Rafael Vasquez: Miami as Text 2022

Florida Key Largo Newport

As in the words of Marcus Aurelius Roman Emperor and stoic Philosopher “A man(person) is a measure of all things”. I am Rafael Vasquez, a current student at FIU, an educator working as a substitute teacher, and most importantly a human seeking to further understand and help make the world a better place. As a student FIU, my aim is to be a therapist and educator, which I believe are one of the same. In one field you’re teaching and helping others with personal challenges, and in education your sharing knowledge and planting seeds for the leaders of tomorrow.

My aim in this site is to share with you my insights, experience, and reflections on key points throughout the city of Miami. Covering areas such as history, social issues, philosophy, and culture. I hope to guide you through my experience in exploring the history and story of Miami. As a native to south Florida I was born a raised in Miami as the son of two hard working immigrant parents. As well as being raised by my cuban grandfather, who although not blood related was an important leadership and paternal figure growing up. I am privilege to say that although I’m neither fully Colombian or Cuban, the two cultures are woven into my person as an inseparable part of who I am. Giving me two different lenses when understanding the world around me.

I believe the world is looked through the lens of your life experiences, faith, and thoughts. That being said as objective as I like to be, my life experiences and beliefs will be reflected in these papers. As I shine light on current issues, and look back on history certain judgements and critiques will be made. However the essence of this is not to convince you to think like me, but to open a conversation and give you something to reflect and ponder upon.

Historic Miami as Text

Whom we Remember

Miami Fl, Brickell Avenue Bridge

History is a series of past events connected to the present day. Molding and shaping a societies beliefs, values, and identity. Although Miami’s history has a unique story with many layers, I want to magnify attention on the history and current legacy of the Seminole wars. Along with its direct relation to the foundation of the bustling port city we call Miami.

The Seminole wars consisted of 3 separate wars spanning from 1816 to 1858, in which that main goal was for the U.S. government to take the state of Florida and as direct by product dislodge the native people. History is often riddled with solemn examples of the “dominant” culture taking advantage and conquering the indigenous populations. In this regard the US was not unique or different to its European counterparts. However, the way in which they conducted the war including the genocide and the annihilation of an existing culture cannot be ignored when looking at the foundations of the US and the state of Florida. 

A key event that happen during the 2nd Seminole war, was the killing of Major Francis Dade in the form of a coordinated ambush by Seminole and African American forces. Before I proceed, it’s important to note that at this point in history the US had purchased Florida from Spain during the 1st Seminole war, and brought slavery and genocide along with them. Beforehand the Seminoles and African populations were on good terms with the Spaniards and were treated with a mutual respect. The Spanish set up missions, with the goal to convert the natives to catholicism and have peaceful relationships. It’s also important to note that by this time slavery was outlawed in Spain, so African Americans slaves would often go down to Florida to seek shelter in Spanish territory. However with Spain selling the land to the US, both Seminoles and African Americans faced a hostile invader in their once peaceful existance. So they banded together in their efforts of maintaining their freedom and way of life.  

The ambush consisted of the Seminole and African forces trying to stop the US advance into their native soil. Major Francis Dade was assigned to forcefully relocate the natives west, leading two armies into their land. Major Dade was killed within the first moments of the battle proceeded by the complete victory of the Seminole and African warriors leaving only 3 US soldiers alive of the original 110. This marked the first battle of the 2nd seminole war, and although the natives won this battle history would see them massacred and reduced to small pockets of survivors in the years that folowed.

The event I just described is currently remembered as the Dade Massacre. A massacre is an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, which in many regards yes, this event was. However, the Seminole wars were a complete and total massacre of a native people by the US government. History, is written by the victors and objectivity and truth is as a byproduct distorted in the process. Currently, the state of Florida chooses to honor the life of Major Francis dade through naming Miami Dade County after him, as well as having a grand bronze plaque in front of the downtown courthouse. Making him a martyr in what seems to be a romantic narrative of the sacrifices made to establish the state of Florida.

The horrors of a past genocide, are not only remembered but put up on display and celebrated as a part of our culture. What true remorse is shown to the current Seminole people and African Americans in our state and country, when our very courthouse plaque, contains racial slurs that feed into stereotypes. As a country that prides itself in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness I feel that we often forget whom exactly this applies too. When the very institutions of law and order celebrate the time in history where we supported slavery and killed the native population. I asked myself what type of message does this send the minorities walking through the grand doors of the courthouse.

As a first generation American, my roots are Colombian and Im from a hispanic culture which is prevalent in our community here in Miami but a minority non the less. What does this message send to us as well. I pondered on the words of Martin Luther King “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, the degrading language, our dark and lamentable history of slavery, segregation, and genocide how can I not feel the pain that African Americans and Seminole people feel today when reflecting on the past. A past that is directly tied to laws and policies today. A past that still grips the very foundations of out cities names and landscape. How can we ever fully let go, how can the past ever be remedied if such prevalent reminders are still in effect in the most public and important building of our city.

2022 Plaque in Downtown Miami Courthouse

This I believe is a disrespect, by the same standards countries and states would celebrate the actions of past dictators and their genocides. Reopening the scar of racism, oppression, and tyranny. In fact, many modern states do the very thing, such as china, Russia, and North Korea which many western states openly condemn. 

I pose the question are we not any different than the Chinese government who cover up and whitewash the history of Tiananmen square, Russia masking their invasion of Ukraine as a liberation, or even the Nazi regime that labeled they were making the master race. By these standards putting up a statue of a KKK leader would be acceptable, so long as he played a role in establishing a part of the country. It’s my belief than when such fundamental truths are covered up or whitewashed in a society, we not only ignore the mistakes of the past but are bound to repeat them. 

My belief is not that we forget history, nor that we try to change what happened. But to openly acknowledge our mistakes and short comings of the past. This event occurred 187 years ago, and in fact the United States government loss a great amount of soldiers that day. However the context in which it occurred was a moment in history where the US government was in the wrong and the aggressor. So why should we choose to celebrate and bring into the current day leaders and figures that didn’t help create a better world but are in fact part of our countries shameful past. To the very least naming counties and having bronze plaques on courthouses to celebrate and remember their lives are not part of the solution if we are to move forward together.

Faith and Freedom

In talking about the church, I believe we must first define what it means. Now this is a tricky task because a Church goes beyond a physical building, it’s very much the product of the people within it. Throughout history churches and religion has been often a subject that stirs mixed feelings of faith and apathy, truth and lies, acceptance and judgement, as well as charity and theft. I answer this in that as humans we have manipulated faith to be used for power and control using hypocrisy. Taking something that in essence is meant for good and turning it against the very people it’s meant to help. 

Depending on your experience growing up, within your family, and your personal beliefs there is an emotion that comes to your very soul upon hearing the word. However, my goal today is not to convince you about Christianity, whether there is or isn’t a God, or if you should attend a religious institution. The goal is to talk about the essence of the church and its role within a community. In the truest sense why should there be a church within a community to begin with. Our connection will then be with historic over town and the church’s role in an African American community.

Such a place I believe reflected the truest mission and purpose of a church is in current day historic over town. Referred to as little Broadway, in the 1930s it was the center for performances by renowned artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. All along the avenue world renowned artists, would perform after shows. Breaking the chains of formality and mannerisms little Broadway was a haven where their raw artistic expression was unchained. Unbothered by segregation laws that governed the theaters they performed in, they found a place that welcomed them and gave them hospitality

Historic Lyric theater- By Rafael Vasquez

A soft golden glow lined the streets, as the grand arch of the lyric theater saw lines of eager people black and white waiting to get a spot inside. The trumpet opens with a deep strong sound, a voice of strength expressing the sentiment of a community. The band plays on, getting looser and looser the expectation, the judgement melting away. As the base keeps anchor, the drums remind you of the chains that were beginning to break, break away judgement and oppression.  Observers would tell you that it was like going to mass, the community heard the message and danced to the rhythm. Looser now the there is no form or style that can be labeled upon it, lyrics are mismatched, styles are fused, it soulful, its Jazz.

Little Broadway soon became a place for businesses and black entrepreneurs to venture into. The streets rumbled with bustle, children going to schools, venues preparing for the night wave, and diners filled for the lunch break. In the center of this community was Mr. Dorsey, having made millions in real estate, he rented out properties in the community of over town and managed the first black owned hotel, with his tall white house overlooking the property. Mr Dorsey along with the over town community helped donate the money and time to build the greater bethel church. 

In the middle of the success and bustle, the greater bethel church was the base keeping the community together. Young and old, poor and wealthy all lined up inside on Sunday mornings. As the radiant glow of candy red and sky-blue panes filtered in the light, the choir the very foundations of the room. All together the preacher and members clapped their hands and moved to the rhythm, the piano played on as Reverend Franklin Ball went up to the pulpit and to address the community. The church was a place for both spiritual messages as well as social ones, addressing the current issues of the day, teaching the community to have faith to get through the hardship and oppression that was faced daily.

The church is a release valve, the true expression and needs of the community. The racism, oppression, and tyranny faced by African American’s was insurmountable, however they were neither flagged nor failed and Christianity giving them the strength to keep going. In the face of the harsh reality just like Moses escaping the pharaohs grip and leading towards the promise land. The role of the reverend is the same, to lead the people through the desert, with the gospel and community by his side. The church naturally became a center for the civil rights movement, becoming a place to rally and organize events, and fight back. Leaders of the movement such as Malcom X, and Reverend Martin Luther King were invited across these churches to deliver messages of hope and organize sit ins, protests, and walks. Not all speakers invited to the churches were “Christian”, such as Malcom X who was a Muslim and many others who were atheist or identifies with different faiths would often speak. 

Greater Bethel Church- By Rafael Vasquez

The aim was not religion, but transformation. All religious differences seemed to have melted away, and the African American people worked collectively to reach their aim. On February 12th, 1958, at the greater bethel church Rev Martin Luther King delivered a speech beginning his campaign in the south. Speaking for the SCLC campaign, he advocated for voter rights and registration. He addressed the community on the hardships that African American’s have faced in obtaining the right to vote, and the how now is the time to keep pushing and head to the poles. This campaign was a concentrated effort to double the number of black voters in the south, given the fear and suppression faced many African Americans who were fearful to go out to vote. 

Greater Bethel Church – By Rafael Vasquez

Over town was a pivotal city, where the marginalized African American community was able to not only thrive but organize civil rights movements. The fact that Martin Luther King, and many famous artists passed by the town, shows testament to its prosperity and growth from its humble beginnings. However, in the 1960s, the community would be faced with a direct attack, that has shaken the very foundations of the city till this day. As America strives for “progress”, a country wide objective was made to connect the country via a highway system. Miami Being the major city, was no exception to this change. However, the city that was chosen to construct the highway over was none other than over town. 

The once prosperous and close-knit community was displaced, and forcefully evicted. Thousands of people watched immobilized as their homes were torn down, replaced with grey concrete. The colorful houses, were now concrete graves of a time that once was. Right next to the entrance of the highway was mount Zion Baptist church facing the bulldozer, as the developers gave the pastor the option of having his house that was right next to church destroyed or the church itself. And although Mt Zion is currently still standing tall, a vast majority of its members were relocated and hour away to Liberty City. As earlier mentioned, what is a church but if not, the people that make it up? I ask myself as I ponder upon this history, why, why is it that they had to choose over town and specifically where a church was to build the highway. 

As I stood there surveying the scene, I listened to my professor explain these events, however I was transported back in time. I felt the pain of the people of over town, the struggle of all the African Americans who have been here. The streets where children would ride their bikes, colorful homes lining the streets, Mr. Dorsey house that was 2 blocks away from the church, now overlooking a giant monster of noise and concrete. My chest burned and my eyes redden as I watched this, I couldn’t help but think of the pastor giving up his home so that the church could stay. Is that not true love and charity, giving up your home for the community and people you love. 

For what is faith but the belief in the uncertain, the strength to keep going, pushing on no matter how hard the road may be. In seeing the churches of over town, I saw such faith. The greater bethel church in the recent year has also faced new challenges, such as the gentrification of over town. Where schools and houses used to stand a mighty apartment complex was built, in front of the 3-story church. As well as threats form the city to tear down the historic structure under the pretense that its unsafe. However, I believe in the people of over town, people such as Wendell who guided us through the church. His pants covered in paint and sweating from working to renovate the building that has helped so many, he took time out of his day to share their story. A community funded church from its origins to current day, supported by their members and their contributions. I believe that the goliath of development and gentrification will not see these people and church displaced, as I hope it will stand as a testament of all that has been endured and the strength of the community that is over town. 

The Chicken Key Collective

Island of Chicken Key – By Rafael Vasquez

Approaching the Deering estate, the large iron and dark wood gate greets you wide open as you walk down a slightly curved path unto the gleaming shores. As the early morning rays peak through the canopy of greenery, you hear the native birds singing as you walk down the reserve covered in magnificently large trees. Inviting me into the estate, the grand trees led me to the small built-in harbor, contrasted with the view of the pale blue morning sky and yellow tinted clouds, reflected upon the calm morning coast.

            As our class met, we walked along to a small cozy storage house, that housed our life jackets, paddles, and changing facilities. As we lay our materials upon the wooden tables, we joined a second group meeting us for the day. I remember asking my new found classmates for some SPF, as we all shared and helped each other get ready. Having gotten our supplies, we all met by the harbor where our professor greeted us and briefed us for the day. “Today’s aim is a coastal cleanup, to help out the native Sea life species in the area”, we were shown pictures of the native sea turtle population that’s nesting on the island. Unfortunately, due to pollution and poaching the once abundant species that lined the coast are facing an uncertain future. 

            With this new information of the sea turtle nest the already enthusiastic group, found new strength and focus in our collective mission. Usually, we meet with a group of about 15, however since there was a hurricane (IAN) that passed by the week before, our two classes merged for the cleanup. And the timing was perfect since the coast needed help, after the storm. The group of about 30 of us proceeded to mount the canoes and kayaks, as we helped each other lower them into the water. Me and my friend Andrew got a deep forest green canoe, remining me of the canopy of trees that cover the Deering estate.   

            The green canoe, a noble, honest, and sturdy sea vessel for close proximity transport to and fro the estate to the island of chicken key. The canoe we rode upon was an enjoyable experience, light in weight, ample in size, and easily maneuverable I quickly got the hang of it.  With the help of my friend Andrew, he steered as I paddled it along. You see my friend Andrew had forgotten his glasses and although he could not greatly see, he was essential in guiding us in the right direction. It was a carefully coordinated dance, Row left, both paddles (right) starboard side. Row, row, row, okay good we’ve straightened out, and I go back to paddling port side. We both must coordinate and row parallel to each other to keep her steady. Jointly we pushed through, correcting her direction as we went along the mangrove canopies and towards the island. It was a joint effort the green canoe, one can not go forward without the help of the person by your side. The canoe does not know lies, laziness, or selfishness it’s a sturdy and honest vessel quickly showing you the character of person.

Mangrove canopy next to Deering estate- Taken By Rafael Vasquez

            Upon out arrival, the green mangrove island looked impenetrable, thick deep roots surrounded the island like a medieval iron fortress. The brown pelican which I will call the islands scout, cruised along the island sides eyeing all who passed by. Checking for prey and visitors it seemed like we were on his good side, as he calmly granted us passage to the narrow shore. Promptly after, he plunged into the water, taking a good chunk out. Imagine, after always being in a concrete jungle that’s the city of Miami, ruled by steaming pavement, speeding cars, inside spaces, with the bustle a city brings. This small estate, just 25 min away from the madness, humbles you with its tranquil nature. The sounds of speeding cars are replaced with crashing waves, the steaming asphalt is cut with fields of green, cold ac replaced with light ocean air, with the ruling inhabitants being the native plants and animals that have been around long before we had arrived.

            Is it really progress? From the natives that lived one with nature, caring for the land, as it cared for them. The Tequesta, Seminoles whom shared a bond with Mr. pelican and the Biscayne shores. To be replaced with colonization, cold hard asphalt, complex buildings, and suburbs. Where the once was jungle and serenity, high-rises rule the native land. Cyclical, even the progress that has been made is being taken back by mother nature. All that rises falls and all that is forgotten finds a way back. Heading towards the island I reflected that we are now working to restore that natural equilibrium that once existed. Learning from the failures and triumphs of the past, can we now strive for a change in the next generation.  For its not alone in my efforts or that of my group and teacher, but in the collective organism that built Miami, and those who follow after.


A Mediterranean paradise, the Vizcaya estate is an open-air mansion overlooking the Miami coastline. The gleaming sun contrasted with cool ocean breeze greets you, as a giant sculpted boat rises from the sandy shore. Carefully Hand crafted by Italian artisans, the boat stands as a tiny island protecting the bay. With Four giant obelisks from prominent military victories standing at each corner, an amphitheater, marble statues, and two gardens at each end of the vessel, its splendor is unsinkable even 100 years after construction. The vessel’s immortality stands in its mix function and beauty. I was transported to the time of the hanging gardens of Babylon when I stood looking at it design. A small tropical paradise no more than 20 feet from the main shore. A perfect balance of function and beauty.

 To better illustrate let me define what the role of a breakwater, which is a permanent structure constructed on a body of water to protect a coast or harbor from the force of waves. Usually, breakwaters are quite simple constructions like giant rocks. Most often overlooked when thinking of beauty or splendor, serving a concrete role to protect a harbor. However, leaving no stone unturned the estates designers kept in mind both function and beauty. The seemingly simple task it preforms, comes with the details and accommodations that sets this estate apart. The devil truly is in the details, and Mr. Deering’s along with Paul Chaffins designs their creative vision shows in these little subtleties.

 On the second floor of the estate Mr. Deering stands, overlooking the horizon. This tropical paradise, recharges him, from the cold concrete jungle that’s Chicago in the Winter. This summer retirement home houses every comfort that you can imagine. You see as Mr. James Deering comes from a family that made their wealth in agriculture. His father a generation before owned huge tracks of land used for harvesting and with the industrial revolution just beginning the family chose to take a gamble on a machine that can harvest crops in a fraction of the time. Now known as the tractor and reaping machines, these machines were revolutionary through allowing farmers to harvest an acre of land within an hour. A task that previously took many hours and laborers was now done within a fraction of time.

Their investment flourished, and as eastern Europe and the United States markets looked to modernize and increase yields orders began flooding in. James after two years of schooling joined the company along with his brother Charles. Being born in Southern Paris and loving to travel he acted as the company’s ambassador in France. Promoting the revolutionary new technology to the major companies and government agencies, the company soon gained traction and fundamentally impacted Europe’s agricultural landscape. To the extent that in 1906 France awarded him the Legion D’honneur being one of the highest merits a French government can give. Working as vice president of the Deering Harvester Company he overlooked 3 manufacturing plants in Illinois until 1909, when J.P Morgan who purchased the company phased him out of the daily affairs. (Citation Needed)

As Mr. James Deering’s guests arrive in their private yachts, their crew anchors to a lovely deep gold and blue swirled post, gleaming against the twinkling shores. Extraordinary isn’t it remarks Mr. Deering as, his guests eyes move upward. With a cool glass of bubbling champagne in his left and a short Cuban cigar on the latter, the glowing cigar is followed by the puff of white smoke. He waves at the Flagler family coming in as his servants lined with trays of gin, whiskey, and Champagne accommodate the incoming family.

It’s easy to imagine scenarios in which Mr. Deering hosted guest at his estate, from the upper levels of European and American society. The neoclassical and Rocco rooms, transport you from the seacoast, or think forested area around the estate to a European palace. My favorite which was the observatory, invites you in with tall marble Corinthian columns to a warm and cozy room. Hanging tapestries, give the room a cozy feeling with deep burgundy and deep blue hues. To your left a large bronze telescope peeps onto the coast, looking to the sea and sky limitless possibilities and an infinite horizon. You hear the music play as the pipe organ deeply resonates in the room, the tapestries acting as a specially built sound room. One might find themselves within canterbury or Westminster cathedral, as the sound comes with the sight of the virgin Mary depiction right on top of the player which make up the doors to the organ.

I find it fascinating that with so much wealth, it often not the big house, plot of land, or money that distinguishes a place. But the creative vision behind how it’s all interconnected and arranged. All though out the estate rooms like the observatory transport you to a different dimension in time. Distinctly different from each other, spanning different generations and artist periods from Roman to Rocco, neoclassical era, to the industrial revolution. It seamlessly blends in the timeless with the modern, old with new, keeping everything, it desires, being constrained only by time and age. Immortal as one’s imagination the human expression to be tell the story of who we are and what we love.

A longing, sadness, recovery behind the glitz and glamour of Vizcaya there was a man. A man who I did not meet, but that nevertheless shared his story with me. In walking Vizcaya, I saw comfort, beauty, recovery, and peace in the interconnectedness of it all. But the was also a façade to it all fake book shelfs, unused instruments, the latest and best money can buy. Is it but a search to find an inner truth? The overindulgence, fame, wealth just the theater of a searching man. Think, walk around, and ask is it happiness, sadness, or loss?

South Beach

Hotel Avenue Photo By Rafael (Vasquez Industries) Film Nikon EM

Among the calm shores and vibrant art deco building lies the story of Miami past. When walking through the streets the physical remnants of history remain, in a city know that tears out the old and puts in the new 5th street through 23rd street remain frozen in time. However, it integrated the old with new what once were affordable housing for the poor, now serve as ocean view restaurants and hotels that feeds Miami’s tourism industry.

            Being the Famous filming location of Scarface, housing the home of Versace, and having a diverse community there’s something for everyone at south beach. However, none of this would be possible today without the work of Barbara Baer Capitman, that led faced the contractors who wanted to tear down this now famous historic district. In a time, where south beach was a humble and neglected neighborhood she saw value, where others saw faded glory days. Bringing to question are things meant to be replaced because their old, or because through neglect and perception we let them become so.

            I believe that certain styles, art, and buildings are reflective of the timeless style that each decade produces. However, it’s our responsibility as a society to preserve and value this within our community. However easier said than done I admire that Ms. Capitan and the Miami Design Preservation league she formed sought to fight for these ideals. However more than just ideals, it was the long-term thinking of the value of these buildings that ultimately paid off. On. Recent trip to Madrid, they are little to no new buildings within the city, however the older one are retrofitted to house modern facilities. It’s the integration of old and new, rather than the replacement that makes Madrid a worldwide attraction besides from the food and culture which is all intertwined.

            A further example, being grand central station in New York city, that developers wanted to tear down now an icon of the city that still serves as a main transportation hub. The function almost a hundred years later is the same, however it’s also been integrated with all the modern amenities. On an interesting side note also saved by a strong woman first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. When I walk the grand lobby, I can see the magnitude Cornelius Vanderbilt wealth and impact on our nation’s railways. Something that as much as I’ve read and learned about him, I could no scale or interact with on the level of seeing the building in person. My point is that old and new can coexist, however it ultimately a choice that comes down to the society we live and what we chose to value.

The Breakwater Shot By Rafael (Vasquez Industries) Film Nikon EM

            As I today admire the design of art deco and the aesthetic beauty of their rounded edges, eyebrows, relief sculptures, freezes, and rule of perfect threes. I can understand that during this period in our collective human history we had recently discovered ancient Egyptian pyramids, and this influenced the 2-dimensional relief sculptures, and ornamentation. Learning that art isn’t just within a canvas and gallery, but architectural, automotive, home décor, and in fashion. It’s all interconnected and to properly understand a decade you must look at the combination of these factors. The main draw today besides the sandy shores and beautiful shores, is in the history that these preserve buildings evoke as you walk through the area. In which I thank and admire the hard work of Barbara and the Miami design preservation league.

Deering Estate

Where nature and preservation have a home and historical past. The Deering estate preserves its historical mansion and residences, while being home to the endangered pine rock land. As a student through middle school, I was taught about the importance of the pine rock land in the south Florida ecosystem and the constant fight to preserve the less than 5% currently left. However, it was an eye-opening experience in smelling the pine and seeing the rich black and vibrant orange of the Atala butterfly.

            I saw that within the land, there is a great biodiversity and battle between the pine and vegetation. Every few years a prescribed burn is conducted where the fire department carefully burns parts of the land, helping to let light in and to clear the ground floor of invasive species. I find it interesting how fire that can be seen as a source of destruction is also the source of regeneration and growth. However, these burns aren’t subjugated to the regulation and laws of man, and naturally burns occur through lighting strikes. However, given the need to ensure the survival of the pine rock ecosystem if a proper fire hasn’t occurred, we must intervene.

            Much of the original land was loss given its height and solid rock foundation, making it ideal for developers to construct communities. However, by giving birth to neighborhoods and residence, we condemned and sentenced to death the native people, along with the natural species of plants and animals that had lived in the south Florida community for thousands of years. Progress they call it, as our environment and ecosystems were ripped apart, replaced with cardboard boxes called homes and asphalt streets. The Tequesta and Seminoles for generations lived symbiotically with the land as their home, only taking what they needed without need for destruction. To think of the genocide of a native culture, for the desirability to consume an area of land to develop speaks volumes of the dark origins the development in south Florida had, parallel with the current environmental and societal problems we now must solve as a society.

            Back to the earth, as I now walked the mangrove forest and felt the fresh saline water, I pondered upon the calm serenity, from the daily bustle. A humming glow of inner silence followed with me into the night as I lay thinking of the beauty id just witness. A land completely untouched and undeveloped just as nature intended it to be. Every day I find were overstimulated with technology, people, news, and advertisement there’s limited time to find a space to unwind. The serenity and stoicism of the forest was a refuge from that daily bustle. I also realized the people within the Deering community that work to preserve and maintain this rich environment, are composed of conversationalist and artists in residence. They walk between nature and Miami’s daily bustle.

            Going back to the feeling of inner silence and serenity I felt that night, I understand how my professor along with the members of the Deering estate are deeply inspired and set out to work on creative pursuits. With the ocean front, 5 different ecosystems, and the history of Tequesta inhabitation there is an inexhaustible supply of inspiration. However, as I learned trekking through the land for about 7 hours that day, you must endeavor to seek adventure out, and be lucky as we were to have a professor that could help us look further and appreciate the beauty of this unique landscape.

            Today I seek to share with you my experience at the Deering estate within the pine rock land to encourage you to visit it for yourselves and get involved with the nature in your community. As I now understand and see the value that the unique landscape has around the Deering estate, I will seek to be more involved and find ways to help maintain this environment for generations to come. Given that although the land is secured now, around south Florida they are many pockets of the precious pine rock land, under constant threat by developers. It is my civic duty to support organizations that are working to maintain and preserve this land, helping the ecological health of our south Florida community. However its within getting out in nature, that I believe you can fully appreciate and understand the value it holds for us all.

Rubell Museum A Conversation

Deer Family

            Housed in a refurbished Wearhouse, were industry and merchandise use to govern now lies an international art collection that opens the door to conversations about the important issues of our time. Unlike other art museums I’ve been to before, specifically the louvre, Museo del Prado, and the national gallery in London where I’ve seen works by historically influential painters the Rubell museum was a strikingly different experience. However, after the initial shock and learning about the nature of contemporary art my perspective broadens.

            An interesting detail was how the museum beyond its expositions, was itself a carefully throughout and planned experience. As I moved through the rooms, I felt in a distinctly different area that I had been before. From the large metal spheres to the infinity room, more than just a painting on the wall, I felt my self-transported into another world. However, it wasn’t just within these room that I felt this effect, but through most of the different expositions ranging from paintings, sculptures, and race. A sculpture that drew my attention was the Family with antlers by Karon Davis. Upon first entering the room, you impacted by the vibrant white plaster statues, and a long mural that appeared to me rather simple in design. 

            However, as I looked closer the subject of race relation, specific to the African American community could not be ignored. Where I was overwhelmed by not knowing who’s work or what the art was supposed to mean, I started uncovering the hidden meaning. Looking at the long mural, by Kerry James Marshall I read the description finding more ambiguity that description. The artist I believe intentionally leaves the work ambiguous to where the viewer then reflects what they believe, yet at the same time telling his story. This opens the door to a conversation, where I wanted to ask about the piece and research more about his work. In this journey I found his mission is to portray African Americans as powerful and reclaim negative stereotypes, while giving you something to chew on. To me Marshall’s portrait showed a distinct yellow brick wall and going into a simple room where a group of African American males are talking as one brings in coffee/ tea into the room. However, the portraits are all blacked out, and the wall within the house a plain pale pink color.

            To me the yellow brick apartment wall with flowers in the front, overlooking the city represents the dream such as from the yellow brick road, leading you into a place of answers. Answers being answered within the discussion inside. However, the flowers in combination with the yellow brick wall, were also distinctive to me as representing a strong female figure that holds the home together. Within this bond the young men are at home, sharing conversation. Here I believe the artist is giving unconscious cues combating the negative stereotypes of African American criminality and home life.  However, this was just me reading into the painting based on prior knowledge and experience, and as much as my interpretation may be accurate, it could be a vastly different take than the one the artist or another human might see when pondering upon the work. Hence being a piece that is though provoking and inviting to conversation, with the artist goal of bringing to the table race and stereotypes that need to be brought down as the core of his message. 

            Back to the deer family statue of, Davis I was perplexed with why she chooses the antlers in a scene where their young child was going to school. However, the message becomes clear when I drop my prior held belief of what art is or should be. Thinking on the laws of nature, their son is a young buck still not ready to fully face the world, but non the less going out into an unfamiliar school environment. There he will likely face obstacles such as any young person with classes, friends, and back to the theme of the room race. To me being Hispanic and a minority I can relate to the sentiment of the piece, however it also expressed the sentiment of how the African American people feel today. Because although our countries dark history of slavery has passed, the racism and challenges faced by this community is still very present. 

            During my time in the museum there were many more pieces and room, that made me pause and think about deeper issues and stories that are relevant to our time. However, as I think about the construction and materials used for some of these. unique pieces I also ponder upon their longevity and life span. Some like the plaster statues will continue to dry harder and become brittle with time. I thought they will have to be reworked or lost to time, as well as the infinity rooms, and similar installations that without a large Wearhouse to support them they would be perhaps loss. Perhaps if the issues are properly addressed and fixed they will serve a remainder of a past time and struggle, however as they currently stand in relation to our world I believe they will still be remade and reimagined by future generations. 

Miami Art Week 

            The world-famous Miami art week consists of big celebrates, emerging artists, and perhaps one of the largest meeting places where international artists can appeal to a great audience of buyers. Art Basal is by far the most well-known, however all-around Miami beach and downtown smaller art galleries known as satellite fairs are also just as captivating to the many crowds seeking to enjoy and buy art. One such fair I visited was untitled art fair, right at the front of Miami famous art deco district overlooking the gleaming shores. 

            Approaching the fair you’ll see, a large white canvas structure with a swarming line of people in the blistering sun waiting to flood in.  People dressed in the latest trendy styles, taking pictures Infront of the colorful canvases and sculptures. As much as it’s an art fair, it’s a social media and networking event where Instagram governs and helps shapes public perception. However, a sentiment I had, was how inaccessible and foreign this week used to be for me as a Miamian. Art selling for thousands of dollars, high traffic, crowds of international people in a world of contemporary art, I Franky didn’t know enough about. 

            However, the through an amazing opportunity through Professor Bailey and the coordinator of the art untitled art fair Omar Lopez-Chahoud the veil of mystery soon lifted. Taking the time to explain to us the nature of untitled, and the business in Miami I had a better understating that untitled was more than just a show, but a great investment of time and resources from international artist and galleries to expose the work and stories of people who have devoted their lives to the craft. It impacted me how the same stories of artist being discovered later in life rings true today, having collections from both young but also older artists that may have not earned much exposure in their careers, till now. 

            We had a great opportunity to talk gallery owner Emerson Dorsch, learning about the realities and origins of art installations and galleries in Miami. Today we see the untitled art fair, art basal, and the design district such as Wynwood as a center for art, business, and wealth. However, in the early days the design district was an abandoned and near empty warehouse area, being an affordable place have access to a large area. In here people such as Mr. Emerson, along with multiple galleries started setting up shop creating interactive shows to showcase their work. Following these humble origins, it eventually drew the attention of developers to come in a set up businesses and galleries of their own. However, the advancement and development came at a tradeoff. As Mr. Emerson explained, many of the new galleries were more commercial in nature, losing some of the showmanship and excitement the earlier galleries and shows had. The area by nature also became more expensive, and somewhat of a target for thieves in its early days.

            However, through all this many galleries kept their original dynamic approach, which we see around the untitled art fair today. In these exhibits I personally loved the work of Robert Thiele, which mixes concrete and fragile glass and fabrics. Upon initial impression I thought to myself this looks like a basic concrete mold which can be easily poured and made. However, the art and skill lie within the pour that keeps the glass and fabric showing inside. The piece being from 1997 is simply labeled 6-9 and is both a sign of strength and delicacy coming together in a physical form. Although I did not personally meet Robert, his work and online interviews gave me the opportunity to know more about an artist and fabricator that captured my imagination and wonder. 

            Thanking Omar Lopez-Chahoud, Mr. Emmerson, and the many other guest speakers that took time from their day to share their amazing insights and experiences within the untitled art fair, to help us learn more about the world they love and by extension we do as well by learning through them. I was able to walk away from the fair, with a greater appreciation and understanding for today’s contemporary art. 

Miami Final Reflection

City (Vasquez Industries)

            Miami is a city with history, soul, and culture dating back to the native Tequesta people who inhabited the land, to the modern-day metropolis we know today. Miami’s identity is distinctly multicultural within the span of it lifetime. During my time exploring the origins of my hometown and state, I’ve learned that there’s more than meets the eye than what we’ve been taught in general history classes.

            What most impacted me was the naming of city of Miami-Dade, a seemingly simple an innocent name. Dade county which today has become an iconic and famous name, even heard in songs by Miami native Pitbull it’s a part of our mainstream culture. However, we’ve forgotten the dark meaning behinds its origins, in the Seminole wars and the genocide of the indigenous populations. Major Francis Dade was a general in the US army tasked with carrying out this task. However, he met an early demise when he was defeated in an ambush attack, today misleading labeled as the Dade massacre, as a country we made a mortar out of a genocidal part in American history. However, we often prefer to overlook the wrong, rather than acknowledging it to properly move on. Which is at the core of many of the fundamental problems, we a society must address. 

            Following this we learned about the vibrant past of Miami’s African American history, in historic over town. A once bustling town, it was once known as little Broadway, housing the greatest names in jazz today. It served as an afterhours concert hall for African American signers when segregation laws were in effect. As well as being the heart of the civil right movement, with many historic churches that served to help the community. However, unlike its counterparts in Miami beach art deco district, many of the historic buildings have since been destroyed and sold to developers. The main catalyst for the decline of this community, started with the construction of interstate pass, which was purposely made to cut through their community. Sadly, showing that segregation and discrimination can take different forms going into the present times. 

            These two distinctly different yet interrelated events impacted me the most, because I never learned it happened in the history of Miami. When taught American history, these key details seem to be passed over. Focusing on the generalities of a period, we forget that close to home key events that happened, shaped the communities we currently live in. Many more details and events were painted in, during our time with Professor John Bailey that formed the finer picture, that’s Miami and the communities within it. Nature, social issues, history, and art were the core lessons and value I took away from my time in this unique experience at FIU. Learning that history tends to have it black, white, and grey moments in between that as a whole form a picture of the events of our history. I was truly blessed to have learned about the authentic side that goes beyond the parties and luxury that people believe Miami to be. 

Author: Rafael Vasquez

Rafael vasquez, I'm a current Senior at Florida International University majoring in Psychology. I seek to explore the cultural, social, and political roots that influence the current city of Miami. Looking beneath the surface I seek to bring to light the stories, of the people and culture that have shaped this modern day metropolis. Being born and raised in Miami there is much history and culture I wasn't aware was an integral part of my city. My aim is for you to follow me along this journey of discovery as I share with you my experience in learning about the authentic and real part of Miami. My stories will cover a range from philosophy, psychology,and history that combines all my fovorite academic disciplines into the art of education and story telling.

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