Gabriella Pena: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Lien Estevez/CC by 4.0

Gabriella Pena is a 19-year old entering her sophomore year at Florida International University, majoring in Marine Biology. She is not entirely sure what she wants to do after graduation, but what she is sure of is doing anything that involves travel.

Downtown as Text

Miami Dade Courthouse. Photo taken by Gabriella Pena/CC by 4.0

Hilariously Awful

By Gabriella Pena of FIU at Downtown Miami on 08 Sep. 2021

People make out Miami to be this beautiful, luscious, gorgeous, subtropical city, with a melting pot of cultures from every part of the globe, accepting of anyone that comes our way. You can enjoy the beach even in the winter months as it is typically sunny year-round, and the nightlife is hard to beat. The amalgamation of all these characteristics makes Miami one of the best cities in the world.

At least that’s the good part of Miami.

What I just described only highlights the part of Miami that your average person might know. What many lack the knowledge of is the repulsive and sometimes comically embarrassing history of the city and its foundations.

My professor was walking me and my class over to the Miami-Dade courthouse. In the corner of the building there was plaque and a statue of a man. As I come to find out later from my professor’s lecture, that statue depicted Henry Morrison Flagler, a wealthy man who was a key contributor to the development of South Florida, particularly the Miami region. Unfortunately, this also means he contributed to the funding of segregation and segregated towns (i.e., “Colored Town”), being responsible for a large part of the racist history in South Florida. The plaque explained the origins of our county name, “Miami-Dade”. In the Second Seminole War, Major Francis L. Dade, leader of 110 U.S. soldiers, led his troop into an ambush of 180 Seminole warriors, leaving all but three U.S. soldiers dead. To honor Major Dade’s commitment to the U.S. and the U.S. army, the county of South Florida would be named “Miami-Dade”.

Looking back at the statue and plaque in front of this government building, I was getting secondhand embarrassment, something I never thought I would receive from two long-dead wealthy white men. I had proudly claimed this city to be my own, being born and raised in a thriving multicultural city. But no. I was standing there, confused as to how Miami started as something so different what it is now. So confused to the point where I was laughing to myself. A region funded largely by a man who exploited the labor of African Americans, and a county named after an incompetent army officer.

Miami leaves a lot to be desired, especially regarding its history; no one should be proud of the city’s foundations. 

But what I can be proud of is what it has grown into today: a hotspot for multiple cultures and communities, a city that breathes in life to the people that call Miami home.

Overtown as Text

Welcome to Overtown sign. Photo taken by Gabriella Pena/CC by 4.0

Comfort

By Gabriella Pena of FIU at Overtown on 22 Sep. 2021

I am not going to lie, for a large part of this visit to Overtown, I was bored. And sweating, at that. It felt like half of the places we visited were churches that weren’t open, and it became depressing to hear over and over again about the threat of gentrification looming over many institutions in Overtown and other non-developed regions in Miami. 

Then we went on a lunch break to a place called Jackson Soul Food. A gem of a restaurant that is oftentimes forgotten about or even unknown to Miamians. As a matter of fact, many actively avoid this place due to Overtown’s reputation of being dangerous to visit. 

I had been wanting to come here for a while, but never had the chance. Our class walked in, and by the looks of the customers that were already being served, you could tell that we were not the usual crowd to come in at the day and time that we did. Sitting down felt uncomfortable as the other customers were looking at us puzzled. I ordered food and so did my peers sitting at my table. While waiting, we talked. Usually, I’m not one to engage in small talk; my anxiety finds it difficult to open up about even the smallest things. But something was different here. The conversation between my classmates and I was surprisingly easy. It felt so painless talking amongst each other, even across tables while there was noise. Something about the atmosphere let my anxieties fall away.

And I think that that is something unique to only a handful of places. Places like Jackson Soul Food, where I can sit down and leave all my worries and doubts outside the doors. What I initially thought would be another agonizing experience of awkward silence and weird looks from strangers turned out to be an experience of relaxation, good food, and comfort.