Nico Uribe: Miami as Text Spring 2023

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Nicolas is a sophomore honors college student at Florida International University, majoring in Dietetics and Nutrition. As a Southern California native, now living in Miami, he has been exposed to the endless culture and diversity that South Florida offers every day through life and study. His strong and important Colombian roots have facilitated his growing passion for the city of Miami and he hopes to explore what more there is to learn.



Miami Encounter as Text

After a full semester of Miami in Miami, you would think I could sit here and easily answer the question: What is authentic Miami? The short answer is, although it may disappoint you, no. I can’t. But let me tell you what I do know about Miami.

I’ve lived in South Florida for almost two years now, after having lived the other 18 years of my life in Southern California. My cousins lived here already, and I had come to visit many times before. I felt like I already knew the place, there wouldn’t be too much of a culture shock, or so I thought. Miami is so diverse, but the different cultures are so defined, and so felt. In California, I was used to diversity where for the most part, everyone learned to live and act the same way, but in Miami, you see all the different cultures, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Bahamian, Haitian, Jamaican, Colombian, Venezuelan, and when you’re talking to them, you’ll know which one you’re talking to or they will let you know. Miami is so proud of its culture and in its diversity.

I’ve learned too, that Miami is so historic. From the Tequesta of 10,000 years past, who learned to conquer the difficult land, to the Spanish conquistadors who first introduced Western civilization, to the Miami we see today. Every step of the way has been an influence on the way things are now.

Overall though, Miami is changing and it always has been. Since the Hurricane of 1926 which acted as an eye opener for all the early newcomers, the neighborhoods that were once thriving black cultural sites are now falling victim to gentrification, to places like Wynwood where blank warehouses transitioned to one of the most rapidly blooming art districts around.

There’s truly something for everyone in Miami, and it’s up to us Miami natives to keep the everlasting changes going in the right direction so our city can thrive.


Everglades as Text

For a moment, it was just silent, until it wasn’t. When humans become silent, the earth finally takes its turn to speak its beautiful, yet perpetually overlooked oration. As we stood there, in the cypress forest, the earth was generous enough to speak its silence as loudly as I had ever heard it.

Quicker than gave time to process, the “slough slog” began by pulling over onto the dirt in the middle of nowhere, being handed broomsticks, and told to follow our professor into the dense and flooded forest. Regardless, I was one of the first ones in, overwhelmed by all senses; the surprisingly low temperature of the water, the illusion-like pattern of the white cypress trees affecting my depth perception, and the uneven rocks beneath my feet completed the sensory overload. Nevertheless, we trod along, trusting in the confidence of our guide who reassured us of any worry, after all, we were in the Florida Everglades.

Slowly, we adjusted, taking it all in and realizing we were in the wild. Air plants and wild orchids littered the trees as ethereal as could be. The minnows swam around us in crystal clear water that arrived from Lake Okeechobee at the pace of one meter per hour. Birds of different colors perched on plants I had never really observed before like I was now.

“This is what it looks like, the place where I live”

In incongruence with all the awed furor, led by Professor Bailly, we took a few minutes to be silent. We stopped speaking, picture-taking, moving, and just focused on listening. First, it was silent, until I adjusted my ears like I just automatically turned a knob in my head that went from the “default” mode to something else. I heard all the birds first, performing their songs across the canopy. Then, a splash here or there; a gar or bass ambushing minnows as a reminder of the circle of life. Suddenly breaking the silence, a howl and a series of snaps conjured by the wind in partnership with the trees, so loud that we all looked at each other.

I once heard that “the internet and technology created an idea of infinity and the reason why life is beautiful is that it is fundamentally limited”. I wrote it down once upon a time and can’t remember who said it, but at that moment all I could think about was that quote.

In the context of finding the “authentic Miami”, our expedition exposed a new portion of it in a literal sense. A new setting, one older than Miami itself so one could argue it is the real Miami. Though I love this way of thinking and will look back on the slough slog as such a one-of-a-kind experience, the Miami of now exists and has its own culture, art, architecture, a history to be appreciated and not overlooked. My grand conclusion is that our Everglades are just another component, no less important, that makes Miami such a unique place. As South Floridians, myself included, we are indebted to the Everglades.


Coconut Grove as Text

What makes the history of some more worth conserving than the history of others? Evangelist Street (Now known as Charles Avenue) is a great example of many sites across South Florida where so much history has been paved over and rewritten, usually at the cost of those who have no power to do something about it.

Today, one might find themselves driving down the Main Highway, leaving Coconut grove, and turning right onto the so-called Charles Avenue. On this marvelous and historic street, you may find the original house of Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup; a historic house that belonged to the man responsible for building over 100 homes for his kin, promoting the ownership of land and the formation of a community. Next door, the house of Mariah Brown, a single mother who supported three daughters on her own, constructing a house with weather-resistant techniques, at a time when doing all that as a woman and minority seemed impossible. Surely, these are places we can visit and tour, to learn about the history of the city we call home and the communities that made it what it is today.

The short answer is no. The state of these historical sites, places that influenced and shaped Miami itself, look so run down that if it wasn’t for the placard outside one would think that they’re just old, abandoned houses, ready to be torn down and replaced by huge white boxes like so many others on the same street. The placards stand outside, painted black and gilded gold, as if to quickly pat the backs of Stirrup and Brown, ignoring the state of their work. The Afro-Carribean heritage of Miami is undeniably strong, and without it, this would be a much different place.


Coral Gables as Text

When you’re walking down Miracle Mile, in Coral Gables, you notice things. You notice the wide sidewalks, the beautiful trees, the refreshing open skies, and the beautiful architecture. All the restaurants and cafes are picture-perfect, so much so that it almost justifies the price of parking. There are things that you don’t notice though. You don’t notice that the trees are oak, slow growing, and strong, not commonly used for short-term projects. The open skies are thanks to strong construction codes, strictly restricting the height of the buildings, and architecture, like almost everything else about coral gables, was the vision of George Merrick; the planner and builder of Coral Gables.

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