Nicole Martinez: Miami as Text 2023

Ponte Vecchio on 28 July 2022. Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

Nicole Martinez is a junior at Florida International University, majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. She is simultaneously taking Fashion Design and Fashion Styling courses at Istituto Marangoni, a fashion school from Milano with a campus in Miami. Although a bit unsure of what her future looks like, Nicole is extremely passionate about fashion, government, modeling, acting, and Italia. She speaks English, Spanish, Italian, and a tiny bit of French. Some of her favorite things in life include music, dance, nature, love, and the little things that bring true joy. She would like to inspire others in a yet-to-be-discovered way.

“Unquantifiable Emotion”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University, 25 January 2023

I have never once been on a plane without a family member. In all honesty, I love my family, but my whole life I have been a little too overprotected. Perhaps that stems from my parents’ origins – they were just enhancing their “Colombian-ness.” This will be the first time that I travel by myself, that I am not only encouraged but forced to make my own decisions; this will be the first time that I will get to (have to) make real decisions in real life, the first time I will be “alone” and truly independent. 

I don’t think I am able to find the correct words to explain how excited I am for this summer. I am fortunate enough to have been able to travel to Italia before. This summer of 2022, I went (with my family, of course) to the Toscana region, and when I went to Firenze, I fell in love. It was not my first time in Firenze, but the last time I had been was when I was much younger. It had been my favorite city in Italia before, and now seven years later, it’s not only my favorite city in Italia, but in the entire world. 

Sunset seen from Ponte Vecchio, 28 July 2022. Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

When I went this summer, everything was completely different, because I felt like a different person. This time, I truly appreciated everything I saw, touched, tasted, smelled, heard. Absolutely everything. This time, I found a place, a person, a feeling to be passionate about, and it’s something I will never be able to let go because I know it’s a part of who I am now. It’s possible that if you’re reading this, you might think I’m a little crazy, but that’s okay. I think that’s what life is about – finding something that makes you so passionate, it ignites a fire in you that drives you insane, a fire that could never be successfully quenched no matter how hard you try to extinguish it. Comunque è meglio essere pazza che annoiante. (Either way, it’s better to be crazy than boring.) 

I had taken Italian classes in high school because I have Italian roots on my mother’s side, but going to Firenze inspired me to really dive into the language and learn it perfectly, my goal being to become as fluent as a native speaker. It’s a little difficult to practice because no one else here at home speaks it, but I practice every single day of my life. My Spotify has manifested itself into a playlist of Italian music, and I wouldn’t have it any other way – I can proudly say I speak Italian. 

I chose this class because I have always dreamed of studying abroad in Italia. In fact, I wish the program was even longer! I am most looking forward to visiting the small places that few tourists, if any at all, know about. Those places that will make me feel the most. 

The motivation and overwhelming excitement I feel for this soon-to-be-lived experience outweighs any amount, however big or small, of nervousness I might be feeling. I am excited to learn as much as I possibly can, to absorb all the culture and information and emotions, and to educate myself on the history of the country I feel so patriotic about. I feel extremely grateful to even have this opportunity, and to have fallen in love in Italia this last summer. To me, this trip conjures an image of freedom and happiness more than anything else. I imagine it as something that will inevitably change my life for the better.

I really feel like I can’t even explain how happy I am now, and how happy I know I will be starting from the night before I get on a plane that will take me to the most beautiful and special country in the world to me. Italia has a really special place in my heart, and as I type these words on my computer, listening to Italian music as always, with a pure smile on my face, I realize that the connection that I feel to this country is immense enough to make me emotional every single time I think about it. 

“Knowledge Is… Belonging?”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University at Deering Estate, 29 January 2023

Once you step foot in the Deering Estate, it’s difficult to not feel a strong connection, not only to the nature of the landscape, but also to the inescapable history associated with the people who once inhabited it – once you learn it. 

I consider myself to be quite patriotic. I am a very patriotic American, Colombian, and extremely patriotic Italian. I think a large part of being patriotic is associating yourself with either a certain culture or the history of a place. Personally, in the case of feeling American, for example, I am quite knowledgeable about American history, which is why I think it’s easier for me to feel a connection to America than it might be for people who know nothing of U.S. history. 

While we were on our hike at the Deering Estate, it was brought to light the fact that most of us, if not all, knew close to nothing about Miamian history. We discussed the idea that when history is not learned, a weaker connection is inherently established between a person and their community. There is little to no sense of belonging to that community, because a common background is not shared in the minds of the people. 

The birth of the modern state of Italia can be dated to 1861, during its unification. However, if you ask an Italian about their history, they will speak to you of a time well before this. They will start from the beginning – thousands of years ago. They consider the Roman Empire to be a part of their history. This also makes them feel connected to Europe overall. And trust me, Italians are extremely proud of their nation and their culture. But the common inhabitant of Miami is not. Why? This is what was in my mind as I hiked through the Deering Estate. 

Miami is often thought of as a mix of different cultures, as if cultures from random places were placed in a blender that was then labeled “Miami.” Is this what makes it difficult to “belong?” Not necessarily. A large reason for the lack of community goes back to the education system. Miamian history is simply not taught in schools. Students learn about American history, sometimes even European history and world history, but Miami is never truly studied in depth, an issue that can easily procure a reason for lack of “patriotism” that Italians so characteristically display. 

Ultimately, it should be known that Miami is a city that contains many different cultures, and has always done so. It was inhabited by the Tequesta for approximately 2,500 years, dating back to around 500 BCE, in addition to being inhabited thereafter by Spaniards, the English, Bohemians, Americans, black fugitive slaves, Hispanics. The list goes on. The lack of community is not attributed to this, but rather to the lack of education about it. I believe that if we knew more about where we live and its past, we would feel a closer connection to our home and to each other. 

Deering Estate, 27 January 2023. Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

An evident example of the mix of cultures that is Miami is shown in this picture. On the left, a more Western house, built by Charles Deering, an American executive from Chicago who founded the estate. On the right, a Spanish architecture-influenced house, also built by Charles Deering, who took a liking to Spanish culture. I think the contrast in the photo is very interesting. The two buildings are quite different from each other, but they coexist; and in my mind, they resemble the variety of Miami overall – influenced by many different populations and nations that in the end make up our wonderful city.

“Are We Romans?”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University, 12 February 2023

Are we Romans? When Professor Bailly asked that question, I was a bit confused as to what exactly he meant by this. Nevertheless, I was curious about what comparison could be made between our nation and the society we are studying so closely. I was aware of the similarities between the United States government and the government of Ancient Rome. After all, the idea of a republican form of government, branches to that government, and representation of the population stems from Ancient Rome. 

But I had never actually realized that the way in which the governments of these respective nations were achieved was nearly identical in steps. Ancient Rome was a monarchy that was overthrown to become a republic, which then also transitioned into an empire that extended its reach across a large part of the world. Similarly, the United States became independent from the British monarchy, established a republic, and became an informal “empire” as it colonized other parts of the world and also expanded its land. 

It’s one thing to learn about the history of two “nations” (Ancient Rome being referred to as a nation, in quotations) separately, and a completely different thing to place the histories right next to each other and realize just how much one may have influenced the other. What is most interesting of all to me is the staggering difference between the time of Ancient Rome, and the time of the creation of the United States. Ancient Rome is that – ancient. And still, it managed to influence the government of the United States in almost every way possible. 

I was genuinely surprised to see the resemblance between the histories of Ancient Rome and the United States. However, I was just utterly shocked to see statues and busts of George Washington in Ancient Roman attire, as if he was a senator or a government official from Ancient Rome. At first, you can see similarities between Rome and the U.S. if you investigate histories, government, etc. But then it simply becomes impossible to not notice the closeness of the art, the architecture, the symbols in paintings. After discovering this, it makes me think of Ancient Rome as closer to us than I could have ever imagined. Now, when I think of all the costumes and pieces of clothing in the HBO show Rome, I cannot unsee an image of George Washington as a senator… that really did surprise me. 

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

As a woman, I was paying attention to the role of women in society and their rights as I watched the show Rome. Although women did not have any official political power, nor were they allowed to vote or hold any form of office, some women in Ancient Rome were still somewhat influential. They were not accepted in debate, politics, and many areas of public life, but wives of senators and even emperors often advised their husbands. This way, they often had a significant influence on the functioning of Ancient Rome, its government, and matters of policy. I think it is important to note that women could also own property and even businesses as well. Some women were able to become very wealthy, as is seen in Rome, and they held power through this wealth. 

Even with this, however, I wouldn’t prefer the way of life of Ancient Rome. I am grateful to live in a more modern era where I can actually participate in society, and I don’t have to be forcefully married at the age of fifteen, or fourteen, much less be considered property. While I prefer living in this era, I can still appreciate the way of life of Ancient Rome and its wonderfully rich history. And I can still be pleasantly surprised at the resemblance of our governments, and I can still be in awe of their influence on the rest of the world, including the United States of America. 

“Power to the People – Republican Government”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University, 12 February 2023

The United States of America is a relatively young nation – 246 years, 7 months, and 8 days old, to be exact. Our form of government is even younger than that; our Constitution, the sacred document by which we still live under, was written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and set into motion in 1789. On the other hand, Ancient Roman history begins in 753 BC with a monarchy, eventually overthrown and replaced with a republic in 509 BC, leading to the Roman Empire in 27 BC until its final collapse in 476 AD. So how can such a dated civilization come to influence such a young country’s system of government?

It all began when the Etruscan monarchy was overthrown in 509 BC by the Romans, who had already been ruled over by the Etruscan conquerors for hundreds of years. Once they were free from this rule, a republic was established. A republic is not the same thing as a democracy; in a democracy, especially in a direct democracy, every single citizen is expected to be an active member in their government. Every citizen has a voice, and every voice must be heard. In a republic, however, citizens elect representatives to rule them, in theory representing their own opinions and beliefs, so that they can make decisions on their behalf. 

In the United States, our country became independent from the British monarchy after the war known as the American Revolution, and we, too, established a republic, especially after the ratification of the Constitution (after a failed system of government under the Articles of Confederation, of course). We have been living as a republic ever since, with our representatives comprising the legislative branch of our government, made up of a Senate and a House of Representatives, who are all elected by the populace of their respective states. 

In a republican form of government, the power is vested in the people. Representatives are merely a mechanism through which the will of the people is exercised. The first three words of the Constitution of the United States of America are “We The People…” This places tremendous emphasis on the idea that any power that the government holds is derived initially from the American people. While it may be granted to elected officials and branches of government, the sovereignty stems from the people. This concept, and the idea of representative government, is inherently an influence on American government by that of Ancient Rome. 

In the early Roman Republic, the aristocracy dominated government in practice. Aristocrats were members of the wealthy class, and they made up the senate, which elected the consuls (the leaders) of the Republic. Thus, in reality, lower-class citizens, also known as the plebeians, did not have a say in their government. Furthermore, the aristocrats and the plebeians were separated very strictly, with marriage even being prohibited between the classes. In the United States, directly after the American Revolution, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. This ultimately leads to an exclusion of a significant portion of the population, just as in Ancient Rome, even though the methods by which this was achieved are distinct. 

Over time, in Ancient Rome, plebeians began to elect their own representatives, known as tribunes. These tribunes gained some powers, like the power to veto laws passed by the Roman Senate. The plebeians also eventually obtained a more significant role in government, forging the ability to hold the consul position. Similarly, the seventh president of the United States, President Andrew Jackson (holding two terms from 1829-1837) was a claimed champion of the people and known as a “common man.” He helped expand political rights to white men who did not own property. In this way, both societies experienced a gradual shift in at least some power from a predominantly wealthy class to those considered to be “lower-class citizens.” This is despite the fact that, as in every society, those with more resources are still inevitably able to utilize their wealth to their own benefit, and in both Ancient Rome and post-Revolutionary America, the upper classes are facilitated in their ability to control government and influence elected representatives.

Occasionally, in Ancient Rome, a situation would arise that was considered to be an “emergency” – for instance, a war. In these scenarios, the Roman Republic would appoint a dictator, who would behold great power, often unlimited, to make decisions temporarily until the crisis reached resolution. Clearly, the appointment of a dictator does not align satisfactorily with the ideals of a democracy, nor with those of representative government, even though seamless transition of power back to the people should theoretically occur – such as it did with the Roman Cincinnatus, who stepped down from power as dictator and returned to his farm a mere fifteen days after defeating Roman enemies. 

In the United States, a dictator is not appointed in events of conflict or calamity. Rather, the president can issue executive orders. Executive orders are not mentioned explicitly in the Constitution, yet Article II has been interpreted as a source of this power in order to maintain enforcement of the nation’s laws. In my opinion, they are unconstitutional, and give too much power to the executive branch of government. This is because executive orders, while still subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court, are able to completely surpass the legislative branch, as Congress is not required to sign or approve anything, yet the order still has the weight of a law. Even though these orders are absolved after the president’s term ends, the nation is still very much affected by them, even if for a short period of time, and the idea of this going unchecked by our elected representatives seems to me a contradiction of what the Founding Fathers visualized for our country. 

U.S. Supreme Court Building, Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Furthermore, it is a reality, quite unfortunate in my own view, that the powers of the federal government have greatly expanded since the creation of our nation. Particularly through the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt (who served four terms, yet another example of encroaching executive power, before a Constitutional Amendment that set a two-term limit), the size of the national government increased significantly, with the creation of at least 69 new agencies, and so did the role of government in the lives of American citizens. 

Ultimately, this indicates that in both Ancient Rome and American government, there were methods in place to expand centralized power, even though the ways in which this was carried out varied between the two. However, there were instances of seamless return of power from a dictator to the people in Ancient Rome, even if it did not occur every single time. Meanwhile, in the United States, the general trend I have always perceived through my review of this nation’s history is that the more power the national government wields, the less power the people hold. And although the power is hypothetically obtained from the will of the people, in reality, government takes advantage of the populace when they have the chance to do so, and once you capitulate power, it is nearly impossible to attain it once again. 

“A City of Diversity and Adversity”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University in Miami, FL, 17 February 2023

Miami is a city of great diversity. That’s definitely the idea I got when I curiously analyzed the “Dropped Bowl With Scattered Slices and Peels,” a public work of art on display near the Government Center. It is literally a dynamic sculpture of a shattered bowl that had orange slices and orange peels inside it, which are now scattered and “flying” through the air. It is a representation of the chaotic explosion that is Miami and the many cultures it is made up of. But just as Miami is a city of great diversity, it is also an example of a city that has overcome attempts to suppress this diversity. 

The oldest known house that stands today in Miami is the Wagner family’s house, built in the mid-1850s. It was the home of a mixed race family, with William Wagner, a white immigrant from Germany, who married a French-Creole immigrant named Eveline Aimar. Although their children faced intense discrimination because of the color of their skin, the couple persisted in building their home in the city of Miami, and today the home still stands as an example of persistence and dedication even in the face of adversity. 

The only other building in Miami that survived from the pioneer era is the slave quarters of the William English Plantation. It is a bit strange to think that Miami had slaves, since the public school system in America does not really teach much Miamian history. It is a thought that seems quite distant, almost like it could not have really happened, and so relatively recently, too. In fact, standing just a few feet away from the slave quarters made me feel… uncomfortable. As if I could not believe that humans could have possibly been considered property in Miami, so close to where I sleep and live. To me, these two historic buildings, the only two surviving buildings from pioneer Miami, represent great hardship and challenges these groups of people must have faced. 

Thus when I think back to the broken bowl that was not capable of containing those orange slices and peels, I can’t help but to link this work of art to the incapability of suppressing the background of Miami – all its backgrounds, including the Wagner family and the slaves that were once held captive. I say this because in front of the Miami-Dade County Courthouse is a monument. But not of a slave or a member of the Wagner family. 

The monument in front of the courthouse displays a sculpture of Henry Flagler, a central figure in the history and development of the city. Flagler brought the railroad to Miami after Julia Tuttle offered sections of her property to a company that could extend the line to Miami. After two disastrous freezes in Florida in the years 1894 and 1895, the Biscayne Bay Area was the only area in the state that was able to escape loss of crops. After receiving a box with preserved oranges inside it, Henry Flagler immediately made the decision to expand the railroad to the Miami River’s mouth. Therefore, this decision led to Miami being incorporated into the state of Florida, and the city would not be what it is if it had not been for Flagler. 

Henry Flagler Monument, 17 February 2023. Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

However, just as his achievements should be recognized, so should his negative consequences be discussed. The ones who built the railroad as well as his Royal Palm Hotel in the first place were Black workers, yet he began segregation in Miami once they had built these structures for him. He deliberately demolished a burial mound that belonged to the Tequesta, and he made the decision to direct the raw sewage of the hotel directly to the Miami River, ultimately polluting Biscayne Bay and causing detrimental effects to the ecosystem that are still felt today. 

Yet the sculpture in front of the courthouse is dedicated to Flagler, and we must discover the rest of the story by ourselves. In the end, the monument may depict Henry Flagler, but it also must depict the consequences of every decision he made, both positive and negative. And we must not forget the rest of the human beings behind the construction and development of the city of Miami. We must not forget that behind the image of Flagler, there is also the Wagner family, the slaves from the plantation quarters, the people whose history goes unspoken more often than not. 

“Bringing Europe to Miami”

By Nicole Martinez of Florida International University at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, 10 March 2023

Vizcaya was the name given to the grounds by founder James Deering due to his fascination with the undocumented story that Spaniards from the Province of Vizcaya came to Biscayne Bay in the 1500s. I think it is extremely interesting that even though James Deering was not even European, he traveled to Europe and became so captivated by it that its influence can be seen throughout the Vizcayan territory. 

1914 marked the beginning of the First World War, which broke out in Europe. Americans and those in the United States were not able to travel to Europe during this time, so James Deering decided to bring Europe to Miami instead. He believed in making Vizcaya a beautiful European villa that would attract high class and the sense of utmost elegance and culture to the grounds’ home and gardens. While adapted to the subtropical climate of Miami, Vizcaya was designed to be Deering’s interpretation of an Italian villa; in particular, a villa from the Veneto region of northern Italia. 

Deering’s voyage through Europe resulted in tremendous fascination, to the point where he would be willing to pay any amount (he was wealthy, after all) in order to get the most extravagant works of art and pieces for his collection, for instance: an entire ceiling from Venice for the Reception Room, an over-2,000-year-old stone table from Pompeii, and much more.

Venetian Ceiling at Vizcaya Reception Room, 10 March 2023. Photo by Nicole Martinez / CC BY 4.0

Italian (as well as French, Spanish) furniture and interiors fill the contents of the rooms of the Main House. Every single object contributes to the artistic context of any possibly fillable space in the building. The architecture of the house revolves around the objects that fill its rooms, instead of it being the other way around. James Deering seemed obsessed with finding the most historic and lavish pieces he could obtain; in fact, there was often so much in one room, that the pairing of the objects did not even make sense to me. For example, there could be many beautiful objects in one place, but they seemed out of place because it was more like they were trying to make the objects fit where they did not (artistically). 

The statues and sculptures throughout the Vizcayan grounds, including in the gardens, date back to the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and there are even sculptures in the gardens brought directly from the outskirts of Venice, from which they were once originally located. I think this is astonishing and simply amazing. It was truly a wonderful experience for me to think, “Wow, this fountain was part of the town square of a town called Bassano di Sutri… and now it’s here.” I marveled as I imagined the stories this fountain has lived through, watching calmly.

The influence of Italian architecture and design can also be seen as soon as you enter the grounds, through the dramatically descending fountains that lead straight to the Main House, inspired by the similar design of Villa D’Este in Italia. Ultimately, the European influence seen not only at Vizcaya, but throughout global art and culture, is overwhelming, undeniable, and beautiful (in my opinion). It is also extremely strong, as structures that could be considered “ancient” are still in near perfect condition, at Vizcaya and the rest of the world. 

I see the European influence as something so contagious that it can and has been imprinted on so many places and people throughout history, even things that are much closer to me than I ever thought before. I didn’t know I could find so much history so close to where I live. And just as James Deering was influenced by his tour of Europe, so too will I be influenced in my perspective of the world, and my love for Italian art and culture, quite soon.

Author: Nicole Martinez

Nicole Martinez is a junior at Florida International University, majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Biology. She is simultaneously taking Fashion Design and Fashion Styling courses at Istituto Marangoni, a fashion school from Milano with a campus in Miami. Although a bit unsure of what her future looks like, Nicole is extremely passionate about fashion, government, modeling, acting, and Italia. She speaks English, Spanish, Italian, and a tiny bit of French. Some of her favorite things in life include music, dance, nature, love, and the little things that bring true joy. She would like to inspire others in a yet-to-be-discovered way.

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