Mariano Mendez: Overtown as Text 2022-2023

Mariano S. Mendez Perez is a junior majoring in Biological Sciences at FIU’s Honors College. Cuban-born and raised, he strives to achieve excellence and bypass the standard set by communist regimes now in the land of the free. His ultimate goal is to help others’ oral health by becoming a doctor in dental sciences. As a passionate tourist, he looks forward to exploring and creating memorable experiences. His hobbies include practicing martial arts, exercising, and playing video games.

Overtown as text

“A troubled and submerged town” by Mariano Mendez Perez of FIU in Overtown Miami on September 21, 2022

All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0

Is hard to imagine a place of such cultural importance be destroyed for business. Yet this exact thing has happened not only in Miami, but in other cities that grow exponentially, they often break important monuments of history. As population grows, so do construction sites for buildings, roads, and others. For many individuals, it is devastating to see the place you grew up on be destroyed for greed. Unfortunately, the people in Overtown have been seeing this reality unfold, many have had to leave their houses, and their neighbors.

As my class dove into what was known as a thriving-colored town, filled with life and joy, I had flashbacks of my home country. Very quickly I realized how similar the situation was for both Overtown and Cuba. Essentially, families had to flee to other places as new rules were set, and land was taken. My class got the chance of visiting what is left of Overtown, much of what was there was replaced with new buildings, roads like the I-95, or simply were bought out and destroyed.

One of the most impactful parts of the journey in Overtown was visiting the Greater Bethel. This Church is the oldest Black Church in the city of Miami, and it is still standing and in good shape. Founded in 1896, this sacred place was where many important events took place, like the speech Martin Luther King gave in 1958, amongst others. There, we met with a wonderful lady named Alberta Godfrey, she was kind enough to gives us the background of the church and the struggles it has gone through in order to stay open. From the hurricane in 1926, to the imposing demands from the city targeting organizations like the church, to the very people who made the church and congregation being displaced and torn apart, it is truly marvelous how it is still open. She reflected how important this church was for her and others, how the crowds were so big every time they gathered back in the day, that often people came hours early to secure a sit, and others simply just stood. However, she also said the church is struggling as of today since many members live too far to make it, also it was mentioned the people enrolled in the church has been steadily declining through the years because the younger generation don’t often go to church anymore. The story behind this house of prayer was truly inspiring, showing resilience to stay open and a great cultural background.

Unlike the Greater Bethel church, the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist church didn’t have the same luck with how well it stayed open. Also being founded in 1896, the church was a major development in Overtown. As of today, the church sits right next to the I-95 that destroyed the neighborhood. As the city of Miami grew, they gave two options to Mount Zion’s priest, he either had to destroy his house built next to the church, or the church itself. Obviously, his house was picked, and now the road built over it disrupts the peace a church often has, with cars being heard from inside the building. This is probably the most significant, and devastating example that could be given to how destructive the growth of Miami has been to Overtown.

As sad as this might all seem, it unfortunately cannot be undone. All through the history of the world, many errors have been made, most having a long-lasting effect on both the people and the places. Alas, the United States of America has dealt with a dark past of segregation and discrimination, and Overtown is one example. All one can do now is broadcast this story to the public and recognize the faults and the solutions.

Mariano Mendez: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Mariano S. Mendez Perez is a junior majoring in Biological Sciences at FIU’s Honors College. Cuban-born and raised, he strives to achieve excellence and bypass the standard set by communist regimes now in the land of the free. His ultimate goal is to help others’ oral health by becoming a doctor in dental sciences. As a passionate tourist, he looks forward to exploring and creating memorable experiences. His hobbies include practicing martial arts, exercising, and playing video games.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Lands of riches” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU in Downtown Miami on September 7, 2022

All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0

As time progresses, it is human nature to slowly lose interest, and perhaps forget, about the upbringings of the land they step on. However, in most cases, the very soil that one takes for granted is filled with major cultural and historical events worth knowing. Downtown Miami is internationally recognized for its impressive skyscrapers and coastal infrastructure, yet most never get to know the historical artifacts laid around, or beneath. Hidden, yet present within your surrounding. As the city keeps evolving into an ever-growing Metropolis, it is important to revisit its past and gather its fruitful antiquity to feel connected and appreciate the beauty of it all.

Ever since immigrating from Cuba, I have always resided in Miami. Downtown has always been a special place for me, the atmosphere and views are something amazing to be a part of. However, I never once thought about how Miami came to be, and the history that led to today. The timestamp ranging from the Tequestas to the Spaniards, to the British, and so on is interesting. As I explored the culture and buildings with my classmates, I realized how much I was missing from what makes Miami what it is today.

The Tequestas thrived for around 2000 years before colonialism ultimately took over. They used shells and shark teeth to make powerful hammers and knives, among other things such as cups or horns. These helped them hunt for food, gather water, or even communicate. Having coasts all along your land made it easy for them to hunt fish from the ocean and rivers. All of this was essentially ruined by the arrival of Spaniards, or specifically, a man named “Ponce De Leon” and his crew, in 1513. The old native tribes were easily outgunned and out armored by them and over time would be affected by battles among other things like disease and enslavement. Some of the Tequesta remains were found in what is now known as the Tequestan Circle in Downtown.

Another powerful landmark is the William Wagner and Eveline Aimar house. This is now the oldest house structure in the city of Miami, and one which contains a broad past. They were a mixed couple in a time when segregation was dangerous and still used. When they had children, because of their dark-colored skin, they were also harshly discriminated in their upbringing. Mrs. Wager came upon a group of Seminoles at the end of the Seminole wars, it being a dangerous altercation, he used his ingenuity to invite them for a meal, which they accepted. It is said that the group of Seminoles, and the racially mixed couple, dinned in their humble little house. The property still stands, but it has been heavily renovated because of Florida’s challenging weather.

To conclude, this class exploration of Downtown Miami has made me more aware of the extensive history it has. It seems like the lands of Miami are full of rich antiquity, from the Tequesta people to the colonization ages, to today, learning it makes you appreciate your surroundings and actually feel a sense of connection to those times. It is beautiful how Miami has evolved to be a city of broad cultural beliefs and practices, all living and coexisting with one another.

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