Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer marriage and family therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.
Downtown as Text
“Beauty Despite the Scars”
by Monica Perez of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08, September 2021
Nowadays, a simple stroll through any large city’s “Downtown” is bound to evoke some level of emotion. The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have left a gaping hole in our cities. Streets are empty, and businesses old and new have been forced to shut down. Downtown Miami is no different. Any native can walk down Miami Avenue and notice the difference pre-and post lockdown. Business is slow, and people carry themselves with heavy hearts missing what was lost. However, the city is not completely lost. A quick visit to some of Downtown’s cultural hotspots shows that Miami has retained her beauty despite the loss.
Lummus park is a public area just oozing with pain, beauty, and history. Upon entering through the green fence, one is met by a melancholy presence that can only be explained by the impressive Fort Dallas. The long, limestone building has seen the dehumanization of black people through slavery and a year’s worth of bloodshed. Just one touch of the rough exterior brings a montage to mind of everyone who has bled, cried, and attempted to keep themselves from collapsing right where one stands.
Just one glance to the left reveals the beauty despite the pain. The William Wagner House is a perfect symbol for what so many world leaders strive for: peace and acceptance of differences. It is so moving to know that the house once held a white man, woman of color, biracial children, and Tequesta people all at once. This is what Miami is truly about. This is not to say the figures discussed were of no fault, but this beautiful moment marked the house forever with light and warmth. The fact that these two landmarks share a space is a testament to how Miami citizens can also share in beautiful experiences despite the pain and loss that COVID-19 has caused.
Miami’s cultural diversity and appreciation reveals itself in Downtown’s public art. Dropped Bowl with Shattered Slices and Peels is a prime example. It incorporates classical Floridian imagery (orange slices) to pay respects to the reason for the city’s founding. The shattered bowl is a perfect embodiment for Miami’s place in the post-COVID world. It is an explosion of cultures and diverse perspectives. Sure, the “shattering” may be painful, but even a scarred city can be beautiful.
Overtown as Text
“Not just a building”
By Monica Perez of FIU at Overtown, 22, September 2021
Generation Z, nicknamed “Gen-Z”, have a radically different way of viewing the world compared to generations before them. Generational psychologists argue that this is because they were born in a very difficult time in America: the start of the war on terror. They saw the blooming of smartphones and tablets. Most of them even saw them incorporated in the classroom. Most recently, however, they are “coming of age” at a time where political tensions are rising to an alarming degree, and they are charged with the burden of “fixing” the world’s most complex issues: gender equality, the economic crisis, the climate crisis, and racism. Miami’s community of Gen-Z’ers are faced with a unique set of issues that can be explored with a quick visit to Miami’s Overtown, formerly known as “Colored Town”.
On March 12, 1896, Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church was organized at the home of one of the black incorporators of Miami. Today, Miami’s Gen-Z views religion as an institution that oppresses women, LGBT+ people, and ethic and racial minorities. In the time of segregation, however, this church was one of the most empowering buildings the people of Colored Town could have built. In its prime, it allowed black people to worship, build community, and organize protests and sit-ins. There were moments where the building even functioned as a hospital because most had signs stating “whites only”. Churches were not just buildings of worship, they were the backbone of Colored Town.
Today, the people of Overtown do not fear that restrooms or restaurants be labeled “Colored” or “White”. They do, however, face complex issues, like gentrification and displacement. With this and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the pews of Great Bethel and other Churches in Overtown are emptier than they have ever been. Older members of the congregation that remember the Church in its youth mourn the empty building they have grown to love. Their friends are being displaced, and their projects are underfunded if they are funded at all. Many are tired from years of fighting and look to the younger generation to tackle the problem.
The issue causes discord in the head of a Miami Gen-Zer who wants to free themself and others from the oppression of religious institutions while also combatting the racial discrimination so many have fought to eliminate. The problem here lies in communication (or lack thereof). The older generation is tired (reasonably so), and they do not understand Generation Z’s sensitivity and view of the world. Meanwhile, the younger generation feels unheard and is simply unaware of these issues because they are not being taught in schools. It is important that children are not taught about segregation and racism like they are an evil monster that was fought and simply killed. They need to know that it evolved to become the police brutality, gentrification, and culturally appropriative monster it is today.
This may seem too simplistic or optimistic, but from the perspective of a Miami Gen-Zer, everyone (young, old, black, and non-black) needs to set their biases aside. Protecting churches like Greater Bethel not only protects the building and structure; it protects a house of religious expression, a piece of Miami’s history, and a tight-knit community that has experiences intense racism and oppression for decades.
Vizcaya as Text
“House of Lies”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at Vizcaya, 20, October 2021
Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is one of the most beautiful, yet one of the most enraging, places in Miami. As one walks down the pathway to the entrance, one is greeted like royalty by the majestic landscape and the European architecture enhanced by the carefully carved statues that represent the rich culture of the owner’s ancestors. The waterfalls and tropical greenery invite one into the villa, and when stepping in the doorway, the house comes alive. Even the floors pull guests in different directions. Each room is representative of different artistic movements and philosophies. It seems to be oozing with art and culture.
All this makes it much more infuriating that Vizcaya is really a house of lies.
Vizcaya was not always a museum. James Deering started construction of his ocean-side villa in in 1912. As one of the wealthiest Miami residents at the time, he knew he would spare no expense to build a house that would make him look like a god. He “employed” over a thousand Bahamian workers to make his dream a reality. Like the rest of Miami, Vizcaya was constructed by the very people the owners wanted to keep out, and like most other Miami elites of the time, he knew nothing about them or their home. When taking a closer look at the exterior of the house, it is painfully clear he had no interest in learning.
In an effort to keep the “dangerous poor people” out, he wanted to build a medieval moat around his precious home. Despite being warned by locals that the water would drain into the earth, Deering believed he was exempt from the laws of nature. The American prince was not used to being told “no”, so he instructed his “workers” build it anyway. As predicted, the ground soaked up all the water, and he attempted to fill it with cacti instead. Today, mere middle-class peasants unknowingly walk right over the “moat” and get their dirty sneakers all over his marble flooring. This is one of many instances that proves Deering’s blatant disregard of local/indigenous voices and labor.
European culture and artistic movements were lazily incorporated into every room. The interior appropriates French Rococo, Neoclassical and East Asian art styles. This can be seen as appreciation and cultural literacy, but the height of appropriation and abuse falls in the so called “study” and “living room”. The walls of these rooms are adorned with fake bookshelves and artwork of children Deering does not even know. The living room contains the worst atrocity: above an organ (Deering did not know how to play) sits a Neapolitan portrait of the Virgin Mary… CUT IN HALF. Deering held such little consideration for the cultural significance of the work he had in his home that he made a complete mockery of it.
Deering’s Vizcaya villa is the extravagant, historical equivalent of wearing merchandise for a band you do not even listen to. It is the product of a white, uncultured, wealthy, American man attempting to show some ounce of culture. He strung together elements of mismatched and even opposing cultures to create an infuriatingly beautiful fortress of hypocrisy.
South Beach as Text
“More Than Meets the Eye”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at South Beach, 3, November, 2021
South Beach is an embodiment of Miami’s reputation. When non-natives and tourists imagine Miami, South Beach is what comes to mind. One cannot be surprised; South Beach is home to perfect beaches, beautiful palm trees, and Miami architects’ own take on the Art Deco design aesthetic. Most natives picture South Beach as “just another place to go on the weekends”, or worse, “a dangerous place riddled with crime and crazy, drunk, spring breakers”, but they fail to recognize the historical and cultural weight of the area they take for granted.
One of the most obvious staples of South Beach is its rendition of the Art Deco Design aesthetic. It was internationally popularized in the 1920s-30s, and it was brought to South Beach at around 1923. Miami Beach’s Art Deco Historic District is home to around 800+ buildings that include staples like white facades with pastel highlights, curved edges, and “eyebrows”. This unique design makes visitors of South Beach feel transported into an alternate, colorful, sunny universe with beautiful sights and even more beautiful people. Thanks to Barbara Baer Capitman, the district is protected as a historic site, which protects the integrity of the buildings and their Art Deco style. Tourists and natives alike are not told just how important an architectural aesthetic is for an area’s history. For some, it was a way to de-colonize their professions and artistic styles to represent a forward-thinking and culturally diverse generation.
The people of South Beach are what truly make it what it is. It an unfortunate part of Miami’s history is that not every inhabitant of Miami was legally allowed to enjoy every aspect of its beauty. Just like the rest of the country, black, indigenous, and other people of color were not allowed in certain areas of Miami, including South Beach. Ethnic minorities like Jews who today inhabit a large area of Miami Beach were discriminated against in the days of segregation and even after that.
One building continues to stand tall as a reminder of the Jewish culture and faith as it holds a significant place in Miami’s history. The Jewish Museum of Florida-FIU lives in two historic Art Deco buildings that were once a house of worship for the very first Jewish congregation in Miami Beach. The museum holds years of Jewish history in Miami and across Florida. It tells the story of oppressed Jewish communities in Miami and how they were oftentimes refused service at institutions targeted at wealthy tourists. Nowadays, especially on Saturdays, one would expect to see a number of Jewish people walking down Miami Beach to their nearest synagogue for the Sabbath, but many do not acknowledge that this would have been seen as an abomination in Miami’s earlier years. After visiting cultural sites like the Jewish Museum of Florida, one can see this walk as a beautiful victory.
South Beach should not be seen as a Spring Break, touristy, party town for the wealthy alone. It is home to a beautiful amount of cultural and ethnic diversity. It is held together by the black Bahamians and other people of color that built it, the LGBT+ people that entertain its people, and the Jewish people that pray for it.
Deering Estate as Text
“Time to Heal”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at the Deering Estate, 17 November 2021
The modern Miami resident moves far too fast. They are generally unappreciative of the place they call home. They live completely unaware of how incredible their Miami truly is. This is likely because many Miami residents do not have roots that dig very far into its history. One of the most common questions residents are asked is, “Where are you from?”. Many younger residents will say, “I was born here, but my family is from [insert foreign country].” Because of these shallow roots, many natives do not feel as connected to Miami. They do not care to look at a history they do not believe to be theirs. Miami’s Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Venezuelans in particular were hurt by their root countries and felt forced to move here. This creates a painful disconnect that makes young residents want to leave.
Residents who do not interact regularly with the Deering Estate may know that it is a museum or that it was a summer home to an old white man, someone they will likely never relate to. What they may not know is that it is a perfect example of what is possible when culture and consideration meet money. It was once a home for Charles Deering and his close family and friends. Today, it is Miami’s very own time capsule. As a museum, cultural/education center, and nature reserve, the Deering Estate holds its own as a historic site listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The area is home to eight different ecosystems that are indigenous to Miami and remain untouched (spare the occasional archaeological dig ). It is a near perfect image of what Miami used to be. Not only was Miami absolutely stunning; it was home to Paleo-Americans (more inappropriately referred to as Paleo-Indians), the first people known to inhabit Miami over 10,000 years ago. A hike through any of these environments stimulates thoughts about what the land was like before development… before “America”. It is important for Miami’s current residents to visit places, like the Deering Estate, that connect modern residents to their geographic ancestors, Paleo-Americans and Tequesta people.
One can never understand what it feels like to be completely displaced–to have ones whole life uprooted and be forced to start anew. People need time to heal and live with that pain. Nature is the solution. Miami residents need to feel connected to the land they live on. Hiking through the raw crevices of the land serve as a direct link to the people that were there before. Though they may not be related by blood, and though some may not have chosen to live here, they are still connected by the land. Instead of dissociating from the land and clinging to feelings of pain and loss, Miami natives need to dig their roots into the rich Miami soil. It is time to heal the generational trauma and make Miami a home.
Rubell as Text
“In Defense of Modern Art”
By Monica B Perez of FIU at the Rubell Art Museum, 24 November 2021
Modern art has long been criticized by artists, patrons of the arts, and non-artists alike. Some say it is not technically comparable to classical art movements. Others say it is lazy, unappealing, or shallow. Some criticize the way artists use it to address difficult issues like politics, sexuality, gender identity, and racial discrimination. Miami residents who feel this way are out of luck. Because Miami is a relatively new community, most of the art that calls it home is considered “contemporary” (ie. made in the very late 20th and early 21st centuries). This means that most permanent museums in Miami will showcase predominantly contemporary art. It is all around us. It is inescapable. More importantly, it deserves more credit than is given.
The Rubell Art Museum, like most other private museums, started out as a family collection in 1965 (when the very first piece was acquired). In 1993, the collection was shared with the world when the museum opened to the public. It is home to over 7,200 pieces and counting and showcases more than 1,000 contemporary artists. An art lover in Miami would not expect to be impressed with the Rubells’ collection. After visiting the Wynwood Art District, South Beach, and the extensive collection at the Perez Art Museum, one would think they had seen all there was in the modern Miami art scene. These assumptions are far from correct. The Rubells have done a beautiful job at collecting and showcasing a diverse group of artworks that perfectly represent what Miami and contemporary art stand for.
The most common criticism of contemporary art is its simplicity, methods, and artists’ perceived lack of technical ability. While these arguments should be welcomed in discussions about individual artworks, generalizing a broad movement is harmful because it discredits the artists and the art itself. Contemporary art is not created to please classical artists; it is not created to please anyone. Contemporary art is the result of artistic expression breeding with innovation because it uses modern technologies to reach a modern audience. It is in direct competition with everything else that takes up our attention: jobs, cellphones, movies, social media, etc. It makes you think. Like authors, contemporary artists use symbols, abstraction, anything they can to tell their stories- stories that have not been told from their perspective until now.
An issue with museums of classical art (private museums specifically) is that most people do not often feel represented in the dialogue. Classical European art often depicts white figures in positions of power while people of color are depicted as evil, less than, or disgustingly stereotyped or commodified (the “oriental” movement is a horrific display of just that). Contemporary art is not representative for representation’s sake. It is representative because re-presents the world in the point of view of the oppressed, the enslaved, and the silenced. Kehinde Wiley’s “Sleep” is a perfect example of this. It depicts a peaceful black man who is sleeping naked with a delicate white fabric to keep him modest. He looks angelic, regal, and delicate-characteristics rarely attributed to black men. It resembles classical (and some religious) artworks that depict white Europeans in a dreamy environment. This piece is not a threat to masculinity, black men, or classical art. It is a piece that represents another perspective on what a black man looks like.
The bottom line is that all art was new at some point. There was a point in time where Picasso and Monet were the newest and “edgiest” artists around. Art evolved just as man did. Contemporary art has its flaws like any other movement. For example, it is easy to exploit consumers by artistically vomiting on a canvas, calling it art, and selling it for millions, but that is not art. It is a disgrace. Generally speaking, however, the movement is just as viable as any other, if not more important. It is a sign that the art world is changing for the better.
Everglades As Text
By Monica B Perez at Everglades National Park, 12 January 2022
One of the most interesting things about humans is how much we try to separate ourselves from “nature”and “the environment”. We talk about them as if we are not active participants in our ecosystem and cannot change the way it works. The Florida Everglades are one of the best examples of why this way of speaking is untrue. When Henry Flagler discussed expanding his railroad through South Florida, he initially wanted to completely kill the Everglades (or at least most of it). Though his engineers said this was impossible, they (and a few others) were able to change the way water moved through the area by destroying much of it and redirecting the water flow.
It is important to note that Floridians’ coexistence with the wildlife in the Everglades is not “humans interacting with nature”. It is nature interacting with itself. We are nature, and sometimes we forget. People like to distance themselves from nature by antagonizing it.
“This swamp is in the way of my development. I must destroy it in order to grow and survive.”
“This snake wants to kill me. I must kill it first.”
Nature is perceived as an obstacle or enemy when in reality, nature is not in the way; nor does it want. There are ways for us to coexist safely with wildlife, and doing this starts with acknowledging that we are wrong about some things. A quick trip to a raw, natural area like the Everglades shows us that while we are nature, our flawed attitudes have made it so we act unnaturally- out of harmony with the ecosystem. We take more than what we need to survive and confuse wants for needs. The rest of nature is wise enough to check itself and keep a balance. The snake only eats what it needs to, and will rarely overeat or leave food to waste. Plants grow in the water, but natural competitors ensure it does not overgrow.
Because we are able to use tools and develop technologies, we are unlike the wildlife in that we have few natural competitors. Disease and other illnesses are combatted with vaccines and medicines. Natural disasters cannot be stopped, but we have learned to build shelters that stand a chance. We need to be our own competitors and learn to keep ourselves in check. We do this by taking a page out of nature’s book. Take what you need, and keep your wants in check.
In short, humans try to distance themselves from nature when we have a very real role to play in our ecosystem. Our actions have consequences, and if we cannot keep ourselves in check, we will be our own destruction- not “the environment”. There are lessons we can learn from our ecosystems, and trips to natural, protected areas like the Everglades expose us to nature’s “wisdom”. They are a reminder that life is so much more than our wants, it is about what we can learn.