I am currently a senior studying business analytics at FIU. When I'm not working, you can usually find me cycling at the golf course near my house or meandering through the hardwood hammock trails that dot the corner of suburbia I call home.
Jose Villavicencio is a senior at FIU studying business analytics. As a member of the FIU Honors College, Jose seeks to approach not only his education, but his day to day life with an interdisciplinary approach. While he is studying the science of data manipulation, his true passion lies within the dense, sprawling wilderness of South Florida, with the Everglades being his number one favorite spot to visit and explore. One day, Jose hopes to be right there on the front lines of the ecological preservation and restoration of the Everglades.
The Deering Estate is a public park whose land is owned and managed by the Miami-Dade county public parks department. This is quite the shift in status quo, as the estate’s original existence was to serve as a private residence, art gallery, and nature preserve for Charles Deering. What once played the role of an eccentric rich man’s estate, is now enjoyed by the public, with hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors each year. The Deering Estate is not just a nicely manicured park to have a picnic in, however. It also serves a critical role in maintaining
Why did I choose this service project, especially since I had already participated in a cleanup of Chicken Key just one semester prior? The answer is simple: I loved it so much the first time, I simply had to jump on any opportunity to get to canoe out there again. As the premier example of a coastal dune ecosystem, Chicken Key must be heavily monitored and preserved with the utmost care. Chicken Key is special because its warm shallow waters are home to some of the most unique and rare endangered species found in the Biscayne Bay. As a geographic descendant of the Tequesta people who lived in harmony with the ecology of South Florida, as well as someone who connects with and loves the biodiversity of our natural areas, I felt especially inclined to offer my services this time around. The experience itself was considerably different as well, since this time I was approached by the event organizer to become a lead team member and help with the organization and execution of this excursion.
Ever since I began my journey with Miami in Miami last fall, I have been increasingly interfacing with every natural aspect of South Florida that I could. The culmination of this natural exploration has led me to seriously consider re-thinking the next five years of my life and just throwing myself completely into the world of national and state parks. As a team lead for this excursion, I was able to get a glimpse of what that was like. We arrived at the Deering Estate about an hour before the others so that we could work with the park officials in getting everything organized and set up for the trip. On the surface, all I did was collect life jackets and oars into a big pile so that the participants could easily grab one when they arrived, but I’m never one to take things at face value. What seemed like a totally mundane and non-exciting task on the outside gave me flash-forwards, wondering how amazing it would be to do this on a daily basis.
Where and What
Once we were all set up and my main clerical duties as lead were taken care of it was time to wait patiently as our valiant volunteers arrived for the cleanup. Unfortunately, just a little under half of the individuals who committed showed up, so we were undermanned from the start. Nevertheless, quality always trumps quantity, and we had some troopers with us. After some icebreaker introductions, we paired up with a paddling partner and pressed onwards towards the island! The journey was not a long one, and the tempests were on our side as the ocean more closely resembled a thick sheet of smooth glass as we were gracefully gliding across the water. Upon our arrival we enjoyed a quick and energizing lunch as we prepared ourselves for the hot and sweaty task that laid ahead of us.
Cleaning up Chicken Key is no small task, despite the island’s square footage being on the lesser side. The main issue with beach and ocean cleanups is they are carried out with the main goal of reducing trash-related deaths of marine life, especially the rare and endangered kind that frequents the small coastal dune. This means that while larger pieces of trash are more unsightly and have a greater chance of altering how the physical environment grows, the smaller shards of plastic pose the greatest threat to the animals. Since we were undermanned from the beginning, we had no other choice but to slowly sift through every inch of the island in order to eradicate as many microplastics as possible. Still, this painstaking, thorough approach was probably the best way we could have done it, as it gave us the opportunity to slow down and shift our focus to the miniscule worlds that exist right beneath our noses and toes.
A free canoeing excursion to Chicken Key is exciting enough to keep one’s eyes glued to the glossy ocean, or the expanse of the sky, but all too often do we forget to change our pace and just take in all the little details that we miss. Chicken Key helped remind me of this. So while we were cleaning, that’s where I was focused. I was doing it for the myriad of hermit crabs, the little fish seeking refuge amongst the mangroves, and the birds who might mistake a shiny bottle cap for a succulent snack. It was truly humbling to see the scale of their world that seemed so tiny to me, yet it was everything to them.
The cleanup took place on February 19th, 2022.
As far as the physical cleanup went, we could have done things a bit differently. Our main issue was having over half of the signees not show up. This instantly put a cap on how much trash we were going to be able to collect, as fewer people meant fewer canoes for hauling the trash back. The small, intimate group setting was still fun, as it allowed us to get to know each other even better, so while we didn’t have the numbers, the individuals who did show up were eager and passionate.
This past year as a student in professor John Bailly’s Miami in Miami has taught me more than probably all of my other classes combined, because it taught me not how to set up a spreadsheet, or maximize profit. This class taught me about myself, and my home and all the delicate balances that keep it all together. This Chicken Key cleanup was especially transformative for me because I took with me the perspectives and intentions of an ecological protector. In a way, this cleanup taught me that the world is bigger than myself, and that whatever I choose to do should be in the pursuit of making that big world a better place for all living things.
Jose Villavicencio is a senior at FIU studying business analytics. As a member of the Honors College, Jose seeks to approach all facets of life with an interdisciplinary lens to truly understand the intersectionality of our world. As a lifelong resident of West Kendall, Jose seeks to help the suburban neighborhood grow to its maximum potential in order to give its residents the greatest chance at a communal life with access to clean air, green spaces, and a robust system of public transportation.
West Kendall (also known as West End) is a geographic anomaly when it comes to the boundaries of the South Florida suburb. Despite being unincorporated, it is generally accepted that the boundaries of this area are the Turnpike to the east, 8th St to the north, 152nd Ave to the south, and Krome Ave to the west. As it stands now, West Kendall is still a part of unincorporated Miami-Dade county, so there is little information about its official beginnings as a neighborhood in Miami. Unlike its much older cousin Kendall, which began its development around the 1900s, West Kendall is more accurately described as an idea, a general sense of community made up of many smaller neighborhoods such as the Hammocks, Country Walk, and Kendall West, to name a few.
The physical makeup of West Kendall’s geography is much less varied compared to places like Downtown Miami or South Beach. West Kendall is a quaint, predictable suburban area with its roads organized in a grid-like pattern. In terms of architecture, you will be hard pressed to find anything but single family homes/townhomes, apartment complexes, and outdoor strip malls or shopping centers. On the surface, West Kendall seems like a footnote to the hedonistic atmospheres of fun, sun, and partying that most people envision when they hear Miami. My job is to help open your eyes to the hidden wonders that you can immerse yourself in when you look past the suburban façade that West Kendall wears.
Before even Henry Flagler or the Deering brothers had any semblance of ambition for the Miami area, the early ruminations of what would be called Kendall were starting to form. After a massive railroad system was built connecting northern and central Florida to the rest of the country, capital investments both foreign and domestic began pouring into South Florida in order to realize a vision of economic and agricultural activity for the area. To the west of the hospital I was born in, Baptist in Kendall, stood a Seminole village, with another located near what is now 107th avenue. These would be the last vestiges of Native civilization in Kendall, as their population in the area dwindled to just 129 in 1900 after the Seminole-American wars and the subsequent relocation of the majority of their population. Before 1896, there were no railroads directly connecting South Florida to the rest of the country, so the majority of industry here was simple agriculture as well as property management. Henry John Broughton Kendall was a prominent banker who was assigned to manage his company’s land holdings in Dade-County. Though not much is known about his direct involvement in the Kendall area, one way or another he found his name attached to the area, which is still referred to as Kendall to this day.
Fast forwards to the late 1980s and early 1990s, and we begin to see West Kendall hit its stride. Thanks to a growing population and thriving real estate market, land and properties were beginning to be developed to the west of Kendall, with the residents of these new neighborhoods dubbing the area “West Kendall.” To this day, West Kendall remains an unfinished canvas of community, as the residents and businesses who call the area home work diligently each day to leave pieces of themselves woven into the fabric that comprises our little slice of Miami.
Despite my best efforts, I could not produce any concrete figures on the demographics data of West Kendall due to its nature as an unincorporated territory. Since it is unincorporated, the only available data on the population demographics of the area are provided by local entities and governmental bodies, as the level of detail provided via the US census is not accessible for West Kendall. Data regarding overall population levels as well as poverty rates are available, however. Since 2000, West Kendall enjoyed a 20.4% population growth, putting the annual growth at about 0.9%. As far as poverty is concerned, West Kendall has the lowest poverty rate of any area in Miami-Dade, at 7.7%. Next is an interview from a 20+ year resident of West Kendall, Marlene Villavicencio:
Q: When did you first start living in West Kendall?
A: 1994. I moved here from Westchester.
Q: What was the biggest “culture shock,” if any, when going from an established community like Westchester to a fledgling neighborhood like West Kendall?
A: Culturally, they were pretty similar. West Kendall was much less developed though, and it was mostly houses with little else to do.
Q: What were your initial impressions of West Kendall?
A: It seemed very isolated and far away from the rest of Miami.
Q: What would you say is the biggest change to West Kendall since moving here?
A: There is more traffic everywhere, and so many more people have moved here. It’s definitely more congested.
Q: What is your favorite quality of West Kendall
A: West Kendall is a very safe neighborhood and I feel very comfortable here.
Q: If you could change one thing about West Kendall, what would you change?
A: I feel like it needs better urban planning and development. The sprawling suburban nature of the neighborhood makes it so that large parts of West Kendall are just rows and rows of houses, which also feeds into a car culture where you need a vehicle to do anything. Also, I would add a Trader Joe’s.
West Kendall Library
No community is complete without a store of knowledge that is freely accessible to all who enter. The West Kendall branch of the Miami-Dade county public library system is a library that opened up near my house just a 10 minute drive down 88th St. With its high ceilings and towering glass windows, the library welcomes you into a bright, sunny, warm environment where you are free to explore almost any topic of learning at your leisure. The library also stands out because of its connection to the community. Many Kendall-based organizations reserve space in the library’s conference room in order to host meetings or public forums. I myself once attended a presentation by the Miami Climate Alliance during which a member of the Seminole tribe of Native Americans spoke about the importance of the Everglades and its biodiversity and water table. Complete with a butterfly and vegetable garden located by the rear entrance, this library has long served myself and the community of West Kendall as our own little slice of Eden.
Wings Over Miami Museum
One of the few full-fledged museums in Kendall, Wings Over Miami is located at the Miami Executive Airport and is housed in an open-air hangar. Wings Over Miami’s spiritual predecessor was a private vintage plane collection owned by a pilot named Kermit Weeks. Weeks would keep his collection in the hangar for the public’s viewing pleasure, but hurricane Andrew sadly destroyed most of his collection. After this tragic event, Weeks moved his collection out of Miami-Dade, and a group of pilots and enthusiasts collaborated with Weeks in order to start a new collection. This collection is what we now know as Wings Over Miami today.
Town and Country Lock Bridge
The Love Lock bridge in Paris is one of the city of love’s most famous unofficial landmarks. Couples from around the world make the trek to this bridge in order to place a lock on it, often inscribed with their names or initials, and enshrine their love for each other. Sounds romantic, right? Well, West Kendall has one that’s just as good! Okay, maybe it’s a little less romantic than the one in Paris, but the bridge that stretches across the lake behind The Palms at Town and Country serves the same purpose. Couples come from all over (Kendall) to profess their love and seal it onto the bridge with a lock, similarly to the one in Paris.
Kendall Indian Hammocks Park
Kendall Indian Hammocks Park. Where do I even begin? This Emerald Eden sits in the heart of West Kendall, and is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the neighborhood. Since it sits squarely surrounded by suburbs, West Kendall does not enjoy the same diversity of ecosystems that other parts of Miami does. This is why Kendall Indian Hammocks is so important to the surrounding community of West Kendall. As far as I know, the nature preserve at Indian Hammocks is the one of the only areas of Hardwood Hammock available for residents to enjoy in West Kendall. Despite the fact that it is not a perfectly preserved hardwood hammock, on account of its invasive plant species, Indian Hammock still provides lush, densely wooded tree coverage where an individual can walk in and smell the fresh greenery, hear the sounds of birds chirping in the canopy above. The park also features a nice open space dotted with trees and shelters that can be reserved for any event. Kendall Indian Hammocks park is a true place of community and understanding in West Kendall.
If Indian Hammocks is the crown jewel, Camp Matecumbe is a hidden gem. Unbeknownst to me until recently, Camp Matecumbe was a base of operations for West Kendall during the Pedro Pan operation in Cuba. Pedro Pan was a tragic event after the Cuban revolution in which the Castro regime was letting people flee the island nation by plane. The cruelty of it all was that only children were allowed to leave. That means that parents and families had to make a painful decision: send their child to a foreign nation by themselves, unable to know their fate, or keep them there in Cuba, where the family would remain intact, yet be at the mercy of a dictator.
Similar to Indian Hammocks Park, but on a more personal note, there is a small linear park near my house called The Greenway. It is a small, half-mile asphalt trail with gentle rolling hills on either side. Atop each hill, and in between a few, are various trees, many of which have been there since I was as young as five years old. A much more intimate presence than Indian Hammocks, the Greenway is a nice and cozy spot where many people in the neighborhood go to walk their dogs, ride bike, or just enjoy each other’s company.
Transportation is probably West Kendall’s weakest point. There really is no other way to efficiently get around the neighborhood without a car, as the Miami-Dade public bus transit will have you waiting outside on a hot concrete sidewalk, mere feet from a street so wide it may as well be a highway. The cycling infrastructure is also lacking, as many bike lanes will have you merging in and out of traffic lanes, with some roads not even having a bike lane at all.
Finka is a relatively new addition to the scene in West Kendall, yet it carries itself as a staple of the community. The food here is truly unique. Finka is a gastropub and bar sporting amazing entrees of cuban, peruvian, and korean fusion food! My personal favorite is the KFC, or Korean fried chicken. Finka was opened by chef Eileen Andrade, and is the first of her many restaurants that are scattered around different parts of West Kendall.
La Carreta is a titan of Miami. “La ventanita” is a term that may as well have been mastered by them, as there is always a crowd out front waiting to get their cafecitos and pastelitos. I’ve been going to La Carreta since I was a little kid, and I firmly believe that it had just as much of an influence on my Cuban identity as my own family did! True to the hospitality of Miami, La Carreta is a great place to go and just strike up a conversation. Patrons and employees alike are always eager to take a break from their day and have a nice chat.
Macondo is the newest eatery in West Kendall, and it does not disappoint. A Colombian café, Macondo has some of the most delicious spinach and cheese empanadas I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting, and they can brew you any cup of coffee in any style you’d like. The atmosphere in this quaint little café is unbeatable, with live music and poetry readings every now and then, Macondo is a great place to visit in West Kendall.
Spanish Marie is a hidden, not-so-little hole in the wall. Right next to the Executive airport, this repurposed warehouse is uninspiring when viewing it’s exterior, but once you step inside you are greeted by high ceilings, colorful lights, a wall of vines, and beer. Spanish Marie is Kendall’s premier brewery, and they are constantly active in the brewing scene, traveling to different spots in Miami for a festival, or hosting pop-up restaurants in their own backyard. I’ve only recently discovered this place, and yet it is already one of my favorite spots to meet my friends and enjoy each other’s company.
What if I told you that West Kendall has its very own time machine? Step one foot into Arcade Odyssey and you are transported straight to the late 80s and early 90s. A thriving arcade that always has new additions each time you go, Arcade Odyssey has kept the spirit of the video arcade alive well into the 21st century. My favorite part about this arcade is that while there is an ample selection of classic games, there is also a healthy variety of newer, more modern games directly imported from Japan, where the arcade scene is thriving. One game in particular, “Meltdown” is my favorite, and it’s only one of three known copies in the world!
Another bombastic brewery, Strange Beast is, in my opinion, the best pizza you can get in West Kendall. Strange Beast, much like Spanish Marie, is a spot for the community. Each day of the week they have a different activity, ranging from bingo to karaoke, and it’s simply a treat to visit, have a delicious pizza, and taste the brewers latest experimental concoction that they brew right there in-house.
In summation, West Kendall is a community that is ever growing. The expansive suburban sprawl is certainly an inefficiency of urban planning and development, but it is still a place filled with life and love and happiness. West Kendall is, to many, a home where they can walk around the neighborhood without fear of being targeted. A place where it truly feels like everyone knows your name, despite its flaws. More public transportation in West Kendall can only serve to bolster this tight knit community.
“Woman, wake up; the tocsin of reason is being heard throughout the whole universe; discover your rights. The powerful empire of nature is no longer surrounded by prejudice, fanaticism, superstition, and lies. The flame of truth has dispersed all the clouds of folly and usurpation. Enslaved man has multiplied his strength and needs recourse to yours to break his chains. Having become free, he has become unjust to his companion. Oh, women, women! When will you cease to be blind?”
— an excerpt from Olypme de Gouges’s Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen
The struggle for human rights has been a long and arduous conflict that started, perhaps, when humans gained their original notions of society and themselves. As a struggle, this conflict continues to this day. It is true that we as a species of carbon-based lifeforms, who live on a rock hurtling through space at unimaginable speeds, have made great strides in this struggle for equality and equity, yet it is also true that we have a ways to go. Few documents are scattered throughout history and are recognized today as pivotal, monumental steps that were taken towards codifying some semblance of human rights into law. These documents include the Magna Carta, the United States constitution and bill of rights, and the famous French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen. These documents all have one thing in common: they serve as a warning to those who would think to tread upon the rights of those who wrote them. It’s no surprise that these documents all were the culmination of bloody conflict, or a precursor to them, as the struggle for human rights, ironically, has always been against other humans. They all, however, are a bit short sighted. Each of these documents shield a certain class of citizen from abuse and manipulation by another, usually more wealthy class. These documents shift the status quo, certainly, but hindsight is 20/20, and in 2022 an academic scholar can quickly come to the conclusion that these different interpretations of human rights, while certainly expanding the freedoms of those it encompases, still push towards a maintenance of a certain status quo. The most radical and all-encompassing of these documents is, of course, the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen, yet it leaves out a very large portion of the population: Women.
Olympe de Gouges took issue with this, and using her skills acquired during a life of as a political playwright, wrote the famed Declaration on the Rights of Women and of the [Female] Citizen. Commonly referred to as “the first modern femenist,” de Gouges used her platform and ability to bring a spotlight to certain social issues, as she was outspoken against issues such as slavery, and it is thanks to her spirit of protest that my mom and sister are able to hold jobs, vote, and be afforded the same legal protections as my brother, father, and I. While I am not a woman myself, I care deeply about the struggle of marginalized groups who yearn to have themselves and their place in the world respected. I think that is where I relate to Olympe de Gouges the most; I simply cannot stand when others seek to belittle, or even systematically oppress, individuals or groups who simply want to exist. To me, that shows a failure of humanity. We should be able to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and realize that there are certain things about people’s lives that we can never hope to understand because their experiences are unique to them. If I was de Gouges, and I saw an abundance of new revolutionary ideas springing forth into the spotlight of contemporary society, while also being barred from the conversation just for being born a woman, I’d be furious.
Unfortunately, this IS happening today, and I AM sitting here, seemingly helpless as racism and inequality run rampant in the modern world and the climate collapses in on itself. While I am personally not in a position to leverage influence or power in order to combat these trends, I can do what de Gouges did and write my own declaration stating that things need to change. Despite the fact that the French revolution dealt with much more concrete threats of violence and a looming Reign of Terror, we are more fortunate today. We stand on the shoulders of giants, and the landscape of human rights is much more developed today compared to 200 years ago, and while there is still work to be done, we are much further along in the pursuit of equality. So yes, while violence still exists in the world today, all the work of our ancestors has given us a choice: we can seek change through a concentrated effort of organization and mobilization and avoid a revolution as violent as the French one, if we play our cards right.
Olympe de Gouges gained a disdain for the status quo simply through her life experiences. For example, she had such a bad time being relegated as a second class citizen that after her husband died, she vowed to never marry again, lest she face the fate of being a homemaker with no agency over her own life. After she was widowed, she moved to Paris where she would fully indulge her craving to be heard. Olympe was very outspoken about not just a fundamental shift in how women were perceived in society, but about many other topics including: children’s rights, abolition, class equality and more. Olympe de Gouges herself was a prime example of just wat women were capable of. During her ascension to notoriety, many of her male contemporaries would often remark about how she forgets her place, and that a woman had no business in pondering the questions she had. This, of course, simply empowered her. It’s easy to say that women are equal to men in 2022, but in the late 18th century, these notions, no matter how outlandish they seem now, were very much commonly held beliefs. It was even scientific consensus at the time that women’s brains were physiologically incapable of rational and abstract thought. Yet here we have Olympe de Gouges spitting in the face of these asinine notions, forcing an intolerant society to look her in the eyes and tell her that she, a playwright of 40 plays, could not think rationally. That is what is so inspiring about de Gouges’s story to me. No matter what she was told, or taught, or subjected to, she held firmly to her beliefs and did not waver when the time came. A titan of a woman, de Gouges’s iron resolve will be remembered throughout history for generations to come.
We as humans are at our best when we are expressing our humanity. Art, music, poetry, theater, these are all seemingly simple modes of expression that humans have created and mastered over the eons, and yet they remain some of our most exciting and fulfilling pursuits to this day. Olympe de Gouges understood the impact of evoking an emotional response to get people to care about certain topics, and her brand of emotion was usually outrage. This was because most people at the time didn’t necessarily stop to think about the deeper messages, they were simply aghast that a woman would have the audacity to form these ideas, let alone publish them and use them to agitate the social hierarchy. It is the same today with matters like climate change. As it stands, climate change is poised to disproportionately devastate the global south, which has historically been kept unstable so that development would be slow and industrialized powers could keep using it as a pseudo-colony for cheap labor and material. Yet, when a climate activist group blocks a freeway, most lay people aren’t thinking “wow climate change must be really bad if it drove these people to stand on the highway during traffic hours!” Instead, they care more about how the protest has personally inconvenienced them and what they had planned for the day, actively harming the cause. The way to go about it these days is to stay true to your love for your community and use that expression as a motivator to make a change to the status quo.
Olympe de Gouges most impactful political commentary came in the form of her 40 plays, of which today only 12 survive. An ancient art that dates back to the Greeks themselves, theater is a supreme outlet for exploring social issues. Despite the fact that each production has its own theme and issues it wishes to explore, theater is especially unique because it allows not only the audience to walk away with their own interpretations, but it allows the actors to modulate the performance as they see fit. Her first play, L’Homme Généreux (The Generous Man) was never performed. In the play, women’s place in society was explored and examined by focusing on the main character who was a privileged frenchman with sexual frustrations. A year after her first play, she produced another titled Le Mariage Inattendu de Chérubin (Cherubin’s Unexpected Marriage) which also deals with the sexual inequality between man and woman at the time. In this play, a husband’s rape of his wife and the damage it did to the family. This play uniquely focused on the trauma of the situation, specifically with the rape victim and how the ordeal shattered her. Perhaps her most famous surviving play is titled L’Esclavage de Nègres, ou l’Heureux naufrage (Black Slavery; or the Happy Shipwreck). This play was the first one ever to explore slavery from the perspective of the slave. To me, this is an incredible feat during a time where slavery was contingent upon dehumanizing the enslaved populations. This is a premier example of de Gouges’s ability to intellectually appeal to the emotional aspect of people’s minds and bring about change. Sadly, like most aspects of de Gouges’s activism and writing, foul play was afoot. The play only enjoyed a limited run as it was sabatoged by French companies who relied heavily on the slave trade for labor. This was done by hiring hecklers and protesters to disrupt the play and its production, and the saboteurs won in the end. Once again, despite the groundbreaking and emotional nature of the advocacy, the status quo won out in the end.
Olympe de Gouges was a woman ahead of her time, but in order to reach that time, she had to be in the right place and the right historical period. I wish so badly that a woman of her caliber could have enjoyed the freedoms and protections of women in the modern day, because it is what she truly deserves. Yet we must be appreciative of her involuntary sacrifice, for without her, gender rights and the rights of many more would not be as developed and protected as they are now. The greatest way we can honor her memory is by waking up each day and questioning the current systems in place that arbitrarily decide who will be kept imprisoned within the dregs of society. We must do this through academic evaluations on how we do things, and constantly strive to push society to better itself each day. The worst thing we can do is to sit idly by growing lazy with our comforts such as AC and delivery takeout left at our doors as those who would seek to do us harm take advantage of our inaction. Once we realize our responsibilities as activists and citizens of Earth, we make it impossible for those who would do harm to realize their sinister goals. As de Gouges famously said, “Prejudice falls, morals are purified, and nature regains all her rights.” Only when we look past our own selfish preconceived notions of the world to see the potential of what could be will all peoples of the world unite in solidarity in order to build an existence on Earth that is equitable and equal for all.
Jose Villavicencio is a Senior studying business analytics at Florida International University (FIU). After graduating, he hopes to pursue a masters degree in data science. The potential of data and analytics sticks out to Jose as he believes they can be used together to uncover patterns and solutions to our greatest challenges, namely preserving his home, Miami, against the onslaught of climate disasters. Jose loves to participate in any outdoor activity, whether it be hiking, cycling, or simply relaxing by the water.
Wynwood is an urban sprawl of vibrant colors and sultry sounds that seem to beckon you to stay longer as you wander the graffiti-lined streets. A neighborhood like no other, Wynwood is one of the premier art districts on the planet, and it’s located to the north of Downtown Miami, lying right in between the neighborhoods of Allapattah and Edgewater. Divided into two distinct subdistricts, Wynwood is truly a cultural center for Miami street art.
The first and most famous district is the Wynwood Art District. The centerpiece of this subdistrict is the Wynwood Walls, and most of the art features orbit around this central point. In the past, the art district housed countless galleries and art shows, but rising rents as a result of ongoing gentrification has caused these collections to move to other neighborhoods on the outskirts of Wynwood. The art district is an area of Wynwood that’s just 1.29 square miles (city-data.com) yet there is so much history and culture packed into this seemingly small space. The other district is the fashion district, and it is much smaller than the art district at 0.189 square miles (city-data.com). The boundaries of this mini district are I-95, NE 30th street, NW 23rd street, and NW 2nd avenue. Here you can find a collection of clothing stores and retailers lining the street.
Besides the human-imposed geographic boundaries, there is not much more diversification in the physical landscape of Wynwood. No matter which district you’re in, Wynwood is still organized by a grid of unyielding, rigid roads that dictate development and community engagement of the neighborhood, for better or worse.
January 7th, 1917. This is the date in which Josiah Challie and Hugh Anderson took out the first plat to consolidate a group of land plots into an area they dubbed “Wyndwood” (miami-history.com). Thus began Wynwood’s existence as a working class, manufacturing neighborhood. By 1928, Wynwood had grown as a neighborhood, so much so, that Coca-Cola opened a bottling plant in the same year. The 1920’s also saw Wynwoods development into a garment district, which had grown considerably by the 1960s. Cuban people fleeing their country after the Cuban Revolution made up the majority of the workforce by the sixties. Of course, by this time, Wynwood had adopted the nickname “Little San Juan” due to a large influx of Puerto Rican immigrants. This happened primarily due to America’s newfound fixation on suburban development post World War II. I-95 was built directly through urban Miami to help facilitate this transition, and a majority of the working class people who lived and worked in Wynwood left, leaving a vacancy in one of Miami’s most prominent neighborhoods. Once enough Puerto Rican families moved in, that’s when Wynwood begane to go by Little San Juan.
After this, many public buildings, including a new middle school built in 1999, were named after prominent Puerto Rican figures. Unfortunately, the neighborhood would fall on hard times, seeing a decline in most metrics. At one point in the late 1970s, the unemployment rate was a staggering 55%, and immigrant families who found themselves living in Wynwood after migrating were trying to make enough money to move out ASAP. It wasn’t until 1987 that art made its first appearance as a cultural output of Wynwood, with the Bakehouse opening. This was an artist’s space that existed as a haven to come and create, and it still stands to this day.
From then on, art remained as a constant in Wynwood, but it wasn’t until the mid 2000s that the Wynwood we know today was conceptualized. Tony Goldman began purchasing land with his children in Wynwood in 2006, and by 2009 his open-gallery concept called “the Wynwood Walls” opened (miami-history.com). Unfortunately for the residents who called Wynwood their home, they have been essentially exiled from what was once their community. Rising rent prices and the desire to appear “cleaner and more upscale” devastated the original communities who lived there. The gentrification has taken a toll on Wynwood, despite all the growth it has enabled. Even now, rising rent prices are causing some of the original titans of art in Wynwood to relocate to other neighborhoods, possibly triggering gentrification in those adjacent communities.
Based on data from 2019, Wynwood has a population of 17,165. The median age of those who call Wynwood their home is 37.8 years of age, and the neighborhood is 73.25% Hispanic or Latino, followed by 15.35% Black. The next most populous demographic in Wynwood is white, which accounts for 9.97% of the population. It can be clearly seen that, despite it’s heavy gentrification, Wynwood still houses a majority Hispanics and Latinos, no doubt still mainly Puerto Rican and Cuban. Another interesting statistic regarding Wynwood’s demographics is that the median rent is $1,205/month, yet the median income is $37,470 annually. This would mean that the residents of Wynwood would be spending nearly 40% of their income on housing alone. One cause of this is the high number of people who work in Wynwood, yet cannot afford to live there. This is one of the consequences of gentrification. Many residents who live in Wynwood presumably commute to another part of Miami to make their money, meaning the money and value being created by labor in Wynwood today is typically being invested back into the gentrifiers rather than the laborers who work tirelessly to uphold the party atmosphere Wynwood has today. One such individual who is affected by this is Karissa, a friend of mine. While she does not live in Wynwood due to her situation being similar to the one above, her labor and hard work still contribute to the growth of Wynwood. Here is my interview with her:
Q: Where are you from?
Karissa: I am from a small town in Wisconsin. I grew up in a small town along the Mississippi river.
Q: Do you live in Wynwood?
Karissa: I do not live in Wynwood, I currently live in Palmetto Bay.
Q: What do you like best about Wynwood?
Karissa: I enjoy the energy that Wynwood radiates. There is always a new adventure waiting. Also, I have met some pretty great people in Wynwood.
Q: If you could change one thing about Wynwood, what would you change?
Karissa: I would like to see things remain more local as Wynwood continues to develop.
In a neighborhood teeming with art and culture, it’s hard to truly stand out from the rest. Regardless of that fact, over the years Wynwood has become home to some of the most iconic landmarks in all of Miami.
The first of such landmarks on the list also just happens to be one of the first spots ever open in Wynwood after it’s potential as an art district was realized. The Wynwood Walls is an open-air gallery, where artists from around the world have come to make their contributions. Tony Goldman was the master architect behind the Wynwood Walls, taking advantage of the abundant warehouse space of the neighborhood. Where others saw failing industry and concrete, Goldman saw the next evolution in street art. By 2009, the Wynwood Walls were open for business, and people could come in and see some of the best street art in the world. To this day, the Wynwood Walls remain one of the premier destinations in Wynwood for tourists and locals alike.
Graffiti is the lifeblood of Wynwood. No matter how many galleries or trendy food spots open, Wynwood would not be what it is today without the tapestry of graffiti that envelops every wall, curb, and sidewalk in the neighborhood. Enter: the Museum of Graffiti. This is an establishment that is newer to Wynwood, but it quickly has risen in the ranks to one of the top destinations to visit. The Museum of Graffiti’s mission is to preserve and present the history of graffiti as an art form. Beginning with the 1970’s, this museum takes patrons on a chronological journey through the life and development of graffiti. The extraordinary thing about this museum is that once you are done learning about the history, you step outside and are fully immersed in the art you spent time learning about. Wynwood truly is the cutting edge of street art and graffiti, so there is no better neighborhood for the Museum of Graffiti than Wynwood.
While Wynwood enjoys a prestigious reputation as a high-end art destination, one cannot ignore the allure it has as an entertainment district. The nightlife in Wynwood is one of the most electric in all of Miami, and The Wynwood Marketplace is consistently at the center of the festivities. A massive, open-air space with numerous bars and vendors lining the various spaces, the Marketplace is the spot to be whenever there is an event being held. Towards the back of the marketplace, a wide open venue sits, available for performances and the famous Wynwood block parties. The venue space is modular, so you might find massive contemporary art displays one weekend, and a huge music stage the next. What’s even better than that is the small local vendors you can find selling everything from handmade clothing to jewelry and accessories.
Green space is a sore topic within the boundaries of Wynwood. Since it is an urban neighborhood, older city development trends plague it to this day. While it is one of the more walkable neighborhoods in Miami, the car-dependent blueprint Wynwood was built on is very outdated. This is such a point of contention that the Wynwood Business Improvement District has already outlined a master plan to increase the greenery and public spaces that reside in Wynwood (Wynwoodmiami.com). This is an especially good thing, given Wynwoods recent gentrification that has made it so that only those with cars and money can come and spend the day. You would be hard pressed to find something to do in Wynwood that doesn’t cost money.
The first and only true public green space in Wynwood is known as Roberto Clemente Park, named after a famous Puerto Rican baseball player. The naming of this park is a remnant left over from the days when Wynwood was dubbed “Little San Juan,” and housed a majority population of Puerto Ricans. A baseball field as well as basketball courts and a big, open green space highlight this park’s amenities. In addition to housing the Dorothy Quintana Community Center, Roberto Clemente Park is one of the few places that actually publicly serves the people who live in and around Wynwood, rather than just the people who spend money there.
The next closest thing to a green space in Wynwood is the newly opened space dubbed “The Oasis.” Now, it is worth mentioning that The Oasis’s primary purpose for being built was NOT to be a green space, it’s just a food hall/music venue/bar that just happens to be designed with trees and plants in mind. This speaks to the deficiency of green spaces available in Wynwood. I suspect that this is due to the fact that the spirit of gentrification is still alive and thriving in Wynwood. All land development in Wynwood has, until extremely recently, been focused on maximizing the dollar potential of the land. Countless boutiques, popup shops, and bars have opened in Wynwood throughout the years, all at the expense of public green spaces that would strategically serve as a respite from the commercialism that, for better or worse, pervades nearly every corner of Wynwood.
The third, and least prominent “green space” I discovered is even less of a green space than the Oasis. On NW 23rd street and N Miami Ave lies a small shopping center that houses a few restaurants, the most famous being “The Salty Donut.” At the center of this complex is a small area where visitors can go and sit for a few minutes under some trees, while enjoying natural-themed graffiti lining the walls. The hallways that lead to this space are covered in fake greenery from the walls all the way to the fake flowers hanging from the ceiling. While it evokes a peaceful natural feeling, that’s all it is – a feeling. This is not an actual green space with wide open fields, or trees stretching as far as the eye can see. It’s just a simple band-aid fix for the severe lack of green public spaces in Wynwood.
Unfortunately for us in the modern day, the Miami of the past was designed during an era where suboptimal urban development and planning was bolstered by the country’s desire to make everything rely on automobiles. While there is no direct train to Wynwood, there are still a number of transportation options available to those who do not wish to drive there, despite driving still being the main form of transportation to and from Wynwood.
The Miami Trolley is a “trolley” service that makes periodic trips through the urban center of Miami, and Wynwood happens to be one of the stops on these trips. While it is more functionally similar to a bus, the Miami Trolley performs an essential function, dropping passengers off by the Wynwood Walls. The trolley is one of the simplest ways to travel around Miami. Once you’re already in Wynwood, it is one of the most walkable areas in all of Miami. The lack of traffic lights forces each intersection to operate as a four-way stop, meaning there are seldom any instances where one has to wait for a crosswalk to grant them permission to walk. In Wynwood, the pedestrians take priority, and the cars are forced to wait, as it should be.
Freebee is a rideshare service that operates in Wynwood and allows users to request free rides to get around the various parts of Wynwood, and Miami as a whole. While I have never personally used it, the process described makes it seem extremely simple. All you have to do is open the app and request a ride. Once the Freebee arrives, you simply hop on and it takes you to your destination.
Apart from the two previous main forms of transportation, electric scooters are also increasingly popular in Wynwood, and are available to rent by the minute. Since the neighborhood is so walkable and compact, a rental scooter would be the perfect mode of transportation to effortlessly get from one end of Wynwood to the other.
Despite the main allure of the art, food remains one of the main catalysts for Wynwood’s explosive growth. Trendy new restaurants quickly sprouted up all over, and nowadays Wynwood is one of the most diverse locations for food in all of Miami. Countless coffee shops, bars, and kitchens line the streets. From fine dining, to dives and corner stores, Wynwood has it all.
Zak the Baker is a fairly new addition to the culinary lineup of Wynwood, but it is without a doubt one of the best tasting, and best known. Established in 2012, Zak the Baker is a kosher bakery located on NW 26th street. Zak’s specialty is his bread, as his loaves have become somewhat legendary throughout Miami. You can even find his bread at Whole Foods, or being incorporated into restaurant recipes across the city. Of course, nothing beats the heavenly aroma of a nice, warm, freshly baked loaf of bread that you can buy if you go to his bakery directly.
Gramps is another famous spot in Wynwood. Not only can you get authentic New York Style pizza from Gramps, it also doubles as a music venue and bar. During the day one might stroll in for a slice and be greeted by a quaint little market having set up shop in their outdoor area. Other nights, one would walk in and hear music blasting and people dancing the night away. Established in 2012, just like Zak, Gramps has quickly become a staple of Wynwood, both for food and for fun.
The Salty Donut is the youngest restaurant on the list, opening in 2015. Still, their pastry prowess cannot be understated. They’ve done so well with their sweet treats that FIU itself even has a donut cart on campus every Tuesday so that students can get a delightful dose of their diligently designed donuts. If baked goods aren’t your speed, The Salty Donut also offers a variety of craft coffee brews, such as my favorite, the cinnamon toast crunch coffee.
The backbone of every community and it’s growth, businesses are an extremely vital part of the everyday life of Wynwood. The wonderful thing about it is that, despite the rampant gentrification, nearly every business in Wynwood is a small business. Seldom would you ever find a chain store or restaurant. While the balance of wealth distribution is nowhere near what it should be regarding the urban neighborhoods of Miami, the fact that income spent in Wynwood stays in Wynwood, helps a little. Still, these businesses are going to have to do more to ensure these funds do not exist to solely benefit the gentrifiers and those who moved in to reap the benefits of said gentrification.
The Selfie Museum is the first business that operates within its own sort of grey area in terms of themes. Originally, Wynwoods gentrification from an industrial neighborhood to an art one was done with one purpose in mind: to find a space for the art. Even the Wynwood Walls, the premier attraction, was free until recently. The Selfie Museum represents a detachment from this philosophy, and yet it also represents a natural progression. Instead of coming to a museum to bask in the history of street art and graffiti, patrons of this museum enter and are greeted by numerous sets with which to take cool selfies with. Rather than going to Wynwood to appreciate art, now people are going to Wynwood to simply say they are going. They will go, take a few pictures to post them, and then leave the neighborhood while ultimately failing to immerse themselves in the true spirit of street art. As Wynwood continues to carve out its own niche in the history of Miami, the influencer culture will continue to, well, influence how visitors visit and interact with the neighborhood.
The Wynwood Shop is a boutique is a small shop, residing next to the Selfie Museum on NW 25th street. Wynwood is lined with various small boutiques selling trendy clothes and jeweled accessories, but what drew me to this store was the fact that they carry spray paint, and all related accessories right as you walk in. It wasn’t something I had ever considered, but it makes perfect sense that the various stores that line the street would provide the street artists with their supplies, whenever they may need them.
Veza Sur is a new type of business that has been taking Miami by storm in the last decade or so. I speak, of course, of the brewery. Not really specialized in food (though they do sell it there) or cocktails of any sort, the brewery brings beer to the front and center. Veza specifically is a Cuban themed brewery, and their beers are brewed accordingly. When you walk in you are greeted by a massive wall of Cuban memorabilia from throughout the years. With so many beers you can’t possibly try them all in one day, Veza offers a nice relaxing atmosphere where one can go and enjoy the nightlife of Wynwood while lounging in comfort.
Wynwood has come a long way from it’s days as a group of agricultural plots of land in the northern region of Miami in the early 1900s. It has seen countless shake-ups to its stability, sometimes brought on by intrusive government developments such as I-95, and other times brought up in the forms of riots by its disgruntled and cast aside populations in the 80s and 90s. If we are to truly and holistically develop neighborhoods like Wynwood and the surrounding areas, efforts must be made in order to mitigate the horrors of gentrification.
Yes, now Wynwood enjoys unrivaled cultural and economic influence in the context of Miami as a city, but if it remains inaccessible to the Miamians who live and around there, it may as well have been for nought. In the meantime, Wynwood still serves as a living, breathing museum to the processes of gentrification and where it can lead, both good and bad. What we can do now is, moving forward, formulate strategies that allow for the cultural and economic development of neighborhoods without forsaking the living, breathing human beings who already live there.
Jose Villavicencio is a Senior working to complete a B.A. in Business Analytics at Florida International University. Jose enjoys the outdoors, and has a special place in his heart for the diverse ecology of South Florida. He one day hopes to use his knowledge in data and analytics to help respond to the climate crisis that threatens not just his home, Miami, but the rest of the world as well.
The Deering Estate is one of the most premier nature spots in all of Miami. With access to extremely diverse ecosystems, the Deering Estate provides a unique area where anyone who wants to can go and enjoy more than six unique biomes native to South Florida. The Hardwood Hammock, Salt Marsh, Pine Rocklands, and Mangrove Forests are just some of these biomes, along with the SeaGrass Beds and Slough Creek, the 450 acres of the Estate have it all. Despite the beauty and diversity, Deering Estate is still considered Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL). This is why volunteering to clean up the iconic Chicken Key, which lies a mile off-shore, was so important to me. Chicken Key’s preservation represents an appreciation of the living organisms that call South Florida their home, just as I do.
I volunteered for the Chicken Key cleanup as a part of Miami in Miami, a class offered through the FIU Honors College. This specific volunteer session does not line up with my major, but it heavily relates to my passions. Despite the fact that this volunteer opportunity was essentially served to me on a silver platter, I threw my whole being into it. During the last two years, many aspects of Miami life have been disrupted. For the longest time, it was difficult for me to leave the house while still feeling safe and comfortable in public spaces thanks to covid-19. To combat this feeling of isolation and depression, I began to explore the many green spaces around Miami, eventually finding myself making regular trips to Key Biscaynes Bill Baggs State Park so that I could explore the ecosystems that thrived there. The connection I forged with South Florida wildlife over the past two years, without a doubt, allowed me to truly appreciate this opportunity for what it was, as well as allowed my love for South Florida ecology to blossom even further.
The enrichment this experience brought to me cannot be understated. Through and through, it was an amazing day and I will always be grateful to the Deering Estate for allowing us to access Chicken Key. The canoe ride that totaled just about one mile each way was an excellent opportunity to talk to my fellow classmates and hear what they hoped to accomplish on the island. It also helped us hone our camaraderie and teamwork skills, as we had to work together if we didn’t want to get stuck paddling in circles. Once on the island, we were debriefed and set to work, but not before taking a little dip into Biscayne Bay.
While it wasn’t required for the scope of our volunteer work, I brought my own mask to be able to swim beneath the waves and look at what Chicken Key really had to offer. Pristine sand bars and forests of seagrass had schools of fish curiously swimming between them, and as you swam closer to the shore, you got to see the shaded comfort of the mangroves that offered a plethora of sea life protection from predators. As for the cleanup itself, I tried to pick up as many small bits of plastic waste as I could. These tiny bottle caps or scraps of plastics are what cause the most damage, as endangered animals of all sizes can fall victim to eating them and choking.
Where and What
To start the day, we each organized ourselves into teams of three to make the mile journey. It took some messing around with it, but we were finally able to establish a system for paddling and communicating which way we wanted to go after a few minutes. Once everyone got the hang of it, we embarked on our way to Chicken Key. Upon our arrival, Professor Bailly gave us a few minutes to swim in the water and enjoy ourselves. I took this opportunity to explore the ecosystems beneath the surface of the bay, and what I saw was inspiring. While it may seem like a footnote to a day full of honest work, I believe that these few minutes of exploration allowed me to feel more connected and appreciative of the Island that we were about to clean up.
Once play time was over, it was time to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and boy did we work. Since the cleanup has become somewhat of a regular occurrence at Deering Estate, I tasked myself with focusing on the smallest pieces of plastic I could find. There were larger pieces of debris that we quickly identified, such as a buoy that had grown a nice layer of barnacles on it, and a huge lodged piece of a deck, or perhaps a piece of a boat that had floated off. Regardless of where it came from, we made sure to get it off of the Island. Not only did our efforts pay off in keeping the island clean, we also grew closer as classmates and as friends as we scoured the island for debris and trash. At the end of the day, we managed to amass a heap of over 20 trash-filled sandbags, including larger items and rope we managed to cut loose from the mangroves.
Since this was many of our first times taking part in an excursion like this one, there was definitely a somewhat steep learning curve. Canoeing was simple enough for me because I had been kayaking before, but I had never been in a multi-person kayak or canoe, so figuring out how to steer ourselves in the right direction was a bit of a challenge. There was also the issue of collecting the trash itself. While it may seem like a simple task, landing on an uninhabited island while being told what a pristine ecosystem it can be if it is cared for is a lot to chew on. It wasn’t until a bit into the project that I felt truly comfortable on the island and I was able to get into the tight spaces within the mangroves, or step into the murky water without being nervous.
As for what worked, there were possibly hundreds of extremely small pieces of plastic littered throughout the island. By really focusing on the ground beneath my feet, I was able to identify a myriad of these trash pieces just buried in the sand. Once I got the hang of it, I almost didn’t need to try to identify the trash, as I was able to make them out, even if they were partially buried. This was a truly enriching experience, not only for myself and my fellow classmates, but hopefully for the ecosystems and animals that rely on Chicken Key to thrive. This clean-up experience has helped elevate my love and appreciation for the naturalist pockets that can be found around Miami if you just look in the right places.
My name is Jose Villavicencio, and I am a senior studying business analytics at FIU. I love to ride my bike around my community, whether it be to push myself past my limits to break my own pace record or to casually cruise down the street and let the sun soak through my skin. If you happen to see me on my bike, experiencing the outdoors with a sweat on my brow, I am probably having the time of my life!
Downtown as Text
Who Are We?
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU in Downtown Miami on 08 September, 2021
Ten minutes east, down 88th street from where I sit right now typing this, is the hospital where my two siblings and I were born. Miami is the city, the home, that we have known our entire lives. Despite the fact that it is all I have ever known, all I have ever had, I cannot help but think about all those who came before me, who were born here thousands of years before the hospital was even a twinkle in the land developer’s eye. Downtown Miami may seem like a sprawling mass of glass, concrete, and steel with little to be said about the city’s green space or its pedestrian infrastructure that leave much to be desired, but there is more to it than meets the eye. My own cynical outlook on urban development and an over-reliance on cars was quickly challenged as we scoured the corners of Downtown for these pockets of life that were undeniable proof that the echos of the past persist to be perceived by us, the descendants of this land.
12,000 years ago, before the Spaniards, English, or French began to even ponder colonizing the Earth, South Florida was home to culture, to religion, to industry; South Florida was a cradle to humanity. Walking alongside the ancient artery that is the Miami River proved as much to me. Just as thousands of people each day drive a collective millions of miles on the turnpike to travel to different parts of modern Miami, the Miami River served the same purpose to humans just like me all those thousands of years ago. If you aren’t actively looking for it, it is very easy to pass by the essence of humanity that pervades throughout the city as you get swept up in the break-neck pace of the tropical Miami nightlife. The reminders are there, however. No matter how you feel politically, you cannot deny the sheer holistic human value that comes from watching the U.S. and Cuban flags fly side by side atop the freedom tower. The inspiration that the anointed “Ellis Island of the South” is just another chapter in the history of displacement in South Florida. Despite what the reality of the situation is, that tower represents a new life for Cubans fleeing political strife just 90 miles to our south.
Symbols like the freedom tower, or the holy Tequesta site of the Miami circle remind us of the human strife that South Florida was unfortunately home too, but there are other more sinister symbols that may not appear that way at first. The Royal Palm hotel was opened by Henry Flagler, one of the most (in)famous figures in Miami’s history. Yes, Flagler brought the railroad which led to Miami’s incorporation as a city, but he also brought with him the atrocities of the imperial world. The arrival of Flagler signified that Miami was no longer a land for indigenous peoples to subsist off of. If Miami was going to “make it” as a modern city, it had to adopt some “modern” ideals. I speak, of course, of segregation. To this day, segregation shows itself as a scar across the map of demographics in Miami. The comfortable coastal lands were developed for hotels, businesses, and white people living in the city, while all black people who were living in the area before were now relocated and only allowed to live where Overtown is today. These unfortunate histories are what we must keep in mind every time we ride the metro rail, or enjoy a nice day at the beach. None of it would have been possible without the rich tapestry of human history that is Miami, a tapestry that is still being woven to this day.
Overtown as Text
“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes Us Stronger.”
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU in Overtown, Miami on 22 September, 2021
Love, loss, and even more love is a consistent theme you will find when you put your feet to the ground and connect with the community of Overtown. Marred by decades of racism and segregation, Overtown is one of the most unique places not just in Miami, or even Florida, but on all of planet Earth. The sheer spirit needed to endure these decades of desecration was something that shone through with each spoken word of the wonderful women who took the time out of their days to pass on these histories to us. What stood out to me the most is also referenced in the photo above, where you can see the chalky, grey asphalt of US Interstate Highway 95, the infamous highway that killed the city in it’s proverbial crib. The Mount Zion Baptist Church is ground zero for this cultural reckoning, as the building of the new highway in it’s vicinity seemed almost like a targeted attack. Entire communities that once stood where the sprawling concrete now dominates were forced to, in some instances, simply abandon their homes and their entire lives. No help was offered, no sympathy extended, they simply told them that they were to begin construction in 30 days, and that they had to find somewhere else to go. As you can imagine, this devastated a community that already had to fight so hard just to get permission to exist in a segregated city. The church that was once home to a congregation of 2,000 now sits at about 100 members. The communal services and facilities offered by the church before I-95 existed no longer had a consistent population of neighbors to utilize them. There was even a parsonage that would undoubtedly be a historically registered building for the city of Miami, had it not been destroyed to make way for I-95. Truly this highway acted as a constrictor upon the trachea that breathed life into this community.
Still, the story of Overtown is one of resilience, like a singular flower that defies all odds and manages to grow out of a crack in the concrete, Overtown survived. It was much harder to do so with the core community seemingly scattered to the winds. To this day, Overtown remains a largely Black city, and the effects of racism imposed upon the city are still felt to this day. Even now, high rise apartment buildings and land developments seek to squeeze every last dollar out of the community while forcing those who were born there, out. History doesn’t repeat itself in a mirrored fashion, but it often does rhyme. That is why I believe that no matter what comes their way, the city of Overtown has got what it takes to endure just about anything, because they’ve already had to go through almost everything.
Vizcaya as Text
J’ai Dit What Now?
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Vizcaya, 20 October, 2021
During the conception and birth of Miami, there was but one underlying theme that pervaded throughout the very soul of a city on the rise – Decadence. Industrious cities loomed to the north, while vast fields of agriculture kept America fed to the west, but what of that little swamp all the way down south, near the southernmost point in the country? What would that place be used for? James Deering knew exactly what it should be used for. For better or worse, this eccentric elite in the estuaries of the Everglades envisioned an everlasting estate that would excellently encapsulate the essence of Miami.
James Deering was a man of conviction, and what he said, he got. Each room of the opulent mansion has a different theme with a different purpose, mirroring different time periods and styles of art and architecture as you snake through the halls. Oftentimes James Deering would even hire master artisans directly trained in these disciplines, other times he just simply bought an already historic piece that lent itself to the particular period of the room. An in-home phone booth and a built-in vacuum cleaner are just some of the technologies that James Deering had installed just because he could, and for no other reason. In a way, this attitude is a reflection of the American zeitgeist. Overindulgence and consumption of the arts and pleasures on an almost hedonistic level are what fueled Vizcaya and Miami at the time, despite the untold human loss and suffering that took place in order to fuel their whimsical desires.
Like all sources of shining light, however, Vizcaya casts a deep and dark shadow on the psyche of Miami. Racism, inequality, and rigid class structure was business as usual during the construction and occupation of Vizcaya. You cannot help but feel a small pit in your stomach as you meander through the halls, wondering how something so ornate and beautiful can have such a dark and twisted past. Yes, James Deering had his eccentricities and flaws like any human does, but that does not excuse the part he played in perpetuating these horrible systems that we as a humanity are still recoiling from to this day. This is not an uncommon thread throughout the development of the United States, and Miami especially. This is an unfortunate truth that we must all confront. Vizcaya may be an architectural marvel in the salty swamps of South Florida, but it’s history cannot, must not be ignored.
South Beach as Text
History Does Not Repeat, But Oft Does It Rhyme.
By Jose Villavicencio of FIU at South Beach. 3 November, 2021
The ebb and flow of our planet Earth is a complex and delicate dance between forces so prevalent and ancient, we humans are only just now beginning to understand their awesome power. The ecosystems of Miami Beach are one such example of this, as the Miamians of yesteryear, namely Carl Fisher, “employed” Black Bahamian labor in order to masacre the meticulous mangrove marshes that held the barrier island of sand and stone together. A common theme throughout the development of Miami, Fisher had no foresight to stop and ponder the purpose of these plants. He simply saw an unsightly mass of wood and leaves in the way of his grand vision to turn Miami Beach into a tropical paradisiacal playground for the wealthy elites of the United States. A few years later, a Major Hurricane would barrel through the Miami metro area, leaving destruction in its wake. The mangroves on Miami Beach served the purpose of shielding the mainland somewhat from a weather event like this, but there were no more mangroves to speak of thanks to Fisher.
The alteration of entire essential ecosystems at the whim of an individual, rich, white man is having cascading effects to this day. During high enough tides, the ocean itself rises up from beneath Miami Beach. This is because there is no limestone layer beneath the soil like on the mainland. As a barrier island, the sand and stone that we walk on today was once only packed and held together by the tendril roots of the mighty mangrove. Removing these plants posed a very ill-advised mistake for the inhabitants of Miami Beach at the time. Still, while history does not repeat itself, it often does rhyme. Denizens of the city face a similar dilemma today – develop Miami Beach further, thus bolstering its already high tourism draw? Or work to maintain and even nourish the factors that help the island become resilient to the elements, as it once was before it was sullied by man? As the existential threat of climate change looms overhead, Miami Beach as a city is poised to be ground zero in the United States. Other coastal cities do not have the disadvantage of being built upon what is essentially non-solid ground. Already this year, the Surfside condo collapse that tragically claimed 98 souls serves as a harrowing harbinger of what is to come if the spirit of preservation is not pervading all the way up and down Ocean Drive.
Curiously enough, Art Deco may have been the catalyst that transformed the identity of Miami Beach from one of consumption to one of conservation. Today, Miami Beach is home to the largest Art Deco neighborhood in the world, but it wouldn’t be here for us to appreciate had it not been for Barbara Capitman, who valiantly fought to preserve the Art Deco architecture as cultural heritage. Who knows how overdeveloped and even further unprepared Miami Beach would be if towering condos replaced the comparatively quaint Art Deco neighborhoods that draw so many to the sandy beaches and glitzy lights? One thing is for certain, the disruption of the barrier island’s protective attributes were done haphazardly in the past, and we must be extremely diligent moving forward if we are to not only salvage, but bolster and increase Miami Beach’s climate resilience in the future.
Deering as Text
They Were Here First.
By Jose Villavicencio of FIU at The Deering Estate. 17, November, 2021
Miami is a city of sun, sensations, and seduction. It didn’t always used to be this way, though. 10,000 years ago, before Flagler, Deering, and Capitman, the Tequesta inhabited this land. They lived and breathed the air and soil around them, using shells as shucking tools, or perhaps as a means to scale the fish they caught. The ancient Tequesta of Miami are even believed to have used conch shells as primitive drills. Not much is known about the Tequesta in today’s day and age, but the Deering Estate is one of the best troves of knowledge we have regarding their way of life as it was 10,000 years ago. For example, a pristine Tequesta Midden exists onsite at the Deering Estate. The midden served as a trash site for the Tequesta, leaving discarded shell tools for us to discover thousands of years later. It is difficult to feel ancestrally connected to a group of people who no longer exist, but grasping the shell tools in your hand and seeing how perfectly they fit, it’s hard not to feel sorrow for the ancient humans who lived here. What would they think if they saw Miami as it stands today? With its suburban sprawl and massive highways systems. One can only help but wonder if they would feel a tinge of sorrow in their hearts for the concrete construct that now stands where pristine Earth once inhabited.
A hike through the over 400 acres of the Deering Estate is all one needs to put these thoughts to rest. With eight different ecosystems intersecting, the Deering Estate natural preserve is the closest thing we have to the habitat of Miami all those thousands of years ago. While the grounds are maintained, they are not planned or manicured by any stretch of the imagination. The transition from damp, shaded hardwood hammock to a dry and clear pine rockland that can be found at the Deering Estate is how such an ecosystem border would occur in nature. While the flora and fauna of ancient Miami are topics of supreme interest when visiting the Deering Estate, what lies beneath the foliage is even more encapsulating. At one point in the hike, there is a bridge that leads to a little wooded area covered with trees. In the center a mighty, 450-year old oak tree stands triumphantly upon the top of a small mound. Beneath the soil and the roots of this ancient tree are the undisturbed remains of the Tequesta who once lived there. The fact that Charles Deering wanted to leave the burial mound as it stood was a great relief to hear, as something of that caliber deserves to stay, as a reminder of those who lived in harmony with the land before us.
On the other end of the spectrum, Deering Estate is also home to some of the finest archeological work that has been carried out in Miami, and much of what we know about the Tequesta and their relation to the land comes from this site. Deep in the woods of the Tropical Hardwood Hammock, behind curtains of poison wood and poison ivy, there is a simple hole carved into the rock underneath your feet. What seems unsightly and mundane on the surface becomes much more important when one realizes where they are standing – the oldest fossil site in South Florida. Ancient megafauna from the Pleistocene have been unearthed at this spot. Dire wolves who once grew up to six feet tall, as well as sabre-tooth tigers and even an American lion were all discovered here. Even more incredible, however, is that our ancestors were discovered there. While the Tequesta as a people no longer exist, they live vicariously through all Miamians in the present day. It is our duty to uphold and respect their contributions and existence as the first Floridians. We may never be able to trace our family trees back directly to the Tequesta, but they are our geographical ancestors. The same sense of awe one feels when watching the sun rise over the mirrored surface of Biscayne Bay was felt by Tequesta individuals 10,000 years ago. Life is exponentially more complex compared to back then, but in other ways it’s a lot simpler. The only constant that has remained for 10,000 years is that no matter who you are, you are sustained by the land you live on. One must take the time to be grateful for what the land provides, and respect it as if it were our own bodies.
Untitled Art as Text
For The People? Bye, “The People!”
By Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Untitled Art, 1 December 2021
Oftentimes when people express their displeasure regarding art, they are very critical of modern art and tend to give classical art a pass on criticisms. In the eyes of many people, contemporary art is invalid because it is perceived as being less technically sound compared to the masterpieces that have survived throughout the ages. In reality, this disparity between classical and contemporary art is a matter of perspective. Contemporary art is perceived to be pretentious and classist due to the preformative art stunts that gain traction nowadays. Think back to the taped banana that sold for over $100,000 at Art Basel a few years back, or to Banksy’s canvas that shredded itself. These highly lucrative performative art sets seem absolutely absurd when you have canvases surviving hundreds of years, painted by great historical figures still around for enjoyment today. The simple fact of the matter is that, while contemporary art incorporates more diversity when it comes to issues of racism, homophobia, income inequality, and gender disparities in our societies, the medium in which it’s translated is just as inaccessible as ever. The culture surrounding buying and selling modern art is highly restrictive, and it’s no surprise to think that many casual consumers of art are put off by this perceived standoffish behavior.
Visiting the satellite fair titled, ironically, Untitled really puts these issues into perspective. All under one roof you have artists and curators from around the world proudly displaying works dealing with sensitive, real human issues. Yet upon closer inspection, you see a $50,000 price tag attached to these issues. It felt almost like a dream, to be experiencing something that is so synonymous with Miami as an entity, and yet feel so out of place. Even the water was priced exorbitantly at $4 a bottle! Overall, contemporary art as a genre and the communities surrounding it are two very different things, yet they are so intertwined that its not hard to see how some people may confuse one with the other. Art itself is just human expression, so modern art is simply modern human expression. There is nothing wrong with this, but there is something wrong when an entire trade is born and sustained by profiting heavily from human expression, and the real world issues that inspire them.
Everglades as Text
Life finds a way
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at the Everglades, January 12, 2022
The Everglades is an ancient beast, a sleeping dragon that has been shackled and starved by human aggressors once the native populations who once lived there in harmony were expelled. Aggressive and non-sustainable farming practices polluted the soil and water with excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. What was once a natural phenomenon, a cascading “river of grass” that expanded from central Florida all the way to the southern tip of the peninsula, now acted as an express delivery system to distribute these excess nutrients throughout the waterways and lakes of central and south Florida. What followed suit was significant damage done to the delicate ecosystems that covered the great expanse of the Everglades. Nowadays, humans recognize the critical role they play in preserving the sacred balance of biodiversity within the environment and are working tirelessly to restore the Everglades to its natural state. That was what I learned in just the first 10 minutes of our excursion out into the Everglades, the discussion being led by Ranger Patty. That information set the tone for the rest of the day. We weren’t just slogging out in the Everglades, we were slogging through the cardiovascular system of an entire ecosystem and way of life for millions of individual organisms, plant and animal alike.
Once we actually set out for our slog, it felt as though we had been transported to an alien planet. No longer were we surrounded by the paved parking lots and manicured lawns of suburbia. We were making our way through untamed wilderness. The most significant feeling throughout all of this was a sense of awe, and a sense of insignificance. Who was I, but another living organism, no different from the alligators or snakes we saw. When we were out there under the towering magnificence of the cypress dome, we all had the same objective in mind: survival. Though the threat is more significant to the animals who spend entire lives — from birth to death — in the Everglades, there is no denying the deep, subconscious instincts that make themselves known when immersed in the lawlessness of nature. While I could not put my feelings into words at the time, I felt a great sense of sadness, almost like mourning, when we all took a minute of silence to take in the sounds of the Everglades. “Is this what we lost?” I thought to myself, dreading the return to a society where everything is controlled, developed, and divided into boxes and categories, all for the sole purpose of making it more palatable and digestible. In that short, simple sixty seconds of silence, I yearned so badly for the chaos, the disorganization, the simple driving factor that allows life to spread to every single miniscule corner of the Everglades. For better or for worse, the slog ended, and we all returned back to the predictability and comfort of our modern lives, taking with us forever the magnitude and importance of the Everglades.
Coral Gables as Text
History is told by those who won.
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Coral Gables, January 26th 2022.
Coral Gables brings the allure of a tropical Miami to life, coming straight from the mind of George Merrick and out onto the very pavement that is walked today. Still, it takes a village to raise a child, even more so for the brain-child of an ambitious salesman. Coral Gables was not built in a day, nor was it built by George Merrick. While his name adorns the high-end outdoor mall in “Merrick Park,” and his likeness, a not-so-subtle imitation of the statue David just outside city hall, Coral Gables was built on the backs of Black Bahamian workers who were available cheaply, and in great supply due to the brutish levels of segregation present in Miami at the time. The inhumane treatment of Black people in Miami was a shameful and deep scar on the history of the Magic City, however what occurs today may be just as harmful to both the legacy of the Black Bahamians, as well the future of the Black population of Miami today.
I speak, of course, of historical revision. In the heart of Coral Gables lies a small building made of oolite stone, more commonly referred to as limestone. Along the outside of the building are the carved heads of police officers and firefighters to commemorate the building’s previous life as a fire/police station. Nowadays, this building serves as the home for the Coral Gables Historical Museum. Remember what I said about revision? This museum is one of the main perpetrators of this injustice today. While the exhibits are not one-hundred percent devoid of references to the Black Bahamians that lived in South Florida before the days of Flagler and Merrick, they do a massive disservice to their legacies by referring to them as “Guides” who happily cooperated with Merrick and his developers, lending their services and knowledge of the land out of the good of their hearts. It totally ignores how the workers, in their days, were treated as capital. Regarded as mere tools to be pointed in a direction and put to work, the Coral Gables Museum spends more time recanting every intricate detail of the Merrick family, lauding George Merrick as a singular white saviour who ventured into Coral Gables and tamed the murky swamps of South Florida, transforming it into a Mediterranean Revival neighborhood. All of this whie grossly misrepresenting the true role played by Black Bahamians and Americans, as well as the context under which they participated.
It is imperative that the lives sacrificed not fall to the annals of history, and that we constantly question who is telling what histories, not under the guise of suspicion or malice, but because it is our duty as citizens of the Earth to pursue the truth, no matter how unsavory or unsettling it may be. We owe them that much.
Deering as Text 2
It starts with you.
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at the Deering Estate, January 28th 2022.
Throughout the history of humankind, there have been constant battles that go on endlessly. Battles that are more conceptual and ideological than they are fierce or bloody. In the case of human rights, however, those battles have been both. All too often we fall into the trap of thinking that human rights abuses of the past were all solved in a neat, three-act structure with a figure of historical significance acting as the de facto “protagonist” of these “stories.” Ask anyone on the streets who they think ended slavery in the United States and many will answer with the name of the US’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. What they will fail to consider are the tens of thousands of Union Soldiers who lost their lives, or of the Black Americans who risked their lives and dared to dream of freedom in a country so hostile to their very existence. What falls onto our shoulders is the responsibility to view these historical narratives for all their components, rather than reducing them to palatable, bite-sized snippets that we can easily consume.
Thats why, when analyzing the role of Charles Deering and the Deering Estate in Miami’s history, we must look through a multi-faceted lens. Charles Deering thought the Richmond Cottage, a small wooden hotel on Old Cutler road, would be the perfect location to build himself a summer home. As with nearly all of Miami’s early history, the construction of the Deering Estate’s stone house was done by Black Bahamians. Black Bahamians were so heavily present during the development and construction of Miami due to their ancestral knowledge of working with the terrain of the then wild landscape. Much like the Tequesta, Bahamians knew what would work and what wouldn’t, as well as how to build effectively. Five Bahamians were even killed while dredging the main channel of the Estate, yet at the time all that was mentioned of them was a simple passage in the newspapers. In 2022, the Deering Estate now serves as a living library, an archive of biomes and habitats that remain untouched by human development, and this is thanks to Charles Deering.
Even though he fell victim to the horrible racial undertones of early Miami, he was still an avid preservationist, and he helped keep a piece of ancient Miami alive. Unlike his counterpart, Flagler, Charles Deering sought to preserve what is now only one of two undisturbed Tequesta burial mounds, as he recognized the cultural and historical significance of such a finding. So while he subscribed to both the racist practices of segregation and unfair labor of the time, Charles Deering also respected the rights of the buried Tequesta at his estate. These are the multi-dimensional things we have to consider when judging people and actions from centuries past. While it is important to recognize injustice and do what is possible to correct it, I do not believe that we should ignore efforts made in the name of preservation or culture. Once we start dividing history into good vs. evil, we become vulnerable, and it becomes all too easy for bad actors to manipulate these senses of right and wrong for their own nefarious purposes.
River of Grass as Text
“Echoes of the Past”
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Everglades National Park, February 16th, 2022
October 1962 is a month that, to many of my peers and colleagues, means very little, at least on the surface. In my opinion, this is a great thing if you consider what the alternative meant. If the month of October 1962 would have gone down in infamy, a bloody scar on the history of humanity, it would have been so based on the fact that a standoff of nuclear proportions had culminated in what would have surely been a mutually assured destruction for all of mankind. Now all that stands as a reminder of the irradiated dragon that had its hellfire airmed squarely 90 miles north is a lone army site housing a Nike defensive missile in Everglades National Park. The Cuban Missile Crisis was a dark month in history where human kind came its closest to the existential threat of extinction. As is human nature, unfortunately, we incessantly thirst to outdo the ghastly achievements of our generations past.
Today, we face a threat that is arguably worse than the blinding white shock of a nuclear blast, and this cataclysm is called climate change. The Everglades serves as a beating heart for the ecosystems of south Florida, and its acres of flowing filtration are the lifeblood with which south Floridians have subsisted off of dating back to the age of the ancient Tequesta ten thousand years ago. After decades of haphazard and disastrous development and mismanagement, the urban developers of south Florida are scrambling to undo the untold damages that the rapid suburbanization of Miami’s neighborhoods dealt to the delicate wetlands that sustain us all. Should we fail to restore and protect the sacred stability of the wetlands that span the countless miles of the Everglades, we would be dooming ourselves to a degradation of life not anticipated since the fateful month of October 1962, when nuclear apocalypse threatened us all.
Vizcaya as Text 2
There are strength in numbers.
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Vizcaya, February 18th, 2022
Many cities around the world nurture a certain outward appearance about themselves. This translates into many aspects of life within these cities, such as Paris, the city of love, being one of the most visited cities for its famous cuisine, culture, and atmosphere. Cities like Paris, however, have had a few hundred years head start, so what about a more modern city? What about Miami? After James Deering and his family fell into a huge fortune selling farming machinery, James Deering decided it would be he who set the tone in Miami. He would build Vizcaya.
Unfortunately, as blinding as the golden opulence of the bayside mansion is, Vizcaya trapped Miami into one set identity. A rich person’s playground. Built by the blood and sweat of Black Bahamian laborers, Vizcaya looms over the bay, as if to telegraph “You’re in our city now.” Vizcaya symbolizes a problem that has persisted throughout nearly the entirety of human history, including the construction of the legendary Versaille palace and gardens by Louis the XIV, and that problem is the perceived expendability of the lower class at the whim of the ruling class. Back then, Black Bahamians would do painstaking work in the conditions of pre-Miami. Mosquitos pestered them, and the heat was blistering and humid. While Vizcaya was built on the backs of these people, few reminders can be found surrounding the halls and gardens of their contributions. Like most eccentric rich people, James Deering believed that it was he who willed Vizcaya into existence. In reality, he only paid for it.
A similar echo of labor relations can be heard in our more modern Miami as well. During the height of Covid-19 uncertainty, countless offices, banks, and firms elected to work remotely in order to shield their employees from the health hazards of a viral pandemic. Unfortunately, when their pockets started bleeding and the issue became extremely politicized, suddenly these employers couldn’t care less. Terms like “Hero” and “essential worker” were thrown around endlessly, yet their actual compensation for their labor never reflected a reality befitting of being a “hero.” They were forsaken and, in some cases, sacrificed to keep the GDP steady, to stop the devaluation of companies, yet these powerful institutions never paid it forward. They continue to abuse and extract wealth from the working class, and it is so many decades later.
Wynwood as Text
All that glitters is not gold
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Wynwood, February 23rd 2022
Art is a language with which all the people of the world communicate. From the sprawling classical pieces that depict the heavens to the contemporary exploration of human sexuality, art connects us all. Some of the biggest draws to the most famous cities in the world are their extensive collections of art available for the public’s viewing. These collections take decades of curation in order to be large enough, however. So how does an infant city like Miami make a name for itself on the international stage of art? The answer lies in contemporary art, and the sprawling graffiti of Wynwood. What was once an industrial district littered with textile factories, is now one of the most photographed neighborhoods in the world, as well as home to some contemporary art galleries where Miamians and tourists alike can come together to view the cutting edge of human expression.
Contemporary art, however, is an especially delicate subject of conversation. Now more than ever, art is accessible to a greater population of humans. Anyone can create a piece that shines a light on the injustices that plague them and their communities, but the stage of contemporary art is more heavily weighted towards those individuals who are more entrenched in the scene. Even Wynwood, a neighborhood heralded for its involvement in contemporary and street art, suffers from gentrification. For every piece that draws attention to the plights of the world’s oppressed communities, there is a family who is forced to move, or a local business that needs to close. Contemporary art is very important, and acts as a boon to any city that decides to host it. We cannot, however, use that as a justification for gentrification and displacement within our impoverished communities.
Key Biscayne as Text
A natural opulence
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park on March 16th, 2022
Off the coast of mainland Florida, nestled in between a chain of barrier islands that were once held together by the tendrils of the mighty mangroves, lies a cradle of life unlike any other in the world. Biscayne Bay is home to countless species of sea life, both plant and animal, and the aquifer beneath sustains the clean drinking water for our great city of Miami. At the mouth of this bay sits Key Biscayne, one of the premier barrier islands that was once untamed, pristine nature. Nowadays, it looks a lot different, but it still serves as a spot for Miamians to go and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery that the bay has to offer. Bill Baggs state park is one of the best examples of this, as it is consistently in the top ten most beautiful beaches in the United States. Some of the natural features boasted by Key Biscayne and its namesake bay are freshwater springs. There are spots in the bay where you can drop a bucket into the ocean and pull out drinkable water!
Just like the Everglades to the south, Biscayne Bay and Bill Baggs are natural areas that depend heavily on a delicate balance of life. The cycles that maintain these environments are extremely sensitive, and while life is resilient, the ecosystems at stake can only take so much urban development and expansion. Even the very island itself has fallen out of its natural homeostasis. The sand’s structure, which was once effortlessly maintained by an expansive mangrove jungle, now has to be annually replenished by shipments of sand that is imported. Bill Baggs faces similar challenges, as invasive species such as iguanas and mother of millions find comfortable places in the food chain of the area, as they have the ability to outcompete native species.
Our lecture took us to one of the hiking trails in the park, where we helped remove countless stalks and flowers of these exotic species, and it puts into perspective the true ability they have to disrupt and spread. Still, helping to remove these plants filled me with a sense of inspiration, as if we were fulfilling our human purpose of shepherding life and helping it thrive. Our roles as protectors and propagators of nature should be kept in mind as we sit at a crossroads of ecological crisis.
Downtown as Text 2
Much to learn about everything
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU in Downtown Miami on March 11, 2022
Cities are an unending tapestry of human civilization, teeming with culture, history, and a sense of hope for the future. They represent some of the best qualities that humans possess, as they are a physical embodiment of the cooperation and determination it takes to erect a living, breathing concrete work of art. No more can this be seen than in the downtown area of Miami. Dubbed “the Magic City,” Miami is a special place not just within the United States, but throughout the world. Being able to walk through the streets of the city and learn about the different monumental moments that each led to the city in its current state is nothing short of awe inspiring. Of course, there are some things, like Henry Flagler’s desecration of a massive Tequesta burial mound, that leave a sour taste in one’s mouth, but it is important to to realize that cities like Miami, while a modern marvel by today’s standards, were built on the backs of oppressed and marginalized groups.
In the same vein, it is important to not only focus on the negative aspects of Miami’s history, we must also give credit where credit is due. The Freedom tower is a perfect example of this. During the mass exodus from Cuba following the revolution, this tower on Biscayne Boulevard was nicknamed “the Ellis Island of the south” as thousands Cuban refugees were received and processed by the US government there. Many of my classmates and peers can trace their family’s arrival to Miami and the United States to the Freedom Tower.
To me, this represents the duality and nuance one must have when approaching topics such as history. In Miami’s case, you once had the indigenous Tequesta fleeing South Florida and going to Cuba in order to escape cruelty and oppression at the hands of the British. It is incredible to think that some two-hundred years later, Cubans would be fleeing to South Florida from Cuba, not knowing if they had a Tequesta ancestor who was sailing those same seas in search of their humanity.
South Beach as Text II
Beyond what you see
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at South Beach, April 1st 2022
Close your eyes and picture, if you will, a million of something. Anything. It could be a million dollars, a million people, or a million feathers. It’s not so easy, is it? That’s because it is generally believed that the human mind cannot conceptualize numbers at that scale. Eventually, our frame of reference breaks down when the numbers get too big, and our brains just guess. Now try that same exercise, but instead of a big number try to envision the exact spot you’re in right now, but hundreds of years in the past. If you were in Miami Beach, you would be standing right in the middle of a dense, lush tropical mangrove forest. Serving as a barrier island against hurricanes in the past, Miami Beach now plays the role of a tropical paradise where citizens and tourists alike go to enjoy white sandy beaches, or get a taste of the famous Miami nightlife.
Since South Beach has undergone this radical transformation, development has been the name of the game. In a desperate attempt to shield South Beach’s beautiful art deco neighborhoods from being razed and built over, Barbra Capitman led the charge that would eventually culminate in Art Deco’s preservation. Nowadays, the struggle continues as Miami Modern high rises are slowly yet surely being erected to the north and south of Ocean drive. There is a balance we must achieve that can one day hold historical preservation of our past and further development for the future in a homeostasis, ensuring that neither dominates the other, if we want to help shepherd our great city of Miami towards its full potential.
Coconut Grove as Text
Planting seeds whose trees you never see fruit.
by Jose Villavicencio of FIU at Coconut Grove, March 30th 2022.
The mighty mangrove jungles of South Florida create a safe, calm environment where all sorts of creatures spend their infant years as they learn how to tackle the dangers of the open ocean. A small cradle of life where they can learn free from the pressures of the wilderness, not unlike Miami’s own Coconut Grove. In the late nineteenth century, Coconut Grove was the only hint of civilization in what would become the city of Miami a few decades later. Comparable then to a sleepy little town in the Florida Keys, Coconut Grove was small, and most of the people that lived there came from the Bahamas. This, of course, should come as no surprise. Spend even one day in Coconut Grove, and it becomes apparent that it exists at a junction from which the whole of Miami is accessible from.
Still, the foundation of our city is now a far cry from what it used to be: a Black, desegregated Caribbean community. Perhaps nowhere is more gentrified than Coconut Grove, where even the historically preserved Conch houses that dot the neighborhoods face the modern threats of development. Once again, the MiMo architecture style looms over the quaint neighborhoods that were once home to the laborers who built this city with their bare hands, dishonoring their memories and essentially erasing them from history. We must ensure that this does not happen.