Vox Student Blog

Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art Community 2017

© Melanie Ponce

Contrapasso Contrapposto
By Melanie Ponce

Paradiso
We stand together beneath the muffled rays of light
A group of bare kneed students with wrinkled shirts and crumbled pamphlets
Looking ‘round the Kingdom of Limestone
Sweat runs down our backs, the humid air stagnant as we breathe collectively
The smell of salt and ocean mist clinging to our skin
We are the architects of this room, our future
A plethora of decisions yet to come
We hold the collective steps and potential pathways
That will carve our Vizcaya in the coarse sands of time

Purgatorio
The rallying cry of change calls for us
An echo pounding against the white walls
The chiseled figures sculpted by our ancestors
Works of art
Smooth marble
Breaking apart by the sound of our pleas, the stomping of our feet
Shake their foundation
‘Till they break

Inferno
But the marble hid the steel inside
Its structure, the decrepit beams which woke
The ardent stares of those who came before us
Their eyes digging a hole at the back of our necks.
Their cry for change was good enough for them
And everything that we do
That I do
Poses a threat to their lifestyle
To their evening luncheons and art excursions
To their carnival cruise ships and holiday trips to the north.
The old men and women of yesteryear,
Whose chant echoes how our future is in our shoulders but in turn slap our hands away
When we ask for help.
Their backs face us, draped with the cloths of their experiences.
They wash their hands with our sweat.

Originally posted in https://miamiinmiami.com/poetry-art-community/vizcaya-2017/secret-garden-poems-at-vizcaya-2017/

Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art, Community 2017

Village Garden © Melanie Ponce

Paintbrush from the Past

by Melanie Ponce

Strokes of wet paint glides on a canvas
Pigments from bone
Colored hues whose origins were
Dug from the roots of mangroves and wildlife
They whisper
Through layers of sediment and artifacts
An identity which lies buried in the ground

The foundation of skeletal remains
That braved to touch this land
Mixed tongues and dialects communicate
Through each twist of the wrist and flick of the hand
Of the artist whose job is to mix
Blood and oil
To form a village of dreams

Originally shown at https://peruvianimmigrant.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/featured-content/

Melanie Ponce: Italy Grand Tour Redux 2014

“All Beef, 1983″ by Jean-Michel Basquiat © Melanie Ponce

“A Cultural Analysis” by Melanie Ponce

I have questioned my heritage before. As a child, I have held cardboard packaged lunches at a higher standard than my parent’s cooking. I have pretended my thick accent was an evil placed upon me by the universe. I have acted as if I didn’t know Spanish. I felt that I had to erase my heritage in order to fit the image that I saw everyday. In the television, movies. Everyday, an image that was not mine. So I tried to fit in. And everyone around me tried to do the same. Some were successful. They erased their roots.

But I did not succeed.

As I grew older, I started to appreciate my skin. My voice. The way my tongue can’t wrap itself around certain words. My sound. A memory of my past. Anything that connected me to the country that I can no longer relate to but that I still call home. Too many nights spent under a foreign sky that does not fully accept the color of my skin nor the sound of my voice but still takes my accomplishments and calls it their own. Because at the end, who do I belong to? To the country that I was born in or the one in which I was raised. If the years are now tipping towards the land that does not accept me, does that make me an outsider? If the years back in my land are dwindling, will I ever be able to go back? In both countries, I am considered a foreigner, an outsider. If I belong to none, who am I?
And then it unfolds.

A blast of yellow, of red, of light. Jean-Michel Basquiat, who wrote in three languages to remind you he mastered more than one. Who painted black men to remind you he was one. Who rose above it all despite the odds. I see his art and I see hope. He painted his heritage onto a blank canvas. A theme that we are the same even though we are not treated as such. That this country belongs to us as much as the next person. And I could be over-analyzing into his work. But the fact remains. He was a black man who knew he was black and never pretended to be otherwise. In my eyes that is courage. In my eyes that is love.

He is color, and so am I.

Originally shown at https://johnwbailly.com/miamiastext/pamm/ponce/

Gabriella Peña: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio

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.

Deering Estate. Photo taken by Gabriella Pena/CC by 4.0

WHO

The first volunteer opportunity I had was with Bill Baggs State Park, located in Key Biscayne and known to be home to beautiful beaches and the Cape Florida Light, the oldest standing structure in Miami. The second institution I volunteered with is the Deering Estate, a historical landmark and what used to be the winter home of businessman Charles Deering until he passed away in 1927. Cleanups and other landscaping jobs are hosted at these parks regularly to beautify and maintain the nature of the parks for years to come. Various volunteering opportunities hosted at these places include weeding, mulching, gardening, cleaning up, etc.

WHY

The volunteering opportunity was given to our Miami in Miami class by Professor Bailly of the Honors College.

While I did not necessarily select these opportunities, I volunteered regardless. Not only because it was technically required, but because volunteering always end with a feeling of fulfillment that is hard to find in many of the other activities that I perform on a daily basis. And as many know, volunteering benefits your community, living and nonliving. This might not count as a reason, but it doesn’t hurt that I always come away from volunteering days with funny stories. I also get to talk to new people all the time when I volunteer, and potentially new long-term friends.

As a marine biology major here at FIU, this volunteering activity definitely involves my studies to a certain extent. Especially with the mangrove cleanups, as I had just recently learned about mangrove swamps in my coral reef biology class. And since I have a natural keenness towards all things animals, particularly marine animals, I can notice things that others might ignore or mistake for being something nonliving. Being in an area as biologically productive as a mangrove swamp will never disappoint any zoologist or marine biologist. As for Bill Baggs State Park, while removing weeds isn’t necessarily connected to marine biology, I did take a stroll along the coast during our lunch break and saw many things like chiton, crabs, fish, and dead coral.

HOW

I connect with this opportunity mainly through the flora and fauna. As I mentioned before mangrove swamps are high in productivity. Fish darting through the roots, spiders catching prey in their webs, mollusks suctioned to old bottles of alcohol. No matter how busy our own lives might seem, it will never be anywhere near the level of goings on in the non-human world. There are a million things happening each second, most of which we do not even get to see. While we see ourselves as more complex than any other organism on the planet, the opposite is also true in many ways. Everything in this ecosystem is connected to each other, with a cause and effect relationship between each little cell, spore, root, string of a web, or what have you.

I also connected on a social level during this volunteer opportunity. Though I usually avoid talking to my classmates because of my social anxiety, it always becomes easier for me to converse when I feel like I’m in my element. It was funny watching my classmates get scared by the wasp nest as we were removing plants from the forest at Bill Baggs. Teasing them about their fear of insects (rightly so at times) and asking them about their fears and phobias out of sheer curiosity. That alone can start a conversation I normally wouldn’t have with someone outside of parks like Bill Baggs or the Deering Estate. You can have human and environmental connections during volunteer opportunities like these.

WHERE & WHAT

Originally, our class was planning on doing a second cleanup at Chicken Key, an island just a mile offshore from Deering Estate, however, both weeks that we planned on doing them were cancelled due to strong gusts of wind. So, our professor had us clean up the mangrove forests on the coast of the estate instead. But before we got our hands dirty, our professor asked us to sit down on the ground and to reflect on the times that we had in the class. Each student was asked to name their highlight of the course. Naming just a few highlights was difficult, let alone one since everything about this course was new and amazing for me. Regardless, I named a few that I could remember off the top of my head, like Untitled Art at Art Basel, Jackson Soul Food, and the plane crash in the middle of a mangrove forest. My peers brought up some memories of which I forgot and was happily reminded of. And while this pre-cleanup discussion was going on, several manatees were swimming around in the dock of the Deering Estate! I tried to get video of the manatees interacting with each other and gloriously failed. Once we finished our class discussion, we rolled up our sleeves and headed to the historic mangrove trail, a wooden boardwalk predating the estate itself that unfortunately collapsed due to Hurricane Irma in 2017. With my bag and bare hands, I headed to the area of the mangrove forest closer to the open ocean because I was hoping to see some crocodiles or fish. Most of the trash I collected came in the form of bottles, bottle caps, and sheets. However, I had my mind set on a large crate I saw lodged at the front of the swamp. I nearly lost my water shoes trying to collect that crate, but I managed, and the clue crate became my second bag for other pieces of trash I found (sytrofoam board, road, sheets of plastic, etc.). Trudging back to the swamp, I found a bottle with several mollusks suctioned to the glass. I had never seen that many mollusks at once. I found a small spider, who caught a large fly in its tiny web. Several golden orb weavers were also found in the swamp, and hundreds upon hundreds of mangrove snails bunched up just above the roots, many leaving fresh slime trails. The one fish that I barely saw in the swamp zigzagged through the roots, and I had never seen a fish swim faster in my life. And just for fun, I attempted to walk through the original wooden boardwalk, now a makeshift obstacle course. I survived, finished collecting trash, cleaned myself up a little in the bathrooms, and took a short walk around the estate.

WHEN

SUMMARY

My experiences at Bill Baggs and Deering Estate were ones I deeply enjoyed. I always approach these excursions with a sense of curiosity and open-mindedness. What works for me is mentally preparing myself for what could be the best andthe worst. That way, I never let myself return from these volunteer days feeling angry or annoyed by something. What also worked for me is that I wore the right clothing for these trips, as it made my experience much easier to enjoy.

Amaranta Bailly: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio:

This image was taken by Michael Hibbert of Florida International University on 2nd February 2022// CC by 4.0

My name is Amaranta Mattie Bailly and I am an Honors College student at Florida International University. I am currently in the midst of studying Art History and hope that I may one day become a curator based in Miami, associated with out of the country, working with artists to bring their successes to America. I am currently invested in my studies, as well as studying the unique habitat Miami has to offer. I have been working at Galloway Farm Nursery for the past two years, and have discovered that on top of a fair income, it has given me a lovely opportunity to learn more about the world of business, as well as wildlife that thrives around me everyday. 

WHO

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

I participated in two community service projects taking place just a week apart, the first being in Bill Baggs State Park, and the second taking place in The Deering Estate. Bill Baggs Paker is in Key Biscayne, and the beach east flanking the park is voted one of the best on the planet. For everyone involved, it was a privilege to maintain one of the most admired and visited places for tourists in Miami. The Deering Estate cleanup took place after the Bill Baggs restoration, and involved a bigger group, meaning both Miami in Miami classes attented and participated. Originally, our plan was to kayak to Chicken Key and replicate our previous cleanup, meaning that we would load trash on our boats and sail back after some time. The wind was unfortunately at an all time high, andd we remained on Miami’s mainland instead and completed a mangrove cleanup. Our brilliant professor, John William Bailly, and various park rangers were also involved in the success of our projects. 

WHY

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Both community service projects were in fact a requirement for the Miami in Miami course, and maintaining the quality of unique and valuable locations around our city is instilled in us students to remind us of hown they came to be originally. Without hard work, Miami would not exist, without our har dwork an dothers like us, it would descend into an irreversible state of uninspired landscape. Aside from the importance of these locations, I personally found a drive to maintain and clean up both these places because of my personal value of nature. South Florida is home to ecosystems unique and set apart from the rest of the world. It is a great privilege of mine to be raised in such a beautiful environment, through my years in Miami I have honed a talent for caring and nourishing plant life. Through my job at Galloway Farm Nursery as well as my personal explorations with family and friends, a part of my heart has grown attached to the Magnificent Miami and every Sea Grape, Gumbo Limbo and Palm Tree the graces the ground I walk on. Although community service was a requirement for the completion of this course, I didn’t at all feel pressure to participate or a desire to be elsewhere. I continuously found myself immersed in mother nature’s landscape gorgeously carved before me, and only felt strong desires to endlessly explore as I was cleaning. 

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

HOW

Each student and participant was tasked with the responsibility of arriving appropriately and on time for each of our excursions, in order to be best efficient, coordination before, during and after our tasks were absolute necessities. In the Bill Baggs State Park, my class and I were tasked with re-mulching the walkway to the Cape Lighthouse as well as other small areas surrounding the area. The fortune was almost comedic, as my time at the nursery has gifted me with the knowledge to know precisely exactly in what way to lay mulch. We were working with Cypress Mulch, which although it is a rich golden-brown, is very natural compared to other dyed and chemically treated mulch. I was pleased with the parks selection as I knew it would maximize the aesthetic appearance of the walkway as well as protect from erosion and keep the ground moist. We first moved the Cypress Mulch to different areas along the walkway and dropped the bags a respective distance away from each other. Then, we began to open the bags and spread them approximately a foot and a half from the walkway. It might have seemed like tedious work to do alone, but I did not feel challenged and struck up conversation with circulating classmates. It didn’t take us long through our hard work together to re-mulch the entire walkway, and it looked quite fantastic. 

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 20th April 2022// CC by 4.0

The Deering Estate was equally as important but a different monster entirely. Because our original plan had been thwarted by the heavy winds, we instead completed a mangrove cleanup off the shore of the Deering Estate. We were sent to a walkway that extended approximately a mile through a thick, tangled web of roots and branches. The walkway, however, had been completely obliterated by Hurricane Irma, which hit Miami approximately a half decade ago, and the Deering Estate never pooled the finances to replace the damages. Fast forward to today, we were faced with a smashed pathway, leaving an array of wood and oxidized nails all over the place. Some portions of the walkway were gone entirely, leaving steep drops into the water. Others were turned completely diagonally, and the majority had various pieces of wood missing. The walkway was not only unusable, but it left a challenging obstacle for us to dominate in order to clean to the best of our abilities. Little by little we worked our way through, wandering off into small groups and helping each other through various spider webs, random sinkholes in the knee high water, and dangerous wood blocking our path. The few women in my group continued to fall although they stayed motivated throughout our quest. We attempted to pick up the smaller pieces of trash because they’re more catastrophic to the health of the organisms that inhabit the Deering Estate. We ended up taking longer than originally anticipated, because of the obstacles, our curiosity, and carrying the trash out of the mangroves and to the dumpster. 

WHERE&WHAT

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

The significance of maintaining both the Bill Baggs state park as well as the Deering Estate is monumental and integral to the health of Miami. Both Bill Baggs Park and the Deering Estate have rich hisgtories, and the Miami in Miami course is geared toward educating us about those histories and their value. It would only make sense that a portion of the Miami in Miami course is contributed to maintaining these historic sites, as one is challenged when attempting to learn of the past without a place to do so. Bill Baggs State Park has a rich history of becoming a massive hub and escape route for many enslaved African Americans and Bahamians, which gives the area a heightened level of importance. The park is home to the Cape Lighthouse that has existed since the 1820’s and has become a historical landmark, although it put an end to the escape route altogether. The Deering Estate was constructed in 1922 and was built as a winter home for Charles and Marion Deering, who were an incredibly wealthy couple at the time. In the hundred years since its building, it has become a stunning homestead that curated incredible Miami artists, and reveal deep truth about the socioeconomic state of Miami in the past century. 

WHEN

SUMMARY

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 20th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Both cleaning the mangrove forest and maintaining Bill Baggs Park are integral to the Miami and Miami course because it emphasized the fact that if we want to continue appreciating our beautiful city, we need to do the work collectively to ensure our city remains beautiful. Every single individual in our class, and every single individual inhabiting Miami has a responsibility to care for the land we use to live our best lives. I hope that through our hard work, we have and will continue to pay our respects to the hard workers that came before us, and set an example for those who come after. After each cleanup, I felt nothing but re-energized, happy, and grateful to be alive and well enough to contribute to Miami, my home.

Amaranta Bailly: Little Havana 2022

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Student Bio:

This image was taken by John Bailly of Florida International University in May 2020// CC by 4.0

I am Amaranta Mattie Bailly and I am of mixed nationality. My father, John William Bailly has ties to family all over Europe, and my mother, Natalia Garcia-Lee has ties all over the Carribean. I have the privilege of experiencing food, culture and traditions that I can connect with that are actually derived from all over the world. As I continue schooling and graduate within the next year and a half, I will continue to be surrounded by individuals that are incredibly diverse like I am, and we will be able to bond over sharing our cultures. The beauty of living in Miami, especially for an Antilliean and European woman such as myself, is the ability to admire my culture and share it with others, even though I live in America. 

Relations:

I didn’t know much about Little Havanna, aside from the fact that there is a strong Cuban presence in the neighborhood. I previously didn’t want to exlpore an area that was a site for tourists. I felt because I’ve been a local my whole life, that I had a responsibility to complete the Ineffable Miami project in an area of Miami that was not often seen or appreciated. Speaking to my mother, Natalia, revealed that my relationship with Little Havanna went far  deeper than I had ever expected. When my family immigrated to America, they first lived in Little Havanna in a miniscule apartment for four years before moving to Princeton. I was extremely surprised to hear this information, as it means that my mother spent her first years in America in a place I hadd never been to. My interest in Little Havanna had peaked, and I was certain it was necessary that I complete this project while uncovering another piece of her past. 

Geography:

This image was derived from Google Maps// CC by 4.0

Little Havanna is located just below Allapattah, Overtown and Downtown Miami, and is centered around Calle Ocho (southwest 8th street), although it extends all the way to Flagler. Sorrounding Calle Ocho are quaint neighborhoods with houses stacked closely together. I adored that many of the houses, although similar in size, each has a personality of their own, inviting me into the neighborhood with a resounding level of shapes and colors. The area just surrounding calle ocho is bustling with life, as the majority of tourists and locals spend the majority of their time shopping for both everyday items and unique products. 

History:

In the 1930s, Little Havana first was categorized as a jewish neighborhoood. Today, Little Havana is the largest hub in the world that shelters Cuban exiles and immigrants. In the 1960’s thousands of Cubans flooded the American border in order to escape the Castro regime. It remained the main landing point for the majority of immigrants and although some settled permanently, anger still lived within many of the people. Many presumed their stay in America was less than permanent and therefore, there were high tensions in the neighborhood for decades. People were driven to earn their home back and to exact revenge on the regime for removing their free will and way of life. Over time, Cubans that realized their stay would be permanent and began to spead across the city of Miami. Over time, hispanics that are not Cuban began to flood Little Havana as well, and now it is a hub for hispanics in general, but is still named after the capital of Cuba, as well as still being the biggest hub in Miami for hispanics.

Demographics:

This image was derived from https://statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Florida/Miami/Little-Havana/Race-and-Ethnicity // CC by 4.0

There are more than 50,000 people currently inhabiting Little Havana, 98% percent of which are of Latin origin, and the majority of these Latinx peoples are of Cuban origin. An astounding 38% of Little Havana are not American citizens, citizens not born in America account for 33% of Little Havanna, and the remaining population (27%) would account for American born citizens. The majority of civilians in Little Havana are white collar, but approximately 30% are blue collar, and the median household income is approximately 30,000 dollars per year. 39.1 percent of the population in Little Havana lives below the poverty line, which is likely the most astounding statistic I uncovered, seeing as how Little Havanna is so often flooded with tourists, and Calle Ocho brings in a massive amount of money daily.  

Interview Preface;

I was immediately drawn to Johnny Cigans are they have a beautiful yellow exterior that although has been taken care of extensively, had a dated design. I was taking my time exploring calle ocho and although they have a countless amount of stunning boutiques, restaurants and historic sites, I couldn’t help but stop at this one. The brightness and originality that this store emanated from the front and immediately welcomed me. It might strike one as odd that I decided to do a professional interview in a smoke shop, but it must be known that there is a smoke shop on every corner of Little Havana. Cigars specifically are one of Cubas biggest exports and the economy relies greatly on those profits. Many Cubans opened cigar shops upon their arrival to America because it has become an integral piece of Cuban culture. Evangelina, the owner of the shop, met me at the door and offered me various modern smoking devices, but I politely declined and instead asked to view her cigars. Her face lit up and she began to explain that the store just behind her rolled the tobacco leaves handmade, which is when I realized there would be nobody better to interview. Her enthusiasm caught me by great surprise as she quickly agreed when hearing about my Ineffable Miami project. 

Interview:

Me: What is your name?

Evangelina: My name is Evangelina and I own Johnny Cigars

Me: What motivated you to open a shop in Little Havana?

Evangelina: I always loved Little Havana, and I always smoke with good friends. Little Havana is a good place to sell cigars because they roll here. I work with the shop next door that rolls those off the bottom shelf. 

Me: What do you like most about Little Havana?

Evangelina: I have friends coming from all over the world here, we all share our cultures. I’m Argentinian, they are Cuban, he is Colombian, we are the whole world in one place.

*pause* 

 I’m happy here. My kids do well here, they’re very social. 

Me: Most of Little Havana is Cuban, do you feel your unique culture is represented being Argentinian?

Evangelina: Yes. Cultures always share their customs with each other. I like that I am different, and I like how others are different. Everyone likes each other. We all have a place here. 

Me: Thank you very much Evangelina 

Evangelina: Yes yes! Of course.

Location Review Preface:

Calle Ocho in Little Havana is extemely populated with friendly people, tons of eateries, stores, tourists centers, parks, churches and community centers. It was incredibly challenging to decide which areas I should review and include in my project. In my last project reviewing Princeton, Miami, the isolation and lack of tourism in the area provide a much more quiet and ethereal experience. In Little Havana, the bustling life allowed for me to speak to dozens of people and it was almost challenging to decide what I felt was superior enough to add into my project. I highly recommend if  you are visiting Little Havana, that you take under avdvisement my discoveries while exploring, but also attempt to go onto the various shops I didn’t have a chance to. I left Little Havana eager to explore every corner, and knowing I would have to return for more. 

Location Review:

Food:

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

The food in Little Havana is wildly expensive as it is a place various tourists find their way to, and theur food consists mostly of various hispanic places. I instead opted for a morning treat of an Empanada de Espinacha as well as a Habana Vieja Cafe (a spinach empanada and an “old havana” coffee). The House of Cuban Coffee was an incredibly high end coffee place with an authentic Cuban feel that struck me right as the door. Although quaint, kind energy possessed me to immediately move to the bar. I spoke in Spanish to the employees there, and they asked me about where I was from as well as what exactly I was doing in Little havana. Their interactions with each other pointed to the fact that they share incredibly close and family-like ties. I felt immediately at home and filled to the brim with a delicious treat. The Habana Vieja had a copious amount of condensed milk and whipped cream in the place of milk and sugar, which definitely felt more like a dessert than a coffee, but it was recommended to me straight off the menu and I couldn’t find it in me to decline. The Empanada de Espinacha was salty and creamy, which settled my stomach well in pair with the strong cafe. 

Parks:

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Domino Park 

sw 8th st and 14th ave 

Domino Park was named after the general Maximo Gomez who was Dominican born. He was a great leader of the Cuban Liberation Army, therefore, it makes sense that such a vital portion of Little Havana was named after him. Maximo Gomez became a large symbol of the battles wages against the Castro Regime in every single one of the escaped Cubans’ hearts. Castro took Cuba away from its people, and having Maximos name above such a public place was the Cuban way of taking things back. In the Domino Park, there are not many plants, but there are various tables scattered across the short property where older gentleman and ladies gather around to play Dominoes, as well as some chess. Upon my visit to Domino Park, I found the atmosphere welcoming and yet intense. It was obvious that Domino Park was solely dominated by locals, as opposed to everywhere else in Little Havana. I spoke shortly in Spanish to an employee there, and she emphasized how heated certain games can become, and how nice it is to socialize with the regulars. I don’t think I showed at the busiest time, although there were quite a few tables filled with kind gentlemen who greeted me as I took a look around, although I didn’t make much effort to socialize because I didn’t want to distract them from their games. There is a mural painted on the back wall of this “park” that displays various war heroes that were involved in the Bay of Pigs Invasion, or attempted to combat the Castro Regime. It is vibrant and bold, representing the core of the Cuban people, fierce and resilient.

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Cuban Memorial Boulevard and Bay of Pigs monument 

Sw 13th ave 8th-12th st

This unique park spans four blocks down, beginning on Calle Ocho and extending in a small strip to twelfth street. On either sidde of this park is a road and houses, bordering the slim park but not crowded. Within the park you’ll find various memorial and monumental pieces of art dedicated to the Cubans who died during the Bay of Pigs invasion, heroes that emerged and protected the country, and a stone carving of Cuba protecting a tree of life. As I strolled the strip I also saw a statue of the Virgin Mary, cradling her son Jesus, and holding a yellow flower that a civilian placed in her hand. I felt that this statue spoke volumes about the value that this park holds in the hearts of its citizens. Aside from being absolutely breathtaking, with enormous banyon trees that scatter the light and greenery on all sides, the plastic flower was obviously placed there recently. This shows me that this park is still often used by the people to mourn, and to commemorate. Oftentimes, I’ve always held a fear in my heart that history might be erased and that individduals will cease to care once there is no place or visual to recall what has occurred before us. Places like this park ease that fear, and that plastic flower might have felt insignificant, but there was someone out there in the world who felt that this park and all the hard work that has gone into making it beautiful, was a place worthy of making beautiful. 

Entertainment/Business:

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

The Miami-Dade College’s Town Theater

1508 sw 8th st

The Miami-Dade College’s Town Theater located on Calle Ocho is the oldest movie theater in Miami’s history. It now has a more retro appearance but in 1926, when it was first opened, it was grandiose and modern, attracting visitors for miles around. This theater played a massive part in growing Little Havana’s reputation, and businesses that have been developed around the theather have flourished in part because of its presence. This theater wasalsothe first in Miami to add spanish sub-titles. This is an incredibly historic event because by 1960, when this first occurred, the majority of Little Havana was already dominated by Cubans. Many of these Cubans had not yet learned to speak English, and the inclusion of subtitles in their language must have felt magical. To be forced from your home in a vicious manner and dinto a new country that you know nothing about is harder than I could ever fathom. My grandmother telling me of her near decade long journey to make a home here with four children feels surreal, and I can’t imagine how special she must have felt first coming to live in a neighborhood that felt like the good parts of home. 

Transportation:

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

There are various tour buses that take tourists to the focal points of Calle Ocho. I felt that it was in fact dangerous to cross the street while exploring, and as a typical Miamian I j-walk, but I was forced to put aside my unwise tradtion in fear I would be flattened by an irritated driver and twenty tourists from Georgia. Other than the immense number of tourists, Little Havana residents ride public transportation three times more than other residents in Miami-Dade County. There is very limited parking and space in Little Havana, and because it is a relatively small area, many residents prefer to travel by bus to fulfill their daily needs. Through my research on the difficulties of transit in such a compact area, I found that the community is actively improving their means of transportation. Joe Corollo, the County commissioner, and Miami-Dade County both approved and aided the Have a Seat Project. This project began in 2020 and was responsible for the installation of thirty-five benches around Little Havana, so that people may sit comfortably while waiting for their ride. Other than the increased use of buses in the area, many cars often pass through as the 836 extressway flanks Little Havana from the north. In essence, there are many ways to travel in Little Havana, but caution should always be exercised. Nobody’s as fast as they think they are. 

Worship:

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Home of Miami’s first Mayor/Saint Peter and Paul Orthodox Church

1411 sw 11th st

Saint Peter and Paul’s Orthodox Church was origionally built in 1927 as a home for the first mayor of Miami, John Bernard Reily, and his wife Marie. John unfortunately passed away shortly after the home was built, but Marie inhabited the area for another decade before remodeling her home and making it a church. Now it neighbors a relgious elementary school, and although the church was locked upon my arrival, I can imagine it is very well maintained because the exterior was stunningly pristine, although it attained an aged appearance. There is a statue of the virgin mary that still rests above the door of this caltholic church, that has been replaced over time, but is a personal choice Marie made because she herself was a devout catholic. Little Havana is a bustling Cuban hub, but the church is located in the dead center of a relatively quiet neighborhood, just south of Calle Ocho. Walking to the church gave the the opportunity to admire the quaint and friendly neighborhood that wasn’t crowded to the brim with eager tourists. 

Summary:

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 7th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Visiting Little Havana was long overdue, as I believe it’s one of the most welcoming and charming areas in Miami. I am shocked my mother and grandmother had never taken me there before, as their first years spent in America was in Little Havana. I am still ever so curious as to their past and history, and the ways in which Little Havana provided a smoother transition into this country. I had spent more than half a day in Little Havana, and hours on Calle Ocho alone, but still found new things that I wanted to try or didn’t have the opportunity to participate in. It is now one of my dreams to bring my own set of Dominoes to Domino park and participate with the locals there, and with any friends willing to join me. Speaking to the dozens of kind people, seeing the brilliantly painted murals around every corner, eating the delicious food, admiring the memorials, and taking a day to live a Little Havana life has gotten me back in touch with my Cuban roots, but has also pushed me to see what the rest of the world hsads to offer. If this beautiful community exists just forty-five minutes north of me, I can’t begin to fathom what else I might be missing. 

Citations:

All about little Havana and Calle Ocho. MiamiandBeaches.com. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/neighborhoods/little-havana 

Google. (n.d.). MDC’s Tower Theater Miami – Google Arts & Culture. Google. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://artsandculture.google.com/story/mdc-s-tower-theater-miami-miami-dade-college/oAXhbKvohPCIKw?hl=en 

Havana demographics. Point2. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/IL/Havana-Demographics.html 

The history of little Havana. Gray Line Miami. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://graylinemiami.com/blog/history-little-havana/ 

Little Havana Transit Benches – Urban Health Partnerships. Urban Health Partnerships -. (2021, October 10). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://urbanhp.org/project/lh-transit-benches/ 

Little Havana: A vernacular mélange of Latin American influence. Little Havana: A vernacular mélange of Latin American influence | The Cultural Landscape Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://www.tclf.org/news/features/little-havana-vernacular-melange-latin-american-influence 

Miranda, H., & *, N. (2021, May 23). Domino Park then, now, and tomorrow by our very own Hugo Miranda. Calle Ocho News. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://calleochonews.com/domino-park-then-now-and-tomorrow-by-our-very-own-hugo-miranda/ 

Parish history. Home. (n.d.). Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://orthodoxpeterandpaulmiami.org/sspphistory Wikimedia Foundation. (2019, September 21). Bay of Pigs Monument. Wikipedia. Retrieved April 24, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_of_Pigs_Monument

Paola Castro: Coconut Grove 2022

Photo 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 more of Miami.

Geography

Photo retrieved from Google Maps

Coconut Grove as a whole is located between Biscayne Bay and Lejeune Road to the east and west, and boxed in between US 1 and North Prospect Drive to the north and south, covering a grand total of 5 square miles. Coconut Grove, or “the Grove” as it is often referred to as, is a small town that provides just a bit of everything Miami has to offer. Enjoy picturesque views, beautiful parks, bustling city centers, reliable public transportation, and a thriving sailing community – all present at the Grove. Despite having so much going on in just one place, the neighborhood doesn’t ever seem too hectic or busy. This is largely because Coconut Grove is one of the most pedestrian friendly neighborhoods in all of Miami. Even when there are many people in the Grove, traffic is never loud or imposing and the many plazas that can only be accessed on foot remain peaceful. Overall, it has managed to strike an impressive balance between buzzing city centers and peaceful nature trails and parks, giving both visitors and residents the best of both worlds.

History

Coconut Grove, as the oldest permanent settlement in Miami-Dade County, flaunts a rich and vastly independent history than that of the rest of Miami. 

Beginning in the early 19th century, Biscayne Bay was a hotspot for mariners to stop and get water from its freshwater springs just off the coast. Noticing that the bay was receiving a lot of boat traffic due to these springs, the Cape Florida Lighthouse began construction, finishing in 1825 when the lighthouse became operational. The lighthouse then attracted more people to what is now known as Coconut Grove, although most were just lightkeepers, their assistants, and various ship salvagers. 

This is when one of the first residents of Coconut Grove, Dr. Horace Porter, applied for a post office there, naming it ‘Cocoanut Grove’ after seeing coconut palm trees nearby. Around this same time, slaves escaping from northern states likely passed through Coconut Grove and sailed from its bay towards the Bahamas in what is now known as the Saltwater Underground Railroad – getting around 200 slaves their freedom between 1821 to 1827. 

Later, during the 1870s, people migrated to south Florida because of the Homestead Act – which stated that a person would receive 160 acres of land if they agreed to live there and grow crops on that land for five years. By the early 1880’s the Peacocks and Ralph Munroe, both of whom would later go on to have parks named in their honor, settled into the area. Both parties quickly became friends and started to work on building a community they could live in for the long run. The Peacocks opened what would later be known as the Peacock Inn, which attracted both Bahamian workers in need of a job and visitors to the area. The Bahamian staff then started to build a community on Charles Avenue, and the visitors that loved the Grove settled into the area permanently. Later, Munroe would go on to found the Biscayne Bay Yacht Club and Isabella Peacock would begin Sunday school classes for the children of the Grove. By 1890, Coconut Grove had 100 residents. 

In 1896, as Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway extended into Miami, the Grove’s residents began to fear the influx of people may ruin their pristine natural neighborhood and its small community. Later in 1919, for the same fear of development ruining the Grove, ‘Coconut Grove’ incorporated as a town – notably dropping the ‘a’ from its name. After six years of being its own town, though, Coconut Grove was annexed by the City of Miami, despite its residents not agreeing with the ruling.

After its annexation, Coconut Grove has retained its own unique culture among the many other neighborhoods in Miami and is now considered a great tourist spot with many historical sites, such as Ralph Munroe’s home and Charles Avenue, still being intact. 

Demographics

Coconut Grove, seeing as it’s one of the oldest inhabited neighborhoods in Miami, has quite a large community of residents. Latest census data taken of the neighborhood puts its current population at a whopping 26,815 current residents. Of these residents, there are a wide variety of people – with around 36% of people being Hispanic or Latino, 30% being Black, 26% being White and the rest being a mix of everything else. On top of being fairly diverse, Coconut Grove is quite affluent as well. In fact, the median household income in the neighborhood is more than double what it is for the rest of Miami. As for how old the average resident is, the Grove is not too old of a community, with residents’ average age being 30-35 years old. Overall, Coconut Grove is a thriving community with young, affluent people from all walks of life choosing to call it their home.

Interview

Evelyn Smith, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Evelyn Smith

“How long have you lived in Coconut Grove?”

Evelyn: “I’ve lived here for about 20 years, long enough to see my two sons grow up and graduate college.”

“What do you like most about living here?”

Evelyn: “I like that it’s calm, but not boring. There’s always something to do but you never feel overwhelmed like you do in some places in Miami. It’s also a great place for families, so raising my kids here was just wonderful.”

“What do you think makes Coconut Grove unique from other neighborhoods in Miami?”

Evelyn: “Definitely the nature, and the fact that it’s very walkable. You don’t need a car to get around, and the park trails near the water are just to die for at sunset.”

Landmarks

Vizcaya Gardens, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which officially finished construction in 1922, was previously the home of well-known industrialist and socialite James Deering. Deering’s many Bahamian workers forged this lavish home and its lush, beautiful gardens over the course of nearly a decade, and the interiors were later styled by renowned designer Paul Chalfin. Over the course of the he spent time living in Vizcaya, James Deering used his impressive home to entertain many guests – frequently hosting film nights and big parties in his courtyard. Nowadays, the gardens and main house are preserved and are open to the public as a museum where guests can pay to see the luxurious interiors, stroll the gardens, and even grab a bite to eat at the museum cafe.

Coconut Grove Playhouse

The Coconut Grove Playhouse was built in the 1920’s for the Grove’s first mayor Irving J. Thomas, and had its official debut on January 1, 1927. With its Spanish Rococo style architecture and the largest capacity in Miami, the playhouse was a big success in its time. However, even though it was bought by Paramount Enterprises and hosted their offices, the playhouse hit a rough patch in the 1930’s and closed down. Nowadays, the building is undergoing renovations, with plans to open once they’re finished. However, even when they’re closed for renovations, just walking around the building to admire its architecture is a sight you do not want to miss!

Charles Avenue

Charles Avenue sign, Mariah Brown House, E.W.F Stirrup House, and Charles Avenue cemetery, photos taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

Charles Avenue, formerly known as Evangelist Street because of all the churches there, was a thriving Bahamian community during the time of mass migration of freemen from the Bahamas. Many houses along this avenue were built in the same way as ones from the Bahamas, using native coral limestone and lime mortar rather than cement – which has helped them withstand many hurricanes. A few of these houses are historical sites on their own, such as the Mariah Brown House and E.W.F Stirrup House. The Mariah Brown House is believed to be the first house owned by an African American woman in the late 1800s, whereas the E.W.F Stirrup House was owned by one of the principal landowners of Coconut Grove, a Bahamian who rented his properties out to other Bahamians in the area for a decent price. And even further along the avenue you may see the cemetery that inspired the Thriller music video by Michael Jackson! Overall, the avenue is rich with history and sites still standing from the time of Coconut Grove’s inception.

Green Spaces

The Barnacle Historic State Park entrance sign, ‘The Barnacle’, photos taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

The barnacle historic state park

The Barnacle Historic State Park is a small, five acre park that is home to the oldest house in Miami still standing on its original site. The house, named ‘The Barnacle’ by its original owner Ralph Munroe, has lived up to its name by withstanding multiple hurricanes and still holding on to its foundations as stubbornly as a barnacle since its construction in 1891. Besides the house, the park includes an unobstructed view of the bay, a boathouse also built by Munroe, and a well believed to have been built before Munroe even bought the property. Aside from its historical sites, however, the park also provides a roofed sports court and a few seating areas for lounging about.

Peacock park

Named after the famous Peacock Inn and located on the same acres of land it stood on back in the day, nowadays Peacock Park is filled with beautiful greenery and many spaces for enjoyment. Not only does this park have a beautiful view of the water, but it also provides multiple sports fields for people to enjoy all along its 9 acre wide plot. 

Regatta park

Regatta Park, named after the sailing regattas that often take place within its view, is a wonderful place for sailing and boat enthusiasts as well as general park fun. For those that love the sea, the park offers boat ramps and water rentals. And for everyone else, Regatta Park is filled with amenities such as picnic tables, bike racks, and wonderful bayside views.

Transportation

Metrorail

The Metrorail’s orange line runs through Coconut Grove, stopping at the intersection of South Dixie Highway and West 27th Avenue. The Metrorail can be used by purchasing a metrocard, either in person at a machine or through the Go app, for a very low price. The Metrorail is ideal if you’re traveling far, and is widespread enough to take you all over Miami from whatever station you enter from.

METROBUS

The Metrobus is also a great alternative if you’re traveling long distances to or from the Grove. The buses make a few stops in Coconut Grove, from SW 27th Street all the way to Bayshore Drive. Getting on these buses is easy, as there are many forms of payment – from buying an EASY card or ticket, to using the Go app, or even paying right there on the bus with cash or contactless payment methods.

TROLLEY

To travel within the neighborhood, the Coconut Grove trolley is a great option. The trolley stops all along the Grove and is completely free to use, within its operating hours – which usually run from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.

CITI BIKES

Another great alternative for exploring the charming neighborhood of Coconut Grove is renting Citi bikes. These rental bike stations are found around the Grove and can be rented hourly or by the day. 

Food

Piece of the Star Luca pizza at Mister 01, photo taken by Paola Castro / CC by 4.0

MR 01

Mr. 01 is a restaurant chain that originated in a small office building just off Lincoln Road, and now has spread its locations out to Coconut Grove. They offer comfortable outdoor seating, friendly service, and unique and delicious pizza combinations that brought it its fame. Out of all their stellar pizza recipes, the most recommended has to be the Star Luca pizza – which got its name from the star shape that the folded crust full of ricotta cheese resembles.

KRUS KITCHEN

Krus Kitchen’s atmosphere and dining experience are what sets it apart from other restaurants in the area. The restaurant offers both novelty and convenience to all its customers, due to the fact that they have a unique rotating menu that changes from week to week as well as a pantry that customers can buy ingredients from as they check out. In addition to that, by making the layout of the restaurant appear as casual as a house’s living room, they provide visitors with the same feeling of comfort and familiarity as a home cooked meal.

Atchana’s Homegrown Thai Restaurant

Located at the corner of the Commodore Plaza, this family owned Thai restaurant serves a variety of authentic and delicious meals – the most recommended of which being the house special ‘Satay’, that comes with various meats and its own small grill brought to your table. With its comfortable indoor and outdoor seating, friendly service, and large aquarium to help the ambience, this restaurant is a must-try!

Businesses

BOOKS & BOOKS

Books & Books is a Miami-born bookstore chain with a location in Coconut Grove, right next to Krüs Kitchen. The bookstore offers patrons a cafe, two stories of fully stocked, floor to ceiling bookshelves, and even a table highlighting books written by authors from Florida in order to support the local writing community. In addition to that, the bookstore often hosts and participates in local events to engage with their community and inspire young community members.

LOVESHACKFANCY

At the corner of a commercial center at the heart of Coconut Grove, LoveShackFancy boasts a unique clothes and shopping experience through their luxurious and distinctive decor and amazing service. Through its large windows, you catch a glimpse of baby pink covering every wall inside the store, as well as frilly, lacey accents to every piece of furniture inside. Walking inside feels as though you’ve stepped into a little girl’s fever dream, but the service is so attentive and individualized that to call LoveShackFancy anything less than extravagant would be a lie. With its individualized fittings, comfortable furniture, and never ending snack trays, it is an experience akin to visiting a personal tailor with every piece you try on.

THE BLONDE TULIP

Sitting on the block by Mary Street in Coconut Grove, this florist shop offers the right flowers for any occasion. Whether you’re just stopping by to get some freshly cut flowers for decoration in your house, picking up a bouquet for a special someone, or arranging the flowers needed for a giant event such as a wedding or ball – they have just the right arrangement for you. In addition to offering multiple flower arrangement packages, it also allows for curbside pickup and local delivery options for the busy customer on the run.

Summary

Overall, Coconut Grove is a thriving community with a rich history that has managed to strike a balance between bustling city life and the quiet, calm life of the suburbs. In a city full of highways and ever decreasing greenery, the Grove has maintained a walkable neighborhood that protects and preserves its parks and natural historical sites.

On the other hand, while businesses in the neighborhood are on the whole a good thing, the stores opening up in the Grove are becoming more and more high end and unaffordable for even the fairly wealthy residents living in the area. Not to mention many of the Bahamian residents who inherited their homes from generation to generation since the neighborhood’s inception are being slowly but surely pushed out of the neighborhood as it gains prestige and attention. 

Coconut Grove has really struck a balance between being a great tourist attraction as well as a resourceful and pleasant neighborhood for its residents thus far, but it must continue to put its atmosphere over profits if it does not want to run the risk of having its rich niche culture overrun by gentrified skyscrapers and immensely expensive business that will drive out the residents of the area.

Works Cited

Overall, Coconut Grove is a thriving community with a rich history that has managed to strike a balance between bustling city life and the quiet, calm life of the suburbs. In a city full of highways and ever decreasing greenery, the Grove has maintained a walkable neighborhood that protects and preserves its parks and natural historical sites.

On the other hand, while businesses in the neighborhood are on the whole a good thing, the stores opening up in the Grove are becoming more and more high end and unaffordable for even the fairly wealthy residents living in the area. Not to mention many of the Bahamian residents who inherited their homes from generation to generation since the neighborhood’s inception are being slowly but surely pushed out of the neighborhood as it gains prestige and attention. 

Coconut Grove has really struck a balance between being a great tourist attraction as well as a resourceful and pleasant neighborhood for its residents thus far, but it must continue to put its atmosphere over profits if it does not want to run the risk of having its rich niche culture overrun by gentrified skyscrapers and immensely expensive business that will drive out the residents of the area.

Monica B. Perez: Miami Service 2022


STUDENT BIO

Monica Hiking at the Deering Estate By John Bailly/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.

WHO

I volunteered at the Deering Estate with the combined sections of Miami in Miami 2021-2022. I was able to connect with an FIU Honors/Miami in Miami Alumnus, Nicole Patrick, and volunteered to lead an independent cleanup with her.

The Deering Estate was once one of many homes for Charles Deering: a wealthy American businessman and art collector. He invited his other wealthy friends to visit and experience the tropical paradise of a developing Miami, Florida. Now, it serves as a museum and multicultural center which has helped it earn its spot on the National Register of Historic places. The Estate reaches out to local artists and offers them a position as artist in residency, where they can feel inspired by any of Miami’s five ecosystems. Interested guests can go on guided hikes on the estate, become official volunteers, and children can attend a summer camp that is full of fun and learning. Because of the environmental significance of the land that surrounds them, they join forces with local activists and schools to organize cleanups for the nearby mangrove island, Chicken Key.

They Key is home to some unique, endangered flora and fauna including some friendly fish and not-so-friendly hermit crabs that the Deering Estate is dedicated to protect. Mangroves are responsible for housing all this wildlife while also purifying the water and turning it from salt water to fresh water. Mangroves are endangered in other parts of Miami, so protecting the forest at Chicken Key is crucial.

WHY

I chose this opportunity because I had done a cleanup as required by first semester of Miami in Miami. I loved the experience, and I wanted to share it with a new group of friends. My professor announced in our class chat that Nicole was starting her independent cleanups again (they had paused because of the COVID-19 pandemic), so I quickly joined the group. A few days later, I was asked to lead some of the group since I had already done it before.

Despite being a psychology major, this opportunity aligns with my professional and personal interests. I am interested in ecopsychology which deals with how the environment, climate change, and conservation efforts impact our mental health and wellbeing. Speaking from personal experience, time outside and in nature helps me feel “grounded”, less anxious, and more in control of my emotional regulation. Research supports this, as it suggests that contact with nature is particularly healing to those with low self-esteem and issues with mood regulation which manifest in anxiety and depressive disorders. The social aspect of doing charitable acts with peers is also beneficial, as it promotes relationships rooted in good deeds.

HOW

I connected with this opportunity by putting what I have researched into practice. While canoeing and picking up trash, I was trying to be mindful of where I was, my sensations, and how my actions were helping the community. I found the sounds to be relaxing, the sights engaging, and the physical work exhilarating. This is similar to my first experience at Chicken Key. However, I do feel that I was able to better enjoy my time there the second time since I knew exactly what to do. I could have a little more fun, because I was not so worried I was going to mess up.

I connected with this experience on a secondary level that was not present the last time I did this activity. I was asked by Nicole to group a small group of people to the South side of the island. There, I delegated who would do what and answered all kinds of questions. This was fulfilling in a different way because I was helping people reach a higher potential. I am used to leadership roles as I have been assigned to them my whole life. I also got to step out of my comfort zone socially (the zone is very small… I have terrible social anxiety) because I got to talk to people I did not know at all. I learned why they were at the cleanup and what their plans were for the future. It was refreshing to spend time outside of class with people my age, working toward a cause we all cared about.

WHERE & WHAT

I arrived to the Deering Estate one hour early (at nine AM) with Nicole and the other leaders so we could make sure everything was ready for the others to arrive. I helped an employee at the Deering Estate assemble kayak paddles and take them to the place we would be launching from. Once everything was ready, we waited for the volunteers to arrive. We waited for an hour for everyone t arrive, but half the group did not show up. We called volunteers on the list and did not receive answers, so we briefed those who on what the day was going to look like. We also played some icebreaker games to get everyone acquainted. After assessing everyone’s kayaking or canoeing experience, we paired everyone off and canoed to the key.

My canoeing partner and me/CC by 4.0

Deciding where to doc was tricky, as many of us had not been to Chicken Key before. After a bit of maneuvering, we were able to dock and get to cleaning. It was difficult to help everyone feel included and motivated. Some people were just there to get a paper signed, and they hardly tried to pick anything up. This was disappointing, but we were glad they came at all. We picked up trash until all our bags were full. We could not pick up as much trash as we wanted because there were not enough canoes or people to carry it all. One thing I was surprised to see on the island was needles. We were not prepared to pick up hazardous waste, but we did the best we could by using puncture-resistant trash bags. In the future, it seems that we should probably invest in some bags made for that purpose.

After we finished cleaning, we ate lunch and shared all the interesting things we saw and picked up. We shared pictures, fun stories, and ideas for what was to come. One pair found a message in the bottle, but once we opened it, the message was empty (very mysterious!). Once we did all we could, we canoed back to the Estate, emptied and cleaned the bags, and the rest of the volunteers left. The leaders stayed a bit longer to ensure everything was left as we were instructed. We went home exhausted and happy that we made a difference.

WHEN

Approved Hours Through MyHonors

SUMMARY

Volunteer work comes with its struggles, and this opportunity definitely had its ups and downs. Some things just did not work as well as they could have. As mentioned above, many people confirmed attendance for the pre-planned event and did not actually show up the day of the cleanup. In addition, we were not prepared to pick up hazardous waste like needles. Thankfully, we had puncture-resistant bags, but it was a shame that we had to use any plastic at all. We try to use the least amount of plastic possible, as we have seen where it tends to end up.Unfortunately, there were also some items that were simply too hard to remove without doing damage to the plant life. Some plastics have been on that island for so long that wildlife started adopting it into their lifestyles.

Thankfully, there numerous elements of this trip that did work. We certainly were able to make a dent in how much trash was on the island. Most of the students who attended were very mature and dedicated, so they took this opportunity very seriously. We also delegated very well. One person managed fishing lines and ropes, one person managed large trash, one person dedicated his time to large pieces of Styrofoam, and the rest of us focused on the smaller pieces of plastic that harm wildlife the most because they are mistakenly consumed by small fish and work their way up the food chain. With enough time, the bellies of larger fish (and humans) are full of microplastics that had been previously consumed by their prey.

After some personal reflections and conversations with the attendees, this opportunity really opened our eyes and inspired us to be mindful of our lifestyle choices. We saw so many items that are part of our daily lives: shoes, toothbrushes, soap bottles, and so much more single-use plastic that are all present in our homes.

The group after a long day of cleanup/CC by 4.0

Jared Johnson: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio

Photo of Jared Johnson. Taken by Shae J./ CC by 4.0

My name is Jared Johnson and I am a 21-year old senior at Florida International University. I grew up and spent most of my life in Georgia but moved to South Florida in 2019. I am majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Business Administration. After graduation, I want to work in cybersecurity while continuing to expand my online businesses.

Who

I volunteered at the Deering Estate to perform a Chicken Key cleanup. However, due to the winds, I was unable to perform the cleanup because we were not able to canoe out to the island. Instead, I did a mangrove land cleanup. Deering Estate is a nature preserve located in southeast Miami-Dade county. It was originally built by Charles Deering in the 1920s, and was bought by the state of Florida in 1986. It is now a historic site listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While the house still contains some of the artifacts that Deering placed inside, a large amount was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Deering Estate now offers tours of the house and property as well as hosting different events throughout the year. The mangrove forest is right on the edge of the water and is basically a forest in water. This is one of the natural conservation areas managed by the Deering Estate.

Deering Estate bay. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0

Why

This volunteering opportunity was part of the Miami in Miami course at FIU. This also was the last class of the year, so it was important to do something significant.  This cleanup excursion was organized and set up by the professor of Miami in Miami, John Bailly. Even though the mangroves seemed to have less trash than when I volunteered to clean up Chicken Key, there was still a noticeable amount present. In order to preserve the mangrove forest and the wildlife that is there, the Miami in Miami students spent a day collecting as much trash as possible. Picking up trash does not necessarily relate to my major, which is Computer Science. However, that does not mean that opportunities like this are not beneficial. After spending so much time in front of a computer, it is very refreshing to connect with nature and gain a different perspective. While picking up trash is not necessarily a specific interest of mine, I do enjoy doing whatever I can in my power to take care of the environment.

Destroyed trail in mangrove forest. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0

How

Honestly, this opportunity was not what I was expecting at all. I was prepared to perform a cleanup on Chicken Key, similar to what was done last semester. However, due to winds, the Deering Estate would not allow us to go out on the water, so it was decided that we would perform a cleanup of the mangrove forest instead. The mangrove forest had a boardwalk going through it, however, it was destroyed in a hurricane. Trash was littered throughout the area surrounding the destroyed boardwalk. Walking far through the mangroves, soon you would not hear any human sounds, only the sound of the wind blowing through the trees along with the quiet sounds of nature. Looking around, you could see the pieces of trash everywhere. It was noticeably out of place in an area that is supposed to be a nature conservation.

Spider found while cleaning up. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0

Where & What

On April 20, 2022 both sections of the Miami in Miami class were supposed to canoe out to Chicken Key to pick up trash that had been building up on the island. Professor Bailly organized this through Deering Estate, which owns the island. However, on the day of the cleanup, the winds were too high and the Deering Estate did not let the class go out on the water. So instead, the class performed a mangrove forest cleanup. The mangrove forests are forests that are growing in the water, resembling a barrier or transition between seawater and dry land. Because of this, walking through them can be somewhat challenging since you’re walking through mud at times. The class was given two bags each for the purpose of collecting the trash items found in the forest. For the next couple hours, the classes walked through the forest and tried to collect as much trash as possible. Since the boardwalk was destroyed, I had to be careful when walking around it due to the old nails scattered around the wood. While I was looking for trash, I focused more on small pieces of plastic since this is what is most dangerous for the environment. Because of this, I never completely filled up my bag. Afterwards, I ate lunch by the water and then helped move the bags of trash to the dumpster and emptied them out. 

When

Summary

Pile of trash bags. Photo taken by Jared Johnson./ CC by 4.0

Overall, I feel that this cleanup opportunity was a success, in spite of not having been able to do the Chicken Key cleanup. As soon as I found out that we were not going to be able to go out on the water and do the Chicken Key cleanup, I was very disappointed and did not think that we would end up doing anything worthwhile. This ended up not being the case. Even though there seemed to be less trash in the mangrove forest than Chicken Key, for whatever reason, there was still an abundance of noticeable trash to pick up. There were some challenges also, such as having to navigate through the maze of spider webs. It seemed like everywhere I turned there would be another spider web that I had to dodge or go around. The farther in the forest I went, the larger the spiders became. 

The last time I did a cleanup at the Deering Estate, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen and got a really bad sunburn. After that, I said that I would never make that mistake again. However, upon arriving at the Deering Estate for this cleanup, I realized that once again, I had forgotten to bring sunscreen. 

Once again, performing a cleanup at the Deering Estate was a very rewarding experience and allowed me to connect to nature in a way that I normally would not do. Furthermore, being the last class meeting of Miami in Miami, it must be said that the class as a whole has been an unique, eye opening experience for me. From slogging through the everglades to attending Art Basel on South Beach, these have been experiences that I will never forget.

Imani Woodin: Miami Service Spring 2022

Student Bio

Photo taken by Nathaly Lay Zelaya fotografia

Imani Woodin is a sophomore at Florida International University majoring in international relations with a minor in Portuguese. Starting her life in Kenya, moving around the state of Florida, and living as an exchange student in Brazil fueled her intrigue in learning about people and places. As someone who is fascinated by art, nature, language, and life, she is more than ready to explore Miami through this course.

WHO

I volunteered with my classmates at The Deering Estate, one of the few remaining Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) in Miami-Dade County. We were brought out by the one and only John Bailly and allowed free entrance from the Estate because of our volunteer work.

We first arrived to the site as a tribe of Miami in Miami students, but we later floated off into our mini groups. I stayed with 4 other people who wandered with me to pick up drifted pieces of plastic, which I am very grateful as the journey was not easy.

WHY

Although I am not the most environmental person on paper, I love any activity that takes place outside. This cleanup was a great way to explore Florida’s natural wilderness while helping the natural habitat. I don’t know down to the details why plastic is bad for the environment, just knowing that it’s a problem is enough to have me get down into the wilderness (even if I have to dodge hundreds of spiders along the way).

HOW

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Miami in Miami class as an FIU Honors College student and this was our activity on the last day of class.

WHERE & WHAT

Fallen boardwalk at Deering Estate

The original intention for our class day was to kayak to an island off of the Deering Estate and cleanup there. The reason we didn’t go was because of choppy water, however I feel lucky that the day went this way because I got to discover a natural area like I’d never seen before.

In the morning of April 20 our class was politely standing on the lawn of the Deering Estate, eager to see what was in store for the day. We were led Professor Bailly who opened a gate for us and showed us the fallen boardwalk pictured above. “It was destroyed during Hurricane Irma in 2017.” He told us.

Our immediate thought was do we have to pick up the fallen wood? But thankfully, the answer was no, we were there to pick up the more dangerous pollutant: plastic.

Unfortunately for this blog but fortunately for the environment, I did not bring my phone out with me while cleaning up. This was because I knew I was going to get down and grimy and losing my phone wasn’t worth it. While cleaning the area, everyone in my group fell down multiple times… Claudia (our TA) even lost her shoes in the swamp. But nothing stopped us from gathering the scattered trash.

I found water bottles, shoes, plastic bags, fallen signs, and other miscellaneous pieces of junk while out there. My team was ambitious in our endeavors, as we went far beyond the fallen boardwalk, however we didn’t realize how far we were until we had to turn back. The hardest part about returning wasn’t finding directions, but escaping the invisible maze of the hundreds of spiders and their webs that hung between the mangrove trees. Did one of my team members have spiders crawl on her? Yes? Will I say who? No, Claudia would get too embarrassed. But after a long guessing game and lots of stress, we found our way back to safety with 7 full trash bags.

Paola’s white converse after the swamp.

WHEN

SUMMARY

The mangroves of the deering estate

The day of the excursion, I was ready to clean up, but I didn’t know how much of an adventure this trip was going to be. I am so glad I got to clean the area with other people from the class and share this experience with them. It was refreshing to be outside and feel the lull of the wind while using my hands to clean Mother Nature and I can’t wait until I get to do it all over again.

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