Melanie Rodriguez: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Melanie Rodriguez is a sophomore at the Florida International University honors college, who studies natural and applied sciences. She also minors in biology and psychology, as she hopes to have a career in the medical field, specifically dermatology. Her long term goal is to open her own practice in Miami, and hopes to help others feel beautiful in their own skin. She currently holds a role in the healthcare field as a certified medical assistant, and values supporting her community. Daughter of two Cuban immigrant parents, Melanie is a first generation college student who has been a Miami resident for twenty years and continues to explore the city’s great history.

Downtown Miami As Text

“A Village Becomes A City” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Downtown Miami

Taken by Melanie Rodriguez

Miami, to me, was the culmination of cultures, a perfect blend of people from all different stretches of life, a melting pot of heritage, lifestyles, and traditions. If you ask anyone what Miami was known for, they will all likely give you the same answer: nightlife, warm weather, and amazing beaches. Now, Miami has an entirely new definition to me, as I look at the city through a wider lens. We, as a population, tend to overlook the history of where we are, and who was here before us. The majority of Miami’s population is frankly not aware of Miami’s history, and live life in a surface-level experience of this city. As a class, we explored downtown Miami and had the privilege of being engulfed with history throughout the day. I can say that after this day, I feel like a well-rounded citizen, who is able to have conversations about the founding and first beginnings of Miami, and most importantly about the notable people who have left their imprint on our city: The Tequesta. 

Throughout the day, it was impossible to go without mentioning the Tequesta, as they were involved in so much of Miami’s history, and this just goes to show the importance that this tribe had on our city, which was once theirs. Occupying the Miami river and Biscayne bay since 500 BCE, the Tequesta was one of the first tribes in Florida, and thrived by taking advantage of the bays as well as hunting and gathering in what is today known as the everglades. Evidence of a trade network was also found in the Miami Circle, located in Brickell point and discovered in 1998. Many artifacts, such as shells, stone, and animal bones were found in this historical landmark of a Tequesta village that was sadly demolished with no remorse by Henry Flarger. On our tour, as we walked by the Miami Circle, many of us thought we were being led to a dog park. Unfortunately, this historic landmark was new to even me, a lifelong Miami resident. Walking alongside this river I could not help but wonder who was walking on this same patch of land as me, many years before colonization took place. The Miami circle is a prehistoric structure that represents those who were here before us, and is a hidden wonder in the middle of the city that, like much of the Tequesta culture, received little respect and consideration. The Tequesta vanished as a tribe due to slavery, and settlement battles when the British obtained Florida. “Collateral damage” is all I can think about when I learned about the treatment of this tribe by early settlers. Just a short walk away from Miami Circle, another historic landmark covers 500 bodies under its walls, and is being “honored” with a mural, essentially culturally appropriating native american tribes. Ever since learning what lies beneath this Whole Foods store, I must say that I am disgusted to even step foot in this establishment, and firmly believe that the history of these bodies is priceless compared to the profit being made from the building. The modern city that we know and love today has a sinister past that is quite literally, being covered by beautiful architecture and luxury.

I can only hope to honor and bring awareness to this crucial part of Miami’s history through telling its story to others. While I am embarrassed to say that I knew very little of what was a very important culture to Miami’s beginnings, I have been enabled through this walking tour to get a taste of its story. I specifically chose to write about Tequesta, among all of the other important topics we touched upon, in order to inspire others to take a deeper look at the world around them. I encourage everyone who lives, or visits Miami, to stop having a surface level view of the city and let yourself be truly engulfed by the beauty of this city’s history. 

Overtown As Text

“protect it at all costs” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Overtown, Miami

Photos taken by Melanie Rodriguez

Music and laughter filled the streets that were once called “Little Broadway” in the 1920’s. 2nd avenue was filled with Theatres and restaurants where you could find Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong performing and staying in this area. There is deep, deep significance within this community, and it has a strong hold on our city’s history. This neighborhood is in Miami, Florida, and is known today as Overtown, although the scene will look different today than described above. All of this rich history was washed away by the tsunami of modernization. Overtown is a captivating and historic neighborhood in Miami that often gets overlooked. This area was once booming with life and filled with excitement and energy. It is unfortunately greatly undervalued by the city and is not what it once was. Not all change is good change, and this neighborhood is a victim of tactical urbanism, harming not only the landscape of the area, but also the residents of the community. I got the privilege of hearing personal accounts from Alberta Godfrey, a long time citizen of Overtown, who spoke to us about her experiences in the neighborhood. I connected Ms. Godfrey’s anecdotes about life in this neighborhood before vs. what it is now to the urban renewal of the area. 

Overtown is historically known as the heart of the black community in Miami. Bahamian immigrants and black laborers were settled in this area as of 1896, and Miami’s black community settled here due to the Jim Crow laws enforcing the separation of blacks and whites. Even after voting on the incorporation of Miami, Blacks were segregated and only allowed to live in this area, which became known as “colored town” at the time. These people were the same ones who helped develop Miami by constructing buildings and hotels, yet were assigned the least desirable neighborhood to live in. The area was filled with poverty and a growing population, but it was transformed by the black community who began opening thriving businesses. Overtown was able to prosper in many ways as the residents opened businesses that became extremely successful. Restaurants, theaters, and stores filled the streets of the newly buzzing community that attracted famous black artists who performed here, after returning from their segregated performances in other parts of Miami. The neighborhood progressed in ways which speak volumes to the beautiful art and culture that it expelled.  

“Well, the most vivid thing I remember about Overtown now is the fact that the house where I was born and lived, and my grandfather’s store was in that neighborhood, is all-and the church that I went to-were all torn down. We were victims of urban removal and in order to put in the I-95 expressway, they took those two streets.” -Doretha Nichson, interviewed by Ameenah Shakir

Displacement is a tale as old as time in the United States. By the 1960’s, Miami decided to expand Interstate 95, leading to the decline of Overtown. This interstate was expanded through the middle of Overtown, displacing over 10,000 residents. Many had to leave their homes, businesses, and lives behind. Professor Bailly shared a story about a priest who had to choose between the demolition of his home, or his church, which stood side-by-side. This story broke my heart, as no person should have to make this choice, and be treated with such little regard. There are too many stories to tell regarding this cruel and cold treatment. Through greed and selfishness, many communities have been ruined due to redlining, urbanization, and gentrification, and Overtown is just one of the many victims of this. This was an attempt to redevelop low-income areas to appeal to wealthy individuals. Concrete jungles cover what was once a thriving area, now unrecognizable as what it was before. Schools, churches, and businesses all suffered and are replaced with modern buildings, big name stores, and other construction that is meant to appeal to the public and help the “image” of the neighborhood. In reality, this ruined lives and added to the poverty epidemic in the area. This is inhumane, it is greed. Ms. Godfrey of the Greater Bethel African Methodist Church shared a frustrating account of how her church used to be filled with members from the community, all gathered together, before many of them were forced out of their homes. Now she explains how the church barely has 30 members remaining, and are attempting to promote and rebuild the community they once had. I have no doubt that the decline of this church, and many other businesses, is due to modern business tactics of the city, where many people end up suffering the consequences and forced out of their community. Many people can no longer afford to live here as more and more buildings appealing to the middle class are being constructed.One thing which completely shocked me when visiting Overtown was how little importance the city puts on preserving the historic places. Being one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami should mean something, yet when you walk through Overtown, the preservation of history is neglected. While some landmarks, theaters, and churches may remain, I believe a greater budget should be allotted to protect this historic area. After all the harm the city has done to Overtown and those who reside here, the area should be more greatly prioritized. Today, the community is working to rebuild the area of Overtown and generate more business, but it is difficult to revitalize a neighborhood that is constantly getting torn down. I have great respect for anyone who dealt with the marginalization of this community and suffered because of it. The neighborhood of Overtown is surrounded with people full of amazing energy, and I can only wish to one day see it thrive again and be prioritized by the city, like the great historic landmark that it is. I wish to one day walk through Overtown and experience the liveliness and excitement that once was there, the jazz that filled the streets, and the community of people who held it together. 

Chicken Key As Text

“Nurture Our Nature” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Chicken Key

Photos taken by Melanie Rodriguez

Just one mile off the shore of the Deering estate exists an uninhabited island that is a true bayside beauty. It is so close to civilization, yet remains mostly in its natural state,except for the devastating human-induced effects of uncaring visitors, which has taken a toll on the island. Time and time again, habitats and nature are destroyed, trashed, and vandalized with no remorse or care for the organisms that depend on these natural resources to survive. “Destruction of nature is now becoming human nature,” says Dulsi Joy.

This class did not stand for the pollution of nature, and participated in a cleanup in an attempt to preserve the lovely island of Chicken Key. Plastic is extremely abundant in our lives and we are constantly being surrounded by convenient plastic packaging and objects. What is even more abundant, however, is the amount of plastic debris present in our environment, whether it is large pieces or small fragments. Packed Bags full of glass, bottle caps, and plastic debris left the island with us that day, but what will always remain is the microplastics left on the island by all this pollution, no matter how much trash was picked up. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic which can greatly affect soil quality, carry diseases, have a toxic effect on wildlife, and cause overall damage to an area. One of the most notable sources of microplastics is accidental release, such as landfills or humans not properly disposing of trash. Microplastic pollution is present everywhere, and these fragments are resilient, as they never biodegrade and cannot be filtered out, meaning they could remain in an area for thousands of years slowly causing harm to it. It is nearly impossible to eliminate microplastics from an area that has already been affected by pollution. Trash found on islands can be broken into even smaller pieces by water friction, wind, and sun rays, so picking it up before this happens can decrease the threat of releasing more harmful tiny fragments into the environment. Not only does this harm the land and wildlife, but these fragments are also carried into the water by wind and pushed into the sea, threatening the aquatic life and quality of water as well. Chicken Key also happens to be extremely close to mangroves, which protect water quality and nurture many species of animals. If The trash found on Chicken Key makes its way towards the mangroves and introduces contaminants, it could damage them and lead to coastal damage, a decrease in fish availability, and even increase erosion.

This is a chain effect of damage that begins in the hands of humans and how we can change our approach to the disposal of plastic. You do not have to be a science or marine biology buff to understand how plastic pollution is slowly killing the land around us. Small islands that remain in their natural state such as Chicken Key should not be reduced to a trash-filled environment that impairs its organisms from thriving, but should be protected and treated with respect. Work needs to be done to preserve these lands, but we can only begin with altering our daily habits and plastic intake. The island of Chicken Key would also benefit from microplastic testing, as species such Turtles are being found on this island and would likely not survive with the presence of small, ingestible fragments. There is currently no data on the amount of microplastics on this Island, as it has not yet been studied, but it interests me to know an exact number, especially after seeing all the trash found on Chicken Key. 


Vizcaya As Text

“Beyond The Beauty” By Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Vizcaya

Vizcaya’s breathtaking natural landscape is captivating and inviting, even before entering. Each aspect of this estate is full of intriguing details that you simply cannot take your eyes off of. Vizcaya is a historic mansion located in the Coconut Grove area, which embodies the true essence of “Miami” and its extravagant, almost pretentious, nature. Each room is themed and inspired from a different influence in regional decorative and architectural style, making Vizcaya the ultimate culmination of cultures. What makes Miami, “Miami,” is the way that so many distinctive cultures come together and boil down to one large pot of population. This is exactly how I would come to describe Vizcaya, as it is full of a variety of influences that come together to form one magnificent structure. 

Residents and tourists are drawn into Vizcaya purely by the aesthetics of it, but fail to recognize the landscape in a historic context. All around the mansion, the history of the building almost jumps off the walls and towards you, as you are constantly surrounded by pieces of art that are extremely relevant in Vizcaya’s history. A Vizcaya guide explained to us that many people visit the museum to take photos and never return again, sadly never knowing the rich history which surrounds them. As a lifelong Miami resident who has visited this mansion twice, I also am guilty of coming to this landmark purely for aesthetics and never stopped to think about what was present around me, and I’m sure many visitors can relate. It is easy to be distracted and completely engulfed by the lavishness that fills every corner of the rooms, ignoring the importance of the building or even the hands who built it. 

The most prominent name associated with Vizcaya is James Deering, the original owner of the villa who was savvy and also had a sharp eye for the design, along with the artistic eye of Paul Chaflin. They worked to commission contemporary work from popular artists around the world and brought it to Vizcaya after it was built in 1916. The most amazing part of this visit was getting to learn about the origin and original purpose of many design aspects in the villa, as well as speaking about the building of the property itself, which is not discussed on the official museum tour. Many of the installations in the museum, ironically enough, served no purpose at all, besides aesthetics. Vizcaya is a house of illusions, full of beauty but covers the extensive work of black and bohemian migrant workers who built the mansion itself. Countless hours of hard work were put into perfecting every detail of the gardens, rooms, and structures of the villa, but no effort is put into giving well-deserved credit to those who sacrificed their livelihood, and brought knowledge and experience into this magnificent Miami landscape. As a visitor of Vizcaya, I would love to see more information be available on site about the building of the estate, as well as it be more incorporated into the tours, especially since Coconut Grove was historically known to be a segregated area of Miami. There is no sense in the present without context of the past, and I think it is extremely important to integrate difficult conversations about Vizcaya’s history into its current appeal. The museum should be amplifying the voices and experiences of those who helped make this historic landmark what it is today, and I believe that this will even add to the beauty of the estate. Vizcaya has evolved from the home of one businessman to a historical center for the public, and hopefully will continue to put in the work needed to capture a complete view of their history.  

Miami Beach As Text

“Art Deco As Visual Art” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Beach.

Tourism runs wild in South Florida, and Miami Beach is the tourist spot that put Miami on the map, even to this day. Formerly (and wrongfully) thought of as a “wasteland,” Miami Beach was founded in 1910 by Carl Fisher, who destroyed the forest of mangroves in order to build the area that is famously visited today. Fisher’s development led to segregation of the area, as well as irreversible ecological damage on the land that once held a wide variety of marine species. Although the history of Miami Beach was dehumanizing and damaging, it did not stop the area from flourishing, especially when it came to architecture. In the 1930’s, a style took over Miami Beach that had a great influence in architecture, fashion, and decor, and is still present there to this day. Famously known for its widespread mix of architectural influences, much of Miami Beach incorporates the famous “art deco” style which surrounds the area and gives it an original taste that is unlike any other. Art Deco provides originality to the area and makes it truly one in a million. This was single-handedly the thing that drew my attention most to Miami Beach, as the infamous style of buildings was extremely eye-catching and visually pleasing. The more I observed the buildings, the more similarities I noticed in them, and as we discussed the concepts that made art deco so original, I was drawn in by its history and perspective. It is not only the architecture that draws me in, but I think of these buildings more as visual art, and I am thrilled that they are protected and available for people to enjoy. Thanks to Barbara Baer Capitman, who made an extreme effort in protecting Art Deco in Miami, the buildings are protected from becoming wrecked, basic government condos. Originating in Paris, art deco pays homage to styles of the future and cubism, and follows influences from Mesopotamia. Geometry and symmetry also play a large role in art deco, as the style follows the “rule of three” to maintain balance. The main characteristics which set art deco apart are eyebrows, neon, and curved edges. While there are many other key devices in this style, these three are the ones I noticed the most, and the ones that set the buildings aside from any other structure. They are not brick-like and dull, but they are bright, symmetrical, curved, with extending structures that make them original, and as some might say, “funky.”  I cannot imagine Miami being filled with any other architectural style, and I will tell you why: Art deco is known to incorporate objects that hold no meaning and are used just for aesthetic purposes. It is a style that is superficial, beautiful on the outside, and provides something interesting and beautiful to look at. This is something that many structures in Miami have in common, such as the famous Vizcaya mansion that was essentially a show of wealth and luxury. Art deco belongs in Miami, and it embodies Miami and everything that it stands for. When I see art deco, I think of luxury and individuality, and it screams sleek, sophisticated elegance. I appreciate it, and I appreciate Miami Beach for having a unique landscape filled with anti-traditional styles.  

Deering Estate As Text

“Embrace your environment” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

In tune with my environment, while completely out of touch with my comfort zone. Disconnected from the world, yet so reconnected with myself. Before suburbs, high rises, and white sand beaches, Miami’s authentic territory was full of mangroves, trees, and fresh water springs. These habitats are no longer abundant in Miami as they used to be, but there is one place where they are protected and still exist today: The Deering Estate nature preserve. Exploring eight different terrains on the Deering Estate nature preserve hike was an awakening experience, which I felt so privileged to be able to experience. This estate off the coast of Biscayne bay is one of the few natural environments that is completely protected and preserved in its natural state. Considered a historic site, Deering Estate aims to protect its widely thriving environments at all costs. While I thought I knew what Florida looked like, walking through the pine rock lands and mangroves felt like I had stepped into the past, and embraced what Miami’s landscape truly looked like. The biggest and most important takeaway I have from hiking through these ecosystems is that humans try too little to adapt to their environment, and try too hard to change it instead. Why are we not using our natural resources to thrive? Instead, Miami is famous for importing nature from exotic areas, such as the famous palm trees, which are not native to Florida. By doing this, we are compromising the habitats of animals that thrive off native species. Humans should learn to flourish with the environment around them rather than trying too hard to alter it. This was one of the biggest points brought up by our guide and expert, Ana, as she urged us to plant native species in our homes. This small effort can aid in bringing back species to their homelands and restore the natural flora and fauna of an environment. I am so glad that these areas are protected, and I am overjoyed that years ago, the building of the railroad was not successful, and I was able to experience and be captivated by nature in its purest form at the nature preserve. While I aspire for more people to experience the natural preserves such as I did, I do think keeping this area private is the best way to protect it, as humans have shown time and time again just how brutal and damaging they can be to nature. It is so beautiful what spaces can turn without human interference, and I wish I knew about this hidden gem sooner. I would rather be surrounded by protected natural environments than fancy high rises and modern beaches, and I would love to see more preserved terrain around Miami, as I think it would add to the beauty and diversity of the city. Miami would benefit from filling its lands with native species rather than exotic plants, and should learn to embrace the environment which once flourished here. When I think about the true Miami, I will now always think about the Deering Estate nature preserve hike, walked by many generations before me. 

Rubell Museum As Text

“For The Love Of Art” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Rubell Museum

Contemporary Art has been criticized, mocked, slandered, and censored by the public. It is in danger, and the contant question of “is it art?” continues to resurface through conversations about contemporary works. It has been called a “fraud,” and is referred to as not real art. The censorship which surrounds art is also widespread since it values different belief systems from what historically classical art tends to communicate, ultimately violating artistic freedom. as uncomfortable as they may be, contemporary art is important, and communicates bold, controversial topics that are present in our current times. Art is used as a movement, statement, or representation, and needs to be preserved, and displayed for the public. The population as a whole tends to value the works of classical or even ancient artworks more than contemporary works, but not the Rubell family. 

The Rubell family holds a contemporary art empire, and now has one of the largest private collections, with a sea of works by both emerging and established artists. They had little to no money when they began collecting, and even then they truly understood the value of contemporary work and its effect on our world. The Rubell’s have no doubt helped preserve, fund, and create a widespread appreciation for this kind of work. They don’t care whether a work is found on the street, made from scraps of garbage, is a clay sculpture, or is not traditional art at all. They do not question if a work is art, for anything is art if it speaks to you, challenges you, or makes you think. Contemporary artists struggle to get recognized, and to get their careers set in motion, or their work appreciated without the great influence and reputation that classic art holds. Rejection and little exposure is a widespread issue among contemporary artists, but the Rubell’s help this cause by scouting out art that speaks to them, and supporting artists through purchasing their art. This one purchase can ignite an artist’s career simply for the exposure they get being in the Rubell museum. I appreciate the Rubell family for supporting artists, big or small, and for having deep rooted morals and values when it comes to purchasing art. They do not want art simply for profit or wealth, but rather to aid in the preservation and display of contemporary work. Doing so carries the historical value from this era and ensures that future generations are able to gain insight on our world. Today, this might not seem of great importance, but it will be very influential and valued in the future.

Being one of my first contemporary art museum visits, I learned to appreciate art not for what it is but for the emotions that it provokes in me. One piece that spoke to me specifically was “Family”, by Karon Davis, where a black family of three were sculpted with antlers on them. These antlers, similar to those of a deer, to me symbolized “prey, target, help.”  At first glance, this work drew my attention, and provoked a feeling of pity for this family, who looked sad in a way. This work is associated with prejudice and racism, an issue which is not captured or emphasized as much in classic works. It is important that paintings like this are widespread as they describe issues within our society. From the Rubell family, I have learned to not leave any work unappreciated, no matter how simple the work may be, it is the intention of the artists that speaks to the audience. I will never again purchase a work of art based on its reputation, or the name on the corner of the poster. I will value the work for what it is, and not who created it or when it was created.

Untitled As Text

“Conversations About Art” By Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Untitled Art Fair

The Untitled art fair in Miami exudes vibrance, newness, freshness, and unique individuality. The galleries are full of buzz and pressure, and the stakes are high. Aesthetically pleasing in every corner, full of new visions and one of a kind works, there is nowhere else in this world where I could imagine the Untitled art fair being held. Attending the exhibit was a privilege, but also an extreme learning opportunity for me. Being new to the world of art, I just began exploring the field this semester, and walked into the exhibit wanting to absorb something more than purely aesthetics. I learned from previously attending the Rubell Museum that contemporary art, looks aside, portrays a deeper meaning that only the artist themselves can explain, or the audience can decide what it means to them. Therefore, getting to meet the artists who produced work at Untitled and having them explain their works to us was an opportunity that I will never take for granted. 

The works that speak to me greatly are the ones that say the most about our society. As I looked at art through the artist’s perspective that day, I understood how they viewed the world through their own lens. Having this perspective allowed me to view the art for what it was meant to describe, and evoked even more feeling into me. Artist and DACA recipient, Francisco Donoso, spoke to us about his work, where he reveals his experiences about belonging and boundaries. Through a series of creative works depicting fences as barriers, he transported me into his universe and inside his deepest thoughts. Although I wish this work would have been on display for us to see in person, even through photographs his message was clear and defined. I appreciate getting to speak to artists about their work, and become increasingly curious about the creative process through having these conversations. This exhibit is a platform for artists to display their views about the world through their work. No two are the same, as the artists gather from many different locations and cross their own borders to share their projects.

This is what I have noticed about art- that it has allowed me to broaden my perspectives, think more intuitively, ask myself more questions about the world around me, and become more curious. “Art lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints,” says Henry James. These subconscious habits that I have begun to develop are important for personal growth, and important in understanding our society better. You can surely decide to purchase art for aesthetics, but I have truly understood the importance of art as I have delved into it this semester, because without even noticing I am having more conversations with others and myself than ever before about my surroundings. I saw that many artists at the untitled art fair use regular objects and display them as contemporary art, and when I left this exhibit I found myself observing some regular objects around me and questioning their meaning/diving deeper into the significance of things. Art, especially contemporary, is a reflection of our society, and the most important thing for us as people is to support the wider art ecosystem, as the Untitled Art fair does.  

Aventura As Text

“Behind the shiny buildings” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Aventura.

Now one of the world’s largest and most luxurious shopping destinations, the neighborhood of Aventura was once called an “undeveloped swamp and marshland” by community newspapers. Much like other areas of this terrain, Aventura did not escape becoming a developer’s dream. (After all, as we’ve seen time and time again, developers in Miami leave no stone unturned when it comes to building shiny high rises and luxurious shopping pavilions). The development of Aventura began in the 80’s with a napkin sketch by Turnberry Associates, who turned Aventura into what it is today. One thing that is undeniably similar amongst all neighborhoods in Miami, including Aventura, is the widespread commercial businesses that flourish and hold great importance in the city. The industry of shopping has turned entire districts into profitable businesses. Retail businesses bloom far and wide throughout Miami, and there are many ways in which this shapes and affects an area and its people. 

Commercial developers profit immensely off places such as Aventura Mall, but the luxurious development of the area makes it almost unattainable for middle/class citizens in Miami to settle in areas like these. Visiting Aventura, I must say that the price of everything is drastically more expensive than where I am from in Kendall. I cannot imagine this being a sustainable lifestyle unless I worked an extremely high paying job. With the building of one mall comes the development of luxurious condos and houses, and the beautification of an area has now made it terribly difficult for anyone to maintain a lifestyle in this neighborhood. This is now one more area in Miami that has become ridiculously expensive to reside in, and frankly make the rich, richer. My fear is that eventually all of Miami will become a victim to this phenomenon, and the residents will soon suffer the consequences of urbanizing underdeveloped areas. Many minority populations had to move out of the neighborhood of Aventura due to the skyrocketing development. Why are there no areas designed specifically for middle class residents? I see that almost all development aims to reach a target audience of extremely wealthy citizens, and not very often do they keep in mind the unequal access that low/middle communities have to commodities such as Aventura Mall and the living facilities which surround this neighborhood. The birth of Aventura not only made low income residents flee this area, but also elevated segregation in their commercial center, where blacks were not allowed in this shopping district and were only permitted to shop in Overtown. 

Almost the largest shopping mall to be built, nothing is quite comparable to the size and volume of Aventura Mall. Clearly this mall is the center of the neighborhood, and is of great, great importance. I am positive that it has helped the economy of Miami in more ways than one. To developers: I urge you to please consider the importance of equal access to commercial centers, and to please think about white flight before you think about what goes in your pockets.  


My Miami Final Reflection As Text

“The real Miami: A sunny place for shady people” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU

“Tu no sabes donde estas parada,” my mother annoyingly exclaimed as we passed the freedom tower. “You don’t know where you’re standing.” Even my mom who immigrated from Cuba recognizes the value of historical literacy on human experience, something that I was lacking before this semester. I am ashamed to say that prior to this class, I was nothing more than an onlooker letting life pass me by, not truly embracing the history of the city which I reside in, but this class has pushed me to see what the “real” Miami is. Through the exploration of art, culture, and history, my perception of Miami has changed drastically. Never did I expect to uncover so much new information about a city that I have lived in for twenty years. From hearing people’s stories of the old Miami, such as Miss Godfrey, to exploring the natural landscape, this semester has truly allowed me to look at this city through a clearer lens.

There are two main points I’ve reflected upon when discussing the truth behind this city, which might be different for everyone based on their individual experiences.

 1) Miami today is synonymous with many things: beautiful beaches, booming nightlife, real estate, and the constant sunny state. When defining what the real Miami is, people too often revert to this response, but I learned that there is so much more behind this aesthetic facade which we put up. What I now view this city as challenges the relatively common answers received, for I now see Miami as more than a spring break destination. The real Miami is in Overtown, it is in Calle Ocho, it is in Hialeah, it is in places where the ambiance and true culture of Miami flourish, where the people run on cafecito and 90% of the population are immigrants or children of immigrants. The real Miami are these hidden gems which have escaped the superficial culture which surrounds this town. 

2) Getting deep into the communities and exploring churches and social groups, I have realized that perhaps to find the real Miami, we must not only look in the present but also in the past. After digging deeper into the history of the development of Miami and its obscured racist tendencies, I notice just how far Miami will go to paint a beautiful picture. One theme that has been relevant and reappearing throughout almost every place we visited, (Vizcaya, downtown Miami, Overtown, Deering Estate) is that we put little effort in honoring the minority groups who greatly helped develop Miami despite horrible working conditions, segregation, and being displaced. Many historical structures are of great importance and significance to Miami, and we can always find a large amount of information about the beautiful history of these places on the property, but very little about the african/bohemian people who oftentimes risked their lives and livelihood to work for developers. I would love to see this realistic standpoint of the history of Miami be embraced more often by these large institutions, as it is frustrating for a visitor to grasp an understanding of the real Miami with only half the story. 

As a final thought, the most uncomfortable situations during this semester were the ones that have impacted my perception of Miami the most. Hiking through Deering Estate’s preserve was eye-opening to me because I realized that I truly had no idea what Miami’s real landscape looked like. Before this semester I also never visited Overtown because it is an underrated part of town, but going there myself was also impactful in that I discovered its beautiful history and value. Because of this class, I will now always return to Jackson’s soul food, encourage everyone to purchase native plants, spread knowledge about the Tequesta people, speak about the bohemians who helped build our beautiful city, and remind everyone of the importance of diving behind the superficial aesthetic and charm of Miami.It is only then that I am truly in tune with myself and my environment, and having the full “Miami” experience. 

Everglades As Text

“Florida in all its greatness” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is a breath of fresh air, away from the crowds and unarguably one of the most underrated spots in Miami. The majority of travelers write off the Everglades from their “must-see” list, which is a big rookie tourist mistake. While knowing how to navigate and scope out the Everglades is daunting, many resources are present, such as guides and maps, to help you along this wilderness adventure. This historical site demands and deserves your attention, but one thing that resonated with me while on this visit are the misconceptions that surround the Everglades, ones that I am guilty of believing and wish to unveil today.

 I was born and raised 20 minutes away from the Everglades, but why had I never paid a visit to this world-famous park? Like many others will respond, because I was afraid. Afraid of man-eating giant gators, aggressive insect beasts, slithering snakes, and dark and empty roads. When I put it this way, it sounds like a horror movie, but truly this could not be farther from the truth. Never in a million years did I expect to go so far out of my comfort zone and walk through the waist deep water of the slough-slog, but I am grateful for these uncomfortable situations that led me to the magical landscape that is the Everglades. Straight out of “Avatar,” this otherworldly environment was established in 1947 and aims to protect the landscape in this park like no other, while preserving its many species and numerous habitats. One of the best trails to explore is the Anhinga trail, where you can spot some friendly giants (not at all scary or man-eating). Being this close to Florida’s native species makes me proud that these areas are still preserved for them to thrive. This extensive marshland was formed 17,000 years ago, when the Pleistocene sea level rise created runoff from Lake Okeechobee. If the Everglades seems unimportant to you, just know that it creates drinkable water for over 7 million Florida residents, which is one of the reasons why this ecosystem needs to be protected. While many people did not realize the value of the Everglades, there is one person in Florida history who advocated for the preservation of this national park, and that is Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. She famously published “Everglades, river of grass” in 1947 which spoke volumes to the importance of safeguarding this area. Today, the Everglades has received immense recognition as a world heritage site, deservingly so as it is the United States’ largest subtropical wilderness. 

Having an open mind while visiting this wetland can make all the difference in your experience. I truly believe that everyone should take advantage of this remarkable experience to feel elevated in the natural landscape of the Everglades. The typical stereotype is not at all what I experienced, and my hope is that I inspire at least one person to set their fears aside as I continue to spread positive information about my experience in visiting the Everglades.         

Miami Encounter As Text 

“My Miami, Through My Eyes” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU in Miami

Photo captured by Grace King.

Being born in Miami does not speak to my expertise of the city. While I wish I could say I knew it all, I was truly baffled at the amount of information I did not know while being in this class. Places that I have been to a million times in my life, such as Vizcaya, Overtown, downtown Miami, or Coconut Grove, I realized that I didn’t know the stories behind these places or understand the historical importance of them. So when taking this class, my goal was always to look at these places with a fresh set of eyes. When we arrive at a location, even if I have been there before, I expect to receive an entirely new perspective and context of the area. Time and time again, this class has proven to me that Miami is much more than appears to the naked eye, and much more than an aesthetic, luxurious, sunny paradise, which is all that Miami might seem to others. I have been to Vizcaya multiple times, but did not know about the bohemian hands who built it. I had no idea when walking through downtown Miami that the park in between two buildings was an ancient Tequesta monument. When visiting Overtown before this class, I had an idea of the history, but when delving deep into our discussion I soon discovered an entirely new side to black history in Miami. In coconut grove I always visited miracle mile, boutiques and nice restaurants, but had no idea about the Barnacle, or the long standing homes that are still there. The place I was most eager to visit this semester was the Everglades. I was highly anticipating this visit ever since the first class when it was mentioned, I was intrigued by the Everglades but at the same time fearful of the unknown. Each day I come in eager to discover something new about a city that I have inhabited for so many years, and now after one semester I am beginning to feel like a cultured expert in my own city. This is vital for me because I would never want to look ignorant or clueless when speaking about Miami, and now I recognize how important it is to be able to know the history of where you live, not only to hold up a conversation but also to fully appreciate the environment which surrounds you. I was born in Miami, yes, but I did not know it as well as I thought. I knew very little about the culture of Miami, and the last time I remember touching upon the subject was in early high school. Even then, I was not taught about half of the landmarks that I’ve seen in only one full semester of “Miami In Miami.” Preliminary schools in Miami truly need to do a better job at teaching the rich history of Miami, and without washing it out of its impurities. I wanted to learn the bad, the good, and the ugly, and because of this, I was eager to learn more and decided I needed to enroll in this class. I know that this is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Constantly getting put in uncomfortable positions that are out of my comfort zone has made me discover so much about not only my environment but about myself as a person. I have discovered a passion for nature, for adventure, and I am not scared to explore unknown territory, and for that I am grateful for this class and excited about what this second semester has to bring. 

Coconut grove as text

“The ‘Little Bahamas’ of Miami” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Coconut Grove

The culture and vibrancy are abundant in Coconut Grove, and this has much to do with the influence of early black settlers in Miami. Before the Grove was filled with shops, lush landscaping, and modern restaurants, this was a place for free spirits and is a true gem in Miami. My visits to Coconut Grove are quite frequent, but I failed to indulge myself in the history of the area until my most recent visit, where I learned about the true importance of The Grove. As a Miami resident I have to say that this is the first time that I’ve explored Coconut Grove beyond its aesthetic appeal. Many people do not know that in building Coral Gables and Miami, there is deep Bahamian involvement. Just a few blocks away from the populated streets which I frequent stand homes built by Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, unarguably one of the most selfless people of his time. Stirrup, who was an African-Bahamian immigrant, was an instrumental part in the development of Coconut Grove, building and renting out homes for African Americans and presenting them the opportunity to own land in a time where this was extremely difficult to do. The Grove is filled with vibrant colors and structures that reflect the influence of the bahamian settlers during this early time. I enjoyed the diversity of these buildings, and seeing something that looked original and different from the rest of the architecture that fills Miami. Modern white homes are far and frequent in any area, but what I truly love to see is culture, history, and especially the stories behind how and why these structures were developed. Sadly, I saw that more and more homes are not being preserved, and are now collateral damage to people who tear them down and build modern structures. 

To me, these structures should be treated like museums and memories of a time that should never be erased. Under no circumstance should they be destroyed, especially to build modern homes and structures, as this is slowly declining the amount of black history present in Miami. The importance of these homes is being completely disregarded, and I urge Coconut Grove to protect these structures, just as Miami beach is protected. The Grove is not The Grove without this rich history, and it is being reshaped to be a regular urban neighborhood, something that it has never been and should never be. The theme of washing away history in Miami is prominent, but seeing the washing away of an entire cultural inhibition before my eyes has awoken me to the seriousness of this situation, as I hope it has to others around me. This area is filled with remembrances of the past, such as the Bahamian cemetery, and was clearly an area important to this minority group, who I’m sure have been forced to move due to skyrocketing prices and urbanization. I enjoyed touring the neighborhood of Coconut Grove as well as the homes that Stirrup so graciously developed, and I can only hope that the city of Miami comes to their senses and protects these important structures for future generations to learn about and visit, before it is too late and they are all torn down.  Recently, I’ve explored more about this topic and found out that Miami is considering turning Coconut Grove into a “Little Bahamas,” which I believe is a step in the right direction when it comes to preserving culture and community. I do hope that this goes through and solves the issue of gentrification in the community.

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