Toni Slebi: Miami as Text 2022

Picture taken by Toni Slebi

Toni Slebi is a Colombian-Palestinian first generation student at Florida International University. She’s a sophomore studying Public Relations. Slebi hopes to work as a public relations professional in the music industry or make her own career as a singer! She currently works with her family and loves to perform when and where she can.

“Breeding Ignorance” by Toni Slebi of FIU at Downtown Miami September 18, 2022

Wagner Home in Downtown Miami by Toni Slebi 2022

 What was once a house full of love, conversations, and warmth  is now boarded up, thrown aside; its stories rarely being spoken aloud. The Wagner Family house is the oldest known home in Miami Dade County. It was built around 1855 by William Wagner and his wife Eveline Aimar. What stood out to me when hearing about this family is that their love story is one often heard of Miami- a blend of several cultures and languages all in one household.

William Wagner, a German immigrant, was fighting for the US Army during the Mexican War but was injured and discharged. He traveled to Georgia, where he married Aimar, a French Creole. Not accepted as a couple due to it’s interracial nature, they moved down south to Florida. The house was originally built near what we now call Wagner Creek. In his later years, around 1875, Wagner also built one of the earliest houses of worship in Miami since the Spanish missions. This was later burned down in 1892. He sold his home to Julia Tuttle in 1893 but was able to buy it back in 1899. 

Their family consisted of Wagner, Aimar, her three children, and the two children they had together. Together they lived in harmony and hosted a group of Seminoles where they all shared food and laughter. Despite being a family of warmth and love, they still faced discrimination for being an interracial couple and their children for being mixed. 

Being the first family in Miami, they were a great example of what was to come. Despite this blending of cultures having occurred from the very start, interracial couples and people of color are still struggling today. Though they were a family of recognition, their struggles were not put to rest and are repeated still, to this day. One of their son’s was murdered for being of color. Just like in many cases today, there was no justice for the Wagner family.

This continued struggle has not ended. Similar deaths of people of color with no justice to follow repeat again and again. Emmett Till is one of those people that were murdered for their color in 1955 in Illinois. An all white jury dictated that the two men were not guilty and acquitted them of all charges. The case was closed and reopened in 2004. An attempt to arrest one of the co-conspirators failed leading to the closing of the case, once again, in 2021. 

Not only are cases of lynches and wrongful murders still occuring but the erasure of Black history in Miami is becoming more prominent. The Wagner family is one that should be taught in the Miami Dade County Public schools curriculum yet instead we’re moving towards laws that prohibit speaking on subjects that highlight the mistakes of our nation, specifically those regarding race. Though I have lived in Miami all my life, had I not gone on this trip, I would’ve never learned of the Wagner family and their importance to the history of Miami. I wasn’t even aware their house stood in Downtown Miami for viewing. The support for laws such as the “Individual Freedom” measure which bans discussions regarding race will further this ignorance of our history and lead to past mistakes being repeated, as proven by the murders and discrimination many still face today despite “woke” culture. Even when trying to research Wagner’s family story in detail I struggled to find information or found conflicting numbers. Not only this, but the focus is placed on Wagner’s military efforts rather than his inclusion of the Seminoles of the area and his family. Finding traces of the history of their children or of Eveline Aimar was near impossible- yet another example of erasing the history of the impacts people of color have on our world, our culture, and our daily lives. 

After learning of the first “Miami Thanksgiving” between the Wagner family and several Seminoles, I can only hope that the ignorance I had myself is not repeated in future generations. 

“The Juxtaposition of Community and Greed” by Toni Slebi of FIU at Overtown October 2, 2022

Picture taken by Toni Slebi 2022

A community is a group of people that share their lives together. It’s a home for many filled with love where friends and family gather to build memories together. 

Gentrification is the process where new businesses and people move into a low income community, displacing the current residents. 

Combine these two concepts together and you get what is currently happening in Overtown. Overtown was built as a city for the hired African American laborers that built Miami’s hotels and railroads. Even entertainers such as Billie Holiday and Muhammed Ali were forced to retire to town for the night. While living here, a community was built.

This specific area has experienced three setbacks. The hurricane of 1926 which caused great damage to many as they were unprepared, the construction of I-95 and I-35 in the middle of the city, and an overall gentrification. 

The placement of the highway, whether on purpose or not, has disrupted this community. It destroyed many homes, displacing several people. From then on, more and more people were being displaced as homes in this community were being targeted for inspection in order to destroy and build over these lower income houses. This is happening even today where only few parts of Overtown’s history remains. Lyric Theater, Red Rooster, and The Greater Bethel Church are some of the few places that have been kept. 

One of my favorites was The Greater Bethel Church. This was the first religious gathering in the area that began back in 1896. The church itself was built by the people themselves. Everyone donated their hard earned money towards this common goal so they could all have a place to share their faith in. 

When walking inside, Alberta Godfrey of the church was there to welcome us. From the way she spoke you can see the deep love and passion she held for her church and her town. It’s deeply saddening to imagine other people of the community that hold this same love for their home have it ripped from them. Members of this church have had to move farther out but some still make the drive to attend. The church also gives back to the community by having showers available for displaced people and giving food out on Sundays. 

Despite the Church’s status as a Nationally Registered Historic Place/Landmark, it is still being targeted by the city. They receive fines for any little thing in an attempt to be driven out. Despite these attempts, the church adapts in order to stay strong and fight against this gentrification.

Gentrification is forcing this community out of their homes in a time of financial instability for many. They’re destroying many pieces of history while they’re at it. This whole process of “beautifying” a city only to then have those that inhabit it removed? It is downright disgusting that this is occurring. Right across from the church you see a new building and despite it being filled with people, it’s devoid of life. There’s several lots that once held historic property now empty waiting for chain stores and high cost housing to take its place. Gentrifying doesn’t just displace people but it kills off the life and history of a city only to make it generic and profitable.

I personally don’t live in Overtown, I live in Homestead, a city about an hour down south. In the area there is a lot of lower income housing available. For families such as mine, this housing is a godsend. We can’t afford much else. But with new constructions, and redevelopment of the city I’ve noticed more and more families being displaced. When moving it is very difficult to find affordable housing now with the rising rents here. Sure, we could just move to another city, just as those in Overtown have had to do overtime. However, the point is, we shouldn’t have to. We’ve built our lives here. I have friends here, I volunteer here, I know the best spots, I have my community here. Yet, this doesn’t matter to the city- they’re only focused on turning a profit so they’re pushing families out such as mine, such as those in Overtown.

With this common trend in mind, one question comes to mind: how do we stop the furthering of displacement caused by gentrification? 

The first step is to band together the people of the community. As a team, they can fight against gentrification. Residents can create an organization in which they pool together money to ensure they can buy the historic places. This will avoid the places from being bought out by those that intend to destroy it. This form of resistance against gentrification can help in the short term but communities need long term solutions to protect themselves. 

Many suggest building more middle income and lower income housing in order to lower the rising of rents overall. With less higher income housing properties being built, current residents won’t be pushed out with the demand for higher income related stores. For example, Godfrey mentioned how once she saw a Publix was being built in the city, she knew the city was going to really struggle with gentrification. With providing the city with affordable housing, local businesses will be able to thrive as they won’t be kicked out or taxed immensely. This will provide the community with the opportunity to grow economically. 

More educational and economic opportunities need to be provided to lower income communities. For example, Black Americans invest in stocks at a much lower rate than white Americans. This is due to a disparity in the access to education. Being low income and a first generation American, my family doesn’t know anything about the financial system in America-  We’re surviving paycheck to paycheck just as many others do. Meanwhile, people with generational wealth and/or higher income have the opportunity to dedicate more time to education and learn about stocks, retirement saving accounts and more. If organizations and the government were to provide more opportunities to learn and grow to lower income families, these families would be able to stay in their homes, build a better financial plan, further develop their community, and breathe. 

Life shouldn’t just be about surviving but as gentrification takes over, we tend to lose sight of what matters. It’s often hard to breathe and feel hope, but together communities can fight against gentrification.

‘Embracing Nature Together’ Toni Slebi of FIU at Deering Estate October 16, 2022

Photo taken by Toni Slebi 2022

As someone born in the early 2000’s, I grew up with technology being rather accessible. That being said, all of my favorite memories are not when I’m behind my phone but when I forget it’s even there. On Wednesday, October 5, my class went out canoeing and kayaking in Deer Estate. We left our phones behind, only taking them out for occasional videos and photos; otherwise the phones added no value to our trip. 

I absolutely despise those that hate on technology just because they didn’t have access to it at that age or they just like to hate on any ‘trends’ the teenagers are into. One thing I do agree with though is that phones do take away from life sometimes. For work, education, networking, and keeping in touch, technology has proven to be a great aid. However, sometimes we do get too wrapped up in the powers of social media. We’re too focused on taking the best pictures, making sure each plate looks picture perfect, basing your entire outing around this. This takes away from the moment and doesn’t let you focus on what’s right in front of you.  

I personally avoid using my phone during outings. I do take the occasional photos or videos but most of the time my phone is on the table, undisturbed. Sure I don’t have pictures of each outing but I get to fully enjoy the moment. The clean up at Deer Estate reminded the entire class and I of the pure enjoyment that comes from sharing time together and working towards a common goal. 

As mentioned, technology does come with a lot of benefits- education is accessible, you can contact friends and family from afar, work from home has become a possibility. That being said, technology has been proven to have its downfalls as well. For children it can lead to obesity as kids aren’t as active and lower self esteem brought upon by the comparisons that come with social media. (National University, The negative effects of technology on children) It’s effect on the general population is a lack of sleep on average, our ability to communicate and read emotions is severed, and we feel less connected. (Cook Digital technology can be harmful to your health) This has all also led to higher rates of depression and anxiety. 

 I believe if we all set aside some time each day to be in the moment, whether alone or accompanied by a loved one, our moods would improve drastically. This can be done in the form of a beach clean up, having a picnic at a park, reading your favorite book together sitting at the lake, and so much more! Soaking in the sun and feeling nature around us is such a wonderful gift we often forget about. The fresh air in our lungs, the water crashing against us, plants brushing our skin, the many refreshing smells to smell and cute critters to look at- nature is beautiful. Being able to connect with people is another gift I’m extremely grateful for. Being able to enjoy all the good that comes with nature with our loved ones is undeniably \an unbeatable combination. 

I will make it a point to schedule events like this more often in order to enjoy good company and good views just as we did as a group- I hope others follow suit in their own way. The great thing about life is that there are so many different ways to enjoy it but spending it cleaning up a beach and having fun with your friends in the warm sun might have to be one of my favorites! 

References:

Cook, Jia-Rui. “Digital Technology Can Be Harmful to Your Health.” UCLA, UCLA, 1 Apr. 2016, https://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/digital-technolgy-can-harm-your-health

National University. “The Negative Effects of Technology on Children.” The Negative Effects of Technology on Children, 13 May 2021, https://www.nu.edu/blog/negative-effects-of-technology-on-children-what-can-you-do/.

“Miami’s Palace” by Toni Slebi of FIU at Vizcaya Museum October 30, 2022

Photo taken by Toni Slebi 2022

Big cities such as Paris and New York are given nicknames that summarize it. Miami is ‘the magic city’ because of its rapid growth but what many locals and many others know it as is ‘the boiling pot’ after the many cultures that thrive here. Though James Deering didn’t put in any effort towards the already existing cultures, he created his own mini version of Miami. Each room in his home appreciates an abundance of cultures and styles, each room is a conversation of its own, each a different way to enjoy life. Miami is all the same. 

From Homestead to Hialeah, each subdivision of Miami is different. Despite all the different cultures, in the end we all come together and form the community we all love and enjoy. From Cubans, to Hatians, to Puerto Ricans and many, many more. We share our music, our culture, and our food. Our accents have all blended into one that is now deemed the ‘miami accent’, or better yet- the ‘me-ami’ accent as our locals would say it. At the Vizcaya museum we get to enjoy the same. From the green curtain entrance of the Vizcaya museum, each corner of the garden, and to the end of the dock, every step is a whole new set of things to appreciate. While it’s completely different to Miami we get to enjoy that same comfort of uniqueness. 

With the lack of indenginous culture in his designs, Deering did fail to create a world that is representative of Miami’s own culture and history. That being said he did this in other ways. Beyond the blend of interior designs and influences of several places, Deering also promoted the idea of living in the present moment, enjoying the luxuries of life. The saying on his balcony states, “gladly accept the gifts of the present hour, and abandon serious things.” This very saying is the idea behind Miami; though we’re a fast paced city, we party just as hard as we work. We live to be in the moment. We enjoy each other’s company and appreciate other cultures openly. From hosting a Carnival much like Barranquilla’s, to the Haitian Compas festival, to the Asian Culture festival- we all celebrate each other and indulge in the riches of the cultures. We, in Miami, make the time to appreciate the different cultures at our reach- Deering strived for the same.

Despite his love for the vibrance of life and the different cultures, he did have his downfalls when designing his home, just as Miami does. Despite the wide range of diversity in Miami, we still have high rates of racism, homophobia, and many other prejudices. This was visible in Deering’s home as he owned Jim Crow pieces and he hid away his house servants showing an inherent classism. Miami has its own pieces of dark history with racism and the story regrettably grows each day. In wanting to grow away from racism and to not offend, parts of Miami’s history has been hidden, much like the Jim Crow/black face related artifacts in Deering’s home were hidden. Though these artifacts or parts of our history are stowed away in order to prevent offending anyone, making anyone uncomfortable, denying this part of Miami’s past does far more damage. By denying our past, we can’t welcome a better future because we haven’t truly learned.

Bills such as the “Stop WOKE Act” seem as though they’ll let us move on, but how does one move on when they’re still feeling the effects of racism today? Places such as Overtown are being ignored and ripped apart, the history of Miami is being whitewashed leading to an ignorance of all the bad that’s occurred over the years. We’re meant to learn from our mistakes but this can’t happen if we can’t acknowledge and work towards a better tomorrow. Simply ignoring the past does nothing but harm the minority groups that are already struggling today. Just as we should teach our full history in Miami, we should display all artifacts original to the Vizcaya museum. That uncomfortable feeling that may arise when viewing such artifacts is a sign of growth- we know it’s wrong, so let’s work to not have it happen again. 

The Vizcaya Museum is the perfect Mini Miami though it may not seem so at first glance. Its story parallels Miami’s in a way that allows us to bring up some uncomfortable discussions but also lively conversation that creates a community of people enjoying each other’s company, just as intended for both locations. 

“Fearing Realities” By Toni Slebi of FIU at South Beach November 13, 2022

Photo taken by Toni Slebi 2022

In the first amendment it states that we in America have the right to freely exercise our religions. This amendment also prohibits the government from establishing a religion. This means that even though the majority of our population is christian, it is not our established religion as a country. Despite this amendment being in our Bill of Rights, many people face prejudice for practicing a different religion. One of these prejudiced religions is Judaism. At the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU we were able to hear some of these struggles. 

Though Miami has become this hotspot for people from all walks of life, it wasn’t always like this. In the 1900’s there were several examples of prejudice against Jews right in Miami beach. Landlords and business owners alike both restricted access to Jews. This was common practice as many stores would have signs saying something along the lines of ‘gentiles only’. Carl Fischer and Henry Flager, two prominent names in Miami, would not sell or rent to Jews. Because of the amount of property they held, they were able to push Jews into the tip of South beach. Many deeds would actually state that people of other colors or religions would not be able to rent or buy the property. This standard on deeds can no longer be upheld however some still have it written in. 

Some may say, “it can’t be upheld, there’s no issue”, but there’s something about reading the words that you’re not truly welcome; It’s hard to make that place feel like home. One of the Museum’s speaker’s daughter, who is jewish, recently had an encounter with one of these deeds where the prejudiced standard was still written in but no longer upheld. Today, in 2022, this standard was still visible in a legal document. The insanity that this document had not been changed is chilling. It sets in the fear that if things were to change today, some would uphold these standards. 

This fear may seem crazy but with recent activities in our government, this ‘unrealistic’ fear has suddenly become much more of a possibility. Recently, the right to an abortion has been left for the states to determine their legality. Previously a protected action, abortion has become punishable by law in many states. There are motions to further this ban and hold it across all 50 states. With this precedent being successfully challenged, there are many with the hopes of overturning other precedents. There have been mentions of trying to overturn those regarding segregation, access to contraception, interracial marriage, and more. While those precedents are more set in stone than abortion was, there is always a possibility, and each possibility brings us closer to the world of  “Handmaid’s Tale”, where Christianity is the set religion, women are only there to reproduce, cook, or uphold an image, and men hold the power. This is reality we do not want. 

Now abortion and Judaism have virtually nothing in common, they’re completely different topics. However, when legal abortions were no longer upheld by the national government, several states had ‘trigger laws’. These were laws that should Roe V Wade no longer be upheld, they would be put into effect immediately. This made abortions difficult or impossible to access in states such as Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas. So when deeds today still have those prejudiced standards in their writing, the fear of being unwelcome again becomes so much more realistic when they could be triggered back into effect. At just a moment’s notice, one’s life could change simply because of their ethnicity/religion. 

History plays an important role in our present and future. With places like the Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU we can see the reality of prejudice right before our eyes. However strong the shame, pain, sadness, or guilt may be, we shouldn’t shy away from it. We need to discuss how prejudice has made it difficult for many marginalized communities to thrive, even today. This will allow us to work towards a better future. Acknowledgement of our past is important to our future but only if we act today. I am grateful to live in a reality where youth voter turnout broke records and has led to change in many states- I hope this pattern continues and we are able to live in society where deeds no longer have outdated and ridiculous standards, where abortions are accesible, and where we learn to acknowledge and learn from our past because the fears of losing your right to your identity, your autonomy or your home shouldn’t be a reality. 

“Symbiosis: The Root of Strength” by Toni Slebi of FIU at Deering Estate November 27, 2022

“Atala Butterflies in their Habitat” photo taken by Toni Slebi 2022

In life, we tend to make mistakes or things don’t go the way we planned and more often than not, we’re able to persevere, figure out a way to keep going. Nature reflects this same determination to keep going. As most people know, our Earth is suffering. We’re intruding on natural habitats, the temperature is rising, our waters are becoming too acidic, and several animals are facing the brink of extinction. Thankfully, just as us humans, nature has a lot of fight left in her, even if it needs some help along the way- and that’s okay.

As a first generation student I’ve had to fight a lot of battles myself. My family didn’t understand the language, the culture, or the way things worked in America. While I was rather independant from a young age and could handle balancing the cultures, the depression that runs in my family started to take a toll on me. Since growing up I learned to handle things on my own, I figured it was the same with my depression. I felt really alone and was losing hope. However, after years of struggling, I finally learned to open up to those I trust and I’ve built a stronger connection to both myself and others. I’m now stronger than before thanks to my friends and family who have been by my side. Learning to lean on others gave me a second chance to work past my depression and work towards building a better future for myself. I believe this same spirit of fight exists in nature, we just have to bring it out of her just as my loved ones did for me.

A great example of this fighting spirit is found over at the Deering Estate- the Atala butterfly and their host plant, the coontie. As with most environmental issues, the reason these two organisms were facing extinction was because of humans. The coontie plant was a great source of starch and was almost gathered to extinction leading to the subsequent near extinction of the Atala butterfly. In fact, for some time the butterfly was believed to be entirely extinct. However, thanks to revival efforts brought upon by several groups and organizations, the Atala butterfly and the coontie plant have been revived! Though their numbers are still low, they’ve been given a second chance at life and are thriving in their ecosystems.

This success story, along with the many others occurring in nature each day, gives hope for the revitalization of our earth. Just as I had to depend on others for help, the ecosystems around us do too. The only problem is that the Earth can’t ask for help, it struggles in silence, hoping we hear its cries. We need to listen to science and do what is possible to help it. Helping the earth, or those around us, shouldn’t have to benefit us in order for us to want to help it. Nonetheless, if you need further reason to help the earth, here are some:

It’s beautiful to look at. Offers fresh air away from our polluted cities. Gives us many ways to be healthy- Walking, swimming, hiking, climbing, and more! There are so many cute and interesting critters live in it (I personally love raccoons)! We gain sense of fulfillment from cleaning up our land. We live on it and it’s the only Earth we have, we can’t just give up on it. We have to make the planet better for future generations- we don’t want to leave them with a dying planet. Being in nature offers a clear mind, a sort of system reset in ourselves that allows us the opportunity to keep going. It connects us with ourselves. The open mind it gives us allows us to reflect, organize our thoughts, and learn more about ourselves.

Helping the earth offers us so much more beyond that list, the least we could do is help it back. We have the opportunity to offer our Earth the same second chance that the Atala butterfly, the Coontie plant, and I all had thanks to the efforts of others. The revitalization of our Earth is in our hands, we just have to get them dirty and clean up our messes! Here are ways you can help out: Cleaning up beaches, leaving places better than you found it, limiting single use plastic, planting native plants in your yard, shopping local, growing your own vegetables, donating to organizations’ environmental efforts, advocating and voting for laws and politicians that support the environment, and learning more about the ecosystems around you and help others learn more- with more knowledge, one is more likely to care and understand for something. These are just a fraction of the ways you can help but there are so many more. Doing the one that is most accessible to you is perfectly okay, each effort gets us closer to revitalizing the Earth and undoing the damage we’ve done. We can give nature the second chance at life it’s due, we just need to help it along the way. Whether it’s nature or people, it’s okay to need a helping hand- we all do sometimes.

“Limitless” by Toni Slebi of FIU at Rubell Museum December 4, 2022

Photo taken by Toni Slebi 2022

Most parents dream of their children going into the STEM field however there’s so much more to life than just math and science. The jobs in those fields are highly respectable but there are jobs outside of those that heavily influence and enrich our lives. I am in the communications field meaning that I work with the public, influencing the minds of many through my words and actions. This is an art in itself. The art field holds a whole other world of influence over our society though. While communication is normally clear to understand, art is open to interpretation even if there is a set meaning to it. It allows conversation to begin and this allows us to grow morally, ethically, socially and more as a society. 

Upon entering the Rubell Museum, there are several eye-catching works that immediately get your brain thinking. Now upon thinking of a museum, one might assume it means there’s only paintings. However, this idea of art is so limited. Just as our conversations are free in the art world, the creations that are considered art are way beyond a canvas and paint. There were vacuums, beer cans, worm clay figures and so much more. Art is a concept that is hard to define. Dictating that something can’t be art is limiting yourself from expanding your way of thinking. 

Before understanding art in the ways I do now, I also found it hard to see certain pieces as art. My favorite from the Rubell Museum is a great example of a piece I first saw and because I didn’t allow myself to think beyond, I limited myself. The piece is two small but long branches hanging from chains that are connected to the wall. At the end of each branch there is a candle burning. This candle remains on while the two branches move in circles with the help of a motor. Each one moves at a slightly different speed and the branches never touch. The two circles form a sort of venn diagram visible by the candle wax that drips off the branches over time. 

At first, I thought it looked silly. But after reminding myself that there’s meaning behind each piece, I started to attach some meaning to each portion of the piece. My friend’s interpretation was that the piece was regarding soul mates. Two flames, never able to touch, always so close but so far. Their flames dying out over time, the stains of their love left behind in their memories. Though I’m a big romantic and loved this idea, I saw the piece differently. I saw it as two people living life, going through the motions. Each one moves at a different place, making their own path, however they both end with the same fate. Though the change we cause in the world builds up, we all end up burnt out, with our light wasted away. Another interpretation I thought of is that we’re too stuck in our circles, we’re stuck going through the motions of life. Letting our light get wasted again and again. By allowing ourselves to go through the motions, we get stained by its effects and though it may take a while- eventually it may catch up to us. Every time we allow ourselves to get burnt out, we lose ourselves. We can try again but if we keep allowing ourselves to repeat the same decisions, we’ll end with the same fate. 

My two interpretations are slightly similar but the small changes create a new conversation. Are we holding too much emphasis on work life? Are people not being taught to put themselves first and participate in self care? Is allowing yourself to go through the motions of life something we all do or is there a way to break out of it? Are we paying enough attention to mental health issues? Why do we compare our achievements to others if in the end, what matters is the change we leave behind? Why do we compare ourselves to others when in the end we all have the same fate, we all leave our own marks, we all get replaced in the end by others? Is a company’s willingness to easily replace loyal employees an issue in our business environment? 

All of those questions and more arise from just my two interpretations- imagine with the interpretations of many others. More questions would come into play and give us the opportunity to reflect on the structures of our lives- if we’re really doing the best we can as a society. This in turn allows us to grow our ethics, morality, our ideas, our passions, and more. When we question things, we open the door to improvement. Art is the path to this improvement.

As a communications major I’m not as congratulated as my fellow STEM peers. Because my work isn’t directly saving lives, my work isn’t seen as valuable.This concept of having STEM being seen as a better option is ignorant as there is so much more to life. Every speech, commercial, show, artwork, theory made is an advancement in our society though we may not realize it. Art influences us in so many ways yet we continue to ignore its powers. The simple burning of a candle is enough to help us question the fabrics of our lives- Art helps us feel, helps us understand, share, explain, expand, question and everything in between. I believe that because of this, arts and humanities are just as important as STEM. We need both to improve ourselves, to fully thrive. We don’t need to hate one thing in order to enjoy another. We need to combine these fields in order to create balance and harmony in our lives. With both, we can live fulfilling lives. 

Ways that STEM and art can be intertwined are when we use speech to inform the public over health concerns. Words are an art and when we change how we use them, it can result in us communicating the wrong idea. If a scientist were to poorly communicate their concerns, they could cause major health scares or a major rejection of their concerns. This can harm the public. If the scientist is able to present an effective speech, the public can listen to the health concerns without freaking out and are more likely to trust the scientist. 

When we give power to the art world and its limitless works, we open a lifetime of balance and possibilities. The best way to live is with this balance between art and STEM. Alongside arts heavy influence, societal advancement will be unstoppable, both in and outside the STEM world. We as a society need to stop limiting ourselves when it comes to interpreting art. It gives us so much in just a moment but that one moment can change your life. Without art, we are bound to lose. With art, we will thrive as individuals and as a society. 

“Connections and Conversation over Capitalism” By Toni Slebi of FIU at Untitled Art Fair December 10, 2022

Artwork by Pedro Friedeberg. Photo by Toni Slebi 2022

Despite living in Miami my whole life, I’ve only recently had the opportunity to explore some of Miami’s art museums and art events. Art is something that deserves to be seen by everyone- the impacts it has on our society runs deeper than we think. However, just like many things, capitalism is getting the best of the art world. We’re so focused on what’s profitable that we forget to give a platform to what really matters. Not only does this limit our growth as a society since we refuse to see past the first impression, it makes art meaningless. 

Untitled Art Fair offers a wonderful experience in which one can discover a whole new world of today’s art. In each booth there are several global issues being discussed with the stroke of a brush, the click of a camera, the formation of clay and beyond. As society advances, so does our art; with the inclusion of modern technology to new conversations being brought upon us by current events. 

When wandering the booths and getting just a glimpse of what the art world entails, there was booth that stood out to me the most. The gallery of Kates-Ferri Project, based in New York, spoke to my peers and I during Untitled. They were exhibiting three different artists’ work, each telling their own story. From immigration, fast fashion and the colonization of black women, to opening the door to vulnerability on the topics of womanhood and black female identity. The gallery focused on elevating the voices of minorities; queer, people of color, and women. The director herself, Natalie Kates, noted how she likes taking the risk of choosing art that may not be trending now- what she cares for is the message behind the piece and if she feels she can connect with and help elevate that message. 

Though his work wasn’t fully displayed, we did get to speak to Francisco Donoso, an artist currently working with Kates-Ferris Projects. As the child of two immigrants and sibling of another, I was able to really connect with his story. His works explore the life of a DACA recipient/the immigrant experience and while this life is one full of fear and uncertainty, he explores the joys of being an immigrant. I asked him how he was able to focus on the joys of being an immigrant when DACA was at risk and deportation numbers were on the rise just a few years ago. My family, for example, was terrified and feared the possibilities of what could occur.  His response was along the lines of “that makes finding the joy that much more important”. 

That one phrase highlights the importance of what art can do for us. It helps see the bad but also the good, it helps us look within but also take a step back. Donoso’s art format may not be what’s ‘trending’ at the moment in the art world but that doesnt mean his work had any less of an impression on me or that it’s any less beautiful. It allowed me to see that there’s good even in my family’s situation; There’s beauty in it just as there is in everything. 

Art is a force to be reckoned with. While monetary value can be placed on these works, the price tag isn’t what matters. The connections and conversations are what show us the worst of us and bring out the best in us. When we forget about the possible price tag of a piece is when we can truly appreciate art for what it is because even the most unassuming piece can hold the deepest of meaning-we just need to be open to finding it.

“The Blueprint” by Toni Slebi of FIU at Cutler Bay           December 11, 2022

Photo by Toni Slebi 2022

Flooding is a major nuisance to South Floridians. It can bring major issues- car flooding, deterioration of the road, overflowing bodies of water, slowing down traffic, property damage and more. What is the cause of flooding? One might say poor city development, which isn’t entirely wrong. Others may argue that it’s climate change and the recent increase in rain intensity- again, not wrong. However, once you examine the catalyst for each cause, you find human impact at the base.

Humans are one of the most destructive forces on this earth. We can easily cause major destruction in a matter of seconds, much like our hurricanes. We blame our town developers for not planning ahead when it comes to flooding but the real issue is we shouldn’t be in those flood zones. We can blame who or what we want but we are the issue. 

Cutler Bay is a major flood zone. The city is very vulnerable to heavy rains, hurricanes, and king tides. During our last hurricane, they actually moved water out of their canals and cleared out storm drains in order to prepare for heavy rainfall and prevent flooding. While these solutions work now, as climate change worsens, so will our natural disasters, heavy rains, and sea levels. 

What can we blame for these major flooding issues that arise at any chance they have? The major destructive force that is humans. In the 1900’s we dredged the Everglades, removing over 

With time, more and more canals were removed in order to create space for homes and roads. This destruction of the land is a major cause for flooding because it removed the Earth’s natural flooding protection and drainage system. The man-made canals we have can’t handle the amount of flooding we expect it to and overflows which is why we have to waste time and resources draining them before a hurricane hits. 

The destruction of the Everglades’ bodies of water not only lead to major flooding but also loss of wetlands, increased salinity in estuaries, less natural water available, decreased diversity in vegetation, droughts, and reduced freshwater flow. All these issues are adding up and if we don’t act quickly, they will worsen. 

Now dredging the Everglades made a huge effect but that’s not all we did. We also removed the mangroves from our coastal areas which also adds to flooding severity. By reducing the strength of waves and storm surge before they hit us, mangroves are able to reduce flooding effectively. The issue is that we have very little mangroves left.

So while humans do cause issues, we can also create our solutions:

  • Increasing the walkability score of our cities would allow us to minimize the space we need. This would result in us intruding in natural spaces much less allowing nature to take it back. This also aids in the decrease of need for individual transportation as places are more accessible. This in turn reduces air pollution. 
  • Protecting, reconstructing, and reviving the Everglades. We’ve removed about 50% of the Everglades and interrupted about 70% of its water flow. If we can reverse this, flooding won’t be the only issue that is majorly resolved. 
  • Enforce stricter laws on empty homes. If we reduce the amount of empty homes, not only would real estate prices be more forgiving but homelessness would reduce, and we could stop or slow down the construction of new homes (which intrudes on natural land) because we already have more than enough available homes. If the federal government were to purchase these unused homes and provide housing vouchers, homelessness wouldn’t be the only thing decreasing. With helping those that are homeless, we reduce healthcare costs by 59% and emergency department costs by 61%, according to the National Library of Medicine. It’s been proven that helping the homeless with housing is less expensive than leaving them to their own defenses. 
  • Rebuilding our mangroves. This would reduce flooding at the source and also reduce hurricane impact. This would also encourage biodiversity.

Each solution solves at least one other issue and there are so many more solutions we could implement that would help in thousands of other ways. 

Looking closer at the City of Cutler Bay, they’re ahead of the curve on some of these solutions. They’re already working diligently towards restoring the wetlands. As of last year, they declared they were looking to restore 8.435 acres of wetlands. They are targeting the area that buffers the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands and plan to make it a conservation area open to the public. They’ve already set aside $36 million towards this project and are working to gain more assistance to further their efforts. The city is also pushing for the prioritization of the health of its mangroves and sawgrass. Cutler Bay hosts the Deering Estate- this museum hosts mangroves and manatees and conserves other flora and fauna. Other solutions that the city is carrying out are the improvement of their drainage through milling and resurfacing, water quality treatment to prevent infections and disease from spreading during flooding, new pipe connections and more.

Cutler Bay is an excellent example of what other cities need to be doing. By restoring the wetlands and protecting their mangroves, they’re not only helping their flooding issue but helping the environments around them. They’re willing to put so much money into these efforts because they see the importance of it. While they are to some degree being forced by nature to help it, they are still noticing the effects of killing our environment. Acknowledgement of our responsibility in solving the issues we created is a major step in the right direction. Should other cities follow suit, South Florida will become a beacon of excellence. 

Nature is at the foundation of our survival and Cutler Bay recognizes that. It’s a chain that we’ve been picking away at exponentially and the damage we’ve done is showing. Each time we’ve destroyed land, we’ve suffered the consequences of it. Even back in 1926, following the removal of the mangroves, a major hurricane hit, leading to major damage in South Florida. Despite that, Miami didn’t learn and didn’t rebuild our mighty mangroves. The ability to make connections in science and history and create solutions with that knowledge is what makes us so powerful. I’m glad that Cutler Bay is using the knowledge they’ve gained and are allocating major funding towards the reconstruction and protection of our wetlands and mangroves. They are a great blueprint for other cities and I’m excited to explore the wetlands they reconstruct once it is built.

“No Longer Ignorant” by Toni Slebi of FIU in Miami December 11, 2022

Photo taken by Toni Slebi 2022

As a native Miami resident, I knew absolutely nothing of its history. I was slightly aware of the Miccosukee and Seminoles but I didn’t know about the Tequesta. I hadn’t been to any art fairs or museums, Deering Estate or Vizcaya, much less known their importance. In exploring and learning about the in depth history of Miami, many parts stuck out to me. The exploitation and lack of acknowledgment of the hard work Bahamians and African Americans put towards building out city, the lack of acknowledgment of the Tequesta and their presence, and the ignorance towards the effects of removing the mangroves. 

Of the many things discussed, the one that impacted me most was how Miami ignores how a good portion of our city was built or protected by women. From Julia Tuttle to Barbara Baer Capitman. As someone who appreciates art heavily, I have to say that Capitman is the person  who stood out to me most out of the women who had their hand in influencing or creating Miami.

Without her efforts, Miami wouldn’t be the same. Its architecture is what makes Miami so special out of all of our cities in America. Beyond the cultural blends, our architecture is unique.Miami takes great pride in it’s art influence over the world so without great architecture in place to showcase this same sense of pride in art. 

The efforts of women all over the world have been greatly muted or ignored but it’s about time that we as a society begin to acknowledge the efforts of women and minority groups. It’s also important to acknowledge the sacrifices of the people made before us, especially those who gave their life such as those that died in the construction of the Deering Estate. If we ignore the true history of our society, we won’t be able to truly advance as a society. 

My perception of Miami has remained the same as there was a great balance in the good and bad of the history and influences we’ve learned. Though we’ve learned a lot of the downsides of Miami, we’ve learned a lot of the good of Miami. Miami is a lot more rich in culture than I thought it was, especially when we look at its art and architecture. Alongside that, I learned a lot of the ignorance of Miami. With everything, there is both good and bad so I still love Miami but I’m now more aware of the changes and growth we need to make. Humans in general need to take more responsibility for their words, actions, and of the ignorance they actively participate in. I myself was ignorant to much of Miami’s history. Now knowing our history, I laugh at the remembrance mural in the whole foods in Miami. It is an absolute joke. I laugh at the lack of knowledge given to students in schools regarding Miami’s growth in the 1900’s. Even then, I can still appreciate Miami for what it is. I’m proud to be a part of Miami but hope to see continued growth as a whole regarding education, environmental efforts, and more.

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