Mae Camacho : Miami as Text 2022

Mae Camacho is a Biological sciences student at FIU, focused on both biology and graphic design. She plans on mixing the two and pursuing her passion for art in illustration by finding her niche within the graphic design business after graduation. She also loves to write, both creatively and technically; the process is another means of expressing herself that she hopes to also tie into her future career. On her free time, she participates in the GLADES club at FIU, attending events such as clean-ups and hikes, and cultivates an interest in conservation sciences. Hikes, traveling, and world-building art take up most of her attention.

Deering Estate as Text

“The Land We Live On”

By Mae Camacho of FIU at the Deering Estate, 28, January 2022

Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

Miami seems to have an awful reputation with its construction projects. Several focal points in the city with histories of delays, poor working conditions, employee deaths, resident deaths, and general safety violations or inconveniencing of the public. Just last year, a residential building made city-goers tense with anticipation when it collapsed one night without warning. No one knew if their building had the same safety violations, no one knew if their homes would be subject to the same tragedy. The Deering Estate is no stranger to this curse. Standing on the bank of the boat basin, it was chilling to learn that 4 of the Afro-Bahamians that worked to dredge a canal for Charles Deering died while working with unpredictable dynamite just a couple yards from where we were standing and hearing the story.

It wasn’t a time where labor union for these Bahamians to rally under could form. There was no mass outrage or call for better working conditions.

When one stands in the middle of downtown Miami, they see tall, mind-blowing skyscrapers, insane architecture, and colorful, Miami-branding lights. Few have the mind to look past it all and wonder about the land’s past. When one visits the Deering estate, they learn all about the main cottage’s past as an inn, they visit the old prohibition-style cellar, or they walk the estate’s beautiful gardens. The estate has so much ground with a type of limestone terrain that one would never imagine the neighborhoods of Biscayne Bay to be built on. But the Afro-Bahamian workers made it happen. I wonder if enough people walk past the breath-taking sights of the estate acknowledging that those Bahamians made it possible (without a professor-guide to inform them). We learned that although the property lacked a lighthouse, Charles Deering installed light posts on the East side of his Stone House that acted as light sources for incoming boats. I wonder if he looked out the East side, past his French doors and over the lit canal of his boat basin, and acknowledged all the sacrifice his land was built on.

Even before the time of the estate’s construction, before the Bahamians worked the land, the native Tequesta people called it home. We know little of their people’s culture, as they essentially lived and disappeared without a trace. Or more so, without being preserved. As proof of their existence, small shell pieces liter the ground in a midden on the property, perfectly shaped to fit in someone’s hand and be used as tools. These were most likely the tools the Tequesta used to drill or carry out construction projects, under their own command and working conditions.

A burial mound also exists on the property, one of two sites still preserved. Two of the 12-18 skulls had apparently been taken, and I can’t help but wish that whoever has them now knows of the type of treasure they possess; besides the disrespect of the actual desecration, to hold the remains of Miami’s original ancestors over their own land is considered, to an appreciative few, a huge spiritual experience. The Tequesta breathed and lived and started some of the first civilizations that Miami would be built atop. When walking past skyscrapers and pretty beachside homes, one should know enough of these native people to acknowledge their role in and importance to Miami history, not just of commanding men like Ponce de Leon and Charles Deering. Men at the helm who can take credit and be named for treasures like the Deering estate, but who I don’t primarily think about while walking the grounds. The hardwood hammocks and mangrove forests that make up the beautiful terrain of Biscayne Bay will always first belong to the Tequesta.

Viscaya as Text

“Art of Balance”

Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

Symmetry is critical to a ship’s functioning. Maybe not to the modern yacht, but definitely to the sailing ships present during Viscaya’s 1916 opening. The same ships used to transport alcohol during the prohibition era to James Deering’s vacation home relied on a symmetrical hull to be able to carry a heavier cargo. This is opposed to an asymmetrical hull, which would require less power to move less of a load. This symmetry, as practical and reliable as it was, also served the winter estate in its aesthetics. It carries from the stone barge out front to the mansion’s East entrance, where a sailing ship hangs from the ceiling framed and surrounded by the most symmetrical shape in existence: a circle, patterned onto the marble floor by diamonds and arches.

In this walk from outside to inside, you’re greeted by arms created by one path curving from the boat landing and the tea house, and then beckoned closer inside by the uniformity of Deering’s design. I felt a sense of unwavering balance taking this walk, letting the symmetry of the home’s architecture take the wheel on my mental state, shifting a recovery from Miami traffic and at-home chaos to complete peace of mind. It pays to be surrounded by art that can influence emotions and inspire peace in the same way the ocean’s gently lulling waves can stabilize a ship and put its sailors to sleep. James Deering definitely knew what he was doing.

The ship, seemingly the house’s mascot, can be seen in most parts of the house, including the breakfast room on the second floor. The wall here is painted with a panoramic view of the ocean, where detailed sailing ships sit in the waters next to the most ornate fireplace I’d ever seen: a clear focal point of the room. The house is filled with several rooms like this, where one statement piece takes up most of the attention and lures the visitor further into the show of overkill extravagance. And while symmetry can be found in the smallest painted details, the whole home manifests a strong equilibrium as the courtyard sets the surrounding rooms into a perfect square, as the deep gardens set the home at the base of an inverted pyramid, and as a visitor of the home looks out and over to the garden mound, settled into their own perfect space in the house. This may be the most desired and alluring effect for a vacation home, and Deering close to perfected it. The symmetry of the home makes the whole property one of the strongest statement pieces for Miami’s art scene in Coconut Grove. It pulls everything together and pulls its visitors further into the depths of its hull, where one can walk in with a heavy load and a thousand worries and yet still find a resonating peace within its symmetry.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Knuckles on the Metro”

Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

My day in downtown Miami started with my brass knuckles out on the metro. I wanted to make sure I followed the advice of several people that warned me about taking the train alone as a young woman, but my trip there was pretty uneventful. Mornings on the metro seemed pretty monotonous, just men and women trying to get to work without mishap. But city life hadn’t really started at that time.

More of that expected city chaos came to life right in government center, as men and women rushed to get to work on time with their heads down, again avoiding some type of mishap. We learned about the sculpture in the middle of a plaza, a bowl of oranges built to look like the bowl had just smashed onto the ground. It symbolizes the chaos of Miami’s urban life and growth. At this point, I should’ve gotten the hint.

Downtown Miami is like when landlords try to paint over hatches that shouldn’t be opened, or like when they spray lysol over toxic mold. I’ve personally never tried to solve a problem by implementing a solution that would cause more problems, but this is how the city of Miami seems to be dealing with their homeless population. Hostile architecture like unnecessary divisions on benches and ledges, spikes where it would be convenient to sit, and even a key pad on a McDonald’s bathroom door, only make the city seem like one heavily guarded entity. These features exist to drive unhoused men and women away from areas where they could rest and just exist, diverting the problem where there is yet to be a logical solution. These features can’t scarecrow an entire population away, there have to be spaces or help and opportunities that the city can’t seem to come up with. Or more so, that they don’t seem willing to fund. This is just one physical element that makes downtown so hostile. The area is also un-walkable, made so partly by several unfinished construction projects that sometimes divert foot traffic directly onto the roads. There is danger everywhere, even to manatees in the bay, where boaters have to look for a small sign on a pillar facing the opposite direction letting them know to drive slow. Many boaters steer drunk. Our manatee populations are doomed.

Even metaphysically, downtown screams hostility. Above the courthouse steps stands a statue of Henry Flagler, who essentially started the city’s segregation streak by refusing to house his colored workers. This is because he knew his target audience (white landholders) wouldn’t want to neighbor them. On the outside of the courthouse, a plaque details the story of the ambush and death of Major Francis Dade by the Seminoles, who were holding and defending their ground as the U.S. government compromised their treaty and invaded Seminole territory. The plaque calls this group “Indians and Negros”. It still stands, incredibly biased in its description, and undisturbed in 2022. Decorated by a symbol of injustice and a symbol of clear bias, this courthouse could not appear more hostile to any minority promised a fair trial inside.

The city of Miami should know that aesthetics can’t cover for innate hostility. I made my way to the metro station with my head down, because I was told not to answer anyone that might talk to me as I walked alone. On the ride back, I watched a homeless man, clearly mentally ill, harass and threaten a woman for 15 minutes. All avoided the mishap, too tired from their days at work. I didn’t do anything about him, knowing the city wouldn’t do anything for him, knowing the woman was probably used to it, and thinking I should just hold my brass knuckles tighter.

South Beach as Text

“Famous Visitors and Famously Visited”

Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

There isn’t much to say about South Beach that couldn’t be expressed better by showing you. And realistically, that’s what the area is for. Celebrities come, paparazzi follow, influencers can be seen almost everywhere, staging their own photoshoots. South Beach seems to be less for locals now and more for all to come and enjoy while goggling at the characteristically original Art Deco architecture.

The area, socially discovered and shoved into the spotlight by Versace himself, is known for its famous visitors and unique sky-line. The Art Deco on Ocean Drive is original in the way some buildings mimic what you see across the street. Porthole impressions work their way onto the buildings, mimicking the cruise ships that ride the horizon almost every day at Miami Beach. The colors, such as on the Colony hotel, either mimic ocean blues or compliment them in a variety of pastels and bold, loud geometric outlines. This Art Deco phenomenon sweeps most of Ocean Drive, where the buildings are kept to within 3 stories, effectively keeping visitors’ eyes down and out of the ruthless sun.

South Beach is also famously characterized and given attention to for its acceptance and contagious free spirit. Before it was socially acceptable, women had more skin exposed here than in most of the country. The Palace, a club well known for its drag queen shows and lines out the door, was opened in 1988, a time when drag queen shows were still being kept niche by strong social expectations and discrimination. Miami Beach is seemingly always one step ahead of the rest of the country, which is partially what began its reputation as a celebrity trap. It’s been able to stay so progressive number one, because of the isolation and lack of connection Miami had to the rest of the country while it was developing, and secondly, because as the OG socialite attracted crowds, Versace attracted those that already fit into his lifestyle.

South Beach stands as, and will always represent, a place of exceptionality and unwavering individuality. As it continues to stand (in its own short and colorful stature), I hope that the area never comes to be tame or any less bold than I have seen it be.

Mae Camacho

Force me to escape my comfort zone by funding this trip! I’ll use any funds to fuel new foods and experiences! THANKS!


Mae Camacho: Grand Tour 2022

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0


I wasn’t sure what I’d be bringing back with me from the Grand Tour Redux. I knew I’d be in for pretty spectacular sights and a soft culture shock, but I didn’t think I’d be reflecting so much on the lives of people that existed centuries ago. In the few weeks I spent collecting my thoughts, I made connections not just to my physical home, but to the ancestral and ancient homes I owe much of my present life to. Through this project, I hope to highlight the parts of each city that inspired me to look at my own surroundings through a historical lens.

Roma – Trastevere

The Evolution of Civic Freedoms
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

Ancient Romans were the precedent for most “pagan” behaviors labeled by the Catholic Church. They set the historical example we needed to consider sex and violence a part of human nature, and not as abhorrent and immoral. Romans came up with ageless technology before others could reinvent it, or sports like ball games and races. As timeless people, Romans took loose threads of ideas and used logic to last as long as they did on soft morals. Besides a strong army, the only other moral they pushed was an unwavering loyalty to the empire.

They were openly practicing homosexuality (albeit, outside of love), and practically expected for powerful men to divulge on young male servants. Even in the military, men who had gone long without their wives would engage with each other and it would hardly be seen as strange or “sinful” behavior. Their sports were equally as shocking and pagan. Chariot races were popular but dangerous, and it was allowed for one racer to whip another in passing as they tried to distract each other. Their most infamous sport, gladiator fights, would be reminiscent of modern American football if they weren’t so fatal. Although the colosseum in Rome is known for hosting these fights, it is not the only arena in the empire, just the biggest. Inside, a massive floor covers where fighters were pit against live, often hungry, animals. Trained men were put to fight to the death, and sometimes even female gladiators would participate. Sometimes, surrendered opponents would be brought in front of the referee and subject to pollice verso, in which a thumbs up would signify death and a thumbs down meant his life was worth sparing. These are just a few examples of the civic freedoms Romans allowed themselves.

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

Today, modern Italians live with a fraction of that freedom but still exist as if Sims characters were put to free roam. The area we stayed in was next to Porta Maggiore, a major gate of the city walls. The roundabout built around has no distinct lanes and faded crosswalks, and drivers often make their own lanes if someone is driving just a kilometer too slow. Police and ambulances pass by several times a day and will often be nearby potential crashes, and yet everyone seems to mind their own business on the road. I could assume that both ancient and modern Romans would consider American traffic laws micromanagement. Even though the United States took inspiration from Ancient Rome and wrote the Bill of Rights while considering their philosophy, modern Americans experience a fraction of the civic freedoms that Italians do.

As we explored the neighborhood of Trastevere at night, we often encountered major streets were controlled by pedestrian traffic in a way I’ve never seen in Miami. People flocked in the hundreds to drink and party, but the only cop car nearby sat blocks away from the main action. Usually, any sort of gathered crowd in America is accompanied by several cops attending, watching, and controlling. Why do police force interfere with assemblies if protesting is explicitly listed in the Bill of Rights as a civil liberty? Why is there this disparity between modern Rome and America if the founding fathers openly based our constitution on Roman ideals? Are Americans just less expected to be able to maintain themselves? In Port Portese, a flea market opens once a week and spans hundreds of stalls from where local vendors sell both vintage and new. The street is not officially shut down by the city, but not one resident or taxi dared to drive through- only the departing stalls rode through in vans that barely fit the road. Keep in mind, it is illegal to buy goods off of a street seller with no license. But no one asks, and no one interferes. Once the street clears out, only massive amounts of litter are left behind (it’s also still illegal to litter in Italy). From this alone, I don’t believe Americans are innately untrustworthy, we may just be more closely monitored for a different reason. America is a newer country- we’ve based our civil liberties off of the Romans, but we did so while fitting them into a protestant narrative. In my opinion, Americans are so tight on civic freedoms compared to the Romans because of fresh religious involvement.

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

Cinque Terre – Monterosso al Mare

Sustainable Farming
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

My time in Cinque Terre was short, but far from underwhelming. The views alone are enough to understand why tourists flock here in the millions every year. The beaches are hot all day long, and all five cities are full of shops where local craftsmen and women sell their talents. But the best part of the culture there is the food and local pride that accompanies every serving. A large part of exploring Monterosso al Mare was being fed by the local people up at the sanctuary. Every night, some variation of seafood or pasta was made available to 20 of us by 1 cook, a young woman who used local pesto, pastas, and meat. Everything good is grown right there, and many vendors are quick to let everyone know. In a fruit store near the base of the mountain, the clerk proudly exclaimed how her lemons and melons were grown nearby, and encouraged us to try new fruits. I was confused by the set up of the city, because the only spaces I saw where food could be grown were in small gardens and on terraced land. I realize now that my confusion was from constantly seeing images of how food is grown and sold in a capitalist economy. Most of everything American is mass produced, and food is commercialized into grocery stores. Cinque Terre’s type of organic farming is far from the American truth.

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

While taking the main trial through the mountains, I observed locals farming at every altitude. What allows a bulk of the food to be cultivated is the monorail, a staple track with a bin which carries food down from the very top. This sort of vertical farming is difficult to satisfy mass production with, but the locals wouldn’t allow foreign commercialization for any amount of help. Most stores, restaurants, and farms in Cinque Terre are kept running as small businesses, and it would take severe convincing for something like a franchise location to be built. In preventing the commercialization of the cities, Cinque Terre preserves more than just its local pride. They are actively protecting their authenticity, as well as the land and the sea. Sustainable farming is rare, and even rarer in touristy areas, but it reflects what should be a global project to reduce land erosion and worker exploitation.

Venice – Dorsoduro

The Context of Migration
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

The second semester of my first honor’s course was a “reaction to the past” of India’s journey into independence and partition. My class failed to change the sequence of events that created the chasm between India’s Islamic and Hindu populations, letting personal gain win over unification once again like a sad spin cycle. At the time, I had little foresight into the consequences of our decisions, and I assumed the biggest failure we could’ve possibly had was to keep British rule over India. I never thought I would learn those real world consequences during the Venice Biennale Arte, an annual celebration of contemporary art. The 2022 central theme revolved around this phrase “the milk of dreams”, taken from an illustrated book in which Leonora Carrington draws humans in metamorphic stages and other figures in-between stages of change. Although there are infinite meanings to take from a transformative theme, there were many peripheral exhibitions that told me artists wanted to specifically share how they’ve adapted to situations out of their control. We are constantly reacting to situations like loss and grief and influence. For Vikrant Kano, he is constantly reacting to the 1947 partition of India that has been affecting his family for generations since before he was born. I faced the consequences of my decisions in Dorsoduro, where Kano’s exhibit explains that the partition sparked a violent mass migration that uprooted people from their ancestral lands. In his own words, Kano’s family faced “an almost perpetual and physical state of being in transit”. After finally settling in Myanmar, a military coup sent the country into chaos. It was just last year that Kano’s father died after hard interrogation and imprisonment by the junta. Kano’s exhibition follows a perilous visit back into his childhood home in Myanmar, where only traces of his father could be photographed before they fled. I wish I had taken the time to look up the consequences of India’s partition before hastily roleplaying a convention member and letting people convince each other that partition was inevitable. The class’s fake outcome would mean more without our resignation- it would mean history had actually taught us a valuable lesson. Instead, it shows our biggest failure was overlooking migrated families like Kano’s, those in a perpetual and physical state of reality. [378]

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

Migration isn’t just the exciting and revolutionary transfer of ideas and spices, it can be the revolutionary and tragic movement of a people who left their homes without a future to be certain about. Venice became a hub for trade during the Middle Ages by controlling all influx of goods between Asia and Europe, but also by allowing refugees from neighboring states to escape war. In being a sanctuary city, Venice saw many cultures come and go and imprint on Venetian culture to form what we still know today as an iconic international web. Venice shows the effects of open borders and its acceptance of foreigners very obviously. Its mixed, eastern-influenced architecture screams cultural acceptance. Islamic onion and Trefoil arches stand tall on major buildings to remind the passing public of those cultures that migrated to the port city and refused to burn out. But in little corners of the city for a couple months a year, smaller artists like Kano try to tell stories of unaccepting and intolerant places that are unlike Venice. It’s ironic that migration is like fuel to a culture’s growth, but wherever there is forced mass migration, the traditions we thought we’d never escape simmer out in small and suppressed fires.

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

This particular subject hits close to home for me. As a descendant of Cubans that were descendants of Korean and Chinese parents, I feel that diminishing trickle of culture every day. In being forced to flee a communist China, my great-grandparents chose to leave behind everyone but themselves. I’ll never know beyond them on my mother’s side, nor will I know the traditions that brought them life before Cuba. In an ironic twist of fate, Cuba also fell to communists right before my grandma’s birth. By this migration, my parents had a choice- they weren’t exactly forced to flee by anything but their hope for a different life. I am forever grateful they chose to leave. Miami is my Venice. It accepted my parents’ culture with open arms and a striking view of Freedom tower at reception. It stands in contrast to what refugees would have seen of Saint Mark’s campanile on their way into Venice. It’s not built on pillars of pine atop a lagoon, but Miami is my port city connection between two different sides of my roots.

Florence – San Marco

Power Structures and The Medici Family
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

While Venice held naval control and a monopoly over trade between Asia and Europe in the Medieval ages, The Medici family had earlier created their own power vacuum in Florence. The Medici started their reign of Florence by banking, a business that bloomed just enough for Giovanni de Medici to begin a legacy of favors. Most of how they operated and stayed in power relied on people owing money and favors, creating illegitimate loyalty from those like politicians. And while their power created tensions among other wealthy families, their rule is unlike comparable dictators. The medici could be accredited with beginning the renaissance and bringing artists like Michelangelo back into the spotlight by funding major commissions. Their palace, like a fortress among residential homes, stands in the San Marco neighborhood and houses art from Michelozzo, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Donatello. Few houses could be compared to it. I still feel the looming presence of the Medici centuries after their descent- mafia-like powers have not stopped existing since.

Their rule, like the rule of many American politicians, was heavily based on money and loans with interest. In fact, their status as both a noble family and a ruling power reminds me of the American Kennedy family. There was nationwide mourning after JFK’s assassination in the same way there was violent insurrection after the Pazzi conspiracy, in which Lorenzo de Medici survived an attempted stabbing while his brother Giuliano was murdered. While there weren’t any public lynchings for Kennedy, the family was shown the same level of loyalty and respect. Both families are assumed to have been pulling strings behind the scenes with their connections and wealth, although their secret to staying in power isn’t limited to fake popes. The classic, Godfathers idea of a mafia may be presumed outdated, but the same concept of a rich yet silent ruling body exists today. Some of which even date back to the Medici times and who have played major roles in global events.

Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

Reflections – The Preservation of Culture

Ideas from ancient Romans renewed and recycled themselves into much of the art, technology, and science we get to see today. These ideas circulated quite differently to how Venetian ideas did. While Rome thrived from the inside out, Venice took its greatness from the foreigners that visited the city from the outside to exchange cultures. And in the same manner Venice maintained a chokehold on trade between the East and West, the Medici family in Florence controlled most of everything occurring within the city, including commerce. They began the renaissance in Florence, which is still majorly influential to contemporary art, while Cinque Terre remains a reflection of life without corruption. Cinque Terre is, by far, my favorite Italian city. It is content with being smaller while still fighting outside influences.

Mae Camacho: Italia America 2022

The Extents and Comparisons of Feminine Expression Between Italy and America

“The spirit of Caesar in the soul of a woman”

Artemisia Gentileschi
Gentileschi, Artemisia. Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting. 1638
Expectations Under Catholicism: Italian Context

Religion has played one of the strongest roles in the suppression of women since the beginning of its history, introducing omnipotent gods and sacred texts that are often invested in women’s smallest movements and behaviors. In most organized religions, it seems that there is always something to say about the way she acts around a man, or even the way she wears her hair. And because of the way religion is integrated into daily life, in the way human nature has made social structures so deeply reliant on the rules of religion, some societies of women have accepted their roles to the fullest extent, in a way that passes down for generations. I would be inclined to say that Italian women, exposed and tied to the Roman Catholic church’s influence since 590 CE, have long since accepted a more regulated type of individual expression.

Remington, Sister Grace. The Virgin Mary Consoles Eve. 2003.

The University of South California Dornsife’s Veronica Franco Project team describes the average Italian renaissance woman to be expected to fit into 6 major traits: “Chastity, Silence, Modesty, Reticence, Sobriety, and Obedience” due to the counter-reformation movement at the time [1]. These traits come from the very limited Catholic view of women during the medieval period. This is because then, the only two female examples that the church had to form an opinion on a woman’s behavior were of Eve and the Virgin Mary [2]. One could either be seductive, malicious, and a liar, or a symbol of complete purity and devotion. Naturally, primarily catholic societies came to expect perfectly virtuous women from her example, and any behaviors outside of the expectation were worth being outlawed. Under a patriarchal/papal rule and common Roman law (the patria potestas), women were not allowed to hold office, as they were not permitted formal education or jobs, instead expected to maintain a domestic role raising children and preserving the matriarchal image of the Virgin Mary [3]. The maintenance of a virtuous reputation was stricter for women of higher classes, who were punished harshly for situations in which their family name was dishonored [4]. With this sort of restrictive life, many upper-class women or nuns turned to picking up crafts, writing, or painting outside of a formal career. However, from expectations of the domestic sphere, it came to be that Italian women were not allowed to receive an arts education and were especially discouraged from displaying their art publicly [4]- cruel in the midst of the Italian renaissance. Those opportunities were usually reserved for the few women that had the resources, such as daughters of artists. 

Expectations Under Protestantism: The American Perspective

After the protestant reformation, protestants made up a group of Christians that seceded from the Roman catholic church and spread throughout much of New England and the new world towards the west. After a history of differences in doctrine, this movement of Puritans to the new world is what kept the religiously based patriarchal ideas of a home life alive in colonial America. A seed cemented by social expectations turned into long-standing politics based on the notion that women are subservient to men, and so laws in the colonies were also heavily influenced by old Roman ideas brought abroad. 

            In New England, it was just as strong of an expectation that the female presence be restricted to matriarchal roles either in the household or in piety. Most similar to Roman laws, chastity was promoted, and sexual misconduct was heavily punished, with Puritan women being reprimanded for “absence from church and sexual offenses” more than men [5]. In a similar fashion, marriage and divorce were heavily restrictive for women. Roman ideals restricted divorce and marriage laws in fear of women with financial independence and more social responsibility, which is transformed in Puritan laws just as the Christian belief that paints divorce as a shameful and religious offense [5]. In both cases, the husband is assumed all the authority in a marriage, keeping wives mostly unable to divorce. This transformation did not change the laws. Roman common law dictated that a husband holds custody of his children after divorce or even when birthed out of wedlock, a tradition through puritan government that kept inheritances out of women’s hands and the patriarchy in power [5]. Divorce and custody laws are just a few examples of how Roman beliefs of female subordinance shaped colonial life for American women.

However, aside from legal matters, America was a less established and religiously uniform country, so women could get away with more “nefarious” behavior and were able to express themselves a little more freely. Art was never a booming industry or trade in early colonial America; therefore, women were never strictly shunned from creating or displaying publicly. In fact, the first American/colonial flag was commissioned for female seamstress Betsy Ross and displayed throughout the 18th century [6]. This can be explained as the country was so freshly founded on the principles of democracy, the validations of slavery and selective suffrage were fresh wounds and evidently ironic. The colonies were just out of tyranny and heavy taxation without representation, sworn to never return to subserviency and therefore any active restrictions put on the rights of minority groups could be justifiably and logically argued against. In fact, delegate George Mason of the constitutional convention who owned a large estate of slaves spoke out, denouncing the institution as corrupt and slave owners as “petty tyrants” [7]. It was in the era after the American Revolution that colonial women began to use this logic to echo their voices throughout the political world.

Female Expression in Renaissance-era Italy: A focus on the arts

Art seemed to be the primary outlet for suppressed women during the Italian renaissance, or at least it was what they could be most recalled for. Even then, female renaissance artists are mostly either lost to time or widely unrecognized. The few who have been credited for their works painted topics they were permitted to, barred from nudity and most masculine scenes. But female artists like Artemisia Gentileschi stuck to scenes they were used to- of tortured women and femmes fortes. Artemisia is famous partially for her trial against Agostino Tassi, her rapist [8]. In this trial, the woman was tortured as a tradition in court to force the truth out of accusers, risking her hands as an artist to let her truth be known [8]. Even so, as a friend of the pope, Tassi never saw justice and Gentileschi had her reputation tainted. She went on in spite of it all to paint scenes like that of Susanna and the Elders, which depicts sexual violence against an innocent Susanna, who was blackmailed for refusing to have sex with several men [9]. One of her most accredited paintings is that of Judith Slaying Holofernes. This scene is from another famous story, in which Judith volunteers to slay the general Holofernes, who is destroying her home city, and is aided by her servant in beheading the tyrant [10]. Artemisia is now a symbol of female strength for the American #metoo movement. There are similar female artists who rose out of prestigious families and had immense talent, such as Elisabetta Sirani, who painted the scene of Timoclea of Thebes, a woman who is shown throwing her rapist, a military captain, into a well [11]. Not pictured is Timoclea stoning the man to death. Sirani would mentor other female artists and be commissioned by locals, effectively keeping her art in circulation and safe from being discredited [12]. 

Sirani, Elisabetta. Timoclea of Thebes. 1659.

Almost all female artists of the Italian renaissance painted depictions of religious figures and scenes, but many religious art pieces were made specifically by nuns. Women religiously devout enough to become nuns, such as Caterina Vigri, were able to get a humanistic education and express themselves as dowried nuns, or professe [4]. These nuns were more accepted as artists because they mainly created art that was considered a symbol of their devotion, therefore sometimes being commissioned to make a church’s pieces. Caterina Vigri is also known as Saint Catherine of Bologna, with relics of miniature paintings and books depicting baby Jesus and other saints [13]. Saint Catherine justified her role as an artist by explaining her paintings were “to increase devotion in herself and others” [13]. 

Gentileschi, Artemisia. Susanna and the Elders. 1610.
Female Expression in early United States – A focus on politics

Being born out of a flee from tyranny planted the philosophy needed to keep Roman common laws out of the U.S.’s constitution- by dividing church and state for one of the few times in history. This movement made it impossible to argue for certain discriminatory laws being written into the constitution, such as actively banning women from office or legally keeping custody in the hands of a father. A basic foundation was made for the values of liberty through the bill of rights, securing a railing by which future minorities could argue with, and by which several female activists did argue through. Other rights were kept within the powers of state government. While this made way for selective discrimination on a local level, being able to fight a law on a smaller scale made it easier for activists to eventually bring it up to the supreme court. 

             While devoutly religious Italian women during the renaissance were able to be artistically expressive by becoming nuns, devoutly religious American women were able to be politically expressive with the extra freedoms they had. Women rallied behind their Christian morals to bring about political change when they were tired of the domestic abuse brought about by excessive drinking in the nineteenth century [14]. Women like Susan B. Anthony saw the devastating effects of alcohol (which was being consumed at a level three times as much as today) and started the temperance movement [14]. Using religious logic was one of the first ways women were able to politically express themselves in the U.S. and directly bring the ratification of the 18th amendment. The 18th amendment was a relief to suppressed women in an era when maintaining the household was made difficult by drunk husbands. The prohibition movement curved what could have been a nasty future for American wives.

Guntherz, Carl. Susan Brownell Anthony. 1895

            Both the U.S. and Italy made women’s suffrage available in local elections before making it nationally legal. Although the U.S. is a much younger country than Italy, the first female mayor in the states was Susanna Salter, who held office in 1887 [15]. This is in stark contrast to when Italian women were first allowed to hold office in 1963 and when Rome’s first female mayor was in 2016 [17][18]. The first female to hold government office in the United States was Jeannette Pickering Rankin, who was elected to the house of representatives in 1917 [16]. Representative Rankin fought and saw a seat in congress open up for her before women in Italy could even imagine her position. In overlapping the American and Italian timelines for women’s suffrage, there are clear differences that can be majorly explained by the histories and roles of religion in either country.

Her Longstanding Legacy

Because of their respective eras, Italian renaissance women and early American women shared two very different realities. Italian women, long used to the suppression by the church, remained quiet during one of the most well-known art flourishes and were forcefully kept out of politics. American women were figuratively born out of a revolution and therefore exposed to liberation logics that kept them politically involved. From both eras came unshakable shows of strength, and from both arose femmes fortes. The women that strove to express themselves under the thumb of one of the world’s oldest religious institutions, kept evolving what was socially acceptable for a woman over the centuries. As a woman I can’t explain the homage I owe to those that stood before me and made it possible to vote, to hold office, and to express myself freely. 


  1. Rosenthal, Margaret. “Veronica Franco .” Veronica Franco, University of South California, 
  2. Tumanov, Vladimir. “Mary versus Eve: Paternal Uncertainty and the Christian View of Women.” An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature, 2011, 
  3. Oldham, Eagle Mary Kavanaugh, and Mary A Greene. “LEGAL CONDITION OF WOMAN IN 1492-1892.” The Congress of Women: Held in the Woman’s Building, World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, U.S.A., 1893: With Portraits, Biographies and Addresses, International Pub. Co., Chicago, IL, 1895, p. 41. 
  4. Iacob, Anisia. “The Role of Women during the Italian Renaissance.” TheCollector, 20 Nov. 2021, 
  5. Kamp, John B. “Patriarchy and Gender Law in Ancient Rome and Colonial America.” The Iowa Historical Review, vol. 8, no. 1, 2020, 
  6. Editors. “Betsy Ross.” History, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, 
  7. Mintz, Steven. “The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.” Historical Context: The Constitution and Slavery , Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, 
  8. Lewis, Helen. “Isn’t She Good-for a Woman?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 10 Jan. 2021, 
  9. Simkovich, M. Z. (2016). The Tale of Susanna: A Story about Daniel.
  10. Bhoker, Smriti. “Artemisia Gentileschi: The Artist Whose Work Is a Love Letter to Survivors and Female Solidarity.” Feminism In India, 8 Sept. 2021, 
  11. Fhoghlú, Emer Ní. “Elisabetta Sirani and Her Image of Timoclea.” BadBride, 5 July 2020, 
  12. Modesti, Adelina. “Elisabetta Sirani, Bolognese Woman Painter, Printmaker & Virtuosa.” Art Herstory, University of Melbourne, 20 Nov. 2020, 
  13. Arthur, Kathleen G. “The Art of Sister Caterina Vigri, Saint Catherine of Bologna.” Art Herstory, James Madison University, 9 Mar. 2020, 
  14. Waxman, Olivia B. “The Real History of Prohibition for Anniversary of Repeal.” Time, 5 Dec. 2018, 
  15. Billington, Monroe. “Susanna Madora Salter First Woman Mayor.” Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains, Edited by Tod Roberts. Translated by Harriette J Jensen, vol. 21, no. 3, 1954, pp. 173–183. 
  16. “Milestones for Women in American Politics.” Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University: Eagleton Institute of Politics , 
  17. Associated Press. “Rome Elects Its First Female Mayor.” Los Angeles Times, 20 June 2016, 
  18. European Union: European Commission, The Policy for Gender Equality in Italy: In-depth Analysis for the FEMM Committee, 2014, PE 493.052, pg.8, available at: %5Baccessed 25 April 2022]

Mae Camacho: Italia as Text 2022

Roma as Text

“Sweet Devotion”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Rome
Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

Looking into Ancient Rome was a brutal introduction to the city’s past. From the texts and clues left behind, I can tell how transparent ancient Romans were about their lifestyle and the beliefs they used to build the city from the ground up. The way ancient Romans lived could be described as an extreme. They built a freestanding stadium of a size never seen before just to gather in the thousands and watch fights that would be illegal to host today, and they did so with technology such as elevators and giant sails that the rest of the ancient world could hardly imagine. They built the pantheon to honor several gods in one huge and undiscriminating space designed to make worshippers feel tiny. The oculus at the top, a hole in the roof from which rain and light flow in, appears as a giant eye, like some God peering down and watching your every move. A smaller but similarly dramatic detail would be the story of the Vestal Virgins, worshippers of the hearth goddess Vesta, who dedicated their lives to preserving a large sacred fire within their temple at the Roman forum. These priestesses were considered higher class citizens than other women for cultivating this flame because it was symbolic for the security and longevity of the empire. It was forbidden to spill their blood, and if the fire were ever to die, it had to be relit using the sun’s rays. These are just some details that reflect the ancient Roman lifestyle built around grandiosity, discipline, and a strong sense of devotion. Every legend told and every tradition held- down to the unprecedented and promiscuous way Romans treated sex- seems to show incredible drama. Among many examples, the tale of Brutus, a man who had his own sons beheaded after discovering they were conspiring against the republic, is one that very clearly depicts the level of allegiance that was expected from all Romans. This devotion, to the republic and the gods they worshipped, is one extreme end of a spectrum justified by logic rather than morals. I see the birth and rise of Christianity as a natural reaction to the radical nature of a people that acted on human nature without fearing judgement. Romans had same sex lovers and killed for entertainment so that the Catholic Church could respond by tearing into that promiscuity and introducing a prudent lifestyle justified by morals. In a way, the birth and story of Jesus Christ marked the end of one extreme through the introduction of another, more “righteous” one. If the Romans had introduced their own tragic story of Jesus’ devotion to humanity and if they had guilted citizens into following in his perfect example, would the world be as conservative and as scared of human nature as it now, or is it inevitable that every action comes with an equal, opposite reaction?

Pompeii as Text

“What You Are Now, We Once Were”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Pompeii
Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

This city frozen in time is one of many ancient relics left behind by the Roman Empire. One huge difference is that this city was preserved by the sudden eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, which covered the entire city of Pompeii in ash and pumice rocks. Underneath, not only intact buildings and art pieces, but human bodies remained encapsulated by the volcanic residue, left untouched for the greater majority of 1,700 years before archeologists found it. It’s weird to walk the streets where the buildings are mostly intact and while you’re being told very human details of the things left behind- I don’t like feeling like I’m in someone else’s bones. But as I tried to immerse myself into the Pompeiian mentality anyway, the new reality was fun to imagine. I can’t infer much of the ancient society for obvious reasons except that they seemed as promiscuous as they did in Rome. Prostitutes would associate themselves with the she-wolf and carve penises into the ground that lead to their brothels. They would howl and beckon those that passed by at night, cementing their association. Near the outside of the city, the Villa of the Mysteries housed a primarily female cult that worshipped Dionysus, where the walls show well preserved and life sized portraits of a woman being initiated. The whole panoramic scene reads like a show dance as well as a story, and in one scene an initiate is whipped by another woman with black wings, presumably being corrected. It reminds me of how different womanhood can be interpreted, and how for many women the phrase “beauty is pain” is a reality. What is abhorrent to one is a rite to another as we fill very limited spaces in between male dominated roles. Often, the bubble a woman can grow inside is limited by the narrative created around her, but within the narrative there are never-ending shows of strength, in association to wolves and in cults secluding our practices.

It feels like the city was meant to be temporary. The uncensored ruins show the chaos and consistencies of urban life preserved until the next eruption. The bodies serve to remind us how quickly it can all be taken away, and how death comes not in moments of silence and saying goodbye, but while we are in the middle of taking life in, stepping into womanhood or serving wine to neighbors.

Tivoli as Text

“Ancient Safe Space”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Tivoli
Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

A major aspect of Roman life was the lax sense of sexuality. Ancient Romans had gay lovers centuries before it was even a known lifestyle but while true homosexual feelings were still looked down upon. This didn’t stop the emperor Hadrian from falling in love and then expressing a lifelong adoration for his sex slave, the greek Antinous. Their story is truly one for dramatic romance novels. Although it would’ve been Hadrian’s fall from grace to expose his relationship, the emperor would take Antinous on tours around the region and to political parties, obviously wanting to share his life with the young man. In addition to greek/foreign slaves being considered below Romans, Hadrian was married and had previous male lovers, but the closeness of the two never went unnoticed or unremarked. This prompted him to build a grand and lavish villa out in the countryside where he and Antinous would often travel out to alone, and where he had collections of books, trees, and artwork. The climax of their story is quite jarring, as Hadrian pronounces Antinous to have drowned after falling into the Nile river. It is speculated that while walking alongside, Hadrian had fallen into the river first, and in attempt to save him Antinous went after his lover. Roman soldiers were able to carry Hadrian out, but Antinous would not resurface alive. In his grief, Hadrian had hundreds of statues of his sweetheart commissioned, and went as far as to declare the young man a god. In between being accepting and rejecting Antinous as a god, there is no denying that the emperor’s grand gestures were born out of real love.

The dramatic story of Hadrian and Antinous, of how seclusive yet passionate their lives together were, is not far from how many in the queer community live today. Homosexuality went decades being treated as a mental illness, a sin, and a mistake. Today, although widely accepted and tolerated, is it still considered a tough conversation to have. Many would rather have gay couples stay out of sight and out of mind, insisting that anything more would be forcing a lifestyle. The last time I was in Italy, the pulse nightclub was shot up in Orlando, marking it the biggest mass shooting in the U.S. at the time. 49 queers and allies were shot dead for embracing their sexuality in a safe space, and as a result the community was reminded of how secluded they have to live in order to stay safe. Villa Adriana served similarly as an ancient precursor to safe spaces for queer love (ironically raided after the birth of Christianity). Although legally tolerated and several centuries in the future, today’s society could not handle even casual gay lovers in the way Ancient Rome did. It is imperative to preserve the story of Hadrian and Antinous and several other similar stories by continuing to push for acceptance beyond what was offered to history’s most famous gay lovers. 

Pisa as Text

“Small Borders”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Pisa
Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

The city of Pisa is unlike most areas of Italy I’ve been to so far. Frozen in medieval times, Pisa is one of many European cities that barely escaped the plague outbreak, which kept its growth limited for centuries to come. Although slightly bigger now, this side effect is reflected in the way the city has maintained small borders and a tightly knit local community. Pisa is visited by millions of tourists a year, therefore exposing it to outside influences almost 24/7, and is practically run by the younger population, making it a pretty tolerant city.

Nearing the leaning tower, there comes a plaza in which collectors and creators gather to sell antiques and valuables, like jewelry of crystals said to have different healing powers. Just a few decades prior, these crystals would be considered an immoral practice. It would be censored as pagan. And yet today vendors gather freely, excitedly sharing their knowledge with foreigners who may or may not even believe in the practice. The city is renowned for one of history’s most famous scientists – Galileo Galilei. Science and religion hardly mix, and yet this city brings the two together through one man. It is said that in the cathedral in the field of miracles, Galileo observed a swinging chandelier that inspired his theories of pendulum physics, and from the leaning tower it is rumored that he dropped two balls of different mass to prove that they’d land at the same time. Today, science is considered almost the antithesis of Catholicism, and yet the birth of dynamic physics occurred in a church.

Right as you exit the train station, a wall nearby homes a giant mural by Keith Haring, a gay artist from the 1980s that suffered from AIDS. In the 1980s, the AIDs epidemic was a taboo subject. It was an unspoken crisis because of the stigma surrounding homosexuality, and yet, in 1989 a young Pisan invited Haring to share his art to the public. Although a simple art style, Haring’s work exists to inspire nothing but happiness. It’s bright and fun and full of abstract figures, which in this painting perfectly symbolize the inclusive nature of Pisa. To name a few subjects, Haring painted a cross made of yellow figures to represent both health and unity, a figure holding a child to represent fertility and parenthood, and a half dolphin/ half man creation to represent the ideal relationship between man and nature. Some other figures could be left up to interpretation. To me, the yellow figure seemingly shaped like a multi-layered cake represents self-evolution. The twisted and stretched person next to it is being literally and figuratively flexible. They are both symbols of growth and acceptance. Throughout the piece, Haring perfectly captures a city with small borders and a giant heart.

Firenze as Text

“A Second Renaissance”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Firenze
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

Moving and enthralling, Florence is a city with much to show for its influence over the renaissance, especially in its preserved art and architecture. The humanistic style of renaissance architecture made its grand entrance once the plague simmered out across Europe and more artistic and innovative thought began to rule the art world. The time of the Black Death was a devastating era for the world, in which tens of millions of people died and regular life was interrupted for good. The grandiosity of renaissance architecture reflects the way societies began to feel inspired after escaping decades of troubling, medieval times. Does this sound familiar?

Renaissance architecture is characterized by immense domes and symmetrical spaces, as well as the incorporation of logic and perspective in art. This can be reflected in Florence’s duomo over the cathedral of Santa Maria, which stands tall as an architectural marvel about 600 years after being designed by Brunelleschi. Today, most important buildings, like city halls or offices, are characterized by flat rooftops and a blocky design. There are no painted dome ceilings or classical arches and columns (excluding more historical pieces like the White House and the Lincoln memorial). Modern architecture is still mostly symmetrical, but it isn’t made to look grand. Buildings today are mostly constructed around practicality and space optimization. In many ways, it lacks the inspiration needed to tell a story about the 21st century. However, much like the story of Brunelleschi and his rival, the pressure for an artist to be the best in their field can often produce remarkable architecture. Fortunately, the egos of architects all over the world still inspire designs that push the limits of architecture. Everyone wants to leave their mark on the world as the greats once did, leading to era-defining monuments such as the towering 432 Park Avenue in New York, or the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Alabama.

In most recent times, we are beginning a slow ascent from what is the COVID-19 pandemic. Life will return to normal in some aspects and yet continue to be troubled for years to come. The pandemic has been a mass trauma to the world, but with how desensitized society is I’m not sure there will be a second renaissance to come. In a world of constant input, we recover too fast to remember the grief that art is inspired by. However, in a few years time I still hope to see an outbreak of thought-provoking architecture, marking the beginning of social and artistic change that we desperately need.

Cinque Terre as Text

“Cultivating Pride”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Cinque Terre
Taken by Mae Camacho. CC by 4.0

There is a unique community pride in Cinque Terre surrounding the food grown there. The pesto, the lemons, the fruit- in restaurants they emphasize words like local, specialty, and homemade in ways that other regions don’t necessarily have to privilege to. This can be attributed to the way the five cities have protected themselves from becoming real estate to larger corporations that know the land is a hotspot for tourists. Instead of selling out, they take on the ever-increasing tourist population themselves and operate in a way mostly convenient to locals. A local grocery store refused to budge their midday break hours to open for a passerby, a move that would’ve made a Publix CEO drop dead. Another man gets unfortunately turned away from Sanctuary Soviore deep in Monterosso’s mountain, and it’s clear that almost every hotel in the area is completely booked. However, the locals don’t resort to rapid expansion and building large scale resorts, despite the massive profit it would bring. To an American long exposed to capitalistic behavior, the pride Cinque Terre communities have in remaining original is refreshing. 

In other countries, food grown locally is most often grown for export. It’s produced in the masses with the main intention of supplying a foreign demand. This makes way for exploitation, quantity over quality, and products that can’t have as much intensive care as possible. Mass production and corporate takeover is a recipe for disaster. Often, locals in the labor field will work out of necessity and for little benefit under extreme working conditions as companies look to wring the most output from the least input. By avoiding takeover, Cinque Terre also avoids the disaster that is labor exploitation and the loss of quality in their famous food. Keeping the cities belonging to the original people cultivates a happy community that can’t be found in most other places. I think anyone can enjoy a dinner the most knowing there is dedicated, and passionate work put into the food straight from the source to the table.

Venice as Text

“Unlikely Successes”

Mae Camacho of FIU at Venice
Taken by Mae Camacho, CC by 4.0

Venice has survived for just under 2,000 years with physical improbability in two ways. For one, the entire city sits on over 10 million pillars of pine tree in a relatively shallow lagoon. It sinks to different heights in different places, causing Saint Mark’s Campanile to lean at a slight angle, and allowing the city to sink at night when the tide comes up. In fact, the famous bell tower collapsed once in 1902, when its structure gave away to years of damage and lightning strikes, and Venetians threw its remains into the sea in a dreary funeral procession. This is the literal physical improbability of the port city. But the city is also an anomaly because of its origins. Venice was built by refugees of barbarian attacks after the collapse of the Roman empire, and people from all over Italy fled there until it was officially established as a city. There was a power vacuum in the beginning, and foreigners who understood the profit in Venice’s location also became threats to the city’s autonomy. Venetians had to have known the rarity and value of their way of life- free from a terrorizing higher power and immensely rich from trade. In an unlikely series of events for a medieval city, the wealthy families of Venetians understood the need for a figure head and started the tradition of the Doge. The duke-like position that resisted a conversion into a hierarchy. In a sense, the city had an oligarchy in motion back when it was uncommon politics. Someone well versed in history would expect some sort of corruption or overthrowing in the doge’s 1100-year reign, but the aristocracy of the merchant class were surprisingly able to keep the power in the hands of the citizens. Venice swiftly rose in power after its establishment and in the face of improbabilities. The fact that refugees from different backgrounds got along well enough to start a city, that Venetians managed to ward off conquerors while in a power vacuum, that the Doge institution was kept mostly pure and protected, and that the city’s secrets, prestige, and technologies were kept from releasing- these are all successes rarely ever seen in history. If it was improbable then, it is twice as unlikely for a city to have the same origins today, and infinitely as hard to keep city-wide secrets. Modern globalization makes a Venice 2.0 close to impossible, but it is amazing that what survived the odds is still standing in greatness today, showing us what can be achieved by cooperation and unity.

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