Mariano S. Mendez Perez: Miami as Text Spring 2023

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Miami Encounter as Text

“My Grand Abode” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU 2023

As a 10-year Miamian resident, I would say my time living here does not properly indicate my acquaintance of the place. The reason I say this is because apart from casual Downtown stroll or beach visit, I haven’t really gone anywhere else. There are two completely different timestamps regarding the before and after of taking Bailly’s Honors Class. The before, where I knew the most basic locations with little to no knowledge of Miami’s history, to now, the after, where I have visited incredibly beautiful settings, ones which have changed my perception of where I live.

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

I feel most individuals are just like I was one year ago, people who live in one of the most interesting locations in the world yet hardly know about it. The thing with Miami is that it has so much to offer, it is just massive. With an amazing guide like professor Bailly, one really gets to experience the true Miami. When I was looking for an Honors class, I was looking for another experience rather than a normal lecture and that’s exactly what I got. The locations are perfectly laid out, they offer extensive historical value and are overall exciting.

Although personally I see Miami as a futuristic and sensational city, throughout the course one gets to learn the other side of the picture as well. In the live lecture through Overtown and some parts of Coconut Grove, one gets to see the impoverished, somewhat forgotten estates, overrun by the money and innovative ideals of large corporations. Their schemes to erase significant historically bound buildings as well as low-end neighborhoods is saddening. Like I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, since most individuals lack this knowledge, there is not much to be done to put a stop to these trends.

In the other hand, places like the Everglades and the Deering Estate Nature Preserve are steps in the right direction worth highlighting. The preserving of natural environments should always be of upmost importance in today’s society. Although modernity has encouraged a transformation to more and more technology, it is always important to keep and protect our nature. The work of highly talented environmentalist, among others, is evident when visiting and exploring these places. The hikes throughout both sites were highly impactful and refreshing. My classmates and I got to see how different wildlife and plants thrive in such places, and how it protects and benefits us in the end. To know Miami also has a side of nature that is greatly conserved is amazing. I will always push these ideals, instead of obliterating significant sites; it is important to maintain a balance.

As I plan to continue to reside here for a long time, it is wonderful knowing more about the place now than I ever did before. I will now be able to show friends and family what I have learned and portray the uniqueness that makes up of what is the great city of Miami.

The Everglades as Text

“A Treasure Trove” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at the Everglades January 11, 2023

Ever since I resided in Miami nine years ago, not once did I ever think of visiting the great Everglades. Although you “the reader” might rule that out as some sort of arrogance or nonsensical behavior, I can tell you that I was never really encouraged to go, so it never crossed my mind. However, that all changed after glancing over Mr. Bailly’s teaching plans and seeing the Everglades as a destination site for one of our live lectures. Then my interest spiked, I knew from start it was going to be a fun learning experience!

Initially, before our intrusion into the wilderness, I had thought of the place as a swampy, gator-infested habitat. Although I was not completely wrong, it was so much more diverse than I ever imagined. From different ecosystems all together, to the sheer size of it, its massive! The Everglades is a special place, recognized internationally for its importance in today’s modern world. It establishes a reservoir for numerous endangered species like the American Crocodile and the Florida Panther, among others. Its full purpose does not end there, it also serves as a major fresh water source for all of South Florida.

Another reason for why the Everglades is of extreme importance to the State of Florida is because of its vegetation. Obviously, more plants always tend to signify a prospering ecosystem. However, for Floridians, the dense mangroves help with erosion and in general promote soil health. Also, it protects against hurricanes, a common natural phenomenon for the peninsula since it helps with flooding. Its strong intertwined roots reduce the energy from these powerful systems, as they break apart wind and water currents.

While Mangroves are one of the Everglades’ strong points, it is also important to mention its other plants and their respective significance to the environment. A peculiar little plant, bromeliads serve as an essential food and water source for different animals. And lastly, the Bald Cypress, another significant plant, they aid animals with food and cover. Like Mangroves, it also prevents flooding and promotes soil health. During our trip, we got to explore through this Cypress Dome, and it is clear as to how it gives cover to animals since it is enormously packed together, and to be honest, without guides it is an easy place to get lost.

Additionally to all its wonders, the one thing which personally impacted me the most from this trip was when we individually ventured into our own bit of space inside the Cypress Dome and remained silent, meditating. I was truly fascinated by the mental clarity one gets from being so exposed to our world’s raw nature, so dangerous, but at the same time peaceful and soul-healing.

An eventful day, where I learned the true magnitude of one of the most important places in the world. A beautiful ecosystem, full of life. This adventure was not only informative, but it has encouraged me to be more exploratory, to check out other magnificent places our planet offers. I believe if more people were to go out into nature, they would want to preserve and take care of our planet a bit more.

Photos by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Coconut Grove as Text

“Wonders of Coconut Grove” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Coconut Grove February 5, 2023

A truly eye-opening stroll through a new location, and a remarkable memory for me, like always. Personally, I don’t think I have ever visited Coconut Grove, maybe passed by it but never actually went to it. Like many other trips, I learned so much from so little time, like how Bahamians were pretty much the ones who started building and making things happen for the place. Additionally, I also came to the realization that Coconut Grove it not so much the fancy place I had envisioned before going.

During our visit, I got to experience the rich history of the oldest settlements in Miami. Created even before Miami was established itself, it had a small population and much land to offer for exponential growth. For these reasons, one could say Coconut Grove is the backbone of Miami.

However, the sad reality of some parts of Coconut Grove is how little the city takes care of its monuments. It is apparent how most buildings in certain locations are poorly maintained and falling apart. This all comes about cut funds and high taxes, some property owners are lucky enough for their building to be made a historic site, and some not so much. Most old buildings are challenged by new ideas of replacement, some do get torn down and some stay. I am a firm believer that the city should relish its history and maintain and promote its infrastructure. I am sure certain individuals would agree with my ideals.

In the other hand, a place that completely captivated me was “The Barnacle”. The oldest home in Dade-County is full of amusement. Not only is it still in great shape, but it has an amazing story. The owner “Mrs. Munroe” moved down here from upstate, his reason, his wife’s illness. The prime motive for multiple people to move to Miami was that of sickness, especially tuberculosis. The whole place is enchanted-like, the house by the ocean is wonderful. Additionally, I always had a passion for infrastructure, and the way he built it was utterly incredible. I have never heard of a method like his before, as he built the second floor first, and then lifted it to make the first floor. Also, the house has a great design, allowing for the ocean breeze to pass through the home, keeping it ventilated in Miami’s hot weather.

One last building that also gained my attention was the Christ Episcopal Church. Mainly because of the beautiful stained glass, the first one I have ever seen with the combination of Christ and popular figures like Martin Luther King, among others. The congregations served the Black community as a place of worship and prayer. It is magnificent how it is still in great shape and well kept, a juxtaposition of other buildings near it. Ironic enough, our visit was stalled for a while because an inspection was going on for a construction next to the church.

Overall, I can now mark off Coconut Grove not only as a place I have visited, but also one I have learned a great deal about. I got to see both the pretty and the ugly sides, a true experience.

Photos by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Coral Gables as Text

“Dark past, Bright future” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU

As also seen in multiple parts of Miami, Coral Gables shares a dark uprise since it started being constructed in the early 20th century. Although the end product might be prosperous and beautiful, it is important to recognize, and never forget its beginnings.

Built during a time of harsh segregation, a man named George Merrick had a vision to convert a bland place into an European style city. He advocated for the moving of numerous black communities in order for his projects to take place, forcefully displacing them and severely disrupting the lives of those affected. However, in the other hand, all of this led to what is now known as the city of Coral Gables.

His actions were undeniable crude and damaging to black individuals, yet it is important to also acknowledge the good. Mr. Merrick never went to Spain but was rather inspired when visiting Cuba and Mexico; the European Mediterranean style architecture is evident when walking through the city. Most of the town is built behind this, with buildings having open plazas, fountains, and sculptures of European descent. Because of this, a magnitude of people find going to Coral Gables is a refreshing experience with a touch of uniqueness compared to other places in Miami. Although an expensive place now days, some decide to live there because they enjoy the distinctive setting.

Some remarkable infrastructures worth noting are the Coral Gables City Hall and Colonnade building. They both are also tied to Mr. Merrick since the City Hall portrays a big statue of him next to the building; the other structure served as his corporation sales office. It is clear how much resemblance they have to Spanish infrastructure, one has Spanish Renaissance style architecture while the other is a mixture of Spanish Colonial and Baroque. The City Hall in specific has much significance to him since it was a step closer to his dream of having a full Mediterranean style city.

Lately, more controversy has sparked since it was found George Merrick had complete racist proposals and ideals. Because of this, the University of Miami is trying to remove his name and all association with him. Since his true intentions came to light, even after his death, his name has been irreversibly damaged by the public eye. However, in regard to the UM situation, removing a founder of the school that brought it to its existence is somewhat nonsensical and disrespectful. It is easy to point out the bad, but hard to acknowledge the good.

In the end, one can only admire this wonderful place. Far different from all locations near it, the setting can make you feel like you are visiting Europe. Recognizing who took the steps to build it is important, and who labored it even more. The numerous Black Bahamians who worked hard even in times of harsh segregation is honorable. Also, it is imperative to know that even if its history might be dark, it led to what is now known as the city of Coral Gables.

Norton as Text

“A beautiful world of Art” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach

Although I would say I am drawn to art, that being because I personally enjoy it and do some myself, through the time I have been in the United States I have not been to a museum. Apart from other places which we have visited as a class, I have never stepped out of my comfort zone and gone to one. So, as expected, I find myself truly fascinated by artworks whenever I see them. Art is indefinitely valuable, as it is a timeless relic. Like the Mona Lisa, among others, they are often an expressive marvel, full of meaning and history.

The Norton Museum focuses on a more European style of art. The founders, Ralph and Elizabeth Norton fell in love with artistic pieces when decorating their home, opening the museum later on. Even though I personally respect and recognize all artistic works as art, I prefer those which are not abstract and depict an actual image or thing. The museum displays numerous Evangelic and medieval works throughout. These wonders are part of history, and the amazing thing is how you can feel a connection to the artist because of a painting. Knowing a backstory, one can imagine the original creator and that, to me, is fantastic.

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

A specific painting which caught my eye was the “Study for Head of Saint John the Evangelist” by Peter Paul Rubens. The fixed position of the head of St John in the over-the-shoulder state was significantly important in reshaping religious artworks and promoting not only Catholic religions, but most religions in general. The Baroque painting was made of oil on wood and was given bright colors and sharp contrasts. His paintings in general gave a sense of passion and love, because of the way they were made and because it is depicting a somewhat religious figure, praised by many in Christianity.

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Another painting which also grasped my attention was the “Nympheas, Water Lilies” by Claude Monet. This impressionist attempted to paint a moment in time, his water lilies. During his lifetime, he created about 250 paintings with this style of art. Extremely peculiar, from close distance it is blurry and seems to be abstract, yet as you walk backwards you start to get the picture intended. This type of art is tremendously creative and immersive. It also has a strong sense of passion and love, as the artist focuses all his works on his water garden in Giverny, which makes it personal and intimate. I found this style of painting truly remarkable and in turn sparked my interest in such. Similar artworks like this will definitely be portrayed in my future house one day.

To conclude, the Norton Museum has a great collection of art. Most being from the European medieval era, others not so much. Trips through museums like this enhance the perception one has towards artworks. After it, I found myself motivated to work on my own pieces, knowing a bit more and seeing a bit more from a range of artists made it easier for me to implement my own ideas.

Key Biscayne as Text

“A lighthouse of dreams” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Key Biscayne

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

When talking about Miami’s most interesting locations to visit, one must mention “el farito”. The lighthouse, located in Bill Baggs Park in South Florida, is the oldest standing structure in Miami Dade County. It has been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, and so it has considerable history. Its original purpose was to protect ships from crashing into the coastal reefs, which was extremely common at that time.

The Bill Baggs Park in general is a great place to visit as it offers great views and a nice beach to swim in. It is now a nice spot to enjoy with your family and friends, however, it was not always like that. The lighthouse in specific was built during a time of conflict, “the Seminole War”. On July, 1836, Indian Seminoles attacked the structure, heavily damaging it in the process. A man named John W. B Thompson was able to survive and successfully defend the tower, but sadly his slave Aaron Carter did not. After those chains of events, a man named Bill Baggs convinced the owners of the land to sell it to the government, and so he did. This is why the location is now called after his name, he was the reason as to why we can go and visit the place.

Even though “el farito” is not the main beach I go to with friends, since it is not as local as the other ones, it has a touch of uniqueness that makes it such a cool beach. For one, the lighthouse right next to the water gives it such a cinematic view, unmatched by other places. Our classmates and I were fortune enough to be let inside the lighthouse and be able to take a peek at the top of it. It was spectacular, although tremendously windy that day for some reason, which degraded the whole experience a tiny bit, the view was so refreshing. One could see the beach, the park vegetation, and the city by just going around the lighthouse or just turning our heads. I was able to capture some truly amazing photography that really portrays our point of view. While I have been to Bill Baggs Park before, I have never been inside the lighthouse, it is something I can now check off my checklist.

Photos by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Subsequently to going inside “el farito”, the class continued to the second phase, as we began to clean up the place. Using machete-like tools, we productively cut off any branches or leaves which were getting out of control. After it was all done, park rangers took care of the heavier debris.

Overall, the Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park in general is and has always been an amazing site to visit. Now knowing all the history behind it makes it so much more intriguing. Knowing that there was a war where I walked is chilling and immersive, it only adds cool factor points to the whole experience.

Wynwood as Text

“An unspecific Collection” By Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Wynwood

As our class arrived and consolidated on the main entrance of the Margulies warehouse, I knew from the beginning it was going to be an insightful experience. Our professor then presented us to Martin Margulies, a pronounced collector and real estate businessman. A knowledgeable old man, he possesses a large collection of over 5,000 pieces of art, ranging from contemporary art to photography. He took time out of his schedule to come present his collection to us, an admirable doing and one I am thankful of.

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

One of the first pieces of artwork he presented was the “Unfired Clay Torso” by Mark Manders. This sculpture is quite captivating, while the looks perceive that of a clay or ceramic figure, it is actually bronze. However, the thing I find the most interesting is the meaning behind the object, while some parts are shiny and well detailed, others seem brittle or destroyed. The whole structure has parts of art history from different periods in time. To the normal eye, the figure is a stunning clay figure, to the trained eye, and with a bit of backstory, one is hit with the hidden reality.

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Another wonderful work of art in the Margulies Collection is Kiefer’s “Secret of the Ferns”. The small room-like constructions are meant to depict the hardships of the Jewish during the infamous Nazi Germany dehumanizing acts in World War two. It has a dark connotation and feeling to it, it lacks color and seems quite ruined or falling apart. Next to it there is 48 pictures of actual ferns. The artist believes ferns contain secret knowledge that follow a death principle; the whole idea in general is quite powerful. The structures weighted several tens of thousands of pounds, and so it needed special machinery to be brought into the warehouse. This all shows how much love Martin Margulies has for his collection of art.

Photos by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Lastly, Barry Mcgee’s “truck installations with TVs” is such a cool concept to come up with. The artwork is basically a van, full of graffities, with multiple TVs inside of it. Is that not genuine? Graffiti was and is still used often as a form of expression in the streets. Usually as a way to get a message out to whoever the graffiti is intended to, the van marks an important change in Graffiti’s history, as it switched from a street thing to an institutional thing, being portrayed in museums, etc. Personally, to me, Mr. Mcgee’s truck is not just graffiti being displayed on a van, but the whole idea of the van with the turned on Tvs paired with the drawings that absolutely blew my mind, it takes much creativity to come up with that type of art.

As the live lecture of the Margulies collection came to a halt, Mr. Margulies explained the importance of the subconscious mind and how it can change our life. Personally, being exposed to more art has made me see so many different ideas, the ideas of those artists and what they are trying to portray, it is completely fascinating to me.

Chosen Neighborhood as Text

“A Miami Delight” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Miami Beach

Photo by Mariano S. Mendez Perez / CC BY 4.0

Ever since I was a small child, I have had a passion for the ocean. I went to multiple Cuban beaches, and whilst they are still the best, in my opinion, Miami Beach is a close second for me.

Because of my love for the water, I participated in my old high school swimming club. I was extremely fast, beating the captain and numerous other prolific individuals. All that swimming has made me a bigger beach goer than most normal people. With that being said, now in the present day, I always see myself going to the local beach with some buddies to hang around. I love Miami Beach mostly because it is super local and near, it is also quite a decent beach so that is a plus.

The unmatched detail when comparing Miami Beach to the Cuban Beaches is that I can also go to a nearby hotel and stay the night, or buy whichever treat or drink I like from a local market if I really wanted to; Cuba lacks this for obvious reasons, its regime and whole system is a complete mess, but I will not get into that.

Another reason as to why I love Miami Beach is because of its racial mixture. One can see all types of ethnicities when walking by, not just Cuban Americans, but other Hispanics and Europeans as well. This makes the place have a positive atmosphere to it, as it is often full of visitors just having a good time and enjoying the warm weather and the beach.

As a long time enjoyer of the place, I know not to get caught up spending in restaurants or hotels, or anything in general. The location is fairly expensive since it is always a high demand place, fully packed on most occasions. Even parking is somewhat challenging or costly, that is why I tend to go with a large group of friends instead of each going on our own.

The decorative buildings in Ocean Drive feature an Art Deco style which definitely draws in numerous tourists. It has remained untouched pretty much since its construction, and it definitely makes up a significant portion of what Miami Beach is known for. Some people tend to go just to have a good time in the plentiful restaurants or to watch the beautiful buildings and the incredible scenery of what some consider the true Miami.

Sadly, there has been a recent Bill which if approved, could allow for the removal of some of these architectural marvels. The bills “SB1317” and “HB 1346” are made so that big corporations are legally allowed to own and destroy historic Art Deco buildings, or any building for that matter, even if classified as historic. This, personally, is a horrible idea, Ocean drive is somewhat the heart of Miami Beach. It must be preserved and retouched but never demolished.

Even if Miami Beach is not my all-time favorite beach I have ever been to, it holds close to my heart as a common spot I visit all the time. Since Miami always tends to have warm weather, it makes it perfect to go whenever one pleases, that paired with the fact that is relatively close by is complete delight to all Miamians.

Chicken Key as Text

“A necessary redo” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Chicken Key

As a highly energetic person, I find hikes and anything to do with physical activity a blast. That is why, when I heard that our classmates and I were going to head to Chicken Key for a second time to clean up, I was excited! With a crew of five highly talented individuals, we went around the island in search of contaminants and pollutants harming the beautiful ecosystem.

Sadly, the shores of the small island are always filled with debris. Due to the natural physics of the universe, all the trash left in the ocean slowly crawls back to the coasts, or sinks, or is eaten by animals that we in turn eat. This is partially why mercury ends up in our diet if we eat fish, a sad reality which must be combated at all costs.

Since this happens, it is imperative to stop polluting our oceans, but also to clean up uninhabited little islands like Chicken Key. It is always a good deed, and a fun one if paired with interesting individuals.

To no surprise, as our little crew of five came around the island, we found so much trash that if we really wanted to, we could have decorated a house, no kidding! We found parts of a couch which happened to weigh tons, some sort of plywood or plastic (also heavy), shoes, cans, etc. We really made and effort to try and fit all of it in our canoe, which was hard but, in the end, manageable. Even though we were working hard, our time was spent throwing jokes and puns, since this was the last class we were going to have.

As we continued in search of contaminants, we were alerted that there was a venomous water snake and that we should not roam around a specific part of the island. Apart from that, we spotted puffer fish and other kinds of fish but they were too fast to photograph. Also, while going around the island, I was able to see so much healthy mangroves and it reminded me of how great of a purpose cleaning up the island really is. During our semester, I learned mangroves are essential to us in South Florida, but to the little island of Chicken Key, important to its inhabitants, little crabs, spiders, birds, and snakes, amongst others. Mangroves help with soil erosion and with natural disasters like hurricanes, a natural phenomenon common in Florida, as it disrupts water currents and wind patterns.

Although the trip to Chicken Key is not a usual Miami in Miami class, as it lacks the live lecture which makes up part of the course experience, it is still complete fun. Kayaking, or in my case, canoeing there, is a healthy practice and a nice skill to have. Although that day in specific was quite windy, which made us push even harder, it did not diminish the experience. As a last class, I would say it was the perfect location, a memory for life.

Miami Final Reflection

“Memories” by Mariano S Mendez Perez of FIU

There is a saying that goes like “nothing good lasts forever”, and that is how I feel about this Miami in Miami class. As the course came to an end, I can now say that I know more about Miami than ever before. The amount of information I learned throughout the class is fantastic. Whether it was about a place’s history, or the place itself, this style of class in incredibly unique and effective. At the start of the fall semester, I still remember feeling a bit underwhelmed, being my first semester in FIU, I did not quite understand the class directions as I never took anything like it before. Because of this, I missed the first meeting where professor Bailly made his introduction. Although some might say it was not the ideal start, I later came to love this class for what it was, the search for the authentic Miami.

Personally, I had never really stepped out of my comfort zone when talking about going to new places. I knew Miami’s beaches like Dania Beach and South Beach, Downtown, and other common places. However, during the time of this class, we got to travel to the Everglades, to impoverished areas in Coconut Grove and Overtown, we also traveled to Chicken Key twice! Things I never really thought I would experience, especially not during my undergraduate studies. I definitely planned on this after I started working in my field later on, but not now. Though unexpected, I do not regret taking this class one bit. The live lecture style personally suits a class of this size, with only a small number of students, professor Bailly is able to get his points across without having to exert much effort. Also, because of the intimacy of being a smaller group, it was easier for everyone to make friends with one another.

Also, going to different museums like the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach or the Margulies collection in Wynwood, one got to reflect and perceive different artworks by a wide range of talented individuals. Pair that with awesome speakers and expositors like Martin Margulies and Mr. Bailly, amongst others, one gets to learn immersive knowledge, really interesting in nature. During our visit through various museums, I got to see a wide range of art, from Contemporary Art to Baroque to abstract pieces, I believe I saw it all, or came close to it. The illustration of ideas through paintings is as pure of an art as there is one. The creativity that some artists have like Barry Magee truck of TVs or the Monet Nympheas water lilies, every work possesses some sort of meaning, passion, and intention. A beautiful form of expression.

During our Everglades hike, we got to experience a side of nature we never get in touch with.

Actually getting in the water, and seeing wild animals and plants all around you is somewhat primitive, yet humbling. As one familiarizes with raw nature in real time, some of our perception changes. We live in a city heavily industrialized and modern, with abundant buildings and cars, yet we never really get to experience the world as it is. Most of us live within the city, never getting in contact with our plant. After the hike I felt a sense of awareness like never before. We must protect the very animals and plants within the Everglades, as they in turn protect and aid us.

The culmination of the class occurred in Chicken Key, and it could not be more perfect. Knowing it was the last class, our classmates and I had a blast going around the small island in search for debris. In the end, we were able to get incredible amounts of trash, helping the ecosystem thrive.  I can now say I know Miami better than ever before, with different perspectives in life as a whole. All thanks to our great instructor Mr. Bailly and the Miami in Miami Honors class!

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.

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.

Chicken Key as Text

“The cleansing of nature” by Mariano Mendez Perez of FIU in Chicken Key on October 5, 2022

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

Apart from the great views, it is known how islands typically have broad biodiversity. As the land is bordered by water, the different types of animals and plants that grow there are increased compared to other lands. However, it is also known how remote islands tend to gather huge amounts of trash every year. Human contamination is well known and less acted upon, the amounts of plastic that end up in the oceans are detrimental to fish and others, and even worse, it ends up harming us in the end! As fish eat up this plastic, the levels of mercury increase, which in turn end up in our diet. This is one of the many reasons why we should clean the environment, if everyone put in a bit of effort, the change would be exponential!

The beautiful island of Chicken Key is a clear example of how we are harming Earth. Being in the Caribbean, East of Southern Florida, it is a magnet of trash. Every year, the ocean tides conclude in Chicken Key’s sand, therefore all debris lingering around in the ocean due to hurricanes and simple human ignorance pollute its shores; the number of plastics there is incredibly sad. As our class gathered to go clean up the shores, I, among my classmates, where highly excited to help biodiversity thrive! The lengthy kayaking to get there, and seeing nature firsthand was an interesting experience.

As we settled our kayaks and canoes on the island, we started seeing signs that Chicken Key was going to be full of debris. Hurricane Ian didn’t help matters, as it devastated parts of Florida just a week before. As we got to work, I started seeing how beautiful nature there really was. A broad ecosystem, filled with mangroves, sea grass, and other types of plants among animals such as hermit crabs, birds, spiders, etc. On the other hand, as we started heading inward, we were stunned to see the number of plastic containers, caps, shoes, and even metal debris. As a nature lover, it was truly heartbreaking seeing everything firsthand.

In the end, we were able to clean up huge amounts of trash and help out the wildlife there. Professor Baily explained how in all his years of cleaning Chicken Key, he had never collected as much garbage as our class did that day. As humankind progresses, it is easy to forget how polluted we have made the ocean; if individuals cleaned an island like Chicken Key from time to time, they would be surprised by how rewarding of a feeling it is. Detoxing a beautiful island was a fulfilling experience, if everyone put an effort into helping clean the environment, Earth would be a better, cleaner place.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens as a Text

“Forgotten relics and antiques in Miami” by Mariano Mendez of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

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

Throughout the world, there are many places that one could regard as an overlooked gems of the past, often forgotten and only visited by those curious enough to be interested. Humans have achieved architectural wonders as time has passed, some destroyed for any given circumstances, and others maintained and still up strong. One such example is right here, at the doorstep of Miamians, in Vizcaya.

The mansion of James Deering, today known as “Vizcaya Museums and gardens”, was a luxurious masterpiece of its time. Allocated strategically on the South Coast of Florida, it has some of the most extravagant items and views in any place in Miami. The owner, a businessman of high class, is known for an agricultural machinery family company. He had dreams of leaving the cold and moving down South to a warmer area where he could build a house suited for his big ambitions. He indeed ended up bringing his ideas to reality when started and finished his house. Right at the entrance, it is clear how he wanted to make a house of art, not only to show off his ideas, but his money to anyone who visited him at the time. The downward trail, with numerous fountains by the side focused straight on his beloved villa. It was said that anyone walking down that trail could smell the fresh scent of the ocean. Unfortunately, due to renovations, this very big feature was removed when air conditioners were placed and so they had to put glass, essentially blocking the smell. As one entered the house, one was met with an abundant show of statues and paintings. Mr. Deering had a love for European-style decorations, and so he based his tiles, furniture, and overall features around that. One of the features which mostly impacted and caught my attention was how in his office, James has a mini library of books, which were all cut in half, as the door to the other room was too big for the full books to be placed. This decision was only to impress spectators who scrolled on by his house, it served no other purpose than that.

Additionally, to many of its features, its garden and coastal views were beautiful. It seemed that this house was the embodiment of spring season, a warm, subtropical paradise. James Deering achieved a masterpiece when he decided to construct such a building. The place has so much art, and thought put into it that it became a museum, as of today. It will most likely continue to be a tourist attraction, for those who seek to explore a house of bliss.

Miami Beach as Text

“Island meets modernity” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at South Beach on November 2, 2022

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

It seems like a common trend for human urbanization to grow and expand at the expense of environmental life. Whilst we continue to innovate as a society, it is often that nature is harmed and left in despair. However, it is not all bad, as constructions and developments happen, it allows us to enjoy a modernized place, with an uninterrupted breeze, like Ocean Drive. Truly a beautiful place with extensive history and culture.

What some might consider a fun, tropical, tourism magnet, is all thanks to a man named “Carl Fisher” who emerged with an idea of creating a small city on what was known to be a biodiverse island. Some deem his action inconsiderate, as the land had a rich habitat, and also because discrimination soon followed Miami’s beaches as developments of his ideas progressed, mainly because he, the protagonist of this move, was supposedly racist himself. As the city grew, Blacks and Jews were soon restricted from many of the areas of Miami Beach, quite ironic, as it was found African-Americans and Seminoles resided there, long before any of this happened. However, it is hard to not recognize the creations that led to the wonderful city of Miami Beach, as of today.

Subsiding from the darkness which occurred during the upbringings of Ocean Drive, the amount of culture in one small place is truly amazing. After the establishment of the city, many designers took the role of building structures which resembled machines, very symmetrical, with sharp lines and curved edges. They also took inspiration from European buildings with Mesopotamian and Mesoamerican designs. All these constructions constitute to what is known today as the Art Deco, a preserved number of buildings with astute detail and beauty.

The mixture of modern and old infrastructures side by side to the beach is what attracts an immense number of tourists every year to Miami Beach. Once rich with wildlife, now a booming city. It seems to stand true, how bad always seems to balance out with good, in the end.

Deering Estate as Text

“The beauty in preserving nature” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Deering Estate, November 16, 2022

As unusual as it is, some organizations step up to keep something as it was instead of replacing it with new ideas. Now, I am no hardcore environmentalist, but I appreciate when things such as nature are nurtured, when they are kept genuine and pure. As my class strolled down the preserved wilderness of Deering Estate, I felt like I got close to the roots of the real Miami, I experienced a sense of serenity, like never before.

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

Is hard to put into words how beautiful the scenery was, from the diversified fauna, to the butterflies, and the clearest pond of water I have ever encountered, there is no better place to experience Miami’s nature than in the Deering Estate Preserves. The walk throughout the land was a little difficult, and some might say a bit “dangerous” as well, but that only adds excitement to the adventure. Dodging holes several feet deep, and poisonous plants was nothing but a small inconvenience, as long as you pay attention to your surroundings, everything should be fine.

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

Our class was lucky enough to encounter multiple butterflies which are considered to be an endangered species worldwide. Native to Florida, the Atala butterfly is a mostly black type of butterfly which was thought to have gone extinct, until it was spotted again here in our own land. This creature adds a touch of uniqueness to the already stunning place. They are closely monitored, and I, for one hope they continue to thrive here as butterflies are gorgeous animals.

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

Charles Deering’s achievements were plenty, but the creation of an estate in the middle of Miami’s nature was a marvelous idea, and one which will be appreciated much more than his other accolades by locals like me. I never once thought I would be able to experience nature firsthand in Miami, as it is mostly known for its city rather than its land.

A second marvelous idea was converting his estate into a natural preserve. I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and explore the beauties nature offers. It is life-changing and an experience, for sure.

Untitled as Text

“Artistic forms” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU in Downtown Miami on November 30, 2022

As some of us might know, art can be variable, everchanging, and certainly powerful pieces of work. It is often artists are underappreciated for their way of expressing themselves, this can be for many reasons, but the simplest is because individuals regularly think anyone can draw what an artist drew. For this reason, as I was walking through the expositions of particular works, I was fast to pick up how important it is to have a story behind paintings. If they have a descriptive analog behind the drawing, it leads to a more meaningful piece of art.

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

As I continued to roam through the Miami Art Week establishment, it was interesting how abstract some paintings can be, often using what seemed to be random patterns and styles, colors and shapes. Though this was my initial thought, an artist named Natalie Kates explained how this might seem to be true at first sight, however, they often have deep meanings, sometimes portraying dark stories or charismatic enlightening events. An example of how drastic forms of art can be was her own colleague showed us his book published a while back. This book was certainly the epitome of color, with every page being extremely vibrant, completely in contrast with other works shown, like the nylon structure of an artist named Turiya Magadlela, which definitely was the complete antagonist to the previously mentioned work. Her art portrayed the inequality of women around the world, definitely a dark background with much context.

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

Another work, which I found the most pleasant and utterly addictive to watch was the dolphin captured in dark oil dripping down. I was told most people get absolutely mesmerized by this piece of art, with one lady who stood there for hours staring at it. This work was also part of the change in my view of regular art. It was a very genuine and unique thought, at first leaving me confused on how the system worked. Its purpose, to show a contrast of light and never-ending darkness, much of like today’s world.

Definitely eye-opening, art seems to be completely unorthodox to me, not what I expected. I say this because I personally have always like to draw, however, much more traditional drawings like a person or a figure. I got my inspiration in art from my dad, who was an architect and showed me his prolific paintings of extremely symmetrical buildings. The show was a wonderful experience, a normie like me definitely got a whole new altering perspective in art as of today.

My Miami Final Reflections as Text

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

“Seeking Miami’s Ultimate adventures” by Mariano Mendez Perez

As some might say, one must try and live life to the fullest. As I entered FIU’s Honors program and look for a class to meet my honors prerequisites, I never thought I would have chosen a better class to begin my FIU experience. Since coming from a whole other institution, I was worried the more “advanced classes” would result challenging and somewhat uninteresting, to be honest. This “Miami in Miami” class blew any other I have taken out of the water. After enrolling, I thought this would be a regular class, yet I had it completely backwards. Going to places I have never gone before? Exploring Miami as deep as one can possibly get to? Never crossed my mind.

One of the best things this class offers is its compact size; what I also never thought was going to happen is how I was going to get to know wonderful classmates in the process, everyone is a much-focused individual, the highest intellects from FIU. The synergy was outrageous, for example, as we ventured to Chicken Key to clean up residue from the ocean, to get there, it was a completely synchronized effort. It is clear how dangerous the ocean can be but having the amazing instructor Baily by our side was enough to guide us, injury free. As we got to the island, me and a group of classmates separated from the main group, in order to help out even more and explore. We ended up being one, if not the most debrie-packed canoes. It was challenging, as the muddy Key shore was slowing us down tremendously, we ended up circling the parameter completely. This would not have been possible if not for the amazing collaboration in-between us.

Additionally to the class being exciting and fun, and having met great people, the roots of the class are also extremely rare to find in a conventional class. Yes, we went to distinct places, some widely recognized, others not so much, but the structure in which the lectures were taught was top-notch. Professor Baily, along with his student assistant Chris, kept the group organized while teaching valuable information about the locations. I can say from experience, I wish, and hope more instructors start doing what Mr. Baily is doing because this style of class in more engaging, a circle where ideas and thoughts can easily be thought and digested by being a live class.

Overall, the semester consisted of eight specific classes ranging from museums like the FIU Museum of Florida to other religious locations like the Greater Bethel Church, with history-rich tales of the struggles of Jews and Afro-Americans. We also explored a quite enchanting place named Deering Estate, which loomed large in the number of experiences gathered from the class, as we went during multiple occasions, to explore the fauna, wildlife, and the roots of our ancestors which lived exactly there.

The information covered, mixed with the experiences created is hard to match. The topics studied ranging from the struggles of our ancestors against colonialism, to species of trees and rocks, to Miami’s diverse art encoded in buildings in the Art Deco and Vizcanya, and art works, was a peculiar mix of contents, and an enjoyable experience to say the least. I find it utterly impressive how I have gained more knowledge about Miami in the time of being in this class than I have in all the years I have lived here. Truly a window of endless exhilarating occurrences, an inordinate series of events.

Neighborhood as Text: Surfside

“To new experiences” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU

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

The town of surfside is an extremely small place consisting of only a couple thousand citizens. It is the neighbor of pretty much all the beaches Miami has to offer, being one of the highest, North of the bunch. Being in the same coast, I did not really notice a difference in the beach, per say, as it was very much similar as South Beach or the well-known Miami Beach.

As I roamed around the premises, I noticed how it wasn’t like Hialeah for example, with heavy Cuban or Hispanic individuals, but more of international tourists exploring. This was surprising, as I didn’t really think it was going to differ from the Southern beaches, being so close, yet you could really sense a bit of change. I don’t know, it is weird to explain, maybe it was a placebo.

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

The history behind it lies with a bunch of individuals, for example, the Tatum brothers, Henry Levy, and Spearman Lewis, they all helped shape what is now today the small town of Surfside. Packed with residential areas, it was a quite calm place unlike the others. I found it enjoyable walking down the street, with the sunshine blazing through my skin. Though walking to the beach was fun, the traffic combined with little to no parking was extremely frustrating. I recommend people visiting to stay at the Four-Season Hotel, or a cheaper option Residence Inn by Marriott because the experience was harshly diminished by the difficulty of getting there. Also, it is important to note that the access to actual beach was quite hard since the small town is full of private hotels and residencies.

Overall, a positive experience. I was quite sure I was going to like the place since I go to Miami Beach frequently with a group of friends, and Surfside is extremely close to it. I went to the Flanigans nearby to grab lunch, but it also wasn’t necessarily something new since I go to one in Hialeah quite often. Though it didn’t top my favorite go-to beach, the location and vibe regarding the people and the environment were quite immaculate.

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