Jennifer Rodriguez: Miami as Text Spring 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-Americn 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.

Miami Encounter as Text

“My Miami” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU

All pictures were take and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez CC by 4.0

This is my initial perception of Miami and how I interacted with it. I am a Miamian, born and raised. However, I never really “knew” Miami the way I know about it now thanks to this class. When I was little I lived in North Miami Beach, then I moved to Hialeah and still live there today. Miami is all I’ve known since I was born; yet, I only came to realize the true Miami last semester.

Before this class, Miami, to me, was just a tourist city that I just happened to live in. I knew about these amazing places “every tourist must see when you are out here” and I thought about how cool it would be to go to those places, even though they were max one hour away from my home. I never thought about Miami as my home, my home was the hialeah community and nothing more. But even this neighborhood was shown to me in a new light thanks to this class.

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

Thanks to this class, last semester I was able to learn about the good, the bad, and the dirty details of the county of Miami-Dade. I understood how this city was built by Bahamian and African Americans but were then erased from history and segregated to other cities because they weren’t worthy of staying in the very city they built. I also learned about the beautiful unique natural environment south Florida has and how our human greed has left most of It in ruins. I love the amount of knowledge I have acquired by taking this class and it only seemed obvious to take a second semester full of new experiences and information about the city I have lived in for all nineteen years of my life.

What I am most excited for is the Everglades trip as well as the Chicken Key Beach Clean up. These two activities are nature focused and I want to learn more about the beautiful world that surrounds me and how I can do my part to preserve and protect it from people who take advantage of its awesomeness.

Everglades as Text

“Not a Swamp” by Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at Everglades National Park

All pictures were taken and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez

The Florida everglades was always just a big swamp in my head whenever I thought about it. My sister had gone there many times for school field trips but I had never gone before. when someone would ask me what I thought about the everglades I would just say swamp and alligators cause thats all I thought it was. After this trip I now how wrong I was with that statement.

The Everglades is anything but a swamp and not long ago, alligators were an endangered animal. So how could I be so wrong about a place that makes up over 50% of south Florida and is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Honestly, I chalk it up to my unwillingness to venture out and try new things. One of the main reasons I took this class was to expose myself to these amazing experiences and I am so glad I was able to do it.

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

Like I mentioned before, the everglades is no swamp, it is a beautiful environment with multiple kinds of ecosystems. We were able to see the pine rocklands and wet hike through a dome where we listened to an alligator bellow. here experiences are only possible when you venture out and choose to explore the world beyond what you see or hear from travel sites or Instagram posts. The only way to find out that the “swamp” isn’t an actual swamp is to go out there and see for yourself. I never in a million years believed I would wet hike through the same waters as an alligators or touch green algae that probably looked like green dung from far away.

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

I have seen first hand that you cannot talk about a place you have never been to because it just would not be doing the place justice. Now I can confidently talk about the amazing park that covers the entire southern most area of Florida and encourage people to go out there, because it most definitely is not just some swamp.

Coconut Grove as Text

Love Carries On” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU in Coconut Grove.

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

Coconut Grove is filled with so much history. So many stories that came together in one community and as we did our lecture walk one story stood out in particular above all the rest: The Barnacle. A house that got its name because it could withstand to largest hurricane of that time without budging, much like a barnacle on a boat would. But what intrigued me most was the family that built and lived in this house. It was built by Ralph Middleton Munroe in 1891 after he moved down here to help his first wife that was suffering from tuberculosis. He then married again and had two children that were raised in this house. The family continued to grow as the children became parents and the generations extended into the present where there are still living dependents of the original couple that built this house for their growing family. Munroe loved his family and even found a way to completely lift the original floor of the house to then build a new floor to make it large enough to fit his family.

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

I love this story because it is a story of love and compassion. Munroe moved here in hopes of his wife serving the illness but died later that year and even through this he persevered and eventually found someone he could love again. This time he was able to have two children to love and raise. Munroe’s love didn’t stop at his family either, he had a sailing club and invited people of all backgrounds to participate. He was not a man who harbored prejudices or resentment towards the people he new built the city. His love for his family carried on for generations.

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

When we toured the house I saw a recipe book that had been written all the way back in the 1900s; and to see it in such good conditions after being passed down for so many generations, it was incredible. I have always wanted something like that for my family in the future. I want something tangible to be able to show my future grandchildren as a culmination of their family’s heritage and all the love that goes into making something for someone. The fact that this family was able to keep something so important to their family history so intact proved to me how much love there was in that family.

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

This tour allowed me to see a beautiful story, among many in Miami’s history, and it reminded me that before all the prejudice there was just love for one another. I appreciate stories like these because I see how our world could still be like that if we could just set aside differences and remember we are all one people working together to survive in this world. I believe love can transcend all, back then, now, and in the future.

Norton as Text

“Material Imagination” by Jennifer Rodriguez at the Norton Museum of Art.

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

It’s easy to picture things when you’ve had some form of reference. It takes a special kind of human being to create images with no reference whatsoever. On our class trip to the Norton Museum of Arts, all I that caught my eye were the amazing pieces that artist made without ever using a reference. They were taken by their imagination, their desire to create something unlike anything else they’d seen before and share it with the world.

As we walked through the exhibitions, which we viewed in chronological order, I saw pieces like the picture above from ancient China, the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, each piece different as the time moved forward. As thoughts changed so did the depictions of things these artists had never seen before.

It’s interesting to think about, really. That even though one person set the precedence for creating a new image everyone else had a different opinion of what it should look like even though there was literally no description people could refer to. This was most prevalent when we looked through all the renditions of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. At first, artists believed it was unholy to depict them in human likeness, since these people had never actually seen them, so they chose to distort their features.

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

But as the centuries continued, more artist started to believe that there was a better way, according to them, to depict these beings that no one would ever really see in real life. They chose to make them beautiful and angelic, granted no one had seen an angel but it was all relative to them, rather than make them unapproachable.

This idea of creating art based on what the artist felt best is exactly what made every piece unique. In the case of the Virgin Mary pieces, every artist simply wanted to do their best in creating something worthy of God’s approval. In other cases, it is usually what makes the artist most satisfied with their work. Looking at some of the pieces I could feel the emotions, the satisfaction after a well-made piece and seeing all the meticulous detail the artist put into the art piece showed me how passionate they were about bringing these pictures in their head to life. 

I especially loved the pieces like the dragon, depicted in the first picture. This was not merely a painting it was something more tangible. To me, these feel more personal in nature since you have to be more “hands on” with the materials. So, when I saw this piece, a representation of a fictional creature only imagined through tales spread through generations, I knew the artist put a lot of himself, his story, into the work. I love being able to see the artist in their work, the uniqueness of the work is what makes them priceless and special. I am no art snob but, when I see pieces that stand out to me, I always want to learn about what they were feeling during their time making the art work. Sometimes, people buy art because it looks pretty but they might not understand the true meaning behind the painting and its creator. 

Being able to relate your thoughts and imagination into a physical form is an incredible skill and it is not something you can just learn to do. I feel like although you may learn to hone this skill, this is a talent that comes from within and not everyone can bring their imagination to life like these famous artists who’ve made their mark on humanity. 

Key Biscayne as Text

“Isolated in Paradise” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at Key Biscayne.

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

Walking through the Bill Baggs State Park I saw why Marjory Stonemason Douglas deemed it “a romantic hideaway”. This barrier island was beautiful in how untouched and secluded it felt even though the city was merely 15 minutes away. We could see the city skyline from the top of the lighthouse but still feel so far away you could be anywhere else. You could even start to imagine what it was like for the person who oversaw the lighthouse while it was in commission.

Throughout the years it was in use, and there were many lighthouse keepers. They were all forced to live in this secluded paradise for years on end with no one else to accompany them besides their servants. We even learned that some of the keepers would simply leave their servants to maintain the lighthouse while they sailed off to the villages nearby and never returned. This was a usual practice because although yes, this place was a natural paradise, it was terribly lonely and isolating. One could go mad living by themselves in that cottage for months on end. I’m sure some people probably did go mad or suffer from depression, it was just never recorded.

However, not all lighthouse keepers were as dismissive of their duties. There were some who defended the lighthouse from Seminoles during the war. They were ambushed and still fought fervently to the end. They knew that the lighthouse was needed to prevent ships from wrecking in the coral reefs that surrounded the island so they did their best to defend it even if it was in vain since it got destroyed. But, once it was rebuilt, they made it sturdier to withstand attacks better.

The island was not only a field for battle but it was also an Underground Railroad before the lighthouse was put into commission. Black slaves and Seminoles would seek passage to the closest Bahamian island by coming to the shores of the island. To these people, the island was a symbol of potential freedom and refuge.

This class trip showed me the different kinds of experiences people could have had even if it was in the same place. Some called it a romantic hideaway, for others it was a prison of isolation, and to others, it was even a place of hope for freedom. This island separated from all the chaos of the city still had its own adventures in isolation throughout history, and I’m so glad to have been able to learn about it.

Wynwood as Text

“The Progression of Understanding” by Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU at the Margulies Collection on April 5th, 2023.

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

What would compel someone to buy expensive works of art? That is what I constantly ask myself every time we visit an art gallery. I see these abstract, modern art pieces and always wonder what would possess someone to spend so much money on something so abstract. On this trip, I finally received my answer, and that’s a good thing too since it was the last class I would attend this semester. And the person to give me that answer was Mr.Margulies himself.

Mr. Margulies was gracious enough to give us a tour of his warehouse and answer any of our questions. He also gave us the story of how he came to the collecting world. In this story was where I would find the answer to why he became an incredible collector of so many stunning and interesting pieces. He told us that he started out his just some prints that he could buy since he didn’t want to invest so much so quickly. But as his love for the arts grew so did his understanding of what the pieces meant not only to him but also to the Artist and on a broader scale. He gained an understanding of how these pieces could move people, including himself, to feel a certain way based on the piece.

The art that he came to be drawn to was powerful and moving. When I asked what he did to pick what he wanted to buy, he simply explained that the piece needed to draw his attention and make him feel something, which is an interesting concept given it is an inanimate object. But that is why your understanding of the arts is a constant progression. Because at first, you might just see a picture or a painting, but eventually you can come to understand the pain the artist had while painting or the hidden meaning behind a tall sculpture. These small things are what can draw you in or deter you from an art piece and that is what makes the Arts so unique. No one’s understanding of artwork is universal. Each person will feel differently towards an art piece, especially modern artwork, and the person who is drawn to it will be the one to buy it.

I loved hearing from Mr. Margulies. He spoke with passion about the art and the artist. He was good friends with some of them and I think that also helps immensely with being able to understand an artwork. Mr. Margulies could understand the art by Kieffer because he had not just learned about him from a quick Google search, but he also talked to him and spoke about what the sculptures and paintings were meant to say. The ability of an art piece to tell a story can compel you to want to learn more about the work and better understand it.

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

Art will always be subjective. I think that’s what makes it so special, not only to viewers like me but also to the collectors. We went to see the De la Cruz Collection as well that day and that collection was drastically different compared to the Margulies Collection even though it was a similar umbrella of art, mainly because of how unique each piece is and how each collector was drawn to those pieces. There’s beauty and skill to art collecting, but it is far more personal than I could have ever thought of until now. This was an amazing opportunity and I can’t wait to see the new collections when they rotate for the next season.

Chicken Key as Text

“Full Circle” by Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU

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

Being able to clean up our beautiful beaches is one of the greatest privileges I have been able to have this past year. Sadly I could not join the final cleanup our class partook in a week ago but I am glad to have done the clean up last semester.

Being able to see how people who would not typically be together, since this is an interdisciplinary course, come together to clean up our home and the home of so much wildlife is amazing. We’ve learned about how the Bay used to be so full of bio diversity and now because of all the dredging and construction there is not as much diversity and even less plant life.

It is important to look around us and acknowledge both the beauty of nature and the destruction that our hands have caused. When I was out there, I could see how beautiful the beach was and how clean the water got the farther from shore you were. But when you look closely, like we did, you saw the tons of micro plastics polluting the water and the sand. You could almost imagine what this place would have been like before all the pollution. I think it is important to recognize what it is and what it could have been if humans weren’t so power and money driven.

That is why I love doing these clean ups. It is a way for me to help balance out all the horrible things the people before me have done. Understanding what past generations have done to destroy our ecosystem and how we can fix it is a great way to start breaking the cycle of destruction of the place we call home. For me this really is a full circle moment because at the beginning of this class I had not really thought or cared much about being eco-conscious. And at our first clean up, my eyes were open to all the horrible things our ecosystem has had to endure and somehow it is still surviving. Not well enough to be thriving, it is on life support, and it is up to us to help save it from dying.

Miami Final Reflection

“My Miami” By Jennifer Rodriguez of FIU.

All pictures were take and edited by Jennifer Rodriguez. CC by 4.0

I was raised to believe I can become anything I set my mind to. I feel like that applies to everyone too. We can write our stories and make sure the ending is how we want it. Taking this class has shown me that there are so many people out there who also believed they could write their own stories and they used the blank pages of Miami as their book. From all the way back to the Taquesta, to the most recent upcoming Miami artist, all these people chose to set roots here and I was able to experience that thanks to this class.

Being able to better understand the community I live in has helped me appreciate what I have as a citizen of Miami. When I looked at the history of coconut grove, I saw black Bahamian men and women choosing to come together as a community despite being driven out of their homes and having daily struggles against poverty and racism. Their love for one another helped them persevere and stay alive even now, although we can still see the effects of developers wanting to ruin a historic community like Coconut Grove.

I chose to not only acknowledge the struggles of the pioneers in Miami but also appreciate them for not giving up on this little Atlantic coastal ridge in the middle of pure swamp. Through the many changes Miami went through, one theme remained clear, survival. When we went to the Bill Baggs State Park we saw the theme of survival once more when new learned about the Underground Railroad at the edge of the barrier island, and also the people who defended the light house during the Seminole wars. These amazing people chose to forge a new path on uncharted land and survived.

I want to use these examples in my own life. I want to have the courage of the Bahamians to persevere when times get tough. I want to defend my choices and forge my own path to success like the pioneers of Miami did long ago. Especially considering how the biggest advocates for the city of Miami were usually women. I want to make them proud by making a difference in the community. Making Miami my community not only in location, but also in my heart.

I plan to continue learning about the amazing and rich culture that I have only begun to scratch the surface of here in Miami. This culture is such a mix of all these amazing things like art, architecture, music, and just so many diverse people, each with their own cultures and sub communities within the expanse of our county. There were so many places and so many things we couldn’t get to this semester, but I hope to one day go back to some of these places and even visit new places. This has been such an enriching experience and I can’t wait to keep learning about MY MIAMI.

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