Overtown Metro Station and Deering Estate. Photographs by Marco Samuely Lund-Hansen
Where do I start? Eight classes in 8 different destinations in search of the authentic Miami. I remember watching the introduction video for this class and I immediately knew that I had to sign up. Even though I had gotten a general idea of what this class was about through the video, it was nothing compared to the experiences we had this semester. I have lived in Miami since 2011 and to be honest was not very knowledgeable on its history and indeed did this class take me on a ride.
Chicken Key Clean-Up and Wolfson Archives. Photographs by Marco Samuely Lund-Hansen
Our first visit to Downtown Miami kicked off our search in finding the authentic Miami. We visited the two oldest buildings from Miami’s pioneer era: The Wagner Family Homestead and the William English Slave Quarters. We learned about how Julia Tuttle founded Miami, yet Henry Flagler (an antisemitic and racist) man gets most of the recognition. It was the beginning of learning that Miami and its unique places were built by Bahamian people who were exploited for their labor. The first class really opened my eyes to how little I know about a place that I have lived in for so long.
Visiting Overtown for our second class left me with a positive attitude and perspective towards Overtown. For many people in Miami, Overtown is one of the most dangerous places to be at, so up until that point I had rarely been to Overtown. My perspective changed completely after our class. We learned about how gentrification, the hurricane and the building of the I-95 changed the course of what once was called “Little Broadway”. The people in Overtown were so kind and happy to see us walking around and exploring the different historical places such as the Lyric Theater and The Greater Bethel Church.
Jackson’s Soul Food and Julia Tuttle Plaque. Photographs by Marco Samuely Lund-Hansen
Our two trips to the Deering Estate were amazing and immersive experiences in nature. It was heartbreaking to see how much trash there was at Chicken Key, and I felt honored to have been able to participate in cleaning a lot of it up. Our hike at the Deering Estate was a glimpse into how the first people in Miami lived. We were completely immersed in nature by wading through water, looking and touching the remains of a dire wolf, passing by solution holes and really being able to visualize how people lived in one with nature.
Our Vizcaya trip taught us about how much influence the Deering family had, not only did Charles Deering own the Deering estate, but James Deering owned Vizcaya. It was interesting to hear about how Vizcaya was built, the intentions behind the different designs, statues, paintings, etc. Sadly, it was built at the hands of Bahamian people. Going to South Beach expanded my art knowledge further as we walked through the biggest Art Deco neighborhood in the world. We learned about how Barbara Capitman made this possible and how in fact women like her and Julia Tuttle are responsible for Miami’s successes. Visiting the Jewish Museum was special for my brother Nikolas and I as our grandfather is Jewish and survived the Holocaust. It was also heartbreaking to hear about the racism and antisemitism that kept blacks and Jews from living in Miami Beach. We recently ended our semester by visiting the Rubell Museum and the Untitled Art Fair where we got to see many contemporary artworks and interpret them. The experiences in this class have led me to become a more educated person and given me a new perspective on how to see the world. I have become inspired to share and take my family and friends to the places we went during class, so that they also can experience the authentic Miami.
Christopher Myers is a senior at Florida International University pursuing his BA in Sustainability and the Environment. After completing his degree, he plans to start a second career in the Environmental Field and hopes to be involved in nature conservation.
Downtown Miami as text
“The Miamians Before the Miamians” by Christopher Myers
Miami is one of those cities that has more to see than anyone has free time to actually see it. The beaches, the celebrities, the yachts and exotic cars, Miami has everything to offer to today’s pop culture. But, during this visit around historical parts of the city, we saw the original Miami. We were introduced to The Miami Circle, an archeological site of what is believed to be a village of the Tequesta Tribe, the original Miamians. There is plenty of history of who was originally here, where they lived, how they lived and where they went. The roots of the city go a lot further back than I think most are aware of.
The original habitants of present day Miami was the native tribe of Tequesta who are believed to have resided in the southeastern Florida area for over 1000 years. The believed Tequesta village, the Miami Circle, is on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River. These remnants were discovered during a survey for preparation to build multi story buildings. This discovery brought the project to a halt and it was later cancelled. Fortunately, unlike a discovery a short distance away, this site was deemed too important to build over top of and was officially made a historical landmark.
What makes this so significant to me is that it still exists today and is a preserved and protected site. So much history is lost during new inhabitants and land discoveries to different parts of the world. As mentioned previously, just down the road only a short walk away was the site of another archeological site. What was believed to have been a burial ground with remnants of hundreds of people is now a Whole Foods. This discovery during the construction in the earlier 2010s resulted in a loss to history and a win to commercialism. The remnants were removed and reburied elsewhere and little time was given to study the site. Construction continued on and the burial site was replaced with a stereotypical Native American mural inside the Whole Foods.
Overtown as text
“Overtown but Under-heard” by Christopher Myers
You cannot change the past. You can’t go back in time and change events, change the way things happened nor change the way people were treated. Throughout the history of modern civilization there is more than enough evidence to show that there was improper treatment of people. People that were different, a different language, a different skin of color, a different background, a different ethnicity. People were treated improperly simply because they were different.
We visited a historical town in Miami called Overtown. Unfortunately, this town has numerous nicknames that do not need to be named. We visited a few important locations within this town that aren’t only important to Overtown, but important to Miami. But unfortunately, these few locations, are some of the last remaining historical sites within Overtown. The rest of the town is nearly gone. The original buildings of are now apartments and townhouses. There is now a main highway going right through the edge of town.
A Priest of a church lost his house in because it was either the house or the church getting replaced by an on ramp for a highway. The Greater Bethel Church in Overtown was built even before Miami was incorporated in 1896. A historical theater, the Lyric Theatre, where some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world would put on shows for the local community, and even people from outside of the neighborhood would come here to be part of these historical musicians’ shows. These musicians would put on the shows in this town because they could not stay near the venue where they would originally perform. They had to leave south beach or other parts of Miami because they were an African American and they could not stay there for the night so they had to travel to Overtown after their original show and they would perform again at the Lyric Theater. That’s what Overtown is. It is a historical city for the African American community. The town where the African American laborers were segregated to after the train and railway was completed to Miami. They segregated those laborers to what we know today as Overtown, or at least what is left.
At the Greater Bethel church we got to hear the history and stories from Alberta Godfrey, a member of the church. This church was one of the first buildings in Miami. Not just one of the first buildings in Overtown but one of the first buildings in the entire city of Miami. This church has almost more history than any part of modern civilization in the city of Miami. And it is now surrounded by sky rises, and a highway just a block away. Whether you are a Christian, follow a religion or not, there’s more than that to this church. It’s a piece of Miami. It’s a piece of the African American community in Miami.
The Greater Bethel church and the Lyric Theatre are two of the few remaining historical locations of this town. But, it was amazing to hear the history of these places. To hear the history of the church and not what it just meant for the local community, it was a part of belonging somewhere. Martin Luther King Junior himself gave a speech here and that is absolutely incredible. One of the most well-known advocates for the African American community and Human rights step foot in this church, stans in front of the community and gave one of his famous speeches. Historical jazz musicians in and out of that theater every night. Those are absolutely incredible stories and pieces of history for Miami.
Some of this history is hard to see and to learn and here from those that experienced it, that lived it. Some of the things you hear about others some of those stories that make you look down and shake your head in disappointment. The stories of segregation and racism and the poor treatment of other human beings. We can’t change what happened. But, we can learn about the good that overcame it, the fun and the historical events that took place. We can tell others about them and do our best to spread the word through friends and family, through this blog, through the school about the amazing history that this town holds and what it has to offer to the history of Miami. We can give them a voice.
Chicken Key as text
“The Good and the Bad” by Christopher Myers
Outdoors, physical activity and helping the environment. One great combination of activities for someone with my interests. What a start to the day, arriving at the canoe and kayak launch point to see a handful of manatees enjoying themselves foraging along the bottoms of the inlet at the Deering Estate. Schools of fish jumping out of the water with this beautiful synchronized splash of nature. But then the hard part.
There were a lot of physical demands during this day adventure out to Chicken Key, located just south of Biscayne Bay, Miami. Kayaking an estimated 1 mile out with the wind at your face. Walking through smelly shoreline sludge carrying bags of garbage and gear. Dealing with the elements of the heat and sun. The list can go on but they were not the hardest part of the trip. The hardest part was realizing after we spent hours picking up dozens of bags of garbage from the island, it would not fix the problem. The problem is the source of the litter. Where is it coming from? Is it coming from the north from Miami or the east from the Caribbean, or the south and southwest from the Gulf of Mexico or the Florida Keys? The answer could possibly be, all the above. The amount and variety of debris was all over the place. There were parts of the island that looked like someone emptied a garbage can on and you could not see the ground. Varying items from boating and fishing equipment to an empty bottle of olive oil to Michael Jordan sandal. The amount of rope tangled in the trees and buried on the island was incredible. Rope that has been on the island for so long, trees started to grow around it. It goes to show that the debris that washes up on this island is not a recent problem.
But sometimes you have to stop focusing on the negatives and take a look around and recognize what you are doing. The good stuff. You are on an uninhabited, mostly natural island. Schools of baitfish swimming along the shore, around your feet, hermit crabs crawling around everywhere you look. To learn that there are native Diamondback Terrapin nesting on the island. Different species of wading birds resting in the trees or walking the shores looking for its next meal. After you recognize what is around you, then you have to realize what you are doing. You are improving the environment and habitat for all of these different species of creatures living on and around the island. They’re worrying about one thing, survival. This debris can be mistaken as food, or shelter and bring harm to the animals around you. You are helping them with their daily tasks, you are improving their life and making it a bit easier. Finally, the group arrives to back to the main shore and everyone starts to pull all of the sacks of trash out of the canoes. You look at the true scale of the impact that you made and were a part of and it has to give you some sense of accomplishment. Hundreds of animal’s lives were improved and we won’t be the last ones to do it.
South Beach as text
“South Beach, Behind the Curtain” by Christopher Myers
South Beach Miami, the nightlife, the clubs, the pool parties, Miami music week, the partying and the fun. Miami is filled with this fun extravagant lifestyle and vacationing and party scenes and a lot of that starts on South Beach. But what we saw in South Beach was something a little different. We explored and learned about what makes South Beach unique outside of what attracts it to tourists from around the world. We learned how South beach drastically transformed in just a few decades. From a barrier island of mostly mangroves to one of the largest tourist destinations for the beach and nightlife in the country. Learning the history of South Beach and how it started with a few buildings and then a hotel and then more hotels and it just continue to grow from there. From a millionaires vacation destination that started as one of the most dreadful places to be in with the unnavigable mangroves, the brackish water, the mosquitos to the attraction for millions of people annually is one remarkable transformation. But let’s look beyond all the glitz and glamour. Let’s pull back the curtains a little bit and see what makes it unique outside all of the tropical paradise. Let’s start with Barbera Baer Capitman and the forming of the Miami Design Preservation League. An organization that’s sole goal was the preserve the traditional architecture found on Ocean Drive and around South Beach. These original buildings have three common styles of architecture you will see, Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern (MiMo).
If you just take a stroll down Ocean Drive pay attention to the style and shape of each building you will see a pattern but it’ll only be a pattern of these three. And that is agreed-upon and extensive permits must be obtained to make any renovations to the original buildings. With how much of a cash cow South Beach is and how millionaires and billionaires probably drool over finding ways of packing sardines of tourists into tiny cans of high-rise buildings but for the city of Miami and South Beach to maintain their traditional look is monumental. There’s a few pop culture attractions that can be found on Ocean Drive. From a staircase found in a scene from the infamous film, Scarface to the dreadful murder of the designer Gianni Versace on his staircase, both found just feet off of Ocean Drive. Now lets get off the beaten path and look at some of the artwork that can be found. The Betsy Orb, a unique spherical structure found in an alleyway connecting two hotels just one block from the beach and the Betsy Poetry Rail, found just around the corner from the Orb, displaying poetry from 12 artists that were a part Miami’s culture. Two unique structures that are a must see.
Now there are going to be some problems with everything we see on South Beach, once being a barrier island. All the mangroves served their purpose and with changes we see with in the climate, extreme weather and sea rise, the future of South Beach is in question. We know the island has solidified what type of architecture you can find and skyrises will not be a threat to South Beach, it’s the nature that will. Art Deco, Miami Modern and Mediterranean Revival will remain standing on Ocean Drive, but how long will they remain above water?
Rubell Museum as text
“Is Art Everywhere? Is Art Everything?” by Christopher Myers
What an opportunity it was to visit the Rubell Museum. Not only did we get a tour of some of the long-term and even the most recent projects and displays of art around the museum but we also got to hear from and even ask cofounder, Mera Rubell, questions as well. It was incredible to learn that their collection started when they were a teacher and a medical student. From saving money every month to owning multiple art collections and museums on the eastern United States. Walking through the museum showed various contemporary pieces of art. From your standard painting, self-portrait, a photo to mechanical piece that has been moving for over a year.
Some may ask, what is art? To me, there is no exact answer. Art comes in many many shapes, sizes, difficulties and interpretations. One could argue the way the collector displays the art is an art itself. Finding the art to display, or the artist to work with, or having an eye for someone’s talents could be interpreted as art as well.
Relating back to mechanical art, we got to see and learn about Urs Fisher’s Branches. Two cast aluminum tree branches spinning from electrical motors in the ceiling at lengths, speeds and heights. Each branch has a burning candle at the end and as the branches spin and the wax drips to the ground forming a Venn diagram. What is the art? Is the device the art? Or is the Venn diagram being created by the device the art? A great piece that can cause you question plenty with no right or wrong answer.
The next question, is art ever finished? We got to see Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden. Starting in 1966, a “garden” of chrome speres spread across the floor of the exhibition. This piece has seen some changes over the years, originally starting as plastic spheres and eventually moving to stainless steel. Starting in Italy and moving across the world to Brazil and different parts of New York and now residing in Miami. From ponds to galleries and museums, this is a piece that can change shapes and sizes and location over the years.
Continuing with Yayoi Kusama, we got to experience two more of her pieces. Two Infinity Rooms, Where the Lights in My Heart Go, 2016 and INFINITY MIRRORED ROOM – LET’S SURVIVE FOREVER, 2017. These two pieces are not something you can simply look at or watch. You must immerse yourself within them and experience the infinite displays.
The Rubell Museum offers something for everyone. There is plenty of pieces on display and in the collection to keep you there for hours. Art consisting of numerous styles, cultures and interpretations.
Maria Bracamonte is a junior majoring in Business Administration in Finance at the Florida International University. She aspires to develop her expertise in the field to combat the scarcity of financial knowledge and advises others to make smart monetary decisions. However, her long-term career goal is to build a company that allows her to give back to the community and offer growth opportunities to minorities in this country. She values academic excellence, community services, and involvement. She has completed more than two hundred hours of services in her community and has participated in and led multiple organizations. She is an active member of the Phoenician Investment Fund, and she is also part of the Honors College Program at FIU. She is passionate about arts, with more than ten years of experience in performing arts: dance and theater. Likewise, she has great admiration for photography, cinema, music, literature, and painting.
Freedom Tower as Text
“A Home for Immigrants” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at The Freedom Tower.
The United States has served as a host to more immigrants than other nations, and it has been shaped by immigration over the generations. Newcomers have driven essential U.S. transformations, impacting it in all aspects: demographically, culturally, socially, and politically. Since its beginnings, this country has received immigrants from all over the world. For many, it represents a place of opportunities and hopes to flourish and find the freedom they so desire. Florida, specifically Miami, has become the second home for thousands of people who come in search of the American dream, arriving here with almost no resources. However, Miami is a city that has become well known in the world for being a wonderful tourist location, by providing luxurious experiences to its visitors. Throughout the city, you can see incredible buildings that are considered architectural works of art. From imponent residences to deluxe offices and astonishing museums.
This modern city is always moving and developing, and so are its buildings. It hypnotizes its residents and visitors with magnificent skyscrapers. However, we often fail to remember and overlook those buildings where history took place, and that was there from the beginning of this amazing metropolis. One of the city’s most impressive monuments, and a landmark is the Freedom Tower. This imposing 17-story building was built in the mid-1920s and has been reinvented throughout its history. The construction of the Freedom Tower was inspired by the Giralda Tower in Spain, and it was designed by the architectural firm Schultze and Weaver. The cast iron decoration, wrought-iron balconies, and concrete cherubs reflect the Spanish style of the building. It represents the confidence of early commercial companies in the future of Miami during the boom years. It was a great achievement for the time since it has more square meters of space than any other building in the area.
This building turns into an exceptional and distinctive component of the Miami skyline. However, its importance goes beyond its architectural impact. As its façade is as inspiring as its historical impact. It began as the Miami News Tower, it was a printing facility for newspapers originally named the Miami Metropolis, the first newspaper of the city. Later, it was renamed the Freedom Tower as it served as a Cuban refugee emergency center, that aided Cubans who managed to escape the dictatorship of Castro. It was in this building where hundreds of Cubans naturalized as American and started their new lives as free citizens.
The Freedom Tower is one of Miami’s most respected and treasured buildings because it represents the liberty of the oppressed citizens who fled tyranny in seeking democracy and the American dream. It was the place where hundreds of Cuban refugees had their first contact with the United States. It was also a place where many immigrants could access many essential services to start their lives in the land of opportunities. Nowadays, the Freedom Tower is a fully operational cultural center. It was donated to Miami Dade College, and it is part of the main cultural programs of the College.
As I immigrant myself, I appreciate the significance of this historical event and the building in which it took place. The Freedom Tower represents hope for those that have not found liberty yet, but it also celebrates the courage and success of those who made it. As I walk by its wall, I can taste the excitement of those who were there. I look back and understand their pain to the left what they call home. I reflect and feel gratitude for being here. And I look forward to thriving and achieving the American Dream, as they did.
Hialeah as Text
“The woman who revolutionized sports” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at Hialeah.
On Wednesday, September 21st, 2022, while I was walking through Overtown and Hialeah’s streets I learn about perseverance. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, perseverance is a “continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time.” In other words, it is our ability to not give up no matter how tough the situation we are in may be. It might sound uncomplicated, but only those who fought for what they believe in, realize the strengths it takes to make it that far. Perseverance has been an essential element to reaching success in more than one historic event. It continues to be that power that allows us to get to our full potential and inspire individuals around us. Therefore, it is terrifying to visualize how different our lives would be if those who fought against injustice and unfairness would have given up in their quest because of the struggles it involved.
The bravery and perseverance of Diane Crump are what inspired me the most during this trip. Crump was a jockey and horse trainer, who became the first woman to participate in horse racing in The United States of America. Even though females have pretty much always had access to physical activities in an enlightening and entertaining sense, it is not a secret that women did not have as many opportunities to engage in these activities as competitions as men could. Therefore, Diane’s participation in the event was so controversial that it required a full police escort through the unfriendly crowd at the Hialeah Park Racetrack. She had to deal with gender barriers, judgment, verbal aggression, and rudeness from male jockeys, who decided not to participate in the race because of her. On the day of the race, she faced many obstacles, but she persisted and competed.
Despite the race itself being seen as the main challenge for Diane Crump, being able to participate was in reality her accomplishment. She persisted in her dream of race as a professional horse jockey. She lost the race that day but “in a career spanning three decades, she rode 300 winners, and became the first woman to compete in the prestigious Kentucky Derby in 1970 – a race that only six women have taken part in since it was first to run in 1875” (McKenzie).
Diane Crump’s perseverance in her dream allow her to become a major changemaker and an influential individual for many women who were also struggling with their own dreams. In her own words, “No matter what you do, there are going to be a lot of challenges and obstacles. You are going to get hurt, at least in my sport. You are going to feel like you can’t accomplish what you want. So, you have to have that belief in yourself that you can do what is in your heart. To me, that’s it. The dream is in your heart. No matter if I was injured, how many broken bones, how much pain, how much resistance. I just never gave up” (NY Times).
“Small Actions, Massive Impact” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at Biscayne Bay/ Chicken Key.
Pollution in oceans, lakes, rivers, and other water bodies is a global crisis that has been overlooked. The accumulation of substances that do not belong to water masses is becoming more common every day. It results in changes in the composition of the water to such an extent that it affects the habitat of those who reside in it. Water Pollution is not only destroying the natural beauty of ecosystems, but it is also significantly affecting their biodiversity. Additionally, it has a major impact on our health, by contaminating the food chain, spreading disease, and due to lack of drinking water. According to the Lancet Commission on pollution and health “Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015—16% of all deaths worldwide—three times more deaths than from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than from all wars and other forms of violence.” Therefore, it is our obligation to take action and restore the damage we created.
After reflecting on our expedition at Chicken Key, I realized that all the waste we found did not get there in an instant. On the contrary, it was the result of a sum of small negative actions that were constantly carried out by a large number of human beings. It made me understand how impactful tiny actions can be when done regularly, and I associated it with the Butterfly Effect. It refers to “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.” In a sense that something that can be small and insignificant ended up causing huge damage. Considering the case of Edward Lorenz, who discovered the butterfly effect, just as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can cause a tornado, just throwing a piece of plastic could end the existence of wildlife in their environment. It is also important to mention that other external factors could intervene in the creation of chaos, and we often do not consider them. For example, the substances found at Chicken Key may have not been deposited nearby the island, but they were probably dragged there by Hurricane Ian.
I do not doubt that when people throw out waste, they do not stop to think that such action can have huge consequences. This is one of the reasons why it is so relevant to raise awareness and be well-informed. However, being aware is not enough. It is also important to act. Just as small negative actions can have a big impact, small-scale positive behaviors done constantly can also be powerful and reverse the damage caused. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to contribute to achieving this goal by doing what is right and corresponds to us as inhabitants of the earth. If we do not take action now, both marine and non-marine ecosystems will continue to deteriorate, until it reaches a point where it would be very challenging to save them, and all living things involved will be affected. Therefore, we must act now.
“Butterfly Effect – Google Arts & Culture.” Google Arts & Culture, Google Arts & Culture, 2013, artsandculture.google.com/entity/butterfly-effect/m019qd?hl=en.
“Miami as a house” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a magical place that allow you to travel space and time. As soon as you enter its facilities, you are surrounded in a forest that seems enchanted, and in which you feel the disconnection from the overwhelming city that Miami can be. However, and even though it may seem otherwise, Vizcaya Museum and Gardens from its beginnings indicated the destiny and expansion of this metropolis. It is a place that is wrapped in culture, travel, arts, knowledge, interactions of races, and social classes in each of its corners, just as Miami is. This building, which used to be the home of James Deering and is now a museum, is not lacking in extravagance and detail in any of its rooms and spaces, highlighting what life was like for those with unlimited purchasing power.
Even though it follows a perception very much of the era in which it was built, ironically it also represents how Miami is perceived today due to the great variety of historical elements with significant worldwide importance. As soon as you walk through the metal and glass doors that were not originally there, you are dazzled with a taste of what the entire house will be like. It features a sculpture depicting the pleasures of life and enjoyment, which tend to be elements that describe Miami very well.
Among the astonishing architecture and art that gives life to this old home, the museum also has abundant nature, which resembles how fresh and full of life this city is. Also, we can observe the different use of neoclassical art in the entrance, Rococo in the reception, and Mudejar art in the hall. And just as in Miami you can find elements and people from all over the world, this impressive residence was created and decorated with components collected from different parts of the globe. On the other hand, in different corners and details of the house, we can observe the representation of elements that are not easily captured by the human eye without the proper knowledge, such as the balcony of the lovers or the garden in which social classes were not distinguished.
All these diverse aspects illustrate important themes, one of the most striking for me was the false appearances. In the library of the mansion, we found a door with fake books, which in my opinion today may symbolize how in Miami it is more important how you project yourself in society than what you are. Certainly, it is a hypocritical society that considers the exterior and the amount of money you have. Another characteristic that abounds in these spaces is arrogance and greed, which is shown in stained glass windows with the words “JA’I DIT” which translates to I have been but also symbolizes the initials of the owner of the house, as well as the need to have the most advanced technology of the time such as an antique telephone. Despite these not-so-friendly elements, this place has been of such influence that it has given rise to historical moments such as important meetings between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and more importantly it does not fail to provide peace when you walk around.
South Beach as Text
“Courage can also be feminine” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at South Beach.
It took one person’s vision and initiative to change the future of many. That person was Barbara Baer Capitman. Nowadays, South Beach is a worldwide known tourist area of remarkable significance. It is characterized by its infrastructures of great architectural value and its beaches that attract millions of visitors and onlookers every year. Its relevance comes to the extent that it has attracted celebrities who have made it their home. In addition, it is home to the largest concentration of preserved Art Deco buildings in the world. However, without the efforts of Barbara Baer Capitman, this renowned zone that is immersed in the tourist industry, would not look the same way it does now. On the contrary, condominiums, hotels, and luxury residences would have replaced its stunning architecture.
Barbara Baer Capitman was a writer, artist, and preservationist, who was an influential element in the conservation of South Beach’s Art Deco District. Popular buildings from the 1920s and 1930s that implement an elegant but not minimalist style are found in this distinctive neighborhood. Their intention was to create buildings that innovate with unique styles that would represent the Age of machines. It also featured natural elements, Mesopotamian and Mesoamerican designs, and linear bas-relief decorative designs. Capitman understood how important was to conserve the Art Deco treasure before anyone else. Despite not being a native of Miami, her passion for art and the need to protect the neighborhood, in which mostly Jewish retirees resided and for which she had great appreciation, were keys to achieving her goals and of significant impact in this area.
Likewise, she founded the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) which was integrated by other individuals who shared her passion and believed in her vision. The creation of this league was the first step of many that allow millions of people to continue to admire this neighborhood, otherwise, it would only be a memory of those who once lived in these streets. Miami Design Preservation League and its members fought to save Miami Beach’s Art Deco buildings, which were already in a pretty run-down state at the time. Capitman fought to the end of her days for what she believed was right. She clashed with politicians and developers to ensure these infrastructures were not destroyed. And even though many were demolished, the cause was not lost since many buildings are still standing and continue to perseverate.
By learning about Barbara Baer Capitman’s legacy, I admired the courage of influential women who fought against injustices, and whose actions were essential to the development of Miami as the city we know today. It is inspiring how, despite having to confront criticism and social obstacles, they always remained true to themselves, and managed to contribute with the help of many others to the causes that they considered required attention. On the other hand, it is unfortunate how the stories of these heroines are not as well-known and lack relevance to the masses, which can be seen in how the statue of Barbara Baer Capitman looks a bit rusty and poorly maintained. Regardless, they continue to be an inspiration for the younger generation of how taking action now can impact the future of many.
Deering Estate as Text
“Identity” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at Deering Estate.
Discovering ourselves is a task all human beings have had to endure at some point in their lives. The concept we have about the exceptional set of characteristics that can be used to identify ourselves as an individual and distinguish us from anyone else is constantly growing and evolving. Many believe our culture, history, philosophies, and principles, even nationality, represent a significant extent of who we are. These components are what we are made of. They describe us, make us unique and they are what we identify ourselves with. And until not long ago, I believed it was true too. With the development of civilization and the evolution of history, human beings have been divided and classified by race, borders, social classes, beliefs, and thoughts, among others. However, what we think makes us different from the rest, is exactly what unites us.
During our expedition at the Deering Estate, I discovered that our connection with each other and between cultures is stronger than I ever thought. We tend to proudly encapsulate the diverse ways of life according to entire civilizations, including their arts, beliefs, and knowledge, along with others and we ensure to pass them down from generation to generation to guarantee their preservation. But we are so focused on distinguishing ourselves from each other that we forget that we are all connected. As we tour the Deering Estate’s facilities, it is almost impossible not to admire its particular buildings. From the eye-catching Artists-In-Residence Studios and the picturesque cabins with classic American style to the Stone House, which was the one that put my beliefs of identity between cultures into perspective.
The Stone House is a three-story structure made of poured concrete and limestone walls. It was constructed based on the design of Charles Deering’s house in Spain by the architect Phineas Paist for Charles Deering himself, who was an art collector, preservationist, philanthropist, businessman, and original owner of the Deering Estate. This building has endless architectural elements of immense value and stories that dazzle its spectators. Some of these elements include French doors, balconies, an extensive collection of art, and an Otis elevator, which was an innovation for the year 1922 in which the house was built. Likewise, there was a Prohibition Era wine cellar, in which Deering kept a large secret collection of liquors.
However, what caught my attention the most was the fact that this construction has elements from the Middle Eastern Countries that were adapted by Spaniards and then added to this structure accordingly. The facade of this house has great similarities with classic facades of said countries’ constructions and resembles old buildings designed in the stated region. Thus, creating a ripple effect of influence from one culture to another. This puts into perspective the purity of cultures and leads us to realize that by learning from others around us, we can understand ourselves better.
Understanding our origins and learning about those who walked the earth before us also impact how we perceive ourselves. During this adventure, I had the opportunity to visit lands that not many have access to nowadays, but that were once the home of those who first arrived there. I get to reconnect with nature and explore multiple ecosystems that expanded my knowledge of those who lived before me. This made us conclude that our connection with others affects our own identity, as external factors became a modifier of who we are.
Rubell Museum as Text
“Shift of Perspective” by Maria Bracamonte of FIU at Rubell Museum.
Rubell Museum was the first contact I ever had with contemporary art. From its entrance, you can notice that this place is not like any other museum. It is as peculiar and fascinating as the art exhibitions that are found there, such as the Yayoi Kusama rooms. As we enter this building we were advised to not even stop to consider if what is in front of us is art. That simple but effective sentence shifted my perspective on art, and positively impact my whole experience there. I was so used to admiring complex paintings on canvas and sculptures full of details that clearly show the talent and effort that the artist put into it, but I forgot that art is about how it makes you feel and how it can stimulate your life in many different ways. Fortunately, my time in the Rubell Museum remind me that art can change how you perceive what is around you, and it certainly makes you reflect on your own experiences based on someone else’s stories – the artists’ stories.
I attempted to see this situation from a point of view outside my own, and I put myself in those artists’ shoes. I went over and over the idea of how artists sometimes struggle to be understood, but I was also fascinated to realize that each viewer had their own interpretation of their artwork. I discovered that each one of us is moved by the same piece of art but in a different sense. I also reflected on my own struggle to make people realize that dance is a form of expression. I am not a professional dancer, and even though it has been a while since I step on stage, I still feel alive when I move to the rhythm of the music. However, it was not until I met Mera Rubell that I understood that it takes a lot to pursue what makes you feel alive.
Don and Mera Rubell, who started by showing artwork in their apartment and now own more than 50,000 pieces of artwork, followed their passion for collecting art and impacted thousands of lives in their journey. Meeting her and learning about her and her husband’s story made me feel inspired by their courage. They started knowing nothing about the art collecting world but took the risk and did it regardless. However, what makes it more significant is the fact that they never consider the monetary value of art when acquiring it, instead, they focus on how meaningful the piece was for them. They managed to successfully avoid being consumed by the greed of the business and remained faithful to what let them get to where they are now, their passion for art.
They are live changers. By pursuing their passion, they have provided a multitude of artists with a space for their voices to be heard, and their art to be seen. They also recognize the struggle of artists to be noticed and understood, so they changed the lives of artists since the beginning of their careers by supporting and acquiring their art, and they continue to do so. Likewise, they significantly impact the lives of visitors that walk the corridors of its museums and have the opportunities to observe all the artwork they have collected, as they did to me. From that experience, I learned that sometimes you need to shift your perspective to see beyond what is in front of you and you need to be brave enough to chase what gives purpose to your life.
Cortrina Williams is currently a Senior majoring in Psychology at Florida International University. She has a love for research as well as the Social Sciences and with this, she aspires to become a research psychologist in the future. Her other interests includes traveling and learning about different cultures. She is originally from The Turks and Caicos Islands and moved to the United States in 2019 to attend University. One of her many goals is to help lower the stigma that surrounds mental health in the Caribbean islands. This in turn will hopefully allow the residents to feel safe and be more inclined to seek the necessary help if they need it.
Downtown Miami as Text
“A glimpse from the past” by Cortrina Williams of FIU in Downtown Miami on September 7th, 2022
I have studied history for as long as I can remember. The Tainos in The Turks and Caicos Islands, the middle passage, salt raking, cotton harvesting: all the parts of my ancestry that my country deemed necessary to add to our schools’ curriculums. At first, I was rather reluctant to learn about these particular aspects of my history because I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to be connected to something that is so deeply rooted in pain and suffering to the extent where present generations are still feeling the effects today. However, as I got older, I realized that some of the main reasons for teaching this history is so that we never forget that it actually happened and also so we can learn from our past mistakes and prevent them from happening again.
As my classmates and I explored the Fort Dallas slave quarters, I couldn’t help but ponder the history of it all? Not just the events that transpired there but also the history of the building itself. Fort Dallas was originally located on the plantation of William English and in 1925 it was taken apart and reassembled in its present location in Lummus Park. The original layout, door frames and windows are still a part of this structure and perhaps even more impressive, the original oolitic limestone walls are also still there as well. You may be wondering how something seemingly insignificant as a rock can impress me and the answer to this question relates to the nature of limestone rocks as well as to my own connection to them. I grew up on an island where the literal foundation is almost entirely made up out of limestone rocks, my family home is made out of it, the chalk that I pretended to be a school teacher with as a child was made out of it. Basically, almost everything that surrounded me was made out of limestone. With that being said, I understand the very fragile, yet resilient nature of limestone rocks and this is the reason why I cannot help but admire them.
In my home country, limestones were used for many different things in the past. I remember my grandmother talking about how they would use the rocks to scrub clothing when they did laundry, how they crushed it up to make homemade medicine and how they used it to help to purify their drinking water. While I am not familiar with the history of limestone in the United States, it is quite clear that the people of the past still found good use for it in their everyday lives; the structure of Fort Dallas being evidence of this.
During our class lecture, the professor encouraged us to touch the walls of Fort Dallas as a way of connecting to the past. This was one of the most interesting parts of the day for me because I was the only student who did not go up and touch the walls. I’m not entirely sure why I decided not to touch it, maybe it has something to do with the knowledge that I have of my history or the knowledge that I have of the slaves who previously lived within those very walls. Nevertheless, whatever the reason was, not touching the wall felt like the right thing to do. As it relates to the students who decided to touch the wall, my only hope is that they actually felt some connection to the history of that building and that it wasn’t just an opportunity to capture another selfie for their social media followers.
In conclusion, I know it may seem a little crazy, but perhaps we all could learn a thing or two from limestone rocks. The main lesson that I have taken from them is to never allow my history or genetics to define or limit me.
Overtown As Text
“The Unwanted Yet Wanted” By Cortrina Williams of FIU at Overtown on September 21, 2022
When I reflect on the history of black people in America, I cannot help but be completely perplexed. How is it possible for a race of people to be so unwanted yet wanted all at the same time? In the late 1700’s to the mid 1800’s slaves were the most desired investment. From house work, to field work, to the prestige that it could bring to a family’s name, it could be said that the advantages of owning a slave were endless. However, despite this longing to own one, a large percentage of the white population did not want to be anywhere near black people. A seemingly simple act such as walking through the same entrance or even making eye contact with a white person for too long was viewed as a great offense. Now, fast forward to the 1900’s and 2000’s, where things such as durags, cornrows, and certain genres of black music were often viewed as being tacky. Yet, despite this, a considerable portion of the white population still adapted these very same aspects of black culture and referred to it as the hottest and latest trends. Therefore, reiterating my confusion; “unwanted yet wanted”.
As my classmates and I walked through the streets of Overtown, this same confusion was heavy on my mind. Black people helped to build this very city that we know as Miami today (both literally and figuratively). When Miami was incorporated in 1896, black voters accounted for 162 of the 368 voters that were present. It is important to note that the legal minimum for a settlement to be considered a city rather than a town was 300 so without those additional black votes, Miami would not have been classified as a city at the time that it was. To add to this, black labor also helped to build Miami from the ground up with things such as the railroad tracks and hotels. After they helped to incorporate and build the city, black people were still not wanted in Miami and they were restricted to live in specified areas such as Colored Town (Overtown) and Cocoanut Grove (Coconut Grove). Again, reiterating my point “wanted yet unwanted”.
During the 1900’s, some black performers were often requested to perform at white only clubs. However, they were not allowed to use the same entrances or exits as the white crowd, they could not stay in the audience to watch the other performers and they were not allowed to stay in any of the hotels that were in close distance to the white venues. This led to many of these performers traveling to black towns such as Overtown to give a second show at places such as The Lyric Theatre. To this end, black towns such as Overtown became a central hub for musical entertainment. The strip that is located on North West 2nd Avenue was home to numerous thriving clubs so much so that it became known as “Miami’s Little Broadway” or the Great Black Way”. The Lyric theater was one of these thriving clubs. It was built for Gedar Walker (a wealthy black businessman) and it hosted many black performers such as Bessie Smith, Hazel Scott, and Nat “King” Cole. The building was also used for things such as political meetings, boxing and beauty pageants. The shows that were hosted in The Lyric Theater and other places along that strip were so good that many white people would also travel there to listen to it. That being the case, we see that some of the white population did not want to interact with black people, yet, they still listened to their music and traveled long distances just to be a part of the black entertainment culture.
I remember a discussion that my history class had concerning the death of Bessie Smith (one of the black singers who performed at The Lyric Theater). Bessie Smith was said to be one of the greatest talents of her time, she was also one of the richest black singers too and she was often requested to perform at white only clubs all over America. On the day of her death, she got into a car accident and was refused entry into the white hospital that was closest to her location. Her ambulance ended up driving around trying to find a hospital that would treat a black person and she succumbed to her injuries. To this day many historians still believe that her life could have been saved if one of the white hospitals had taken her in and treated her. She was a highly coveted performer in both the white and black community but in her time of need they didn’t even view her as a human being. She was buried in an unmarked grave for 40 years until 1970 when Janis Joplin had a headstone made for her grave.
I know that we still have a long way to go in terms of racial equality, however, every time that I look back at my history, I try to remind myself not to take for granted the little advantages that I have today.
Chicken Key as Text
Photo 1 within this collage was taken and edited by Ocean Wise Aqua blog (showing microplastics under a microscope). Photos 2 and 3 within this collage was taken and edited by Cortrina Williams at The Deering Estate (showing garbage collection from Chicken Key)
“ The Unseen Killers ” by Cortrina Williams of Florida International University at Chicken Key on October 5, 2022
For as long as I can remember, I have always participated in beach cleanups. However, I never really understood the true impact that they can have until now. Beach clean ups were a mandatory part of my Primary School education (US grades 1-6); our school administrators introduced them as exercises that would encourage us to develop our team building skills and so that is what I associated them with. Then in High School (US grades 7-11), when beach cleanups were no longer mandatory, I began to use them as an excuse to escape to the beach; yes, I would have to pick up trash for hours in the hot sun, however, on the bright side, I got to enjoy the cool water and make amazing connections with my group mates along the way. At that point I understood that the cleanups helped to lessen the eyesores which in turn could tremendously aid our tourism but still I didn’t understand that it went much deeper than that.
The first time that I encountered the word “microplastics” was during my freshman year Biology lab class at my university. We were tasked with completing an in-depth investigation into a popular water supply here in Miami and while we examined a sample of the water under a microscope, the glass slide lit up like a Christmas tree. Finally, the reality of this started to become much clearer to me. Those colorful strands that resembled very tiny confetti strips were much more dangerous than their outward appearance made them out to be. I further learned that microplastics can contain harmful toxins that can cause diseases such as cancer in humans and they not only affect us but can also affect the aquatic organisms that they encounter as well. For example, they can block the gastrointestinal tracts of fishes and initiate a full feeling which eventually can lead to the fish starving to death. Put simply, we cannot escape microplastics entirely; if we don’t ingest it through our water supply, then we can still come into contact with it through things such as our food supply. This widespread nature of microplastics is indeed a huge concern for us and with that being the case, we should be doing everything that we can to help reduce the effect that they can have on us and our environment.
After my classmates and I pulled our kayaks into The Deering Estate and began to compile all of the garbage that we collected from Chicken Key, I was truly surprised by the amount of plastic that we collected. The area had experienced a hurricane just a week prior to our cleanup which could have been a contributing factor in the large quantity of plastic that we collected; however, it was still very eye opening for me. Chicken Key is a small island in Biscayne Bay that was formed by ocean currents depositing quartz and limestone sands in the same area overtime. It is surrounded by mangroves and has a diverse marine life (which makes it especially important).
As I listened to the professor talk that day about how the water surrounding Chicken Key was once as clear as the water in popular tourist areas such as The Caribbean islands, it was truly hard to believe the words that he had just said. The water that surrounded Chicken Key was very dark and murky, so much so that I could hardly tell where my black leggings ended and where the water began. Our pollution, our desires to take short cuts/the easy way out; we did this to our environment, maybe not you and I in particular but the human race as a whole.
Chicken Key is still home to a diverse group of organisms, from crabs, to fishes, to the endangered terrapin turtles. While this does show how resilient some organisms can be, it also shows the dire need for us to continue to do cleanups on Chicken Key and other places like it so that these organisms can have a safe place to procreate and grow.
In conclusion, marine debris such as plastics and abandoned fishing lines is one of the most pressing and widespread pollution problems that is affecting the world’s ocean and waterways today and with that being said, any way that we can help to reduce this problem will be of great benefit not only to human beings but also to the other living organisms that we share this planet with too.
“Vizcaya Museum & Gardens”, photos taken by Cortrina Williams // CC by 4.0
“Where there is good, there is usually bad” by Cortrina Williams of FIU in Vizcaya on October 19th, 2022
When I think of Vizcaya, the phrase that comes to my mind is “Go Big or go Home!!!” but in this particular case it was quite literally someone’s home. Vizcaya was built for the millionaire and well-known businessman James Deering. After Deering’s health began to decline, his doctor prescribed lots of sunshine to aid in his recovery and what better place to achieve this than the sunshine state itself? Deering, Paul Chalfin and a notable percentage of the Miami population then began the construction of Vizcaya or as I like to call it “the 1916 Playboy Mansion”.
As my classmates and I walked up to the front gates of Vizcaya, we were first welcomed by a sharp dressed superhero-like statue standing tall and proud with a globe at his feet and in the center of the globe stood Florida for all to see. I believe that this was the first indication to Deering’s guests as to what their stay had in store for them; the superhero perhaps symbolized conquering the impossible and Florida as the center of the Earth perhaps meant that his guests are exactly where they were supposed to be, at the center of all entertainment.
As we moved further in through the gates, the canopy of the dense trees bowed down along the walkway, almost as if they were introducing the guests as royalty and just when I thought that it couldn’t get any better, the canopy then opened up to reveal the lavish mansion and the alluring, blue water that hid behind it. I grew up in the Caribbean and with that the water is like a drawing card for me; no matter where I am in the world as long as I am near the ocean it feels as if a part of my home is right there with me. While standing in the second entrance to Vizcaya, overlooking the water, the stationary yacht and topless mermaids, it felt exactly like home to me (which is what I believe Deering was going for).
The astonishing beauty of Vizcaya definitely cannot be denied, however, wherever there is good, something bad is usually lurking right around the corner. It was quite clear to me that Vizcaya, like Miami itself, embodies the “show lifestyle” and what I mean by this is that both places exude luxury, sexiness and a promise of a good time but if we were to look deeper under the surface then we would see a much darker reality. As it relates to Miami, the yachts, condos, fancy cars and parties are all used to obscure the fact that 21% of the city’s population lives in poverty (US census, n.d). On this same note, the lavishness of Vizcaya obscures the stolen culture and the forgotten people. The entire architecture of Vizcaya is European in nature, a huge rug in the main house is Islamic inspired, many of the chandeliers and titles were imported from places such as Mexico, the large maze in the backyard is French inspired and there is a room with paintings and a table from Pompeii. I could go on and on like this but I think you got my point. With that being said, the most disappointing feature of Vizcaya for me, was Deering’s Arc de Triomphe. The Arc de Triomphe was used in the French culture to honor great warriors who gave the ultimate sacrifice (their lives) fighting in battles such as the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and it makes me wonder what did Deering sacrifice to earn his Arc?
We have to remember that it was a different time back then and as such the rules of society were much different than they are today. With that being said, we should keep this factor in mind before judging individuals from the past in a harsh manner (through the eyes of today’s society). However, at the same time, we should also not offer them a free pass for their actions either. Finding this balance of right/wrong or what is acceptable/unacceptable is quite difficult but I believe that it is imperative when examining history and holding individuals accountable for their actions.
“A rib or the backbone?” By Cortrina Williams of FIU in Miami Beach on November 2nd, 2022
“Art Deco building in South Beach and statue of Barbara Capitman”, photos taken by Cortrina Williams // CC by 4.0
What would you do to secure your place in history? When I was younger, I realized that the history books about my island often talked about the hardworking enslaved men who toiled away in the hot sun and in the later years, it praised the brave fishermen who conquered the treacherous water to feed the population. If I am being completely honest, I never thought twice about the recount of those events until I heard the stories told by some of the older women who actually lived through some of those years. It was then that I realized that those books were missing key elements from our history; they never talked about the women who made up a large part of the workforce, they never spoke of the countless women who fished, or of the women who were the backbone of tourism for a really long time. Since moving to Miami, I realized that this is not a phenomenon that is unique to my island; all over the world the degree of women’s contribution (for the most part) has gone unwritten in history and those who actually make the print, their stories are still diminished in some ways.
People often credit Carl Fisher with the creation of Miami Beach because his attempt to turn the area into a getaway spot for him and his friends led to Miami Beach being transformed from the mangrove-populated barrier island that it was, to one of the United States’ most popular tourist destinations today. However, if Fisher is the creator of Miami Beach then we can say that Barbara Baer Capitman was the preserver. Capitman would often go as far as chaining herself to different hotels so that they wouldn’t be demolished and even though many of her efforts were fruitless (because some of those hotels ended up being teared down anyways) in the end, Capitman was successful because she was able to get a square-mile of the Art Deco district in Miami beach listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In turn, this preserved space is now one of the key characteristics that attracts countless tourists to the South Beach area each year. Capitman did receive some credit for her contributions such as having a street named in her honor and receiving several honors that were awarded to her posthumously, however, during her life she rarely experienced such praise; she was often disregarded and seen as not being of sound mind.
I have taken numerous American history classes in the past and in addition to this, on numerous occasions, I have visited the same area in South Beach where the statue of Barbara Capitman is located. Yet, up until our lecture I had not heard of the name Barbara Capitman before or even seen her statue. This being the case, I wonder how many other visitors and residents in Miami are as clueless in this regard as I used to be. Furthermore, if these women had to fight so hard for their place in history and we do not honor them by keeping their memory alive then what was the point of them fighting in the first place; they are a part of the history but they will be forgotten anyways. In the future, how can we better present/publicize the names and deeds of pioneering women such as Capitman so that they can truly live on in history at the standard in which they deserve?
Deering Estate as Text
“A Win for the Books” by Cortrina Williams of FIU at the Deering Estate on November 16th, 2022
“The Deering Estate hike”, photos taken by Cortrina Williams // CC by 4.0
Other than Vizcaya, The Deering Estate is one of the most beautiful and well-preserved locations that I have visited during my time here in Miami. As I was standing on the platform, overlooking the manatees in the clear water and the largely untouched mass of land, it was hard to believe that someone wanted to tear such a place down. However, this is precisely what nearly happened to the land that is included within the Deering Estate. After the last of Charles Deering’s heirs (Barbara Deering Danielson) passed away in 1982, the Deering Estate was eventually put up for sale and this being the case, this massive plot of land was heavily targeted for development purposes.
As we have seen with countless other towns, the development route is not always the best direction (a good example of this can be seen in how the once thriving city of Overtown was practically destroyed once the I-95 and I-395 expressways were constructed in the town). Fortunately, in the case of the Deering Estate, there was quite a bit of protest from the public (especially environmental groups) which led to the developers not being able to purchase the land; the State of Florida eventually purchased the Deering Estate and later the land also became a part of the National Register of Historic places.
As my classmates and I hiked through the estate, I was happy that this land was not turned into railroad tracks or into large condo complexes. Condos, high rises, etc, do have their own charm and they do attract a lot of individuals to the area in which they are located, however, for the true nature lovers, this purchase was a huge win because it added the Deering estate to the list of few places where we can simply enjoy the beauty of nature. Not only is the physical beauty of the estate astonishing but the area is also home to eight different ecosystems; a quality which is virtually non-existent in any other locations here in Miami.
After the conclusion of our hike, I would have to say that the best part for me was our walk through the mangroves. We were able to visit the site of a plane crash that very few people get to see up close and personal. The mangroves were definitely more smellier and murkier than I remembered but they brought back quite a few good memories from my childhood as well. When I was younger, my siblings and I would walk through the mangroves that were located some distance from my parents’ farmland and even though we would often get stung by the jellyfish that occupied the water there, this still did not deter us from cooling off in the water. On my last trip back to my home country, I decided to visit this area again and it was almost unrecognizable; since the land was sold, the mangroves have been cleared away and vacation rentals now occupy the area.
With my favorite part of the hike already stated, I would have to say that the most daunting part of this week’s class for me was not the 5 mile hike that we embarked upon or the fact that we walked through murky water (potentially harboring unknown creatures), instead it was the generous amount of poisonwood and poison ivy that were located in the area. Up until that point, I had never hiked in an area where poisonwood or poison ivy is located and therefore, I had no idea how to distinguish between them and the other plants that are located within that area. Thanks to our wonderful guide Ana and our Professor, (to my knowledge) everyone made it through the day without any dire accidents.
Rubell Museum as Text
“Who determines what is classified as Art?” by Cortrina Williams of FIU at the Rubell Museum on November 23rd, 2022
“The Rubell Museum”, photos taken by Cortrina Williams displaying different artists’ work at the Rubell Museum// CC by 4.0
In one of my humanities classes this semester, we explored the topic of “What is Art?”. Our professor showed our class of 50+ students different images, videos and simulations and our only job was to unanimously decide whether we considered each piece to be art or not. This seemingly simple task took an interesting turn when the class ended up split on every single image that was shown to us. Then it dawned on me, us students with our unique personalities, different preferences, different backgrounds, different life experiences, etc., how could the professor expect us all to view the world from the same lens? Essentially, this was the point behind this assignment as well as the point behind my anecdote. Art is completely subjective and to this end, we all determine what is Art and what is not art; each and every single one of us.
This thought was heavy on my mind when my classmates and I visited the Rubell museum. The Rubell museum is one of the biggest privately owned contemporary art collections in North America and as my experience with contemporary art is very minimal, I tried my best to keep an open mind as we examined the different art pieces that were on display. I must admit, however, that I was completely stumped as we began walking towards one piece in particular. From afar (and with my poor eyesight) this piece appeared to be just a dirty mattress hanging on the wall and at that moment, the first thought that came to my mind was “Art is indeed subjective, I guess”. However, the closer that I got to this artwork, the more it started to come alive. In this piece that was created by Kaari Upson and entitled “Rubells”, I started to see the decades of two people lying next to each other; I saw their intimacy, their memories, the life that they created together and it was truly astonishing.
The rest of our museum lecture proceeded in a similar manner for me until we came across a piece entitled “Family” which was created by Karon Davis. This piece showed a black family (father, mother and son) all sprouting antlers and embracing each other. Almost instantly I realized the meaning behind this piece (or at least what I interpreted it to be); as individuals of African descent (for the most part) we are very easy targets, exposed for the world to see and forced to grow up and experience the hardships of life before we are ready to do so.
To my surprise, the entire exhibition on display at the Rubell Museum featured numerous pieces that were reflective of black culture/black life. However, not so surprisingly the majority of these pieces had meanings/interpretations behind them that were sad/depressing in nature. While I was truly ecstatic to see the degree of cultural exposure and educational awareness that was happening there, I have to say that someday I would really like to visit an art exhibit that portrays the other side of black culture; the more positive side where we are happy and succeeding at life, the part that doesn’t make me feel pity for myself and for my people.
Mariano S. Mendez Perez is a junior majoring in Biological Sciences at FIU’s Honors College. Cuban-born and raised, he strives to achieve excellence and bypass the standard set by communist regimes now in the land of the free. His ultimate goal is to help others’ oral health by becoming a doctor in dental sciences. As a passionate tourist, he looks forward to exploring and creating memorable experiences. His hobbies include practicing martial arts, exercising, and playing video games.
Downtown Miami as Text
“Lands of riches” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU in Downtown Miami on September 7, 2022
All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
As time progresses, it is human nature to slowly lose interest, and perhaps forget, about the upbringings of the land they step on. However, in most cases, the very soil that one takes for granted is filled with major cultural and historical events worth knowing. Downtown Miami is internationally recognized for its impressive skyscrapers and coastal infrastructure, yet most never get to know the historical artifacts laid around, or beneath. Hidden, yet present within your surrounding. As the city keeps evolving into an ever-growing Metropolis, it is important to revisit its past and gather its fruitful antiquity to feel connected and appreciate the beauty of it all.
Ever since immigrating from Cuba, I have always resided in Miami. Downtown has always been a special place for me, the atmosphere and views are something amazing to be a part of. However, I never once thought about how Miami came to be, and the history that led to today. The timestamp ranging from the Tequestas to the Spaniards, to the British, and so on is interesting. As I explored the culture and buildings with my classmates, I realized how much I was missing from what makes Miami what it is today.
The Tequestas thrived for around 2000 years before colonialism ultimately took over. They used shells and shark teeth to make powerful hammers and knives, among other things such as cups or horns. These helped them hunt for food, gather water, or even communicate. Having coasts all along your land made it easy for them to hunt fish from the ocean and rivers. All of this was essentially ruined by the arrival of Spaniards, or specifically, a man named “Ponce De Leon” and his crew, in 1513. The old native tribes were easily outgunned and out armored by them and over time would be affected by battles among other things like disease and enslavement. Some of the Tequesta remains were found in what is now known as the Tequestan Circle in Downtown.
Another powerful landmark is the William Wagner and Eveline Aimar house. This is now the oldest house structure in the city of Miami, and one which contains a broad past. They were a mixed couple in a time when segregation was dangerous and still used. When they had children, because of their dark-colored skin, they were also harshly discriminated in their upbringing. Mrs. Wager came upon a group of Seminoles at the end of the Seminole wars, it being a dangerous altercation, he used his ingenuity to invite them for a meal, which they accepted. It is said that the group of Seminoles, and the racially mixed couple, dinned in their humble little house. The property still stands, but it has been heavily renovated because of Florida’s challenging weather.
To conclude, this class exploration of Downtown Miami has made me more aware of the extensive history it has. It seems like the lands of Miami are full of rich antiquity, from the Tequesta people to the colonization ages, to today, learning it makes you appreciate your surroundings and actually feel a sense of connection to those times. It is beautiful how Miami has evolved to be a city of broad cultural beliefs and practices, all living and coexisting with one another.
Overtown as text
“A troubled and submerged town” by Mariano Mendez Perez of FIU in Overtown Miami on September 21, 2022
All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Is hard to imagine a place of such cultural importance be destroyed for business. Yet this exact thing has happened not only in Miami, but in other cities that grow exponentially, they often break important monuments of history. As population grows, so do construction sites for buildings, roads, and others. For many individuals, it is devastating to see the place you grew up on be destroyed for greed. Unfortunately, the people in Overtown have been seeing this reality unfold, many have had to leave their houses, and their neighbors.
As my class dove into what was known as a thriving-colored town, filled with life and joy, I had flashbacks of my home country. Very quickly I realized how similar the situation was for both Overtown and Cuba. Essentially, families had to flee to other places as new rules were set, and land was taken. My class got the chance of visiting what is left of Overtown, much of what was there was replaced with new buildings, roads like the I-95, or simply were bought out and destroyed.
One of the most impactful parts of the journey in Overtown was visiting the Greater Bethel. This Church is the oldest Black Church in the city of Miami, and it is still standing and in good shape. Founded in 1896, this sacred place was where many important events took place, like the speech Martin Luther King gave in 1958, amongst others. There, we met with a wonderful lady named Alberta Godfrey, she was kind enough to gives us the background of the church and the struggles it has gone through in order to stay open. From the hurricane in 1926, to the imposing demands from the city targeting organizations like the church, to the very people who made the church and congregation being displaced and torn apart, it is truly marvelous how it is still open. She reflected how important this church was for her and others, how the crowds were so big every time they gathered back in the day, that often people came hours early to secure a sit, and others simply just stood. However, she also said the church is struggling as of today since many members live too far to make it, also it was mentioned the people enrolled in the church has been steadily declining through the years because the younger generation don’t often go to church anymore. The story behind this house of prayer was truly inspiring, showing resilience to stay open and a great cultural background.
Unlike the Greater Bethel church, the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist church didn’t have the same luck with how well it stayed open. Also being founded in 1896, the church was a major development in Overtown. As of today, the church sits right next to the I-95 that destroyed the neighborhood. As the city of Miami grew, they gave two options to Mount Zion’s priest, he either had to destroy his house built next to the church, or the church itself. Obviously, his house was picked, and now the road built over it disrupts the peace a church often has, with cars being heard from inside the building. This is probably the most significant, and devastating example that could be given to how destructive the growth of Miami has been to Overtown.
As sad as this might all seem, it unfortunately cannot be undone. All through the history of the world, many errors have been made, most having a long-lasting effect on both the people and the places. Alas, the United States of America has dealt with a dark past of segregation and discrimination, and Overtown is one example. All one can do now is broadcast this story to the public and recognize the faults and the solutions.
Chicken Key as Text
“The cleansing of nature” by Mariano Mendez Perez of FIU in Chicken Key on October 5, 2022
All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Apart from the great views, it is known how islands typically have broad biodiversity. As the land is bordered by water, the different types of animals and plants that grow there are increased compared to other lands. However, it is also known how remote islands tend to gather huge amounts of trash every year. Human contamination is well known and less acted upon, the amounts of plastic that end up in the oceans are detrimental to fish and others, and even worse, it ends up harming us in the end! As fish eat up this plastic, the levels of mercury increase, which in turn end up in our diet. This is one of the many reasons why we should clean the environment, if everyone put in a bit of effort, the change would be exponential!
The beautiful island of Chicken Key is a clear example of how we are harming Earth. Being in the Caribbean, East of Southern Florida, it is a magnet of trash. Every year, the ocean tides conclude in Chicken Key’s sand, therefore all debris lingering around in the ocean due to hurricanes and simple human ignorance pollute its shores; the number of plastics there is incredibly sad. As our class gathered to go clean up the shores, I, among my classmates, where highly excited to help biodiversity thrive! The lengthy kayaking to get there, and seeing nature firsthand was an interesting experience.
As we settled our kayaks and canoes on the island, we started seeing signs that Chicken Key was going to be full of debris. Hurricane Ian didn’t help matters, as it devastated parts of Florida just a week before. As we got to work, I started seeing how beautiful nature there really was. A broad ecosystem, filled with mangroves, sea grass, and other types of plants among animals such as hermit crabs, birds, spiders, etc. On the other hand, as we started heading inward, we were stunned to see the number of plastic containers, caps, shoes, and even metal debris. As a nature lover, it was truly heartbreaking seeing everything firsthand.
In the end, we were able to clean up huge amounts of trash and help out the wildlife there. Professor Baily explained how in all his years of cleaning Chicken Key, he had never collected as much garbage as our class did that day. As humankind progresses, it is easy to forget how polluted we have made the ocean; if individuals cleaned an island like Chicken Key from time to time, they would be surprised by how rewarding of a feeling it is. Detoxing a beautiful island was a fulfilling experience, if everyone put an effort into helping clean the environment, Earth would be a better, cleaner place.
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens as a Text
“Forgotten relics and antiques in Miami” by Mariano Mendez of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.
All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Throughout the world, there are many places that one could regard as an overlooked gems of the past, often forgotten and only visited by those curious enough to be interested. Humans have achieved architectural wonders as time has passed, some destroyed for any given circumstances, and others maintained and still up strong. One such example is right here, at the doorstep of Miamians, in Vizcaya.
The mansion of James Deering, today known as “Vizcaya Museums and gardens”, was a luxurious masterpiece of its time. Allocated strategically on the South Coast of Florida, it has some of the most extravagant items and views in any place in Miami. The owner, a businessman of high class, is known for an agricultural machinery family company. He had dreams of leaving the cold and moving down South to a warmer area where he could build a house suited for his big ambitions. He indeed ended up bringing his ideas to reality when started and finished his house. Right at the entrance, it is clear how he wanted to make a house of art, not only to show off his ideas, but his money to anyone who visited him at the time. The downward trail, with numerous fountains by the side focused straight on his beloved villa. It was said that anyone walking down that trail could smell the fresh scent of the ocean. Unfortunately, due to renovations, this very big feature was removed when air conditioners were placed and so they had to put glass, essentially blocking the smell. As one entered the house, one was met with an abundant show of statues and paintings. Mr. Deering had a love for European-style decorations, and so he based his tiles, furniture, and overall features around that. One of the features which mostly impacted and caught my attention was how in his office, James has a mini library of books, which were all cut in half, as the door to the other room was too big for the full books to be placed. This decision was only to impress spectators who scrolled on by his house, it served no other purpose than that.
Additionally, to many of its features, its garden and coastal views were beautiful. It seemed that this house was the embodiment of spring season, a warm, subtropical paradise. James Deering achieved a masterpiece when he decided to construct such a building. The place has so much art, and thought put into it that it became a museum, as of today. It will most likely continue to be a tourist attraction, for those who seek to explore a house of bliss.
Miami Beach as Text
“Island meets modernity” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at South Beach on November 2, 2022
All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
It seems like a common trend for human urbanization to grow and expand at the expense of environmental life. Whilst we continue to innovate as a society, it is often that nature is harmed and left in despair. However, it is not all bad, as constructions and developments happen, it allows us to enjoy a modernized place, with an uninterrupted breeze, like Ocean Drive. Truly a beautiful place with extensive history and culture.
What some might consider a fun, tropical, tourism magnet, is all thanks to a man named “Carl Fisher” who emerged with an idea of creating a small city on what was known to be a biodiverse island. Some deem his action inconsiderate, as the land had a rich habitat, and also because discrimination soon followed Miami’s beaches as developments of his ideas progressed, mainly because he, the protagonist of this move, was supposedly racist himself. As the city grew, Blacks and Jews were soon restricted from many of the areas of Miami Beach, quite ironic, as it was found African-Americans and Seminoles resided there, long before any of this happened. However, it is hard to not recognize the creations that led to the wonderful city of Miami Beach, as of today.
Subsiding from the darkness which occurred during the upbringings of Ocean Drive, the amount of culture in one small place is truly amazing. After the establishment of the city, many designers took the role of building structures which resembled machines, very symmetrical, with sharp lines and curved edges. They also took inspiration from European buildings with Mesopotamian and Mesoamerican designs. All these constructions constitute to what is known today as the Art Deco, a preserved number of buildings with astute detail and beauty.
The mixture of modern and old infrastructures side by side to the beach is what attracts an immense number of tourists every year to Miami Beach. Once rich with wildlife, now a booming city. It seems to stand true, how bad always seems to balance out with good, in the end.
Deering Estate as Text
“The beauty in preserving nature” by Mariano S. Mendez Perez of FIU at Deering Estate, November 16, 2022
As unusual as it is, some organizations step up to keep something as it was instead of replacing it with new ideas. Now, I am no hardcore environmentalist, but I appreciate when things such as nature are nurtured, when they are kept genuine and pure. As my class strolled down the preserved wilderness of Deering Estate, I felt like I got close to the roots of the real Miami, I experienced a sense of serenity, like never before.
Photo taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Is hard to put into words how beautiful the scenery was, from the diversified fauna, to the butterflies, and the clearest pond of water I have ever encountered, there is no better place to experience Miami’s nature than in the Deering Estate Preserves. The walk throughout the land was a little difficult, and some might say a bit “dangerous” as well, but that only adds excitement to the adventure. Dodging holes several feet deep, and poisonous plants was nothing but a small inconvenience, as long as you pay attention to your surroundings, everything should be fine.
Photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Our class was lucky enough to encounter multiple butterflies which are considered to be an endangered species worldwide. Native to Florida, the Atala butterfly is a mostly black type of butterfly which was thought to have gone extinct, until it was spotted again here in our own land. This creature adds a touch of uniqueness to the already stunning place. They are closely monitored, and I, for one hope they continue to thrive here as butterflies are gorgeous animals.
Photo taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Charles Deering’s achievements were plenty, but the creation of an estate in the middle of Miami’s nature was a marvelous idea, and one which will be appreciated much more than his other accolades by locals like me. I never once thought I would be able to experience nature firsthand in Miami, as it is mostly known for its city rather than its land.
A second marvelous idea was converting his estate into a natural preserve. I encourage everyone to step out of their comfort zone and explore the beauties nature offers. It is life-changing and an experience, for sure.
“Someone Else’s Home” by Julianna Rendon of FIU in Downtown Miami on August 31, 2022
People often walk the lands they inhabit as if it belongs solely to them. Harvesting the ground ruthlessly, uprooting ancient soils, and marking the ground with buildings and structures. In some ways, it is all part of the human experience and the progression of civilization. However this by no means suggests that the past should be covered up by the ever-changing identity of time. Every year brings new prospective to the characterization we have attached to Miami. Downtown Miami is known for the constant buzz of life that roams its streets as well as its towering skyscrapers. Through the modernization of Miami, it is crucial to make relevant the history of its grounds. Quite literally, too much truth has been been buried under the skyscrapers we now recognize Miami for.
I grew up in Downtown Miami around Brickell. My shoes have walked the streets a countless number of times, and my eyes have watched the sun rise morning after morning on the mouth of the Miami River. Yet I have never known that I walk on the same ground that an infinite pool of Tequestan history and knowledge is buried under. As my classmates and I walked through one of the rare open areas of the city that buildings do not occupy, we came to know that the city we thought we knew so well, held secrets below its surface.
Tequestan culture dominated the southeastern area of Florida that we now recognize as Miami-Dade County, from 500 BCE to around 1763 AD. The Tequestans thrived on the bountiful plenty of their environment which prioritized the ocean’s resources through fishing and hunting on the coast of Miami. An extensive variety of tools were also utilized by the Native American tribes that made them from shells and shark teeth. These materials created cups, fishhooks, jewelry, hammers, and other tools used to aid the Tequestans in their day to day life. It is tools such as these that were uncovered in the area known as the Tequestan Circle in downtown Miami. Alongside the tools, human remains were found in Tequestan burial formation.
The burial site was found in 1998 during the building process of what was going to be a riverside landmark development. The state of Florida bought the site and turned it into the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark, preserving the ceremonial resting site of the Tequestan and the variety of artifacts found buried along it. However walking along the historic site, the only thing that meets the eye is a seemingly normal dog park and a subtly gated area within it. The circle and its contents are buried and there are no major indications of the astounding archeological discovery below it. I, as most other city inhabitants, am guilty of cluelessly walking along the area with no real collection of thoughts or remembrance to decorate the once honored area.
The tragedy is that history is being forgotten as time goes on, and we are the only ones to blame for it. Has not enough been lost to the impatience and greed the human race often resorts to? History is everything to me, and its importance to the world and its people is not something that should be overlooked. After some digging I found that the state had announced plans to create a dimensional replication of the circle. It has yet to be started. The indigenous people of Florida, as well as those that occupied the rest of America, deserve the recognition and credit as predecessors of what is now our home. This is of dire importance to our culture and heritage as it serves as nothing less than an extraordinary remembrance of the people who called Miami their home first.
Hialeah as Text
“The Effect of Femininity” by Julianna Rendon of FIU in Hialeah on September 14, 2022
It is one thing to discuss the woes and misgivings the female sex has experienced since the beginning of time, but another thing altogether to rise above it in the worst of times. Gender inequality is still a prevalent feature of our generation, yet it is nothing compared to the brutal history of it in America and other parts of the world. For the most part, the U.S is a place of progression for female ambition. One that allows opportunities for those willing to chase it. But it wasn’t too long ago that this was completely not the case. In fact, the unfairness and prejudice many women experienced on a professional and personal aspect was keen in many people’s lifetimes that are still alive today.
It was only 53 years ago a young woman named Diane Crump mounted her horse “Bridle n Bit” to compete in her first race at the Hialeah Park Race Track. Crump had worked her whole life training on the backs of difficult horses the rest of her male athletic counterparts had tossed to the side. Her perseverance bought her skill and patience, but not yet respect as a woman competing in a purely male dominated sport. On the day of the race, Crump had dressed herself in her red and white riding uniform, inside one of the offices of the “Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association”. She couldn’t change in the intended jockeys room because of the controversy and risk that came with her joining the Hialeah Race Track’s seventh race. Due to Crump’s participation, several jockeys dropped out of the race for their refusal to associate with such a barbaric act as letting a woman race with men. Crump didn’t let this sexist bias triumph over her lifelong ambition of being a professional horse jockey, so she continued in the race. Though many of her male jockey peers tried to boycott the race at the Hialeah Race Park, officials threaten sanctions against those who opposed Crump’s participation. Jeers and insults were hurtled towards Diane Crump as she made her way down to the field flocked by a swarm of security. There were shouts for Crump to learn her place in the kitchen where she belonged, along with other stereotypical biases that did not halter a single step of Crumps walk to make history. That day Crump earned the right to participate in her desired athletic competition, but also the respect and attention of countless men and women once too afraid to fight back against the current of societal norms.
It can be said that in the history of female athleticism and overall gender equality, we have come a long way. This is exemplified by the plethora of incredible women in the professional sports field that have made a mark on history. Katherine Switzer became the first female to complete the Boston Marathon when women were still banned from the competition, despite the physical force the other male racers exerted on her almost the entire time she ran. Misty Copeland became principal dancer in her field of ballet, which led to her becoming the first African American woman in American Ballet Theatre to fulfill that position. Simone Biles today, holds the record for the most global series medals out of all the females and male gymnasts ever recorded. Venus Williams has won seven Grand Slam titles along with Olympic gold, all while promoting the association of tennis to offer the same prize money as they do in the men’s division of court. This is only a handful of women that have overcome incredible feats to establish their power in their professional athletic field. Diane Crump is written alongside these women, and it is powerful to have walked in the same field as one of the women who pushed past adversary and claimed what they desired and worked for their whole life.
Walking through Hialeah Park was a reminder of the incredible things individuals can accomplish regardless of what forces may work against them. However, it is also a reminder that gender inequality was very prevalent professionally and legally in the same lifetime that my parents have existed. Hialeah Park could certainly consider commemorating Diane Crump with a more permanent historical mark such as a plaque or museum section dedicated to her for the significance she established on that field. It is critical to realize the glass ceiling still exists, and paying tribute to the women who have broken it is essential in the progression of the solution to inequality. Furthermore, it’s incredibly sobering to realize this inequality gap exists in the professional world right before our eyes, and can be revealed at the touch of a button. A simple Google search of “top female athletes” reveals articles ranking women athletes based off levels of “hotness” and other sexual references that have tied a woman’s worth to her physicality. . On the latter, if one fires up a search of top male athletes, articles boasting adjectives such as “top”, “best ever”, and “greatest”, reveal themselves as top hits. Diane Crump’s walk to race her first competition as a professional jockey was a tumultuous one that merely foreshadows what the rest of the journey for athletic women in the professional field will look like, as oppositional efforts work to set them back.
Chicken Key as Text
“Remnants of Humankind” by Julianna Rendon of FIU in Chicken Key on September 5, 2022
As I have come to understand in the world, the imprint of humankind is anything but subtle. We are defined by all else but quiet and unseen. We walk on this earth as if it was created for only the soles of our own feet, and we discard as carelessly as we collect. It can be said that it would be incredibly difficult to discover a piece of the planet, a fraction even, that has been left untouched by the palms of the hands that destroy as much as they create. This rings true in the plastics that have been uncovered in the deepest parts of the ocean and on the most remote islands on the planet. Some areas were never meant to be diluted by the trash we leave behind, yet people have somehow found a way. It would be impossible and disheartening to know the full extent of the affect humans have left on the natural world, but we do know that as of 2022, 50-75 trillion remnants of plastic and micro plastics have invaded the ocean’s surface. These plastics are as foreign to animals and marine life as they are to the oceans that were never meant to harness this waste. The issue of plastic disposal is as simple as an afterthought: a single-use item gets disposed of improperly, and ends up in the ocean where it will never naturally decompose.
Paddling across the dividend of waters between the Deering Estate and the small island known as Chicken Key immediately invoked the serene feeling of solitude only the natural world can reveal. As Deering Estate grew smaller behind our backs I expected to be completely submersed in nature. However this wasn’t entirely the case. The farther away we paddled in our kayaks and canoes from the mainland, the more I realized that a lack of plastic and waste remnants wasn’t occurring. Some of the first things I noticed on the deserted island were objects never intended to belong in a place with no human inhabitants. Fishing lines entangled in the roots of the Mangroves, mismatched shoes strewn in between rock formations, and water bottles dirtied with miscellaneous contents, were just a sample of the waste we found on the island that day. Every step I took deeper into the heart of the island, I found what seemed like an endless stream of the most random objects one could think of. Furthermore, the solitude of the island was just a mask of the life that was hidden within. Hermit crabs that claimed the island long before any people, scurried between abandoned plates and utensils. Varieties of fish swam around the bags and plastics floating on the border of the island. What was never intended had become: nature was synchronized with the carelessness of human disposal.
Chicken Key is just one of countless islands and coastlines littered with permanent plastics. It is sobering to realize the effect of our humanity, but it is important to note that the situation is not entirely hopeless. The permanence of plastics and micro-plastics in the ocean can be minimized through the contribution of people on both a wide scale operation, and an individual one. Change can ensue with companies findings ways to reverse their plastic distribution, as well as people working on their own to minimize their plastic consumption. The tools and resources we need to make progress on our planet are available, it is simply about utilizing them. Marine life and vegetation are harmed by plastics, but studies have shown that human health is impacted by these same effects of plastics as well. When people consume seafood, particles of plastics are being micro-dosed into their system as well. However, it should not take the threat of personal harm being done to our own bodies to jump start our minimization in the contribution of single use plastic waste. At the end of our beach cleanup on Chicken Key, we collected a dumpster sized portion of plastics and waste that had washed up on the little island. Though the satisfaction was imminent, it was more so disturbing to visually see how far the impact of humanity’s carelessness had reached.
Viscaya as Text
“Forgotten Art in a Modern Society” by Julianna Rendon of Fiu in Viscaya Museum and Gardens on October 12, 2022
“Onlooker” taken by Julianna Rendon // CC by 4.0
Meaning is a universally sought projection of our own human desire to bring purpose to what we create. History and time are just an example of certain ingredients that can be put towards making a piece of art or even a building important in its physical and meaningful value. The Louvre, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum, are just a few illustrations of places and works that have grown increasingly priceless and meaningful overtime. Human ambition often draws us to force importance and excessiveness into the things we create even if the process isn’t natural. Beauty in art and architect is always something to be appreciate and admired, but it is absolutely vital to recognize a distinction between carefully crafted aesthetic and naturally symbolic structures. This point is further stressed when the process of creation is done as a copy through the works of underpaid laborers.
Nestled amongst the classic flashily nightlife and buzz only a city like Miami could perfectly encapsulate, lies a hint of classic European architecture. Viscaya was modeled after traditional Italian villa inspiration after the former owner James Deering and artistic director Paul Chaflin toured Italy looking for ideas for a new project that came in the form of 130 acres overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami. Viscaya is embellished by sculptures, artworks, furniture, and other creative utilities built or brought over by talented architects and artists of different cultures. The outdoor garden’s meticulous landscape can be credited to a young Colombian architect named Diego Suarez that Deering met in Florence, Italy. As for the rest of the mansion’s superior visual aspects, designer Paul Chaflin crafted a villa so different and unique from the rest of Miami, that to this day the grounds are constantly flocked by hundreds of onlookers a day looking to admire the artistic components of the house, as well as be taken away to what feels like a different part of the world. As different as Viscaya is visually from the rest of Miami, the desire behind its creation is really no different from the overdressed reality of what we call the Magic City. As beautiful as Viscaya is, its meaningfulness can be described as almost forced by the mind of Chaflin and Deering who aspired to create a historically symbolic place that had no actual symbolism except for what was copied architecturally. Deering took structures and arches meant to represent war victory, and placed them in his home that had never seen anything of the sort. Chaflin described this curiosity by stating “ Viscaya had not to wait for the passage of centuries to invest her with memories and legends”.
The fine line between copying and admiring is almost crossed by the architectural process that built Viscaya for what we recognize it as today. This idea of self invention was most certainly what allowed Viscaya to fit in perfectly with Miami culture, even if it does not visually seem so when first analyzed. Additionally and most importantly, Bahamian laborers must be acknowledged for the work they were so heavily under appreciated and underpaid for. Deering and Chaflin can be obliged for the vision they brought to life in the creativity of Viscaya, but like so many other structures and historical wonders, it was the physical exertion of immigrant laborers looking to support themselves and their families that actually brought Viscaya to life. Beauty in all its forms is always something to ponder, but recognition for its behind the scenes reality is something every individual must work to acknowledge.
Miami Beach as Text
“The Human Habit of Hatred” by Julianna Rendon of FIU in Miami Beach on October 26, 2022
“Two Sides of the Same Street” taken by Julianna Rendon // CC BY 4.0
A conflict of religious beliefs that began amongst early religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has done nothing but spawned in various sporadic forms through the history of time. Institutionalized discrimination rose out of it and various historical tragedies have originated from the prejudice humans created for themselves. Specifically, an Anti-Semitic behavior has continued to replenish itself across various forms such as the Holocaust, which left millions of European Jews slaughtered during World War II. However, Anti-Semitism was neither begun nor finished by this atrocious genocide. We are alive in an age of mass compliance fueled by the inextinguishable fire of social media influence. Individuals that spur words of hatred and division are now given a cult following due to the mask online identity provides that encourages the darkest parts of a person to arise.
Miami Beach is a bustling land of diversity and culture that is known for it welcoming and uncritical attitudes that encourage people of all backgrounds and ethnicities to visit. Growing up as a native “Miamian”, I only ever thought of the city as a place that was a home to every type of person imaginable. In naivety I reassured myself that Miami of all cities wouldn’t be one that could be founded in such hatred as many other other lands once were. Yet the very creation of the city of Miami has been blemished by the anti-Semitic nature of the founder Carl Fisher. Fisher originally saw Miami as an oasis of leisure and vacation for all of his wealthy Midwestern companions. It was through this vision that he also ensured all of his hotels would be restricted from any Jewish people. Many signs, hotels, brochures, and other hints of the past can still be found spread out through Miami Beach. The picture I captured above on the 26th of October, 2022 depicts the division of a land naturally formatted to be unified, historically broken into a side meant for Jews and non Jewish people. Why is it that the human experience must always consist of a regularity of discrimination and prejudice? History is meant to teach people to avoid making the same mistakes, but fast forwarding to today we still see hatred spewing everywhere. On October 8, 2022 the immensely popular and influential artist Kanye West posted a tweet where he described going “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE”. It is incredibly important to note that Kanye West has serious mental health issues and also harnesses 30 million Twitter followers, whereas the total Jewish population of the world sits at around 15 million. West’s outburst also included accusatory messages implying the Jewish community was greedy and sought to force black artists into slavery through music studio companies run by Jewish individuals. The danger lies in the ripple-like effect influencers such as Kanye West have on their mass followers. Those who idolize West follow him exclusively and are basically being taught by the words that come out of Kanye West’s mouth to be truth. Besides the influential sway Kanye has over his young fans, radicals are being encouraged by the sudden array of anti-Semitic outbursts Kanye is spewing. Following his series of tweets, several hateful cases have begun popping up across the country. On October 29, 21 days after Kanye’s string of hateful tweets, an unidentified individual or group displayed a message outside of the University of Florida’s football stadium on game night. The message read “Kanye was right about the Jews”. Alongside this, there have been several banners and messages being put up commentating in support of Kanye West’s perspectives. History is repeating itself at its worst through depictions of prejudice and discrimination in the example of Anti Semitism.
When my class and I entered the Jewish Museum of Florida we were welcomed into a sanctuary that felt inviting and safe. The complete opposite of what the Jewish people have been made to feel in various points of history and time for as long as they have been established. The groups that have been discriminated against the most tend to also be the most loving and welcoming, perhaps because of the fact that they know what it is like to experience the opposite. In the Jewish Museum there is a wall dedicated to the historic hatred the Jewish people have been attacked with. Documents detailing rallies of the “White Front” and Ku Klux Klan meetings are displayed on the wall for people to understand the cruelty that has been created against the Jewish people. It is sobering to realize that many modern day events and statements being made by people like Kanye West can be hung up right next to these dehumanizing accounts of anti semitism.
My older brother and I share the same mother but a different father which in turn makes him Jewish by descent and not me. When I was in middle school my brother started letting me wear his silver chain that depicted the Star of David. I would wear it because I wanted to be as much like him as possible and because I thought it was beautiful. Being much older, I recently asked why he let me do that when I had no real attachment or tie to the Jewish heritage or culture by blood. My brother explained that those who wear the Star of David often do so to represent the fact that they consider themselves to be a friend or ally of the Jewish people. Since then, I have decided to make it a point to not only symbolize my support of the Jewish people, but rather express it through awareness. Anti-Semitism is being given a platform that must be destroyed immediately before irreversible and unforgivable actions take place that harm blameless people. Today if you walk through Miami Beach you can spot restaurants and even sidewalks painted in support of the LGBTQ community which were once discriminated against so harshly on those very streets in the same way Jewish people were. Anti-Semitism must be dealt with harshly and quickly before a fire begins that no one can put out. Prejudice and discrimination have existed for too long in the many facets of racism, homophobia, anti-semitism, and classism. When people with power make grave statements supporting any of these discriminative facets I make it a point to obliterate any standing or support I have with those people, and I also encourage my peers to do the same. Being aware and alert of these threats to human equality is just the first step to the solution, but it is an incredibly dire one in this age of social media influence.
Deering Estate as Text
“A Tendency for Chosen Amnesia” by Julianna Rendon of FIU at Deering Estate on November 24, 2022
As it seems, the beauty of most of Miami cannot be credited without the acknowledgment of the hostility behind it. When one looks upon the majesty of Viscaya Museum and Gardens it is essential to remember the number of underpaid laborers that worked to create that beauty, all with the hopes of sustaining their own lives or their families. Furthermore the history of the Deering Estate is no different in its story. James Deering used immigrant workers to build Viscaya, so his brother James followed a similar method. Afro-Bahamians worked tirelessly to build the popular Deering Estate which so many people utilize for relaxation in modern times. Standing next to the boat basin and being forced to squint my eyes because of the reflection of the sun on the water, helped to serve a personal remembrance of the terrible heat conditions the workers had to endure. Miami is well-known for its ruthless and unpredictable weather, and one cannot begin to imagine the environment along with the meager wages the Afro-Bahamian laborers had to accept. Much like the rest of America, it seems an amnesiac tendency is applied to the remembered history of what people of color had to go through.
A news article that ran on November 29, 1916 is the exemplary embodiment of the reality behind the mistreatment of the immigrant individuals who were working to build the Deering Estate. In the column, it lists 9 men who were killed or injured as a result of 30 sticks of dynamite places on the barge within the property. The sticks of dynamite detonated, leaving four dead and five injured. The situation was severely worsened seeing as medical aid failed to arrive before nightfall, causing neighbors to have to drive the injured to the hospital.
As the case is even to this day, the urgency of a situation tends to be lessened according to the color of a persons skin. Perhaps the most aggravating part of this history, is the failure of many to truthfully record and remember situations and conditions such as the aforementioned. Feelings of deja-vu were sparked within me as I searched the web for deeper insight on the injustices that occurred to the Afro-Bahamian workers who were so malevolently treated when the foundations of Miami were being established. Much like my earlier research on the topic for my other Miami as text assignments, search results produced scarce findings. There isn’t much that can be found on the reality in its historic faults, which is why work as simple as research and findings for a college assignment can feel so significant. Ive learned more in the reflections of my classmates and my own research, then I have in any news article or book I have come across in the history of Miami. Acknowledgment and acceptance is of dire importance in the review of our city and country’s history, and I find educating myself and others is the first step in attempting to heal the past.
Rubell Museum as Text
“Every Version of Me” by Julianna Rendon of FIU, December 1, 2022
There is something intimate yet unsettling about being alone with myself. It’s the same feeling I am aware other people experience as well. When you are alone in your car, or after your friends have left your house, or when you are the first person in class seated alone at your desk, a distinct atmosphere of vastness and solitude takes over. People are social creatures by both design and habit. Oftentimes we lose ourselves in a crowd or in the masses and subconsciously surrender our personal capacity to think for ourselves. This convergence allows us to feel comfortable yet static in both our thoughts and actions. If one cannot be alone with owns one self then perhaps that is due to either a lack of intellectual thought, or a fear of insecurity. Art is subjective in nature, but good art always causes you to feel or think something.
Within Miami’s Rubell Museum lies an immersive art installation known as “Narcissus Garden” created by Yayoi Kusama. Kusama is a contemporary artist known for her pop art, sculptures, immersive exhibitions. “Narcissus Garden” is a grand installation of 700 stainless steel orbs placed on the floor in different variations atop the Rubell Museum floor. Paths are woven in between the orbs allowing for onlookers to navigate through the metallic landscape. The garden of orbs is named after the mythological story of Echo and Narcissus. Echo was a nymph who was rejected by Narcissus in her nature of love for him. In turn, Narcissus became cursed to receive an equal punishment of unreciprocated love. Upon finding a body of water, Narcissus was unable to take his eyes away from his own reflection because of the sudden love he had for his own looks. Either from lack of nourishment because of the trance he was in, or because Narcissus fell into his own reflection in the water and drowned, he perished. Kusama’s “Narcissus Garden” can be interpreted in various ways, but the idea is that your reflection is looking back at you and intending to mean something. As a result of the fact that there are hundreds of mirrored balls, I feel inclined to believe that the numbers are a representation of one’s identity being your only company. Though there are so many spheres, they are all reflecting the same individual. Perhaps in addition to that, the number of spheres imply there are various facets of yourself you choose to put out. Though the materials for the orbs are solid and steel, the reflective nature of them causes an organic effect that makes the orbs look malleable and moving. “Narcissus Garden” is an engaging experience that enthralls you to ask if you are comfortable with residing among only your own self. What image do you project and what image do you want to project?
Andro Bailly is a junior at TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Miami. He is studying Environmental and Field Studies, and set to graduate in 2018. His love of nature and understanding of environmental sustainability led him to complete a Junior Naturalist internship at the Deering Estate in the summer of 2016. During this time, the large amount drift pollution on the coast of Miami troubled him. In particular, the amount of garbage on Chicken Key was of most concern. A small island off the shore of Miami, Chicken Key is utilized for nesting by sea turtles. Alarmingly, the amount of debris severely hindered the native habitat, preventing turtles from access the island.
In partnership with the Deering Estate, Andro arranged regular cleanings of Chicken Key and the surrounding area. He has coordinated days of up to 30 people, as well as individual efforts which are just what he does on a free day.