Laura Hernandez Nuñez : Miami as Text 2022-2023

Laura Hernandez Nuñez

I am currently a sophomore majoring in International Business studies with a minor in Economics at Florida International University. With my degree, I would love to facilitate networking and job opportunities between international firms with a focus on the Floridian and Spanish markets. I would also like to create businesses internationally or join a law firm specializing in international business law. I am a firm believer in academic honesty, excellence, and struggle. Some of my favorite activities are reading, keeping score of my reads on Goodreads, hanging out with friends and family, as my top love language is quality time, and going on walks with my dog.

Historic Miami as Text

“Power of Love ” by Laura Hernandez Nuñez of FIU at Lummus Park Historic District.

The power of love is uncontrollable. It is the driving muscle that propels humans to do unimaginable things. Love can be excruciating, intoxicating, and all-consuming. But it can also be one of the most powerful tools humans hold when making history.
Lummus Park harbors the former residence of the Wagner family. This infrastructure is commonly known for being the oldest structure in Miami. I must admit the longevity of the abode impressed me, but it was truly the history made within those walls that reached my soul. This home was built in 1855 by a mixed-race couple consisting of William Wagner, a German immigrant, and his French-Creole wife Eveline Aimar. William and Eveline fell in love and hoped to start a family, but several discriminatory laws prohibiting the marriage of interracial couples prevented them from doing so. Determined by the magnitude of their love, the Wagner family traveled to South Florida following the end of the Seminole Wars and made a living off the land. Moving to South Florida allowed them to start a family, but it did not make their lives easy. Due to the difference in skin color, their children suffered the hardships of racism. The children of the Wagner family grew up in a society that did not cherish their lives. They were often the target of cruelty due to their biracial identities. Moreover, during this time tensions were high between the members of the Seminole tribe and settlers following the gruesome wars. This breach provoked conflict between members of the tribe and settlers. Regardless, the Wagner family opened their doors to the Seminoles and befriended them. It is inspiring to observe how the Wagner family, after being rejected and outcasted by the majority of society due to their love, still held enough compassion to acknowledge the value of every human being.

After learning the history behind the Wagner residence, I am utterly convinced this residence holds unimaginable value to society and should never be demolished. I believe William and Eveline’s story is truly admirable and will be able to move other people as much as it moved me. Their story proves that kindness and love always matter, regardless of past treatments, judgments, or race. The love William and Eveline held for each was so pure and raw that it helped them survive in a time when loving someone different was penal. William and Eveline’s love changed the course of history forever, and it has inspired me to share my love frequently and unapologetically. I think their story proves how powerful love can be when making history. The ability to love without limits is a tool that exists within all of us. This force can help us do unimaginable amounts of good, but if not careful, it can also cause tremendous damage. Wagner’s story inspired me to expose those pieces of myself I am scared to share with the world due to fear and rejection. It inspired me to be fearless and love others fully and unapologetically.

The power of love is uncontrollable. It is the driving muscle that propels humans to do unimaginable things. Love can be excruciating, intoxicating, and all-consuming. But it can also be one of the most powerful tools humans hold when making history.

Overtown as Text

“A Place to Call Home ” by Laura Hernandez Nunez of FIU at Overtown  on September 21st, 2022

 It wasn’t until I moved to the United States that I discovered how little I know about human suffering. I have always lived a privileged life. I was born in a wealthy country to diligent parents who cared for me in every aspect of my life. I have always had a roof over my head, warm food on the table, and clothes on my back. Most importantly, I have always had a place to call home, somewhere I could fall back on. Naturally, this is something I failed to recognize growing up. It wasn’t until I came to the United States that I found how important it is to have a place to call home. That is what Spain is to me, a familiar place of warmth and comfort. A place I can revisit, where I know my barrios, my customs, and my people. Alberta Godfrey made me realize how fortunate I am to have a place to call home.

Overtown is one of the most culturally impacting places I have ever visited. I was mesmerized by the culture of the once-vibrant neighborhood where artistry and music overflowed the streets. Standing in front of Lyric Theater, I could almost imagine a time when every corner of little Broadway boomed with musicians and pedestrians who brought joy and music to the streets. It is incredible to consider that Overtown was the core of the Civil Rights movement in Miami. Many influential figures one day rummaged the streets of this neighborhood. The neighborhood where black families lived and thrived. A place these families could call home. Now all that is left are the pieces of a once-upon-a-time thriving ecosystem. We have destroyed a place of peace and comfort for many families, blinded by our greed and lack of human decency merely impulsed by our desire to build bigger, better, and fancier establishments. Failing to realize the importance of cultural and historic sites where so many historical figures have made history. The culture, the buildings, the life. The recognition of black excellence and culture. We have destroyed Overtown, and now the damage is too grave to repair.

I will forever be grateful to Alberta for what she taught me in a matter of hours. I will never forget the story of her neighborhood and her people. How she poured all her love into her people and her community, fighting for it. The history of Overtown shinning so vividly within her I could almost see it. Her story inspired me to do better, to go out into the world, and make a difference. To have compassion. Everyone deserves to have a place to call home. Alberta’s home was destroyed, gentrified, and remodeled to meet society’s standards. Losing in the process the masterful piece Overtown contributed to the history of Miami. Luckily, not all hope is lost, as the history of Overtown still lives in the hearts of its people. What a shame we can no longer enjoy Overtown in all its greatness and glory. What a shame community has lost its home. 

Chicken Key as Text

We Are Drowning In Plastic, and We Won’t Even Realize it.

Human beings are slowly drowning in plastic. I realized this when I kayaked to Chicken Key last Wednesday. This was the rude awakening I needed to start making more conscious choices regarding my carbon footprint. Before the event, I knew Chicken key was a virgin estate. There is currently no human population inhabiting the land, and I thought the plastic waste I would find there would be minimal. I expected to pick up a few microplastics and bottle caps scattered around the sand. I could not have been any more wrong. The number of plastic items deserted on Chicken Key was devastating.  There were plastic bottles, caps, and wrappers everywhere. I was shocked by the tremendous amount of waste on the key we picked. There was not a single piece of land uncontaminated by human waste, and the more I removed it, the more I realized how much of it was left. 

However, as I cleaned the plastic items and waste I realized there was plenty of wildlife on the key. For one, there were several different breeds of insects, crabs, and birds inhabiting the island. I was constantly on the lookout for crabs and enormous spiders during my stay. That made me realize that not only are we making the planet inhospitable for humans, but we are making it for thousands of other species as well. Thousands of fish, insects, and crustaceans die due to indirect human activity, such as improper waste littering. We are generating plastic and toxic waste at an alarming rate, and it is taking a toll on the human and wild animals population. Land and fresh water are scarce resources, yet we create chemically and physically toxic environments with our lifestyles. Societal tendencies to constantly acquire new materials for cheaper prices are most definitely taking a toll on the Earth. 

There are many ways people can lower their carbon footprints, and while some changes might seem small and insignificant, their magnitude is incomparable. The use of single-use plastic should be limited if not abolished globally. The number of single-use plastics scattered through Chicken Key was petrifying enough to make me reconsider all my life choices. I can only begin to imagine the amount of single-use plastic in the ocean. Oil should be employed to keep families safe and heated, not to create products destroying our natural resources. Recycling should become a mandatory part of a child’s education. It was not until I got to college that I learned how to recycle correctly. After visiting Chicken Key, it is feasible to assume other people still don’t know how to do this. Education on recycling practices and eco-friendly activities should be mandatory as that could severely alter our climate change crisis. In the meantime, it is of utmost importance to human advancement to preserve our fresh and saltwater ecosystems. Without these resources, life quality would be diminished in numerous areas of the globe, and millions of humans would suffer the devastating consequences of climate change. 

Vizcaya As Text

A combination of beautiful items fill the rooms and halls of Vizcaya. Sparkling silverware pieces, precious floor and wall ornaments, and a lavish arrangement of furniture and paintings, permeate the Vizcaya residence and gardens. The Vizcaya museum and gardens represent a physical representation of how the Gilded Age manifested in Miami. By roaming the rooms and halls of the attraction, spectators can feel a speck of the glamor and affluence that filled Vizcaya during this age. Visiting the museum can provide a grounding experience, as enchanted observers become awed by the luxurious atmosphere of the residence. It is most fitting that the Vizcaya residence is in Miami.

Visiting the Vizcaya museum and gardens filled me with longing for an age I have and will never fully understand. Over the passing of the decades, I am glad for the maintenance of the museum,  as it now represents a piece of history frozen forever for us to revisit and relive.  James Deering’s winter estate showed me how cultural appropriation and greed manifest in people’s desires, or in this case, residences. As a firm believer in the holistic values found in the culture and traditions of different societies, I believe people should avoid overstepping cultural boundaries. From my visit to the museum, it is apparent Deering and his designers got the inspiration for the residence from Spain and other European countries. 

According to historical accounts, Spaniard settlers from the Province of Vizcaya reached Biscayne Bay during the 1500s. The alleged settlement inspired Deering to build his estate based on European architectural designs and decorations. Deering took it as far as positioning a stone sculpture of Ponce De Leon at the entrance of his estate, clearly marking Spaniard affluence in the bay and residence. As a Spaniard, why would I be upset at this? The answer is simple, I will not stand for the glorification of my culture when the struggles of black laborers and indigenous people are ignored. The Vizcaya residence was built by the hands of black laborers, most of them Bahamian, on land that previously belonged to the Tequesta. Yet little information or glorification of these cultural groups is found in the residence. How can I take pride in the representation of my culture, when my representation is diminishing someone else’s efforts? Black laborers built Vizcaya and Vizcaya village, why is there no history that represents them there? The Tequesta tribe inhabited the land for many centuries, why are they not honorably represented either?

Deering incorporated decorations from a culture he knew little about and omitted pieces of information that make the history of Miami. The land Vizcaya was built on contains endless years of black and Indian suffering at the hands of the white man. Even though we are still trying to correct the errors committed by our ancestors, failing to understand how important it is to include these ethnic groups in historical pieces is detrimental to society. The attributes these ethnic groups indirectly incorporated into Vizcaya should be learned in its history.

Miami Beach as Text

South Beach is one of the most visited destinations in South Florida. I always believed this was because of the vibrant nightlife South Beach clubs offer, the flashy cars that roam the streets, or its beautiful beaches and parks. Infamous streets such as Collins Avenue or Ocean Drive make South Beach universally recognizable, but it was not until I visited Miami Beach and wandered its streets that I realized it is so much more than that. South Beach is attractive to tourists and Miamians alike because of its peculiar architectural style. The sightseeing in South Beach is never ending, not only because of the beach but because it contains an insane variety of architectural styles that are hard to find anywhere else. Miami Beach is currently one of the biggest epicenters of ArtDeco establishments, all because of the efforts of a single woman, Barbara Baer Capitman. 

A statue of Barbara Capitman resides in South Beach, serving as a recognition of her hard work and influence in keeping the beautiful aesthetic of the neighborhood. South Beach started to gain praise worldwide because of its innovative cafes, beautiful weather, and the openness of the inhabitants. Many constructors wanted to exploit the terrain, take down old buildings and build newer condominiums and luxury apartments with Ocean views. The tear-down of old buildings would have drastically changed the dynamic of Miami Beach. Barbara fought to preserve the aesthetic of the older establishments, fighting constructors off and maintaining the hidden gems that make up the beauty of Miami Beach. Barbara was tenacious, determined, and calculated, and because of her, we can now enjoy Miami Beach in all its glory. 

There is an old saying that goes, “it takes a village.” But in some cases, it does not. Sometimes the village takes the form of an inspired woman because that is what Barbara is to us, an inspiration. She believed in her cause and did everything to fight for it. Barbara helped preserve a little piece of history that now serves as a home to many. People from all parts of the world come to Miami Beach to experience its greatness. 

Miami Beach was conserved because of Barbara’s efforts, however, this makes me wonder how many more gems we could have preserved in South Florida if more residents had been as brave as Barbara. That is the case with the neighborhood of Overtown, where gentrification destroyed the history of the place. Old churches, buildings, and streets were torn down and reinvented as condominiums and apartments. The establishment of newer buildings caused a massive degradation to the neighborhood as many families were forced to move out of their homes. The vibrancy and glory of Overtown slowly diminished as its residents departed. It is almost unimaginable that the same could have occurred in Miami Beach. If old buildings had been torn down and reconstructed, would Miami Beach continue being universally recognized? Or would it pass down to history as something different? 

Deering Estate as Text

Charles Deering was a very influential figure during the 1900s. He and his family had acquired a vast capital, and the evidence of their lavish lifestyle is present in what they left behind in Miami. Their fortune is evident in the Richmond Cottage, one of the oldest wooden structures found in Miami. It was built originally in 1896 as a family home for S. H. Richmond. Years later, following the construction of several railroads, the Richmond Cottage was transformed into an inn, where visitors would often conduct business. Eventually, the place closed in 1915, and Charles Deering acquired and converted it into his winter home. In some way, the Deering family transformed Miami, and the Deering Estate will now form part of the heritage of Miami.

Many influential figures have changed and defined how we think, live, and see the world. Charles Deering is most definitely one of them. Deering always admired the fine arts. The way he meticulously designed his estate is one of the many pieces of evidence that indicate his passion for the arts. Currently, the Deering Estate offers an Artist in Residence Program, where professionals in several fields work on projects. A project a 1900s influential figure designed almost a century ago is still relevant in today’s society, showing how much of a difference a single person can make in history. 

I believe the current education system trains us to be somewhat conformational. Most people spend their lives either working or studying, forgetting that to make a difference in the world, one must step up and meet their expectations. Not to say that working or studying is not significant, but we need to employ the values obtained from education and careers to make a difference in the world. Everyone has something positive to add to society, as small or insignificant as it may seem. Everyone must act in unison to make the world a better place for our prosperity because no change will occur if we do not work together. Currently, there are numerous influential and anonymous figures making huge differences. It is not enough. Everyone must act, or the world will continue on its catastrophic journey, where some become extremely affluential, and others die of starvation and thirst. We live in a world where not everyone has equal opportunities, but everyone has identical potential. It is up to us to determine how we can change the world in our way. 

Lately, I have been reflecting on this prompt more intensely. How will I contribute to a better world? This question should be permanently evolving throughout our lives. For now, I have settled on making the lives around me better, focusing on putting positive output into my intimate circle and bubble. This affirmation is small, but it motivates me to do more positive things throughout my day. Including helping my mom with household chores, listening to my dad’s wisdom, frequently contacting my grandma, and being present for my friends and family. Small changes can go a long way.

Rubell Museum as Text

I have never been a fan of contemporary art. It is something that has never called to me before. I am without a doubt an art enthusiast, however. I can appreciate art in almost all its forms; paintings, dances, music, and sculptures.  I love how art can provoke certain feelings within us and how everyone experiences art differently. To me, art has always been emotionally transmissive. I have an appreciation for art pieces that make me feel something. I am a sensitive person, therefore, this occurs often.  I develop a particular liking for pieces that truly move something within me. I love art pieces that stir something inside me and make me question everything. Who am I? What can I do to be better? Am I happy? I adore that art makes me feel this way. However, during my stay at the Rubell museum, I could not help but wonder, what factor determines what is considered art, because numerous breathtaking pieces awed me during my visit. Several others made me think, how can this possibly be considered art?

My visit to the Rubell museum confirmed that not only am I not a contemporary art fanatic, as I found several of the pieces tasteless and simplistic, but I also do not know how to distinguish what art is from what it is not. Several times throughout the visit, I found myself utterly amazed due to the intricate patterns and feelings of the art pieces. However, the rest of my stay I spend wondering who came up with the concept of art. Art is all around us, but who determines what is considered “art” and what is not? 

I came to the realization today that my question will never have a proper answer. It is we who determine whether something is considered art or when it is not. Because art is like beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. This seems like a tremendous job to have, to determine what counts as art and what does not, but it is the reality. Artists cater to their audience, and their audience is who creates the artist. This happens to artists all over the world. The public is who determines when something is not considered art or when something is. Many of the pieces I saw at the Rubell museum I did not consider to be art until I heard their stories. That made me see how important is for an artist to convey the power of understanding to the audience while giving hints of the meaning within the art. Still the meaning of the piece could be interpreted completely differently by separate members.

The world without art would be dull and sad, however, art and beauty can be found almost everywhere. Sometimes even in contemporary art pieces. The trick is to always keep looking, this way we may always find something that makes us a thing. Something that stirs something deep inside us, and brings out a better version of us. 

Untitled Art as Text

This course has introduced to me a world I had never visited before, the world of contemporary art. Truthfully, I have never been interested in contemporary art. Not to say I do not value its uniqueness and contribution or that I am not an art fanatic. It simply means that I have had trouble understanding why some trivial pieces are considered art. I have attended numerous globally known museums containing the art pieces of renowned artists such as Picasso, Gaudi, and Velazquez. While I have never had a calling for art, I am grateful for my introduction to these masters during my youth and have never failed to recognize their excellence. During this semester in Miami, I have been introduced to more contemporary art than ever. At first, it was hard to understand the beauty or meaning behind the pieces, as many of them seemed trivial and meaningless to me. It was not until we visited the Untitled Art Fair that I realized my lack of interest in contemporary art was rooted in ignorance. How could I possibly dislike something simply because I did not understand it?

I had a life-altering experience at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami Beach last week, all due to the contribution of Natalie Fates. When we first visited her stand, none of the art pieces caught my attention. Unable to grasp the meaning of the airplane windows art piece, even though I considered it beautifully done and very original, I disregarded it. I also enjoyed the spandex and fabric painting, but I could not catch what made this art piece so important, so I did not spend too much time trying to figure it out. Thankfully, Natalie did a great job explaining both pieces to the class. She began by telling the immigration story of the designer and creator of the airplane windows piece. After the explanation, I finally understood the meaning behind the art. Those windows did not merely represent airplane windows but the journey of immigrants. As immigrants, we often abandon our comfort and homes to hop on a plane looking for a better future. That is what those windows represented, the journey from home to our new world. Then, Natalie moved to describe the meaning behind the fabric and spandex piece. She explained the artist used fabrics and then lengthened them to simulate how society stretches women. As a woman, I was able to identify with this. There are several requirements society expects of women, and rarely are we able to live life as we want. Women are faced with hard decisions daily. Should we create a family or follow our ambitions? If we decide to form a family, our chances of achieving career goals diminish, yet if we follow our ambitions, we are considered poor caregivers and mothers. Should we walk alone at night, or should a friend escort us? Walking alone at night might seem terrifying for many women. Yet can we fully trust male friends to walk us safely home? This art piece captured the reality of being a woman in society. It was as sad as it was beautiful. 

Author: Laura Hernandez Nunez

I am currently a sophomore majoring in International Business studies with a minor in Economics at Florida International University. With my degree, I would love to facilitate networking and job opportunities between international firms with a focus on the Floridian and Spanish market. I would also like to create businesses internationally, or join a law firm firm specializing in international business law. I am a firm believer in academic honesty, excellence, and struggle. Some of my favorite activities are reading, and keeping score of my reads on goodreads, hanging out with friends and family, as my top love language is quality time, and going on walks with my dog, no explanation needed here.

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