Vox Student Blog

Overtown as Text

The Faith of Overtown

by Anna Buntova of FIU at Overtown, September 15, 2021

From the last trip to Miami Downtown, I remembered how the novelty of lucrative Miami businesses, luxurious hotels, and reserved courthouses was built on top of the remnants of the past deeply archived beneath the contemporary architecture and overshadowed by the modernist abstract statues. This time, our class ventured into a novel territory which is a historic place called Overtown affectionately referencing “going over the town” when en route, once referred to as the Colored Town. As the name suggests, the Overtown used to be a place where the people of color used to reside ever since the Florida East Coast Railroad had been built all the way to Miami for the tourists to relish the tropical climate and orange farmers to grow their citrus plantations.  Overtown was initially created to provide the black workers with a place to live. Discreetly, it was a way for Flagler to segregate black people away from tourists so as to avoid any encounters near hotel and beach areas since it would downplay the luxury of south Miami. Overtown is considered one of the oldest neighborhoods of Miami after Coconut Grove with the richest black heritage leaving its mark as being the cultural hub of black history. Yet, of course, there is always a place for faith in the heart of the cultural community to welcome people all over the nation to “go over town” and see religion from a different perspective.

The most impressive part of the trip which was firmly imprinted in my memory was the image of Jesus drawn on the stained glass in the Greater Bethel Church located in the center of  Overtown. The image of colored Jesus struck me to the bone because of how different the commonly accepted version of Jesus is from the white-skinned blue-eyed version of him. I was familiar with the fact that the construct of Jesus is different in different parts of the world, however, to witness the actual image was a stunning experience. The image of colored Jesus is a symbolic representation of the dominance of the black population in Overtown, but it also tells how multicultural and multigenerational the church is. 

The Overtown left a unique legacy behind. By being oppressed and warding off for so many years, inhabitants of Overtown had to rebuild essential systems of society and one of them is religion along with entertainment and business. Nevertheless, it must be something that is salient, unique, and characterizing of the black community. The image of colored Jesus is a symbolic representation of the dominance of the black population in Overtown. It is an integral part of the spiritual upheaval and turning over the new leaf.

Vizcaya as Text

Collected or Copied?

By Monica Schmitz of FIU at Downtown Miami, Florida, 24 October 2021

Taken by Monica Schmitz/CC by 4.0

Touring the Vizcaya house and gardens, I was in awe of the beauty and regality of the estate. From the moment you exit the mangroves to enter this stunning villa, you are surrounded with hundreds of details and stories. The first thing we saw when we entered the home of James Deering, we were greeted by a sculpture. He was filling a bathtub with wine, surrounded by an abundance of grapes. This set the stage for the rest of the house, embodying the culture of Miami where wealth is celebrated and festivity never ends. 

Photograph taken by Monica Schmitz/CC by 4.0

The house was full of art and items from every part of the world. Remnants of every country cluttered this home. However, did this mean that Deering was creating his own interior design masterpiece or was he copying the work of others? Touring this house raised that question for me. 

Taken by Monica Schmitz/CC by 4.0

Deering was using this home to display his collection of art work, furniture, and architecture from Europe and Asia, bringing many countries to Miami. It creates a diverse and colorful collection, but it is also not a unique display. It is instead all pieces he imported, and it could be seen as cultural appropriation. He sent others to collect many of these pieces for him in an attempt to have the most elaborate and exquisite house possible. 

Taken by Monica Schmitz/CC by 4.0

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.

Martyna Kwiatkowska : Miami as Text 2021-2022

Martyna Kwiatkowska/CC by 4.0

My name is Martyna Kwiatkowska and I am Junior studying Economics in the Honors College at FIU. I have also completed my German language and culture certificate in the past year, I’m fluent in Polish and English and proficient in German. I am originally from Poland; however, I moved to the US in 2015. I love to explore, travel, and learn about anything and everything. Since I’m relatively new to Miami, I’ve always wanted to learn about its culture and history, when I moved here, the first thing that I felt was a lack in the amount of history I was surrounded with. Warsaw, the city where I’m from has hundreds of years of history and I remembered all the school field trips I’d take to museums and places of great historical importance. Through this course, I hope to learn about the history and culture of this city, that I now call home and I hope to be positively surprised throughout this course.

Downtown as Text

Martyna Kwiatkowska/CC by 4.0

Diversity? No diversity?

by Martyna Kwiatkowska of FIU at Downtown Miami, 01 September 2021

Martyna Kwiatkowska : Miami as Text 2021-2022

On September 1st, we took a trip to downtown Miami, a quite mysterious place, that I have indeed visited a few times in the past, but I honestly did not know how we would fill the 5 hours we had allocated for this class. I came in completely blind and left intrigued by the rich history and culture that these square blocks entail.

With my cultural background, I always saw Miami as an extremely diverse mix of people from all parts of the world. When we met up at government center, in the middle of the chaos, that is exactly what I saw. The combination of people in poverty, the government officials entering and exiting the buildings, a vaccination center right in the middle and chickens running all around was just that; chaos and diversity. I was surprised to find out that the first Jewish and female mayor of Miami Dade was currently serving in office. It made me feel empowered and happy that a person from a minority background was elected to high office.

Martyna Kwiatkowska/CC by 4.0

The whole perception of Miami being inclusive of diversity was undermined when we went to our next destination, an old slave house, right in the middle of the city. First, I was surprised that an old building like that even stood here, and the history behind it made it so much more intriguing, but it left me a bit confused about my view of Miami from 20 minutes ago. I hoped for horrible things that occurred in this house to be part of the times, in which the home was constructed. And that this part of both American and potentially Miami history was long gone. I gained some hope, when we learned about William Wagner, an immigrant who built a house for the family he formed with his French creole wife. But this was a story like not many. Although heart warming, Julia Tuttle, also a very powerful woman of her time, created modern Miami, with the help of no other than Henry Flagler.

Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

A big statue was constructed right in front of the courthouse to commemorate a man who historically built the railroad to make Miami a part the country. This man has done a lot for Miami, perhaps this city wouldn’t be what we know it as today without him, but he also brought quite a bit of segregation to the city. He was the creator of what we know as over town, an impoverished community, predominantly black that faces oppression and isolation from the rest of the city in part because of this man. He created this neighborhood to separate the African Americans in the community, so more white people would feel comfortable coming down. Putting a big hurdle on the diversity of the city, or at least how visitors perceived it.

With the times changing, this social oppression of minorities slowed down a bit. In the future generations, Miami became an even more diverse city as Cubans would flee the crisis going on in their home country and inhabited Miami. This city has become a hub for many south and central Americans who fled their countries in search of freedom and prosperity. However, equality and diversity are two different things, and unless every community feels empowered to prosper in a city, they will not work to further expand this diversity.

The rollercoaster of deep contemplation I was taken on during this trip was a very impactful one, we finished the trip in the history Miami museum, that further explained typically Miami instances, like the boats of migrants from Cuba or typical instances that were happening all around d the country, at the time being like an old train cart, that only allowed the colored people to ride in the back. I concluded that all of this diversity vs no diversity was a matter of individuals. It all depends on the individuals that live and lead the city. But it also is important for us to realize this gift and charm that this city has and work hard to support the minorities that need our support to grow and further diversify our Miami. The imagine of Miami is different in everyone’s eyes, mine was completely different back in Poland, but it also changed the more acquainted I got with the city, this trip around downtown changed it once again. I can only imagine that people from different parts of the city or different time periods in the city’s history perceive it, but I for sure want to learn at least a bit about their points of views.

Train Wagon from Miami by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

Overtown as Text

Overtown by Martyna Kwiatkowska / CC by 4.0

Going Through Changes

By Martyna Kwiatkowska at Overtown Miami, September 15th 2021

September 15th we took a trip to Historic Overtown, located just North of Downtown. After catching the metro a bit late, I realized just how far this area was from where I lived. I’ve actually never visited Overtown before this excursion, however I heard many, mostly negative things about it. Since the beginning of this course, I was hoping to be surprised and that’s exactly what I experienced during this excursion. 

I never thought of Miami as a city with a rich history, since it is relatively new, compared to the places I’ve visited and lived in. However my obsession with nostalgia and history was entertained, when we visited the old churches in Overtown and Hialeah Park. The Lyric theatre was the first place that left me in awe, learning that many famous soul and jazz singers performed there since the beginning of the 20th century was a big surprise, since I had always thought of Mami as almost uninhabited before the 30’s, 40’s when A/C was invented. The next two stops we made were Greater Bethel and Mt. Sinai Church, both of which were established the same year as the city of Miami was charted. The people working at the churches were very knowledgeable about the history of the establishments, and even mentioned their personal encounters with people that I’ve only ever read in history text books like Martin Luther KIng Jr. They both also described their personal experiences with Overtown and how the area has changed since their childhoods, they say the place that they called home transformed within the last 50 years, from a thriving African American community to a newly developed and gentrified one. 

Bethel Church (left) and Lyric Theatre (right) by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ cc by 4.o

We also made a stop at Jackson Soul Food, a vital part of the community, trying Soul Food and catfish for the first time,  which made the whole experience even more immersive. The people of Overtown were all very welcoming and were happy to share their history with all of us wherever we went. They also shared their frustration, with being pushed away by developers from their neighborhood. 

Hialeah Park by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ cc by 4.0

Later on we took the metro even further to Hialeah station, by Hialeah Park and once again I was amazed. I’ve actually never heard of the place before and seeing the beautiful neo mediterranean architecture and such a grand building reminded me of Europe. I enjoyed finding out about the rich history of the place, from when the building and race track was built, all the famous guests that have visited it and also the fact that the Flamingo, a sure symbol of Miami, was created from the many flamingos living inside of the track. I was saddened a bit by the fact that Hialeah Park does not have any more horse racing, and it’s far from it’s days of glory, but I was glad that the owners still keep it up and have plans for further development of the land. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screen-shot-2021-09-26-at-11.23.37-pm.png
Development Approaching by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

During this trip, I realized that Miami is full of history, but the huge focus on development and progress of the city can overshadow and destroy it’s historic places. There are few history museums in the city and soon enough, these churches of Overtown or the Lyric Theatre might fade away in history as the people that care about these places slowly die out. Progress and improvement have always been very vital parts of Miami culture, from the huge plastic surgery market that allows people to improve their physical traits to the constant development and construction of new buildings and highways. And dozens of communities, hundreds of landmarks and most importantly thousands of people were affected by this constant focus and change. It is important to protect national landmarks and communities, especially the underprivileged like Overtown, just like the owners of Hialeah Park are trying to do. I believe the legislature should push for more funding for preservation, instead of development, since a city with more landmarks attracts more tourists and makes its citizens feel more connected to the culture and history and fight for injustice that many communities have had to and are enduring.

Vizcaya as Text

Vizcaya from the gardens by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

Artificial Beauty

by Martyna Kwiatkowska at Vizcaya on October 13th, 2021.

Our excursion to Vizcaya occurred on a very sunny and hot morning. We were immersed into the world of James Deering from the moment we met at the entrance to the property. We soon found out that the entrance that we took was actually the back entrance, which used to be just a dirt road through the tropics, the important guest were usually greeted at the much fancier entrance from Biscayne Bay by boat. The entrance, the villa and even the gardens are all built in the style of Italian Renaissance and Baroque villas that James Deering visited on his voyages to the Old Continent. However, the construction of Vizcaya began in 1914 and ended in 1916, decades after the renaissance. This simple fact, led my mind to consider that everything I was going to see was not as dated as it seemed to be.

Vizcaya from the garden (left), Vizcaya from the back entrance (right) by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

Vizcaya is often seen as one of the most historical places in Miami, and due to young nature of the metropolis, it is in fact one of the oldest structures standing in Miami to this day. James Deering hired Paul Chalfin and Diego Suarez and F. Burall Hoffmann to design and build the summer home and the gardens. The beauty of the property is undeniable. Hundreds of people take wedding and quinceañera pictures in the beautiful grottos and detailed, man – made and maintained gardens. Each of the rooms is decorated in a different style, some examples include the French and the Rococo rooms. Both contained the principle elements of the old styles. However, upon closer observation of the rooms, there’s some sort of inconsistency. There is lots of random pieces of art that seem out place. When building in a style that is dated and, but it only seems respectful to be educate oneself on the historical meaning and value of the many objects that make up the villa. An example of this is busts of Roman Cesars that are not labeled and they just serve a decorative purpose. Other items include a Spanish rug, that was created for a catholic leader by Muslim artists that were granted asylum in exchange for continuous work in Spain after the Muslims were expelled from the nation. The piece of work that clearly shows James Deering’s lack of respect for cultural value was a historical painting of the Virgin Mary that was cut in half and served as a cover for organ pipes which appearance the millionaire was not fond of.

Organ with cut painting of Virgin Mary (left) and old Spanish rug (right) by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

It is clear that James Deering tried imitating an educated world – traveler, however failed to do so, when he utilized his money to purchase items that were valuable without potentially knowing why. After long contemplation, I realized the beauty was artificial, because that’s all that the creator of Vizcaya was concerned with. Although the building was beautiful, it was built in the land of the Tequesta, by Bahamian workers of Coconut Grove with no concern for their cultures. Deering was known to be mostly concerned with the finer things in life, like hosting lavish parties and enjoying the money his family had accumulated to the fullest. There were many nods to this throughout the mansion, including a beautiful pool, a statue of Backus (the Roman God of wine and pleasure) at the entrance and many lavish dining sets.

Backus (left), Vizcaya French garden (middle) and Vizcaya from the water (right) by Martyna Kwiatkowska/ CC by 4.0

This approach reminded me of Miami as a city, constantly focused on change and improvement with no consideration for history. James Deering purchased art, marble and even fountains from Europe, stripping them of their historical and cultural importance, just because he enjoyed the aesthetics. Miami is a city which is not built with nature in mind. From the layout of the city, to the insufficient conservation of nature like the everglades through constant westward expansion, living an organic life is quite difficult. Although artificial beauty is still beauty, it will never touch the hearts of observers like real beauty can.

Gabriella Pena: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Lien Estevez/CC by 4.0

Gabriella Pena is a 19-year old entering her sophomore year at Florida International University, majoring in Marine Biology. She is not entirely sure what she wants to do after graduation, but what she is sure of is doing anything that involves travel.

Downtown as Text

Miami Dade Courthouse. Photo taken by Gabriella Pena/CC by 4.0

Hilariously Awful

By Gabriella Pena of FIU at Downtown Miami on 08 Sep. 2021

People make out Miami to be this beautiful, luscious, gorgeous, subtropical city, with a melting pot of cultures from every part of the globe, accepting of anyone that comes our way. You can enjoy the beach even in the winter months as it is typically sunny year-round, and the nightlife is hard to beat. The amalgamation of all these characteristics makes Miami one of the best cities in the world.

At least that’s the good part of Miami.

What I just described only highlights the part of Miami that your average person might know. What many lack the knowledge of is the repulsive and sometimes comically embarrassing history of the city and its foundations.

My professor was walking me and my class over to the Miami-Dade courthouse. In the corner of the building there was plaque and a statue of a man. As I come to find out later from my professor’s lecture, that statue depicted Henry Morrison Flagler, a wealthy man who was a key contributor to the development of South Florida, particularly the Miami region. Unfortunately, this also means he contributed to the funding of segregation and segregated towns (i.e., “Colored Town”), being responsible for a large part of the racist history in South Florida. The plaque explained the origins of our county name, “Miami-Dade”. In the Second Seminole War, Major Francis L. Dade, leader of 110 U.S. soldiers, led his troop into an ambush of 180 Seminole warriors, leaving all but three U.S. soldiers dead. To honor Major Dade’s commitment to the U.S. and the U.S. army, the county of South Florida would be named “Miami-Dade”.

Looking back at the statue and plaque in front of this government building, I was getting secondhand embarrassment, something I never thought I would receive from two long-dead wealthy white men. I had proudly claimed this city to be my own, being born and raised in a thriving multicultural city. But no. I was standing there, confused as to how Miami started as something so different what it is now. So confused to the point where I was laughing to myself. A region funded largely by a man who exploited the labor of African Americans, and a county named after an incompetent army officer.

Miami leaves a lot to be desired, especially regarding its history; no one should be proud of the city’s foundations. 

But what I can be proud of is what it has grown into today: a hotspot for multiple cultures and communities, a city that breathes in life to the people that call Miami home.

Overtown as Text

Welcome to Overtown sign. Photo taken by Gabriella Pena/CC by 4.0


By Gabriella Pena of FIU at Overtown on 22 Sep. 2021

I am not going to lie, for a large part of this visit to Overtown, I was bored. And sweating, at that. It felt like half of the places we visited were churches that weren’t open, and it became depressing to hear over and over again about the threat of gentrification looming over many institutions in Overtown and other non-developed regions in Miami. 

Then we went on a lunch break to a place called Jackson Soul Food. A gem of a restaurant that is oftentimes forgotten about or even unknown to Miamians. As a matter of fact, many actively avoid this place due to Overtown’s reputation of being dangerous to visit. 

I had been wanting to come here for a while, but never had the chance. Our class walked in, and by the looks of the customers that were already being served, you could tell that we were not the usual crowd to come in at the day and time that we did. Sitting down felt uncomfortable as the other customers were looking at us puzzled. I ordered food and so did my peers sitting at my table. While waiting, we talked. Usually, I’m not one to engage in small talk; my anxiety finds it difficult to open up about even the smallest things. But something was different here. The conversation between my classmates and I was surprisingly easy. It felt so painless talking amongst each other, even across tables while there was noise. Something about the atmosphere let my anxieties fall away.

And I think that that is something unique to only a handful of places. Places like Jackson Soul Food, where I can sit down and leave all my worries and doubts outside the doors. What I initially thought would be another agonizing experience of awkward silence and weird looks from strangers turned out to be an experience of relaxation, good food, and comfort.

Monica B. Perez: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Monica at the Van Gogh experience near Wynwood. Photo by Olga Rivera/CC by 4.0

Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer marriage and family therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.

Downtown as Text

Beauty Despite the Scars” by Monica Perez of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08, September 2021

Dropped Bowl With Shattered Slices and Peels. By Monica B Perez/ CC by 4.0

Nowadays, a simple stroll through any large city’s “Downtown” is bound to evoke some level of emotion. The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have left a gaping hole in our cities. Streets are empty, and businesses old and new have been forced to shut down. Downtown Miami is no different. Any native can walk down Miami Avenue and notice the difference pre-and post lockdown. Business is slow, and people carry themselves with heavy hearts missing what was lost. However, the city is not completely lost. A quick visit to some of Downtown’s cultural hotspots shows that Miami has retained her beauty despite the loss.

Lummus park is a public area just oozing with pain, beauty, and history. Upon entering through the green fence, one is met by a melancholy presence that can only be explained by the impressive Fort Dallas. The long, limestone building has seen the dehumanization of black people through slavery and a year’s worth of bloodshed. Just one touch of the rough exterior brings a montage to mind of everyone who has bled, cried, and attempted to keep themselves from collapsing right where one stands.

Just one glance to the left reveals the beauty despite the pain. The William Wagner House is a perfect symbol for what so many world leaders strive for: peace and acceptance of differences. It is so moving to know that the house once held a white man, woman of color, biracial children, and Tequesta people all at once. This is what Miami is truly about. This is not to say the figures discussed were of no fault, but this beautiful moment marked the house forever with light and warmth. The fact that these two landmarks share a space is a testament to how Miami citizens can also share in beautiful experiences despite the pain and loss that COVID-19 has caused.

Miami’s cultural diversity and appreciation reveals itself in Downtown’s public art. Dropped Bowl with Shattered Slices and Peels is a prime example. It incorporates classical Floridian imagery (orange slices) to pay respects to the reason for the city’s founding. The shattered bowl is a perfect embodiment for Miami’s place in the post-COVID world. It is an explosion of cultures and diverse perspectives. Sure, the “shattering” may be painful, but even a scarred city can be beautiful.

Overtown as Text

“Not just a building” by Monica Perez of FIU at Overtown, 22, September 2021

Stained Glass in Greater Bethel Church. By Monica B Perez/CC by 4.0

Generation Z, nicknamed “Gen-Z”, have a radically different way of viewing the world compared to generations before them. Generational psychologists argue that this is because they were born in a very difficult time in America: the start of the war on terror. They saw the blooming of smartphones and tablets. Most of them even saw them incorporated in the classroom. Most recently, however, they are “coming of age” at a time where political tensions are rising to an alarming degree, and they are charged with the burden of “fixing” the world’s most complex issues: gender equality, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and racism. Miami’s community of Gen-Z’ers are faced with a unique set of issues that can be explored with a quick visit to Miami’s Overtown, formerly known as “Colored Town”.

On March 12, 1896, Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at the home of one of the black incorporators of Miami. Today, Miami’s Gen-Z views religion as an institution that oppresses women, LGBT+ people, and ethic and racial minorities. In the time of segregation, however, this church was one of the most empowering buildings the people of Colored Town could have built. In its prime, it allowed black people to worship, build community, and organize protests and sit-ins. There were moments where the building even functioned as a hospital because most had signs stating “whites only”. Churches were not just buildings of worship, they were the backbone of Colored Town.

Today, the people of Overtown do not fear that restrooms or restaurants be labeled “Colored” or “White”. They do, however, face complex issues, like gentrification and displacement. With this and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the pews of Great Bethel and other Churches in Overtown are emptier than they have ever been. Older members of the congregation that remember the Church in its youth mourn the empty building they have grown to love. Their friends are being displaced, and their projects are underfunded if they are funded at all. Many are tired from years of fighting and look to the younger generation to tackle the problem.

The issue causes discord in the head of a Miami Gen-Zer who wants to free themself and others from the oppression of religious institutions while also combatting the racial discrimination so many have fought to eliminate. The problem here lies in communication (or lack thereof). The older generation is tired (reasonably so), and they do not understand Generation Z’s sensitivity and view of the world. Meanwhile, the younger generation feels unheard and is simply unaware of these issues because they are not being taught in schools. It is important that children are not taught about segregation and racism like they are an evil monster that was fought and simply killed. They need to know that it evolved to become the police brutality, gentrification, and culturally appropriative monster it is today.

This may seem too simplistic or optimistic, but from the perspective of a Miami Gen-Zer, everyone (young, old, black, and non-black) needs to set their biases aside. Protecting churches like Greater Bethel not only protects the building and structure; it protects a house of religious expression, a piece of Miami’s history, and a tight-knit community that has experiences intense racism and oppression for decades.

Michelle Puentes: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Michelle Puentes is a sophomore student pursing a double degree in Art BA and Psychology with an Italian Minor in Florida International University. Her passions encompass analyzing classical art, studying about the human mind, learning about the Italian culture and teaching children in her church. She aspires to become an art therapist for children in hospitals or with emotional struggles, and wants to travel to many countries to explore the lifestyle of others.

“A Piece of Germany in Miami” by Michelle Puentes of FIU at Downtown Miami Sep 8,2021

A multicultural city bursting of everyday nightlife and heavy Latin culture, Miami is home to many immigrants from all over the Caribbean and South America, with many from Europe and Asia coming over as well. A city I personally never knew or associated myself with deeply to heart, I simply thought of it before as a dangerous nightlife place. Growing up in Broward, my parents rarely took me to a trip south unless a foreign family member came to visit or if we had to attend an event there. But even at the borderline between Miramar and Hialeah, a whole world is seen from across the line. Getting to fully know and explore Miami for the first time was a new eye opening experience for me. From every single little detail in the events Professor Bailey spoke to us, I never knew the immense rich history behind the Magic City. From hearing about the first natives of Miami to witnessing the immense new infrastructures in Brickell, the piece that stood out to me the most was the chunk of the Berlin Wall.

Photograph taken by Michelle Puentes/ CC by 4.0

This unique concrete block had been the one to divide the state of Germany from 1961 to 1989, separating people from the same culture and language into two distinct political sides (“Berlin Wall”). The purpose of this wall was to keep the Eastern Germans eyes away from the attractive Western culture influenced by Americans and West Europe. Before the wall was built, in 1958, tensions between the Allies and the Soviets flared up as a massive amount of Eastern Germans fled to the other side to seek for a new opportunity. Similar to Cubans fleeing to Miami from their communist government, many looked to the other side of the border to search for the way to a better life. The idea of freedom has been implanted in the power to have the right to speak and act without restraint or consequence. America being founded on these rights, it has been a symbol of freedom for many years. Though many Americans take their country for granted, the freedom to speech, democracy, choice and education cannot be found in many countries surrounding us. While the Berlin Wall stood tall for 28 years, 171 people were killed trying to cross the border in many ways attempting to escape East Germany (“Berlin Wall”). Similary, an estimated 16,000 to 100,ooo Cuban raft riders have died trying to reach the United States (Ackerman, 169-200). The proof of freedom being constantly pursued, millions of immigrants sacrifice their lives to reach the land of opportunity. This chunk of wall not only represents the destruction of the oppressive, socialist state of Eastern Germany, but the sacrifice of seeking to arrive to the land of the free in the own city of Miami through Cuban and Haitian immigrants.

Going back home from this trip, I took the moment to reflect at the greatest opportunity I have been given by God to live in this country. A land where many dream of living and becoming who they want to be, I have the chance to attend a university where I can fully grow and learn what I am passionate about, with hundreds of opportunities in scholarships to fund my education. All I need to do is work hard to earn what I want to be in life, and I thank God everyday that I am allowed to do that here. I wish to never take this for granted, and that I may help others reach this blessed land so they as well can become who they want to be.

Photograph taken by Michelle Puentes CC BY 4.0

Cited References

“Berlin Wall”. HISTORY, 2021, https://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/berlin-wall. Accessed 19 Sept 2021.

Ackerman, Holly. The Balsero Phenomenon, 1991-1994. 26th ed. Cuban Studies, 1996. Print.

“Flamingoes of Hialeah” by Michelle Puentes of FIU at Overtown as Text Sep. 22,2021

photograph taken by Michelle Puentes CC by 4.0

Admiring the beautiful green landscape across the ruins of the horse racing fields of Hialeah Park, it was an eye opening experience knowing the deep history that runs through the veins of Miami’s heart. The park that was once filled with the most beautiful racing horses, celebrities, presidents, amusement rides, and even the Prime Minister of England, is now an empty deserted island where flamingos find their sanctuary within (“History”,2015) . Opening almost 100 years ago, Hialeah Park opened its doors for horse racing including a dance hall, rollercoaster, and casino. Built in the highest standards of architecture fashioned from Monte Carlo and Paris, it’s beautiful structure was admired by many artists, architects, poets and heads of state. It had been visited by extremely well known people such as Nixon, Kennedy, Churchill, Sinatra, Crosby, Princess Grace of Monaco and more (“History”,2015). None of this rich history had been known to me at all; rather Hialeah was just known to me as a Latin-filled city with heavy Cuban influence where almost everyone knew each other. But getting to know the long past of this city was a new lesson learned. Never had I known that flamingoes weren’t even native to Florida, but instead imported from Cuba (“History”,2015). The peculiar choice of colors of the architecture of the Hialeah Park with pops of pink and splashes of aqua explains the reason for Miami’s signature colors, adding its European influence with terraces and balustrades influenced from Monaco (“Hialeah Park”,2021) . Being able to walk through the green smooth fields imagining where the greatest horses raced and the crowds were filled with noise and cheer is definitely being able to revisit history in your imagination. Overall, learning that even the smallest city where you thought nothing happened can have so much deep rich history behind it, having brought the most important figures in the 20th century around the world. This leaves the last lesson of always figuring out the historical context of wherever you step foot on, because it will leave you with a lasting impression that you can never forget.

Sources: “History.” Hialeah Park Casino, 2015 https://hialeahparkcasino.com/about/history#main. 

“Hialeah Park.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2021 https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalhistoriclandmarks/hialeah.htm. 

Christian Gonzalez: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photograph by Christian Gonzalez / CC by 4.0

Christian Gonzalez is an FIU student and active member of the FIU Honors College. Born and raised in Miami, his passions lie at the intersections of art, nature, and technology. Christian is a junior seeking a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is currently majoring in Finance.

Downtown as Text

“Half Awake in an American Empire”
by Christian Gonzalez of FIU at Downtown Miami
September 19, 2021

Photograph by Christian Gonzalez / CC by 4.0

A ziggurat-domed neoclassical tower of justice rises amongst brutalist administrative structures, colonial plazas, luxury postmodern condominiums and offices plastered with the names of moneylenders.

Long ago yet nearby, an extinct indigenous people used to congregate on the banks of a river named for its vast nourishing waters.

Unspoiled streams of freshwater once flowed from the inland Everglades and discharged into the Atlantic, cradling protogenetic life in a subtropical edge of civilization.

People who lived in a balance of nature and grace have since been replaced by a society living largely in a digital world, where the majority of communication and human interaction is now confined.

Raised on transistors and screens, we stage our photos, record our videos, pick our filters, post our content, and then retreat into the much more vital, much more valid electric reality within our devices.

Walking around this city, how many of us are oblivious to the legacy and atrocities below our feet? How many would even care?

“What are some bones in a hill or holes in a field to the inexorable progress of mankind?” politicians will argue as they fasttrack relentless urban development, the manifest destiny of our age.

On the Brickell Avenue bridge, a monument of respect to those who came before rises opposite the river to a monument of indifference.

But if every tragedy can be perceived as an opportunity, every ounce of guilt becomes a catalyst for redemption.

We commission plaques, we disseminate knowledge, we preserve artifacts in museums to honor and remember our past so we are not doomed to repeat it.

A quantum of humanity is salvaged anytime we strip our ego and show compassion, anytime we stop to hold the door open, to help someone up the stairs, or just to acknowledge someone’s presence and wish them a nice day. 

Overtown as Text

“A Far, Far Better Thing”
by Christian Gonzalez of FIU at Overtown and Hialeah
October 3rd, 2021

Photograph by Christian Gonzalez / CC by 4.0

It was the best of times.

You can’t live here, the white men say.
Nonetheless, a charter is signed.
Power is centralized.
Posh hotels and vacation homes are constructed.
A foundation of a city built upon the backs of the marginalized.
One town is planned. Another is born.

We won’t keep your records here, the bureaucrats say.
Segregated communities and cultures germinate from delusions of separate but equal.
The band plays on over at the Lyric.
Discretion battles grace.
The Reverend speaks.
A city listens.

You can’t park here, the officer says.
Look up.
Newly erected apartments darken the stained glass windows that used to illuminate the foyer of Greater Bethel on Sunday mornings.
The pews are empty now.
The billboards beside the highway over Mt Zion have gone digital.
Developers sing, and plowmen dig.
Can you hear the gentrification?

It was the worst of times.

I met a pale horse from an antique land, handicapped by time and labor the aged mare described to me a distant memory of a far-off place where he once emerged from stables to behold a structure fashioned with cosmic stone and marble floors built for presidents and movie stars, politicians and gangsters, railroad barons and sultans, filmmakers and widows, gambling addicts and jockeys who escorted their property through the tunnel onto the dirt track to be gawked at in the grandstands hanging above by the raging multitudes plied with liquor and staring vacant through binocular lens to catch a glimpse of a sport since outlawed but not without cost as spectators abandon the decaying palace, the clubhouse falls silent, bannisters rust, now home only to flamingos the racetrack still remains, forever vaunted, entombed in bougainvillea.

Afifa Fiaz: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Hiza Riaz //CC by 4.0

Afifa Fiaz is currently a Junior in the Honors College and FIU School of Engineering. She is majoring in Biology and is currently a Medical Assistant at a surgical clinic. Her goal in life is to help people and give back to the community through medicine. She was born in Pakistan and loves to carry her culture in various ways. In her free time she likes to cook, draw, and even host great events.


History Walk of Miami” by Afifa Fiaz of FIU

(Right) Taken by John Bailey //CC by 4.0 (Left) Taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Walking down the street of Miami and going through the historical events that took place there can change your whole perspectives of things. From learning about the Tequesta’s, who lived here from the beginning to how oranges played a part in the past.

Miami was originally founded by a rich women named Juliet Tuttle who grew oranges on her lands and lived in the Miami area. The majority of the citrus in Florida was killed by a strong freeze in the 1890’s, but not in Miami. Henry Flagler was building his railroad to deliver citrus to the northern states at the same time, however the freeze had a significant influence on his business as well. Julia Tuttle saw this as an opportunity send him a few oranges along with an invitation to expand his railroad down to Miami. A smart women one would call it!

Lummus Park, known to be the oldest public park of Miami holds some of the oldest structures. The home of William Wagner was one that really caught my eye. Wagner married a women of color and one with kids, in that era that was seen as shock . Not only did Wagner lived in that house with his family, he also used it as a church and a place where him and the Seminoles had meals and peace making conversation together. Having a house that was so different, yet one that every person was welcomed in is a goal of mine to build in the future one day.


“Miami’s own New Orleans” by Afifa of FIU

Taking the Metrorail as a form of transportation taught me how to navigate around the city along with valuing my time. For someone who had a very negative perception of the Metrorail, it was quite surprising on my end to see how clean and efficient it was. In terms of energy usage, space occupancy, and number of passengers transported, the Metro Rail System has shown to be the most efficient. Some of the places we went to included Hialeah, Santa Clara, and my favorite Over town.

Photos taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Many people living in Miami tend to forget about Over town, a Miami, Florida neighborhood located northwest of Downtown Miami. People’s stigmas and perceptions have caused them to be believe that taking I-95 while looking down at the town is better than driving through it. Over town also known as Colored Town during the Jim Crow era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was once the preeminent and is still the historic center for black business in Miami and South Florida. The town was once alive with musicians like James Brown, Josephine Baker, Aretha Franklin, Muhmmad Ali and many more! People would travel all across the country to come just hang out with the known and have small talks for only a dime! The town became silence when I-95 and 395 freeways built through the town. The freeways destroyed hundreds of homes and properties. Many at that time believed that this was an act of racism and segregation to keep the blacks from booming.

Verónica Guzmán Betancourt : Miami as Text


Verónica Guzmán Betancourt is a 19-year-old Junior at Florida International University in Miami, Florida. Born in Cali, Colombia, Verónica lived most of her childhood in her home country before moving to South Florida in the fall of 2009. Ever since, she calls the Sunshine State her home. Graduating from high school in 2020, she is now pursuing a double major in Psychology and Natural and Applied Sciences, as well as being part of the Honors College. With these degrees, she plans on furthering her career by attending medical school to become a licensed psychiatrist.

Downtown as Text

All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0

They say that time is the best healing tool; however, many fail to acknowledge that we forget about experiences that are traumatic, so much that our brain removes them from our conscience. How might this be relevant? History. Everything we know, everything that makes us a cohesive race and society comes from history. We take what others have learned and done, applying it to our daily lives without even knowing. If it were not for textual and visual records left, many of the historical events we know about today would be forgotten in existence, like they never even happened. 

World War II was a collection of harsh and weary years that our society endured. What once started as an act of self defense ended in the assassination of innocent people. All for power, to have the upper hand, because being loyal and pure of race was more relevant than basic human rights. One of the most important symbols of the war was the Berlin Wall. Concrete that separated people, that divided a country, even more so the world. This wall represented the discrimination and oppression of people for power, all in the name of progress. 

Why is this wall important today, so many years after the war ended? This piece of the Berlin Wall stands in Miami, the melting pot of cultures. A city that thrives on a diverse and rich civilization. There is no city like Miami anywhere else in the world. A city that rose from the wild, from segregation and female foundations. Today this city is a beacon of hope and inclusivity for many who seek a safe haven. Miami is the home to anyone who needs a one, she will open her arms and take you in. She will provide you with life and warmth, regardless of where you come from. 

The Berlin Wall once stood to break apart, to isolate, to create an us and them. Today, it stands in a city plentiful of everything it once promised to end. Today, people from all over the world walk by it without even realizing what it once meant. Many have no idea that this vital part of our history even stands in our city. Ironically enough, so much time has passed by that it is considered just a graffitied wall, a random piece of art, on the sidewalk by the Miami Dade campus downtown. Time has led us to forget what our ancestors fought for, to give us the privileges we enjoy today. There is history everywhere you look, even if it might seem like there is nothing there. 

Overtown as Text

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 10.0px ‘Helvetica Neue’; color: #000000} span.Apple-tab-span {white-space:pre}
Windows at the Greater Bethel AME Church in Overtown, Miami. All photographs taken and edited by Verónica Guzmán Betancourt/CC BY 4.0

I have called South Florida my home since 2009 and after so many years one would think that I would know everything there is to know about it. Unfortunately, that is not the case for me. I have lived here for 12 years and I must admit that I still feel like a tourist in Miami. 

It is crazy to think that I have been missing out on the culture and history of the city that I frequent so much. My experience in Overtown was beyond everything I expected. Being able to experience it first hand and learn from the natives was so touching and valuable. The things that I learned are not in any textbook or website out there. These were stories and facts told straight from the source, from people who actually were there seeing it all happen with their own eyes. 

We visited Greater Bethel AME Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church, both locations that witnessed vital and historic events during the Civil Rights movement. I stood in the same places in which people like Martin Luther King Jr. once stood. I saw the impact leaders like him left, both in the people and environment. 

Both of these churches rose from the ground, they were brought up with the intention to solidify and grow a community. A goal that faced adversity in a time of discrimination and intolerance. The building of these churches took years, there was no money to hire a contractor or any company to plan and carry out the construction. Given the fact that it was also in Overtown, no reputable (white) company would get involved in the area. The walls of these churches were brought up by its members, people of the community who donated their time and talents. 

The beautiful stained glass windows found at the Greater Bethel AME Church were done by people that came from out the state, particularly from Texas. These talented artists devoted their time to beautify their place of worship. 

These churches were and are more than just a place to go pray. These places united a community, provided support of every kind to anyone who needed it. These churches were education centers and health service providers, resources the community did not have back in the 1900s. It is heart-warming to see how much Overtown has grown, how it has expanded and withstood the past challenging years. At the same time, the churches have fought against the law to stay afloat. They now stand as landmarks in order to avoid being torn down as new people and companies move into the city trying to modernize the area. 

The legacy and history of Overtown will forever stay in the minds and hearts of people. No matter how much is torn apart or destroyed, you cannot erase history.