Vox Student Blog

Jesse Velazquez: Miami as Text 2020-2021

As I travel through space and time on this rock we call Earth, I hope to partake in as many riveting experiences as I can. Currently studying biology at FIU, my dream is to research different ecosystems around the nation and hopefully the world. The realization that we have such a short amount of time to experience our lives has driven me to learn about new philosophies and new outlooks on life. I believe this course will allow me to appreciate my home city of Miami in a new light, acknowledging the untold histories and unspoken forms of expression evident through the constant change Miami endures. I strive to make everyday an adventure.

Deering as Text

“Take Care Not to Burn Your Bridges” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Deering Estate on September 9, 2020

Photo taken by Annette Cruz / FIU Honors

Before South Florida has become the cultural epicenter it is today, Charles Deering made his home in what is now known as Cutler Bay. Surrounded by the lush green jungle that is the pine rocklands and wetlands, he erected a lone bridge to aid him cross a creek on his evening walks around his estate. Unbeknownst to him, the bridge has become a symbol of much more.

As the lands of Florida were developed, the natural flow of water from the Okeechobee was greatly disturbed. The creek that this bridge was built over had now disappeared. The bridge stood for years as a glimpse of what used to be. It was not until recently, scientists have been able to restore this flow of water through the use of new technologies (Staletovich, Wetland). As a research assistant currently studying the effects the draining of the Everglades have done to the native flora and fauna, it brought joy to my heart to know that there is a chance for change.

During our time at the estate, we were asked what art meant to us. This question resonated with me as I took this course to try and understand what art can mean to me. I still wouldn’t be able to give a clear answer but the bridge came to mind. Built by the hands of black men on land they were eventually restricted from inhabiting, in an ode to an architectural style that originated halfway across the world, now standing as a testament to the past and how man is able to correct the wrongs of his elders; I believe nothing in the estate truly encapsulates what art can mean than the Chinese Bridge.

I can’t help wonder what others in the early 1900s must have felt when coming across the bridge. In the middle of what was then nowhere, stands a brightly colored bridge with intricate designs reminiscent of a distant land. It is evident Charles Deering tried to bring different aspects from around the world to his home. I wish I could ask the men building it what they thought. It amazes me how much can change in only 100 years.

Source: Staletovich, J. Urban wetland at Deering Estate offers glimpse at successful Everglades restoration. https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1962423.html.

South Beach as Text

“The Drug Store Massacre” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at South Beach on September 23, 2020

The “world famous Hollywood Landmark.”

When I was about ten years old, one of the scenes that was forever imprinted in my mind from Scarface was the chainsaw bathroom scene. I believe it was that scene that set the tone for the rest of the film. The story of a man in search of the American Dream is a story that hits close to home for many Cubans that have migrated to Miami. You would imagine that a movie that has brought so much attention to Miami would be celebrated.

As we walked down Ocean Drive, the streets told stories of a time before. Light blues and curved lines, reminiscent of the ocean waves. Wide buildings structured like cruise ships. The buildings gave me a sense of optimism from the past, the buildings were designed to be an everlasting aesthetic. A prediction of the future from the past. The neon accents that outline the strong lines at night add to the sense of modernity. For the most part, each building was designed to stay.

The trend continued until we came across a CVS. The building was a flat and dull structure. There was no idea being expressed, no lines to move your eyes, no colors to elicit emotion. The developers completely rejected the South Beach design, it was a disrespect to those who had a vision for the future of Miami. Then as we approach the building, in a small corner away from view reads a sign. “This scene depicts the chainsaw massacre (from Scarface) and is a world famous Hollywood Landmark.” To add insult to injury, they have transformed what housed an iconic scene in film to an incorporated drug store.

It seems that this theme of disregarding the past is prevalent in the development of Miami. The entirety of this city is based on the destruction of wildlife and homes of minorities. The history of Miami is a history of massacres. This class continues to open my eyes to the reality of this world and how humans have so recklessly altered it.

Bakehouse as Text

“Sea of Change” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Bakehouse Art Complex on October 7, 2020

Photo taken by John Bailly / FIU Honors

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution scientists have warned the public of the dangers of the American lifestyle. Thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted daily by human activity. Whether through the use of cars or from industry, these greenhouse gases have settled into the ocean. With unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the ocean has begun to acidify. With such rapid change in ocean chemistry, many organisms are at risk. Corals have been one of the biggest groups affected by ocean acidification.

As a student focusing on environmental biology, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the science of global warming. Constantly reading articles and studies about the harm humans have done to the planet, at times one can feel hopeless. Speaking with Lauren Shapiro made me realize how inclusive science can be. I have always appreciated music and art, but never tried to combine it with my love for science. I believe there is so much ground that can be covered this way. It was inspiring to hear from artists bringing awareness to heal our local ecosystems.

The best way to seek support from all walks of life is to find something everyone can connect to. Lauren’s project is a means to connect with the public. There aren’t many opportunities when one can have a hands-on experience like this project allows. Being a direct part of an art piece inspires people to take part in art projects of their own and makes the topic in focus fun and digestible to the everyday person. As we were able to recreate a coral reef system using molds crafted from real corals, I wanted to learn more about these beautiful creatures.

As Lauren stated, scientists and artists can gain a lot from each other. A collaboration of knowledge at this scale can produce life changing results. I hope to do something similar with science in my future. My goal is to lead research initiatives in different parts of the world, while connecting with local artists. I hope I can spread my message of conservation wherever I go with the community through song or visual art, motivating the youth to pursue a life in the arts and sciences.

Rubell Museum as Text

“Rude Boys on Ice” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Rubell Museum on October 21, 2020

When I first saw this piece, I immediately thought of the two-tone ska movement of the 1980s. Black and white photographs of men dancing in full suits were a staple of this genre. The “rude boy” aesthetic became synonymous with the entrancing upstrokes of ska guitar. The most famous dance of this scene was the skank, a march-like dance in which the body would swing along to the music. Circular mosh pits filled with skankers was a common sight in this scene.

As I read about the artists thoughts behind this piece, I tried to put myself in his shoes.  My interpretation of the piece is that Robert Longo was trying to capture the commotion and kinetic energy behind music. His whole approach to this piece was similar to the way one would write a song.

This piece opened my mind to the true meaning of violence. What is the true definition of violence? Where is the line drawn when an act is seen as violent or expressive. From the outside a mosh pit may seem like a cesspool of anarchy and hate. Once you are in, it feels like a natural flow of energy. The movements are an extension of the song. I believe these pictures are meant to highlight the relationship between man and violence.

This trip to the art museum was an unexpected experience. I have never really sat down and observed art to try and understand its meaning. I would like to immerse myself in more similar conversations. Hearing how others view things and often times the world can open one’s mind to new outlooks. I hope to view things more like an artist in my life.

Deering Hike as Text

“The Dead and Mounded” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Deering Estate on November 4, 2020

The incessant rains and hurricane force winds that hit the coast of south Florida make it almost impossible to give current Floridians an idea of how life before colonization was. Luckily for historians and appreciators of Florida’s history, the nomadic Tequesta tribe have offered a peak into their lives. In the Deering Estate Nature Reserve stands a large oak tree towering over a large mound.

Photo of Tequesta Burial Mound by Jesse Velazquez

The mound holds over ten bodies of tribal members, all forming a circle. In a time when energy was conserved because one’s next meal was never promised, it took the manpower of at least 15 men to form this hill and bury the dead.

I find it extremely powerful that the members of the Tequesta tribe decided to plant an oak tree at the top of the mound. Whether they transplanted an already developed tree or placed a seed to be nourished by the decomposing bodies of their fallen members, an understanding of the cycles of nature and giving back to the land that provides to them is obviously present. I believe this was a site of prayer or ritual practice. I am sure this became a place of contemplation, possibly a place of gratitude for the seasons and good weather. The tree grows up and out to the sun. Oak trees are some of the biggest trees in south Florida.

Such a sacred monument to their elders tells a lot of the morals of the Tequesta tribe. Unlike many depictions of native Americans as savage warriors ravaging lands, the mound shows that they mourned their lost brothers and sisters. They reflected on their lives and the significance of family. I believe we have much to learn from our past.

Downtown Miami as Text

“The Hand That Feeds, Also Kills” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at Downtown Miami on November 25, 2020

The more I learn of Miami and the world, the more I realize the extent to which humans have taken it upon themselves to completely alter it. I sometimes forget that places like New York City and downtown Miami were once thriving ecosystems full of flora and fauna. As the professor mentioned, I tried to truly immerse myself into the world that was before. I like to imagine a time-lapse of the land. A land devoid of concrete structures, covered in green. I wonder what the natives thought when they saw the Spanish ships of Ponce de Leon land on their shores. It would have impossible to imagine that in a few centuries their lands will be tainted with buildings replicating the architecture of this distant land. The influence these “visitors” have completely overshadow that of the original inhabitants. Paths that have been used for hundred of years will be renamed as streets of the white man. Statues will be erected glorifying these white men, giving no appreciation for the natives for years to come.

Though I do wish the natural landscape could have been preserved more carefully, there is a point when I believe you must accept what has happened and look to the positives. Miami has become a cultural center evident through the different influences in architecture and languages. As we walked through the city, graffiti was present all throughout. Whether a full mural or a simple tag, it is the voice of an unheard group trying to be noticed. Similar to cave paintings the Tequesta may have done, those that inhabit the inner city try to say something with their art. The more I learn about Miami the stronger my love-hate relationship grows.

The Everglades As Text

“The Tranquil and the Inconsequential” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Everglades National Park on January 14, 2021

The Amber Bloom / Photo Taken by Jesse Velazquez

The reason I have been drawn so much to nature is the same the poet spoke of in “Pahayokee.” To me, nature reminds me of my true role in the world. The ties to work and stress are all cut loose. I am surrounded by the untouched. There is no deadline, there is no worry. We have become so entangled in our own personal problems we forget of the constant balance found in nature. Every push has a pull, every up has its down. There is no waste in nature, everything serves its unique purpose. All processes happen at the pace it was meant to be. The trees grow, the water flows, and life is but a means of supporting another. A cycle that knows no good nor bad, only the necessary.

I remind myself that this is not an escape, but a reminder of the truth. Park Ranger Dylann Turffs spoke of the disconnect among people and the natural world. I believe the more people reach out and spend time in the outdoors, they will realize the importance of conservation efforts. These efforts are not merely for the preservation of land that is “nice to look at,” but a protection of what is true on this Earth. Millions of years of evolution have led to the world we live in now, and in a mere hundreds we may lose it all. Every day it seems we are told of new ways we are different from each other; things that pull us apart as people. Nature is the only thing we all truly have in common.

The Margulies Collection as Text

“A Struggle, the Same” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Margulies Collection on January 27, 2021

Photo taken by Jesse Velazquez

The story of humanity is one of plight and pain. Through the hardships we face, we are able to come together. In these moments of vulnerability we see our true strength. Many of the pieces at the Marguiles Collection emphasize the different aspects of human struggle. Whether it be through the hunger many people face, or the persecution and hate others encounter, every group has a story to tell.

These are the stories in which we learn from each other as a people. It can inspire people and give them hope for brighter days ahead. It can also serve as a reminder of travesties of the past and how to learn from our mistakes. I was personally drawn to Depression Bread Line by George Segal and Hurma by Magdalena Abakanowicz. Both pieces reflect a time in different countries that face a similar struggle. One’s next meal was not promised, it was unknown whether a father could provide for his family.

The stories my grandfather would tell me of his time in Cuba came to mind as I learned more of these pieces. Like Abakanowicz, both saw first hand the injustices brought on by the Soviet rule. People were seen almost like livestock in a cattle farm, they were just heads to feed. At many times, they still did not receive many basic needs. Though capitalism is not perfect, I believe there is more oppurtunity to make something of yourself from whatever background you come from in America. Individuality is an important aspect of the American culture. I believe this idea is shown in Segal’s portrayal of American’s waiting in soup kitchens during the Great Depression. Each man in line has his face highlighted in green, a great contrast to the headless bodies of the Hurma piece. Though these were incredibly harsh times in America, there was always a respect put to each American. The Fireside chats by President Franklin D. Roosevelt acted as words of promise to the American people. As families sat next to their radios at night, it seemed as if they were directly talking to the president, continually offering support. No one felt alone in their time of need.

Though we are living in unprecedented times, I am inspired by the possibilities of how humanity will flourish once we overcome.

Bill Baggs As Text

“Sands of Yesterday” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park on February 10, 2021

Photographs taken by Jesse Velazquez

My dad used to tell me of the days when Bill Baggs was a dense forest. Monkeys that escaped from the Crandon Park Zoo made new homes in the large Australian pines that surrounded the coast, often throwing things at the beach visitors. Now it seems that raccoons have taken their place, stealing food instead. Though Hurricane Andrew completely swept down what had stood, it gave the park an opportunity to start fresh in a new direction. Now covered with a vast array of native plants, the park may seem unrecognizable to patrons of the past. The only thing that remains is the lighthouse.

Originally discovered by Ponce de Leon (as far as we are told) in 1513, Cape Florida was seen as a paradise of the new world. It wasn’t until 1825 that the original lighthouse had finished its original construction. Shortly after during the Seminole Wars, the natives attacked the homestead at which the lighthouse stood. They believed they were fighting back their oppressors who continued to cast them out of their own land. The two lone land keepers fought back as much as they could. They rain into the lighthouse in hopes of finding protection, but it seemed to be more of a trap. The natives lit the lighthouse on fire and the men were forced out into the observation deck. Hoping for a quick death, the men threw the last gunpowder they had into the fire, causing a massive explosion. Though one of the men died, the explosion was not enough to bring the lighthouse down. Soon after the lighthouse was restored and erected another 30 feet.

For nearly 200 years the barrier island has stood as a point of hope and recline. Acting as a last meeting point before slaves ran away to the Bahamas, the beach was the last glimpse of America many had before they reached freedom. The lighthouse stands as a beacon into the night, a light that guides those who are lost, and a reminder of what has been. Through many hardships, nothing has been able to bring down the lighthouse.

I have made many day trips to the park, yet I was completely unaware of the story it had to tell. I hope we may come back as a class and enjoy our paradise at home.

Reference:

  • Thompson, John W. B. “The Attack on the Lighthouse” (text of a letter from Thompson to the editor of the Charleston Courier), in Drimmer, Frederick. Editor. 1985. Captured by the Indians. Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc.

River of Grass as Text

“Holding the Untouchable” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Everglades National Park on March 3, 2021

Photo taken by Monica Barletta

Every class, Professor Bailly reminds us to make the most of our experiences. I used to believe this only applied to overtly extravagant times in our lives, like the big trip I’ve planned months ahead of time or the day of my graduation. I’ve learned in quarantine that every day should be held to the same regard, no matter what you do. It’s easy to find the little things to appreciate, if you know where to look.

This class in the Everglades especially reminded me how simple these pleasures can be. The sunset’s last shimmers of amber on the green leaves shifting in the wind, making your favorite person laugh, or making conversation with someone you’ve never met that opens you to new friendships. It was truly a great day.

The life we live is all dependent on the mindset we have. In the late sixties, the world as we know it was at the brink of collapse, and the agents of destruction were stored in our backyard. We have now advanced past the need to perpetrate such fear among the population. We have been given a chance, now reminded by the pandemic, to grow from these past ideas and flourish in a new direction of hope.

The Everglades and its ancient landscape are an example of how beauty can persevere through intense hardships and be restored to new heights if proper care is given. I hope to visit the Everglades in a couple years time and see the newly developed landscape on the land we ventured this week.

Frost Art Museum as Text

“Flowers Everywhere” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Frost Art Museum on March 11, 2021

Collection of petals, photo taken by Jesse Velazquez

Given to him by friend who soon lost his life, Roberto Obregon spent years dissecting what makes a rose meant to him. Classifying the individual components that make up the physical body of the rose, and taking a deeper dive into the emotional connotations a rose may have, Obregon hopes to show viewers the complexities of relationships and life through a rose.

I believe his infatuation of the roses originated from the strifes he faced in his life. Not always beautiful, sometimes painful, but always sight to behold. The thorns of the rose remind one of the hardships you face, but it is overshadowed by the flower; similar to the moments you remember most with the ones you love. It was impressive to see how Obregon was able to shine a new light on a flower that has become a somewhat cliche and commercial symbol of affection.

Another impressive work of art we observed was the mural commissioned by Carlos Alfonzo. In this piece he seems to come to terms with his loss of life. The fragility of life is on display in his final piece, reflecting the different phases of his life. Whether in the city of Miami, or from his upbringing in Cuba, he reflects his life with the bright colors of the city and Caribbean. Every day I come to FIU, I’ve passed by the mural and never realized the importance of the work.

The AIDs epidemic continue to have lasting effects on culture and society today. Art serves as record of the struggles of people in different eras of history, even so recently as only thirty years ago. I believe it is great to see pieces of art installed across the campus of FIU, reminding students of these struggles and the hardships that bring us together.

Coral Gables as Text

“The City of Wanting Moor” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Frost Art Museum on March 25, 2021

Influences from other lands. Photos taken by Jesse Velazquez

When George Merrick came to South Florida in the 1920s, he had a vision for what the land could become. His mind often drifted as he worked on his guava plantation, taking him to the places he read about. He would often revisit the story What was at the time seen as a waste of land, Merrick designed and developed a city straight out of the pages of his favorite stories. This city would eventually become Coral Gables.

As you walk through the city, elements of the coral limestone rock have been incorporated into many homes and buildings. Clay tiles crown almost every home, and the colors remind one of the summer. George Merrick hoped to bring the culture and charm of Spain and the Mediterranean to Miami. He wanted to design a city for the middle class to have access to the amenities that were once offered only to the rich.

Sadly, it seems this original vision has started to fade. Coral Gables is notoriously expensive to live in, and majority white. The University of Miami has a tuition rate that requires only those with a great scholarship or high income to enroll. Where there is beauty, there will be money, and it seems that Coral Gables is no exception.

I will still enjoy walking through Coral Gable’s Miracle Mile, and taking a dive into the famous Venetian Pool, but I will know it no longer stands for what was intended. It seems that Miami is a place of opportunity and dream, but this innocent hope is easily clouded by dollar signs and power.

Vizcaya As Text

“Where Ecstasy Calls Home” by Jesse Velazquez of FIU at the Frost Art Museum on March 25, 2021

Dionysus greets guests to the estate of ecstasy. Photo taken by Jesse Velazquez

When one has worked the majority of their adult life working to amass a fortune beyond comprehension, what better way to reward yourself than with a palace of pleasure? Beginning construction in 1914, John Deering designed his estate in the untouched Miami coast as a testament to his life and his triumphs. Secluded from almost all government authority, the mansion served as a hub for all forms of debauchery and ecstasy. Late night parties riddled of sex and alcohol were common occurrences. It seems that James Deering not only set the model for the architecture that would dominate South Florida, but also conceived this mindset that would develop into the “Miami lifestyle.”

Bringing artifacts and art pieces from Europe, Deering ensured to encapsulate all forms of high class living. From the priceless carpet owned by the historical Queen Isabella of Spain, to the incorporation of modern technologies of the time, no walk of life could ignore the class and wealth that radiated from the estate.

It seems that Deering often had trouble finding his own identity, he believed he had to masquerade as someone of old power. He had no ties to ancient aristocrats or nobility, so he created his own figure to aspire to; the spanish explorer Vizcaino. His riches were not enough, he wanted to be the hero of his own story. He wanted to claim new land for himself, like the king of his own castle. Similarly to Graceland and the King of Rock and Roll, Vizcaya served as an irrefutable proclamation of power.

Though every room tells a different story, Vizcaya has a unified message and feeling. It is an oasis, seperated from reality. As you enter you are immediately envious, imagining the wonderful times Deering may have had there. I hope to live a life of beautiful and new experiences as James Deering.