Monica Perez is a student of the FIU Honors College pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer therapy and conduct research. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat PTSD and anxiety disorders. Her current motto is "seek radical empathy" as she strives to understand and share in others' thoughts and life experiences.
Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer marriage and family therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.
I volunteered at the Deering Estate with the combined sections of Miami in Miami 2021-2022. I was able to connect with an FIU Honors/Miami in Miami Alumnus, Nicole Patrick, and volunteered to lead an independent cleanup with her.
The Deering Estate was once one of many homes for Charles Deering: a wealthy American businessman and art collector. He invited his other wealthy friends to visit and experience the tropical paradise of a developing Miami, Florida. Now, it serves as a museum and multicultural center which has helped it earn its spot on the National Register of Historic places. The Estate reaches out to local artists and offers them a position as artist in residency, where they can feel inspired by any of Miami’s five ecosystems. Interested guests can go on guided hikes on the estate, become official volunteers, and children can attend a summer camp that is full of fun and learning. Because of the environmental significance of the land that surrounds them, they join forces with local activists and schools to organize cleanups for the nearby mangrove island, Chicken Key.
They Key is home to some unique, endangered flora and fauna including some friendly fish and not-so-friendly hermit crabs that the Deering Estate is dedicated to protect. Mangroves are responsible for housing all this wildlife while also purifying the water and turning it from salt water to fresh water. Mangroves are endangered in other parts of Miami, so protecting the forest at Chicken Key is crucial.
I chose this opportunity because I had done a cleanup as required by first semester of Miami in Miami. I loved the experience, and I wanted to share it with a new group of friends. My professor announced in our class chat that Nicole was starting her independent cleanups again (they had paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic), so I quickly joined the group. A few days later, I was asked to lead some of the group since I had already done it before.
Despite being a psychology major, this opportunity aligns with my professional and personal interests. I am interested in ecopsychology which deals with how the environment, climate change, and conservation efforts impact our mental health and wellbeing. Speaking from personal experience, time outside and in nature helps me feel “grounded”, less anxious, and more in control of my emotional regulation. Research supports this, as it suggests that contact with nature is particularly healing to those with low self-esteem and issues with mood regulation which manifest in anxiety and depressive disorders. The social aspect of doing charitable acts with peers is also beneficial, as it promotes relationships rooted in good deeds.
I connected with this opportunity by putting what I have researched into practice. While canoeing and picking up trash, I was trying to be mindful of where I was, my sensations, and how my actions were helping the community. I found the sounds to be relaxing, the sights engaging, and the physical work exhilarating. This is similar to my first experience at Chicken Key. However, I do feel that I was able to better enjoy my time there the second time since I knew exactly what to do. I could have a little more fun, because I was not so worried I was going to mess up.
I connected with this experience on a secondary level that was not present the last time I did this activity. I was asked by Nicole to group a small group of people to the South side of the island. There, I delegated who would do what and answered all kinds of questions. This was fulfilling in a different way because I was helping people reach a higher potential. I am used to leadership roles as I have been assigned to them my whole life. I also got to step out of my comfort zone socially (the zone is very small… I have terrible social anxiety) because I got to talk to people I did not know at all. I learned why they were at the cleanup and what their plans were for the future. It was refreshing to spend time outside of class with people my age, working toward a cause we all cared about.
WHERE & WHAT
I arrived to the Deering Estate one hour early (at nine AM) with Nicole and the other leaders so we could make sure everything was ready for the others to arrive. I helped an employee at the Deering Estate assemble kayak paddles and take them to the place we would be launching from. Once everything was ready, we waited for the volunteers to arrive. We waited for an hour for everyone t arrive, but half the group did not show up. We called volunteers on the list and did not receive answers, so we briefed those who on what the day was going to look like. We also played some icebreaker games to get everyone acquainted. After assessing everyone’s kayaking or canoeing experience, we paired everyone off and canoed to the key.
Deciding where to doc was tricky, as many of us had not been to Chicken Key before. After a bit of maneuvering, we were able to dock and get to cleaning. It was difficult to help everyone feel included and motivated. Some people were just there to get a paper signed, and they hardly tried to pick anything up. This was disappointing, but we were glad they came at all. We picked up trash until all our bags were full. We could not pick up as much trash as we wanted because there were not enough canoes or people to carry it all. One thing I was surprised to see on the island was needles. We were not prepared to pick up hazardous waste, but we did the best we could by using puncture-resistant trash bags. In the future, it seems that we should probably invest in some bags made for that purpose.
After we finished cleaning, we ate lunch and shared all the interesting things we saw and picked up. We shared pictures, fun stories, and ideas for what was to come. One pair found a message in the bottle, but once we opened it, the message was empty (very mysterious!). Once we did all we could, we canoed back to the Estate, emptied and cleaned the bags, and the rest of the volunteers left. The leaders stayed a bit longer to ensure everything was left as we were instructed. We went home exhausted and happy that we made a difference.
Volunteer work comes with its struggles, and this opportunity definitely had its ups and downs. Some things just did not work as well as they could have. As mentioned above, many people confirmed attendance for the pre-planned event and did not actually show up the day of the cleanup. In addition, we were not prepared to pick up hazardous waste like needles. Thankfully, we had puncture-resistant bags, but it was a shame that we had to use any plastic at all. We try to use the least amount of plastic possible, as we have seen where it tends to end up.Unfortunately, there were also some items that were simply too hard to remove without doing damage to the plant life. Some plastics have been on that island for so long that wildlife started adopting it into their lifestyles.
Thankfully, there numerous elements of this trip that did work. We certainly were able to make a dent in how much trash was on the island. Most of the students who attended were very mature and dedicated, so they took this opportunity very seriously. We also delegated very well. One person managed fishing lines and ropes, one person managed large trash, one person dedicated his time to large pieces of Styrofoam, and the rest of us focused on the smaller pieces of plastic that harm wildlife the most because they are mistakenly consumed by small fish and work their way up the food chain. With enough time, the bellies of larger fish (and humans) are full of microplastics that had been previously consumed by their prey.
After some personal reflections and conversations with the attendees, this opportunity really opened our eyes and inspired us to be mindful of our lifestyle choices. We saw so many items that are part of our daily lives: shoes, toothbrushes, soap bottles, and so much more single-use plastic that are all present in our homes.
Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Minor in Religious Studies at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to become a professor and administer therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In exploring the community of Coral Gables, she hopes to do just that.
The city of Coral Gables is located at 25°43′42″N 80°16′16″W. It is now approximately 9,620 hectares built from the original 65 hectares (160 acres) of citrus farms owned by the Merrick family. It is found on the southeast part of Florida, and the southern part of Coral Gables is bordered by the Biscayne Bay Aquatic reserve, the main contributor to Miami’s water supply. It is also bordered by the communities of Coconut Grove, South Miami, and West Flagler. It is relatively flat (much like the rest of Miami), and is known for its frequent incorporation of greenery and Mediterranean Revival design aesthetic.
The incredibly George E. Merrick moved to Miami in 1899 from Duxbury, Massachusetts. In 1921, he began construction of Coral Gables, keeping a very strict Mediterranean Revival architectural aesthetic. He did this because it was the only aesthetic he saw most fitting to Miami’s landscape. He was inspired by his trips to Mexico and Cuba, where the Spanish architectural style was adapted to fit a tropical location. The city was finally incorporated in 1925, but Merrick fell into debt and was removed from the Commission in 1928. He passed away in 1942 and did not see many of his projects completed.
Nicknamed the “City Beautiful”, Coral Gables was always meant to symbolize wealth and exclusivity. Merrick wanted his guests to feel like royalty, hence buildings that resemble castles, the strict architectural limits, and intense segregation. The very Bahamians that built the majority of the town were not allowed to live there.
DEMOGRAPHICS & INTERVIEW
From a population of approximately 49,248 people, approximately 81.6% identify as white, 3.5% identify as black, and 58.4% identify as Hispanic or Latino (it is clear that not much has changed from the town’s original establishment). The median value of owner-occupied home units is $856,6000, and the average household income is $103,999. An interview with Coral Gables native, Lucas Picciano, provides an inside perspective on what this data suggests.
Me: How old are you, and how long have you lived in Coral Gables?
Lucas: I am 20 years old, and I have lived in Coral Gables all my life.
What part of Coral Gables do you live in?
I live in the south side, so the side with more moderate income.
What is your favorite part about living in Coral Gables?
It’s a very pretty place to live. There is lots of greenery, and the architectural style is nice to look at. There’s also some really great parks and a rich history behind the city.
What is your least favorite part?
The harsh regulations for homeowners are very difficult to navigate. For example, you need to ask the county for permission to own a truck, paint your house, or change it very much at all. They give you very little personal freedom.
What would you change about Coral Gables?
It is very hard to drive in coral Gables because the streets are not numbered. I would put numbers on all the streets.
Would you recommend Coral Gables as a place to live?
Not really. It’s very expensive, there are a lot of regulations, the infrastructure is very old. Older people would like it, though, because of the rich history and great healthcare (we have really good doctors).
What is your favorite thing to do in Coral Gables?
I like going kayaking in the canals with my friends.Sometimes, you’ll see manatees.
What is your favorite place to hang out?
Any local park. The bigger, the better.
Coral Gables City Hall
Coral Gables City Hall is the embodiment of George Merrick’s vision for Coral Gables. Designed by Phineas Paist and Denman Fink, it is Miami’s rendition of William Strickland’s Merchant exchange in Philadelphia. In keeping with the Mediterranean revival fantasy, it exists in harmony with the aesthetics of the city. It was constructed from 1927 to 1928, as South Florida was recovering from a terrible hurricane in 1926.
Coral Gables Museum
The Old Coral Gables Police and Fire Station was built in 1939, during the Great Depression. Also designed by Paist with the help of Harold Steward, the building is an example of Depression architecture and contains symbolism of protection and sacrifice. The outside walls contain carvings of typical families in need of protection, pelicans which were said to sacrifice their own blood for their offspring, and firemen ready to protect the citizens of Coral Gables.
Coral Gables Congregational Church
The Coral Gables Congregational Church was built in 1923 and dedicated in 1925. It was the first to be built in the city on land donated by George Merrick. In keeping with tradition, the firm Kiehnel & Elliot used Spanish-style architecture for the outside and inside layout of the building. Facing the Biltmore Hotel, the Church is listed on the National Register for Historic Places.
Matheson Hammock Park
Matheson Hammock Park is located at 9610 Old Cutler Road Miami, FL. One of Coral Gables’ larger parks, it also contains a beach and marina. Guests can enjoy birdwatching, fishing, kiteboarding, and take classes at their boating school. Guests can also rent a picnic shelter for private events. It is also home to Coral Gables’ only water front restaurant: Red Fish Grill Restaurant.
Fairchild Tropical Museum and Gardens
Fairchild Tropical Museum and Gardens was names after David Fairchild (1869-1954), an educator, scientist, and plant explorer. He worked together with big names in Miami’s history like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Charles Crandon, and Robert Montgomery to create a botanic garden that would be one of the tourist hotspots of Florida. They host all kinds of events for members and guests t enjoy food, music, educational programs, and fundraising events.
Coral Gables Wayside Park
Coral Gables Wayside Park is one of the many beautiful green spaces and a favorite of both tourists and locals. The park contains eight (8!!!) Mediterranean Revival style towers that are reminiscent of Disney castles. Guests will see the Coral Gables Waterway flowing through the park, and they will see local ducks and wading birds enjoying the water. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places, this park is a must-see when visiting Coral Gables.
Coral Gables does not lack in methods of transportation. There is one metro stop in Coral Gables, called “University Station”, located within the University of Miami. Students tend to take this route to reach neighboring hotspots like Brickell or Coconut Grove. There are also 2 metro stations in Coral Way that can help visitors navigate to and from the Miami International Airport: Coconut Grove and Douglas Road. Many residents also ride car to get to their destinations. Cars are easily the preferred mode of transportation in Miami. The City of Coral Gables website also includes information for bicycle rentals, safety regulations, and recommendations. Aside from walking, the most charming and enjoyable method of transportation is the free Coral Gables Trolley, which has been around since 2003. It is available Monday-Saturday, and has stops at the Miracle Mile and Downtown Coral Gables Shopping District, Shops at Merrick Mark, Coral Gables Museum, and hotels like the Hyatt Regency and Hotel Colonnade.
Redfish Grill Restaurant
The Red Fish Grill Restaurant is located within Matheson Hammocks Park. It was originally open since 1996 and was a forgettable, but popular place to eat. After being closed and renovated in 2019, the Barreto Group partnered with Adrienne Calvo to deliver “Maximum Flavor” food. They have since celebrated their re-opening in 2020 (in the midst of a pandemic) offering a new look, new flavors, and extended outside seating. They have dine-in, takeout, and delivery options on their website.
Mamey Miami is very representative of Coral Gables dining. It is formal, extensive, and aesthetically pleasing. Located in THesis Hotel, guests and non-guests can enjoy everything they have to offer. With a full bar and live music, this restaurant is well-known for its enjoyable atmosphere. Chef Niven Patel was named one of the Food & Wine Magazine’s “Best New Chefs” in 2020. The truly special part of this restaurant is that the fruits and vegetables are sourced locally from Patel’s farm in homestead. Their rooftop options give the impression of utmost exclusivity, in keeping with the Coral Gables style.
The Biltmore Brunch
If you want to go full-Miami royalty on a visit to Coral Gables, it is impossible not to mention the Biltmore Hotel’s famous brunch. The Biltmore has been offering Sunday Champagne brunch for many years. Families would attend yearly to experience the full buffet. After the COVID-19 virus, the brunch is now a la carte. However, reviews are still glowing for the Biltmore’s five-star brunch. The luxurious hotel offers courtyard and poolside seating for this international success.
George Merrick suggested the Biltmore Hotel be built in 1926 to put a cherry on top of his luxurious, exclusive city. When it opened, The Biltmore Hotel and Country Club contained 350 rooms, a golf course, and the largest hotel pool in the United States. Like other parts of Coral Gables, the design aesthetic for the Biltmore was inspired by Spanish design, specifically the Giralda Tower in Sevilla. In November of 1942, the hotel was turned into an Army General hospital adopted by the Veterans Administration in July of 1947. After the hospital was closed in 1968, ownership was given back to the city, and restoration of the hotel began. It was not until 1987 that the hotel was reopened. It was closed and reopened again in 1992, and earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Books & Books
Mitchell Kaplan opened the first Books & Books in 1982 in Coral Gables, Florida. The original shop was one of many independent bookstores of the time, but Books & Books was one of the only that persisted. The original location since moved across the street to a 1927 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Coral Gables Medical Center. Books & Books has since opened other locations across Miami, and they remain a bookstore of choice for readers of all ages. The original location also houses a café where guests can enjoy live music. With bookings for entertainment have become quite competitive, Books & Books likes to showcase young artists from University of Miami, the founder’s alma mater.
The Miracle Theatre
Miracle Theatre was built between 1947 and 1948 as a full-time cinema. In 1990, the City of Coral Gables purchased the building and renovated it to become the home of Actors’ Playhouse. In 1995, it closed as a movie theatre and became a performing arts center. Today, many schools take field trips to see the Children’s Matinee shoes, and adults enjoy performances as well. They also offer workshops, a summer camp, and facility rentals. The building itself is significant because it showcases the Art Moderne Design Style of the industrial age.
Coral Gables is an area that has always (and likely will always) represent all that is glamorous, wealthy, and high-end. However, it is much more than that. Being such a historically significant city, it is an interestingly reflective of the rest of Miami. Through the Spanish design aesthetics adapted for the tropical landscape, the Mediterranean Revival aesthetic makes many Latin Americans feel at home.
Coral Gables always has something to do. Visitors can enjoy the parks, restaurants, food, and shopping; or they can visit historic places that will teach them a bit about Miami’s complicated history. Like any other city, Coral Gables has its positives and negatives. There is a lot of de-constructing Coral Gables has to do in acknowledging the troubling parts of their founder, George Merrick. More and more conversations are being had about what exactly went on at the time, making sure to acknowledge all perspectives.
When examining the history of any city in the United States, it is important to note that our country was built on stealing land from Indigenous peoples and eradicating their existence. Coral Gables, like other cities in Miami, was built upon Seminole, Miccosukee, and Tequesta land. The land was also home to Bahamian people before Coral Gables was “developed”. They were the ones who actually built most of the city, and their descendants only make up 3.5% of the population. They deserve to be acknowledged.
Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer marriage and family therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In exploring the unincorporated community of West Kendall, she hopes to do just that.
West Kendall, less popularly known as “West End”, is an unincorporated community in Miami Dade County that was named by the inhabitants of West Kendall themselves. This means that the area has no specific boundaries, but when people use the term “West Kendall”, they are generally referring to the communities on the west side of the turnpike: The Hammocks, Country Walk, Three Lakes, and Kendale Lakes and a few other unincorporated communities. The area is generally confused with Kendall West, which is an incorporated community with very specific boundaries.
West Kendall is a suburban area that holds mostly strip malls, homes/townhomes, and apartments. There is very little land left completely “untouched”, so it can be difficult to appreciate the naturally occurring landscape. However, the general terrain in West Kendall can be described as relatively flat (spare the occasional man-made hill).
Henry John Broughton Kendall was put in charge of the Kendall area by a private company in 1884, but the name West Kendall was not coined until recently (by the locals themselves). Because West Kendall is not necessarily census designated area and it does not have official boundaries, it can be hard to find history on West Kendall specifically. This is not to say it has “no history” or “historic value”.
As a result of the Florida Land Boom of 1926, many residents of the Kendall area left, but two Seminole camps held up until the 1940s. Since then, West Kendall has remained a busy suburbia and shopping heaven due to the influx of chain stores and smaller boutiques alike. Miami Sunset Senior High opened in September of 1978, and since then, a number of elementary, middle, and high schools have opened as well as the Miami Dade College Kendall campus. Locals have a variety of different types of schooling including public, charter, magnet, private, Montessori, and religious. Around 2015, the County Commissioner of the time, Juan Zapata, made a move to rebrand the area as “West End”. Judging by the title of my post and the opinions of most West Kendall Residents, the name has hardly caught on.
DEMOGRAPHICS AND INTERVIEW
Because West Kendall is an unincorporated community, there is no official federal demographic data provided by the Census Bureau. However, a document released by County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata (2015) shows that population grew significantly (over 20%) between 2000 and 2010, making the annual growth rate about 0.9%. This shows the increasing popularity of the West Kendall/West End area, which has its positives and negatives. An interview with West Kendall native, Olga Rivera, shows these effects from an inside perspective (**interviewee did not consent to a photograph**).
Me:How long have you lived in the West Kendall area, and how would you best describe the area to a non-native?
Olga: I have lived in West Kendall since, gosh, 1996? I would best describe the area as very safe. There isn’t really a lot of crime. It’s also a newer area compared to the rest of Miami, so you get to live in a newer house. There’s also lots of different things to do, all different types of food and people.
What are your favorite places to eat in the area?
I would say Puerto Madero; they make really good steak. All their meats are good, honestly. They also make great empanadas with all the flavors you can imagine.
What are your favorite places to hang out?
I don’t really “hang out” much anymore, but when my kids were little, I would take them to parks a lot. This area has so many parks.
What is your least favorite part about living in West Kendall, and what would you change if you had the chance?
Ugh, traffic, traffic, and TRAFFIC. There are so many people on the road all the time; I have to commute ONE HOUR in the mornings just to get my kid to school at TERRA and get to work in Doral! I would definitely add better public transportation.
Would you use public transportation if the area had better access?
Probably. I would even stop using my car it was better.
What’s your favorite part about living in West Kendall?
I love that there are so many Hispanics in the area. They are also very nice; there isn’t a lot of crime, like I said before. I know I also said this before, but it is so nice to live in a newer house. The power lines, for example, are all in the ground instead of, like, in Westchester, where the power lines are on those huge posts, and any time there’s a string wind, they lose power.
Camp Matecumbe is both a historical landmark and a “green space”. It was once a temporary processing center for “Operation Pedro Pan” which was a movement to help Cuban children entering the United States to start a new life during the early 1960s. When the Castro regime took power in Cuba, the government set up schooling programs where children would be removed from their homes and indoctrinated into the new Cuban society. To avoid this life for their children, Cuban parents sent their children to the United States and other places through “Operation Pero Pan”, where the children would be sent to live with distant family or be put in foster care. Processing centers like Camp Matecumbe were extremely important to the movement because they served as a temporary holding space while children were being set up with a living arrangement.
The camp is now a community for children and adults with special needs. It holds after school events and summer camps for children with disabilities, and has amenities including campgrounds, a fishing pier, a dog park, and water access.
Wings Over Miami Museum
The wings over Miami Museum started as a filler to the hole created by the “Weeks Air Museum”. The original owners moved their existing museum further north, and local air enthusiasts sought to build a new museum that would keep their interests alive and prevalent. Since the museum opened inside the Miami Executive Airport in 2001, the museum has been a place for military and civilian plane lovers to get their aviation fix while giving a better understanding of aircrafts to the public. Most of the museum’s collection is active, so the public can witness aircraft maintenance and flights, mostly on weekends. It is a great place for history buffs to expand their taste and interests in aircraft history and modern flight technology.
Our Lady of Lourdes Church
Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church was founded in 1985 to cater to the growing number of Catholics in the West Kendall area. This can likely be associated with the large number of Cubans that immigrated to Miami Dade through the Mariel boatlift, informally known as “marielitos”. By 1994, the Church offered so many religious classes that they decided to open a school. Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Parish School is now one of the dominant private Catholic schools in Miami Dade that offers classes from Pre-K to 8th grade.
Wild Lime Park
Wild Lime Park is another small, yet green, location in West Kendall that offers space for relaxation and community for local youth. There is a lot of open field space that can be used for picnics, a playground for children and families, and soccer fields. The park also offers an outdoor fitness area for anyone looking to exercise in the calmness of nature.
Boystown Pineland County Park
Boystown Pineland County Park is located next to Camp Matecumbe and Our Lady of Lourdes Church. It has a field area and a playground with enough space for families to enjoy each other’s company in nature. It is a natural reserve for one of Miami’s natural ecosystems: the pine rocklands, which scientists characterize as endangered. The park offers recreational spaces for hiking and water access for related activities. Though it is not the most popular site, it is located near very important landmarks and is home to some of Florida’s indigenous wildlife.
Kendall Indian Hammocks Park
Kendall Indian Hammocks Park is one of the largest parks in West Kendall. There are five shelters with a barbecue that can be rented for any festivities (I actually had my fourth birthday here). There are soccer, baseball, and softball fields that are used by the local schools. The park offers hiking paths, outdoor exercise equipment, and several playgrounds for kids. The best thing about the park is that it is home to so much native wildlife that offers shade from the harsh Miami sun. It is an area that is perfect for Miami residents because it gives them a sliver of a connection to their environmental neighbors.
Most people who live in West Kendall get around by car. Because of this, locals are always complaining about traffic. The most highly congested streets are 88th Street (or Kendall Drive), 72nd Street (or Sunset Drive), and 104th/112th Street (better known as Killian). Most locals expect to add a few minutes to their commute to account for being completely stopped in traffic; however, the time of day DRASTICALLY affects the traffic on the road. There are a few Miami Dade Metrobus stops that are always occupied, but many inhabitants feel that they cannot “trust” public transportation or feel that it will take far too long to reach their destination. With the amount of people who call West Kendall
El Rancho Grande
El Rancho Grande is a Mexican restaurant located in the Kendall Corners strip mall. Though it may not be the most affordable selection, the quality of the food is worth the price. It is has trendy décor that caters to a young adult crowd, but a daytime visit is sure to be family friendly. It started as a family-owned business until the restaurant grew and opened another location in Miami Beach. Because Mexican food is so versatile, they can easily make most dishes vegetarian by requesting vegetables instead of meat. My personal menu highlights are their guacamole, lemonades, and burritos.
Located right next door to El Rancho Grande, Puerto Madero is an Argentinian restaurant for people looking for something heartier. It Is also a bakery and butcher counter, so guests can shop the very same foods they are eating to make them at home. Locals describe the food as delicious and, more importantly, authentic. Some menu highlights are, of course, their steaks and their baked empanadas (I have been eating them since I was little, and I cannot get enough!)
Killian Café and Grill Another pricy spot is Killian Café and Grill, which is a great spot for breakfast, lunch, brunch, and dinner. Their hook is that they “serve everything, all day”. Though this may be an ambitious statement, they hold up their end of the bargain. Some notable items from their menu are their home fries, biscuits and gravy, and their waffles. Many local families note that they include this restaurant in their yearly traditions (ex: brunch after thanksgiving or on Christmas day).
Kendall Ice Arena
The Kendall Ice Arena has long been a place for birthday parties, big celebrations, or even just recreational skating. The arena was established in 2000, and they have been holding events ever since. The arena offers public skating, family nights, hockey and figure skating lessons, and hosts hockey games. It is open seven days a week (excluding certain holidays), so locals and tourists alike can escape the sun year-round.
The Harmony Store
The Harmony Store is one of a few metaphysical shops in the Kendall area. Established in 2018, the store is family-owned, one stop shop for one’s many metaphysical needs. They sell crystals, cleansing agents like sage and palo santo, tarot cards, informational books, and much more. With a wide selection of products that are not only spiritually significant, but beautiful to look at, there is certainly something for everyone.
Danceworks of Miami
Established in 1982, Danceworks of Miami is one of many dance studios that offer classes for people from ages 3 to 18. The studio may be small in square footage, but they offer a wide variety of dance classes and give performances with explosive energy. The studio also offers dance-centered summer camps for kids who want to stay creatively and physically active in the summertime. They are located in The Crossings Shopping Village.
West Kendall is an area that not too many locals tend to appreciate. Many complain that it is boring, mundane, or that there is “nothing to do”. Hopefully, this post proves them wrong. Sure, the night scene is not very lively; there are not many bars or clubs, but that is what makes West Kendall the family-friendly, suburbia it is. Like any city or community, the area has some parts that work, and some that do not.
Something West Kendall has that not many other communities do is comfort. The area is not loud or dangerous; people generally feel safe. It is also home to some beautiful green spaces, diverse family-owned businesses, and restaurants with food from around the globe. Its simplicities are charming and contribute to the family-friendliness. It also has some spots that are historically and culturally significant, like Camp Matecumbe. It is undeniable that the transportation in the area needs some work. While the system works, many do not feel comfortable or safe using public transportation services. They worry about its reliability and feel that they have little access to the services that are offered.
Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer marriage and family therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.
I volunteered at the Deering Estate with the combined sections of Miami in Miami 2021-2022. The Deering Estate was once a home for Charles Deering: a wealthy American businessman and art collector and his friends. Now, it serves as a museum and multicultural center which has helped it earn its spot on the National Register of Historic places. There are classrooms and art studios that create an environment that encourages education and artistic expression. Interested people can go on guided hikes on the estate as it is home to Miami’s five indigenous ecosystems. Because of their environmental significance, they choose to work with local activists and schools to organize cleanups for the nearby mangrove island, Chicken Key.
They Key is home to some important endangered flora and fauna including some friendly fish and not-so-friendly hermit crabs that the Estate has an interest to protect. Mangroves are responsible for housing all this wildlife while also purifying the water and turning it from salt water to fresh water. Mangroves are endangered in other parts of Miami, so protecting those at Chicken Key are of utmost importance.
This volunteer opportunity was part of a class I am taking with the Honors College at Florida International University. Professor John W. Bailly (who runs this website) repeats this excursion every fall and winter semester to ensure consistent upkeep of the island. He told us that when the class first started conducting routine cleanups, the island might as well have been made of plastic. These cleanups (along with some conducted outside of the class) help ensure that the wildlife of Chicken Key can continue doing its job.
Despite being a dedicated class period, this island cleanup was not completely out of my field of interest. I am very interested in wildlife conservation and taking care of the planet. This gave me the opportunity to directly make a positive difference in my local ecosystems. I am also interested in ecopsychology which deals with how the environment and conservation efforts impact our mental health and wellbeing. Speaking from both personal experience and theoretical knowledge on the subject, opportunities like this island cleanup are extremely beneficial to one’s mental health. Being active by canoeing or kayaking and contact with the sun makes for healthy brain chemistry which positively impacts mood. The social aspect of doing charitable acts with peers is also beneficial, as it promotes relationships rooted in good deeds. Contact with nature is particularly healing to those with low self-esteem and issues with mood regulation which manifest in anxiety and depressive disorders.
This opportunity was very easy to make personal connections with because of my interests in the environment and ecopsychology. I am generally a very reflective and introspective person, so I spent most of my time canoeing and cleaning reflecting on what I was doing, why I was there, and how the experience made me feel. I took very few pictures (which is unfortunate when considering this website as it thrives on pictures) because I was simply in awe. It was the first time I had ever gone canoeing, so I was simply soaking in this new experience.
It was also a beautiful opportunity to connect with people I had not before. I am of the belief that the social aspects of volunteer work are just as important as the work itself (assuming you do the work, as we did). I was able to hear from people who were not in my class section, so the experience opened my mind to listen to some different perspectives. I was able to speak to the teaching assistant for this class, and while reflecting on my time at the island, I decided to apply for a position as a teaching assistant for another one of Professor Bailly’s classes (a position I got by the way!!!).
WHERE AND WHAT
After arriving to the Deering Estate, we paired up into groups of two and three per canoe. This was particularly tricky considering the group was twice as large as the usual Miami in Miami excursions are. I was paired with a classmate and someone from the other section whom I had only known from Instagram (needless to say, we got to know each other quite well). We tested the waters by venturing into a little mangrove forest as far as the tides allowed. This helped us explore and get the hang of paddling our canoes.
Then made our way to Chicken Key where we explored the terrain, had lunch, and finally got to work. We spent about an hour picking up as much as we could. I did not fill up too many bags for two reasons: I was focusing on small debris, and because my canoe had three people, we could not fit as many bags as the others. I was able to fill a bag to the brim with all the microplastics I could pick up. This urged me to think about the amount of plastic I consume and how big of an impact I could be having on the environment. After some hard work, we canoed right back to the Deering Estate and emptied our reusable bags. The whole class was exhausted by a day in the sun doing some fun exercise and making a difference on our local environment.
Volunteer work comes with its struggles, and this opportunity definitely had its ups and downs. Some things just did not work as well as they could have. As mentioned above, I, like a few others, was not able to fill up as many bags of trash as I had hoped. This is because there was simply not enough room to hold all the trash. Typically, each canoe would have two people riding it, but ours needed to have three because both class sections were combined. Unfortunately, there were some items that were simply too hard to remove without doing damage to the plant life. Some plastics have been on that island for so long that the mangroves learned how to grow through it. For instance, there were mangrove roots that went right through a bottlecap, so removing the bottlecap was nearly impossible without breaking the root of the tree.
Thankfully, there were far more elements of this trip that did work. We certainly were able to make a dent in how much trash was on the island. The excursion was full of mature students that took this opportunity very seriously. Many were working on the smaller pieces of plastic that harm wildlife the most because they are mistakenly consumed by small fish and work their way up the food chain. With enough time, the bellies of larger fish are full of microplastics that had been previously consumed by their prey.
After some personal reflections and conversations with my peers, this opportunity really opened our eyes and inspired us to think about our choices. It made me think about what kind of policies can be put in place to protect the islands similar to Chicken Key that may NOT have ties to a historic building and generations of students looking after it.
Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer family and dialectical behavioral therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.
Downtown as Text
“Beauty Despite the Scars”
by Monica Perez of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08, September 2021
Nowadays, a simple stroll through any large city’s “Downtown” is bound to evoke some level of emotion. The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have left a gaping hole in our cities. Streets are empty, and businesses old and new have been forced to shut down. Downtown Miami is no different. Any native can walk down Miami Avenue and notice the difference pre-and post lockdown. Business is slow, and people carry themselves with heavy hearts missing what was lost. However, the city is not completely lost. A quick visit to some of Downtown’s cultural hotspots shows that Miami has retained her beauty despite the loss.
Lummus park is a public area just oozing with pain, beauty, and history. Upon entering through the green fence, one is met by a melancholy presence that can only be explained by the impressive Fort Dallas. The long, limestone building has seen the dehumanization of black people through slavery and a year’s worth of bloodshed. Just one touch of the rough exterior brings a montage to mind of everyone who has bled, cried, and attempted to keep themselves from collapsing right where one stands.
Just one glance to the left reveals the beauty despite the pain. The William Wagner House is a perfect symbol for what so many world leaders strive for: peace and acceptance of differences. It is so moving to know that the house once held a white man, woman of color, biracial children, and Tequesta people all at once. This is what Miami is truly about. This is not to say the figures discussed were of no fault, but this beautiful moment marked the house forever with light and warmth. The fact that these two landmarks share a space is a testament to how Miami citizens can also share in beautiful experiences despite the pain and loss that COVID-19 has caused.
Miami’s cultural diversity and appreciation reveals itself in Downtown’s public art. Dropped Bowl with Shattered Slices and Peels is a prime example. It incorporates classical Floridian imagery (orange slices) to pay respects to the reason for the city’s founding. The shattered bowl is a perfect embodiment for Miami’s place in the post-COVID world. It is an explosion of cultures and diverse perspectives. Sure, the “shattering” may be painful, but even a scarred city can be beautiful.
Overtown as Text
“Not just a building”
By Monica Perez of FIU at Overtown, 22, September 2021
Generation Z, nicknamed “Gen-Z”, have a radically different way of viewing the world compared to generations before them. Generational psychologists argue that this is because they were born in a very difficult time in America: the start of the war on terror. They saw the blooming of smartphones and tablets. Most of them even saw them incorporated in the classroom. Most recently, however, they are “coming of age” at a time where political tensions are rising to an alarming degree, and they are charged with the burden of “fixing” the world’s most complex issues: gender equality, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and racism. Miami’s community of Gen-Z’ers are faced with a unique set of issues that can be explored with a quick visit to Miami’s Overtown, formerly known as “Colored Town”.
On March 12, 1896, Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at the home of one of the black incorporators of Miami. Today, Miami’s Gen-Z views religion as an institution that oppresses women, LGBT+ people, and ethic and racial minorities. In the time of segregation, however, this church was one of the most empowering buildings the people of Colored Town could have built. In its prime, it allowed black people to worship, build community, and organize protests and sit-ins. There were moments where the building even functioned as a hospital because most had signs stating “whites only”. Churches were not just buildings of worship, they were the backbone of Colored Town.
Today, the people of Overtown do not fear that restrooms or restaurants be labeled “Colored” or “White”. They do, however, face complex issues, like gentrification and displacement. With this and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the pews of Great Bethel and other Churches in Overtown are emptier than they have ever been. Older members of the congregation that remember the Church in its youth mourn the empty building they have grown to love. Their friends are being displaced, and their projects are underfunded if they are funded at all. Many are tired from years of fighting and look to the younger generation to tackle the problem.
The issue causes discord in the head of a Miami Gen-Zer who wants to free themself and others from the oppression of religious institutions while also combatting the racial discrimination so many have fought to eliminate. The problem here lies in communication (or lack thereof). The older generation is tired (reasonably so), and they do not understand Generation Z’s sensitivity and view of the world. Meanwhile, the younger generation feels unheard and is simply unaware of these issues because they are not being taught in schools. It is important that children are not taught about segregation and racism like they are an evil monster that was fought and simply killed. They need to know that it evolved to become the police brutality, gentrification, and culturally appropriative monster it is today.
This may seem too simplistic or optimistic, but from the perspective of a Miami Gen-Zer, everyone (young, old, black, and non-black) needs to set their biases aside. Protecting churches like Greater Bethel not only protects the building and structure; it protects a house of religious expression, a piece of Miami’s history, and a tight-knit community that has experiences intense racism and oppression for decades.
Vizcaya as Text
“House of Lies”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at Vizcaya, 20, October 2021
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of the most beautiful, yet one of the most enraging, places in Miami. As one walks down the pathway to the entrance, one is greeted like royalty by the majestic landscape and the European architecture enhanced by the carefully carved statues that represent the rich culture of the owner’s ancestors. The waterfalls and tropical greenery invite one into the villa, and when stepping in the doorway, the house comes alive. Even the floors pull guests in different directions. Each room is representative of different artistic movements and philosophies. It seems to be oozing with art and culture.
All this makes it much more infuriating that Vizcaya is really a house of lies.
Vizcaya was not always a museum. James Deering started construction of his ocean-side villa in in 1912. As one of the wealthiest Miami residents at the time, he knew he would spare no expense to build a house that would make him look like a god. He “employed” over a thousand Bahamian workers to make his dream a reality. Like the rest of Miami, Vizcaya was constructed by the very people the owners wanted to keep out, and like most other Miami elites of the time, he knew nothing about them or their home. When taking a closer look at the exterior of the house, it is painfully clear he had no interest in learning.
In an effort to keep the “dangerous poor people” out, he wanted to build a medieval moat around his precious home. Despite being warned by locals that the water would drain into the earth, Deering believed he was exempt from the laws of nature. The American prince was not used to being told “no”, so he instructed his “workers” build it anyway. As predicted, the ground soaked up all the water, and he attempted to fill it with cacti instead. Today, mere middle-class peasants unknowingly walk right over the “moat” and get their dirty sneakers all over his marble flooring. This is one of many instances that proves Deering’s blatant disregard of local/indigenous voices and labor.
European culture and artistic movements were lazily incorporated into every room. The interior appropriates French Rococo, Neoclassical and East Asian art styles. This can be seen as appreciation and cultural literacy, but the height of appropriation and abuse falls in the so called “study” and “living room”. The walls of these rooms are adorned with fake bookshelves and artwork of children Deering does not even know. The living room contains the worst atrocity: above an organ (Deering did not know how to play) sits a Neapolitan portrait of the Virgin Mary… CUT IN HALF. Deering held such little consideration for the cultural significance of the work he had in his home that he made a complete mockery of it.
Deering’s Vizcaya villa is the extravagant, historical equivalent of wearing merchandise for a band you do not even listen to. It is the product of a white, uncultured, wealthy, American man attempting to show some ounce of culture. He strung together elements of mismatched and even opposing cultures to create an infuriatingly beautiful fortress of hypocrisy.
South Beach as Text
“More Than Meets the Eye”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at South Beach, 3, November, 2021
South Beach is an embodiment of Miami’s reputation. When non-natives and tourists imagine Miami, South Beach is what comes to mind. One cannot be surprised; South Beach is home to perfect beaches, beautiful palm trees, and Miami architects’ own take on the Art Deco design aesthetic. Most natives picture South Beach as “just another place to go on the weekends”, or worse, “a dangerous place riddled with crime and crazy, drunk, spring breakers”, but they fail to recognize the historical and cultural weight of the area they take for granted.
One of the most obvious staples of South Beach is its rendition of the Art Deco Design aesthetic. It was internationally popularized in the 1920s-30s, and it was brought to South Beach at around 1923. Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is home to around 800+ buildings that include staples like white facades with pastel highlights, curved edges, and “eyebrows”. This unique design makes visitors of South Beach feel transported into an alternate, colorful, sunny universe with beautiful sights and even more beautiful people. Thanks to Barbara Baer Capitman, the district is protected as a historic site, which protects the integrity of the buildings and their Art Deco style. Tourists and natives alike are not told just how important an architectural aesthetic is for an area’s history. For some, it was a way to de-colonize their professions and artistic styles to represent a forward-thinking and culturally diverse generation.
The people of South Beach are what truly make it what it is. It an unfortunate part of Miami’s history is that not every inhabitant of Miami was legally allowed to enjoy every aspect of its beauty. Just like the rest of the country, black, indigenous, and other people of color were not allowed in certain areas of Miami, including South Beach. Ethnic minorities like Jews who today inhabit a large area of Miami Beach were discriminated against in the days of segregation and even after that.
One building continues to stand tall as a reminder of the Jewish culture and faith as it holds a significant place in Miami’s history. The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU lives in two historic Art Deco buildings that were once a house of worship for the very first Jewish congregation in Miami Beach. The museum holds years of Jewish history in Miami and across Florida. It tells the story of oppressed Jewish communities in Miami and how they were oftentimes refused service at institutions targeted at wealthy tourists. Nowadays, especially on Saturdays, one would expect to see a number of Jewish people walking down Miami Beach to their nearest synagogue for the Sabbath, but many do not acknowledge that this would have been seen as an abomination in Miami’s earlier years. After visiting cultural sites like the Jewish Museum of Florida, one can see this walk as a beautiful victory.
South Beach should not be seen as a Spring Break, touristy, party town for the wealthy alone. It is home to a beautiful amount of cultural and ethnic diversity. It is held together by the black Bahamians and other people of color that built it, the LGBT+ people that entertain its people, and the Jewish people that pray for it.
Deering Estate as Text
“Time to Heal”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at the Deering Estate, 17 November 2021
The modern Miami resident moves far too fast. They are generally unappreciative of the place they call home. They live completely unaware of how incredible their Miami truly is. This is likely because many Miami residents do not have roots that dig very far into its history. One of the most common questions residents are asked is, “Where are you from?”. Many younger residents will say, “I was born here, but my family is from [insert foreign country].” Because of these shallow roots, many natives do not feel as connected to Miami. They do not care to look at a history they do not believe to be theirs. Miami’s Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans in particular were hurt by their root countries and felt forced to move here. This creates a painful disconnect that makes young residents want to leave.
Residents who do not interact regularly with the Deering Estate may know that it is a museum or that it was a summer home to an old white man, someone they will likely never relate to. What they may not know is that it is a perfect example of what is possible when culture and consideration meet money. It was once a home for Charles Deering and his close family and friends. Today, it is Miami’s very own time capsule. As a museum, cultural/education center, and nature reserve, the Deering Estate holds its own as a historic site listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The area is home to eight different ecosystems that are indigenous to Miami and remain untouched (spare the occasional archaeological dig ). It is a near perfect image of what Miami used to be. Not only was Miami absolutely stunning; it was home to Paleo-Americans (more inappropriately referred to as Paleo-Indians), the first people known to inhabit Miami over 10,000 years ago. A hike through any of these environments stimulates thoughts about what the land was like before development… before “America”. It is important for Miami’s current residents to visit places, like the Deering Estate, that connect modern residents to their geographic ancestors, Paleo-Americans and Tequesta people.
One can never understand what it feels like to be completely displaced–to have ones whole life uprooted and be forced to start anew. People need time to heal and live with that pain. Nature is the solution. Miami residents need to feel connected to the land they live on. Hiking through the raw crevices of the land serve as a direct link to the people that were there before. Though they may not be related by blood, and though some may not have chosen to live here, they are still connected by the land. Instead of dissociating from the land and clinging to feelings of pain and loss, Miami natives need to dig their roots into the rich Miami soil. It is time to heal the generational trauma and make Miami a home.
Rubell as Text
“In Defense of Modern Art”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at the Rubell Art Museum, 24 November 2021
Modern art has long been criticized by artists, patrons of the arts, and non-artists alike. Some say it is not technically comparable to classical art movements. Others say it is lazy, unappealing, or shallow. Some criticize the way artists use it to address difficult issues like politics, sexuality, gender identity, and racial discrimination. Miami residents who feel this way are out of luck. Because Miami is a relatively new community, most of the art that calls it home is considered “contemporary” (ie. made in the very late 20th and early 21st centuries). This means that most permanent museums in Miami will showcase predominantly contemporary art. It is all around us. It is inescapable. More importantly, it deserves more credit than is given.
The Rubell Art Museum, like most other private museums, started out as a family collection in 1965 (when the very first piece was acquired). In 1993, the collection was shared with the world when the museum opened to the public. It is home to over 7,200 pieces and counting and showcases more than 1,000 contemporary artists. An art lover in Miami would not expect to be impressed with the Rubells’ collection. After visiting the Wynwood Art District, South Beach, and the extensive collection at the Perez Art Museum, one would think they had seen all there was in the modern Miami art scene. These assumptions are far from correct. The Rubells have done a beautiful job at collecting and showcasing a diverse group of artworks that perfectly represent what Miami and contemporary art stand for.
The most common criticism of contemporary art is its simplicity, methods, and artists’ perceived lack of technical ability. While these arguments should be welcomed in discussions about individual artworks, generalizing a broad movement is harmful because it discredits the artists and the art itself. Contemporary art is not created to please classical artists; it is not created to please anyone. Contemporary art is the result of artistic expression breeding with innovation because it uses modern technologies to reach a modern audience. It is in direct competition with everything else that takes up our attention: jobs, cellphones, movies, social media, etc. It makes you think. Like authors, contemporary artists use symbols, abstraction, anything they can to tell their stories- stories that have not been told from their perspective until now.
An issue with museums of classical art (private museums specifically) is that most people do not often feel represented in the dialogue. Classical European art often depicts white figures in positions of power while people of color are depicted as evil, less than, or disgustingly stereotyped or commodified (the “oriental” movement is a horrific display of just that). Contemporary art is not representative for representation’s sake. It is representative because re-presents the world in the point of view of the oppressed, the enslaved, and the silenced. Kehinde Wiley’s “Sleep” is a perfect example of this. It depicts a peaceful black man who is sleeping naked with a delicate white fabric to keep him modest. He looks angelic, regal, and delicate-characteristics rarely attributed to black men. It resembles classical (and some religious) artworks that depict white Europeans in a dreamy environment. This piece is not a threat to masculinity, black men, or classical art. It is a piece that represents another perspective on what a black man looks like.
The bottom line is that all art was new at some point. There was a point in time where Picasso and Monet were the newest and “edgiest” artists around. Art evolved just as man did. Contemporary art has its flaws like any other movement. For example, it is easy to exploit consumers by artistically vomiting on a canvas, calling it art, and selling it for millions, but that is not art. It is a disgrace. Generally speaking, however, the movement is just as viable as any other, if not more important. It is a sign that the art world is changing for the better.
Everglades As Text
By Monica B Perez at Everglades National Park, 12 January 2022
One of the most interesting things about humans is how much we try to separate ourselves from “nature”and “the environment”. We talk about them as if we are not active participants in our ecosystem and cannot change the way it works. The Florida Everglades are one of the best examples of why this way of speaking is untrue. When Henry Flagler discussed expanding his railroad through South Florida, he initially wanted to completely kill the Everglades (or at least most of it). Though his engineers said this was impossible, they (and a few others) were able to change the way water moved through the area by destroying much of it and redirecting the water flow.
It is important to note that Floridians’ coexistence with the wildlife in the Everglades is not “humans interacting with nature”. It is nature interacting with itself. We are nature, and sometimes we forget. People like to distance themselves from nature by antagonizing it.
“This swamp is in the way of my development. I must destroy it in order to grow and survive.”
“This snake wants to kill me. I must kill it first.”
Nature is perceived as an obstacle or enemy when in reality, nature is not in the way; nor does it want. There are ways for us to coexist safely with wildlife, and doing this starts with acknowledging that we are wrong about some things. A quick trip to a raw, natural area like the Everglades shows us that while we are nature, our flawed attitudes have made it so we act unnaturally- out of harmony with the ecosystem. We take more than what we need to survive and confuse wants for needs. The rest of nature is wise enough to check itself and keep a balance. The snake only eats what it needs to, and will rarely overeat or leave food to waste. Plants grow in the water, but natural competitors ensure it does not overgrow.
Because we are able to use tools and develop technologies, we are unlike the wildlife in that we have few natural competitors. Disease and other illnesses are combatted with vaccines and medicines. Natural disasters cannot be stopped, but we have learned to build shelters that stand a chance. We need to be our own competitors and learn to keep ourselves in check. We do this by taking a page out of nature’s book. Take what you need, and keep your wants in check.
In short, humans try to distance themselves from nature when we have a very real role to play in our ecosystem. Our actions have consequences, and if we cannot keep ourselves in check, we will be our own destruction- not “the environment”. There are lessons we can learn from our ecosystems, and trips to natural, protected areas like the Everglades expose us to nature’s “wisdom”. They are a reminder that life is so much more than our wants, it is about what we can learn.
Coral Gables as Text
“The Grey Area”
By Monica B Perez at Coral Gables, 26 January 2022
Over the past few years, society has shifted from glorifying the past to sharing unspoken stories of the oppressed. This is such a beautiful shift because we are finally acknowledging the wrongs of the past and holding people of the present accountable for their missteps. It also lifts up the oppressed and gives them a chance to flourish. However, some criticize those who consider themselves “woke” or socially aware because some tend to hold historic media and figures to modern standards. Both points of view seem to be on opposing sides.
There are ways that we can discuss a figure’s historical significance and admit their wrongdoings. These are especially important when discussing the development of Coral Gables. The construction of Coral Gables started in 1910, when the Merrick house was completed. In the land boom of the 1920s, George Merrick quickly expanded the city to accommodate for Miami’s new wealthy citizens. Merrick and other developers relied on the work of black Bahamians to build most (if not all) of Coral Gables. Their conditions were dangerous and exploitative, and it was clear Merrick had no shame. In the 30s, Merrick advertised a resettlement plan to displace the black population of Miami and move the community across the state. Today, George Merrick is a widely criticized figure in Miami’s history, but are the critics too harsh?
The short answer is… welcome to the grey area. George Merrick is majorly responsible for developing one of the most beautiful areas of Miami. He did this by exploiting Bahamians for the sake of the wealthy. Both statements can exist simultaneously because he existed and did both simultaneously. Some choose to erase his image from buildings or fail to include him in certain conversations for fear of ruining their own image. Erasing him is not the answer to dismantling racism, but erasing his actions is just as harmful. Condemning blatant racism is not “cancel culture”, nor is it holding Merrick to a modern standard. It is actually the first step toward positive change. Sure, almost every rich white man at the time was a white supremacist, but this does not absolve George Merrick of his individual offenses.
Coral Gables is a beautiful community where the wealthy still consist of the major population. It is a town rich in history that is a product of racist ideologies of the time. Walking around the community as a solid middle class citizen of color is strange because you appreciate its beauty, but you know that you would not have been welcomed there 100 or even 60 years ago. It is a perfect example of the grey area where the history, founding members, and even present condition cannot be labeled as good or bad.
River of Grass as Text
By Monica Perez of FIU at the Everglades 16 February 2022
Being a suburban, West Kendall kid has its perks. The schools are good, the neighborhoods are safe, and there is a Publix located at every corner. It is every parent’s dream. Sure, the traffic is terrible and gas prices are through the roof, but at least you know you have a safe place to call home. Sometimes, however, the schools get so good that kids stop relying on nature to teach them things. The houses are so safe, kids do not need to go anywhere else to play. The Pub Subs are so good that kids do not need to pick berries off a bush that has been deemed safe to eat from. The kids grow into adults that have responsibilities and bills to pay. They never know what it means to soak up fleeting moments in nature.
Everglades National Park was established in 1947 with the goal of conserving Florida’s natural ecosystem and primary source of clean air. It is home to native flora like mangroves and Florida’s indigenous palm tree. Deer, alligators, panthers, and other fauna call it home. It is threatened now by climate change and invasive species, but nature has a way of adapting with our help through routine burnings and clearing of sawgrass. This is important because it helps control certain populations that may overgrow or make it harder for us to monitor and care for. Sawgrass clearings also reveal solution holes filled with clean, fresh water suitable for a swim.
When hiking through such unfamiliar terrain home to some dangerous flora and fauna, it is easy to feel stuck looking down. While the view is quite entertaining (there are interesting patterns and insects on the ground), one misses everything above and around them. Native birds passing by, the way the cypress trees dance in the breeze, the cloud that vaguely looks like horse with a sombrero- all these moments are missed because the kid who never goes outside decided to take a crazy class that makes her do things she never thought she would do (like hike through untouched terrain with alligators hiding near), so she cannot help but look down in fear. She passes up the chance to swim with her peers (and professor) in a solution hole that will be swallowed by sawgrass in just a few months because she did not want to smell like swamp.
It is so important for people to spend time in their parks to get used to their local environment. It teaches them when it means to take a clean breath that gives life to their body. They learn to feel safe and aware of their surroundings their ancestors called home. It encourages them to eat sweet berries from the bush that nourish their spirits. It gives them the chance to take in the fleeting moments that nature offers them, moments they will never get back.
Wynwood Arts District as Text
“The Ideal Classroom”
By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Wynwood Arts District 23 February 2022
The most common misconception about art is that it is just a hobby and that it has no place in the education system. Many assert that learning about art in any way is a waste of time that distracts from real academic fields like math, grammar, and science. Those same people will say there is no money in an art career or that it is easy, and therefore a useless idea. Clearly, these people have never been to Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.
Wynwood was first established in 1917 as a working-class neighborhood. It remained so until the late 2000s, when Tony Goldman and a few others started purchasing land and dedicating it to modern art in an effort to rebrand the neighborhood as a cultural hub for Miami. It has since become somewhat of a tourist destination and important part of the Miami art scene. Now, numerous collectors of modern art use warehouses in Wynwood to share their collection with the world. In 1999, the first phase Marguilles Collection at the Warehouse was established. Since then, they have used their space to display a wide variety of works from October to April, using May to September to rearrange the art and plan their next focus.
The Marguilles Collection has a close relationship with schools across South Florida, welcoming students from the ages of about 10 to their late twenties. Students attending any university in Florida can even receive free admission to the collection on any day. The Collection sees the value in using art as a supplement to education. Art, especially that present at the Marguilles collection, teaches students about math, physics, history, storytelling, psychology, and even emotional intelligence. The materials being used in certain pieces have practical, scientific explanations for their presence. Certain pieces address important historical events and movements that affect the way our society works today. It integrates different elements of other fields with something that is entertaining, shocking, saddening, exciting, or produces some other reaction.
Art is a crucial part of the human experience. It is what makes us unique among other species, and it should be celebrated. It is also a valuable tool in teaching students about complex subjects. It is important that schools integrate art into their required curriculum and find ways to safely visit museums, private collections, and unique neighborhoods like the Wynwood Arts District.
Key Biscayne as Text
“What I Wish I Knew”
By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park 16 March 2022
Growing up in Miami, Florida is one of the greatest privileges I now possess. I have a unique community of people that are similar enough to help me feel safe, but different enough from me that I am challenged in the best ways. I am comforted by the large Hispanic/Latine community here, but I am also presented with people of other cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds that broaden my perspective. One of the communities most dissimilar to my own is Key Biscayne. The island is home to (mostly) wealthy white people who share little to no experiences with me as a middle-class, hispanic person from West Kendall. This has been the area’s steady population since the colonization of Florida due to its perceived exclusivity and proximity to beaches and wildlife. Unfortunately, the stories before this population arrived are told incorrectly if at all.
Bill Baggs State Park is located in Cape Florida viewing Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The park appeals to residents Key Biscayne as a more high-end park and beach. Those outside of the area recognize it for this and the lighthouse colloquially named “El Farito”. The park makes known that the lighthouse was destroyed in the Second Seminole War. Historians will depict this day as a savage attack by uncivilized “Indians”. Even the images surrounding the park suggest this, but the Seminoles carried out a skillful, calculated attack that left only one survivor. In addition, the park provides information about how the park was a checkpoint for the Underground Railroad. Local schools, however, prefer to keep this information quiet to distance Miami from slavery, the Underground Railroad, and any signs of racism.
As I mentioned before, Miami is a diverse community that includes people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. However, schools are not doing the best job at making sure accurate local history is being taught. So many believe that the answer to the most complex racial and discrimination issues is erasure and re-writing. Erase lessons about how Miami was (and still is) a part of “The South”, which encouraged slavery and racial injustice. Re-write the Seminole people as inferior. The best way to alleviate the pain is to educate. As a Miami-raised college student in 2022, I wish I had known more about my local history, including that of Key Biscayne.
Coconut Grove As Text
By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Coconut Grove 30 March, 2022
A native “Miami-an” would categorize Coconut Grove to be “that place with no parking and lots of expensive restaurants”. It is a place where the lower-middle class goes to experience luxury, and only the upper class can stay the night. However, Coconut Grove is also home to a historically significant Bahamian community, groundbreaking faith communities, and nationally-recognized green spaces. It holds a surprisingly wholesome bit of Miami’s complicated history. Learning about Coconut Grove is essential to a well-rounded education on Miami’s history because it highlights so many different perspectives.
One of the most moving parts of Coconut Grove is the historic Bahamian community. Most educated “Miami-ans” know that there was a significant Bahamian population before white settlers colonized Florida and developed Miami Dade. This original community, neglected in the census, was responsible for actually building most older neighborhoods in Miami because they were the ones who best knew how to manipulate materials like oolite and limestone. Those honorable people now lay in a Bahamian-style cemetery that keeps their legacy alive. This style cemetery is so different from most North-American cemeteries that it inspires certain artists to replicate it as a setting for productions.
As with any other community in any part of the world, a great way to learn about Coconut Grove is to visit the different faith communities. Christ Episcopal Church, founded March 24, 1901, tells the story of the community because it represents it on their stained glass windows. Contrary to many Christian Churches that depict predominantly white figures, Christ Episcopal Church depicts significant characters in the bible, like Jesus, as black. This better immerses the community in the faith because they can see themselves represented on the walls. Plymouth Congregational Church, organized November 7, 1897, represents the land in the materials used to build it. The stone used to build it was gifted by a member of the community and sourced from Coco Plum Plaza. It is art and function created by hand, from the land it sits on.
The Barnacle was built in 1891 by Ralph Middleton Munroe, a middle-class, blue collar worker from Staten Island, New York. He built his house away from the developing city to maintain a “simple and genuine life”. Even today, few cars are allowed in the park, and little city noise can be heard from inside. The house is well known across the country for being built from the top down. The roof had been modeled similar to a boat (due to Munroe’s occupation), the second story was originally the first story, and the whole house was picked up using railroad jacks to build a first floor. Deemed a Florida Heritage site, it is a beautiful example of a hard-working, simple gentleman calling Miami his home.