Nico Fajardo: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Photograph by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Nico Fajardo is a Junior double majoring in Finance and Information Systems Management at Florida International University. He is an active member of the FIU Honors College and other organizations such as the International Business Honors Society. Born and raised in Quito, he is passionate about traveling, food, sports, and nature. In his free time, he loves to read and listen to a wide variety of music. He hopes to one day travel all over the world, explore different places, and experience different cultures.

Downtown as Text

“The Rich City” by Nico Fajardo of FIU at Downtown Miami on August 31, 2022.

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

The City of Miami is a truly marvelous place. It offers jaw-dropping sights such as sandy beaches, tropical flora, and dazzling lights. To many, this glamorous city is a place they have only ever heard of; a symbol of vacation, luxury, and opportunity. When meeting people in other parts of the world, I could see the wonder and curiosity in their eyes as they listened to stories of this fabled place. Many would ask about the clubs, the restaurants, and the nightlife. Others would wonder about the beaches, the climate, and the feeling of eternal summer. However, most are not aware of the underlying wealth of this Magic City… its diversity.

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

This became apparent to me when strolling through the downtown area. Different architectural styles clash and come together in what becomes a palpable juxtaposition of the city’s different historical influences. For instance, the “HistoryMiami Museum” is built upon a beautiful Spanish plaza that emanates the warmth and comfort that is iconic of the Mediterranean style. This setting reflects the strong Spanish influence that Miami experienced ever since Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513. Its tiles, ornaments, and decorations hint at the presence of many different Spaniards such as conquistadors, priests, and even pirates. Looming over this beautiful plaza is the government center, a phallic symbol of power and of the contemporary governing body of the city. These two structures stand side by side, forming a link between the past and the present.

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Similarly, the Freedom Tower elegantly stands by the water and reminds the careful observer of the cultural richness of Miami. Inspired by the Giralda that is located in Seville, Spain, Miami’s Freedom Tower displays a relatively simple body with a heavily decorated “cupola”. This particular blend is the result of the coming together of both the Islamic and Catholic architectural styles in one building. Furthermore, the history of this building is a powerful testament to the city’s diversity. Originally built as a headquarters of The Miami News, it turned into the “Ellis Island” of the south, where Cuban immigrants gained their nationality and stepped into a new life. Right across this structure is the famous FTX Arena, home of the Miami Heat, a stage for some of the world’s most famous musicians, and a symbol of contemporary entertainment. These two buildings were built more than 70 years apart from each other and yet they share the same city and see the same people when countless fans from all sorts of backgrounds gather under one roof to cheer on their favorite team or sing along with their favorite artist. 

All photos taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Last but certainly not least, the Wagner Homestead sits facing the Miami river with its population of countless boats and luxury yachts. Built in the mid-1850s, it is the oldest known house standing in Miami and it is the house where William Wagner lived alongside his wife and family. It is the place where their interracial marriage grew, flourished, and survived the period of segregation in Miami. A couple of yards away from this home, lies the William English Plantation slave quarters, a historic site that serves as a reminder of this land’s iniquitous history. When visiting this place, we got the opportunity to place our hands on the walls of this longhouse, the same walls that were built by enslaved men and women in the 1840s. The same walls that saw the unfair treatment and dehumanization of these people. The same walls that sit in the land that once belonged to the Tequesta and that saw the persecution of these people and others such as the Seminoles (which by the way, the word Seminole comes from the Spanish term “cimarron”). This is a part of history that many would prefer not to talk about, however, it must not be ignored. It is history. It is not entirely good and it is not entirely bad… it comes together and makes us who we are. 

Overall, this experience taught me a lot about the history of this city and made me reflect deeply on the underlying richness of Miami. From Tequesta people, to Bahamian immigrants, African slaves, Cuban immigrants, American plantation owners, army veterans, and even widows, this city has been a place for all to call home. There has been such great cultural diversity since before the city was even founded, and it continues to this day. Everywhere I go, especially at FIU, I meet people from all over the world; each and every one holding distinct beliefs, values, and cultures. Each and every one with different ways of thinking and from different walks of life. Each and every one sharing the same city and adding to the giant cultural melting pot that is Miami.

Overtown as Text

“Miami’s Little Broadway” by Nico Fajardo of FIU at Overtown on September 14, 2022.

All photos taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Rich with art, history, and culture, Overtown is a truly magical place. A walk through the neighborhood will gift the careful observer a glimpse into the past and offer a snapshot of what life was like in Miami’s “Little Broadway” district. Not only that, but it tells a story of perseverance and strength. It narrates a tale of how segregation cannot stop people from expressing themselves and enjoying life; it cannot stop culture from flourishing.

Our day began a couple of stops away from Overtown, at the Allapattah Metrorail station, where we got the chance to appreciate the artwork of Carlos Alfonso. This Cuban-American painter elegantly juxtaposed Latino and American cultures through his use of tropical colors and structured lines. This was a good way to prepare ourselves for what lay ahead throughout the day.

All photos taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Soon, we found ourselves standing in front of the Historic Lyric Theater, where legends such as Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday put on shows for a large audience of eager listeners. Now a calm residential street, NW 2nd Avenue used to be known by many names such as Miami’s Little Broadway, The Strip, and Great Black Way, due to the seemingly endless lineup of music halls, hotels, restaurants, and theaters that populated the street. As we were walking, I couldn’t help but close my eyes and imagine the atmosphere of this place back in the 1920s; imagine feeling the air, imbued with the harmonious tunes of Jazz, Blues, R&B, and Soul. Imagine hopping from one concert hall to another, finding famous faces such as Muhammad Ali and Joe Lewis sitting next to you in the audience. Imagine listening to Louis Armstrong, Aretha Franklin, and even Nat King Cole, all in the same night. Overtown was truly a thriving, dynamic, and culturally rich hub despite all the racism and segregation that the community faced.

All photos taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Historically, Overtown was the result of residential segregation because black people were forced to live there by law. This caused a population concentration in the area which set the perfect stage for this rich cultural hub to develop. In addition to restaurants and concert halls, many churches sprang up and began to grow. We got the opportunity to visit the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and we even got to stand in front of the pulpit where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on 12 February 1958 at the SCLC Crusade for Citizenship. The stained glass along the church walls creates a beautiful aura within the interior of the building. One can only imagine the atmosphere in the church when Dr. King gave his passionate speech. This Mediterranean Revival structure is very similar to that of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, not only in its architectural style but also in the crucial role that both churches played within the religious and civic life of the Overtown community.

All photos taken and edited by Nico Fajardo / CC by 4.0

Mount Zion stood out to me because of its close proximity to expressway I-95. It was shocking to hear the cars zooming by in such close proximity to an otherwise peaceful and majestic church. It was sad to learn how I-95 cut the neighborhood in half, further separating this beautiful community. Additionally, all the modern condos scattered throughout Overtown are clear examples of the effects that gentrification has to this day. Rent has gone up in the area and many of the church members have been forced to move away, robbing the congregation, and the community as a whole, of valuable members.

Overall, this visit to Overtown showed me that no matter what obstacles get in the way, culture cannot be stopped. Human beings are social creatures and we will always find a way to coexist and make our communities thrive. Our art and our creativity always find a way to manifest themselves and add a touch of color to life, just like music and art did for the streets of Miami’s Little Broadway during the 1930s.

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