Vox Student Blog

Sana Arif Vlogs

Sana Arif is a sophomore at the Honors College at Florida International University pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences degree with a minor in International Relations. Sana is slowly developing her interest about the world and the many cultures, religions, and deep history within it. In her free time, she likes to watch documentaries to learn about events such as various genocides and the effect of war and poverty on different groups of people. In addition to learning, she has an arsenal of adorable photos of her Green Cheek conure named Zuko, and would love to show anybody who asks (Warning: it might take a couple of hours before she lets you go). She hopes to learn more about Miami by engaging in this course, and is excited to have a refreshed, refined, and accurate perspective on South Florida.

Downtown Miami

January 29th, 2021


February 12th, 2021

Jena Nassar, 21 February 2021

Adrian Mills: Miami as Text


Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Hello! I am Adrian Mills. I am currently attending Florida International University, where I am majoring in Biomedical Engineering, however I am in the process of changing to Mechanical Engineering with minors in Chemistry and Biology. It is my second year here, at FIU and in Miami and I have very much enjoyed every part of it.  I originally grew up in Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, however I have family in Spain (mainly Madrid), Mexico/Texas, and throughout the US. including here in South Florida. I am currently working as a Student Assistant at StartUP FIU, and have been recently getting more involved with many of the clubs and organizations FIu has to offer.  My passions include a wide variety of things, ranging from  sustainability to soccer. I am always interested in learning new things, and up for  exploring new experiences.

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

Downtown Miami as Text:

“Origins”  by Adrian Mills of FIU in Downtown Miami

All cities throughout the world have their own distinct culture, history, qualities, flaws, and in their own way are unique. Miami is certainly one with all of these characteristics. 

Downtown Miami is often seen as this diverse tropical city full of towering buildings, with beautiful beaches, plentiful palm trees, and exciting nightlife. While this may be true in some sense, Miami at its core, is so much more than just that. While the history of Miami is complex, and honestly not really that widely known, it gives a different perspective into the city that so many various people have called home. 

Not initially being from Miami, brings another interesting perspective on exploration of what Miami has to offer and the background of its complicated history. Miami is well known to be a mixing pot of many various cultures, peoples, and takes pride in its diversity. 

This diversity is a fundamental part of Miami’s identity.

While this is the case currently, it also traces its roots back to its foundations as a city and even before that. But there are some parts that aren’t as widely known. Mainly the events that occurred early on in the beginning of its history. 

Thousands of years even before the Europeans arrived, much of the greater Miami Dade County area was inhabited by natives, the earliest of which date back to more than 10,000 years ago. 

By the time The Europeans visited around the middle of the 16th century, this group of people eventually died off and disappeared due to European introduced diseases, and conflicts. 

Later in History, many of the newer inhabitants of the Miami area, were escaped slaves and the Seminole Native Americans who were forced to the Southern parts of Florida. Eventually they were once again forced out of their homes, as the Second Seminole War took place,  the most devastating war in Native American history, which practically completely killed the entire population of Seminoles. This also  involved Fort Dallas, a former plantation slave quarters, which still exists in Miami today. Much of this history is not taught or explained, at first I thought it might be as I did not grow up around here, but what I quickly realized, that many people who grew up here were not taught of the terrible events that had taken place. 

Furthermore, another widely unknown part of Miami history, are a group of people who much of  their history is gone and forgotten, are the original people of Miami, the people who first called Miami, and all its natural beauty, their home, the Tequesta.

The Tequesta were a native american people that lived throughout most of the Southeastern parts of Florida, mainly Biscayne Bay, much of what is now Miami Dade County, to the Florida Keys,  from 3rd century BCE to the  mid-18th century. What little is known about the Tequesta includes that they hunted, fished, and gathered various parts of plants, but had not developed or practiced any agriculture. This unique group of people had their own developed language, way of life, and had lived that way for hundreds of years before being disrupted by the European settlements. They did make contact with the Europeans as mentioned earlier but the Tequesta and their descendants met the similar fate as most other Natives throughout the Americas. 

However, something that genuinely surprised me was the lack of recognition that Miami had for its original inhabitants, the Tequesta.  What was most surprising to me, no one knows a lot about the Tequesta, what they looked like, how they spoke, or how they lived. How had an entire group of people who lived in this prominent area for thousands of years, exist, and vanish, with not much mentioned, or known? A single plaque at the entrance of a church in downtown Miami, was the only true mention I had ever seen throughout all of Miami. I have only heard of the Tequesta a few times before, and it amazed me that despite this being Miami’s original people, they receive almost no recognition, and so little is really known about them. 

Diversity is a key part of Miami, and it can still be seen today, with its mixing of cultures, wonderful foods,  interesting architecture, and various languages, all of which are constant reminders of Miami’s true potential. But the underlying existence of its true history and darker past, should be more widely recognized within its foundations.

The Tequesta are a fascinating part of Miami’s history and it is truly a shame that more people don’t know about them, and that such little of their intriguing existence remains. 

Learning more about the history of Miami while exploring the actual areas, was quite an interesting and extremely enjoyable experience. Being introduced to new information about the past of such a diverse historical city is truly an experience that more people should enjoy.

Downtown Miami as Text:

Photos and Editing by Adrian Mills (CC by 4.0)

“Natural World” by Adrian Mills

The Everglades have always been one of my favorite locations to visit whenever I travelled to South Florida, ever since I was a kid. I grew up visiting many different natural parks and reserves, and often they were the highlight of any road trip or vacation. This was particularly evident with the Everglades, as I visited any time I could. 

Being able to wade through the Everglades, exploring the cypress dome, the alligator hole and beyond, was a really enjoyable experience, that although I have done before, is always an adventure. There are always new things to learn, explore, and see. The Everglades are an incredible display of the complex relationship between nature and humans. But, there is something truly alluring about the expansive wetland, the interconnectedness of the various different types of ecosystems, and the abundance of biological diversity, both plants and animals, that each play a key role in the existence of their ecosystem. 

The Everglades, as most ecosystems do all have a certain balance, but there is an extent to which it exists.  This is evident in certain areas, as because as usual, humans have started a long list of various detrimental effects that have influenced the Natural Everglades habitat. Anything from the introduction of invasive species, to the clearing of land, to the pollution of the water with agricultural  runoff, or the ever growing accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and the global climate crisis,  the list goes on and on. 

But, Nature, as it always does, adapts and overcomes challenges to survive, and more notably it always returns. At least, it does to some extent, but in many cases today, it needs our help to recover more quickly and effectively. This is what we, as a group were able to observe in person. One of the more interesting sections of the day involved going to  land that had essentially been completely cleared and scraped down until only the coral remained. What initially seemed like the destruction of habitat, was actually an intricate part of a complex habitat restoration project that took over a decade in development.

This area is what is known as the Hole in the Donut Restoration Project. Restoration Projects are extremely important, as they allow us to restore the damage we have done on certain ecosystems, and when done on such as scale, it provide an incredible amount of data and information that can be used to better understand the restoration process and how it influences the surrounding ecosystems, making future project more effective. 

This land, over 6,300 acres was previously cleared and used as agricultural land years ago, but as there is not much soil naturally, the farmers brought a large amount of nutrient rich soil to grow on. But, after the Everglades was deemed a National Park and  the farm had to move they farmers left, leaving all the unnatural soil they had brought. Initially this might not seem like a large problem however, it has caused a series of lasting issues within this part of the Everglades.

This abundance of excess nutrients provided by the old farmland completely disrupts the normal ecosystem that used to exist in this land. This surplus of unnatural nutrients which resulted in an explosive growth of  many invasive species of plants. Over time, this unnatural area started to influence the surrounding area and cause more problems.  These invasive species start to spread, having no natural predators, and start to get out of control. 

But the National Park Service, in cooperation with a number of other organizations, were able to develop, plan, experiment, and ultimately complete a large scale restoration of this area. This restoration involved the removal of exotic plants, and the restoration of the natural wetland ecosystem, with the integration of monitoring and management. This process takes a substantial amount of time and as of 2020, over 6000 acres has been restored with less that 250 more to go. This project began in 1988 and over the past 30 years this project has been immensely successful. 

We were able to observe this progress in one of the areas that had most recently been cleared, as we visited several of the natural solution holes within the coral that had been revealed during  the process of removing the surface level of invasive plants and soil. In these areas it is interesting to observe the distinct reclamation that nature has on any part disrupted by humans. This area  started to see many of the native plants, such as sawgrass,  and other species return fairly quickly to reestablished themselves on the land. Seeing this in person allows for the better understanding of the interaction between ecosystems, and how important it is to protect  and restore the ecosystem that we still have left. 

Everything that we did that day, wading through the cypress dome, the flatter grass areas, walking along the boardwalk, and swimming in the solution holes, really allowed us to experience the natural side of Miami, as this is what the true native land of Miami would have looked like. It is interesting that most people think of the beaches and city of Miami whereas what truly is the area of Miami and most of South Florida and the vast expanse of Everglades, that continue to display their importance on the existence of this entire Floridian peninsula. 

Observing these natural landscapes, and seeing the important restoration of the extensive damage we have caused is extremely important. Being able to appreciate these areas and understand their importance is something that a lot more people should do, as maybe it will be one of many steps that will truly help humanity to finally put aside their differences and finally address and find easy to resolve and prevent  the many ways that we as a people have negatively affected the natural world we live in. 

Sofia De La Torre: Miami as Text

Photo by Juliana De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

Hi, I’m Sofia De La Torre! I am sophomore at Florida International University studying Biological Sciences. I hope to attend medical school in the future to pursue a career as a surgeon. In my free time, I love going on spontaneous sunset drives, making jewelry, or just hanging out with my friends! I am originally from Miami and love learning about the history of the places I travel to or visit; however, I don’t even know the history of my own city. My motivation for taking this class is to learn about the hidden truths that Miami holds and the foundation that built this city to be what it is today. 

Downtown as Text

Photos and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

“The Hidden Past of Miami” by Sofia De La Torre of FIU at Downtown Miami

I am a person who hates doing things by myself. My overprotective mother doesn’t help situations when all she does is call me every 10 minutes to find out if I’m still alive. So, when I found out that I would be traveling into the heart of Miami alone, I may have had a mini freakout. Here’s a random fact about me: I don’t like driving on the highway. Therefore, the drive to get to the Government Center was an interesting one to say the least. When I arrived, I was met with creepy stares from old men and the smell of gas powered cars, which for me is not the best way to start out the first honors class of the semester.

When we began to walk to the different locations we’d be visiting that day, I recognized many buildings from trips to downtown with my family when I was younger. Downtown Miami is like a foreign world to me. Growing up in residential Miami, life is laid back, slow even. However, Downtown is lively and energetic, like a beehive where everyone has a place to be and a job to do. Walking around, seeing these places that I have seen hundreds of times in my life was fairly normal, until the history behind them came undone.

Miami was a city that belonged to the native Tequesta people, but their land was stolen from them just like many other Native American groups residing in Florida. This overtake of land was anything but peaceful and war quickly ensued. Eventually, the natives were forced from their land and are now practically forgotten. Living in Miami for my whole life, hearing these hidden truths for the first time is shocking. Never in my 13 years of public schooling in Florida, Floridian history was never taught to us. These violent truths are buried under our own feet and have yet to be unearthed to many people who reside in this beautiful city.

Although the Tequesta’s resided in Miami long ago, other minority groups have been oppressed throughout Miami’s history. Henry Flagler, for example, is highly regarded as the “Founder of Miami,” but he abused his power by using the color of his skin against others. The low income populations in Miami have also been mistreated for decades. We talked about the freeway that goes directly through a predominantly African-American neighborhood because the legislative authorities had a large pushback from the wealthy families who did not want a highway next to their homes. These minority groups are constantly taken advantage of and stripped of their voices because others speak louder, have more political pull, or have more money.

Another minority group who resides in Miami are the hispanics, primarily the Cuban population. As a Cuban myself, I have heard the hardships that my own grandparents went through in their home country , but even more in America. Coming into the U.S. with one single suitcase and $100, they had to make a living for themselves and their 4 children. The Freedom Tower is a huge part of Cuban history. It was the immigration central for all the children, and adults, who came into the U.S. in the 1950s, fleeing from their communist government. Today, the Cuban people make up approximately 25% of Miami-Dade’s total population and 50% of Miami-Dade’s foreign population.

Overall, Miami is one of the most, if not the most, diverse cities in the U.S. People of every race, religion, color, background etc. can be found here and that is what I love most about my city. Conversations need to be had and action needs to be taken to remedy the lies that have been told to cover up the ugly truth about Miami’s history. We may not be able to change the past, but we have complete control of our future.

Everglades as Text

Photos and edit by Sofia De La Torre/ CC by 4.0

“The Marvels of Pond Life” by Sofia De La Torre of FIU at The Florida Everglades

Growing up in Miami, being around water is not unusual to you. Residents of Miami live right next to the beach and the Everglades is basically our backyard. However, not enough people know of the beauty and life that the Everglades holds. This was my very first experience going “slough slogging.” My last experience in the Everglades was a field trip to the Anhinga trail in 5th grade, so it’s been a while. I was thrilled to be getting the opportunity to do this and had convinced myself that my fear of murky water wouldn’t be a problem (it definitely was).

Walking into the water was a bit nerve-racking because you never know what could be under your feet. The first five or ten minutes I was panic-stricken and paranoid about every sound and movement. As time went on, however, I became more comfortable in this foreign environment. My first thought was that it looked like I had just walked on to the set of Star Wars. It felt very surreal to be walking through the water.

The Everglades encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical wetland. It is a lush environment is home to many species of animals and plants. The ecosystem in the Everglades is struggling to survive right now though. Invasive species have taken over and are dominating the native species. For example, the Burmese python has made its way into the Everglades and has no predators, in fact they have been seen eating full grown alligators before. Many people associate alligators with the everglades, and while that is true, there is also human evidence in the everglades. The Seminole Indians and other Indian tribes were pushed from their land and into the Everglades where they had to find a way to survive.

At the end of our slough slogging adventure, we drove to a solution hole in the middle of nowhere. The plain was absolutely flat, a rare sight in the everglades because there are trees everywhere you look. This is due to an invasive tree, the Australian pine. This tree had taken over the area and was causing major damage to the ecosystem by taking resources from the native plants. The area was excavated to prevent further growth of the invasive species.

My favorite part of the day was when we all stopped and had a moment of silence to take in the scenery around us. It was so serene, and, in that moment, you could hear every sound. Every bird chirping. Every tree squeaking as the wind blew through. However, in this tranquil moment, a sign of human presence, an airplane, flew above and reminded us of the impact humans can and have had on ecosystems across the world.

Hebah Bushra: Miami as Text

Photo by Inaya Shaikh (CC by 4.0)

Hello everyone! My name is Hebah Bushra and I am an undergraduate student at the Honors College at Florida International University. I am majoring in Biological Sciences and Natural and Applied Sciences as well minoring in Chemistry. Some of my aims are to pursue a career in the medical field and travel to all 7 continents whilst trying different cuisines, volunteering, exploring cultures and religions, and meeting new people. I find gardening and painting to be my therapy in this chaotic world of ours. Although I have lived 3o minutes north of Miami my entire life and have most likely visited all of the beaches in South Florida, I have yet to experience the hidden treasures Miami encompasses. With this opportunity, I hope to gain knowledge of Miami’s concealed stories, diverse culture, and rich environment through the numerous destinations below.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos and edit by Hebah Bushra (CC by 4.0)

Melting Pot Miami,” by Hebah Bushra of FIU at Downtown Miami, 29 January 2021

While driving through the shadows casted by the towering buildings of Downtown Miami, I realized that I have never set foot outside of my car and explored this colorful city in the 20 years I have lived in South Florida. Due to the pandemic, this busy city was quite muted which came to an advantage for me as I was able to grasp onto the architecture and scenery that Downtown Miami possesses. As we strolled through different areas of the city, the hidden history and melting pot of Miami was unveiled. 

From the beginning of time, Miami, unlike many other major cities, consisted of people from different backgrounds who eventually found a way to live together. The interactions and presence of Seminoles, the Tequesta tribe, Bahamians, Jews, African Americans, the Miccosukee Tribe, Spanish conquistadors, White Americans, and Latin Americans displayed this beautiful melting pot that Miami held from the start.

Amid the roaring highway was a small park, Lummus park, containing two old houses, originally located near the Miami River, holding a great amount of history. Fort Dallas was originally built and quartered by African American slaves and later was taken hold of by the US army during the Seminole War from which it received its name by the Navy officer at that time. Once the army leaves after the Seminoles agree with a treaty, the house was utilized in several other ways such as a post office, the 1st courthouse of the county bought by Julia Tuttle, and a social gathering club. Although it is difficult to judge others of the past, it is important how we frame history. I really believe that the name of this historic structure is an insult to the suffering faced by the hardworking slaves in the 1840s and a name change to English Slave quarters is necessary to actually tell the history and origin of the house. Alongside the Fort of Dallas is Wagner’s house which tells a story of a positive moment in Miami’s history. Against the norm at that time, a German man named William Wagner married a Haitian woman. Wagner and his mixed race son encountered 17 Seminoles and offered them clothes and dinner. This beautiful interaction and some may say a real Thanksgiving is a great illustration of diverse people being at peace with one another and having a sense of unity. 

Even with the mixture of people that make up Miami’s vast history, their representation is lacking and significance is undermined. For example, Miami Dade Cultural Center has a Spanish colonial theme which only represents one group of people leaving several others such as the Seminoles and Tequesta tribe. If you were unaware of Miami’s history, you would only see what the people want you to see and it portrays the wrong message. 

Obtaining knowledge on Miami’s history immensely opened my eyes to the non inclusiveness and flawed portrayal of what Miami is. In school, I have never learned anything about Miami’s origin and only learned what people want to remember. It is important to call out how history is framed and learn about the past. Even with the gloomy history, the diversity and melting pot of Miami is unreal and there is always positive light. For example, the Freedom tower, Miami’s Ellis Island, symbolizes liberty and free will to many Cuban immigrants escaping from Castro’s repressive rule. I believe a great artwork which portrays this concept is right in the middle of the Government Center named Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. This massive statement art depicts the spread of different cultures and groups of people in this populous metropolis.

Everglades as Text

Photos and edit by Hebah Bushra and Bottom Left Photo by Sana Arif (CC by 4.0)

Being One With Nature,” by Hebah Bushra of FIU at Everglades National Park, 12 February 2021

When I stepped foot in the murky water surrounded by pond cypress trees I expected warm water as after all, we are in sunny South Florida. However, to my surprise, the water was cold which actually had an instant soothing effect on my nerves. With the help of my walking stick and gradually gaining balance on this unusual surface, I finally looked up to see the captivating environment surrounding me. 

The Everglades started experiencing harmful biodiversity depletion and habitat loss dating back to Henry Flagler’s touch in Miami. This resourceful environment was at one point home to different Native American tribes. I learned that the cypress trees were a survival tool to create boats as the trees were hollowed out with fire and scraped with shells which surprised me at first as the trees next to me were very thin. As we went deeper inside the tree framed dome, the water level increased, the trees were much larger, and I observed more flora and fauna. I was determined to spot an alligator but I realized I was more appreciative of seeing the small creatures that  play a major role and inhabit this area and such as woodpeckers, mosquito fish, and even a red cardinal. I gained the knowledge of how natural and prescribed fires are a key component for the Everglades’ prairies to thrive as the absence of fire creates crowding and overgrown plants. Certain plants such as sawgrass can take over and with no sunlight reaching down, there is a decrease in the population size of species. The burns clear the top and opens up the understories so various species can develop. Pine Rockland is the most biodiverse habitat in the National Park with 23 species of endemics and according to Ranger Dylan, this environment would have extended far all the way to Downtown Miami.

Ranger Dylan read a poem by Anne McCrary Sullivan who would explore the Everglades on her own and find a spot to sit and write. She refers to the Everglades as an in between place where it is not quite land or water and describes the way the world is when we (humans) are not there. As I separated from the group to explore my surroundings, I discovered this fallen tree which was still alive and decided to sit on it for a minute or two as Anne McCrary and listen to my surroundings. I felt one with nature hearing the creaks of the cypress trees, chirps of birds, and the gusts of wind. At this moment of the silent yet loud atmosphere, I understood the poem and what Sullivan was trying to illustrate through her words about being in an untouched place, which I would have not comprehended a day before. 

Daffodyle Saget: Miami as Text

Photo by Daffodyle Saget (CC by 4.0)

Greetings! My name is Daffodyle Saget and I am a senior graduating this spring with a degree in Sociology and English with a minor in International Communications. I have a deep love for learning especially about us as humans from the histories that form our current reality to the psychology that motivates our actions. I guess that’s why I choose sociology as a major, it helps me understand the world around me. That’s also the reason I was pushed to take this class, I wanted to understand all that makes up my current environment. Miami is my home and when you get used to something you question it less but I want to hear this cities stories and understand its problems instead of passively living here. I am so excited to learn more than I already have!

Downtown Miami As Text

Photo By Daffodyle Saget ( CC By 4.0)

“First was the Tequesta” by Daffodyle Saget

The Tequesta were first. They were the indigenous people of South Florida and what we know now as the great city of Miami. A city that is known for its diversity and its large immigrant population pouring in from all over Latin America and the world at large. But before The Cubans, The Haitians, The Bahamians, and The Europeans there were the Tequesta and it is important to start any part of American history with Native Americans.

I was so happy we began class with Professor Bailly starting this term by visiting native sites and telling their stories. Often times they are ignored when history is covered. Most people in Miami if polled on the streets would not even be able to name the indigenous people of the city even in a multiple-choice question. Professor Bailey filled in the blanks of our history classes introducing us to the Tequesta one site at a time. I learned that the Tequesta were living in Miami and all of South Florida as early as 2,000 years ago and were killed off after contact with the Spanish leaving little evidence of their culture behind. Most depictions of the Tequesta today is fictional and likely inspired by the nearby Arawaks. Most natives in the South Florida region today were pushed down from locations further north in the state and even as far north fromstates like Georgia and Alabama. The Seminole tribe itself was formed out of displaced tribes like the Miccosukee and Choctaw.

It’s devastating to think a whole people and culture was wiped out and we will never learn what life for them was truly like. To think it all started in a circle located downtown. Standing in the Miami circle where likely the center of governance was for the Tequesta and where they greeted the Europeans it was chilling to think a city would be born thousands of years later on their graves and they would become just a sad fact. People and cultures are sacred and history has a sad way of repeating itself. I left the class even sadder knowing if we don’t learn about what happened to the Tequesta and allowed what happened to them in a way happen to the African American population in Overtown, will it soon then happen to the Haitians and Cubans that create Miami culture today. With gentrification at every corner, what will Miami look like in just a few decades…

Maria Simon: Miami as Text

Photo by Maria Garcia (CC BY 4.0)

Hello! My name is Maria Simon and I am a junior at the Honors College at Florida International University. I am also a Biological Science major aspiring to be a doctor. Seeing and feeling different cultures has always being the hobby I enjoy the most, whether if it is from traveling to different countries, eating different food, and meeting unique people. I immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the year 2010 and it was one of the greatest, if not the greatest gifts my family has ever given me-the opportunity to have a prosperous future. Aside from traveling I love to play volleyball and to dance.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos by Maria Simon (CC by 4.0)

“Miami beneath Miami” by Maria Simon

The city of Miami is well known for its beaches and it’s beautiful skyline. Although,  Miami carries a long path of historical evolvement and an enrichment of culture from all parts of the world. Miami takes part in a multicultural setting where immigration has formed part of the city for many years and the years to come.

An example of how Miami has carried its immigrant roots and has sheltered the history and the culture from represented countries all around the world is Cuba. In the late 1950s Cuba had a “Revolution” where many parents and grandparents sent their children to the United States in fear of what the Revolution would bring. The act was called “Operation Peter Pan” which happened from 1960 until 1962. After those kids came to the United States the first place they would come across with is the Freedom Tower in Downtown Miami. The Freedom Tower is the one on the bottom right corner. The children along with other cuban immigrants would do their paperwork and get a medical check-up. The Freedom Tower is where they would formally become residents of the United States of America.

Through other ways and measures, Cubans would immigrate to the United States after the political crisis in Cuba, all in hopes of returning one day. When they started realizing that the situation in Cuba was not getting better they started opening their own businesses in Miami. As seen in the top light corner, there is a restaurant that was built up by them where they would specialize in “pollo frito” (fried chicken).

IIn the realization of what Miami was doing for the cuban people, Russia granted the city a piece of the Berlin Wall in representation of the cuban people that were divided of their families due the dictatorship of their country just like Russia was once.

Miami has taken into their wings many immigrants who starve for a new life and a new meaning. It shelters their traditions and their backgrounds while creating a new life in a new country where the opportunities are endless to those who seek it and to those who work for it.

Derick Plazaola: Miami As Text

Photo by Eszter Erdei (CC by 4.0)

Good day to everyone! My name is Derick Plazaola and I am a junior at Florida International University currently pursuing a dual Bachelor of Science degree within the fields of Anthropology and Geography while also in the progress of completing a minor in History. My primary passions in life include traveling, exploring nature, and reading historical documents. While at FIU, I have been able to become involved in the betterment of residential life through Parkview Hall Council and have undergone academic opportunities presented to me through the Honors College at the university. I wish to further my academic future by going into graduate school for additional subfield studies of Anthropology, with a certain interest in Archaeology above all other subfields.

Having been born in Miami, I never truly got to experience or undergo an opportunity that has directly allowed me to gain a multi perspective view of the city which I was born in. When the Covid-19 pandemic first began, I truly believed that any chance to engage in an activity that would allow me to captivated by Miami’s history was absolutely diminished. However, this would quickly change with my personal decision to become apart of John Bailly‘s “Discover Miami” 2021 course. With that being said now, I truly thank Professor JW Bailly for being able to create an opportunity for like-minded students to be captivated by the enriched history which the city has to provide.

I now present my Miami as Texts.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos and editing by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)

“The Obscured Past of Miami”, by Derick Plazaola of FIU in Downtown Miami on February 7th, 2021

“What a day to explore Downtown Miami” was the initial thought that I had conceived as I was driving on a rather cold morning towards our meeting location at Government Center. Over the course of the drive, I would wonder what kind of history would be revealed to us by Professor Bailly and how it would impact my perspective of the city. Though I did not know it yet, this answer would soon arrive in the most eloquent of ways – through the process of firsthand exploration.

This process of exploration would lead me to develop one of the primary changes in my perspective of the city of Miami. The change in perspective was one of recognition regarding the importance which diversity yielded in establishing the foundation of Miami, as a whole. Our group’s visit of Fort Dallas in tangent with the Wagner Homestead and Mary Brickell’s grave would provide knowledgeable insight in allowing me to see the cultural foundations of Miami. Fort Dallas and the Wagner Homestead would directly showcase the cultural roots which Miami is founded upon with regard to the presence of blacks, Indians, and mixed populations. However, such foundations would not be limited to solely ethnicity as the importance of gender could be witnessed with the development of Miami. As professor Bailly explained within the class, the importance of women MUST be recognized in the foundation of the city as Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell were two monumental figures that were responsible for the eventual development of the city.

I remember asking myself during the class: How is it that these greatly historical aspects of Miami aren’t being taught widely across educational systems in the city? That answer, too, would arrive with the exploration conducted. The visitation of the Dade County Court House and Henry Flagler’s statue ultimately revealed the widespread racism that had been instituted deeply within the history of Miami. I was able to learn firsthand that Henry Flagler’s action of constructing the railroad system in South Florida would grant him great amounts of power and wealth. As a result, Flagler would actively relocate non-white populations to poorer areas of Miami, establishing a precedent for racism and segregation – a precedent whose aftereffects can still be witnessed today. However, historical whitewashing would play an active role in concealing the dark truths behind the foundation of Miami while showcasing the achievements of white figures and, thus, the cultural roots upon which the city was established would become instantly obscured to the public eye. I quite actively, as a result of my partaking in the class, became highly aware of the untaught truths that lied in the history of Miami being publicly taught.

While I also had the opportunity to learn about additional key monuments that are present throughout Downtown Miami along with their cultural significance, I ultimately drove back home appalled, yet troubled, by the deeply rich past of Miami that has become widely obscured. As a result, I now believe that – in order to relieve the city of a whitewashed history – educational systems should not be afraid to shy away from teaching the true multi-cultural history of Miami. Without a doubt, however, I was grateful for the objective truths which this first class session was able to provide me with. I began my day telling myself “what a day to explore Downtown Miami” and ended the day telling myself “what a day to see the obscured past of Miami”.

Everglades as Text

Photos and editing by Derick Plazaola (CC by 4.0)

“River of Grass”, by Derick Plazaola of FIU in the Everglades on February 21st, 2021

To be frank, I began the day with a rather overwhelming sense of uncertainty and – undoubtedly – nervousness as to what exactly could happen in my first-ever trek into the Everglades. I recall the exact moment being shown in the class group-chat exactly what we would be doing throughout the duration of our class session and was, least to say, appalled. I simply could not believe that I had to actually trudge through the heart of the Everglades with a stick, without any worries of what could lurk in the water and tall grass alike. Then the hypotheticals came. “What if an alligator was to approach us?” and “What would I do if I were to fall into the water?” were among the main questions I pondered as I prepared to drive an hour down south. However, I thought back to my session of the class in Downtown Miami and reminded myself of one of the primary lessons I learned: living in the moment is crucial for the best experiences. Thus, with this notion in mind, I made my way towards the National Park.

The “Slough Slog”. Walking through the Everglades water through an unofficial trail with a hiking stick in one hand and camera phone in the other. The first and, perhaps, most immersive component of this class session. The time to undergo this experience was approaching rapidly as we drove down the singular strip of road connecting all of the different areas of the Everglades. All of my previous concerns started to then resurface, but it was then when I had gained awareness of the very nature of this opportunity: it was nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Like Professor Bailly would come to mention later in the class, the whole experience would become unforgettable.

Upon first stepping onto the trail, I could see nothing but cypress trees as far as the eye can see. Cypress trees, as our lead park ranger explained to us, served as being among the most distinct of trees present in the Everglades due to their ability of being able to grow in water-filled areas. This was only made possible due to the oligotrophic, or low-nutrient, nature of the surrounding environment. The area in which we were specifically walking through was known as the “dome” of the Everglades due to the shape in which the culmination of the cypress trees created, with the tallest trees gathering near the center (see center photograph). Going back to the Slog, I became quite entranced in the moment of having to simultaneously walk through the water while also scouting to see opportunities for photographs. However, as I kept trudging along through the water with the rest of the class, I gradually gained more recognition of the interconnection which this very land provided. It was a distinct sense of interconnectedness between man and the natural land as, with each step, I could hear all the many things associated with the true experience of the Everglades. The ripples in the water caused by our walking, the sounds of various different animals from a distance, the wind blowing back and forth. All of these different sounds amounted to the sensation of the overall experience. It was a strange feeling to be able to experience a moment in which one truly feels connected with the land at their feet. It was a feeling I only had experienced on a recent trip to Arizona and yet, it was an amazing feeling to have been reproduced. I was certain that this same feeling could be felt by the Tequesta -as Professor Bailly previously indicated to us that the Tequesta had moved towards the Everglades – and utilized the bark of cypress trees to construct boats.

After our journey through the Slough Slog, we proceeded to then continue our journey at two key locations. The first, the Royal Palm Visitor Center, would allow us to gain more of a closer look at the animals residing within the Everglades. This small, yet detail-oriented, trail would truly serve as another fulfilling experience during the trip. However, Professor Bailly’s teachings at this trail provided us with a viewpoint into the rich history of the Everglades, with one of the key points being the fact that Henry Flagler actually attempted to build a railroad through the Everglades. It was at this point during the class that I recognized that what I had learned of Flagler, during the previous first class, had become applicable yet again in the context of the Everglades. In addition to this fact, Bailly provided us with a statement that, even today as I recall the entire experience, changed my perspective on how I entirely viewed the Everglades: “The Everglades is not a swamp. It is a river of grass”. To me, this statement would serve as the backbone of the lessons learned during the entirety of the trip. In concluding with the class session, we visited the “Hole in the Donut” restoration area which allowed us to view the current state of the solution hole present there. It was during this conclusive visit that I had truly taken an appreciation for the connection felt during the entirety of the visit to the Everglades. Would I repeat it, given the opportunity? The experience as a whole now allowed me to respond to that question with an undoubtable “yes”.

In reflecting upon the experience as a whole now, the memorability of this whole trip would only be heightened by the bonding moments shared between our class as this experience truly allowed us to become more along the lines of friends rather than just mere classmates. It’ll be quite hard to forget the feeling of authenticity associated with walking through the different areas of the “River of Grass”. And to think that there is still so much more to explore. Perhaps for next time then.

Stephanie Gudiel: Miami as Text

Stephanie Gudiel/CC by 4.0

Hi! My name is Stephanie Gudiel, I am currently a junior in the FIU Honors college majoring in Psychology with a minor in Business. I’m currently 20 years old and love to travel, however due to covid I have slowed down on the travel aspect. Aside from that, I enjoy working out as a way to destress, I have been teaching myself how to cook a little bit, and I enjoy being outdoors trying new things. I decided to take this class because even though I was born and raised in Miami I feel as if there is still so much I don’t know about Miami, from its history to hidden gems, so I hope to gain more insight and a deeper understanding on how Miami came to be what we know it to be today.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photo by Stephanie Gudiel (CC by 4.0)

“Unspoken Past” by Stephanie Gudiel of FIU at Downtown Miami

Growing up in Miami I learned about the side of history educators wanted us to be proud of. I was taught that Henry Flagler was a founding father of south Florida, and most of what is around us today is thanks to his hard work. I was also taught about the history of slaves in the America as a whole. But it wasn’t until a couple weeks ago that professor Bailly took our class to Lummus Park, that I was able to have a deeper understanding about the history of Miami, and realized our history isn’t as clean or simple as the textbooks put out to be.

In the 1840’s the Longhouse in the picture above was constructed by one hundred enslaved Africans that belonged to Colonel William F. English and it was part of a slave plantation here in Miami. English had obtained the title of the 640 acres that belonged to his uncle, who had already been running the slave plantation about a decade before. The current location of the Longhouse is not where it had always been, the slave plantation houses were originally constructed on the north bank of the Miami River. English left Miami for the California Gold rush leaving the Longhouse and all the land to be requisitioned by the Army in 1849 who decided to call it Fort Dallas.

Fort Dallas was used as barracks for soldiers during the Seminole Wars to push the Seminoles further out west by blocking their trade and isolating them. Once the army was satisfied with the land they took from the Seminoles they left. By 1889, Julia Tuttle was acquiring properties of the Biscayne Bay Company, and in 1891, she and her children moved into English’s former Slave Plantation.

This is when Julia Tuttle lured Henry Flagler down to South Florida, she gave him prime land on the mouth of the Miami River while she kept English’s properties for herself, in return he built his famous railroad all the way down to Miami. This is how Julia Tuttle became the Mother of Miami, she single handedly transformed a former slave plantation into a city, she is the only woman to have founded a major American city. After Julia Tuttle passed away, the Longhouse was shortly transformed into a gambling club and then into a Tea room in 1923.

In 1925, more than 75 years after the Longhouse had been built, it was moved from its original location to Lummus Park and this was the first time in Miami history that a building had been preserved for historical significance. This one building has been part of so many significant events that transformed Miami into what we know it to be. I never knew this building existed, much less that there was once a slave plantation where Downtown is today. This is to prove that although the building is standing in Lummus Park today with a summary of events in front of it, there is much of Miami’s past that is unspoken of.

Everglades as Text

Photo by Stephanie Gudiel (CC by 4.0)

“Uncharted Territory” by Stephanie Gudiel of FIU at the Everglades

As I walked into the cold murky water I thought, to myself “What could I possibly see here? What could I learn from walking through this dome?” I came to the realization, it’s not about learning, it’s about being able to experience and be one with nature. Being able to know and see a different side of the world, a side that has not been touched or changed by humanity. A place so self-contained with no trace of society, that it has its own sound, its own system and way of living that depends on no one and nothing but itself.

Walking deeper into the dome I saw fallen cypress trees, its roots lifted from the ground due to natural disasters, one would think that is how this cypress dome would slowly be destroyed, through natural disasters, or at least I did. Only to find out that from the roots began to grow more flora, life did not end there, from the fallen tree rose beautiful greenery to continue the cycle that is life. This ecosystem had the perfect balance as it was so pure and self-sufficient.

At one point we stopped, a safe distance from the road, completely immersed in the dome that I was able to hear the chime the wind created as it stirred within the trees, the birds chirping and gliding between trees even the flow of the water. It was something I had never experienced before. There was so much life, so many things going on in this one place that wasn’t undisclosed, simply unexplored, it was so easy to pass by on the road and not think anything of it.

To think that once upon a time this land was once home to the Tequestas, these grounds were walked by them everyday to the extent that they were just like our modern-day drive to our nearest publix to them, yet to us it is mysterious uncharted territory. I was simply a guest along with the rest of my class, wandering through this mesmerizing dome. And there will continue to be more just like me in the future, hundreds of years from now this dome will still contain its beauty and its distinctive qualities and will continue to captivate others.

This experience has made me appreciate the world from a new perspective, there is so much beauty I have yet to see, to feel, and encounter. So, we must appreciate each time we may face the untouched raw world and embrace it to preserve it, so future generations can relish and have this unique experience as I did and be one with nature.

Letizia D’Avenia: Miami as Text

Photo by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Hi! My name is Letizia D’Avenia. I am a sophomore attending the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in psychology. I was born in Milan, Italy, and I lived there for the first 17 years of my life. At FIU, I am part of an organization called Roarthon, I am a proud member of Phi Mu Fraternity and I am a Learning Assistant in the Psychology department. I like to describe myself as an “artistic” person. One of my favorite hobbies is singing and playing the guitar. I took pottery classes for about 4 years and I love painting. I enjoy reading and writing songs. I am very extroverted and one of my goals in life is to travel the world and make friends with people from different countries. Additionally, after taking an environmental science class during the fall semester, I became very passionate about this topic and I am planning on participating in different volunteering opportunities, such as beach clean-ups. I decided to take this class because I moved from Italy about one year and a half ago, and due to COVID-19 I have not had the opportunity to visit Miami as I wanted to.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

Written in These Walls” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Downtown Miami.

“Today is the day”, I thought to myself while making the bed. It’s a windy day, but the sun is shining and smiling at me. As toast with orange jam and Philadelphia melts in my mouth, I start feeling anxiety kicking in. This would have been my first in-person class since the pandemic had started. I felt my skin slightly tingle and my lungs filled up with new fresh air. I breathed out my sudden wave of fear, I put my sneakers on and I started driving to the location. I parked and felt my nerves slightly loosen. I turned my car off as I let out a shaky breath. My feet felt light on the concrete, like all of a sudden I had wings attached to my ankles. I spotted my classmates awkwardly standing in a semi-circle in front of the escalators next to the Government Center. I slowly waved at them and I stopped a little behind the semi-circle. “A student is late” said the Teaching Assistant, fixing her mask and making eye contact with the professor. I am not sure what to do with my hands or eyes, so I pretend to look at my phone. Once the student meets us, we started walking. 

Little did I know that during that walk that lasted for more than 2 hours, I would have learned about Miami’s deep institutionalised racism and how much it affected the quality of life of too many people. I forgot about the present and I dived into the past, and I learned about the Tequestas, Seminoles and runaway slaves, who all lived in Florida and were pushed down to the Everglades and forced to live there by the British. I learned about Flagler, who “convinced” 240 black voters to vote on July 28th, 1896, to create the city of Miami, and then he assigned them to live in Colored Town (the worst part of Miami at that time). I learned about Ponce de Leon, who started the contact between Tequestas and Europeans and General Dade, who was the general who led the army to fight the Seminoles out of Florida (and who was the first one killed during the clash). I learned about Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell, two women who were crucial to the development of Miami. Our last stop was the Freedom Tower, which was the first place where Cuban Immigrants would be taken once they got to Florida and where the Pedro Pan children were brought. I sat on a bench on the first floor, staring at the image in front of me but not focusing on it. This building smells vintage, a mixture of wood and dust. 

At the end of our excursion, I feel filled with unknown knowledge, with forbidden truth, which no one really talks about but that lives in the walls of Downtown. My heels tingle from walking 6 miles and I can feel my stomach growl in anger for food. But all I can do is just stare at the wall and let the stories that I learned that day sink in my brain, so that I will carry them with me and keep them alive till the end of my days.

Everglades as Text
Photos by Letizia D’Avenia (CC BY 4.0)

The Gators Hole” by Letizia D’Avenia of FIU in Everglades

One of the reasons why I enrolled in this class was to experience Slough Slogging. The day finally came, and as I was walking down the long hallway of the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, a shiver ran down my spine. I greeted my classmates, and after the skilled Park Ranger gave us detailed and important information about our excursion, we got into our cars to start this thrilling adventure. When we reached the spot where our walk would start, I wore my bright blue water shoes, I grabbed a long stick (which you use for balance),  and we all got in a line to get in the muddy water. As soon as my feet came in contact with it, I felt the cold liquid infiltrate in my water shoes, soaking both my feet. As I kept walking in though, I understood why my professor had instructed us to buy these kinds of shoes: they were really tight to my feet and they did not retain water, enabling me to move freely and easily. After I got used to the sensation of the water hugging my legs, I started using my senses to experience the nature around me. I could feel the light rain on my hat, the smell of wet plants; I could hear the far away frogs croak and the birds chirping and all I could see were the cypresses surrounding and swallowing us.

The deeper we walked into the environment, the greener it became. I could see algae touching the water’s surface and brushing my uncovered ankles. At some point, I truly believed we had crossed some sort of portal and we were on another planet. I had only seen this kind of flora in movies, and being able to experience it in person felt unreal. The Ranger explained to us that the Everglades are a source of inspiration to many artists, since it is such a unique and peaceful place. We then reached a more open area, where there was grass and periphyton, a particular algae important for the overall ecosystem of the Everglades. While we were walking back towards our cars, we stopped to take some pictures and we passed by the Alligator Hole. Because during the dry season there is less water, the gators create deeper holes where they usually go to rest. When the wet season ends, the water levels rise again, causing these holes to become even deeper than they originally were. We all got back to the cars safely, and we drove to the Anhinga Trail, where we had lunch and walked around. We saw an alligator sunbathing and many different kinds of birds and fish. 

As I drove back home, I felt at peace with myself and nature. That was a day I understood how powerful nature is and how important it is to protect it, otherwise places like the Everglades will have a hard time to exist as we know it.

Angelo Gomez: Miami as Text


Hello everyone, my name is Angelo Gomez. I’m currently a junior at Florida International University majoring in Political Science and Journalism. I’m nineteen years old and I enjoy learning new things and concepts. I’m a huge Marvel and Star Wars geek, a history nerd, and a soccer superfan. That’s about everything you could wish to know about me.

Downtown Miami as Text

“Subtle Nods”  by Angelo Gomez of FIU at Downtown Miami, January 29 2021

Commonly referred to as a “melting pot” of different nationalities, Miami is the intersection of different worlds. In this sunny metropolis, several different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities all come together to form a colorful painting on a city-wide canvas. From its indigenous roots to its colonial experiences, and then fast-forwarding to its inception in 1896, many different hands and feet have passed through our home, each group leaving its influence in this ever-growing cultural landscape.

Downtown Miami subtly nods at its long and complicated history, while proudly and boldly embracing the beauty of its diversity. Merely a few blocks away from Government Center lie remnants of horrors of slavery; a few blocks further ahead, stands the Overtown district, with its own unfortunate racial history and troubled past.

Beyond the shiny skyscrapers adorning Brickell’s skyline are clues scattered across reminding its own people of its rich past. A small memorial testament to Mary Brickell reminds us of the women that brought us to this day.  The towering indigenous warriors fire arrows to the sky above the same river where indigenous Tequestas roamed their land.

Yet, among skyscrapers and boat tours, merely plaques subtly nod to the importance of these landmarks at one point in history.

Behind the Liberty Tower, stands a piece from the Berlin Wall. Yet, underground rest the corpses of black slaves and African American workers that built up the city that never got to experience the promise of freedom for themselves. How does this make sense? It doesn’t, but few things in Miami make sense.

These subtle nods are pieces of a puzzle; a scavenger hunt map that allow us to reflect and piece together an appreciation of what came before to improve on what is to come.

Everglades as Text

“Legacy” by Angelo Gomez of FIU at Everglades National Park, February 5 2021

A vibrant and buzzing ecosystem. As a small group of students carefully treaded the waters, nature warmly embraced its own. Miles of land stretched out beyond the eye could see. At the exit of the dome, the river grassland greeted us as it stretched out until the horizon line. Lying ahead, an entire world untouched. Untouched by humanity and development. A peaceful landscape. In that moment, I thought of every indigenous native, slave, and settler that stepped through these lands at some point or another in our history. For the Tequestas, the original founders of this beautiful landscape, we honor their legacy by preserving the land they owned and cared for. Carefully walking beside them, we honor the cypress trees, the waters, every plant, animal, and microscopic species that roam and own this territory, their territory. These lands have existed long before us. They will be around much long after me. We are just co-inhabitants of their world. In the grand scheme of things, we are just minor characters in an overarching narrative surrounding us.

South Beach as Text

“Distinctiveness” by Angelo Gomez of FIU at South Beach, February 19 2021

Sandwiched between the beach and the city, the walk along Ocean Drive was an inspiring sight of beautiful and unique architectural styles coming together. As the roadblocks opened the street for pedestrians and restaurants extended onto the road, the convergence of strangers along the famed Ocean Drive was a pleasant sight to see amid the coronavirus pandemic.

South Beach offered an eclectic mix of colorful buildings and innovative architecture and design. It offered a distinct blend of architectures such as Mediterranean-inspired architecture, modern MiMo architecture, and the iconic Deco style. These three styles blended to create an eye-popping and creative panorama. The contrast between the designs plays off each other and their distinctiveness are the center of South Beach’s creative spirit.

Walking through South Beach feels like a rewind through time, an appreciation for the innovative and creative spirit of man. As modern architecture favors geometrically shaped homes and neutral color palettes are the rave, bright neon colors light up the South Beach night sky. Bright yellow and pink and green hotels attract the eye with their bizarre and exuberant displays. These buildings could have been demolished to make room for oceanside skyscrapers. Heavy traffic could have crowded the street from pedestrians and closed the restaurants.

However, amid the humid and sunny Miami weather, we enjoyed a travel forward into the future and simultaneously walked through history.