Nico Uribe: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Nicolas is a sophomore honors college student at Florida International University, majoring in Dietetics and Nutrition. As a Southern California native, now living in Miami, he has been exposed to the endless culture and diversity that South Florida offers every day through life and study. His strong and important Colombian roots have facilitated his growing passion for the city of Miami and he hopes to explore what more there is to learn.

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Historic Miami as Text

“Open Eyes Widen” By Nico Uribe of FIU at Historic Miami Walking Tour on September 7, 2022

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

I was born in Irvine, California, a city 51 years old, founded by Robert Irvine and the Irvine Company. It’s a planned city, every bend and intersection perfectly designed to give its citizens a mellow, smoothly functioning day-to-day. In school, we learned about our brief history, which included lessons about the Chumash native people and the Spanish missions, but as someone with eyes forever open to history, I can say it pretty much ends there. One year ago I left Irvine and moved to Miami, taking a leap into a life I knew would be louder, busier, and more culturally diverse, eager to uncover the history behind the city. What I learned and felt on this walking tour truly opened my eyes wider than I ever anticipated.

While it was founded in 1986, humans have inhabited it for at least 10 years prior. As we walked through the exhibits of the HistoryMiami Museum, I found myself lost in the thought of being one of the people who first conquered this land, touching the tools they used, and realizing that the conch shell sitting in my room could have once been instrumental in the construction of a village. The same feeling of awe came to me at the Miami Circle, a spiritual location of the Tequesta people, those who while true survivors, eventually succumbed to the power of European settlement.

Truly, Miami is and always has been a city of influence, and this first begins with the arrival of Spanish and English, who both had power over the land, fighting all along against the Seminole people, the “cimarrónes” who came from the north years prior but refused to give up their Floridian land. At Fort Dallas I encountered one of the oldest buildings in Miami, the preserved building once housed William English’s Slaves, later becoming a military fort during the Seminole Wars led to eradicate the native group. At this moment, we were invited to place our hands on the wall. I closed my wide eyes and imagined myself, as a slave who slept there, a soldier who fought there, or a native at the enemy’s post. At this moment I understood for the first time the history of Miami that I had never seen in movies, texts, or even documentaries. One characterized by the transfer and influence of different people.

Sadly, at the Dade County courthouse, I understood why I had never laid eyes on this History. There I found the statue of Major Francis Langhorne Dade which was accompanied by the plaque explaining all his honor and his death by an ambush of 200 “Indians and negroes” in the “Dade Massacre”. My eyes fall to the floor as I think about the way this man is honored today, after being the one leading hundreds of soldiers whose aim was to kill the natives of this land.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Now the more recent history of Miami is one I was a little more familiar with. While I listened in full attentiveness to the history of Catholic churches and the Freedom Tower, its Muslim, and Spanish architecture, and the importance it held for the arrival of so many Cubans, all the while I couldn’t get my mind off of the history so present and so clear, and yet so difficult to get ahold of despite living in the same city. I’m definitely no longer in Irvine, and truly my open eyes widened.

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Overtown as Text

“When You Don’t Overlook Overtown” By Nico Uribe of FIU at Overtown Walking Tour on September 21, 2022

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

I am so lucky to have grown up the way I did. Throughout my life I have been lucky enough to create genuine bonds with people of all different cultures and backgrounds, going far enough as to really develop a thorough understanding and appreciation for so many. I always thought I knew and understood the difficulties and hardships that African Americans endure for the simple sake of their skin color and culture. Honestly, you grow up hearing it everywhere, and I always listened; to grow up African American is to confront deeply held racism, daily, and to live life with no head start. These messages have always been clear and I’ve lived my life conscious of it all.

Still, experiencing Overtown was a powerful confirmation of these notions. Truly, it is amazing that a place with so much culture could have been disrespected and forgotten as Overtown was. Seeing such places as the Lyric Theatre and imagining all the great performances, the laughter, the dancing, the love, all so that it remains as one of the only theatres still standing, as so many others just like it were torn down to be replaced by a modern shopping center. Incredible to think that churches, places of love and worship, were threatened to the point of pastors choosing between their home and the church so that the I-95 could pass over only one of the two. The abuse went so far as the government sent fines for things like old plumbing or old windows, aimed to accumulate the number of code infractions held by the oldest church in Overtown, Bethel church. This accumulation could eventually lead to the church’s end, giving opportunity for, what? More modern apartments? Still though, so sadly, this somehow did not come as a surprise.

Still, experiencing Overtown was a powerful confirmation of these notions. Truly, it is amazing that a place with so much culture could have been disrespected and forgotten as Overtown was. Seeing such places as the Lyric Theatre and imagining all the great performances, the laughter, the dancing, the love, all so that it remains as one of the only theatres still standing, as so many others just like it were torn down to be replaced by a modern shopping center. Incredible to think that churches, places of love and worship, were threatened to the point of pastors choosing between their home and the church so that the I-95 could pass over only one of the two. The abuse went so far as the government sent fines for things like old plumbing or old windows, aimed to accumulate the number of code infractions held by the oldest church in Overtown, Bethel church. This accumulation could eventually lead to the church’s end, giving opportunity for, what? More modern apartments? Still though, so sadly, this somehow did not come as a surprise.

I know how much of a terrible issue gentrification is, its consequences felt through the separation of families and the killing of culture. I know the lack of disregard that elites often have for minority groups and especially African Americans in the United States.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

All things considered, nothing prepared me for one specific moment on this day in Overtown. As we walked through Bethel Church and heard the words shared by Alberta Godfrey, A woman with the real experience of Overtown through its years, my feelings changed. Even though I said I’ve always considered myself open-minded and understanding, something just felt different. At one point she just looked at us all in the eyes and pointed, both with her words and her finger, and told us that we can not understand what hardship is endured as an African American in this country, that it is up to us to be the difference makers, to work towards justice, to seek it always.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

As much as I had heard this message spread all my life, I had never felt it touch me in this way. Never had someone so effectively injected me with such a strong feeling of responsibility, not necessarily for the past but for the future. For the sake of justice between people. I’ll always consider myself fortunate now to have listened to Alberta Godfrey’s words and to have seen the reality of Miami’s Overtown. It just goes to show that as much as one may believe in understanding another person’s experiences, one will truly never know.

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Overtown as Text

“Instagram VS Reality at Chicken Key” By Nico Uribe of FIU at Chicken Key on October 5, 2022

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

We all know how important it is to protect the environment, we all know the detriment that consumerism is to our natural world, and we all know ways that we can contribute, but making an Instagram post about how bad trash pollution is and calling for action to fix it is unfortunately not enough, and I learned this first hand on the trip to Chicken Key.

It’s amazing to think that there are so many of us, living in Florida, taking advantage of the state’s beautiful beaches and diverse wildlife, who have not taken the time to go pick up trash once. I include myself in this category and if it wasn’t for this course I probably still wouldn’t have done it, but after just a few minutes of walking around Chicken Key, one really asks themselves how it is that we don’t go pick up trash, at least monthly.

As we loaded up the fleet of canoes and kayaks we watched the Manatees who accompanied us, conducting their partnered mating “dance” while just 10 yards away barracudas and snook were blowing up the topwater feeding on mullet schools of agitated mullet. The amount of nature was almost overwhelming and as we kayaked to the island each paddle was fueled by the joy of being amidst such pure nature.

One would have expected to arrive on the island like an explorer witnessing a foreign, untapped mangrove forest but this was far from the case. As I stepped foot on land, I felt my heart drop. Trash, literally everywhere, so much that it was hard to decide where to start. I began picking it up, fueled this time, by anger and resentment as if I was a manatee as if I was a hermit crab who had to sift through all the bottle caps until I found a real sea shell.

After hours, one could see the reward. Dozens of trash bags filled with the garbage and pollution that littered the island, and as much as this was amazing to see, a look back onto the island revealed the disheartening truth. There was still a way to go, fishing line in hard-to-reach places, bottle caps that only revealed themselves by uncovering the plant debris. There was truly no end and this was just Chicken Key. One small island in Biscayne bay of the dozens that line our Florida coast.

We should not be allowed to make a single Instagram post, getting likes and benefiting from the beauty of nature, as we watch it deteriorate until we no longer see the manatees dancing. I’m glad I was able to do something, as we should all commit to.

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

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Vizcaya as Text

“The Facade” By Nico Uribe of FIU at Vizcaya on October 19, 2022

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

It seems that everybody in Miami has been to Vizcaya at least once, even myself and I’ve only lived here for about a year, and whether it be for quinceanera pictures or a day-trip dad dragged the family to one day, its majesty, the impressiveness of it all, it captivates. This is exactly as James Deering intended when he began construction for his Miami home in 1914.

Son of William Deering and brother of Charles Deering, James was particular. Thanks to his father’s wealth he and his brother spent their late youth traveling Europe, absorbing every bit of its beauty and culture, but it just didn’t click with James as one might hope. Both greatly appreciated its beauty, but while Charles, an artist himself, understood the deep value and respected the history behind art, a subsurface look into Vizcaya reveals this was not really the case with James.

How?

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

The architecture of Vizcaya takes influence from almost every historic European culture and then some, the lushly planted indoor/outdoor courtyard that the house surrounds was a concept popularized in ancient Rome, Venician gondola posts line the water’s edge, a Spanish caravel ship hangs from the ceiling, Islamic-inspired rugs carpet the rooms, it’s really a whole big, beautiful mess, but that’s just what he wanted. He wanted grandeur, he didn’t care if it didn’t make sense to have this or that as long as it looked pretty. That’s why three triumph arches are present at the very front of the house, originally reserved for the victories of great European leaders. It’s why the obelisk, singularly placed to adorn the homes of only the most decorated Venician soldiers is also present at Vizcaya, only by the dozens. The beautiful instruments on display? They were never played.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Like it or not, this is Miami, plainly displayed through the facade that Vizcaya presents. Where else is there such a diverse blend of cultures mixing together, showing off all there is to offer. Miami is the place of designer clothes and expensive cars, often flaunted to mask a reality seldom seen.

Besides the lack of historic relevance seen in the architecture and art, the idea of a masked reality is something really seen in Vizcaya in more than one way. Today, the house acts as a sort of museum. It’s preserved close to its original state and many aspects of the building are even described on signs or talked about on tours. One thing you’d never learn much about, even after a tour, is who built Vizcaya. The truth is, Miami itself was largely founded by the efforts of African and Caribbean work, and the same Bahamians who taught Floridians how to farm the unforgiving soil were the ones that laid down each limestone-coraline block that makes up its walls. Amazingly, it’s not really mentioned at Vizcaya, and their presence is only felt with a few statues and some Bahamian agriculture in the gardens. In fact, Vizcaya’s facade is even observed in the fact that James Deering had some statues on display that depicted blackface, but they have since been taken down. I understand how they can be offensive, but taking them down pardons the one who put them up, thus someone visiting Vizcaya would not know the full story, and this is unfair.

All photographs taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

It’s a beautiful place, undoubtedly, and it is Miami in a nutshell. A place where the priorities are good looks and good living, but never forget to look past the facade.

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South Beach as Text

“Miami Style” By Nico Uribe of FIU at South Beach on November 2, 2022

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

You would expect South Beach’s average visitor to conclude their stay by highlighting how great the mojitos were or how amazing all the half-naked patrons looked. You would not expect them though, to leave with a profound appreciation for the architecture, its different styles, and the history behind it all, but having completed our recent visit as a class, I can’t say I’ll see South beach the same way.

South beach is simply amazing in that it boasts three unique and defined styles of architecture, MiMo (Miami Modern), Mediterranean Revival, and most predominantly and notably, Art Deco. In fact, fascinatingly, it has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world.

Art Deco displays such a unique style with so many specific characteristics, so easily pinpointed throughout Ocean Drive. The style encapsulates the 1920s and 30s by essentially taking influence from countless trends and mashing them all together with an emphasis on creating structures with a style that looked into the future. The structures themselves looked very futuristic, almost like machines, with the buildings’ corners rounded out, an emphasis on geometric shapes and windows, and the ziggurat roof style. Neon was also a new, futuristic invention in the 1930s and it was seen used in almost any place where they could fit it. Another odd influence came from the discovery of King Tut’s tomb in Egypt. This event was so popular that they employed extensive use of relief art, very reminiscent of Egyptian 2D sculptures.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

Nowhere else can we find such a high concentration of these buildings and yet, we don’t seem to think twice about them being there. This preservation of the buildings and the architecture of South Beach is actually largely thanks to the efforts of Barbara Baer Capitman. In 1976 she formed the Miami Design Preservation League. Through protests, negotiations, and gaining a strong following, the Miami Beach Art Deco District was placed on the national registry of Historic Places in 1979. Along with Miami’s founder, Julia Tuttle, Baer joins the list of highly influential women that shaped and defined the city.

Though so easy to miss and so often overlooked, South Beach is an architectural gem, and all thanks to the efforts of a woman who had the vision to realize the amount of character the place would lose if it just turned into the same old high rises you see everywhere else.

Photograph taken and edited by Nico Uribe/CC BY 4.0

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Deering Estate Hike As Text

“Perhaps you are overvaluing what you don’t have and undervaluing what you do have.”

Recently, I heard somebody say this to me as I complained about my pizza delivery job that I want to quit, but I think it fits better in regards to how the Deering Estate hike made me feel. I grew up in California, a newer state with plenty of protected natural territories that were easily accessible. I spend a lot of time missing it. At the same time, all I ever see on TikTok are people going on these crazy hiking trips in places that make you wonder whether they took the video on a different planet. Sitting in my bed and thinking about the fact that they’re there, and I am here just makes me sad. The hike this past Wednesday was my wake-up call.

Humans are so funny, not just in a good way but often in a bad way. So often we have so much to complain about when the solution is right there. An escape from the hectic world we surround ourselves with daily, into a world thick with plants and animals that are so beautiful in the fact that they are existing where they belong. If I had not decided to sign up for this class a few months ago then I would not have witnessed a flurry of recently rediscovered butterflies dancing around me, perching themselves on a plant I had never seen before while being native to the place I live, and it showed me how much more I need to focus my learning on what is at my arm’s reach.

The tropical hardwood hammock was a new ecosystem to me, and while filled with poisonous trees and solution holes, you couldn’t help but feel like it was just a comfortable place to be. I found myself inclined to take a few moments for breathing and observation, thinking about those who claimed this land long ago, living off of its resources in such a beautifully sustainable way. Their way of life, while lacking in our daily comforts, was so rich in simplicity and stability in a way I so envy.

I got to explore the mangroves like never before, feeling the mud slip between my toes as I watched the waves between the branches, and was introduced to another unique ecosystem; one that looked like it was right out of an other-worldly TikTok. The pine rock-land really dove home the idea that we do not need to look far to be surprised or awed by our surroundings, and in fact, I reflected on how by discovering the world close to you, something really unique might be in store. I may one day travel to some of the places I’ve seen on TikTok but in a way, I’ve already seen them, and I don’t know if I’ll feel the same surprise I got from observing the elegant pine trees shooting out of the pale, porous rock with the smell of the Biscayne Bay in the air. 

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Rubell Museum As Text

Sure I’d heard of “contemporary art”, but really if you asked me what it was I wouldn’t have had a complete answer until my visit to the Rubell Museum; it was my formal introduction. Like many of my peers, I love art and have a huge appreciation for it when I see it, but still, so many of us experience difficulty gaining exposure to it.

The incessant flood of content through social media is both a blessing and a curse affecting art consumers and the art industry alike. While artists and art galleries more easily gain exposure, casual art consumers experience a certain fulfillment that subconsciously diminishes the need to go out and explore art for ourselves. Without going, how would we know what real fulfillment art can provide?

At the Rubell Museum, I understood contemporary art for the first time and learned the value of both direct messages and open interpretations coming from art. The museum is unique in that the entire collection is privately owned by the Rubell Family, and special in that their goal was not to compile the most impressive collection of art they could buy, but rather collect art that spoke to them simply. I found this message so compelling, and it seemed like a nice change to museums where sometimes, it feels like you are told to appreciate something just because of where, when, and who painted it.

The collection itself consisted of art pertaining to a variety of genres, speaking to a variety of topics, and all were purchased within a year or two after they were created. It all just seemed to be free. I was expecting the experience one gets from every “art museum”. You walk around following a strict path, reading plaques justifying the value of the art, and you leave satisfied from having been in their presence.

The experience was vastly different at the Rubell Museum. Almost all the art had no explanatory plaque and there seemed to be a different genre for everyone. Instead of being satisfied with just seeing the art, I felt like I experienced it like I heard the voices of the artists and the messages they conveyed. I left having learned about society, personal expression, and myself.

After class, I took a moment to examine many of the works on my own, and the longer I stayed, the more creative and open-minded I began to feel. Coming up with different interpretations came easier to me and some pieces that just looked like a messy collision of colors later brought me to deep reflection about, the world, and how I carry myself through it.

I learned that art is the basis through which so many messages can be reflected, and oftentimes more efficiently than words could. Social Media prevents us from being fully involved in this experience and gives us barely satisfying fulfillment that does not compare to going to see it for oneself.

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Untitled as Text

Walking into Untitled felt like walking into a whole new world. There were people walking past you, all engaged in conversation, some dressed in hand tailored suits, some looking almost homeless, and yet you felt like they all dressed better than you. At the same time you noticed an artist walk past you hastily just to bang their head against a wall to espose a QR code on their back that took you to their website. There was art that moved, shined, and even made sound, art that was interactive, and art that taught lessons. From every angle there was a burst of color that contrasted sharply against the vast expanse of white that made up the walls of the tent. Oh, and in case you forgot, this is all happening in South Beach, on the sand, accross Ocean Blvd from the famous Art Deco buildings of the 1920s and 30s. Untitled presented a unique and energetic environment for galleries and artists to showcase their art, capturing the attention of buyers, art enthusiasts, and FIU Honors College students.

My truly unique takeaway from Untitled was actually getting to interact with the artists themselves and to question their own interpretations of their work. My prior experience with contemporary art had only extended to creating my own interpretations of it, but now I had the original creators in front of me, all willing to speak about their works. From the three artists we spoke to, one thing stood out about all of them and it was their passion. In very different ways, each was extremely passionate about their work, whether it was the revolution of the Miami art scene, the depiction of a transition between borders, or a black water rainlamp with a dolphin from New Mexico spinning in the middle of it.

The experience at Untitled further developed my understanding of contemporary art. I understood that art is not necessarily made for anyone. I can be made for everyone, for a specific group, or for the artist themselves, but art always speaks. Whether it be trivial or profound and complex, all art has a story and purpose.

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