Johnny Casares: Miami Service Project 2021

STUDENT BIO

My name is Johnny Casares, I am a student at FIU currently majoring in Computer Science. Since I lived in Venezuela, I always had an interest in both art and computer but never had the proper tools to dive deeply in these dreams. Now that I live in the U.S., I enrolled in the Honors College to continue to not only challenge myself academically, but also to take advantage of the opportunities I never had before.

WHO

I volunteered with the Deering State and the class of Discovering Miami in the collection of garbage from the island of Chicken Key, which’s fragile ecosystem is threatened by contamination. Volunteering with them was a decision I made for both convenience and my joy of connecting with nature. Despite of my major being computer science, a career that is mostly sedentary, one of the things I enjoy the most I being outside and being active with my body, and volunteering in Chicken Key gave me the perfect opportunity to enjoy myself while positively contributing in my community.

WHY

What made participating in this volunteer service possible was the class of Discovering Miami, which is the one that introduced me to this local volunteer opportunity, and gave me and the class the chance to engage in an activity in which we make a positive impact and strengthen our connection with the community.

HOW

Professor John Bailly introduced me and the class to this great volunteer opportunity at Deering State.

WHERE & WHAT

On the April 9 of 2021, volunteers departed off the shores that caress the property of the Deering State into the island of Chicken Key, where most of the volunteer activity took place. Upon arrival the volunteers, including myself of course, made sure to collect the trash left by human activity on the island, as well as other types of debris brought ashore by the waves. Even though it is impossible for a small group of students to fully eliminate the waste off the island, every little action count when it comes to taking care and protecting of the unique and delicate ecosystem of Chicken Key and Miami as a whole.

One personal account of this event was finding a 2012 can of sprite while paddling on the way to the island. I thought it was both disturbing and amazing to make this finding because I could not believe how a can almost a decade old was not only floating in the vastness of the ocean, but also the fact that it was full, made me realize how inconsiderate/ careless people can be. However, I was surprised to how well conserved the can was and by the way nature itself adapts to these contaminant agents, embracing them and utilizing it to its advantage. Attached to the can, a small colony of goose barnacle were attached to the surface of the object. One of my assumptions was that they were there for the extraction of any nutritional content from the can, however, it later occurred to me that, considering these organisms have a hard time moving due to their physical structure, they might be using the can as an effective mode of transportation. Another little story is a cage I found while picking up trash, which was placed there to catch racoons. On the cage a small sign warns about not what is the trap for, and it explains that it is an effort to restore the endemic turtle population. I thought this was interesting because it made me realize that the damage humankind has done to nature is not only in the form artificial waste, but also by displacing animals into areas where they don’t belong, putting a whole ecosystem at risk.

Photo by Johnny Casares (CC BY 4.0)

From personal experience with volunteer opportunities, this was the best one so far. An important insight I got from this activity is that when we do something that matters to us causes an element of joy in the individual. It wasn’t only the fact that I was able to help the community and the environment, but also the fact that I could enjoy myself and spent time with people that shared that common factor of joy from the work done. Personally, a big factor of joy for me in this activity was the fact that I could engage in movement, I gave my body a good physical activity, and being outside and not confined by the walls of a classroom.

What worked the best in this volunteer service was the whole effort of all members into the main goal. I think we were all well informed of the issue we were dealing with and the objective of the volunteer service activity was clear. Cooperation was key to achieve what we achieved that day and it was the most effective tool for results. Another factor of importance was the proper displacement and disposal of garbage recollected from Chicken Key. Even though I do not know with certainty where that trash will end up, I am putting my faith that the institution in charge will make sure that it is properly thrown away. However, I have to add that this is an activity not meant for everyone as it is physically exhausting. I would advice only engaging in this activity if you are mentally and physically prepared for what the activity demands.

WHEN

Below is the approval from FIU Honors college of the volunteer hours.

SUMMARY

Overall, we had excellent results that were personally satisfying, considering that we left the place cleaner than we found it. Also, I want to add that this can become a unique opportunity to connect with the lesser known side of Miami, as well as being a perfect opportunity of trying something new such as canoeing while helping the community grow healthier and more united. From a more academic interest, knowing that the island has never been inhabited by humans, one can assume that a similar terrain and atmosphere was found in some other parts of the mainland before the major urbanization projects. This is an experience that goes beyond volunteering and can be an opportunity to become more connected to the city, community, nature, and even yourself.

Johnny Casares: University Park 2021

My name is Johnny Casares, I am a student at FIU currently majoring in Computer Science. Since I lived in Venezuela, I always had an interest in both art and computers but never had the proper tools to dive deeply in these interests. Now that I live in the U.S., I enrolled in the Honors College to not only challenge myself academically, but also to take advantage of the opportunities I never had before.

HISTORY

It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that University Park has a history deeply connected to Florida International University, the name of the community already sells it. The history that links them together showcases the birth, growth, and glory of a university campus, as well as the urban expansion and diversification of Miami as a whole.

The story begins in 1965, when Florida bill 711 sets plans for a four-year state college, which gave birth to Florida International University. At the time, the main campus of the university, Modesto Maidique Campus, was an abandoned airfield. The closest and biggest population to the area was Sweetwater, which counted with a growing population of approximately 3000 people. Construction began in 1969, under the vision of the youngest university president of the nation at the time, Mr. Charles Perry. A reminiscent piece of the airfield that this campus was once still stands today as the office of veteran’s affairs, which displays a small Air Traffic Control Tower.

In 1972, The University first opened its doors to the public as a two year college, accepting Juniors and Senior college students. On its first day, FIU’S inscription numbers broke national records. University Park is the original name given to the Modesto Maidique Campus, from there, people referred to the surrounding area by the same name. At the time the institution was only a single building, which is Primera Casa, but three years later in 1975 the University quickly grew, now counting with 6 buildings, 4 which were named in different languages, embodying the International vision of FIU.

The international vision of the University had effects on its surrounding communities, like Sweetwater, which’s population doubled thanks to the presence of the University and the construction of two major expressways, completely transforming and diversifying what at the time was a “sleepy little country town.”

FIU continued to grow, and its popularity brought interest into urbanizing the surrounding areas, ultimately building what is now known as University Park.

Geography and Demography

Today, University Park is a small, mostly residential, community in the middle of Miami-Dade that limits with Sweetwater and Fontainebleau (north), Westwood Lakes and Olympia Heights (south), Westchester (east), and Tamiami (west). Because of its proximity to these communities, University Park is often referred as part of these other communities due to their proximity and the name of the community University Park not being very popular. Like most of Miami, the topography of University Park consists of a mostly flat surface, with some minor changes in elevation.

Image from Google Maps

The population of University Park in 2010 was almost 27,000 people. most of them White-Hispanics. Even though the population have had a small decline over the years, since the main campus of Florida International University, the fourth largest university in the nation, is withing the borders of the community, there is an inevitable flow of people and diversity in University Park. According to FIU, they count with a diverse student population which is composed of: 61% Hispanic, 15% White Non-Hispanic, 13% Black, 4% Asian or Pacific Islander, 7% other minority groups.

Like most parts of Miami, the cost of living is very high. The average value of property in University Park is 1.23 times larger than the national median, and this value has increased over the years. The homeownership rate, however, is just slightly lower than the national average, at 62.4%, the rest can be assumed are renting. An assumption that could be drawn from this data is that those who live in University Park are either affluent people, or people who invested from some time ago in the properties found in this community. The second assumption seems to be the case, since despite of how expensive properties are, the annual household income in this area is less than $52,000, which is lower than the average annual income across the nation of almost $62,000. The level of poverty in University Park is also slightly above the national average, at 14.3%, composed mainly of Hispanics and White people. In addition to that, most of poor people in the community are women, especially over 75 years old. University Park is just one out of many communities that face issues of poverty among elderly that has yet to be addressed.

Resident Interview

Even though University Park is, overall, an average Miami community, I wanted to get insight directly from a member of the community. I decided to interview Ethan Ruiz, a student at FIU who was born in the United States and whose parents are Cuban. He has lived in University Park since he was little, which is over 18 years.

Image courtesy of Ethan Ruiz
  • How is it like to live in University Park?

“I love living in University Park as we have many cultures and places to visit nearby. And there is not much traffic in this area during the densest hours.”

  • What is the biggest problem that your community faces?

“The biggest problem facing University Park is probably the skyrocketing prices of both rent and housing prices for many families.”

  • What is the best part or your favorite part about the community?

“My favorite part of the community is that there is not much trouble and nuisances in the area. It is usually a quiet town with friendly neighbors and a lack of parties or noises on the weekends.”

From the perspective of someone who lives in the community, the housing prices is the biggest problem. Based on the data, and the fact that University Park is essentially a student community, it is valid to make that this is one of the most problematic issues of the community, which I would link to the one of poverty. If housing is so expensive, how can an elder, who can’t perform as well at work as their younger counterpart, be able to cope with the housing prices. On the positive side, University Park is an overall friendly and quiet community, with a relatively easy access to transportation.  

TRANSPORTATION

University Park counts with a surprising amount of public transportation. The main bus terminal is at FIU Maidique Campus, in this stop one can move from FIU to almost anywhere in Miami. There are different routes that goes in all four cardinal points: north, south, east, and west. The is also a limited stop service that has goes across University Park to the neighbor communities, such as Westchester and Olympia Heights. This form of transportation is free for now due to the pandemic, but on June 1 Miami-Dade Transit is going to be returning to the usual price of $2.25.

Image from Miami-Dade Gov.

Also, departing from FIU near PG-6 the Doral Trolley route 4 makes its way all the way to Doral in a straight line through 107th Ave. The trolley comes at no cost, which is an advantage when it comes to transportation. The trolley stops also provide with tracking, so you can call and get a time approximation of arrival. The local government of Doral also has available an app that lets you track in real time the position of the trolley. The trolley is for sure a great addition to both the University and the community because now students will be able to easily mobilize to popular sites such as Dolphin Mall and International Mall without having to depend solely on a singular form of public transportation. And if you thought it was over, there is more. The Sweetwater trolley also stops at FIU and makes its way to the shopping mall and various parts of the community.

Edit by Johnny Casares. Route Maps Overview by City of Doral (Left) and City of Sweetwater(right)//CC by 4.0 https://www.cityofdoral.com/all-departments/public-works/doral-trolley/ and CC by 4.0 https://cityofsweetwater.fl.gov/transit-schedule/

LANDMARKS

Cuban memorial: Inaugurated in Tamiami Park, on February 22 of 2014, The Cuban Memorial is 62 foot tall obelisk that honors those who perished in the hands of the oppressive communist regime that reigns Cuba since 1959. The Cuban Memorial is a symbolic cemetery that displays a “black-list,” which is an extensive listing of the names of the people who disappeared and were killed by Castro’s regime. The idea behind the Memorial Cubano organization is to keep alive the patriotic legacy of those who gave up the most valuable thing in existence, life, in the pursuit of freedom and democracy.

As Jose Marti said: “Los muertos son las raíces de los pueblos,” and forgetting those who died would mean the destruction of the history that makes our civilization.

Memorial Cubano, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

Museum at FIU: Designed by the famous architect Yann Weymouth, The Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum opened its doors to the public in 2008. Located at FIU, the museum showcases art from graduate students, collections of artifacts and crafts from many different cultures, and other temporary collections such as the ones of Roberto Obregon, a Venezuelan artist who is known for his work on conceptualism. The diversity and flow of art in the museum serves to portray the International vision that the university embodies.

Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

Veteran’s Tower: The FIU Office for Veteran’s Affairs might not sound like the number one touristic attraction of University Park; however, it is here, where the last reminiscent piece of the Tamiami Airport stands. This is an important part of the local history because it is from that same tower where all the visions for FIU started, and that same idea completely changed its surroundings, essentially founding what is now the community of University Park.

Veteran’s Tower, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

GREEN

Tamiami Park: This is an extensive green area where many locals go and have an active lifestyle, running, biking, and doing other types of physical activities. The park counts with many sports fields as well as a public community pool. In this same park one can find the Memorial Cubano and the yearly event that is the fair. The youth fair is probably one of the biggest events that takes place in Tamiami Park, and one very popular in Miami-Dade. 

Tamiami Park, Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021/CC BY 4.0

Concord Park: This is a small park in the southern part of the community. Even though it might not be big and host impressive evets, it is still a beautiful and calm park where people can enjoy the landscape and engage in physical activities.  It is also convenient for the closer neighborhoods since there is little green areas in University Park, and most of them are either clos or in FIU. 

FIU nature preserve: Located inside FIU, there is this nature preserve. Even though it is there for educational purposes, preserving endangered Everglades plants and local nature, it is open to the public. However, this is not a common park so there is no facilities that would make of this green place a space to hang out. The site is most of an educational facility, and if you ever visit this preserve, it is better to go during daylight, as there is no artificial sources of light inside and one could lose notion of space.

FOOD

Where are the best and authentic places to eat? Select three to highlight.

107 taste: 107 Taste is more than just a restaurant, is a story of how a woman worked hard to achieve her childhood dream. Chef Yu comes from a village in northwestern China and was always passionate about cooking and her childhood dream was to open a restaurant. Once Yu obtained her bachelor’s degree in China, she came to Florida International University, where she got a master’s degree in hospitality management. In 2016, Chef Yu and Dr. Lei, her husband, opened their first establishment, which is just next to FIU on 107th Ave, which is the reason is called 107 Taste. The restaurant serves the most sought for Asian foods and the most traditional meals their culture.

Tiagos Tacos: This is a Mexican food restaurant which has recently opened just south of Tamiami Park. The original business idea comes from a food truck that is well known and established outside of the community. The establishment serves the most popular choices of the Mexican cuisine, while combining it with local elements.

Dos Croquetas: Found in the most southern part of the community, this is a modern establishment with that irradiates Miami Vice vibes. The establishment specializes in Croquetas, as the name says, which is an iconic food of the Hispanic community and one that is really appreciated here in Miami.

BUSINESSES

Korka comics: unique epic comic store located in 8th street in Florida International Plaza. This store is known across Miami for keeping alive the old American tradition of the comic books alive. The business also, in a similar manner to GameStop, engages in gaming content and products. The store also provides services like trading collectibles for exchange or sale. The store also hosts gaming tournaments, which is a growing sport among the youth.

Game room: This is a place found inside the FIU campus in the Graham Center building. The Game room is a place where one can socialize and spent a great time with friends. The place counts with almost every console that is available in the market and with an extensive array of board games for the selection of the user. The room also counts with some pool and ping-pong tables for rental. This is a unique business because there is very few leisure places in University Park, and this helps build a more appealing college life for the students.

Hi-pot: This is a Taiwanese restaurant that specializes on a traditional food that originated in the region of Changhua: the stinky hot pot. The hot-pot is not only a meal, but rather a very popular socialization tool due to the warm atmosphere that it builds. The restaurant allows you to customize your hot pot to the way you wish with the original ingredients that make of the hot pot an authentic dish of the East-Asia cuisine.

SUMMARY

University Park is an overall calm and quiet community, with some annual events that bring joy to locals and other residents of Miami. The community also has a relatively short history that continues to grow and evolve, while conserving key elements that remind us the humble beginnings of University Park. I would recommend visiting University Park only when there is major events such as the Youth Fair. Another reason to visit can be to get to know the FIU MMC campus and enjoy of the many arts that are displayed outside and inside the museum, as well as to visit historically important places like the Memorial Cubano to pay respect to those who gave up their lives for a better future. On the other hand, outside of college, life might not be as interesting, since everything in Miami in general is far apart. However, the integration of more public transportation in University Par has been a major addition that will make the concept of college life a more plausible idea.

CITATIONS

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “History.” Florida International University in Miami, FL, Florida International University, 4 June 2013, www.fiu.edu/about/history/index.html.

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “Collections.” Patricia & Phillip Frost Art Museum | Florida International University, Florida International University, 2015, frost.fiu.edu/collections/index.html.

“Memorial Cubano – HONRANDO A LAS VICTIMAS DEL COMUNISMO EN CUBA.” Memorial Cubano, Memorial Cubano org, memorialcubano.org. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

“Sweetwater History.” City of Sweetwater, City Of Sweetwater, 24 Aug. 2020, cityofsweetwater.fl.gov/about-us/#:%7E:text=The%20history%20of%20Sweetwater%20began,end%20to%20the%20development%20venture.

“University Park, FL.” Data USA, Data USA, datausa.io/profile/geo/university-park-fl#housing. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

Florida International University – Digital Communications. “About.” Florida International University in Miami, FL, Florida International University, http://www.fiu.edu/about/index.html. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

“Tamiami Park in Sweetwater Area, FL.” MiamiandBeaches.Com, Miami and Beaches, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/thing-to-do/parks-recreation/tamiami-park/2984. Accessed 19 Apr. 2021.

Johnny Casares: Miami as Text 2021

Hi, my name is Johnny Casares and I am a student of the FIU Honors College currently majoring in Computer Science. My journey in Miami-Dade County starts in 2016, when my family decided to move from Venezuela to live here in the United States in search of a better life. I believe that I have been lucky to meet the best people throughout this journey, and to have found opportunities that have made me believe I am living the American Dream.
I personally enjoy the little details, being with friends, surrounding myself of positive people, and being outside.
Despite of being here for about 5 years I haven’t been able to really explore the hidden gems of Miami and I am looking forward to discovering some of the county’s secrets and stories.

Downtown Miami as Text

Fort Dallas and Wagner’s house by Johnny Casares of FIU

In the middle of a city characterized by its imponent buildings and cultural diversity, there is a park where two structures meet to remind us of the best and worst parts of our history, two houses that to this day resonate a truth of Miami that at times is overlooked.
Wagner’s house is a representation of the American Dream. A story of how a German man and a Creole woman go against the norm and move to Miami to pursue their happiness and make a family, mirroring both the immigration and the iconic diversity of the city. The Wagner’s also have a story, similar to thanksgiving, where the family and the Seminoles came together for dinner, both parties in their best interests.
The encounter of the family and the Seminoles was due to the Seminole Wars, which is just a fraction of the dark part of the history of Miami. In contrast to Wagner’s house, there is Fort Dallas, a former plantation residence for black slaves, which was then turned into a headquarters for military operations which ended the lives of many, to then become a tea house. This now called Fort has passed through many chapters of history, seeing the worst of humanity and bits of hope.
Despite of these not being the original locations of the buildings, they were perfectly placed in front of each other to tell us a story of both racial division and cultural acceptance. They now rests in Lummus Park, a peaceful place where the face of joy and liberty, meet the one of pain and oppression to go together in an often-unnoticed walk through the city.

Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021. Wagner’s house (left) and Fort Dallas (right)/CC BY 4.0

Everglades as text

Everglades by Johnny Casares of FIU

I lived in Venezuela for over 14 years, in that time I was fortunate enough to know some of the most beautiful views, rich in color and scent that one could only imagine seeing in movies. However, I lived my whole life in Caracas, a city surrounded and protected by El Avila, a cordillera that extends beyond the borders of the capital and that is known as the lung of the city. Despite waking up every morning to the spectacular view of the mountain, my family never had the opportunity to take me inside the national park that is El Avila and get to know the monumental and imposing nature that gives air to the inhabitants of the city.
Going to the Everglades was very special because, like Caracas, Miami is my home, and getting to know the biggest nearest national park to the city was amusing. It was what I always wanted to do back in my country. Like El Avila, The Everglades has some myths attached to it, and the most popular one is that it is a swamp. I even believed it, but when we were told that the exact place in which we were walking was a river I can’t deny that I was surprised by the truth. Reflecting upon it, I think people often underrate the nature that surrounds them because they ignore its true value. Sadly, for some those stigmas are keeping them away from adventuring into what really is Miami and Florida.
I was eager to see a panther, but the rangers told me they were rare due to their low population numbers. One lucky encounter, however, was the one we had with the gator. When talking to Ranger Dylan we had a conversation about their diet, because to me it seemed odd that a gator could survive in the waters where we were slough slogging. The inhabitants of those waters are small low trophic, how could a gator really sustain itself in such an environment? In a conversation with Ranger Dylan, she told me that gators feed on bigger fishes and turtles that inhabit the deeper sides of the river, also they prayed on birds when they approach the water. The heavy vegetation however made me wonder if they complemented their diet with some of the flora, to which Ranger Dylan responded that gators eat a fruit called the pond apple, but that their stomachs don’t really digest the fruit, therefore there is no nutritional benefit to consuming the fruit.
I have been living in Miami for over 4 years and I feel like I never got to know Miami the way I got to know her on that day. It is fascinating to think of how much humans can change the landscape and to visualize that maybe some of the places where the biggest buildings across Miami are now standing held a much life as the Everglades.

Photos taken by Johnny Casares, 2021. /CC BY 4.0

South Beach as Text

South Beach by Johnny Casares of FIU

Design is the concept of anticipating an idea through planning, and South Beach has been at the epicenter of design, witnessing both the destructive and creative nature that this concept can have

The history of South Beach has a dull beginning with the destruction of the mangroves that protected the shores of the island, completely changing its ecosystem. At first South Beach was turned into a plantation, but later it became part of visionary plans due to its touristic and leisure potential. The changes were not minimal, South Beach looks nothing like its natural state, and the beach that makes this place so famous around the world has sand that is originally from the Bahamas. South is a landscape that was altered by humans and transformed to our convenience, prioritizing desires and ignoring risks. South Beach now faces the dangers of rising sea levels due the early destructive environmental design.

South Beach, at the time known as Ocean Beach, was made as a city or town for affluent white people, and those groups that diverged from the standard were discriminated. The design of the city showcases how wealthy white people had access to the better sides of the island, near the ocean, while black people, despite their major role in the destruction of the mangroves and the reshaping of the island, were not allowed in this new touristic attraction. Jews, even though accepted because of their acquisitive power, were also discriminated, being allowed to own property at a specific distance due to anti-sematic ideas that Carl Fisher shared. So, despite not being noticeable at first sight, South Beach has a city planning that is designed upon discrimination of minority groups.

 Over the years, however, South Beach quickly became one of the places that pioneered feminism and the acceptance of LBTQ community. With symbols like the rainbow crosswalk and bars like Palace, achieve to show the inclusiveness of the city, and the many sexual references that one can find in relief sculptures allude to the sexual nature of the city. The house of Gianni Versace, who can also be found along Ocean Drive, was the place where one of the most influential designers lived, and one that promoted fashionable clothing for the likes of women instead of the conformism that society obligated them to endorse. But beyond clothing, there is Barbara Baer, an activist that played a major role in preserving the artistical structural design of the art deco that makes South known around the globe.

From destruction and discrimination, to preservation and integration, the past and the present of South Beach are contrasting, but it just shows how much humanity can change for the better.

Photos taken by Johnny Casares, 2021. /CC BY 4.0

Deering Estate as text

Deering State by Johnny Casares of FIU

The vision of preserving a part of Miami as it was originally found was a brilliant idea from Charles Deering, and one that has allowed for the protection of both the environment and history. When reading about the Deering Estate, and finding out that some of the oldest human remains in North America were found here in Miami I was intrigued. The idea of people living here more than ten thousand years ago is a number almost unimaginable, especially when having the perception that the Americas’ natives are relatively new when compared to other societies of the world. The way nature achieves to preserve the past in the form of fossils is almost fictional, but the fact that is real and we can get little clues about the past of humankind and the fauna that surrounded them is something that is really worth it.

Apart from the findings of human remains, I think it is also great that the ecosystem is preserved by protecting this land. Many species endemic to Miami live in these areas, many of them which I even ignored inhabited Florida, like otters and manatees, which I thought could just be found in either South America or Africa. I believe visiting the Deering Estate can be a didactic experience from which visitor can built a better connection and understanding of the delicate fauna that surround us.

The Deering Estate not only is committed to the protection of the environment but also to promoting and presenting art to the public. Afraid of the destructive capabilities of fire, Deering decided to build a house designed to be non-flammable, especially after the events at the Great Chicago Fire, which destroyed many of properties and left many without a home. The place is an ample storage and gallery for art to be displayed safely. Their economic power allowed the Deering brothers to pursue and put forth their individual desires and goal, and thankfully they used it in a way that created a long term positive impact in the community.

Vizcaya as text

Vizcaya by Johnny Casares of FIU

Miami is known for its beaches, nocturnal life, and architecture. From its design to its history, the Vizcaya museum and gardens share the same features that make our city so famous. A majestic colonial house that showcases dreams and desires, full of excessive details characteristics of power and eccentricity, facing the very ocean that merges two worlds into one. Vizcaya is a European villa built to fulfill the conquistador complexes of its owner and the craving lust that hunts the human mind.

There are many questions surrounding this built and the owner of this massive property. James Deering is a figure that not much is known of. One of the most interesting rumors are regarding his personal life, in specific, his sexual orientation. Many have questioned his sexuality, and the decorative artifacts in the house, some people argue, hint his possible homosexual inclinations. However, this might never be confirmed, but what we know is that James Deering was accepted Paul Chalfin, one of his architects, who was openly gay. This is a remarkable fact because Miami is a city known for openly accepting and embracing the LGBTQ+ community, something that during the early 20th century was not an easy task due to gender roles and social expectations.

The concept of an European villa was an idea that served to feed the conquistador alter ego of its owner, and also serves to emerge the users that visit the place into the whole idea of encountering signs of civilization in the middle of the wilderness, just as the colonizers did. The experience now is obviously not the same as what the first visitors might have encountered, but it is still impressive how contrasting it is to the eye to see such European builds in a landscape in which is dominated by nature. Once one is deeper into the museum, the opposite happens, nature is dominated by man-made structures, showing a conflict of man vs nature and desire of humans to govern and bring order to the chaotic beauty of nature.

Converting this property into a museum was a great addition to the Miami’s historical sites because it resonates with the self-centric attitude that many privileged people have, and also with the eccentric and liberal nature of the people of Miami.

Photos taken by Johnny Casares, 2021. /CC BY 4.0

Margulies Collection as text

Margulies Collection by Johnny Casares of FIU

think of museum, art displayed under protection, among many others. However, the Margulies collection is not a usual art gallery. From the outside, an unattractive warehouse that blends with the rest around the area; so, starting from the place itself, it is already different.

Once I entered, I was welcomed by the class and some art that to me seemed abstract. However, when the lecture started, I was moved by the story of how Jews were seen and treated by the Nazis and the connection of this idea to the sculpture of the faceless crowd. The story was touching and terrifying at the same time. I find it very beautiful and very powerful how everyone has the intrinsic value of freedom printed in their DNA, and despite the efforts to dehumanize a person, the individual will always seek for a way to find happiness. On the other hand, it was heartbreaking that some others try to take from others the most valuable thing: life.

Apart from that story, the rest of the museum was mostly an eye-enriching experience. I was never exposed to conceptual art before, and I would continue to argue that I am not a fan of it, but I can see relevance in it, especially when without looking at the title, one can extract some meaning from the shapes one sees.

One sculpture I want to talk a bit about is the “Sprache der Vogel”. I chose this one because I think it really achieves to portray what the collection is about. The piece can be described as a set of books with its wings extended as if it was ready to fly, and to me that can be interpreted as the human ability to give meaning to an otherwise nonsensical arrangement of matter. The object is not alive, but by us giving meaning to it, it becomes embedded in our minds, and as long as we live, the ideas and dreams that we hold are also, in some way, alive.

Photo taken by Johnny Casares, 2021. /CC BY 4.0
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