George Coba: Miami as Text 2022-2023 Spr

PHOTO DATE: 7/14/2022 LOCATION: Bldg. 8 Rm. 183. SUBJECT: Official NASA Portrait of George Coba. PHOTOGRAPHER: Norah Moran

George Coba has been a native Miamian all his life. He currently lives in Little Havana with his parents who are Cuban immigrants. He is currently an FIU student that is a part of the Honors College and has an internship with NASA. He loves to rock climb, hike and go on new adventures. He finds the most fascination and peace in nature’s impossible and chaotic beauty.

“Unknown Home” by George Coba: Miami Encounter

I was born and raised in Miami and because of that I felt like I knew a lot about Miami. When I first started this class last semester, I figured I would likely have gone to many of the places that we were going to visit. This was actually true, I had visited many of the places that we visited during our class but I had never looked into them so deeply as this class has forced me to. I’ve learned more about the origins of Miami, where our buildings come from and why they’re made to look the way that they are made to look through lectures. These incredible facts about the story of Miami are not so obvious on the surface there is little signage in the areas and very little education from the Miami school system about how Miami was formed.

I think that this class is the only way to learn all about the place that I’ve grown up in my entire life and didn’t know so much about. It’s given me access to extremely unique places and helped me appreciate those places more deeply than I ever thought possible. Going through a three ecosystem hike at Deering Estate is not only something I will never forget but also simply not possible for me even as a native Miamian without the help of the class to get me there.

The culture of Miami all around me is something that I’ve never seen or considered to think about since I am just living it all the time. The lectures and writing of this class has made me see the very unique culture and diversity that we have throughout so many different neighborhoods of Miami. I’ve revisited places that I’ve been all my life and for the first time seeing the effects of culture on them. My own home is near ‘Calle Ocho’ and before this class helping me find that critical eye, I couldn’t see how incredibly unique the location was and the impossible circumstances that lead to its appearance.  

(Photograph by George Coba / CC by 4.0)
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When I imagined Miami, I used to think of Downtown Miami and the people in it, I think of Miami Beach and I think of the people and family around me. I had never considered before this class the very beginnings of Miami and the culture that started long before any Europeans or Spanish were here. Learning that the very name Miami comes from a native tribe of the area was mind blowing to me as I had never even asked myself the question “Why is Miami named Miami?” I never thought about the origins of the very rock and nature around Miami, the incredible biodiversity of the area. Throughout the semester I most look forward to visiting the most natural parts of Miami like the Everglades and Deering Estate because they’re so purely the beginning of Miami. No humans have change the area drastically and what we are seeing now could have been seen many thousands of years ago in the same location.

“Finding Hope” by George Coba: Everglades

Being in the Everglades was the first experience I felt disconnected from the rest of our group. I think it was incredibly beautiful to be able to walk out into the nature but today I felt more sadness and anger instead of the peace I had felt at felt on previous nature walks. Humanity’s relentless take over of nature overshadowed the day when as we drove in, we saw signs for new luxury condos being built near the area. During a beautiful moment of silence in the Cypress Dome I heard cars roaring by that stabbed me in the heart with humanity’s endless reach. I felt hopeless to ever escape its grasp.

Exploiting nature is required in the consumerist cycle that our culture is now. Without unimaginable effort the exploitation will continue to happen, as I write this, I’m driving past massive developments of many hundreds of acres that are in the middle of what used to be the Everglades. Even though we’re doing well, and the Everglades can be seen as a conservation success, it’s so sad to me how hard we’ve had to work for it. It seems humans are repeating our mistakes as urban development is coming all the way out to the Everglades. I wonder if we’re going to keep protecting them or if they’re going to end up being ruined when we end up needing more cheap and large housing for our ever-growing population.

I also want to talk how lucky I am to have been able to feel this perspective inside of the Everglades. As heart wrenching as it is to see humanity everywhere the protectors of the Everglades have still done an incredible job. I have never felt more human than when I drank the water under my feet because I knew the nature around it had already filtered it for me. Seeing such incredibly pristine wilderness that had been untouched by humans forever is something I had never seen before. When I first walked through the Everglades’ water, I was afraid I and wasn’t in my usual comfortable environment. Like any human though I quickly adapted, I began to feel relaxation and connectedness to the nature below my feet even though the water was cold and full of muck. I found myself exploring comfortably and walking around the thick woods and deeper waters without feeling like a gator was going to pop up and attack me. I fell back to that human nature that I feel is deep inside of all of us that is desperately needed to reconnect with.

The minute of silence that wasn’t interrupted by the vehicles felt like I was recharging a battery I didn’t know I had. The Everglades is an incredibly unique place that must be protected from humanity at all costs. The deep spiritual connections felt in the pristine nature is indispensable from the human experience. The photo below shows the stark contrast between the city life and the life that nature would allow us to experience.

(Photograph by George Coba / CC by 4.0)
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“Community” by George Coba: Coconut Grove

The community of Coconut Grove was so small that everybody knew each other. That is why The Barnacle, which is the oldest structure in Miami (that’s still in the same location) was a hangout spot and wasn’t closed off to visitors. There were so few people that everybody just knew each other and even Bahamians broke bread with the White folk. The private citizens even allowed community trails to run through their properties.

What’s interesting is that once more Northerners began to come and settle into the Coconut Grove area that same trail that came off The Barnacle had new signs put up that said to not leave marks on the bamboo, because people not from the area were damaging the bamboo by leaving their name on it. This behavior likely came from a lack of community after there were so many people living in the area. It seems that the more people move into a particular area, which should mean it’s more successful, the less community there is for the same area. For example, in Miami, most people would not allow their neighbor from two doors down to come into their home, because they just don’t know them. Miami lacks the close community that the older Coconut Grove had.

(Photograph by George Coba / CC by 4.0)
Apple iPhone 13 Pro

Most small towns are disappearing as opportunities continue to follow major cities and younger generations follow cities as well as lack the community from similar media and entertainment that has been replaced by personal entertainment. Things like music and TV shows that people used to be able to relate to each other are no longer bringing people together because the Internet allows you to have things curated to your specific taste.

The expeditions we’ve been on to Miami’s locations have shown me how different life was so a few years ago when there was no Internet, there just wasn’t much to do besides become a community and share. I think that new systems like the internet and social media have led to further separation rather than inclusion because it’s simply not necessary to be a community anymore. Getting anything, you need to be done through the Internet and a thirty-second meeting at your doorstep allows you to completely live from home never being required to socialize at all.

Coconut Grove was a place with a strong community, especially unique, a strong black community together at a time when they were being badly mistreated in every part of the country. The Barnacle was built with Bahamians, and they were given enough respect to hang out in the area after it was built along with the rest of the community. That is extremely unique when you compare it to other buildings in Miami that were built using almost exclusively Bahamian labor that did not receive the same welcome.

It’s now going through gentrification, and any community that existed is gone which has led to the almost full disbandment of Christ Episcopal Church and many others churches as well since no people are visiting and the ones that would visit have been pushed away by higher property prices. Communities will always exist, and they’ll have to adapt but right now it seems like Coconut Grove is falling victim to what the rest of the world will continue to fall victim to, and that’s a globalization of culture.

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