miami? No.

I don’t think James would be an accepted member of society today, no matter how much money he had. Given the fact that he lived over 100 years ago, I have to take into account the social norms of that time and realize that this was the norm. People were segregated, the Tequesta and Seminoles were pushed out of their homes every day and no one batted an eye. None of this would get a pass in today’s climate but back then none of that was illegal. I would hope that some people back then felt guilty for the way they treated minorities but I cannot judge James Deering or anyone from that era with my knowledge today. I just hope that our future continues to brighten and that one day no one will feel left out or forgotten from history, and that there will come a time when no one is so rich or so powerful that they believe that they can get away with anything.

Deering Estate as Text

“Profit vs Conservation” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at the Deering Estate at Cutler Bay on November 16th, 2022.

A cocaine plane from the 80s in the middle of mangroves. (Jennifer Rodriguez/CC by 4.0)

What does it mean to live in harmony? It means that multiple living things can be together in peace with minimal disturbances. Sadly, human beings have failed to live in harmony with our environment for a millennia because a little as we like to admit it, people are greedy. They will stop at nothing to make sure every piece of land has a name attached to it no matter the cost. Thankfully, some people still believed in living in harmony with nature as opposed to selling it for profit.

Hiking through the Deering estate, I was able to see the amazing world that can result when we choose to live in harmony with our environment. The professor told us about the time Flagler tried to build the railroad through the estate but was thwarted. The actions of these brave people who stood up to a major developer and won, should be thought of and imitated whenever we see our natural environment in danger. I was able to see beautiful creatures and incredibly blue creeks all thanks to the hard work of naturalists and activists who fought to protect this area.

Even among all the beauty I witnessed, I could still see signs of the terrible people who chose their greedy desires of profit over trying to conserve the nature they were in. The most prominent example of this was the plane from the 80s that crashed onto the mangroves in the estate. We went out to see it as a class and you could see how the plane was abandoned and left there to decompose and pollute all the mangroves in the area. Professor Bailly explained to us how during this time, many people would smuggle cocaine in planes like the one that crashed here. The people who flew it had taken the cocaine and abandoned the plane. These people chose to save themselves and their future prospects of money, instead of calling for help to remove the plane from the mangrove forest.

All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez. (CC by 4.0)

What I loved about this hike, however, was noticing the incredible perseverance and adaptability the nature around me had. Not just with the manmade obstacles that were put there but also the harmony among the wildlife itself. I saw how the mangroves started to grow around and through the abandoned plane and it decomposes. I also saw how certain plants worked with the insects to thrive in their environments, this is called symbiosis. My favorite example of symbiosis was seeing plants growing through the naturally occurring rock formations around the creeks. That perseverance proves to me that no matter how had the greedy people try, eventually Mother Nature will prevail. I want to take a note from what I’ve learned from these plants, and from the naturalists and activists of my past, and fight for the natural environment I live in.

All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez (CC By 4.0)

Ana, a naturalist from the Deering estate, mentioned to us the many ways we can help conserve our natural environment. The one I was intrigued by and want to consider is where I can receive plants that are native to my community and plant them in my backyard to help bring back native species. I find this to be an easy and effective way to help fall back into harmony with our environment and help us conserve what we have left of the original Miami.

Rubell Museum as Text

“What is art?” by Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at the Rubell Museum on November 23rd, 2022.

incredible experience inside a Kusama Room. All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez/ CC by 4.0

Oil, acrylic, and watercolor are the most common mediums known when talking about art. But the reality is that there is so much more to the world of art that I could have imagined, especially in contemporary art. This was my first time going to an art museum and it was incredible; the different pieces and what they all meant, gave this museum an ambience I will never forget. I have always thought paintings were beautiful and that was all it took for it to be art, or that it was art if it was Mae by someone famous. This is clearly not the case.

We had the opportunity to speak with Mera Rubell, the cofounder of the museum. She spoke to us about how this all started with a love of art and how each piece made them feel. She said that if the art spoke to them, they would buy it directly from the artist; it did not matter if the artist was well known or just starting out. This allowed her and her husband to fund and support many artists throughout their collecting journey. As we walked around we saw pieces from all sorts of mediums: plaster, oil, acrylic and even just random things you would find on the street. Even though it all seemed unorthodox at times, the pieces in each room felt cohesive and transmitted a message.

All Pictures were take and Edited By Jennifer Rodriguez/CC by 40

We were told, however, that some of the artists do not give descriptions to their pieces with the purpose of leaving it up to the interpretation of the viewer. This concept intrigued me because since I am neither an art buff nor a collector I couldn’t figure out why an artist would sell their work with no description and why a collector would buy it without understanding the intended meaning behind an art piece. But as I continued to see more pieces I cam to understand the value of leaving can artwork with no description. I noticed that when we stoped to look at some pieces together, we each had different variations of what the artist was trying to convey with their piece. I loved listening to other peoples feeling towards the art because they were so different from mine and I could see the perspective they were taking. Had the artist put a description on the pieces we would not have had the creative liberty to say what we felt the art meant and how it made us feel. This is one key factor I felt makes a work of art: the ability to start discussion and feeling in anyone who sees it.

Aside from the meanings of pieces we also saw the different mediums as I said before. There was one artist that blew me away, they had used anything and everything they could find in the community to use for their art. Among the items I saw used on the canvas were coffee wrappers, foam from car seats, and even potato sacs. All these items came from our backyard and what we would normally call trash was used to create beautiful and impactful images. This showed me that art is not one size fits all; in fact, it probably has so many sizes it doesn’t even fit on an excel spreadsheet. This artist saw the importance of using unconventional materials to convey what he wanted on the canvas rather than paint and I find that inspiring. I also saw how some artists’ pieces were just relics from another time, but because they believed it was art, we can have a piece of the past forever encapsulated through art.

Most of all, I loved the passion that emanated from each piece we saw. Wether the piece had description, was a painting or a sculpture, they all radiated passion and love. I might not know much of art but I am very empathetic and I could see the intensity behind the pieces. with that I could see another side of the artwork, which was the artist. We can learn so much from an artist’s life and their perspective on things by simply studying their art. That is amazing and I want to continue to see this passion through art in the future. Something Mera said was to support artists that you like and I want to be able to do that as well because I know that many artists do not have stable jobs because they are following their passion. I want to help by donating to art programs and also buying pieces from artists that I enjoy, once I can afford it. Just like Mera, I can start off with small things and as I start earning more I can help more.

All Pictures were take and Edited By Jennifer Rodriguez/CC by 40

So, what is art? That is for you to decide, and when you think you have found the answer, keep looking. Art will always be evolving and changing into amazing and beautiful things and if you stop to question if its art, you’ll miss out on the true meaning of artwork.

Untitled Art Festival as Text

“Stories in Art” by Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at the Untitled Art Fair on November 29th, 2022.

Everything has a story. People, places, things, especially artwork, all have their own distinct stories that people come to see as you learn about them. I was able to see some of these stories come to life during my time at Untitled Art Festival. Even though I would not call myself an art aficionado, I do see myself as an open minded and creative person, so when I saw some of these incredible pieces I knew that I needed to learn more about the artists and what their stories were.

Overall, the art was though provoking and beautiful, but there were some that spoke to me more than others, and that is what I want to talk about in this reflection. There were many amazing pieces at the festival but, the beauty of art is that everyone will view it and no two people will feel the same way about it, because art is an intertwining of your story, the story of the art, and the story of the artist, and every variable is changeable in that equation. The one art piece that I connected with the most was tilted “La Mesa Nerviosa” by Jose Olano. All the works I saw from him spoke to me in different ways but this piece was the one I gravitated to the most.

“La Mesa Nerviosa” By Jose Olano (All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez/CC by 4.0)

Jose Olano is an artist from Colombia who focuses on the concept of balance. After seeing his pieces at the gallery I decide to do some research and find out his story. He uses all sorts of mediums to depict his heritage and the concept of balance. I really liked this artist because, although I was born here, I have a Colombian heritage and I feel like he uses his story to talk about things through his art but also leaves certain aspects of the art up to the viewers interpretation. I appreciate it when the art is just vague enough where you can see the artist and yourself within the piece. La Mesa Nerviosa translates to The Nervous Table in English and the name is fitting for the work. As you can see he has placed very traditional Colombian items along with regular tableware on the edges of the table. Everything is perfectly balanced and nothing will fall.

Since the artist liked to find balance in all his works I chose to view it through that lens while also finding my own. The way I saw this piece was how culture is usually playing this balancing act, trying to stay with the times and still stay true to its root; but, at any moment, something can tip them and you could lose everything. This resonated with me since I feel like I am equally American and Colombian but at any moment I could lose myself in one culture, most likely the American one since it is more dominant, and forget where I came from. Everything on that table was on the brink but never faltered, and it kind of personifies the items on the table as struggling but holding on. I truly loved this piece and as I continued my research into the rest of Olano’s works I saw more and more of his story with balance and culture.

As I said before, art is a story, and how you connect to that story makes the art piece wholly unique to your perspective. That is the beauty of a story and the art that connects to it. You can use the artist’s story to enhance the one you have given it, and all that will do is simply enhance your emotional connection to it. Everyone’s story is unique, and art is just one of the beautiful ways to express that.

My Miami as Text

“City of Our Creation: a Reflection of Miami” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU.

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

This semester has been a rollercoaster of sights, experiences, and emotions. I was able to see Miami in new lights, some of which I had never even thought existed. At the start of this semester, I believed myself to be a Miamian but now I know that is far from true and there is still so much left for me to discover about my city. Never would I have thought that this city had so much history, even before the actual founding of the city of Miami.

I love Miami, but I soon came to realize its dark past of discrimination and oppression. Yes, many states had these issues during that time, but it is hard to see it right before your own eyes. Something that has stayed with me was the Miami circle, how it was something holy to the Tequesta, but developers turned it into a park and it wasn’t until recently that they put a fence around it for dogs to stop defacating in the circle. This was something that deterred me from believing in the humanity a community can share. But, not all hope is lost. We saw wonderful places, with wonderful people who chose to preserve and acknowledge these forgotten people. The Deering Estate hike was my favorite trip of the semester for that exact reason. I saw that there are people choosing to take action in preserving not only the people of our past but also the natural environment that gives us the beautiful sights of Miami. Without people like them, I know Miami would have already died from over-development.

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

Even with all the darkness, Miami still has shown beautiful culture and perseverance. I saw how even amongst segregation, the black community still strived and even surpassed their white counterparts in entertainment and joy. The city of overturn was lively and joyous to the point where people would rather go to the lyric theater than some theater on south beach. I loved learning about how so many incredible people came to Miami and helped the city grow in population and diversity.

Overall, this semester has taught me to look past what is in front of you. Whether it be in history, in art, or even current information; all of it can be seen through multiple points of view. You can choose to see the experiences in any light you want, and that is the beauty of this class. I was able to express all my experiences and emotions through this forum and in turn you get to see a new point of view to an experience you probably have done before. I hope my experiences have shown you something new and I can’t wait to learn more next semester.

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