Annette Cruz: Miami as Text 2019-2020

My name is Annette Cruz and I am a sophomore at Florida International University currently majoring in Elementary Education. I plan on pursuing a career where I can work with kids to help them achieve positive outcomes. I love to bake and experiment with as many flavor combinations as possible when I attempt new recipes. My signature treat is cheesecake. My goal is to run my own baking business so I can share my sweet treats with the South Florida community. Maybe one day you’ll be trying my signature 305 Cheesecake! I have always lived in Miami, but I do not know the city as well as I should. Like many tourists, my knowledge of Miami is filled with stereotypes that are probably false. Although I have lived here for nineteen years, I have not ventured or explored into the landmarks or historical sites that are the foundation of Miami. I am excited to be taking “Miami in Miami” this school year to push me out of my comfort zone and discover what makes Miami the city it is.

Metro as Text

An Open Letter to the Metro by Annette Cruz of FIU at Miami Metrorail System, 11 September 2019

I arrived at the Dadeland South Metrorail Station. I stared up at the grey columns. I heard the rattling of the tracks. The butterflies I felt when I woke up started to flutter again. “Tenga cuidado con el metro,” I hear my abuela’s warning whispered to me by the breeze. This is not my Miami. I know my city. I have existed in my city for nineteen years. What can this rusty public transit show me that I am not already comfortable with? Don’t be comfortable. Besides, I have seen the assaults and crimes reported at the metro on the news. Is it even safe?

I stare up at the grey columns. I hear the rattling of the tracks. I know my city. But have you lived in it? With butterflies still in my stomach, I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. What could you show me that I do not know? Come look through my eyes.

I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. My sweaty hands grabbed onto the overhead handrail. The car rattled and swayed as we traversed the tracks. I see the University of Miami as we approach University station. Hah! I am already familiar with this location. Are you really? As I disembarked, I saw the columns. They were not grey. They were familiar, giant dominoes. The butterflies fluttered away, and a smile spread across my face. I remembered the nights, the parties filled with cafecito and pastelitos. Those nights were also filled with dominoes clacking against the domino tables. I had never noticed the domino columns before. Were they always like that? As I approached the Lowe Art Museum, I noticed the students scurrying to class and laughing with friends. Not much different than me at FIU, things I am already familiar with. But my breath is taken away as I stare at not one but two paintings by El Greco. I did not know these paintings were harbored in my city, in a place I thought I was familiar with. As I walked back to the metro station, I stared up at the domino columns. I heard the rattling of the tracks. Did you see? I did and I guess I really do not know my city. Can you show me?

I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. My sweaty hands grabbed onto the overhead handrail. The car rattled and swayed as we traversed the tracks. I stared out the window as the metro showed me the city. I smelled the sea at Vizcaya and felt the leaves of its beautiful garden. The sweat dripped down my face, the baptism of my city. I tasted one of the juiciest chicken sandwiches in Overtown and saw a glimpse of the past through the highway that was built over the Church. I ended the day by observing a mural of how my city was built.

I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. I looked at my clock. Was it really time to end class? As I got off the metro at Dadeland South, I turned to stare at the grey columns one last time. I did not know my city and I did not know you. You are Miami’s eyes. You represent Miami’s heart. One railway, connecting cultures, socioeconomic classes, time, and space, with one swipe of a card. Thank you for letting me see through your eyes. Any time.

Downtown as Text

If the Walls Could Speak by Annette Cruz of FIU at Lummus Park Historic District, 25 September 2019

If the walls could speak, they would have a lot to say, but no one listens. The walls would share of the times when slaves would share ancestral folk lore, when soldiers would clack their tins waiting for their next assignment, and when the neighborhood criminal was put to justice. Oh, the stories the walls would share, if only someone would listen.

I saw a narrow, rectangular building in front of me, with its walls built of limestone and its roof built from wood and shingles. The windows are tucked inside their own crevices, protected by black, iron bars. It’s dark inside. I have never seen such a building filled with so much history in my city of Miami. I see the history seep through its dingy, outer layer. What kind of rich history can this building have treasured between its walls? I stand before a marvelous structure, guessing the purpose it once held many years ago. I hear the words “Fort Dallas,” “war,” “plantation,” “slave.” This used to be slave quarters? I feel the chills run up my spine. I feel the hairs on my arm stand up. I am confronted with the history of Miami I never learned, the history I was blind to. How can this city of mine, a city that is decadently filled with beauty and culture, have a piece of history so dark and dreadful? I am told that I will have the opportunity to enter this building. My eyes meet the entrance. I will come face to face with the treasured history buried within this place called “Fort Dallas.” Would the walls share their secrets?

The door was unlocked, and I prepared myself to be carried away by its sweeping secrets, but it’s empty. It’s simple, with only summaries of its history spread across on the limestone walls. There’s a stage. There’s a fireplace. There’s a mural that is inscribed with the words “Love & Slavery.” Huh. Two words I didn’t think I would see together. Where does the history begin? This building was first built to be part of a fort. It is why it gained the name “Fort Dallas.” It later became a part of a prosperous plantation, which is where it was used as the slave quarters. How much more history can be buried within these four walls? Turns out, this building was also used by soldiers as a military barrack, owned by Miami founder Julia Tuttle, turned into a residential home by her son, used by the Daughters of the Revolution, and was the very first courthouse in Miami. I was standing in a building that encompassed an important piece of the history of Miami, yet I did not know it existed. Miami does not know it exists. How can a building that serves as an icon in Miami history be forgotten to the ever-changing melting-pot I call home? Had the walls been trying to speak this truth? Was I not listening?

Fort Dallas is more than a building. Yes, it encompasses the ugly reality that happened years ago, but something beautiful can always come from something ugly. This is the history we need to protect from fading memory. This is the history that transcends beyond us. I stepped into this building and became a sliver in its history. I became a part of one the stories the walls learn. Would the walls tell my story if they could speak? Oh, but only if the walls could speak.

Deering as Text

She Fooled Me by Annette Cruz of FIU at Deering Estate, 13 October 2019

She fooled me and I don’t think I am the only one. I knew her has a lively, wild personality surrounded by diverse cultures, decadent food, and the best hot spots. She has lights shining so bright that they would blind the stars in the sky. I’ve known her for all my life and never realized she was hiding behind a mask, a mask that society has placed on her. The voices of her past are struggling to break the mask that hides her ancestral roots.

She’s an archaeologist. Who knew! She has preserved years of her history through the land she calls her own. She comes from an ancestral line of Paleo-Indians, natives who would travel with the remains of their loved ones because family was important to them. I never knew this about her, how her history encompasses such a developed culture and not savage beginnings. Yet, I learned of others from her past. A tribe of natives called the Tequestas. You can say they are a mystery because there are no records of how they looked like, but her history is stained with their suffering. These natives were sold into slavery by the Spanish and driven out of the land they called home. Two pieces of her past that contradict each other in nature, a matured culture that chose to appreciate their own members and the barbaric consequences of exploration. Is this why she wears a mask?

She collects remnants of the years that have passed, from the smallest shell to the largest tooth. She holds an unlimited collection of treasures. I didn’t know that she was in possession of a mammoth tooth. I didn’t even know she was ancestrally connected to mammoths! The natives that wandered her land lived with the most advanced technology available to them, shell tools. Shell tools that served as their hammers, their knives, their Swiss Army knives, and their scrapers (to say the least). These shells were even traded along the trading routes. Her collection holds a piece of vertebrae of a shark and a ray. Why would she want to hide this?

She is a living museum. Not many people know that about her. People only see the superficial elements that give her the lively, wild personality that so many know her for. However, behind the mask she wears, she is not so superficial. She thrives where man has not touched. She shines the brightest where the sun meets the glistening surface of the water. Miami is remarkable when unmasked.  

Chicken Key as Text

Only One Day by Annette Cruz of FIU at Chicken Key, 23 October 2019

Only one day. It took only one day to experience the wonder and disappointment that living on this planet brings. They are the things you hear about in passing, in lecture halls, in the news, and even what you see in pictures. They are the things you don’t think you will see or experience for yourself, until you actually do and become faced with reality. This was me. I thought I had seen and done everything I had imagined. I was wrong. I was faced with the beauty of nature and the recklessness of humanity.

I have never gone kayaking/canoeing before. It is an activity I have always wanted to try but never got around to fulfilling. I was excited to finally try it out, but as I stared out to the designated destination, part of my excitement turned into nervousness. What would I encounter? A thought ran through my mind. I would be exposed to open waters and to the dangers that lie beneath the glistening current. I soon found myself in a kayak, partnered with someone who has done something like this before, paddling to a new kind of vulnerability. I felt my arms begin to tire but I knew I couldn’t stop. I got into the rhythm and then realized there was some distance between my kayak and the rest of the group. I could hear the words of my father linger in the back of my head, “always stay in a group.” We stopped and waited for some of that distance to be recovered. It was then when I realized where I truly was. There is nothing like sitting in the middle of the ocean being overcome by the silence that is only found away from the city. I was overcome by a feeling of liberation I hadn’t felt before, something you don’t feel very often. The stress of the week seemed to be lifted off my shoulders for that moment. I was surrounded by boundless waters with green foliage in the distance and became aware of the natural beauty Miami holds, just on the outskirts of the shoreline. I became mesmerized by nature’s beauty. I felt an overwhelming calmness and all my worries vanished without me even noticing. How can something this beautiful be hidden by the streets’ shining lights and the progressing development?

I saw one, then two, then countless of them. Pieces of trash scattered all around the ever-essential key. Plastic bags and ropes stubbornly tangled around the roots of the mangroves, bottles buried under the sandy mud, and broken styrofoam filled the shorelines of Chicken Key. How can something so beautiful be mistreated in this manner? Remnants of people’s stories are carried through the currents and wash up on this small piece of land in the middle of the ocean, things that can be useful and ever so damaging. I was astonished to see how much trash was out there. We, humans, are a highly developed species. We are the ones who have invented modern technology that help us thrive in today’s society, and yet are reckless enough to damage our own home, other creatures’ home. Moreover, we are exposing other creatures to suffering and even death. When did we let ourselves get consumed by plastic and blinded by modern pleasures? When did we stop remembering there are other creatures sharing this land with us?

I discovered a lot on that trip out to Chicken Key. When you step away from the hustle and bustle of daily routine, you become enlightened to the outside elements of your personal bubble. You realize that another world exists beyond the one you are living in. One that needs to be protected from careless outsiders. You find that Miami’s beauty extends beyond the bordered trees and that we are doing harm when we think we are doing good. It may surprise you. It definitely surprised me. In only one day.

Wynwood as Text

We Live in a Grand Art Piece by Annette Cruz of FIU at Margulies Collection in Wynwood and De La Cruz Collection in Design District, 6 November 2019

We live in a grand art piece. An elaborate art piece that is comprised of all kinds of materials, paint, rock, fabric, metal, and even light. Our neighbors are strokes of colors, our homes are protrusions coming off the canvas, and we are the ideas coming to life. When put together, we become a connection to our past, present, and future. It’s a funny thing that this grand art piece will never be done though. Miami will always be touched by the hands of the artists that live in it.

If we were to step back and look at Miami on its display from afar, everyone would see the same thing. We’d see clear, blue skies overlooking the translucent waters of the Atlantic neighboring the towering skyscrapers of Miami Beach. But, that’s not all the art piece would hold. Look closer. Miami holds many truths we turn a blind eye to. Like the 250 pieces of headless, human molds (of both children and adults) incorporated by Magdalena Abakanowicz, conveying the mood of the Holocaust through the stripped humanity of millions of victims. Details like this are easily missed but are the ones that remind us of the ugly past humans created, the past that has shaped the future.

What’s amazing about this grand art piece we live in is that there is no one creator to claim it. It is claimed by anyone who contributes to its whirlwind of colors and meanings. We all hold truths and realities within us but prove to find it difficult to accept them. This grand art piece we live in is a piece that allows any artist to share their truths. Like Felix Gonzalez Torres, when looking closer at Miami, we’d find a string of hanging light bulbs, shining as bright as their energy can give. The light bulbs all speak the same language and we all speak the same language with the light bulbs, but time eventually runs out for the light bulbs. We eventually run out of time. The details of Miami remind us of the harsh reality we live in but give us a new perspective to view our ever-changing art piece.

We live in a grand art piece. We may not know it, but we do. Every decision we make becomes a new paint stroke on the canvas, every smile we make becomes a new speck of light in the horizon, and every building that is built becomes a new drop of imagination reaching out to those gazing at Miami. Miami is ever-changing and we get to decide how beautiful we make it.

HistoryMiami as Text

A Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban by Annette Cruz of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum, Gesú Catholic Church, and Freedom Tower, 20 November 2019

A Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban all walk onto land. What do they have in common? A question I never thought I would be thinking of, but after experiencing a walking tour with HistoryMiami Museum’s Educator Maria Moreno, I believed it was a question that merited a response.

I come from Cuban ancestry, so I know very well of the Cuban tyranny that drove my family to the city of Miami. With the narrative constantly being told through family and friends, it became the predominant history I was aware of for my city. I was reminded of it looking at the Cuban raft that was hanging in HistoryMiami. Similar to how the owner of the raft was reminded of the darkness he traveled through as he gazed at his past, I too gazed at the raft thinking of my family’s own struggle to have a better life. Then it all connected for me. My people were not the only ones who sought refuge in Miami. At HistoryMiami I learned that others too, like the Seminoles and Miccosukee, were pushed out of their ancestral land by President Andrew Jackson. We think of Miami’s history in segregated parts, like Miami has ten different stories to tell. Yet, Miami only has one history, one narrative. We’re all different but our stories are the same. Miami is a land for redemption and second chances.

Miami tells of redemption stories on new land, but it also tells of redemption built on blood. The first church the Spanish built, known as Gesú Church, was built to depict a compassionate Christ through the different stages of his life. Historically, the goal of the Spanish was to convert the natives to Catholicism to redeem them of their sins. Afterall, Jesus’s death was an act of redemption. Yet, the Spanish were sowing their sins as they disrupted, disrespected, and uprooted the lives of the natives. While some redemption stories are riddled with hypocrisy, others are faithful to their noble intentions of freedom and equality. The Freedom Tower, which was used to legally process Cubans to come into the US, draws inspiration from a building that is part Roman, part Islamic, and part Catholic.

A Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban all walk onto land. What do they have in common?  Although their stories differ, they are united by the same theme: a rebirth from the ashes of their past in a land that promised new beginnings. From the cunning, intelligent black Seminole Abraham to our grandparents, many individuals that call Miami home are united by this theme, despite from coming from different backgrounds. This narrative is etched in the city from artwork to architecture, creating a living museum. Although Miami prides herself on the diversity of her population, the true beauty of the city is that a Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban can all find a home on the same land.

Miami Art as Text

My Prison Cell by Annette Cruz of FIU at UNTITLED, ART in Miami Beach and Art Miami in Downtown, 4 December 2019

I see a painting of a man. Do I know him? He doesn’t look familiar. He has a halo around his head, signifying someone that is celebrated. I see another art piece. This one is particular. Nothing that I’ve seen before. It has three neon rectangles with horizontal lines inside each rectangle. It’s definitely bold, but what is it supposed to mean? I stand gazing at these artworks, tranced by their mystery.

I look at the painting of the man again thinking he is definitely a boxer, but I can’t quite figure out his history. I then see the artist’s signature, signed Godfried Donkor, and hear the name Tom Molineaux. It is a painting that is part of Donkor’s collection Battle Royale: Last Man Standing. It represents historical imagery of slave boxing and boxing royales, where masters would choose their best slaves to fight their best friends. Tom Molineaux was a slave that was so good at boxing he fought his way to freedom. A man who definitely should be celebrated.

I look at the art piece with the rectangles again. This one now has an identification next to it. The artist is Peter Halley. It’s called Super 30. I gaze at the neon rectangles trying to find its meaning. Something about it feels familiar. They almost look like prison cells? Wait. All of a sudden, I am overwhelmed with a moment of clarity I can’t seem to shake off. What may look like ordinary shapes are actually prisons. Living in Miami, we live in a bubble and only transfer from one bubble to another in our daily routine. It’s what makes us feel comfortable enough to expose ourselves to the ever-changing world we know as Miami. Yet, we unknowingly only expose ourselves to the boundaries of our own bubble. We are trapped in our very own prison. I’m trapped in my own prison now.

Tom Molineaux was trapped in slavery and found a way out through his own merit, an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated for it. We are the ones who have to get ourselves out of our prison. We need to step out of our bubbles and gain a new kind of freedom, unbound from the four sides of our rectangles.

I see Miami on the other side of my prison. I’m ready to leave.

Everglades as Text

Disconnected by Annette Cruz of FIU at Everglades National Park, 22 January 2020

I connected my phone to my four-door Chevrolet at 9:00 AM. As Apple CarPlay displayed on my car’s radio screen, I input the address of the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. I began my morning following an artificial intelligence voice instructing me to continue straight for 11 miles or turn right in 1.7 miles. I was grateful to technology for getting me to my destination smoothly. When my day was finished, I hopped back in my four-door Chevrolet again, connected my phone, and wasn’t surprised that I had no service. Spending the day in Miami’s wilderness will disconnect you from modern day technology. Either way, I input my house’s address, hoping that as I drove away my phone would find service to guide me back home. I soon found myself lost in Homestead, using my own navigational senses to hopefully find my way to the one road I knew would lead me home. I never gained service on that ride home, not even when I arrived at my home network. That day, I realized the heavy reliance I have for technology. I put my trust in faulty artificial intelligence every day. Yet, I never feel as free as I did standing in the wilderness of Everglades National Park.

The Everglades is the longest living entity in Miami and is distinctive in its raw simplicity, yet many individuals see the superficiality of an abundance of trees. When examined, the Everglades can offer so much more than people think. I observe the wetland waters trickle down to the Florida Bay or encounter a cypress dome that shelters an alligator hole. Guided by Park Ranger Dylann Turffs, I had the opportunity to enter only a mere fraction of the 1.5 million acres of wetlands known as the Everglades on an adventure called slough slogging. It is an experience where I ventured inside a cypress dome and immerse myself in Miami wilderness, trudging through freshly made mud, quintessential periphyton, and some of the clearest wetland water available. Removed from the noise pollution Miami holds, the Everglades granted me hours of reflective thoughts. Trying to not fall into a camouflaged hole or get my foot stuck between tree logs, I realized I was standing in something bigger than I, or any of us, ever will be. The Everglades is Miami in its rawest form. It is what Miami was at the very beginning.

Technology distracts us. Many people showcase their adventures in exotic places or mystical landscapes. They spend more time flaunting their experiences instead of living them. I, admittedly, have fallen victim to the power of technology. Technology is my portal to the outside world. I can see and learn everything I need to know. I use a laptop for school, I use a phone for communication, I use an iPad to play games, and I rely on apps downloaded on these appliances to be my eyes and ears in the world. There are very little times where you’ll find me enjoying the luxuries of the natural environment. The Everglades helped strip me away from the screens I hide behind. Instead of worrying of showcasing what I was doing, I was forced to immerse myself in the Everglades’ wonders because of the lack of cellular service. This forceful disconnect allowed me to appreciate a newfound freedom that technology is incapable of offering. I didn’t quite know what I was missing until I was standing knee deep in wetland waters. I remember standing at the edge of the cypress dome, looking up, and seeing a radiant, blue sky that was broken by towering cypress trees that danced to Miami’s lullaby. The wind whistled through individual tree branches as it filled the dome with a profound sense of tranquility. Technology has created an artificial heart for this city, but the Everglades holds the original heart of Miami.

South Beach as Text

Picture Frames by Annette Cruz of FIU at Ocean Drive in South Beach, 19 February 2020

We all have a picture frame in our house. Whether it is hanging on a wall or standing up on a table, that picture frame holds isolated moments in time. These moments captured in that picture frame can stay the same for years or change every so often, however, we are the ones who hold the power to make that decision. We  decide what the picture frame gets to hold. Essentially, we get to decide the purpose of the picture frame and its importance. But, how do we decide to change a moment that was worthy of remembering?

Ocean Drive in South Beach is one of the iconic strips in Miami. The buildings that line the streets of South Beach are unique by forming the Historic Art Deco District of Miami. These buildings are inspired by an art movement we know as Art Deco, that originates from a French movement. Mark Gordon, a volunteer at the Jewish Museum, told us of the history of Miami Beach. Miami Beach was a place where architecture was designed to represent something grander. From the Art Deco Mediterranean revival to the incorporation of Egyptian symbolism to the Mimo style, the buildings became a part of Miami Beach’s identity and history. However, all that was built was threatened in the 1970s when developers wanted to tear down the Art Deco influence and build condos. Barbara Baer was able to save decades of history by establishing the Miami Design Preservation League and getting the area on the national register of historic places.

The buildings in the Historic Art Deco District of Miami Beach serve as their own picture frames. These buildings capture a period of time that reflect the evolution of Art Deco architecture. They represent the history of Miami Beach. Tearing down these buildings will be changing the moment in the picture frame. We hold the power to change what’s in the picture frame, but it doesn’t mean we should. I remember looking through family albums where I see my parents spending summer days in these same buildings. Back then, these buildings were places where my parents built lasting childhood memories. Little did they know that back then these same structures were going to become the iconic structures of the present. Through time, my parents have seen how Miami Beach has transformed itself. However, they still hold fond memories of their childhood years. Changing what the picture frame holds undermines the importance of the past. We shouldn’t risk breaking the glass of the picture frame to progress our own fortunes.

Lotus as Text

A Simple Thank You by Annette Cruz of FIU at Lotus Village, 11 March 2020
Photo taken by Jessica Horsham

I spent the day cleaning and disinfecting. This is something I am not accustomed to on a daily basis. As a volunteer, however, I was determined to make at least a small difference for the community I was helping. At the end of the day, I felt accomplished. I sanitized lockers, furniture, and playrooms. I felt good about the work I had done, especially since the news had been recommending good hygiene due to the communicable spread of COVID-19. I thought my volunteering experience was over when we packed all the cleaning supplies back in the cart, but I was wrong. As I waited in the elevator with my classmates to reach the first floor, a resident joined us in the elevator. Noticing that we had a cleaning cart with us, she realized we were the volunteers for the day and thanked us for the work we had done. She was grateful for the time we had dedicated to help keep the furniture sanitized. While interacting with this resident, the importance of the work I had done dawned on me. I felt humbled to have been able to give the residents and employees of Lotus House a clean space.

I spent the day volunteering at the Lotus House, now known as the Lotus Village. It is an organization dedicated to helping transform the lives of homeless women and children. This organization offers a variety of services for the women and children living there, such as housing, counseling services, and educational resources. The COVID-19 pandemic is a virus that has caused fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. More than ever before, individuals are rethinking what it means to be hygienic. Individuals have scrambled from grocery stores to convenience stores to online suppliers to locate cleaning supplies and protective gear. However, there are families and individuals who do not have the means to obtain the resources to ensure their safety and that of others. There are families and individuals who don’t even have four walls to protect them from the spreading virus. Employees of the Lotus Village were securing various resources in preparation for the COVID-19 battle, organizing space for incoming shipments. The residents of the Lotus Village have the employees to help them stay safe and healthy. What about the low-income families that struggle to find the resources they need or the ones who cannot travel on their own? Humanity is meant, or expected, to show unity in times of crisis. We are supposed to show that our shared humanity is more powerful than the fear and uncertainty originating from this virus. With people panic buying groceries and medical supplies, better left to be used by healthcare staff, this presumed unity crumbles into a selfish ripple effect. It’s easy to forget about being mindful of others when we’re trying to focus on staying safe ourselves. However, the true testament of humanity’s integrity is when we are able to put ourselves aside for as little as a split second for the benefit of someone else. The resident in the elevator helped me realize this by saying a simple “thank you”.

Deering Estate as Text

A Double-Edged Sword by Annette Cruz of FIU at Virtual Deering Estate Walking Tour, 23 April 2020
Photo by Annette Cruz CC by 4.0

I have come to familiarize myself with the Deering Estate this past year. I have driven to the Deering Estate more times than I can count. I have set out on a kayaking adventure to Chicken Key and walked its Nature Preserve. It is a beautiful estate that seeks to protect the environment. What I did not realize though was that the Deering Estate, in essence, lives as a double-edged sword. It is beautiful and noble in its mission, yet it is built on agony. The people who visit the Deering Estate focus on the current state of its history but do not realize the conditions in which Deering Estate was built on.

The Deering Estate is an environmental preservation that is an accumulation of Miami’s best natural features. From housing an avocado grove to protecting the tropical hardwood hammocks to sitting on the edge of Biscayne Bay, the Deering Estate can be seen as one of Miami’s gems. These are the features the Deering Estate is known for. These are the features people go to see. However, there’s a dock, known as the People’s Dock, that is tucked away from the main entrance of the Deering Estate. The People’s Dock offers a great location to observe the vastness of Biscayne Bay. Although people can fish and picnic on the People’s Dock, people do not realize that they stand on a platform that was built by the suffering of African Americans or Afro-Bahamians, as for the rest of the Deering Estate. This is the double-edged sword of the Deering Estate. It holds a history of immeasurable suffering and terrible working conditions through the effects of racial segregation, so much so that there were deaths that occurred while building a part of the Deering Estate. Charles Deering was focused on bringing his vision to reality. He was not focused on how it was built but rather than it just be built. The Deering Estate was built at the cost of human beings.

This is the truth of Miami that people turn away from. People act like the past doesn’t exist, but we learn from the mistakes of the past. Instead of shying away from the ugly truth Miami is built, this should be used to build a brighter future for the ever-developing Miami. The Deering Estate is dazzling in its wonder, from the wildlife that is admired in the boat basin to the rich architecture of its building. However, I think the Deering Estate gets a raw perspective from knowing its full truth. It becomes a cornerstone in understanding the two-halves of Miami’s biography.

Quarantine as Text

Quarantine by Annette Cruz of FIU at Home, 23 April 2020
Image courtesy of Alyssa Cruz

I am no stranger to quarantine. This past summer, I had surgery and was unable to leave my house for three months. When this COVID-19 quarantine began, I felt somewhat prepared for it. I had already known what it was like to not leave the house for months. I already knew the secrets of keeping yourself entertained when your only option is to be confined between the walls you call home.

However, I did not realize how different this quarantine would feel. I naively thought I knew how to handle the circumstance, but I was challenged. During this quarantine, I find myself sleeping in more than usual, hoping that when I wake up the pandemic would have proven to be a dream. I bicker with my family over deciding who gets to use a laptop vs. an IPad for a zoom meeting and where it has to be taken. In my previous quarantine, my body was healing. I knew when the end would arrive and how it would look like. There was no subconscious stress. This quarantine has brought an unpredictability into the world that many of us are not familiar with. My cousin, like many healthcare workers, is on the frontlines every day, fighting this pandemic in the hospital where he works. Every day I hope that he does not contract the virus. From my family and the news, I hear constant updates of how the situation is progressing. It always begets an uncertain reality. We are used to knowing when things start and end, but this time is all about time and patience. We need to learn how to adapt to this changing world. In this new quarantine, I’m finding new ways to keep myself busy when all my options have been exhausted, apart from making sure my assignments get completed. I completed my first 1000-piece puzzle and successfully baked new dessert recipes, which I might not have done if the circumstances were different. This will be our new normal for some time and there’s nothing I, or we, can do besides stay home to contain the virus and support each other. This seems to be the common consensus, yet people are growing restless. People are starting to protest social distancing and places are starting to re-open slowly amid the pressure. To some, it is like the world has ended for them. People cannot compromise with the cards they were dealt, the cards we have been dealt.

I see this time as a test of human will power. Many people will realize what they truly value the most. For example, I have understood the importance of human interaction in education. My mom is a teacher and I am currently in college. Learning for students is not the same, yet teachers everywhere are working endlessly to ensure their students continue to receive their education. It is also a shame at what some people value more. I have had conversations with friends that seem to be worrying more about when this quarantine will end to leave their house, rather than thinking of staying safe and healthy. I think about what we take for granted and what we do not appreciate as much as we should. I look at this time almost like a re-evaluation of life. What can I do better? What do I want to improve about myself? The world will be a different place the next time I leave my house for something that is not groceries or medicine. We will never be able to go back to the “old normal.” It’s up to us to determine how we want to move forward, whether it’s complaining about not being able to see friends in person or being thankful for the time we’ve been given to reflect on how we approach life.

Annette Cruz: Sweetwater 2019

My name is Annette Cruz. I am currently enrolled in the Honors College at Florida International University. I am a sophomore majoring in Elementary Education and hope to work with children in the future. I don’t know what’s in store for me, but I know I want to create positive outcomes through what I do. I love food, especially making it. My favorite hobby is baking because I get to experiment with different flavor combinations and different baked goods. I was born and raised in Miami and I am exploring my city through the FIU Honors course “Miami in Miami” with Professor John Bailly.


City of Sweetwater sign

If you stand on the corner of SW 107th Avenue and SW 8th Street, you will see apartment complexes, houses, and a canal accompanied by the soundtrack of bustling vehicles. It does not seem extraordinary, but I challenge you to look closer. If you cross SW 107th Avenue and SW 8th Street, you might smell the queso frito, hear the reggaeton, taste the cold raspados, see the pride in culture, and feel the pioneering spirit of the American Dream. Miami is the Seminole Indian word for “sweet water.” I invite you to come explore the city that grew into its namesake and became a microcosm of Miami Dade County. Welcome to my academic travel guide of the city of Sweetwater!


Map of the City of Sweetwater from Google Maps 2019

Where is Sweetwater located? Because it is nestled among the cities of Doral, Tamiami, Fontainebleau, and University Park, Sweetwater’s boundaries can be challenging to visually define.

Map of the City of Sweetwater from Google Maps 2019

Sweetwater’s South boundary runs along SW 8th Street, from Ronald Reagan Turnpike until SW 102nd Avenue (Map of Sweetwater).

Map of the City of Sweetwater from Google Maps 2019

The West boundary runs along Ronald Reagan Turnpike, from SW 8th Street until NW 25th Street (Map of Sweetwater).

Map of the City of Sweetwater from Google Maps 2019

The North boundary runs along NW 25th Street, from Ronald Reagan Turnpike until NW 107th Avenue (Map of Sweetwater).

Map of the City of Sweetwater from Google Maps 2019

The East boundary is complicated. It runs along SW 102nd Avenue, from SW 8th Street until West Flagler Street (Map of Sweetwater). There is a section that is included in this area that is bordered between SW 5th Street, SW 4th Street, and SW 100th Avenue (Map of Sweetwater). The East boundary continues along West Flagler Street, from SW 102nd Avenue until SW 110th Avenue (Map of Sweetwater). It then runs along SW 110th Avenue, from West Flagler Street until the Ronald Reagan Turnpike NW 107th Avenue exit (Map of Sweetwater). It then continues to run along the Ronald Reagan Turnpike NW 107th Avenue exit, from between 111th Place and NW 111th Court until NW 107th Avenue (Map of Sweetwater). The East boundary is then completed running along NW 107th Avenue, from the Ronald Reagan Turnpike NW 107th Avenue exit until NW 25th Street (Map of Sweetwater).

During the 1970s, Sweetwater transformed from a “sleepy little country town” into a bustling urban, dynamic community that led to a rapid change in the cities’ urban geography (City of Sweetwater). With the construction of Florida International University to its south, two major expressways to its north and west, and the influx of Nicaraguan refugees, Sweetwater had to wake up from its sleepy existence and adapt to the changing demographic (City of Sweetwater). To accommodate the needs of the growing population, the city had to develop and establish amenities to facilitate the flow of people and goods. These functional amenities include but are not limited to a trolley for public transport, a full-service police department and city hall complex, an elementary school, a county fire station, residential housing units, shopping centers, and businesses.  Additionally, if you look at a map of Sweetwater, the Dolphin Expressway Extension split Sweetwater into two sections. South of the Expressway is the residential area of Sweetwater that includes the strip malls, government businesses, and family owned businesses. North of the Expressway is Dolphin Mall and Ikea, which are no strangers to Miami Dade County residents and tourists.

Construction happening in Sweetwater

The price paid for development and the institution of these amenities, however, was the loss of greenery. Sweetwater’s portrait is painted with asphalt and concrete breathing life into its bustling roads, sidewalks, bridges, strip malls, businesses, and residential housing. Its portrait is not complete, however. Barricades and dust indicate the city’s ambition and vision to construct housing for the college students from Florida International University. While construction symbolizes a dynamic city that is adapting to its population, the hidden evil is the loss of  greenery, which provides recreational, ecological, and aesthetic value. However, Sweetwater seems to be self-aware of their loss and has made an effort to preserve open spaces to promote activity in its community and ecological value. Its parks help to restore the lost greenery. Additionally, residents provide their own dose of color through their landscaping.

Where the city lacks natural, organic color, it makes it up in its diverse human geography. Sweetwater’s origin was born of people looking to create a refuge from political tyranny. Its rebirth in the 1970s was stimulated by the same motivation. As you drive through Sweetwater, you will notice Nicaraguan flags on cars, outside houses, and in front of businesses. Therefore, it is not surprising that Sweetwater has been nicknamed “Little Managua” (Medina). It is home to a large concentration of Nicaraguans and Nicaraguan Americans in the United States (Medina). Since 1979, it has been a haven for Nicaraguans fleeing the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Medina). The identity and culture has been preserved with businesses such as Fritangas, where you can buy Nicaraguan food by the pound. As people began to discover this haven, more Hispanic ethnicities and cultures began to call this city home. This is reflected in the businesses and shopping centers that include bakeries and restaurants that serve traditional food from countries such as Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela to name a few. Sweetwater has transformed into a marriage of American values and Hispanic culture. Sweetwater continues to be a dynamic and growing community as witnessed through its dynamic human and urban geography.


Sweetwater’s history dates back to the 1920s. It originates with the Miami-Pittsburgh Land Company purchasing land that came to be known as “Sweetwater Groves” (City of Sweetwater). All expected plans for development were stopped when the infamous 1926 hurricane hit (City of Sweetwater). Years later in 1938, a man named Clyde Andrews acquired Sweetwater Groves and began to market it (City of Sweetwater). During this time, a group called The Royal Russian Midget Troupe, a circus group that performed in places like Japan, Germany, and Russia, found themselves stranded along Tamiami Trail and 107th Avenue when their car overheated (Rodriguez 32).  They absolutely fell in love with the land and deemed it the perfect place to retire from a life in the circus (Rodriguez 32). They became one of the first buyers of the markets of land Clyde Andrews was selling (City of Sweetwater). What we know as the city of Sweetwater today was once known as the “midget” community because of The Royal Russian Midget Troupe (City of Sweetwater). In 1941, Sweetwater was successfully elected to be incorporated and the guardian and manager of the Russian little people became the first mayor (City of Sweetwater). In 1959, Sweetwater started to grow, meaning local grocery stores, churches, and a town hall were built, among many other features (City of Sweetwater). In the 1970s, Sweetwater began to change due to the construction of a major public university to the south and two major expressways to the north and west (City of Sweetwater). The city also doubled in population from the discovery of the city by the Hispanic community (City of Sweetwater).

What many do not realize is that the Russian little people who are known to be the founders of the city of Sweetwater are very much alike to the current residents. They traveled in a circus during the Russian revolution (Mormino 9). They left the country to perform to leave their violent homeland (Mormino 9). Looking at the time of when Sweetwater was founded, one can determine that the Russian little people could not return home because of World War II. After years of traveling with a circus, they decided to return home but couldn’t because the life of violence they fled had never ended. In other words, the founders were people who were in search of a new home and a better life. Their story sounds very familiar to the current residents of Sweetwater. The Hispanic community that resides in this neighborhood fled oppressive governments in search of a better life that was not feasible in their home country. From the very beginning, the city of Sweetwater was destined to be a place of refuge and second chances, all thanks to a group called The Royal Russian Midget Troupe.

Despite its unique origin and founding, Sweetwater’s history has been tainted with corruption. Former mayor Manny Maroño admitted in 2013 to pocketing $60,000 (Weaver, Medina, & Sanchez). Through the FBI’s investigation, the former mayor’s confession unraveled a larger operation (Weaver, Medina, & Sanchez). Through a “no-bid, verbal agreement with Southland The Towing Company,” Manny Maroño was found guilty of embezzling money from fines, which were funds that were controlled by one of his allies, the police chief (Weaver, Medina, & Sanchez).  

Sweetwater’s history also lurks with a legend: the legend of el Chupacabra. Feared by the Spanish community, el Chupacabra is an unnatural creature that is thought to look like something between a dog and a reptile, while standing on two legs (Pazdera B8). With its red fiery eyes, el Chupacabra creeps through the night in search for animals to feed on (Pazdera B8). There was a report in 1996 of killings of dozens of animals, and many of the Sweetwater residents believed was the works of el Chupacabra (Pazdera B8).


Sweetwater has exponentially grown from the days of its founding. Today, Sweetwater’s population is over 21,000 persons (United States Census Bureau). Of this population about 17%  is under 18 years and about 17% is over 65 years (United States Census Bureau). This means that the majority of Sweetwater’s population is over 18 years old and under 65 years old. About 53% of the population is female (United States Census Bureau). Compared to other neighborhoods in Miami, Sweetwater is not one of the wealthiest. Sweetwater’s income level is low but has not reached the poverty level. The median household income is roughly over $36,000 and the income level per capita is close to $16,000 (United States Census Bureau). Although Sweetwater is not considered an impoverished neighborhood, 22% of its population lives in poverty (United States Census Bureau). Ultimately, 95% of Sweetwater’s population is Hispanic or Latino (United States Census Bureau).

I got a chance to interview one of the residents of Sweetwater. Her name is Lydia and she is 96 years old. She is Cuban but also identifies as an American citizen and is a practicing Catholic. She has lived in Sweetwater for 20 years and says the best part about living in the neighborhood are the neighbors. She says the neighbors are very friendly and feels like the building she lives in is its own community. It is a place where neighbors look after each other. She also spoke about the increase in construction she has noticed with the development of the new buildings. However, construction comes with an increase in traffic and noise. The construction has altered her outings by changing the times in which she must leave, in order to avoid the Miami traffic. With these new developments, she has noticed an increase in FIU students living in the area. Most people would be worried about college students disrupting their area. Lydia, however, is not worried at all. She is more worried about the cats in the area.


Miami Dade County has many notable historical landmarks, but none are found in the city of Sweetwater. There are no museum or heralded monuments that will distinctively pop up in a google search. This does not mean, however, that city has no landmarks. Sweetwater’s landmarks pay homage to its identity, narrative, and people. They are scattered throughout the city, some being difficult to identify if not familiar with the city and its history.  At Ronselli Park, there is a statue of Jose Martí, a poet and martyr of Cuban liberty. While Jose Marti hailed from Cuba, his battle cry for freedom, independence, and democracy reverberated throughout the Caribbean and South America. Therefore, it is not surprising that his statue has no plaque; he is instantaneously recognizable by the community. His statue stands as a beacon for freedom uniting all ethnicities and peoples. At Carlow Park, there is a head bust of Jose C. Montiel, who was a commissioner of Sweetwater. His plaque honors him for his dedication and accomplishments for the community, but I could not find any sources that detailed what he did specifically. Another landmark that was promised but unfortunately has not been able to be completed is the Brothers to the Rescue Memorial Plaza. This memorial was supposed to create an urban, public space for the community, while remembering the four young men that were shot down and killed by the communist Cuban government, while on a humanitarian mission to Cuba (CIAB). This memorial was supposed to accompany the bridge connecting Florida International University to Sweetwater, but because the bridge collapsed, the memorial has not been able to come to fruition. Moreover, there was one important landmark I did not find. The founders of the city of Sweetwater are not honored in any landmark. I was never aware that the city of Sweetwater was founded by a circus group of Russian dwarves, despite living fifteen minutes away and frequently commuting through the city.  Just like many today, they retired in Florida and had dreams of turning their land into a safe haven (Rodriguez 32). Their dream, however, in part became a reality because Sweetwater eventually became a city for people seeking political and religious freedom. Although the founders of Sweetwater were Russian and the present population is mainly Hispanic, the similarity in their motivations and narratives demonstrates the universal theme of liberty and freedom. If it were not for these individuals who successfully motioned and voted for the incorporation of Sweetwater in 1941, Sweetwater would not be what it is today. I think there should be a statue or plaque commemorating the founders’ legacy, as a tribute to thank them for building a home and refuge for future generations. The landmarks in Sweetwater are not meant to pop up in a google search, instead, they represent the heart and spirit of the community.


There are four parks in Sweetwater: Ronselli Park, James M. Beasley Linear Park, Carlow Park, and Jose “Lolo” Villalobos Dominoes Park. When I think of a park, my mind is directed to think of Tropical Park, a big, green area filled with trees, gazebos, benches, exercise spots, running areas, and maybe a small lake. These parks are dwarfed when compared to Tropical Park. While exploring these parks, however, I realized that living in Miami misconstrues and molds our perceptions. Therefore, whenever we see something that does not match our perception, we think of it as unusual or unconventional. This is what I experienced when visiting Sweetwater’s parks and my perceptions were remodeled. Parks, of any shape and size, are meant to be recreational spaces where individuals can go spend time outdoors. The Sweetwater parks, although small, are exactly what a park is supposed to be and more. They are geared to cater to the needs of the community. Therefore, not many people who live outside of Sweetwater visit these four parks.

Ronselli Park is the largest of the four parks. It is located at SW 114th Avenue and SW 2nd Street. It is equipped with a youth center, baseball field, basketball court, and a playground. It also harbors the Jorge Mas Canosa Youth Center, which runs a summer program and hosts special activities throughout the year such as  a Christmas Show, Jose Marti Parade, and a 4th of July celebration (City of Sweetwater). The building is also available for party rentals. I believe this is the most versatile of the four parks because of the variety of utilities it offers. Because the park focuses on providing these utilities and resources, there is not a lot of empty grass areas.

Carlow Park is located at SW 106th Avenue and SW 4th Street, located right across the street from Sweetwater Elementary. This park is home to the Claude and Mildred Pepper Senior Activities Center, tennis courts, and basketball courts. It offers gazeboes for birthday party rentals (City of Sweetwater). The park does offer green space with a playground located in the center. This is a great park to visit when winding down and looking for fresh air and greenery. However, the peacefulness of this park is disrupted by the neighboring construction and business of 107th Avenue. Identity Miami, which is an apartment complex, looms over the park casting the shadowing of urbanization and the threat of losing green space in exchange for development. The contrast between the park and Identity Miami is ironic because it shows a neighborhood upholding its own identity while modern society tries to infiltrate.

Jose “Lolo” Villalobos Dominoes Park is located on SW 106th Avenue and SW 7th Terrace. This park is small, equipped with a gazebo where there are a few domino tables, a facility shelter where there are bathrooms and a water fountain, and a couple of benches (City of Sweetwater). I found this park to be a logical decision for Sweetwater because of the large Hispanic population. One of the favorite pass times of Hispanics is playing dominoes. This is a great place where the residents of Sweetwater can come together and bond over a shared love of dominoes. Although this is a great idea, the execution of this park may be flawed because of the size of the park. The park being too small can make it easy for one group of people to easily dominate the park, making other visitors feel uncomfortable to use the public space.

James M. Beasley Linear Park is located between SW 107th Avenue and SW 117th Avenue. It is called “Linear” park because it is a straight line that runs parallel to SW 8th Street. However, I hesitate to call it a park. It is a sidewalk with some benches along the path, some exercise equipment scattered along, and a gazebo at one of the ends of the line. Individuals are limited to walking and some pull-ups, if they are on the corresponding side of the park. Individuals cannot run around or toss a ball because of the limited space. I found this park to be very restrictive to what a park is supposed to offer. I pass by this park often and do not see people using it. This may be due to people feeling uncomfortable utilizing this area. First, the park runs parallel to a canal with clearly defined signs warning of alligators. Second, people may feel too exposed because this park also runs parallel to SW 8th Street and a row of houses.

Although the parks in Sweetwater are small, they are built with a purpose and to bring the residents together. Through the multiple centers that are offered, residents of any age can find their daily or weekly gathering that encourages them to unite with others.


The typical modes of transportation you will find in Sweetwater are cars and bicycles. Cars are a common mode of transportation anywhere you go. In Sweetwater, you will see locals driving their cars and outsiders who commute through Sweetwater to arrive at their destination. Bicycles are used more by the locals who travel short distances within the neighborhood. There is also the Sweetwater Trolley. It is a form of public transportation that is free to the public. I found this feature to be important because the income levels are not the highest in Sweetwater. The route is very considerate with its over eighty stops. Almost all of the stops are in Sweetwater but includes a couple of stops just outside the city’s limits that are popular to the public, such as International Mall. Overall, the trolley provides an affordable transportation option for its residents. However, although there is a form of public transportation that costs no money, the amount of traffic is not reduced because of everyone who lives outside of Sweetwater who passes through or visits. Additionally, it provides a great alternative for transportation to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions to help the environment.

I tried riding the Sweetwater Trolley. My experience was like trying to find Bigfoot. It was very difficult for me to simply locate where the trolley would stop. On the City of Sweetwater website, there is a “transit schedule”. This is a list of all the stops the trolley makes. The website includes from what times the trolley runs on weekdays and weekends. However, there was no indication about what times the trolley would be stopping at each stop. For locals who ride the trolley frequently and are familiar with estimates of what times the trolley arrives, this is a great option for transportation. For someone new who does not ride public transportation often, I would not suggest riding the Sweetwater trolley. Given my schedule, I was not available to be waiting at a stop for an unknown amount time waiting for the trolley to arrive. Therefore, I had to estimate about what time the trolley would be at different stops to attempt to find it, which did not go well for me. To the City of Sweetwater, I would make the suggestion to either make the trolley transit schedule more detailed to help passengers arrange their schedules or create an app that tracks the Sweetwater trolley to provide estimates of how long it will take the trolley to arrive at a stop. By making the trolley more easily accessible, there is a chance to reduce the amount of traffic in the area and reduce the pollution that is released from vehicles.


Hidden among the hustle and bustle of daily life, there are many eateries that capture Sweetwater’s identity through food.

109 Burger Joint is a gourmet burger restaurant located on 646 SW 109th Avenue. This restaurant is across the street from FIU, crossing SW 8th Street, and diagonally across the street from 109 Tower. I had seen this place via Uber Eats and always wanted to try it. This place has some of the best burgers I have eaten. I found it interesting that this restaurant has burgers inspired by the surrounding environment. There is the “Panther” burger, probably most recognized by the FIU panthers across the street, and there is “Nica” burger, probably most recognized by the Nicaraguan community present in Sweetwater. However, Sweetwater is a neighborhood that is primarily Hispanic and is being overrun by the construction of off-campus housing for FIU. This restaurant integrates the college community into Sweetwater. It almost acts like a bridge between the college presence that is brought by the finished construction and the neighborhood it has adopted.

Rosy Bakery is a Latin American bakery located on 11400 West Flagler Street. It is right next door to La Bodega Supermarket (mentioned in businesses). While ordering some baked goods, a lady told us that this bakery opened in 1986 by a Cuban family of 3, the parents and daughter. Today, it is run by the father and daughter. This place has one of the best pastelitos de queso and a great tequeño. This bakery shows that although there is a large Nicaraguan presence in Sweetwater, other Hispanic countries, such as Cuba, are represented as well. It proves that Sweetwater is a place opened to all.

Nica Fritanga y Raspaderia is an authentic Nicaraguan inspired eatery located on 11030 West Flagler Street. To me, this was the Nicaraguan version of the Cuban Palacio de Los Jugos, but smaller. It is evident that this eatery is popular in the area because it feels cramped when it’s the busiest. It is designed more for take and go service because of the very limited seating. You can order food, but you can also buy a block of cheese or some specialty, homemade sauces. It functions as an eatery but also as a mini market, which is beneficial for the community. Locals can come in to order a meal or buy some essential food items, such as bread. You can buy gallo pinto, which is a type of rice, shredded meat, and manuelitas, which is a dessert that is like a rolled-up pancake with cinnamon and cheese inside.  

Madroño is an authentic Nicaraguan inspired restaurant located at 10780 West Flagler Street. It is a family owned restaurant that is celebrating 20 years of being open. Each member of the family takes on a role in the restaurant. For example, the mom is the head chef and the daughter makes the desserts. It is a sit-down restaurant decorated elegantly, but with an affordable menu. This restaurant has attentive and fast service with the best Nicaraguan food you can have. This restaurant proves that appearance does not have to be replicated into the price. Individuals in Miami will agree that many good-looking restaurants are too expensive. Madroño is a good-looking restaurant with prices that don’t break the bank. This is important to realize because Sweetwater does not have a high-income level. This restaurant is tailored for the community it is built in. Some foods you can get in this restaurant is queso frito, which is fried cheese, bandeja de antojitos, which is an appetizer that includes a variety of traditional Nicaraguan foods, Indio Viejo, which is shredded beef cooked with Nicaraguan spices, and Pio Quinto, which is cinnamon and rum soaked cake topped with vanilla custard.

While dining in this restaurant, the waitress told my family and I about a Nicaraguan Christmas tradition called “La Griteria”. She explained that on December 7 of every year, Nicaraguans will put up a statue of the Virgin Mary and decorate it. On December 7, Nicaraguans will come out and sing praises to the Virgin Mary. Whoever is hosting a group of people during “La Griteria” offers food and drinks to everyone. It was humbling to hear that a community publicly displays their religious traditions. Many religious traditions are done inside of a church or at home. This public display is a testament to the unity of a community can have through a shared religion.


La Bodega Bestway Supermarket is located on 11400 West Flagler Street. It is a neighborhood supermarket that has fresh Hispanic fruits and common Hispanic brand grocery items. In the back of the store, they have a food counter where you can purchase traditional Hispanic foods. This is also where they sell some of the best chicharrones because each bite is as crispy as the previous. The workers were very sweet and the man who sold us the chicharrons sent us off with a blessing. This was yet another portrayal of how prevalent religion is in Sweetwater. Religion is what keeps many of the residents grounded in the day to day activities.

Pauline Books and Media, known as Las Paulinas to Spanish speakers, is a Catholic bookstore located on 145 SW 107th Avenue. This is the store many Catholics go to when looking for anything religious. There are books, rosaries, medallions, and decorations all about the Christian faith. Sweetwater is predominantly Catholic because of the large Hispanic community. However, this store is the only Catholic place I found in Sweetwater, meaning that nearby Catholic churches are found just outside the city limits of Sweetwater. The churches I found in Sweetwater belonged to a different denomination of Christianity. For a neighborhood that is grounded through its religious roots, there isn’t a place within Sweetwater where they can go practice their faith.

There are multiple government businesses located in Sweetwater. There are the Social Security Administration, Passport Office, and Police department. Sweetwater harbors many immigrant families, those who came from a different country and those who are here from a previous generation. These businesses facilitate their presence in this country by making it accessible in a city like Sweetwater. For example, individuals who need visas can go to the Passport Office for legal travel to and from the United States.


The city of Sweetwater has come to be known as a place for second chances by many. It is a city that serves its people. The food, businesses, and parks are geared towards the interests of the residents. Parks are made easily available to locals. Food offers a piece of home to those who have had to find a new one. Public transportation for the locals is a great advantage to get around the neighborhood. Public transportation for the visitors of Sweetwater is not highly recommended. Construction has introduced societal intervention to a neighborhood that has built its identity. Although its history is a rollercoaster of events, from a life-changing discovery to a dishonest leader, Sweetwater is working its way to recover the trust it lost with its residents. It is welcoming to the individuals who left their homeland. In other words, Sweetwater is a redemption neighborhood, for the city and the residents.


City of Sweetwater, FL. “City of Sweetwater.” City of Sweetwater Map Information|, City of Sweetwater, 2013,

Community Image Advisory Board (CIAB). “PDF.” 30 Apr. 2014.

Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Donna Pazdera. “SPANISH COMMUNITIES FEAR ‘GOAT SUCKER’ STALKS PETS.” Ledger, The (Lakeland, FL), sec. Metro, 21 Mar. 1996, p. B8. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current, Accessed 14 Dec. 2019.

Herald Staff Writer, RENE RODRIGUEZ. “BIG DREAMS HELPED FOUND SMALL TOWN OF SWEETWATER.” Miami Herald, The (FL), FINAL ed., sec. NEIGHBORS MB, 4 Feb. 1990, p. 32. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current, Accessed 14 Dec. 2019.

Map of Sweetwater, FL. Google Maps, 2019,,+FL/@25.7790955,-80.38978,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x88d9bf29221788f3:0x89dc17217f9115ee!8m2!3d25.789804!4d-80.3766269

Medina, Brenda. “Sweetwater Renames Avenue in Honor of Nicaragua.” Miami Herald, 1 July 2015,

MORMINO, GARY. “World War II photos beg readers’ input.” Tampa Tribune, The (FL), FINAL ed., sec. BAYLIFE & TRAVEL, 12 Dec. 2010, p. 9. NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current, Accessed 14 Dec. 2019.

United States Census Bureau. “U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Sweetwater City, Florida.” Census Bureau QuickFacts, United States Census Bureau,

Weaver, Jay, et al. “Sweetwater Mayor’s Corruption Conviction Pops Lid on a Sewer of Scandal.” Miami Herald, 30 Nov. 2013,

Annette Cruz: Miami Service 2019

I completed my service-learning project through a program called Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD). CCD offers religious education to individuals who are Catholic and do not receive formal education about the faith. This program is offered at many Catholic churches. I completed my service-learning project at Our Lady of Divine Providence Catholic Church. With this program, volunteers can be either assistants or catechists, who teach the class. I have volunteered in this program in the past as an assistant. This year, I volunteer as a catechist and am responsible for my own class. I am in charge of teaching young children about the Catholic faith in preparation for their First Communion the following year. In other words, the children in my class are in their first year of religious education classes and I am responsible for preparing  them to receive the body of Christ. I am also responsible for preparing the lessons of every class, planning activities so that the students can grasp what they are learning, and communicating with parents. I am also partnered with another catechist who teaches the older children who are in their first-year religious education classes as well.  I work closely with this other catechist to plan fun activities for both classes.

This service is significant to me for different reasons. One of the reasons it is important to me is because I am an Elementary Education major. I am studying to work with children and this volunteer opportunity gives me the chance to work with children in a classroom setting, where I am the one leading the class. It gives me a glimpse as to what having my own class would look like in the future. I am experiencing the kinds of relationships I will form with my future students. One of the best things I have experienced volunteering is when students see me and give me a hug or send me a smile with a hello wave. It is a simple act, but I feel like I am completing my job as a volunteer. I feel that I am making a difference in the lives of the children. I feel good about myself because this shows that the children enjoy coming to class on a Saturday morning. Additionally, the Catholic faith is something that has grown to be a part of who I am. I learned about the Catholic faith growing up and remember being intrigued by the Biblical stories.  However, I really didn’t enjoy attending class. The teaching approach was dull and boring. I want the children to become active learners and enjoy the lessons. That is why I plan interactive lessons and encourage critical thinking by having students ask questions in class. Teaching these children makes me more aware of my faith. With this in mind, I use this volunteer opportunity as my way to teach the Catholic faith in a creative approach so that the stories can be impactful to the students. This service also challenges me intellectually because at times I must produce quick answers to difficult questions posed by the students. Nevertheless, I try to bring clarity and encourage student participation. I feel this service project is preparing me for the years to come.

Annette Cruz: Doral 2020

Student Bio

My name is Annette Cruz. I am a sophomore enrolled in the Honors College at FIU and I am majoring in Elementary Education. I was born and raised in Miami, Florida, with my entire family being Cuban. I love baking and taking on new DIY projects around my house, but I also love nature. I have been fortunate to partake in incredible experiences where I can be immersed in the environment. Ironically, I am allergic to the environment, yet I find myself feeling the most peaceful in the silence Mother Nature has to offer. I have been able to experience this through the FIU Honors College course “Miami in Miami,” taught by Professor John W. Bailly. I have been able to discover new parts of Miami I did not know about and rekindle myself with parts I did know about. Best of all, I am still continuing to discover the city of Miami.


Photo from Google Maps

Doral is found in the northwest area of Miami. Located about 1 mile from Miami International Airport from its eastern boundary, Doral is about a 30-minute drive to Miami Beach by taking the Dolphin Expressway. Within the last twenty years, Doral has undergone a transformation from farmlands to industrial capital and residential neighborhood. It is bustling with businesses and corporations, ranging from recognizable names, such as Carnival Cruises, to local, family-owned, Venezuelan restaurants. The urban landscape is the emphasis of this neighborhood as  many of the city’s natural aspects have been stripped away for its up-and-coming development. Most of the city’s uninterrupted greenery is found in its parks and golf courses.However, the natural landscape does make its appearance, scattered throughout the city. Plants and trees are used as decorations to accentuate the architecture. In an unexpected union, the natural landscape of Doral is deliberately preserved to complement the aesthetic of its streets. It is, however, evident that the city and residents take care of their greenery. Driving through Doral, one will see beautifully trimmed landscapes and grass as green as it can get.


Alfred Kaskel. Painted Portrait by Anonxyz123/CC by 4.0

In the late 1950s, business magnates Alfred and Doris Kaskel bought acres of swampland, which was formerly a part of the Everglades, with the intention to build a golf course and hotel (City of Doral, n.d.). In 1962, the Doral Country Club became the area’s very first structure, and country club (Staff, 1989). Alfred Kaskel created the name for the country club by combining his own name, Alfred, with his wife’s name, Doris, to form the name Doral (Staff, 1989). Being the area’s first structure, it quickly became a hot spot where guests had the opportunity to transition from the beach to a country club and golf course (City of Doral, n.d.). The Kaskels hosted the first Doral Open Invitational, Florida’s major PGA event (City of Doral, n.d.). 

Unfortunately, Kaskel died in 1968 (Staff, 1989), but, this did not hinder the family name from continuing his success and pioneering spirit. Alfred and Doris’s grandson continued to develop the Doral area in the early 80s (City of Doral, n.d.). Their grandson developed Doral Estates followed by a joint venture that resulted in the construction of Doral Park (City of Doral, n.d.). At this time, Doral was developed for the arrival of residents, but did not have many amenities (City of Doral, n.d.). There were no parks, no stores, and no schools (City of Doral, n.d.). According to the residents, the quality of life and low costs of housing were worth more than having amenities nearby (City of Doral, n.d.). Although many amenities were not close by, residents did not have trouble commuting because there were no such problems as traffic problems (City of Doral, n.d.). Residents, however, did have trouble with escaped cows, due to the neighboring farms that housed cows, horses, and chickens (City of Doral, n.d.).

From the years of 1983 through 1985, Miami Dade County imposed a building moratorium, which prohibited the development of buildings to protect the well fields (City of Doral, n.d.). However, individuals were eager to develop Doral. The unincorporated Doral area was considered the prime location for industrial business (re-invention of Doral, 2005). It “served as the industrial heart of the international trade community” (Marmon & Perkins, 2004). It grew into the largest office submarket known in Miami-Dade County (Marmon & Perkins, 2004). Once the moratorium was lifted, Doral experienced tremendous growth, transforming into the Doral many know today (City of Doral, n.d.). There was an “explosion of residential development” and families began flooding in (Marmon & Perkins, 2004). As a result, The West Dade Federation of Homeowner Associations was established to protect the community’s welfare (City of Doral, n.d.). A police station was built, higher development standards were implemented, more lighting was placed around the area, more roads were paved, and landscaping started to line the streets and buildings (City of Doral, n.d.). In 2012, the infamous Doral Country Club was purchased by Donald Trump for $150 million (City of Doral, n.d.). The Country Club’s name was changed, to what many know it as today, to the Trump National Doral Golf Club (City of Doral, n.d.). Through all of this development, Doral had a lengthy incorporation process. Incorporation to make Doral a city began in 1995 (City of Doral, n.d.). However, it was not incorporated until 2003 (City of Doral, n.d.).

Many residents living in Doral today are of Hispanic descent and immigrated to the neighborhood from their home country. Like many individuals living in Miami, these families were in search of a better life for themselves and their families. Not many residents know about the history of Doral, yet these residents are similar to their city’s founder. They were both immigrants, coming to the United States from their home country. These individuals and families should look to Alfred Kaskel as an example. With dedication and hard work, they too can achieve success.


Doral’s population is over 60,000 residents (United States Census Bureau, n.d.). Out of these residents, 6.9% are under 5 years old, 26.8% are under 18 years old, and 7.2% are 65 years old and older (United States Census Bureau, n.d.). Therefore, the majority of the Doral residents are between the ages of 18 and 65 years old. Females and males are about equal in Doral’s population (United States Census Bureau, n.d.). The median household income in Doral is over $77,000 and 12.2% of its residents are living in poverty (United States Census Bureau, n.d.). Doral is heavily rooted in its Hispanic/Latino cultural roots. Doral’s population is made up of 84.2% of individuals that identify as Hispanic or Latino (United States Census Bureau, n.d.). The city of Doral has come to be known by many as “Doralzuela,” a fusion of Doral and Venezuela. This sobriquet originated  because of the large population of Venezuelan refugees that live in the area (Olasky, 2019). Doral has become a home and the heart of the Venezuelan community (Shirazi, 2019). The Venezuelan population in the United states tremendously increased between the years 2000 and 2017. The “number of Venezuelan-born residents increased from 93,000 to 421,000” during this time period and 52% of these individuals live in Florida (Osorio, 2019). Many Venezuelans have found themselves resettling in South Florida, primarily in the Doral area (Shirazi, 2019).

Resident Interview
Image courtesy of Gaby Acosta

Gaby is a 20-year old Hispanic-American who currently attends college. I had the opportunity to interview her as one of Doral’s residents on her perspective of her neighborhood.

Question 1: Where are you from and how long have you lived in Doral?

“I was born and raised in Doral. Going on 20 years living in Doral and haven’t moved except for when I’m at school, which is in Fort Lauderdale.”

Question 2: What’s it like living in Doral?

“Living in Doral is like living in your own little town. You feel like you are in a completely different place when you are in Doral. You always feel welcomed when you go to the stores. There are various places in Doral that are very family oriented and have events for families to be able to come together and get to meet other families in their community.”

Question 3: What’s your favorite thing to do in Doral?

“My favorite thing to do in Doral is go to any community events that they have at Doral Central Park or at Morgan Levy Park. I always have a fun time  with my family. I also love going to eat at my local Chick-fil-A whenever I have the chance.”

Question 4: Out of all Doral, what’s the best thing about it?

“The best thing about Doral is how close everything is to each other. Since Doral is not such a big place, you can easily get anywhere you want in about 10 minutes and easily have impromptu gatherings with friends that live close by.”

Question 5: Out of all Doral, what’s the worst thing about it?      

“The worst thing about Doral has to be the traffic. During rush hour, it can easily take you about an hour or more to get anywhere because there are a lot more people that are working in Doral and the population is growing more and more each year.”


Doral’s landmarks have historical and cultural significance to the community. The most prominent landmark that is inconspicuously evident is the one that honors the founder of Doral, Alfred Kaskel. The name “Doral” in of itself is its own landmark that has been carried throughout the majority of the building names. Although residents may not know the history of Doral, they honor the founder every day.

Our lady of guadalupe church

Image courtesy of Gaby Acosta

This landmark is the primary Catholic church of Doral. The closest Catholic church to the Doral area in 1998 was in Miami Springs (Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, n.d). Due to the commute being too far, the community requested to have their own church in the neighborhood (Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, n.d.). The significance of this church in Doral is that the majority of Doral’s residents are Catholic (BestPlaces, n.d.) Moreover, many Venezuelans are Catholic, the main Hispanic culture in Doral. The pastor of the church is from Venezuela. The location of the church is also important. It is located in an area of Doral where not a lot of buildings surround it. This allows the church to host events for the community. The members of the church can arrive and not worry about impeding traffic.

Trump National Doral

The Trump National Doral was formerly known as the Doral Country Club, the first structure built by Alfred Kaskel in Doral. It is primarily known for two features: its luxurious design and golf courses. However, despite its location in a neighborhood that houses middle-class residents, it is built and designed for a targeted audience that is not primarily located in the Doral area. Therefore, The Trump National appears out of place as it is understood to cater towards wealthier individuals that do not reside in the area. Furthermore, the Trump National is the most famous building in Doral. However, if guests want a break from the golf course and country club atmospheres to experience the stereotypical Miami, they will need to travel about 30 minutes to access Miami Beach.

Doral Contemporary Art Museum

The Doral Contemporary Art Museum is Doral’s best kept secret. The idea of this museum was created by a group of “collectors, museologists, community leaders, art dealers, industry entrepreneurs, artists, scholars, and architects” (DORCAM, n.d.). It is a unique space that highlights what it means to be in Doral and the world (DORCAM, n.d.). Through its architecture and pieces, the museum encourages “debate, critical thinking, and local-international dialogue” (DORCAM, n.d.). There are not many places like these in Doral or the surrounding area. This is the kind of place you would find in Wynwood, which is about 25 minutes away. Opening this museum in Doral, is an attempt to integrate and expand contemporary art within the neighborhoods of Miami. 


Doral offers green, open spaces through parks and golf courses. There are nine parks located throughout the city and golf courses that can be accessed through Trump National Doral Miami and the Costa Del Sol Golf Club. Though the golf courses may only appeal to golf enthusiasts, the parks offer acres of green space that can be used for a range of purposes, ranging from recreational to exercises to meditation. The nine parks are tailored to offer different benefits within each one. It is evident that the parks are geared towards the community. Below are the parks that offer the most amenities.

Doral Glades Park

7600 NW 98 Place

Photo by Annette Cruz CC by 4.0

This park measures at 25 acres (City of Doral, n.d.). It is geared towards the environmentally inclined, the individuals who thrive by being outdoors. Doral Glades Park offers a lake with a natural preserve and a trail bordering the lake (City of Doral, n.d.). Fishing and kayaking are outdoor activities that people can partake in (City of Doral, n.d.). For the children, there is a nature themed playground and a nature center where guests can interact with nature exhibits (City of Doral, n.d.).

Doral Meadow Park & Morgan Levy Park

11555 NW 58th Street & 5300 NW 102nd Avenue

These two parks are the sports-oriented parks. Between these two parks, residents and guests are offered soccer fields, football fields, baseball fields, batting cages, tennis courts, basketball courts, sand volleyball courts, fitness walking/jogging trails, and an exercise path (City of Doral, n.d.).

Trails & Tails Park

11645 NW 50th Street

Photo by Annette Cruz CC by 4.0

This park measures 8 acres (City of Doral, n.d.). It is Doral’s first dog-friendly facility, housing dog play areas for both large and small dogs (City of Doral, n.d.). This park is equipped with doggy essentials, such as multiple wash stations and dog-friendly water fountains (City of Doral, n.d.). This is the ideal park for both dogs and humans to spend quality time in the sunshine.


The primary transportation in Doral, as it is in most neighborhoods of Miami, is cars. Although cars provide privacy for a daily commute, it increases the amount of traffic in Doral. However, many people who do not live in Doral work in Doral due to the large number of corporations and businesses in the area. Because of these individuals also use cars, the volume of traffic significantly increases. Additionally, the large trucks that deliver cargo daily also cause a traffic disturbance. These trucks often stop on the road or make wide turns. However, traffic is a problem in Doral due to the layout of the roads. “There is little access to the interior of the grid, putting a lot of traffic on relatively few roads” (re-invention of Doral, 2005).

Another form of transportation within Doral is the use of bikes and scooters. This mode of transportation is used more by the residents, especially the people who live in gated communities. Bikes and scooters are used more for traveling short distances. Although this does eliminate some cars from the road and reduce car emissions, it is not significant enough to make a noticeable difference.

Photo by Annette Cruz CC by 4.0

A third form of transportation within Doral is the Doral Trolley. This is a great way to get around Doral. It is inexpensive because the trolley is free to ride (City of Doral, n.d.). The trolley also offers four different routes that are specialized in its stops. For example, there are two routes that serve as Metrorail connectors. The trolley makes stops at a variety of locations, ranging from restaurants, shops, and parks. There is basically a route for anyone. Additionally, the Doral trolley makes it easy to plan your day because it offers an online trolley tracker and an app. The app offers tracking services, different route information, personalization features for preferred stops, and can show you where you are in relation to the stops. The Doral trolley is a common, affordable solution to everyday problems. It has the potential to reduce Doral traffic by eliminating the number of cars and can result in less car emissions.



Image courtesy of Moderato Ristorante

Moderato is an Italian restaurant all about serving authentic Italian food. Inspired by childhood memories of family gatherings, the restaurant was created to reignite and honor the traditional dishes the owners once ate (Moderato, n.d.). The restaurant offers a wide array of dishes encompassing the essence of Italian cooking. They serve all kinds of traditional dishes, such as the classic pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven to creamy panna cotta that drips with tart, fresh berries.


HOLYSHAKES was established by Venezuelan owners that were in the food industry in Venezuela (HOLYSHAKES, n.d.). They wanted to start something new on their own and decided to elevate shakes into something extraordinary (HOLYSHAKES, n.d.). This is a unique place to grab a shake as a dessert. From a menu that offers classic shakes to their outrageous shakes to even building your own shake, you will certainly find a treat that calls your name. You can have your shake topped with a ball of cotton candy or chocolate donuts or even a gluten free chocolate chip cookie. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place to be.

El Arepazo

Photo by Annette Cruz CC by 4.0

El Arepazo is dedicated to serving traditional Venezuelan food, such as arepas and cachapas. One of the dishes you can try is the arepa sampler, serving six arepas stuffed with different meats and cheeses. From shredded beef to traditional guayanes cheese, you will find a Venezuelan delicacy that you love through these fillings. In a way, this eatery is meant to symbolize a home away from home for those that have fled Venezuela. Additionally, the website for this eatery is in Spanish, which makes it exclusive to Spanish speakers.


Doral is known for housing many large corporations and businesses. Two big names that you can find in Doral are Carnival Cruise Lines and Univision Communications Network. Many popular businesses are centralized in CityPlace Doral, which is the neighborhood mall that recently opened in 2017. Because of the plethora of stores, many gravitate to the mall for different businesses, such as clothing and markets. International Mall is another popular mall that attracts a lot of clientele. This mall receives more traffic from Miami locals from different neighborhoods than CityPlace. A lot of businesses that are found in Doral, outside of CityPlace and International Mall, are mainly franchises. Additionally, there are state and county businesses also located in Doral.


Kromya is a Panamanian store located in CityPlace Doral that combines color and design to create unique pieces (Kromya, n.d.). It was started by a family of artists and designers that studied color dynamics (Kromya, n.d.). You can find creative products that will give you a pop of color, such as a red mushroom funnel that turns inside out when needed. It can be a decorative mushroom in your kitchen or useful funnel when pouring liquids. They also offer jewelry and other daily products, such as umbrellas. The website details are in Spanish, but the tabs are in English, which can be confusing for some customers, especially those that don’t speak Spanish. As a whole, the concept of this business is creative and original, but many people may not know what the store is about at a first glance, which can be a disadvantage or an advantage. This can either draw people away from the store or it can attract people.

Florida Department of Agriculture Division of Licensing

The Florida Department of Agriculture is all about the environment, agriculture, and food, creating a safe relationship between people and environment. The Division of Licensing offers licensing from concealed weapons to private investigators. However, the Division of Licensing is placed in a random location. There are not a lot of state of Florida buildings in the area.

Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center

The Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center is dedicated to protecting animals and finding them a loving home. The center offers a variety of services for animals. People can either adopt a pet, get their pets spayed or neutered, or get their pets vaccinated, among a long list of other services (Miami-Dade County, n.d.).


As a whole, Doral is a great neighborhood. It maximizes its limited amount of space by intelligently utilizing its greenery and transportation. Each park is allocated enough space to successfully provide its amenities to residents and structured to encourage community involvement. The parks were designed to attract guests by tailoring its offered features to different types of residents. Doral also uses natural, decorative landscapes to complement its neighborhoods. Ironically, the Doral area used to be part of the Everglades, which was the original, natural landscape. This landscape was removed and replaced with the decorative landscapes that are preserved so well. It’s a double-edged sword.

The trolley transportation offers a great solution for transportation. However, I believe many people are not utilizing it as they should. I attribute this to the closed, private  society we have built. People rather travel independently. We live in our own bubbles. We all have grown accustomed to it. This has caused us to gravitate towards our own cars, which stimulates the traffic problem.

Although there are many Venezuelan inspired eateries, Doral offers a variety of eateries that appeal to a variety of palates. You will surely find something you’re craving in Doral. Although the Doral population is overwhelmingly Hispanic, the food options bring inclusivity of other cultures into the neighborhood. It’s common to hear that food connects people. Restaurants in Doral connect cultures and people.

Businesses in Doral range in marketing styles as it houses all kinds of businesses, from unique, family owned businesses such as Kromya to state businesses. Although Doral continues to be industrially developed, Doral’s businesses have been able to expand to tailor the community’s needs. With the introduction CityPlace Doral, all kinds of businesses have been able to thrive even more.

Doral has grown to be a successful neighborhood. From farmlands, to industrial warehouses, to residential communities, Doral lives on with an ancestral history of developing success.


(1968, July 7). Miami Herald, p. 47. Available from NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current:

BestPlaces. (n.d.). Doral, Florida. Retrieved from

City of Doral. (n.d.). Doral History. Retrieved from

City of Doral. (n.d.). Doral Trolley. Retrieved from

City of Doral. (n.d.). Our Parks. Retrieved from

DORCAM. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from

El Arepazo. (n.d.). El Arepazo en Doral: 10191 NW 58 ST Doral, FL 33178: Restaurante Venezolano. Retrieved from

FDACS. (n.d.). About Us. Retrieved from

HOLYSHAKES. (n.d.). Life is Short Have the Shake. Retrieved from

Kromya. (n.d.). Kromya Store Panama. Retrieved from

Marmon, J., & Perkins, B. (2004, February). Doral: a city is born: the Doral/airport west area has long been Miami-Dade’s center for international commerce, with a vast industrial and commercial infrastructure serving Miami International Airport. Now it is becoming a residential enclave, as the newest city to be incorporated in the county. South Florida CEO, 7(2), 12A+. Retrieved from

Miami-Dade County. (n.d.). Animal Services. Retrieved from

Moderato. (n.d.). ABOUT US. Retrieved from

Olasky, M. (2019, May 1). The view from ‘Doralzuela’ – WORLD. Retrieved from

Osorio, S. (2019, September 19). Venezuelan population in U.S. has seen explosive growth since 2000. Retrieved from

Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. (n.d.). History of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church at Doral. Retrieved from

Shirazi, E. (2019, February 26). Venezuelans becoming a growing political and cultural force in South Florida. Retrieved from

Staff, H. (1989, April 16). NEIGHBORS NW. Miami Herald, The (FL), p. 15. Available from NewsBank: America’s News – Historical and Current:

The re-invention of Doral: a thriving office and residential real estate market have moved Doral away from its industrial heritage. (2005, September). South Florida CEO, 9(8), 10A+. Retrieved from

United States Census Bureau. (n.d.). U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts: Doral city, Florida. Retrieved from

Annette Cruz: Miami Service Project 2020

Student Bio

Image courtesy of Juliana Pereira

My name is Annette Cruz, a Sophomore at the Honors College of FIU. I am an Elementary Education major, seeking to work with children in the future.


I volunteered with the Lotus House Women’s Shelter. This organization dedicates its time to helping homeless women and children in reforming their lives. By offering essential needs and services, such as food, shelter, mental health support, and educational resources, Lotus House is an organization that many women and children depend on and are grateful for.


I selected this volunteer opportunity because it was mandatory for my class. However, a mandatory obligation turned into a deliberate effort to help as much as I could. My eagerness to contribute my time and effort continued to grow throughout the day. I kept wanting to help the more I heard about the organization’s cause and witnessed the residents passing by. I have had a privileged life, even though I may not realize how privileged I am. I have a loving family, a roof over my head, a stocked fridge every week, and an education all my life. When your life is filled with all these blessings, it’s hard to imagine how life would be without them. Lotus House offers these blessings to the people who don’t have them. Even if my contribution was only for a day, I was grateful and humbled to be a part of the Lotus House’s cause, helping give its residents a small piece of a blessing, a safe and clean space.


I was waiting for the elevator with classmates to descend to the first floor as it was time to leave. A little boy approached us and asked for help with his homework. As per volunteer policy and limited time, we were unable to help him. Knowing he was living in the Lotus House, the little boy probably found the help he needed, but I looked at this little boy and felt a profound ease that my work had been for good that day. I’m an Elementary Education major. I am supposed to help children succeed. Although it may be an unconventional way to help children succeed, I rested assured that providing children with a safe and clean space would allow them more time to focus on their education rather than being sick, especially during these times of living through COVID-19. I always found it annoying when my mom would clean the house. Cleaning the house was always associated with interrupting my activities. She would turn on the vacuum and I could no longer hear the TV. She would mop the floor and I could no longer walk around my house because the floor was wet. I couldn’t finish whatever I was doing because she was constantly telling me to remove everything from on top of my dresser because it needed to be dusted. I know cleaning is important and a clean house means a healthy environment, but I always dubbed my mom as a cleaning fanatic. However, I never appreciated it as one should because I wasn’t the one doing the cleaning. It’s a different perspective when you have a cloth in your hand wiping furniture. Residents can’t focus on cleaning because they need to focus on themselves first. Therefore, I was able to connect with this opportunity in a way I never expected. Seeing the faces of gratitude on everyone’s faces, both residents and employees, I didn’t want to leave my volunteering responsibilities half-done. I wanted to give it my all.

Where & What

On March 11, 2020, I started my day by clearing out the docking area of the Lotus House for future deliveries. They were expecting deliveries with supplies to safeguard against COVID-19. I then helped separate the items my classmates and I removed from the docking area. I assisted in separating the items into two piles. One pile was for the items that were being donated to the thrift store and another pile was for trash. From the docking area, I transitioned into the toy storage closet, where I helped organize a rack of shelves. I helped create an area of shelves reserved for adult accessories, such as shoes and fanny packs, while relocating toys to appropriate shelves. Once this task was completed, I joined in cleaning and sanitizing the employee lockers that were filled with dust. This was located in the same area as the docking area and toy storage closet. My final responsibility for the day was to help sanitize the furniture on the residential floors, floors 2-5. The furniture I sanitized included the lounge area and playroom of every floor. At the end of the day, I stayed an extra hour to help the kitchen staff prep food ingredients for dinner.



My experience with this volunteer opportunity was wonderful. Everything worked in unison and a great amount of work was able to be completed. What definitely worked was that all the volunteers were separated into different groups. In other words, we all divided and conquered. However, I think what worked the best was everyone’s attitude throughout the day. All the volunteers were eager to participate, the employees always had a smile on their face, and the residents were grateful to have the help. Everyone was welcoming and knew we were there to support them in whatever they needed. Overall, volunteering at the Lotus House was an unforgettable experience. I had the chance to help people less fortunate than I am, but, in a way, the Lotus House helped me too.


Lotus House. “Where Hope Blossoms.” Lotus House Shelter,

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