Paola Castro: Little Haiti 2021

Photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Student Bio

Paola Castro is a senior majoring in Computer Science at Florida International University. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, and later coming to pursue higher education in south Florida, she was able to meet other people of various cultural backgrounds and learn more about the vibrant communities of south Florida. As someone who is interested in the  history, art, writing, and politics of the Caribbean and south Florida, she is eager to explore Miami in this course.

Map of Little Haiti, photo provided by Google Maps

Geography

Little Haiti is located in Miami, just above the famous Design District and to the left of Biscayne Boulevard, spanning from 54th Street to 79th Street. Although the neighborhood is only a few miles in diameter, the bustling cultural and entrepreneurial spirit really makes one feel the sense of thriving community and vigor at the heart of Little Haiti. From the kompa music blasting outside of local businesses to the smell of tasty authentic Haitian food and children speaking animated Haitian Creole as they play in one of the neighborhoods’ few parks, the community comes to life and showcases Haitian culture in many ways – not least of which through the residents who contribute and connect with this culture.

However, due to a certain geographical facet of this community – namely, the fact that it has an elevation of around 2.13 meters above sea level – these immigrant communities are being pushed out by gentrification resulting from the wealthy moving further inland to escape rising tides. Already you can begin to see the signs of drastic change in the community, one of which being the approval to build the Magic City Innovation District in Little Haiti. This 17 acre luxury living and shopping complex has the potential to change the neighborhood – and its inhabitants’ livings – in one fell swoop, accelerating the already occurring suburbanization of Little Haiti exponentially (Iannelli).

History

Before the incorporation of the city of Miami, the area now known as Little Haiti went by a different name. At the time, there was an influx of squatters that later applied for homestead grants and eventually created a sort of community. They did this by erecting a library, churches, schools, and the first U.S. post office in the area, called “Motto”. This office was so important for the community at the time that the neighborhood adopted its name for the community at large, henceforth known as “Motto”. Later on, in 1893, the neighborhood changed its name and became known as “Lemon City”. Lemon City was overshadowed by the rest of Miami, however, and only began the process of becoming the Little Haiti we know today beginning in the 1970s.

The beginning of the 1970s is when the first mass arrivals of Haitian refugees arrived in south Florida. They came to south Florida largely to escape the militaristic rule of the Duvalier dictatorship, which lasted from the 1950s to the mid 1980s. The peak of this migration came in 1980, when upwards of 20,000 Haitians came seeking political asylum (Goyanes). Despite the support for Cuban refugees coming to Miami at the time, the Haitian refugees were not given the same treatment and were largely deported after coming to seek asylum in the United States. Viter Juste, a Haitian activist and a man referred to as ‘the father of Little Haiti’, was troubled by this and enlisted the help of Msgr. Bryan O. Walsh and the Catholic Church in helping Haitian refugees come to America to build a community (Goyanes). Thus, with the Haitian refugees together and safe in south Florida, Little Haiti was born.

Demographics

To help paint a better picture of what kinds of people live in Little Haiti in the present day, we can look at its demographic data. Currently, there are about 12,791 residents living in Little Haiti, with 50.32% of them being women and the rest being men. The median age in Little Haiti is 36, and the median income is $40,948. As of right now, 65.65% of housing units are rented, not owned, making Little Haiti residents particularly vulnerable to displacement due to the rent increases that come with gentrification (“Little Haiti Demographics”).

Interview with Resident Business Owner: Madam Saint Fleur

Madam Saint Fleur, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Q: “How old are you, and how long have you lived in the area?”

A: “I’m 64 as of this year, and I moved to south Florida in 2008.”

Q: “How long have you owned your shop in Little Haiti?”

A: “Well, this shop actually belonged to a friend of mine, who later passed it onto her daughter. Sadly, her daughter passed away, and I took over the ownership of the shop afterwards. So this shop has been here since 2008, but I only acquired ownership in 2019. It was then that I renamed it Saint Fleur Family Boutique.”

Q: “What do you sell at your shop?”

A: ”I mostly sell imported Haitian goods, which can be hard to find anywhere else in Miami. That ranges from imported food to imported clothes, hair and makeup products.”

Q:“Have you seen the demographics of Little Haiti change in the last few years? Does this translate to a change in your customer base?”

A: ”Slowly I have definitely seen a change in the people in Little Haiti. Every year, there are less and less Haitians here. As for my customers, since I mostly sell Haitian products, rather than seeing a change in my customers I am just losing business as more Haitians are pushed out of Little Haiti.”

Landmarks

Little Haiti Cultural Complex Mural, photo taken by Vallery Jean / CC by 4.0

Little Haiti Cultural Complex

The Little Haiti Cultural Complex, while it includes a thriving art gallery and museum, is a community center first and foremost. The complex offers event space in its community venues for rent, and also offers a variety of classes on Haitian dancing and art in their educational classrooms. The Complex itself throws events as well, such as ‘The Sounds of Little Haiti’, a free outdoor concert that is held on the third Friday of each month (“The Best Things”).

Caribbean Marketplace Venue, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Caribbean Marketplace

Right next door to the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, local vendors sell their goods at the Caribbean Marketplace. The Caribbean Marketplace is a modern replica of Haiti’s colorful Iron Market where Afro-Caribbean cuisine, entertainment, and fashion is showcased for any visitors to Little Haiti (“The Best Things”). If you’re lucky, you may even catch the bi-monthly Black Roots Marketplace, which is a variation of the market that aims to support local African-American owned businesses and give them some publicity.

General Toussaint L’Ouverture Statue

While passing through Little Haiti, be sure to make a stop at the monument to the leader of the Haitian revolution General Toussaint L’Ouverture. As leader of the revolution, he fought to overthrow the French and free Haiti from slavery, pulling off what is considered to be the most successful slave revolution in history. In 2005, this statue of his likeness was commissioned by the city of Miami as a symbol reminding the community of its strength and of the importance of continued activism (Shulman).

Green 

In general, Little Haiti does not have many green spaces due to it being in the heart of Miami (meaning it largely has an urban landscape) and also because of all the new construction going on due to its gradual gentrification. However, the few green spaces it has are the following:

Athalie Range Park, photo taken by Eduardo Nazario

Athalie Range Park

Athalie Range Park, which is located on 62nd Street and named after civil rights activist Marie Athalie Wilkinson, is a wonderful green community space. It offers outdoor recreation and open spaces under the maintenance of the city’s parks department. Not to mention, it has begun to dabble in nature preservation efforts recently (“Athalie Range Park”).

Lemon City Park

Lemon City Park, which was named after the Little Haiti area’s old namesake, is located on 58th Street. It has a playground for children, and even offers different camps throughout the year in its resident recreational center. In addition to that, it allows pets to roam around the park as well, as long as they’re restrained in some way with either a leash or harness.

Earth N’ Us Farm

Located on 79th Street, Earth N’ Us farm is an urban ecovillage and learning space for children and adults. Visitors can learn about sustainable living, volunteer in the garden, participate in a community mentor/mentee program, and much more. Not to mention that the farm hosts many events, including but not limited to a vegetarian potluck, drum circles, volleyball games, and hosts pop up vegan restaurants from time to time (Shulman).

Transportation

Little Haiti has many different public transportation options thanks to recent years’ efforts to provide the community with more support. As of right now, the forms of transportation available to Little Haiti’s residents are the bus, subway, trolley, and newer Citi bike rental stations. According to data regarding how the residents of Little Haiti travel for work, it was found that 12% used the bus or trolley to get to work, 2% walked, and around 2% biked while 84% still used their cars (“Little Haiti Demographics”). This data clearly shows that although there are many options for moving around Little Haiti, they may not offer the routes needed to serve the community best, since most still default to using their own vehicles instead of using public transit. 

Food

Chef Creole Restaurant, photo provided by Yelp
Fried fish and plantains with a side of piklis, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Chef Creole

Chef Creole, located on 54th Street, offers an incredibly delicious authentic taste of Haitian cuisine with a focus on fresh seafood. Despite its casual environment and beach stand-like decoration, the restaurant has won much critical acclaim. In fact, Chef Creole has gained so much acclaim over its amazing dishes that there is an entire photo wall filled with famous people that have dined there in the past. Thanks to the longtime owner and famous Chef Wilkinson “Ken” Sejour, the beach shack-like restaurant is a staple of the community (“The Best Things”).

Lakay Tropical Ice Cream, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0
Strawberry and coconut ice cream, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Lakay Tropical Ice Cream

Located just off of 54th Street, this local Haitian bakery is well known for its rich and creamy ice cream desserts. Offering ice cream in tropical flavors like pineapple, passionfruit, and coconut, their sweet treats are a must have on a hot and sweaty day in Miami. Besides their delicious desserts, however, the establishment also offers delicious meat patties, stuffed with your choice of either chicken, beef, or herring. Overall, this bakery is a great place to go for a quick treat during your visit to Little Haiti!

Piman Bouk Restaurant

Located on 2nd Avenue near the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, Piman Bouk is a cash-only local Haitian eatery, serving the tried and true classics such as fried goat, oxtail, and stewed pork in a traditional way. Overall, the restaurant has a cozy atmosphere with wooden tables, low ceilings, and ceiling fans to keep you cool – giving the impression that you’re stepping into a home rather than a restaurant. With the homegrown feel and the delicious dishes, Piman Bouk is a place you don’t wanna miss.

Businesses

Libreri Mapou Bookstore, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Libreri Mapou

Libreri Mapou is a local bookstore containing the largest collection of French and Creole literature in Florida, with over 3,000 rare books.  Not to mention that they also have a vast selection of international newspapers. In addition to having an extensive rare book and newspaper collection, the store holds a number of events – from panel discussions to poetry readings and even small concerts (Shulman). The bookstore, located on 2nd Avenue,was opened in 1986 by Jan Mapou, a Haitian playwright and activist, and continues to be a great place to visit while in Little Haiti. 

Sweat Records sign, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0
Vinyl records collection at Sweat Records, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Sweat Records

Sweat Record, located on 2nd Avenue, is an indie record shop bursting with original vinyls, indie music, and merchandise. It also houses a coffee shop, so you can get a cup of coffee as you browse through their selection of music ranging from hip hop to punk to jazz and more, with no genres left out. Additionally, Sweat Records throws a number of events, such as concerts, summer block parties, and comedy shows (Shulman).

Saint Fleur Family Boutique

Saint Fleur Family Boutique is a small family shop selling food, clothing and beauty products imported from Haiti. It is owned by Madam Saint Fleur, who I interviewed previously and who has run the shop since 2019. Not only does it offer homegrown products, but it offers them all at a bargain price, considering that most products had to be shipped over. If you want to support a local small business, give this boutique a try.

Summary

Overall, Little Haiti is home to a vibrant community of people, who have formed a close-knit community from what once was an insignificant area of Miami. Over time, they have maintained their cultural identity, and continue to actively contribute to and connect with their heritage and neighbors despite all the hardships the community faces. However, they still have a fight ahead of them, with special interests and wealthy landowners slowly transforming the neighborhood to fit their own needs, profiting off the work the longtime residents there put in to make a home out of their neighborhood. Only by visiting, supporting the local businesses, and raising awareness of the problem can we be allies to this community and help them preserve this colorful, lively corner of Miami as it is now.

Citations

“Athalie Range Park – Miami, FL (Address and Phone).” County Office, https://www.countyoffice.org/athalie-range-park-miami-fl-04d/. 

Goyanes, Written by Rob. “Big History of Little Haiti.” The New Tropic, 1 Feb. 2016, https://thenewtropic.com/history-little-haiti/. 

Iannelli, Jerry. “Little Haiti Activist Sues to Stop Massive, Controversial Magic City Development.” Miami New Times, Miami New Times, 20 May 2021, https://www.miaminewtimes.com/news/little-haiti-miami-activist-sues-over-magic-city-innovation-district-development-11231715. 

“Little Haiti Demographics.” Point2, https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/FL/Little-Haiti-Demographics.html. 

Shulman, Sara. “The Top 9 Things to Do in Little Haiti.” TripSavvy, TripSavvy, 4 June 2019, https://www.tripsavvy.com/top-things-to-do-little-haiti-miami-4171790. 

“The Best Things to Do in Little Haiti.” MiamiandBeaches.com, https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/plan-your-trip/miami-trip-ideas/insider-guides/little-haiti-guide. 

Paola Castro: Miami Service 2021

Selfie taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Paola Castro is a senior majoring in Computer Science at Florida International University. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, and later coming to pursue higher education in south Florida, she was able to meet other people of various cultural backgrounds and learn more about the vibrant communities of south Florida. As someone who is interested in the history, art, writing, and politics of the Caribbean and south Florida, she is eager to explore Miami in this course.

Miami in Miami Chicken Key Cleanup Crew,  Photo taken by Deering Estate employee / CC by 4.0

_______________________________________________

WHO

For my Miami Service Project, I volunteered at the Deering Estate – who, in partnership with the Deering Foundation, dedicates itself to preserving and protecting natural ecosystems. At the Deering Estate, I participated in a Chicken Key beach cleanup along with the rest of my Miami in Miami class, all thanks to Professor Bailly organizing the event. 

Without an organized event, Chicken Key is not even open to the public, as it is an uninhabited island under the Deering Estate’s protection – so an organized cleanup is the only time people are allowed to enter. Needless to say, I was excited to be allowed to visit Chicken Key, let alone help in its upkeep and cleanup.

_______________________________________________

WHY

This volunteering experience was a part of our Miami in Miami expeditions this semester, all arranged by Professor John Bailly. Together with my entire class, we canoed over to Chicken Key to help with cleanup as part of our coursework. 

I’m glad to have participated, as I have always had an interest in environmental conservation – especially when it comes to the plastic waste getting into our oceans and causing harm to dozens of aquatic species. Due to the fact that I grew up on a tropical island in the Caribbean, beach upkeep and coming to the aid of animals that dwell in the ocean comes naturally to me. Back home in Puerto Rico, I lived right next to a protected beach and helped turtles reach the ocean every year! I also participated in many beach cleanups for my community service in high school.

As for how this project connects to my studies, this volunteering experience does not connect directly with my major in any way, since I am studying Computer Science. However, my work at the Deering Estate does connect to the reason why I chose to study this major in the first place. The initial reason I was so interested in studying Computer Science was because of the way what we do online can positively affect the real world. Making friends, finding partners, and organizing group events for public good, such as the volunteering project at Chicken Key, can all start online and translate into real relationships and actions outside of online spaces. Overall, I became interested in my field because of the amazing effects it can have in the long run, such as spreading awareness for conservation projects (like those hosted by the Deering Foundation) and its power in organizing groups of people for good causes. One of the first ways to do great things in any community is to first gather people for the job, and technology expedits that process tremendously. 

_______________________________________________

HOW

Classmates on the way to Chicken Key,  Photo taken by Cat Carrasco / CC by 4.0
Trash seen at Chicken Key,  Photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

The cleanup at Chicken Key struck very close to home, in more ways than one.

In one sense, it reminded me a lot of home. The way the canoe paddle felt in my hands reminded me of kayaking as a young girl off the coast of my hometown. The mangroves growing wildly resembled those growing on the beach on the south side of my island. Chicken Key reintroduced me to some familiar characters, such as the hermit crabs, playful fish, and lizards wandering around the ground near the mangroves and in the shallow waters leading up to them.

It all just felt so familiar. That is, until I set my sights on the piles of garbage plaguing the island.

Besides the ways it reminded me of home, the trash we found made me reflect on the waste I create on a day to day basis. Not only that, but it made me realize that trash does not stay in the place you left it. A toothpaste tube or an old pair of sneakers thrown out in your own home may both find their way back to the ocean eventually. The amount of waste we create is not isolated, it connects and disrupts our precious ecosystems in one way or another – and seeing all those miscellaneous items piled up on the island made me face that fact. It encouraged me to seek out more sustainable options in my own life. And although my waste reduction may not make a huge dent in the face of the consumerist society we live in, my pieces of trash are one less thing the next group of Chicken Key cleanup crews need to pick up.

_______________________________________________

WHERE & WHAT

We started the day choosing life jackets and paddles for canoes that were appropriate for our height and arm length. After choosing canoe partners amongst the class and procuring all the materials, including trash bags, we dragged the canoes to the water’s edge and started boarding them carefully. Thus began the rowing, made even more difficult due to the wind being against us.

After about 45 minutes of effort, our tired arms had finally brought us to the shore of Chicken Key. Then, we tied up our kayaks, made sure they were secure, and had a quick meal to recharge from all the difficult rowing. Finally, we got to work. Everyone split off into teams and headed towards a different part of the island in order to get the most amount of trash possible. The trash we found came in all shapes in sizes, ranging from plastic bottle caps to shoes to abandoned stop signs.

After we had filled all our trash bags, we loaded them evenly onto all the kayaks and started our expedition back towards the Deering Estate. Lastly, we dumped the trash in the designated dumpster area, washed off our supplies, and said our goodbyes to the staff at the Deering Estate. 

_______________________________________________

WHEN

Accepted Service Hours, photo by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

_______________________________________________

SUMMARY

Utterly wiped out after paddling back from Chicken Key, Photo taken by Cat Carrasco / CC by 4.0

My day spent at Chicken Key was certainly an experience I’ll never forget.

It was challenging at times, sure, just like any experience worth its while. The most challenging part had to be when we were all canoeing to and from the island. Although I have canoed and kayaked in Puerto Rico many times before, it is always a challenge of endurance – especially when you’re against the wind and tides as we were on the way to Chicken Key.

More than challenging, though, it was rewarding. Picking up trash, both big and small, brought with it a sense of accomplishment after seeing the result of our efforts in the number of trash bags we hauled back with us. It was easy to keep working despite the fatigue, especially when I could take turns with my classmates and they could help me spot garbage I had missed.

In general, I couldn’t have asked for a better Miami Service Project experience than making a positive change with the help of my peers and the lovely people at the Deering Estate.

Overtown as Text

Overtown Welcome Mural taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Communities form in many different ways – sometimes through shared hardship, sometimes through shared goals or histories. For the neighborhood of Overtown, it is all three. Miami’s history of segregation and its subsequent hardships may have created Overtown, but what made it grow into a vibrant community was its inhabitants’ shared goal of prosperity and progress.

When discussing Overtown, it is very necessary to mention its grim origin story of exclusion (shown even in its original name, Colored Town). After all, history is doomed to repeat itself if we don’t learn from past mistakes and prejudices. But I have a problem when that dark history is the only thing mentioned. After all, the citizens of Overtown created a wonderful community for themselves to live in – full of business and music! Nowhere was this more apparent than the overlapping business lined streets and the street that housed the Lyric Theater and what was then called ‘Little Broadway’. From soul food to music to small businesses, the people of Overtown turned a forced living situation into a place they would be proud to call home.

Lyric Theater ticket booth taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Not only that, but the community was not all about entertainment and success, it was also very collective. Overtown began its first black police squad, in order to reduce the unnecessary brutality born of racism often inflicted on people of color within their own communities. Not only that but two historic churches, which still stand today, provided essential services to those who needed help – a practice they are still committed to even today, as they give free showers to the homeless in one of the church’s mobile vans.

First United Methodist Church shower initiative van taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Overall, while it’s important to grieve the circumstances that brought the community together, it is also worth celebrating the immense effort the townspeople gave in making their community a vibrant, safe, and supportive home for all who lived in it. When visiting historic neighborhoods, it’s important to remember that along with the hardships endured, there was also joy to be had.

Paola Castro: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Selfie taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Paola Castro is a senior majoring in Computer Science at Florida International University. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, and later coming to pursue higher education in south Florida, she was able to meet other people of various cultural backgrounds and learn more about the vibrant communities of south Florida. As someone who is interested in the  history, art, writing, and politics of the Caribbean and south Florida, she is eager to explore Miami in this course.

Downtown as Text

Even in the years prior to its official establishment, Miami was the “melting pot” we celebrate today – and understandably so. It is not a stretch to say that south Florida is a natural extension of the Caribbean, sharing many of its historical trends and its sheer variety of inhabitants. Much like the islands of the Caribbean, Miami was inhabited by a multitude of people since its beginning, offering a home to Tequesta natives, Bahamians, Africans, and European settlers. 

Wagner House in Lummus Park taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

People of color built Miami from the ground up, in more ways than one. Their various contributions are what allowed Miami to prosper. Without the Tequesta natives’ techniques for taking care of the land, Miami’s soil wouldn’t be fertile enough to start growing crops for profit. Without slaves to tend to the crops within the farmland, the railroad would not have been brought down to south Florida for the purpose of shipping food up north (a decision which later allowed the city to grow and get officially established).

Longhouse in Lummus Park Miami River taken by Samantha Johnson/ CC BY 4.0

Unfortunately, these contributions later spelled the marginalized communities’ doom, in one way or another. The fertile land Tequesta natives cultivated was coveted by wealthier European settlers and later taken by the settlers, driving the Tequesta out of their own communities. Barracks created by enslaved Africans and Bahamians were later used as forts to fight native people in the Seminole Wars. Even the railroad brought down to south Florida by Henry Flagler later led to segregated communities, one of which being modern day Overtown. 

Statue of Henry Flagler taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

People living in Miami nowadays, ignorant of the town’s history, may see these formerly segregated neighborhoods populated by people of color as a failure. They may assume that these communities are in dire straits through some fault of their own, some character flaw or just bad work ethic. The truth of history tells another story. Miami – much like other big cities around the world – has a history of profiting off of marginalized people’s labor, even using it against them at times. It’s difficult to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when your bootstraps are constantly stolen from you.

Make no mistake, Miami was built by the marginalized.

Overtown as Text

Overtown Welcome Mural taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Communities form in many different ways – sometimes through shared hardship, sometimes through shared goals or histories. For the neighborhood of Overtown, it is all three. Miami’s history of segregation and its subsequent hardships may have created Overtown, but what made it grow into a vibrant community was its inhabitants’ shared goal of prosperity and progress.

When discussing Overtown, it is very necessary to mention its grim origin story of exclusion (shown even in its original name, Colored Town). After all, history is doomed to repeat itself if we don’t learn from past mistakes and prejudices. But I have a problem when that dark history is the only thing mentioned. After all, the citizens of Overtown created a wonderful community for themselves to live in – full of business and music! Nowhere was this more apparent than the overlapping business lined streets and the street that housed the Lyric Theater and what was then called ‘Little Broadway’. From soul food to music to small businesses, the people of Overtown turned a forced living situation into a place they would be proud to call home.

Lyric Theater ticket booth taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Not only that, but the community was not all about entertainment and success, it was also very collective. Overtown began its first black police squad, in order to reduce the unnecessary brutality born of racism often inflicted on people of color within their own communities. Not only that but two historic churches, which still stand today, provided essential services to those who needed help – a practice they are still committed to even today, as they give free showers to the homeless in one of the church’s mobile vans.

First United Methodist Church shower initiative van taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Overall, while it’s important to grieve the circumstances that brought the community together, it is also worth celebrating the immense effort the townspeople gave in making their community a vibrant, safe, and supportive home for all who lived in it. When visiting historic neighborhoods, it’s important to remember that along with the hardships endured, there was also joy to be had.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya Garden Areas taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

Throughout the tour of the Vizcaya museum and its gardens, all I could notice is how custom-made for its original owner everything was. Every single aspect of the estate was made with Deering’s peace and pleasure in mind, down to the last detail. Nowhere can this be seen more clearly than the gardens, where the landscaping creates less of a garden and more of an extension of the house with rest areas, plentiful shade, and entertainment in the form of hedge mazes. Having been built from scratch in a previously undeveloped forest area, even the nature outside of the garden grounds was altered to suit his needs – such as the moat surrounding the estate and the stone taken from it to use in other areas of the house. 

It was refreshing to see Deering’s realized vision of taking what was naturally beautiful about the area before it was developed and making it not only more beautiful, but also livable and comfortable for him and his guests. Nowadays, many famous architects are paid to create spaces in the city of Miami, but as they have never had to live in the city for a long time, they end up creating beautiful but impractical public spaces. One example of this is the courtyard we saw on our first Miami in Miami class that was built to be a public space for museum goers but, due to offering no protection from the scorching sun, is usually vacant. And that is just one example of many. 

In contrast to that thoughtless construction, Vizcaya’s outdoor areas are positively heavenly. As soon as you walk out, the serene sound of running water calms you down, the sheer amount of lover’s benches provide many opportunities for resting or lounging, and small, water cooled grottos provide ample shade and respite from the harsh sun. It truly was made for the comfort of all who visit, since even in such a humongous garden, you’re never more than 20 feet away from shade and rest areas. 

After visiting Vizcaya, I truly hope the city of Miami will take some notes on how to make public areas comfortable as well as beautiful for all who visit, so that more people are encouraged to spend the day outside. Making public areas comfortable does not always have to cost a fortune, but it does require vision – something Deering and his crew definitely possessed.

SoBe as Text

Art Deco Buildings, Betsy Orb, and Scarface movie history plaque taken by Paola Castro/ CC BY 4.0

While walking down South Beach, I was amazed by the way that I felt Miami’s culture – at least in the way Miami is represented in media – was showcased in this one area. Not only do we have the wonderful beach and pier, but also the local shops, famous movie locations, and interesting art installations. The more I walked around and learned about it though, the more eclectic and strange it all seemed. There was so much going on all at once, it all seemed too over the top – weird at times even. Although, that is probably exactly why it has become a huge Miami cultural staple.

Unique art and culture is born of things that are weird, unnecessary, and even sometimes impractical. After all, when art deco architecture was first created, it did not come from people who wanted to stick to what was practical or prevalent at the moment. It was brought on by a desire to look to the future and reimagine what was possible, at the cost of looking strange and being more difficult to construct. What was strange then moved on to become a huge movement in the art world, and one of the biggest architectural feats in Miami – something it’s known for across the country. And this pattern continues throughout South Beach and all its famous spots.

From the largest art deco neighborhood in the country to the Betsy Orb all the way to a Jewish Museum with an alley inside of it and a beach made of imported sand, none of South Beach’s interesting locations could ever be called conventional. And that is precisely what makes it one of the most fascinating places in Miami. Not in spite of its strangeness, but because of it.

Deering Estate as Text

Unfortunately, due to a serious knee injury I sustained during the semester, I was not able to attend this class as I could not physically do the hike required.

UNTITLED as Text

Artwork at UNTITLED, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

As someone who grew up in the same city as the largest museum in the Caribbean, I’ve always had an innate appreciation for art, and felt at home in an art gallery. However, after visiting UNTITLED and getting to listen to famous artists from all over the world explain their art, I gained an entirely new perspective on the ways art can tell a story. Every artist I had the pleasure of speaking to had a distinct way of displaying the message they hoped to capture in their art. 

Some let the medium tell the story, mixing the natural with the artificial or using mediums in new and interesting ways. 

Some simply chose to shine the spotlight on something taken for granted or actively despised and decided to celebrate it in their piece. 

Others built upon their predecessors, making allusions in their pieces to famous artists that inspired them or incorporating aspects of their culture that hold meaning to them. 

Still others did not even seem to want to convey meaning, but rather give the public a new experience, surreal and memorable. 

With all the ways these artists creatively chose to showcase meaning in their piece, I was overwhelmed and inspired – especially considering the fact that I resonated with many of the pieces as they came from artists that have had similar experiences to me as a latin woman struggling with my identity, both as a woman and with my culture. Overall, I really enjoyed the installations and learned a lot about the various forms art can take to convey their intentions.

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