Andro Bailly: Chicken Key

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Andro Bailly is a junior at TERRA Environmental Research Institute in Miami. He is studying Environmental and Field Studies, and set to graduate in 2018. His love of nature and understanding of  environmental sustainability led him to complete a Junior Naturalist internship at the Deering Estate in the summer of 2016. During this time, the large amount drift pollution on the coast of Miami troubled him. In particular, the amount of garbage on Chicken Key was of most concern. A small island off the shore of Miami, Chicken Key is utilized for nesting by sea turtles. Alarmingly, the amount of debris severely hindered the native habitat, preventing turtles from access the island.

In partnership with the Deering Estate, Andro arranged regular cleanings of Chicken Key and the surrounding area. He has coordinated days of up to 30 people, as well as individual efforts which are just what he does on a free day.

Melanie Rodriguez: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Melanie Rodriguez is a sophomore at the Florida International University honors college, who studies natural and applied sciences. She also minors in biology and psychology, as she hopes to have a career in the medical field, specifically dermatology. Her long term goal is to open her own practice in Miami, and hopes to help others feel beautiful in their own skin. She currently holds a role in the healthcare field as a certified medical assistant, and values supporting her community. Daughter of two Cuban immigrant parents, Melanie is a first generation college student who has been a Miami resident for twenty years and continues to explore the city’s great history.

Downtown Miami As Text

“A Village Becomes A City” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Downtown Miami

Taken by Melanie Rodriguez

Miami, to me, was the culmination of cultures, a perfect blend of people from all different stretches of life, a melting pot of heritage, lifestyles, and traditions. If you ask anyone what Miami was known for, they will all likely give you the same answer: nightlife, warm weather, and amazing beaches. Now, Miami has an entirely new definition to me, as I look at the city through a wider lens. We, as a population, tend to overlook the history of where we are, and who was here before us. The majority of Miami’s population is frankly not aware of Miami’s history, and live life in a surface-level experience of this city. As a class, we explored downtown Miami and had the privilege of being engulfed with history throughout the day. I can say that after this day, I feel like a well-rounded citizen, who is able to have conversations about the founding and first beginnings of Miami, and most importantly about the notable people who have left their imprint on our city: The Tequesta. 

Throughout the day, it was impossible to go without mentioning the Tequesta, as they were involved in so much of Miami’s history, and this just goes to show the importance that this tribe had on our city, which was once theirs. Occupying the Miami river and Biscayne bay since 500 BCE, the Tequesta was one of the first tribes in Florida, and thrived by taking advantage of the bays as well as hunting and gathering in what is today known as the everglades. Evidence of a trade network was also found in the Miami Circle, located in Brickell point and discovered in 1998. Many artifacts, such as shells, stone, and animal bones were found in this historical landmark of a Tequesta village that was sadly demolished with no remorse by Henry Flarger. On our tour, as we walked by the Miami Circle, many of us thought we were being led to a dog park. Unfortunately, this historic landmark was new to even me, a lifelong Miami resident. Walking alongside this river I could not help but wonder who was walking on this same patch of land as me, many years before colonization took place. The Miami circle is a prehistoric structure that represents those who were here before us, and is a hidden wonder in the middle of the city that, like much of the Tequesta culture, received little respect and consideration. The Tequesta vanished as a tribe due to slavery, and settlement battles when the British obtained Florida. “Collateral damage” is all I can think about when I learned about the treatment of this tribe by early settlers. Just a short walk away from Miami Circle, another historic landmark covers 500 bodies under its walls, and is being “honored” with a mural, essentially culturally appropriating native american tribes. Ever since learning what lies beneath this Whole Foods store, I must say that I am disgusted to even step foot in this establishment, and firmly believe that the history of these bodies is priceless compared to the profit being made from the building. The modern city that we know and love today has a sinister past that is quite literally, being covered by beautiful architecture and luxury.

I can only hope to honor and bring awareness to this crucial part of Miami’s history through telling its story to others. While I am embarrassed to say that I knew very little of what was a very important culture to Miami’s beginnings, I have been enabled through this walking tour to get a taste of its story. I specifically chose to write about Tequesta, among all of the other important topics we touched upon, in order to inspire others to take a deeper look at the world around them. I encourage everyone who lives, or visits Miami, to stop having a surface level view of the city and let yourself be truly engulfed by the beauty of this city’s history. 

Overtown As Text

“protect it at all costs” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Overtown, Miami

Photos taken by Melanie Rodriguez

Music and laughter filled the streets that were once called “Little Broadway” in the 1920’s. 2nd avenue was filled with Theatres and restaurants where you could find Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong performing and staying in this area. There is deep, deep significance within this community, and it has a strong hold on our city’s history. This neighborhood is in Miami, Florida, and is known today as Overtown, although the scene will look different today than described above. All of this rich history was washed away by the tsunami of modernization. Overtown is a captivating and historic neighborhood in Miami that often gets overlooked. This area was once booming with life and filled with excitement and energy. It is unfortunately greatly undervalued by the city and is not what it once was. Not all change is good change, and this neighborhood is a victim of tactical urbanism, harming not only the landscape of the area, but also the residents of the community. I got the privilege of hearing personal accounts from Alberta Godfrey, a long time citizen of Overtown, who spoke to us about her experiences in the neighborhood. I connected Ms. Godfrey’s anecdotes about life in this neighborhood before vs. what it is now to the urban renewal of the area. 

Overtown is historically known as the heart of the black community in Miami. Bahamian immigrants and black laborers were settled in this area as of 1896, and Miami’s black community settled here due to the Jim Crow laws enforcing the separation of blacks and whites. Even after voting on the incorporation of Miami, Blacks were segregated and only allowed to live in this area, which became known as “colored town” at the time. These people were the same ones who helped develop Miami by constructing buildings and hotels, yet were assigned the least desirable neighborhood to live in. The area was filled with poverty and a growing population, but it was transformed by the black community who began opening thriving businesses. Overtown was able to prosper in many ways as the residents opened businesses that became extremely successful. Restaurants, theaters, and stores filled the streets of the newly buzzing community that attracted famous black artists who performed here, after returning from their segregated performances in other parts of Miami. The neighborhood progressed in ways which speak volumes to the beautiful art and culture that it expelled.  

“Well, the most vivid thing I remember about Overtown now is the fact that the house where I was born and lived, and my grandfather’s store was in that neighborhood, is all-and the church that I went to-were all torn down. We were victims of urban removal and in order to put in the I-95 expressway, they took those two streets.” -Doretha Nichson, interviewed by Ameenah Shakir

Displacement is a tale as old as time in the United States. By the 1960’s, Miami decided to expand Interstate 95, leading to the decline of Overtown. This interstate was expanded through the middle of Overtown, displacing over 10,000 residents. Many had to leave their homes, businesses, and lives behind. Professor Bailly shared a story about a priest who had to choose between the demolition of his home, or his church, which stood side-by-side. This story broke my heart, as no person should have to make this choice, and be treated with such little regard. There are too many stories to tell regarding this cruel and cold treatment. Through greed and selfishness, many communities have been ruined due to redlining, urbanization, and gentrification, and Overtown is just one of the many victims of this. This was an attempt to redevelop low-income areas to appeal to wealthy individuals. Concrete jungles cover what was once a thriving area, now unrecognizable as what it was before. Schools, churches, and businesses all suffered and are replaced with modern buildings, big name stores, and other construction that is meant to appeal to the public and help the “image” of the neighborhood. In reality, this ruined lives and added to the poverty epidemic in the area. This is inhumane, it is greed. Ms. Godfrey of the Greater Bethel African Methodist Church shared a frustrating account of how her church used to be filled with members from the community, all gathered together, before many of them were forced out of their homes. Now she explains how the church barely has 30 members remaining, and are attempting to promote and rebuild the community they once had. I have no doubt that the decline of this church, and many other businesses, is due to modern business tactics of the city, where many people end up suffering the consequences and forced out of their community. Many people can no longer afford to live here as more and more buildings appealing to the middle class are being constructed.One thing which completely shocked me when visiting Overtown was how little importance the city puts on preserving the historic places. Being one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami should mean something, yet when you walk through Overtown, the preservation of history is neglected. While some landmarks, theaters, and churches may remain, I believe a greater budget should be allotted to protect this historic area. After all the harm the city has done to Overtown and those who reside here, the area should be more greatly prioritized. Today, the community is working to rebuild the area of Overtown and generate more business, but it is difficult to revitalize a neighborhood that is constantly getting torn down. I have great respect for anyone who dealt with the marginalization of this community and suffered because of it. The neighborhood of Overtown is surrounded with people full of amazing energy, and I can only wish to one day see it thrive again and be prioritized by the city, like the great historic landmark that it is. I wish to one day walk through Overtown and experience the liveliness and excitement that once was there, the jazz that filled the streets, and the community of people who held it together. 

Chicken Key As Text

“Nurture Our Nature” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Chicken Key

Photos taken by Melanie Rodriguez

Just one mile off the shore of the Deering estate exists an uninhabited island that is a true bayside beauty. It is so close to civilization, yet remains mostly in its natural state,except for the devastating human-induced effects of uncaring visitors, which has taken a toll on the island. Time and time again, habitats and nature are destroyed, trashed, and vandalized with no remorse or care for the organisms that depend on these natural resources to survive. “Destruction of nature is now becoming human nature,” says Dulsi Joy.

This class did not stand for the pollution of nature, and participated in a cleanup in an attempt to preserve the lovely island of Chicken Key. Plastic is extremely abundant in our lives and we are constantly being surrounded by convenient plastic packaging and objects. What is even more abundant, however, is the amount of plastic debris present in our environment, whether it is large pieces or small fragments. Packed Bags full of glass, bottle caps, and plastic debris left the island with us that day, but what will always remain is the microplastics left on the island by all this pollution, no matter how much trash was picked up. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic which can greatly affect soil quality, carry diseases, have a toxic effect on wildlife, and cause overall damage to an area. One of the most notable sources of microplastics is accidental release, such as landfills or humans not properly disposing of trash. Microplastic pollution is present everywhere, and these fragments are resilient, as they never biodegrade and cannot be filtered out, meaning they could remain in an area for thousands of years slowly causing harm to it. It is nearly impossible to eliminate microplastics from an area that has already been affected by pollution. Trash found on islands can be broken into even smaller pieces by water friction, wind, and sun rays, so picking it up before this happens can decrease the threat of releasing more harmful tiny fragments into the environment. Not only does this harm the land and wildlife, but these fragments are also carried into the water by wind and pushed into the sea, threatening the aquatic life and quality of water as well. Chicken Key also happens to be extremely close to mangroves, which protect water quality and nurture many species of animals. If The trash found on Chicken Key makes its way towards the mangroves and introduces contaminants, it could damage them and lead to coastal damage, a decrease in fish availability, and even increase erosion.

This is a chain effect of damage that begins in the hands of humans and how we can change our approach to the disposal of plastic. You do not have to be a science or marine biology buff to understand how plastic pollution is slowly killing the land around us. Small islands that remain in their natural state such as Chicken Key should not be reduced to a trash-filled environment that impairs its organisms from thriving, but should be protected and treated with respect. Work needs to be done to preserve these lands, but we can only begin with altering our daily habits and plastic intake. The island of Chicken Key would also benefit from microplastic testing, as species such Turtles are being found on this island and would likely not survive with the presence of small, ingestible fragments. There is currently no data on the amount of microplastics on this Island, as it has not yet been studied, but it interests me to know an exact number, especially after seeing all the trash found on Chicken Key. 


Vizcaya As Text

“Beyond The Beauty” By Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Vizcaya

Vizcaya’s breathtaking natural landscape is captivating and inviting, even before entering. Each aspect of this estate is full of intriguing details that you simply cannot take your eyes off of. Vizcaya is a historic mansion located in the Coconut Grove area, which embodies the true essence of “Miami” and its extravagant, almost pretentious, nature. Each room is themed and inspired from a different influence in regional decorative and architectural style, making Vizcaya the ultimate culmination of cultures. What makes Miami, “Miami,” is the way that so many distinctive cultures come together and boil down to one large pot of population. This is exactly how I would come to describe Vizcaya, as it is full of a variety of influences that come together to form one magnificent structure. 

Residents and tourists are drawn into Vizcaya purely by the aesthetics of it, but fail to recognize the landscape in a historic context. All around the mansion, the history of the building almost jumps off the walls and towards you, as you are constantly surrounded by pieces of art that are extremely relevant in Vizcaya’s history. A Vizcaya guide explained to us that many people visit the museum to take photos and never return again, sadly never knowing the rich history which surrounds them. As a lifelong Miami resident who has visited this mansion twice, I also am guilty of coming to this landmark purely for aesthetics and never stopped to think about what was present around me, and I’m sure many visitors can relate. It is easy to be distracted and completely engulfed by the lavishness that fills every corner of the rooms, ignoring the importance of the building or even the hands who built it. 

The most prominent name associated with Vizcaya is James Deering, the original owner of the villa who was savvy and also had a sharp eye for the design, along with the artistic eye of Paul Chaflin. They worked to commission contemporary work from popular artists around the world and brought it to Vizcaya after it was built in 1916. The most amazing part of this visit was getting to learn about the origin and original purpose of many design aspects in the villa, as well as speaking about the building of the property itself, which is not discussed on the official museum tour. Many of the installations in the museum, ironically enough, served no purpose at all, besides aesthetics. Vizcaya is a house of illusions, full of beauty but covers the extensive work of black and bohemian migrant workers who built the mansion itself. Countless hours of hard work were put into perfecting every detail of the gardens, rooms, and structures of the villa, but no effort is put into giving well-deserved credit to those who sacrificed their livelihood, and brought knowledge and experience into this magnificent Miami landscape. As a visitor of Vizcaya, I would love to see more information be available on site about the building of the estate, as well as it be more incorporated into the tours, especially since Coconut Grove was historically known to be a segregated area of Miami. There is no sense in the present without context of the past, and I think it is extremely important to integrate difficult conversations about Vizcaya’s history into its current appeal. The museum should be amplifying the voices and experiences of those who helped make this historic landmark what it is today, and I believe that this will even add to the beauty of the estate. Vizcaya has evolved from the home of one businessman to a historical center for the public, and hopefully will continue to put in the work needed to capture a complete view of their history.  

Miami Beach As Text

“Art Deco As Visual Art” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Beach.

Tourism runs wild in South Florida, and Miami Beach is the tourist spot that put Miami on the map, even to this day. Formerly (and wrongfully) thought of as a “wasteland,” Miami Beach was founded in 1910 by Carl Fisher, who destroyed the forest of mangroves in order to build the area that is famously visited today. Fisher’s development led to segregation of the area, as well as irreversible ecological damage on the land that once held a wide variety of marine species. Although the history of Miami Beach was dehumanizing and damaging, it did not stop the area from flourishing, especially when it came to architecture. In the 1930’s, a style took over Miami Beach that had a great influence in architecture, fashion, and decor, and is still present there to this day. Famously known for its widespread mix of architectural influences, much of Miami Beach incorporates the famous “art deco” style which surrounds the area and gives it an original taste that is unlike any other. Art Deco provides originality to the area and makes it truly one in a million. This was single-handedly the thing that drew my attention most to Miami Beach, as the infamous style of buildings was extremely eye-catching and visually pleasing. The more I observed the buildings, the more similarities I noticed in them, and as we discussed the concepts that made art deco so original, I was drawn in by its history and perspective. It is not only the architecture that draws me in, but I think of these buildings more as visual art, and I am thrilled that they are protected and available for people to enjoy. Thanks to Barbara Baer Capitman, who made an extreme effort in protecting Art Deco in Miami, the buildings are protected from becoming wrecked, basic government condos. Originating in Paris, art deco pays homage to styles of the future and cubism, and follows influences from Mesopotamia. Geometry and symmetry also play a large role in art deco, as the style follows the “rule of three” to maintain balance. The main characteristics which set art deco apart are eyebrows, neon, and curved edges. While there are many other key devices in this style, these three are the ones I noticed the most, and the ones that set the buildings aside from any other structure. They are not brick-like and dull, but they are bright, symmetrical, curved, with extending structures that make them original, and as some might say, “funky.”  I cannot imagine Miami being filled with any other architectural style, and I will tell you why: Art deco is known to incorporate objects that hold no meaning and are used just for aesthetic purposes. It is a style that is superficial, beautiful on the outside, and provides something interesting and beautiful to look at. This is something that many structures in Miami have in common, such as the famous Vizcaya mansion that was essentially a show of wealth and luxury. Art deco belongs in Miami, and it embodies Miami and everything that it stands for. When I see art deco, I think of luxury and individuality, and it screams sleek, sophisticated elegance. I appreciate it, and I appreciate Miami Beach for having a unique landscape filled with anti-traditional styles.  

Deering Estate As Text

“Embrace your environment” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

In tune with my environment, while completely out of touch with my comfort zone. Disconnected from the world, yet so reconnected with myself. Before suburbs, high rises, and white sand beaches, Miami’s authentic territory was full of mangroves, trees, and fresh water springs. These habitats are no longer abundant in Miami as they used to be, but there is one place where they are protected and still exist today: The Deering Estate nature preserve. Exploring eight different terrains on the Deering Estate nature preserve hike was an awakening experience, which I felt so privileged to be able to experience. This estate off the coast of Biscayne bay is one of the few natural environments that is completely protected and preserved in its natural state. Considered a historic site, Deering Estate aims to protect its widely thriving environments at all costs. While I thought I knew what Florida looked like, walking through the pine rock lands and mangroves felt like I had stepped into the past, and embraced what Miami’s landscape truly looked like. The biggest and most important takeaway I have from hiking through these ecosystems is that humans try too little to adapt to their environment, and try too hard to change it instead. Why are we not using our natural resources to thrive? Instead, Miami is famous for importing nature from exotic areas, such as the famous palm trees, which are not native to Florida. By doing this, we are compromising the habitats of animals that thrive off native species. Humans should learn to flourish with the environment around them rather than trying too hard to alter it. This was one of the biggest points brought up by our guide and expert, Ana, as she urged us to plant native species in our homes. This small effort can aid in bringing back species to their homelands and restore the natural flora and fauna of an environment. I am so glad that these areas are protected, and I am overjoyed that years ago, the building of the railroad was not successful, and I was able to experience and be captivated by nature in its purest form at the nature preserve. While I aspire for more people to experience the natural preserves such as I did, I do think keeping this area private is the best way to protect it, as humans have shown time and time again just how brutal and damaging they can be to nature. It is so beautiful what spaces can turn without human interference, and I wish I knew about this hidden gem sooner. I would rather be surrounded by protected natural environments than fancy high rises and modern beaches, and I would love to see more preserved terrain around Miami, as I think it would add to the beauty and diversity of the city. Miami would benefit from filling its lands with native species rather than exotic plants, and should learn to embrace the environment which once flourished here. When I think about the true Miami, I will now always think about the Deering Estate nature preserve hike, walked by many generations before me. 

Rubell Museum As Text

“For The Love Of Art” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Rubell Museum

Contemporary Art has been criticized, mocked, slandered, and censored by the public. It is in danger, and the contant question of “is it art?” continues to resurface through conversations about contemporary works. It has been called a “fraud,” and is referred to as not real art. The censorship which surrounds art is also widespread since it values different belief systems from what historically classical art tends to communicate, ultimately violating artistic freedom. as uncomfortable as they may be, contemporary art is important, and communicates bold, controversial topics that are present in our current times. Art is used as a movement, statement, or representation, and needs to be preserved, and displayed for the public. The population as a whole tends to value the works of classical or even ancient artworks more than contemporary works, but not the Rubell family. 

The Rubell family holds a contemporary art empire, and now has one of the largest private collections, with a sea of works by both emerging and established artists. They had little to no money when they began collecting, and even then they truly understood the value of contemporary work and its effect on our world. The Rubell’s have no doubt helped preserve, fund, and create a widespread appreciation for this kind of work. They don’t care whether a work is found on the street, made from scraps of garbage, is a clay sculpture, or is not traditional art at all. They do not question if a work is art, for anything is art if it speaks to you, challenges you, or makes you think. Contemporary artists struggle to get recognized, and to get their careers set in motion, or their work appreciated without the great influence and reputation that classic art holds. Rejection and little exposure is a widespread issue among contemporary artists, but the Rubell’s help this cause by scouting out art that speaks to them, and supporting artists through purchasing their art. This one purchase can ignite an artist’s career simply for the exposure they get being in the Rubell museum. I appreciate the Rubell family for supporting artists, big or small, and for having deep rooted morals and values when it comes to purchasing art. They do not want art simply for profit or wealth, but rather to aid in the preservation and display of contemporary work. Doing so carries the historical value from this era and ensures that future generations are able to gain insight on our world. Today, this might not seem of great importance, but it will be very influential and valued in the future.

Being one of my first contemporary art museum visits, I learned to appreciate art not for what it is but for the emotions that it provokes in me. One piece that spoke to me specifically was “Family”, by Karon Davis, where a black family of three were sculpted with antlers on them. These antlers, similar to those of a deer, to me symbolized “prey, target, help.”  At first glance, this work drew my attention, and provoked a feeling of pity for this family, who looked sad in a way. This work is associated with prejudice and racism, an issue which is not captured or emphasized as much in classic works. It is important that paintings like this are widespread as they describe issues within our society. From the Rubell family, I have learned to not leave any work unappreciated, no matter how simple the work may be, it is the intention of the artists that speaks to the audience. I will never again purchase a work of art based on its reputation, or the name on the corner of the poster. I will value the work for what it is, and not who created it or when it was created.

Untitled As Text

“Conversations About Art” By Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Untitled Art Fair

The Untitled art fair in Miami exudes vibrance, newness, freshness, and unique individuality. The galleries are full of buzz and pressure, and the stakes are high. Aesthetically pleasing in every corner, full of new visions and one of a kind works, there is nowhere else in this world where I could imagine the Untitled art fair being held. Attending the exhibit was a privilege, but also an extreme learning opportunity for me. Being new to the world of art, I just began exploring the field this semester, and walked into the exhibit wanting to absorb something more than purely aesthetics. I learned from previously attending the Rubell Museum that contemporary art, looks aside, portrays a deeper meaning that only the artist themselves can explain, or the audience can decide what it means to them. Therefore, getting to meet the artists who produced work at Untitled and having them explain their works to us was an opportunity that I will never take for granted. 

The works that speak to me greatly are the ones that say the most about our society. As I looked at art through the artist’s perspective that day, I understood how they viewed the world through their own lens. Having this perspective allowed me to view the art for what it was meant to describe, and evoked even more feeling into me. Artist and DACA recipient, Francisco Donoso, spoke to us about his work, where he reveals his experiences about belonging and boundaries. Through a series of creative works depicting fences as barriers, he transported me into his universe and inside his deepest thoughts. Although I wish this work would have been on display for us to see in person, even through photographs his message was clear and defined. I appreciate getting to speak to artists about their work, and become increasingly curious about the creative process through having these conversations. This exhibit is a platform for artists to display their views about the world through their work. No two are the same, as the artists gather from many different locations and cross their own borders to share their projects.

This is what I have noticed about art- that it has allowed me to broaden my perspectives, think more intuitively, ask myself more questions about the world around me, and become more curious. “Art lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints,” says Henry James. These subconscious habits that I have begun to develop are important for personal growth, and important in understanding our society better. You can surely decide to purchase art for aesthetics, but I have truly understood the importance of art as I have delved into it this semester, because without even noticing I am having more conversations with others and myself than ever before about my surroundings. I saw that many artists at the untitled art fair use regular objects and display them as contemporary art, and when I left this exhibit I found myself observing some regular objects around me and questioning their meaning/diving deeper into the significance of things. Art, especially contemporary, is a reflection of our society, and the most important thing for us as people is to support the wider art ecosystem, as the Untitled Art fair does.  

Aventura As Text

“Behind the shiny buildings” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Aventura.

Now one of the world’s largest and most luxurious shopping destinations, the neighborhood of Aventura was once called an “undeveloped swamp and marshland” by community newspapers. Much like other areas of this terrain, Aventura did not escape becoming a developer’s dream. (After all, as we’ve seen time and time again, developers in Miami leave no stone unturned when it comes to building shiny high rises and luxurious shopping pavilions). The development of Aventura began in the 80’s with a napkin sketch by Turnberry Associates, who turned Aventura into what it is today. One thing that is undeniably similar amongst all neighborhoods in Miami, including Aventura, is the widespread commercial businesses that flourish and hold great importance in the city. The industry of shopping has turned entire districts into profitable businesses. Retail businesses bloom far and wide throughout Miami, and there are many ways in which this shapes and affects an area and its people. 

Commercial developers profit immensely off places such as Aventura Mall, but the luxurious development of the area makes it almost unattainable for middle/class citizens in Miami to settle in areas like these. Visiting Aventura, I must say that the price of everything is drastically more expensive than where I am from in Kendall. I cannot imagine this being a sustainable lifestyle unless I worked an extremely high paying job. With the building of one mall comes the development of luxurious condos and houses, and the beautification of an area has now made it terribly difficult for anyone to maintain a lifestyle in this neighborhood. This is now one more area in Miami that has become ridiculously expensive to reside in, and frankly make the rich, richer. My fear is that eventually all of Miami will become a victim to this phenomenon, and the residents will soon suffer the consequences of urbanizing underdeveloped areas. Many minority populations had to move out of the neighborhood of Aventura due to the skyrocketing development. Why are there no areas designed specifically for middle class residents? I see that almost all development aims to reach a target audience of extremely wealthy citizens, and not very often do they keep in mind the unequal access that low/middle communities have to commodities such as Aventura Mall and the living facilities which surround this neighborhood. The birth of Aventura not only made low income residents flee this area, but also elevated segregation in their commercial center, where blacks were not allowed in this shopping district and were only permitted to shop in Overtown. 

Almost the largest shopping mall to be built, nothing is quite comparable to the size and volume of Aventura Mall. Clearly this mall is the center of the neighborhood, and is of great, great importance. I am positive that it has helped the economy of Miami in more ways than one. To developers: I urge you to please consider the importance of equal access to commercial centers, and to please think about white flight before you think about what goes in your pockets.  


My Miami Final Reflection As Text

“The real Miami: A sunny place for shady people” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU

“Tu no sabes donde estas parada,” my mother annoyingly exclaimed as we passed the freedom tower. “You don’t know where you’re standing.” Even my mom who immigrated from Cuba recognizes the value of historical literacy on human experience, something that I was lacking before this semester. I am ashamed to say that prior to this class, I was nothing more than an onlooker letting life pass me by, not truly embracing the history of the city which I reside in, but this class has pushed me to see what the “real” Miami is. Through the exploration of art, culture, and history, my perception of Miami has changed drastically. Never did I expect to uncover so much new information about a city that I have lived in for twenty years. From hearing people’s stories of the old Miami, such as Miss Godfrey, to exploring the natural landscape, this semester has truly allowed me to look at this city through a clearer lens.

There are two main points I’ve reflected upon when discussing the truth behind this city, which might be different for everyone based on their individual experiences.

 1) Miami today is synonymous with many things: beautiful beaches, booming nightlife, real estate, and the constant sunny state. When defining what the real Miami is, people too often revert to this response, but I learned that there is so much more behind this aesthetic facade which we put up. What I now view this city as challenges the relatively common answers received, for I now see Miami as more than a spring break destination. The real Miami is in Overtown, it is in Calle Ocho, it is in Hialeah, it is in places where the ambiance and true culture of Miami flourish, where the people run on cafecito and 90% of the population are immigrants or children of immigrants. The real Miami are these hidden gems which have escaped the superficial culture which surrounds this town. 

2) Getting deep into the communities and exploring churches and social groups, I have realized that perhaps to find the real Miami, we must not only look in the present but also in the past. After digging deeper into the history of the development of Miami and its obscured racist tendencies, I notice just how far Miami will go to paint a beautiful picture. One theme that has been relevant and reappearing throughout almost every place we visited, (Vizcaya, downtown Miami, Overtown, Deering Estate) is that we put little effort in honoring the minority groups who greatly helped develop Miami despite horrible working conditions, segregation, and being displaced. Many historical structures are of great importance and significance to Miami, and we can always find a large amount of information about the beautiful history of these places on the property, but very little about the african/bohemian people who oftentimes risked their lives and livelihood to work for developers. I would love to see this realistic standpoint of the history of Miami be embraced more often by these large institutions, as it is frustrating for a visitor to grasp an understanding of the real Miami with only half the story. 

As a final thought, the most uncomfortable situations during this semester were the ones that have impacted my perception of Miami the most. Hiking through Deering Estate’s preserve was eye-opening to me because I realized that I truly had no idea what Miami’s real landscape looked like. Before this semester I also never visited Overtown because it is an underrated part of town, but going there myself was also impactful in that I discovered its beautiful history and value. Because of this class, I will now always return to Jackson’s soul food, encourage everyone to purchase native plants, spread knowledge about the Tequesta people, speak about the bohemians who helped build our beautiful city, and remind everyone of the importance of diving behind the superficial aesthetic and charm of Miami.It is only then that I am truly in tune with myself and my environment, and having the full “Miami” experience. 

Everglades As Text

“Florida in all its greatness” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at the Everglades

The Florida Everglades is a breath of fresh air, away from the crowds and unarguably one of the most underrated spots in Miami. The majority of travelers write off the Everglades from their “must-see” list, which is a big rookie tourist mistake. While knowing how to navigate and scope out the Everglades is daunting, many resources are present, such as guides and maps, to help you along this wilderness adventure. This historical site demands and deserves your attention, but one thing that resonated with me while on this visit are the misconceptions that surround the Everglades, ones that I am guilty of believing and wish to unveil today.

 I was born and raised 20 minutes away from the Everglades, but why had I never paid a visit to this world-famous park? Like many others will respond, because I was afraid. Afraid of man-eating giant gators, aggressive insect beasts, slithering snakes, and dark and empty roads. When I put it this way, it sounds like a horror movie, but truly this could not be farther from the truth. Never in a million years did I expect to go so far out of my comfort zone and walk through the waist deep water of the slough-slog, but I am grateful for these uncomfortable situations that led me to the magical landscape that is the Everglades. Straight out of “Avatar,” this otherworldly environment was established in 1947 and aims to protect the landscape in this park like no other, while preserving its many species and numerous habitats. One of the best trails to explore is the Anhinga trail, where you can spot some friendly giants (not at all scary or man-eating). Being this close to Florida’s native species makes me proud that these areas are still preserved for them to thrive. This extensive marshland was formed 17,000 years ago, when the Pleistocene sea level rise created runoff from Lake Okeechobee. If the Everglades seems unimportant to you, just know that it creates drinkable water for over 7 million Florida residents, which is one of the reasons why this ecosystem needs to be protected. While many people did not realize the value of the Everglades, there is one person in Florida history who advocated for the preservation of this national park, and that is Marjorie Stoneman Douglas. She famously published “Everglades, river of grass” in 1947 which spoke volumes to the importance of safeguarding this area. Today, the Everglades has received immense recognition as a world heritage site, deservingly so as it is the United States’ largest subtropical wilderness. 

Having an open mind while visiting this wetland can make all the difference in your experience. I truly believe that everyone should take advantage of this remarkable experience to feel elevated in the natural landscape of the Everglades. The typical stereotype is not at all what I experienced, and my hope is that I inspire at least one person to set their fears aside as I continue to spread positive information about my experience in visiting the Everglades.         

Miami Encounter As Text 

“My Miami, Through My Eyes” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU in Miami

Photo captured by Grace King.

Being born in Miami does not speak to my expertise of the city. While I wish I could say I knew it all, I was truly baffled at the amount of information I did not know while being in this class. Places that I have been to a million times in my life, such as Vizcaya, Overtown, downtown Miami, or Coconut Grove, I realized that I didn’t know the stories behind these places or understand the historical importance of them. So when taking this class, my goal was always to look at these places with a fresh set of eyes. When we arrive at a location, even if I have been there before, I expect to receive an entirely new perspective and context of the area. Time and time again, this class has proven to me that Miami is much more than appears to the naked eye, and much more than an aesthetic, luxurious, sunny paradise, which is all that Miami might seem to others. I have been to Vizcaya multiple times, but did not know about the bohemian hands who built it. I had no idea when walking through downtown Miami that the park in between two buildings was an ancient Tequesta monument. When visiting Overtown before this class, I had an idea of the history, but when delving deep into our discussion I soon discovered an entirely new side to black history in Miami. In coconut grove I always visited miracle mile, boutiques and nice restaurants, but had no idea about the Barnacle, or the long standing homes that are still there. The place I was most eager to visit this semester was the Everglades. I was highly anticipating this visit ever since the first class when it was mentioned, I was intrigued by the Everglades but at the same time fearful of the unknown. Each day I come in eager to discover something new about a city that I have inhabited for so many years, and now after one semester I am beginning to feel like a cultured expert in my own city. This is vital for me because I would never want to look ignorant or clueless when speaking about Miami, and now I recognize how important it is to be able to know the history of where you live, not only to hold up a conversation but also to fully appreciate the environment which surrounds you. I was born in Miami, yes, but I did not know it as well as I thought. I knew very little about the culture of Miami, and the last time I remember touching upon the subject was in early high school. Even then, I was not taught about half of the landmarks that I’ve seen in only one full semester of “Miami In Miami.” Preliminary schools in Miami truly need to do a better job at teaching the rich history of Miami, and without washing it out of its impurities. I wanted to learn the bad, the good, and the ugly, and because of this, I was eager to learn more and decided I needed to enroll in this class. I know that this is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Constantly getting put in uncomfortable positions that are out of my comfort zone has made me discover so much about not only my environment but about myself as a person. I have discovered a passion for nature, for adventure, and I am not scared to explore unknown territory, and for that I am grateful for this class and excited about what this second semester has to bring. 

Coconut grove as text

“The ‘Little Bahamas’ of Miami” by Melanie Rodriguez of FIU at Coconut Grove

The culture and vibrancy are abundant in Coconut Grove, and this has much to do with the influence of early black settlers in Miami. Before the Grove was filled with shops, lush landscaping, and modern restaurants, this was a place for free spirits and is a true gem in Miami. My visits to Coconut Grove are quite frequent, but I failed to indulge myself in the history of the area until my most recent visit, where I learned about the true importance of The Grove. As a Miami resident I have to say that this is the first time that I’ve explored Coconut Grove beyond its aesthetic appeal. Many people do not know that in building Coral Gables and Miami, there is deep Bahamian involvement. Just a few blocks away from the populated streets which I frequent stand homes built by Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup, unarguably one of the most selfless people of his time. Stirrup, who was an African-Bahamian immigrant, was an instrumental part in the development of Coconut Grove, building and renting out homes for African Americans and presenting them the opportunity to own land in a time where this was extremely difficult to do. The Grove is filled with vibrant colors and structures that reflect the influence of the bahamian settlers during this early time. I enjoyed the diversity of these buildings, and seeing something that looked original and different from the rest of the architecture that fills Miami. Modern white homes are far and frequent in any area, but what I truly love to see is culture, history, and especially the stories behind how and why these structures were developed. Sadly, I saw that more and more homes are not being preserved, and are now collateral damage to people who tear them down and build modern structures. 

To me, these structures should be treated like museums and memories of a time that should never be erased. Under no circumstance should they be destroyed, especially to build modern homes and structures, as this is slowly declining the amount of black history present in Miami. The importance of these homes is being completely disregarded, and I urge Coconut Grove to protect these structures, just as Miami beach is protected. The Grove is not The Grove without this rich history, and it is being reshaped to be a regular urban neighborhood, something that it has never been and should never be. The theme of washing away history in Miami is prominent, but seeing the washing away of an entire cultural inhibition before my eyes has awoken me to the seriousness of this situation, as I hope it has to others around me. This area is filled with remembrances of the past, such as the Bahamian cemetery, and was clearly an area important to this minority group, who I’m sure have been forced to move due to skyrocketing prices and urbanization. I enjoyed touring the neighborhood of Coconut Grove as well as the homes that Stirrup so graciously developed, and I can only hope that the city of Miami comes to their senses and protects these important structures for future generations to learn about and visit, before it is too late and they are all torn down.  Recently, I’ve explored more about this topic and found out that Miami is considering turning Coconut Grove into a “Little Bahamas,” which I believe is a step in the right direction when it comes to preserving culture and community. I do hope that this goes through and solves the issue of gentrification in the community.

Rafael Vasquez: Miami as Text 2022

Florida Key Largo Newport

As in the words of Marcus Aurelius Roman Emperor and stoic Philosopher “A man(person) is a measure of all things”. I am Rafael Vasquez, a current student at FIU, an educator working as a substitute teacher, and most importantly a human seeking to further understand and help make the world a better place. As a student FIU, my aim is to be a therapist and educator, which I believe are one of the same. In one field you’re teaching and helping others with personal challenges, and in education your sharing knowledge and planting seeds for the leaders of tomorrow.

My aim in this site is to share with you my insights, experience, and reflections on key points throughout the city of Miami. Covering areas such as history, social issues, philosophy, and culture. I hope to guide you through my experience in exploring the history and story of Miami. As a native to south Florida I was born a raised in Miami as the son of two hard working immigrant parents. As well as being raised by my cuban grandfather, who although not blood related was an important leadership and paternal figure growing up. I am privilege to say that although I’m neither fully Colombian or Cuban, the two cultures are woven into my person as an inseparable part of who I am. Giving me two different lenses when understanding the world around me.

I believe the world is looked through the lens of your life experiences, faith, and thoughts. That being said as objective as I like to be, my life experiences and beliefs will be reflected in these papers. As I shine light on current issues, and look back on history certain judgements and critiques will be made. However the essence of this is not to convince you to think like me, but to open a conversation and give you something to reflect and ponder upon.

Historic Miami as Text

Whom we Remember

Miami Fl, Brickell Avenue Bridge

History is a series of past events connected to the present day. Molding and shaping a societies beliefs, values, and identity. Although Miami’s history has a unique story with many layers, I want to magnify attention on the history and current legacy of the Seminole wars. Along with its direct relation to the foundation of the bustling port city we call Miami.

The Seminole wars consisted of 3 separate wars spanning from 1816 to 1858, in which that main goal was for the U.S. government to take the state of Florida and as direct by product dislodge the native people. History is often riddled with solemn examples of the “dominant” culture taking advantage and conquering the indigenous populations. In this regard the US was not unique or different to its European counterparts. However, the way in which they conducted the war including the genocide and the annihilation of an existing culture cannot be ignored when looking at the foundations of the US and the state of Florida. 

A key event that happen during the 2nd Seminole war, was the killing of Major Francis Dade in the form of a coordinated ambush by Seminole and African American forces. Before I proceed, it’s important to note that at this point in history the US had purchased Florida from Spain during the 1st Seminole war, and brought slavery and genocide along with them. Beforehand the Seminoles and African populations were on good terms with the Spaniards and were treated with a mutual respect. The Spanish set up missions, with the goal to convert the natives to catholicism and have peaceful relationships. It’s also important to note that by this time slavery was outlawed in Spain, so African Americans slaves would often go down to Florida to seek shelter in Spanish territory. However with Spain selling the land to the US, both Seminoles and African Americans faced a hostile invader in their once peaceful existance. So they banded together in their efforts of maintaining their freedom and way of life.  

The ambush consisted of the Seminole and African forces trying to stop the US advance into their native soil. Major Francis Dade was assigned to forcefully relocate the natives west, leading two armies into their land. Major Dade was killed within the first moments of the battle proceeded by the complete victory of the Seminole and African warriors leaving only 3 US soldiers alive of the original 110. This marked the first battle of the 2nd seminole war, and although the natives won this battle history would see them massacred and reduced to small pockets of survivors in the years that folowed.

The event I just described is currently remembered as the Dade Massacre. A massacre is an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, which in many regards yes, this event was. However, the Seminole wars were a complete and total massacre of a native people by the US government. History, is written by the victors and objectivity and truth is as a byproduct distorted in the process. Currently, the state of Florida chooses to honor the life of Major Francis dade through naming Miami Dade County after him, as well as having a grand bronze plaque in front of the downtown courthouse. Making him a martyr in what seems to be a romantic narrative of the sacrifices made to establish the state of Florida.

The horrors of a past genocide, are not only remembered but put up on display and celebrated as a part of our culture. What true remorse is shown to the current Seminole people and African Americans in our state and country, when our very courthouse plaque, contains racial slurs that feed into stereotypes. As a country that prides itself in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness I feel that we often forget whom exactly this applies too. When the very institutions of law and order celebrate the time in history where we supported slavery and killed the native population. I asked myself what type of message does this send the minorities walking through the grand doors of the courthouse.

As a first generation American, my roots are Colombian and Im from a hispanic culture which is prevalent in our community here in Miami but a minority non the less. What does this message send to us as well. I pondered on the words of Martin Luther King “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, the degrading language, our dark and lamentable history of slavery, segregation, and genocide how can I not feel the pain that African Americans and Seminole people feel today when reflecting on the past. A past that is directly tied to laws and policies today. A past that still grips the very foundations of out cities names and landscape. How can we ever fully let go, how can the past ever be remedied if such prevalent reminders are still in effect in the most public and important building of our city.

2022 Plaque in Downtown Miami Courthouse

This I believe is a disrespect, by the same standards countries and states would celebrate the actions of past dictators and their genocides. Reopening the scar of racism, oppression, and tyranny. In fact, many modern states do the very thing, such as china, Russia, and North Korea which many western states openly condemn. 

I pose the question are we not any different than the Chinese government who cover up and whitewash the history of Tiananmen square, Russia masking their invasion of Ukraine as a liberation, or even the Nazi regime that labeled they were making the master race. By these standards putting up a statue of a KKK leader would be acceptable, so long as he played a role in establishing a part of the country. It’s my belief than when such fundamental truths are covered up or whitewashed in a society, we not only ignore the mistakes of the past but are bound to repeat them. 

My belief is not that we forget history, nor that we try to change what happened. But to openly acknowledge our mistakes and short comings of the past. This event occurred 187 years ago, and in fact the United States government loss a great amount of soldiers that day. However the context in which it occurred was a moment in history where the US government was in the wrong and the aggressor. So why should we choose to celebrate and bring into the current day leaders and figures that didn’t help create a better world but are in fact part of our countries shameful past. To the very least naming counties and having bronze plaques on courthouses to celebrate and remember their lives are not part of the solution if we are to move forward together.

Faith and Freedom

In talking about the church, I believe we must first define what it means. Now this is a tricky task because a Church goes beyond a physical building, it’s very much the product of the people within it. Throughout history churches and religion has been often a subject that stirs mixed feelings of faith and apathy, truth and lies, acceptance and judgement, as well as charity and theft. I answer this in that as humans we have manipulated faith to be used for power and control using hypocrisy. Taking something that in essence is meant for good and turning it against the very people it’s meant to help. 

Depending on your experience growing up, within your family, and your personal beliefs there is an emotion that comes to your very soul upon hearing the word. However, my goal today is not to convince you about Christianity, whether there is or isn’t a God, or if you should attend a religious institution. The goal is to talk about the essence of the church and its role within a community. In the truest sense why should there be a church within a community to begin with. Our connection will then be with historic over town and the church’s role in an African American community.

Such a place I believe reflected the truest mission and purpose of a church is in current day historic over town. Referred to as little Broadway, in the 1930s it was the center for performances by renowned artists such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald. All along the avenue world renowned artists, would perform after shows. Breaking the chains of formality and mannerisms little Broadway was a haven where their raw artistic expression was unchained. Unbothered by segregation laws that governed the theaters they performed in, they found a place that welcomed them and gave them hospitality

Historic Lyric theater- By Rafael Vasquez

A soft golden glow lined the streets, as the grand arch of the lyric theater saw lines of eager people black and white waiting to get a spot inside. The trumpet opens with a deep strong sound, a voice of strength expressing the sentiment of a community. The band plays on, getting looser and looser the expectation, the judgement melting away. As the base keeps anchor, the drums remind you of the chains that were beginning to break, break away judgement and oppression.  Observers would tell you that it was like going to mass, the community heard the message and danced to the rhythm. Looser now the there is no form or style that can be labeled upon it, lyrics are mismatched, styles are fused, it soulful, its Jazz.

Little Broadway soon became a place for businesses and black entrepreneurs to venture into. The streets rumbled with bustle, children going to schools, venues preparing for the night wave, and diners filled for the lunch break. In the center of this community was Mr. Dorsey, having made millions in real estate, he rented out properties in the community of over town and managed the first black owned hotel, with his tall white house overlooking the property. Mr Dorsey along with the over town community helped donate the money and time to build the greater bethel church. 

In the middle of the success and bustle, the greater bethel church was the base keeping the community together. Young and old, poor and wealthy all lined up inside on Sunday mornings. As the radiant glow of candy red and sky-blue panes filtered in the light, the choir the very foundations of the room. All together the preacher and members clapped their hands and moved to the rhythm, the piano played on as Reverend Franklin Ball went up to the pulpit and to address the community. The church was a place for both spiritual messages as well as social ones, addressing the current issues of the day, teaching the community to have faith to get through the hardship and oppression that was faced daily.

The church is a release valve, the true expression and needs of the community. The racism, oppression, and tyranny faced by African American’s was insurmountable, however they were neither flagged nor failed and Christianity giving them the strength to keep going. In the face of the harsh reality just like Moses escaping the pharaohs grip and leading towards the promise land. The role of the reverend is the same, to lead the people through the desert, with the gospel and community by his side. The church naturally became a center for the civil rights movement, becoming a place to rally and organize events, and fight back. Leaders of the movement such as Malcom X, and Reverend Martin Luther King were invited across these churches to deliver messages of hope and organize sit ins, protests, and walks. Not all speakers invited to the churches were “Christian”, such as Malcom X who was a Muslim and many others who were atheist or identifies with different faiths would often speak. 

Greater Bethel Church- By Rafael Vasquez

The aim was not religion, but transformation. All religious differences seemed to have melted away, and the African American people worked collectively to reach their aim. On February 12th, 1958, at the greater bethel church Rev Martin Luther King delivered a speech beginning his campaign in the south. Speaking for the SCLC campaign, he advocated for voter rights and registration. He addressed the community on the hardships that African American’s have faced in obtaining the right to vote, and the how now is the time to keep pushing and head to the poles. This campaign was a concentrated effort to double the number of black voters in the south, given the fear and suppression faced many African Americans who were fearful to go out to vote. 

Greater Bethel Church – By Rafael Vasquez

Over town was a pivotal city, where the marginalized African American community was able to not only thrive but organize civil rights movements. The fact that Martin Luther King, and many famous artists passed by the town, shows testament to its prosperity and growth from its humble beginnings. However, in the 1960s, the community would be faced with a direct attack, that has shaken the very foundations of the city till this day. As America strives for “progress”, a country wide objective was made to connect the country via a highway system. Miami Being the major city, was no exception to this change. However, the city that was chosen to construct the highway over was none other than over town. 

The once prosperous and close-knit community was displaced, and forcefully evicted. Thousands of people watched immobilized as their homes were torn down, replaced with grey concrete. The colorful houses, were now concrete graves of a time that once was. Right next to the entrance of the highway was mount Zion Baptist church facing the bulldozer, as the developers gave the pastor the option of having his house that was right next to church destroyed or the church itself. And although Mt Zion is currently still standing tall, a vast majority of its members were relocated and hour away to Liberty City. As earlier mentioned, what is a church but if not, the people that make it up? I ask myself as I ponder upon this history, why, why is it that they had to choose over town and specifically where a church was to build the highway. 

As I stood there surveying the scene, I listened to my professor explain these events, however I was transported back in time. I felt the pain of the people of over town, the struggle of all the African Americans who have been here. The streets where children would ride their bikes, colorful homes lining the streets, Mr. Dorsey house that was 2 blocks away from the church, now overlooking a giant monster of noise and concrete. My chest burned and my eyes redden as I watched this, I couldn’t help but think of the pastor giving up his home so that the church could stay. Is that not true love and charity, giving up your home for the community and people you love. 

For what is faith but the belief in the uncertain, the strength to keep going, pushing on no matter how hard the road may be. In seeing the churches of over town, I saw such faith. The greater bethel church in the recent year has also faced new challenges, such as the gentrification of over town. Where schools and houses used to stand a mighty apartment complex was built, in front of the 3-story church. As well as threats form the city to tear down the historic structure under the pretense that its unsafe. However, I believe in the people of over town, people such as Wendell who guided us through the church. His pants covered in paint and sweating from working to renovate the building that has helped so many, he took time out of his day to share their story. A community funded church from its origins to current day, supported by their members and their contributions. I believe that the goliath of development and gentrification will not see these people and church displaced, as I hope it will stand as a testament of all that has been endured and the strength of the community that is over town. 

The Chicken Key Collective

Island of Chicken Key – By Rafael Vasquez

Approaching the Deering estate, the large iron and dark wood gate greets you wide open as you walk down a slightly curved path unto the gleaming shores. As the early morning rays peak through the canopy of greenery, you hear the native birds singing as you walk down the reserve covered in magnificently large trees. Inviting me into the estate, the grand trees led me to the small built-in harbor, contrasted with the view of the pale blue morning sky and yellow tinted clouds, reflected upon the calm morning coast.

            As our class met, we walked along to a small cozy storage house, that housed our life jackets, paddles, and changing facilities. As we lay our materials upon the wooden tables, we joined a second group meeting us for the day. I remember asking my new found classmates for some SPF, as we all shared and helped each other get ready. Having gotten our supplies, we all met by the harbor where our professor greeted us and briefed us for the day. “Today’s aim is a coastal cleanup, to help out the native Sea life species in the area”, we were shown pictures of the native sea turtle population that’s nesting on the island. Unfortunately, due to pollution and poaching the once abundant species that lined the coast are facing an uncertain future. 

            With this new information of the sea turtle nest the already enthusiastic group, found new strength and focus in our collective mission. Usually, we meet with a group of about 15, however since there was a hurricane (IAN) that passed by the week before, our two classes merged for the cleanup. And the timing was perfect since the coast needed help, after the storm. The group of about 30 of us proceeded to mount the canoes and kayaks, as we helped each other lower them into the water. Me and my friend Andrew got a deep forest green canoe, remining me of the canopy of trees that cover the Deering estate.   

            The green canoe, a noble, honest, and sturdy sea vessel for close proximity transport to and fro the estate to the island of chicken key. The canoe we rode upon was an enjoyable experience, light in weight, ample in size, and easily maneuverable I quickly got the hang of it.  With the help of my friend Andrew, he steered as I paddled it along. You see my friend Andrew had forgotten his glasses and although he could not greatly see, he was essential in guiding us in the right direction. It was a carefully coordinated dance, Row left, both paddles (right) starboard side. Row, row, row, okay good we’ve straightened out, and I go back to paddling port side. We both must coordinate and row parallel to each other to keep her steady. Jointly we pushed through, correcting her direction as we went along the mangrove canopies and towards the island. It was a joint effort the green canoe, one can not go forward without the help of the person by your side. The canoe does not know lies, laziness, or selfishness it’s a sturdy and honest vessel quickly showing you the character of person.

Mangrove canopy next to Deering estate- Taken By Rafael Vasquez

            Upon out arrival, the green mangrove island looked impenetrable, thick deep roots surrounded the island like a medieval iron fortress. The brown pelican which I will call the islands scout, cruised along the island sides eyeing all who passed by. Checking for prey and visitors it seemed like we were on his good side, as he calmly granted us passage to the narrow shore. Promptly after, he plunged into the water, taking a good chunk out. Imagine, after always being in a concrete jungle that’s the city of Miami, ruled by steaming pavement, speeding cars, inside spaces, with the bustle a city brings. This small estate, just 25 min away from the madness, humbles you with its tranquil nature. The sounds of speeding cars are replaced with crashing waves, the steaming asphalt is cut with fields of green, cold ac replaced with light ocean air, with the ruling inhabitants being the native plants and animals that have been around long before we had arrived.

            Is it really progress? From the natives that lived one with nature, caring for the land, as it cared for them. The Tequesta, Seminoles whom shared a bond with Mr. pelican and the Biscayne shores. To be replaced with colonization, cold hard asphalt, complex buildings, and suburbs. Where the once was jungle and serenity, high-rises rule the native land. Cyclical, even the progress that has been made is being taken back by mother nature. All that rises falls and all that is forgotten finds a way back. Heading towards the island I reflected that we are now working to restore that natural equilibrium that once existed. Learning from the failures and triumphs of the past, can we now strive for a change in the next generation.  For its not alone in my efforts or that of my group and teacher, but in the collective organism that built Miami, and those who follow after.


A Mediterranean paradise, the Vizcaya estate is an open-air mansion overlooking the Miami coastline. The gleaming sun contrasted with cool ocean breeze greets you, as a giant sculpted boat rises from the sandy shore. Carefully Hand crafted by Italian artisans, the boat stands as a tiny island protecting the bay. With Four giant obelisks from prominent military victories standing at each corner, an amphitheater, marble statues, and two gardens at each end of the vessel, its splendor is unsinkable even 100 years after construction. The vessel’s immortality stands in its mix function and beauty. I was transported to the time of the hanging gardens of Babylon when I stood looking at it design. A small tropical paradise no more than 20 feet from the main shore. A perfect balance of function and beauty.

 To better illustrate let me define what the role of a breakwater, which is a permanent structure constructed on a body of water to protect a coast or harbor from the force of waves. Usually, breakwaters are quite simple constructions like giant rocks. Most often overlooked when thinking of beauty or splendor, serving a concrete role to protect a harbor. However, leaving no stone unturned the estates designers kept in mind both function and beauty. The seemingly simple task it preforms, comes with the details and accommodations that sets this estate apart. The devil truly is in the details, and Mr. Deering’s along with Paul Chaffins designs their creative vision shows in these little subtleties.

 On the second floor of the estate Mr. Deering stands, overlooking the horizon. This tropical paradise, recharges him, from the cold concrete jungle that’s Chicago in the Winter. This summer retirement home houses every comfort that you can imagine. You see as Mr. James Deering comes from a family that made their wealth in agriculture. His father a generation before owned huge tracks of land used for harvesting and with the industrial revolution just beginning the family chose to take a gamble on a machine that can harvest crops in a fraction of the time. Now known as the tractor and reaping machines, these machines were revolutionary through allowing farmers to harvest an acre of land within an hour. A task that previously took many hours and laborers was now done within a fraction of time.

Their investment flourished, and as eastern Europe and the United States markets looked to modernize and increase yields orders began flooding in. James after two years of schooling joined the company along with his brother Charles. Being born in Southern Paris and loving to travel he acted as the company’s ambassador in France. Promoting the revolutionary new technology to the major companies and government agencies, the company soon gained traction and fundamentally impacted Europe’s agricultural landscape. To the extent that in 1906 France awarded him the Legion D’honneur being one of the highest merits a French government can give. Working as vice president of the Deering Harvester Company he overlooked 3 manufacturing plants in Illinois until 1909, when J.P Morgan who purchased the company phased him out of the daily affairs. (Citation Needed)

As Mr. James Deering’s guests arrive in their private yachts, their crew anchors to a lovely deep gold and blue swirled post, gleaming against the twinkling shores. Extraordinary isn’t it remarks Mr. Deering as, his guests eyes move upward. With a cool glass of bubbling champagne in his left and a short Cuban cigar on the latter, the glowing cigar is followed by the puff of white smoke. He waves at the Flagler family coming in as his servants lined with trays of gin, whiskey, and Champagne accommodate the incoming family.

It’s easy to imagine scenarios in which Mr. Deering hosted guest at his estate, from the upper levels of European and American society. The neoclassical and Rocco rooms, transport you from the seacoast, or think forested area around the estate to a European palace. My favorite which was the observatory, invites you in with tall marble Corinthian columns to a warm and cozy room. Hanging tapestries, give the room a cozy feeling with deep burgundy and deep blue hues. To your left a large bronze telescope peeps onto the coast, looking to the sea and sky limitless possibilities and an infinite horizon. You hear the music play as the pipe organ deeply resonates in the room, the tapestries acting as a specially built sound room. One might find themselves within canterbury or Westminster cathedral, as the sound comes with the sight of the virgin Mary depiction right on top of the player which make up the doors to the organ.

I find it fascinating that with so much wealth, it often not the big house, plot of land, or money that distinguishes a place. But the creative vision behind how it’s all interconnected and arranged. All though out the estate rooms like the observatory transport you to a different dimension in time. Distinctly different from each other, spanning different generations and artist periods from Roman to Rocco, neoclassical era, to the industrial revolution. It seamlessly blends in the timeless with the modern, old with new, keeping everything, it desires, being constrained only by time and age. Immortal as one’s imagination the human expression to be tell the story of who we are and what we love.

A longing, sadness, recovery behind the glitz and glamour of Vizcaya there was a man. A man who I did not meet, but that nevertheless shared his story with me. In walking Vizcaya, I saw comfort, beauty, recovery, and peace in the interconnectedness of it all. But the was also a façade to it all fake book shelfs, unused instruments, the latest and best money can buy. Is it but a search to find an inner truth? The overindulgence, fame, wealth just the theater of a searching man. Think, walk around, and ask is it happiness, sadness, or loss?

South Beach

Hotel Avenue Photo By Rafael (Vasquez Industries) Film Nikon EM

Among the calm shores and vibrant art deco building lies the story of Miami past. When walking through the streets the physical remnants of history remain, in a city know that tears out the old and puts in the new 5th street through 23rd street remain frozen in time. However, it integrated the old with new what once were affordable housing for the poor, now serve as ocean view restaurants and hotels that feeds Miami’s tourism industry.

            Being the Famous filming location of Scarface, housing the home of Versace, and having a diverse community there’s something for everyone at south beach. However, none of this would be possible today without the work of Barbara Baer Capitman, that led faced the contractors who wanted to tear down this now famous historic district. In a time, where south beach was a humble and neglected neighborhood she saw value, where others saw faded glory days. Bringing to question are things meant to be replaced because their old, or because through neglect and perception we let them become so.

            I believe that certain styles, art, and buildings are reflective of the timeless style that each decade produces. However, it’s our responsibility as a society to preserve and value this within our community. However easier said than done I admire that Ms. Capitan and the Miami Design Preservation league she formed sought to fight for these ideals. However more than just ideals, it was the long-term thinking of the value of these buildings that ultimately paid off. On. Recent trip to Madrid, they are little to no new buildings within the city, however the older one are retrofitted to house modern facilities. It’s the integration of old and new, rather than the replacement that makes Madrid a worldwide attraction besides from the food and culture which is all intertwined.

            A further example, being grand central station in New York city, that developers wanted to tear down now an icon of the city that still serves as a main transportation hub. The function almost a hundred years later is the same, however it’s also been integrated with all the modern amenities. On an interesting side note also saved by a strong woman first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. When I walk the grand lobby, I can see the magnitude Cornelius Vanderbilt wealth and impact on our nation’s railways. Something that as much as I’ve read and learned about him, I could no scale or interact with on the level of seeing the building in person. My point is that old and new can coexist, however it ultimately a choice that comes down to the society we live and what we chose to value.

The Breakwater Shot By Rafael (Vasquez Industries) Film Nikon EM

            As I today admire the design of art deco and the aesthetic beauty of their rounded edges, eyebrows, relief sculptures, freezes, and rule of perfect threes. I can understand that during this period in our collective human history we had recently discovered ancient Egyptian pyramids, and this influenced the 2-dimensional relief sculptures, and ornamentation. Learning that art isn’t just within a canvas and gallery, but architectural, automotive, home décor, and in fashion. It’s all interconnected and to properly understand a decade you must look at the combination of these factors. The main draw today besides the sandy shores and beautiful shores, is in the history that these preserve buildings evoke as you walk through the area. In which I thank and admire the hard work of Barbara and the Miami design preservation league.

Deering Estate

Where nature and preservation have a home and historical past. The Deering estate preserves its historical mansion and residences, while being home to the endangered pine rock land. As a student through middle school, I was taught about the importance of the pine rock land in the south Florida ecosystem and the constant fight to preserve the less than 5% currently left. However, it was an eye-opening experience in smelling the pine and seeing the rich black and vibrant orange of the Atala butterfly.

            I saw that within the land, there is a great biodiversity and battle between the pine and vegetation. Every few years a prescribed burn is conducted where the fire department carefully burns parts of the land, helping to let light in and to clear the ground floor of invasive species. I find it interesting how fire that can be seen as a source of destruction is also the source of regeneration and growth. However, these burns aren’t subjugated to the regulation and laws of man, and naturally burns occur through lighting strikes. However, given the need to ensure the survival of the pine rock ecosystem if a proper fire hasn’t occurred, we must intervene.

            Much of the original land was loss given its height and solid rock foundation, making it ideal for developers to construct communities. However, by giving birth to neighborhoods and residence, we condemned and sentenced to death the native people, along with the natural species of plants and animals that had lived in the south Florida community for thousands of years. Progress they call it, as our environment and ecosystems were ripped apart, replaced with cardboard boxes called homes and asphalt streets. The Tequesta and Seminoles for generations lived symbiotically with the land as their home, only taking what they needed without need for destruction. To think of the genocide of a native culture, for the desirability to consume an area of land to develop speaks volumes of the dark origins the development in south Florida had, parallel with the current environmental and societal problems we now must solve as a society.

            Back to the earth, as I now walked the mangrove forest and felt the fresh saline water, I pondered upon the calm serenity, from the daily bustle. A humming glow of inner silence followed with me into the night as I lay thinking of the beauty id just witness. A land completely untouched and undeveloped just as nature intended it to be. Every day I find were overstimulated with technology, people, news, and advertisement there’s limited time to find a space to unwind. The serenity and stoicism of the forest was a refuge from that daily bustle. I also realized the people within the Deering community that work to preserve and maintain this rich environment, are composed of conversationalist and artists in residence. They walk between nature and Miami’s daily bustle.

            Going back to the feeling of inner silence and serenity I felt that night, I understand how my professor along with the members of the Deering estate are deeply inspired and set out to work on creative pursuits. With the ocean front, 5 different ecosystems, and the history of Tequesta inhabitation there is an inexhaustible supply of inspiration. However, as I learned trekking through the land for about 7 hours that day, you must endeavor to seek adventure out, and be lucky as we were to have a professor that could help us look further and appreciate the beauty of this unique landscape.

            Today I seek to share with you my experience at the Deering estate within the pine rock land to encourage you to visit it for yourselves and get involved with the nature in your community. As I now understand and see the value that the unique landscape has around the Deering estate, I will seek to be more involved and find ways to help maintain this environment for generations to come. Given that although the land is secured now, around south Florida they are many pockets of the precious pine rock land, under constant threat by developers. It is my civic duty to support organizations that are working to maintain and preserve this land, helping the ecological health of our south Florida community. However its within getting out in nature, that I believe you can fully appreciate and understand the value it holds for us all.

Rubell Museum A Conversation

Deer Family

            Housed in a refurbished Wearhouse, were industry and merchandise use to govern now lies an international art collection that opens the door to conversations about the important issues of our time. Unlike other art museums I’ve been to before, specifically the louvre, Museo del Prado, and the national gallery in London where I’ve seen works by historically influential painters the Rubell museum was a strikingly different experience. However, after the initial shock and learning about the nature of contemporary art my perspective broadens.

            An interesting detail was how the museum beyond its expositions, was itself a carefully throughout and planned experience. As I moved through the rooms, I felt in a distinctly different area that I had been before. From the large metal spheres to the infinity room, more than just a painting on the wall, I felt my self-transported into another world. However, it wasn’t just within these room that I felt this effect, but through most of the different expositions ranging from paintings, sculptures, and race. A sculpture that drew my attention was the Family with antlers by Karon Davis. Upon first entering the room, you impacted by the vibrant white plaster statues, and a long mural that appeared to me rather simple in design. 

            However, as I looked closer the subject of race relation, specific to the African American community could not be ignored. Where I was overwhelmed by not knowing who’s work or what the art was supposed to mean, I started uncovering the hidden meaning. Looking at the long mural, by Kerry James Marshall I read the description finding more ambiguity that description. The artist I believe intentionally leaves the work ambiguous to where the viewer then reflects what they believe, yet at the same time telling his story. This opens the door to a conversation, where I wanted to ask about the piece and research more about his work. In this journey I found his mission is to portray African Americans as powerful and reclaim negative stereotypes, while giving you something to chew on. To me Marshall’s portrait showed a distinct yellow brick wall and going into a simple room where a group of African American males are talking as one brings in coffee/ tea into the room. However, the portraits are all blacked out, and the wall within the house a plain pale pink color.

            To me the yellow brick apartment wall with flowers in the front, overlooking the city represents the dream such as from the yellow brick road, leading you into a place of answers. Answers being answered within the discussion inside. However, the flowers in combination with the yellow brick wall, were also distinctive to me as representing a strong female figure that holds the home together. Within this bond the young men are at home, sharing conversation. Here I believe the artist is giving unconscious cues combating the negative stereotypes of African American criminality and home life.  However, this was just me reading into the painting based on prior knowledge and experience, and as much as my interpretation may be accurate, it could be a vastly different take than the one the artist or another human might see when pondering upon the work. Hence being a piece that is though provoking and inviting to conversation, with the artist goal of bringing to the table race and stereotypes that need to be brought down as the core of his message. 

            Back to the deer family statue of, Davis I was perplexed with why she chooses the antlers in a scene where their young child was going to school. However, the message becomes clear when I drop my prior held belief of what art is or should be. Thinking on the laws of nature, their son is a young buck still not ready to fully face the world, but non the less going out into an unfamiliar school environment. There he will likely face obstacles such as any young person with classes, friends, and back to the theme of the room race. To me being Hispanic and a minority I can relate to the sentiment of the piece, however it also expressed the sentiment of how the African American people feel today. Because although our countries dark history of slavery has passed, the racism and challenges faced by this community is still very present. 

            During my time in the museum there were many more pieces and room, that made me pause and think about deeper issues and stories that are relevant to our time. However, as I think about the construction and materials used for some of these. unique pieces I also ponder upon their longevity and life span. Some like the plaster statues will continue to dry harder and become brittle with time. I thought they will have to be reworked or lost to time, as well as the infinity rooms, and similar installations that without a large Wearhouse to support them they would be perhaps loss. Perhaps if the issues are properly addressed and fixed they will serve a remainder of a past time and struggle, however as they currently stand in relation to our world I believe they will still be remade and reimagined by future generations. 

Miami Art Week 

            The world-famous Miami art week consists of big celebrates, emerging artists, and perhaps one of the largest meeting places where international artists can appeal to a great audience of buyers. Art Basal is by far the most well-known, however all-around Miami beach and downtown smaller art galleries known as satellite fairs are also just as captivating to the many crowds seeking to enjoy and buy art. One such fair I visited was untitled art fair, right at the front of Miami famous art deco district overlooking the gleaming shores. 

            Approaching the fair you’ll see, a large white canvas structure with a swarming line of people in the blistering sun waiting to flood in.  People dressed in the latest trendy styles, taking pictures Infront of the colorful canvases and sculptures. As much as it’s an art fair, it’s a social media and networking event where Instagram governs and helps shapes public perception. However, a sentiment I had, was how inaccessible and foreign this week used to be for me as a Miamian. Art selling for thousands of dollars, high traffic, crowds of international people in a world of contemporary art, I Franky didn’t know enough about. 

            However, the through an amazing opportunity through Professor Bailey and the coordinator of the art untitled art fair Omar Lopez-Chahoud the veil of mystery soon lifted. Taking the time to explain to us the nature of untitled, and the business in Miami I had a better understating that untitled was more than just a show, but a great investment of time and resources from international artist and galleries to expose the work and stories of people who have devoted their lives to the craft. It impacted me how the same stories of artist being discovered later in life rings true today, having collections from both young but also older artists that may have not earned much exposure in their careers, till now. 

            We had a great opportunity to talk gallery owner Emerson Dorsch, learning about the realities and origins of art installations and galleries in Miami. Today we see the untitled art fair, art basal, and the design district such as Wynwood as a center for art, business, and wealth. However, in the early days the design district was an abandoned and near empty warehouse area, being an affordable place have access to a large area. In here people such as Mr. Emerson, along with multiple galleries started setting up shop creating interactive shows to showcase their work. Following these humble origins, it eventually drew the attention of developers to come in a set up businesses and galleries of their own. However, the advancement and development came at a tradeoff. As Mr. Emerson explained, many of the new galleries were more commercial in nature, losing some of the showmanship and excitement the earlier galleries and shows had. The area by nature also became more expensive, and somewhat of a target for thieves in its early days.

            However, through all this many galleries kept their original dynamic approach, which we see around the untitled art fair today. In these exhibits I personally loved the work of Robert Thiele, which mixes concrete and fragile glass and fabrics. Upon initial impression I thought to myself this looks like a basic concrete mold which can be easily poured and made. However, the art and skill lie within the pour that keeps the glass and fabric showing inside. The piece being from 1997 is simply labeled 6-9 and is both a sign of strength and delicacy coming together in a physical form. Although I did not personally meet Robert, his work and online interviews gave me the opportunity to know more about an artist and fabricator that captured my imagination and wonder. 

            Thanking Omar Lopez-Chahoud, Mr. Emmerson, and the many other guest speakers that took time from their day to share their amazing insights and experiences within the untitled art fair, to help us learn more about the world they love and by extension we do as well by learning through them. I was able to walk away from the fair, with a greater appreciation and understanding for today’s contemporary art. 

Miami Final Reflection

City (Vasquez Industries)

            Miami is a city with history, soul, and culture dating back to the native Tequesta people who inhabited the land, to the modern-day metropolis we know today. Miami’s identity is distinctly multicultural within the span of it lifetime. During my time exploring the origins of my hometown and state, I’ve learned that there’s more than meets the eye than what we’ve been taught in general history classes.

            What most impacted me was the naming of city of Miami-Dade, a seemingly simple an innocent name. Dade county which today has become an iconic and famous name, even heard in songs by Miami native Pitbull it’s a part of our mainstream culture. However, we’ve forgotten the dark meaning behinds its origins, in the Seminole wars and the genocide of the indigenous populations. Major Francis Dade was a general in the US army tasked with carrying out this task. However, he met an early demise when he was defeated in an ambush attack, today misleading labeled as the Dade massacre, as a country we made a mortar out of a genocidal part in American history. However, we often prefer to overlook the wrong, rather than acknowledging it to properly move on. Which is at the core of many of the fundamental problems, we a society must address. 

            Following this we learned about the vibrant past of Miami’s African American history, in historic over town. A once bustling town, it was once known as little Broadway, housing the greatest names in jazz today. It served as an afterhours concert hall for African American signers when segregation laws were in effect. As well as being the heart of the civil right movement, with many historic churches that served to help the community. However, unlike its counterparts in Miami beach art deco district, many of the historic buildings have since been destroyed and sold to developers. The main catalyst for the decline of this community, started with the construction of interstate pass, which was purposely made to cut through their community. Sadly, showing that segregation and discrimination can take different forms going into the present times. 

            These two distinctly different yet interrelated events impacted me the most, because I never learned it happened in the history of Miami. When taught American history, these key details seem to be passed over. Focusing on the generalities of a period, we forget that close to home key events that happened, shaped the communities we currently live in. Many more details and events were painted in, during our time with Professor John Bailey that formed the finer picture, that’s Miami and the communities within it. Nature, social issues, history, and art were the core lessons and value I took away from my time in this unique experience at FIU. Learning that history tends to have it black, white, and grey moments in between that as a whole form a picture of the events of our history. I was truly blessed to have learned about the authentic side that goes beyond the parties and luxury that people believe Miami to be. 

Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art Community 2017

© Melanie Ponce

Contrapasso Contrapposto
By Melanie Ponce

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

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

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

Originally posted in

Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art, Community 2017

Village Garden © Melanie Ponce

Paintbrush from the Past

by Melanie Ponce

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

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

Originally shown at

Liza Guanch: Miami Service 2022


Photography by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

Liza Guanch is an Honors College student and Psychology major at Florida International University who is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree. Her long-term goal is to study forensic/legal psychology and find a career in a government agency, preferably the FBI. In her free time, Liza enjoys being out in nature and learning about her environment.


I volunteered at Deering Estate and Bill Baggs State Park in Miami, Florida. Both volunteer excursions were led by Professor John William Bailly of FIU in the Miami in Miami class. In Bill Baggs State Park, we were also led by Ranger Shane Zigler. Bill Baggs State Park is a Florida state park that protects South Florida’s natural environment, is home to Cape Florida Lighthouse, and is a tourist destination for beautiful, sandy beaches and other outdoor activities. While the original plan was to venture out to Chicken Key, the winds weren’t in our favor, so we came up with the alternative plan of cleaning up the mangroves on the estate.


While the main reason for completing these volunteer excursions was because it was a part of the Miami in Miami syllabus, there are multiple other reasons. Ever since I was young, I would take part in protecting the environment in any way that I could. I was a Girl Scout for 7 years which allowed me to do a lot of volunteer work that would benefit nature such as beach cleanups with Baynanza, recycling activities, or even something as simple as cleaning up a garden. I noticed that out of all of those, I would continue to gravitate towards beach cleanups or anything revolving the ocean because of how important the ocean is to me. I have always had a deep love for the ocean and what lives in it, so being able to clean up some of the damage that humans are doing to it means a great deal.

These activities do not directly relate to my major, as I am a psychology major, but they do relate to my interests. Along with my love for the ocean, I also have a love for Marine Biology. I considered going down the Marine Biology track in college, but I preferred to keep it as a hobby, so I could have some more room to explore my other interests like legal psychology. Marine Biology is extremely interesting to me, and the mangrove cleanup made me feel like I was making an impact and helping the lives of marine animals, including dolphins which happen to be my favorite animal of all-time.


For the Bill Baggs State Park excursion, we were told to meet at the Cape Florida Lighthouse where we were met with our mission. It was a beautiful day to be outside with blue skies and a bright sun that shined consistently throughout the day. Upon first glance of the lighthouse, I was in awe, I had seen it before as a child, but learning about the history and how it is the one of the oldest standing structures remaining in Miami Dade County made the view all that more breathtaking. This is the second semester of the Miami in Miami class, but this excursion seemed to bring the class together. Along with connecting the class, I was able to connect with Ranger Shane Zigler and learn about his history, his current responsibilities, and more on his outlook of the park and the world.

This trip to the Deering Estate is the third we have made in this class, but each time is completely different. If we had stuck to the original plan, we would have needed to get to Chicken Key by canoes, but because of the weather conditions and luckily for our muscles, we only had to walk a short distance to get to the mangroves. The first sight that is seen is a blocked off entrance to the old Deering Estate mangrove path which creates a level of mystery and anticipation of what’s to come.

WHEre & what

The Bill Baggs State Park Cleanup took place on April 6th, 2022. We met at the Cape Florida Lighthouse and were told that we were on landscaping duty. The project was to carry several bags of mulch, using gloves, and then lay the mulch all along the sides of the pathway that lead up to the lighthouse. Despite it being April, the Florida sun is no match, and we were instantly breaking a sweat. I was able to work alongside classmates that I had not spoken to much and bonded with them over the task at hand and learned a little bit about their backgrounds which proved to me how doing something good can bring people together. Laying the mulch and making it look as visually appealing as possible took around 2 hours. Once we finished, we stopped and looked at all that we had done and were amazed at the results. It looked stunning. The feeling of accomplishment that came over me when I was able to see the difference, I had made just in two hours was indescribable.

The Mangrove Cleanup took place on April 20th, 2022. This was another April event, so it while it wasn’t as hot as it could be in Miami, it was still enough to sweat instantly, especially with the work we were doing. We met at the Deering Estate and prepared ourselves for the day by putting on mosquito repellent, sunscreen, putting on water shoes, if we had, and gathering the trash bags. Before we started to clean, we learned that there used to a be a path through the mangroves that was about 1 mile long and would lead out to Cutler Creek, but it was destroyed during Hurricane Irma. The mangrove habitat seemed a bit overgrown and while we did find plenty of trash including a metal bucket, some illegal lobster trap materials, and plenty of other litter, we also encountered plenty of spiders and even saw a couple snakes. It was very much an immersion into nature, but that made it all the more rewarding to clean up.


Approved/Awaiting Approval hours on MYHONORS


Overall, both days were a success. I would not have had it any other way. The way I see it, we were able to make an impact and assist in the beautification of our natural world. It is easy to say that what didn’t work on the Deering Estate cleanup day was the weather which preventing us from going to Chicken Key, but it led us to clean another area that needed just as much care and attention. The best part of both excursions was being able to see our results, however I wish we had more time to spend in the mangroves. There is so much to be done there and hopefully one day, that won’t be the case, but until then, the little that we did do went a long way. The only thing left to say is, keep our world beautiful. It provides for us, so let us keep it healthy and thriving. It is the least we can do.

Monica B. Perez: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Monica at the Van Gogh experience near Wynwood. Photo by Olga Rivera/CC by 4.0

Monica Perez is a sophomore pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Florida International University. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer family and dialectical behavioral 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

Dropped Bowl With Shattered Slices and Peels. By Monica B Perez/ CC by 4.0

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

Stained Glass in Greater Bethel Church. By Monica B Perez/CC by 4.0

“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

Vizcaya Gardens By Monica B Perez/CC by 4.0

“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

Deering Pipeline at the Deering Estate. by Monica B Perez/ CC. by 4.0

“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

“Nature’s Wisdom”

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.

Coral Gables as Text

Coral Gables City Hall Photo by Monica B Perez /CC by 4.0

“The Grey Area”

By Monica B Perez at Coral Gables, 26 January 2022

Over the past few years, society has shifted from glorifying the past to sharing unspoken stories of the oppressed. This is such a beautiful shift because we are finally acknowledging the wrongs of the past and holding people of the present accountable for their missteps. It also lifts up the oppressed and gives them a chance to flourish. However, some criticize those who consider themselves “woke” or socially aware because some tend to hold historic media and figures to modern standards. Both points of view seem to be on opposing sides.

There are ways that we can discuss a figure’s historical significance and admit their wrongdoings. These are especially important when discussing the development of Coral Gables. The construction of Coral Gables started in 1910, when the Merrick house was completed. In the land boom of the 1920s, George Merrick quickly expanded the city to accommodate for Miami’s new wealthy citizens. Merrick and other developers relied on the work of black Bahamians to build most (if not all) of Coral Gables. Their conditions were dangerous and exploitative, and it was clear Merrick had no shame. In the 30s, Merrick advertised a resettlement plan to displace the black population of Miami and move the community across the state. Today, George Merrick is a widely criticized figure in Miami’s history, but are the critics too harsh?

The short answer is… welcome to the grey area. George Merrick is majorly responsible for developing one of the most beautiful areas of Miami. He did this by exploiting Bahamians for the sake of the wealthy. Both statements can exist simultaneously because he existed and did both simultaneously. Some choose to erase his image from buildings or fail to include him in certain conversations for fear of ruining their own image. Erasing him is not the answer to dismantling racism, but erasing his actions is just as harmful. Condemning blatant racism is not “cancel culture”, nor is it holding Merrick to a modern standard. It is actually the first step toward positive change. Sure, almost every rich white man at the time was a white supremacist, but this does not absolve George Merrick of his individual offenses.

Coral Gables is a beautiful community where the wealthy still consist of the major population. It is a town rich in history that is a product of racist ideologies of the time. Walking around the community as a solid middle class citizen of color is strange because you appreciate its beauty, but you know that you would not have been welcomed there 100 or even 60 years ago. It is a perfect example of the grey area where the history, founding members, and even present condition cannot be labeled as good or bad.

River of Grass as Text

“Fleeting Moments”

By Monica Perez of FIU at the Everglades 16 February 2022

Being a suburban, West Kendall kid has its perks. The schools are good, the neighborhoods are safe, and there is a Publix located at every corner. It is every parent’s dream. Sure, the traffic is terrible and gas prices are through the roof, but at least you know you have a safe place to call home. Sometimes, however, the schools get so good that kids stop relying on nature to teach them things. The houses are so safe, kids do not need to go anywhere else to play. The Pub Subs are so good that kids do not need to pick berries off a bush that has been deemed safe to eat from. The kids grow into adults that have responsibilities and bills to pay. They never know what it means to soak up fleeting moments in nature.

Everglades National Park was established in 1947 with the goal of conserving Florida’s natural ecosystem and primary source of clean air. It is home to native flora like mangroves and Florida’s indigenous palm tree. Deer, alligators, panthers, and other fauna call it home. It is threatened now by climate change and invasive species, but nature has a way of adapting with our help through routine burnings and clearing of sawgrass. This is important because it helps control certain populations that may overgrow or make it harder for us to monitor and care for. Sawgrass clearings also reveal solution holes filled with clean, fresh water suitable for a swim.

When hiking through such unfamiliar terrain home to some dangerous flora and fauna, it is easy to feel stuck looking down. While the view is quite entertaining (there are interesting patterns and insects on the ground), one misses everything above and around them. Native birds passing by, the way the cypress trees dance in the breeze, the cloud that vaguely looks like horse with a sombrero- all these moments are missed because the kid who never goes outside decided to take a crazy class that makes her do things she never thought she would do (like hike through untouched terrain with alligators hiding near), so she cannot help but look down in fear. She passes up the chance to swim with her peers (and professor) in a solution hole that will be swallowed by sawgrass in just a few months because she did not want to smell like swamp.

It is so important for people to spend time in their parks to get used to their local environment. It teaches them when it means to take a clean breath that gives life to their body. They learn to feel safe and aware of their surroundings their ancestors called home. It encourages them to eat sweet berries from the bush that nourish their spirits. It gives them the chance to take in the fleeting moments that nature offers them, moments they will never get back.

Wynwood Arts District as Text

“The Ideal Classroom”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Wynwood Arts District 23 February 2022

The most common misconception about art is that it is just a hobby and that it has no place in the education system. Many assert that learning about art in any way is a waste of time that distracts from real academic fields like math, grammar, and science. Those same people will say there is no money in an art career or that it is easy, and therefore a useless idea. Clearly, these people have never been to Miami’s Wynwood Arts District.

Wynwood was first established in 1917 as a working-class neighborhood. It remained so until the late 2000s, when Tony Goldman and a few others started purchasing land and dedicating it to modern art in an effort to rebrand the neighborhood as a cultural hub for Miami. It has since become somewhat of a tourist destination and important part of the Miami art scene. Now, numerous collectors of modern art use warehouses in Wynwood to share their collection with the world. In 1999, the first phase Marguilles Collection at the Warehouse was established. Since then, they have used their space to display a wide variety of works from October to April, using May to September to rearrange the art and plan their next focus.

The Marguilles Collection has a close relationship with schools across South Florida, welcoming students from the ages of about 10 to their late twenties. Students attending any university in Florida can even receive free admission to the collection on any day. The Collection sees the value in using art as a supplement to education. Art, especially that present at the Marguilles collection, teaches students about math, physics, history, storytelling, psychology, and even emotional intelligence. The materials being used in certain pieces have practical, scientific explanations for their presence. Certain pieces address important historical events and movements that affect the way our society works today. It integrates different elements of other fields with something that is entertaining, shocking, saddening, exciting, or produces some other reaction.

Art is a crucial part of the human experience. It is what makes us unique among other species, and it should be celebrated. It is also a valuable tool in teaching students about complex subjects. It is important that schools integrate art into their required curriculum and find ways to safely visit museums, private collections, and unique neighborhoods like the Wynwood Arts District.

Key Biscayne as Text

View from Cape Florida Light/ By Monica B. Perez CC by 4.0

“What I Wish I Knew”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Bill Baggs State Park 16 March 2022

Growing up in Miami, Florida is one of the greatest privileges I now possess. I have a unique community of people that are similar enough to help me feel safe, but different enough from me that I am challenged in the best ways. I am comforted by the large Hispanic/Latine community here, but I am also presented with people of other cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds that broaden my perspective. One of the communities most dissimilar to my own is Key Biscayne. The island is home to (mostly) wealthy white people who share little to no experiences with me as a middle-class, hispanic person from West Kendall. This has been the area’s steady population since the colonization of Florida due to its perceived exclusivity and proximity to beaches and wildlife. Unfortunately, the stories before this population arrived are told incorrectly if at all.

Bill Baggs State Park is located in Cape Florida viewing Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The park appeals to residents Key Biscayne as a more high-end park and beach. Those outside of the area recognize it for this and the lighthouse colloquially named “El Farito”. The park makes known that the lighthouse was destroyed in the Second Seminole War. Historians will depict this day as a savage attack by uncivilized “Indians”. Even the images surrounding the park suggest this, but the Seminoles carried out a skillful, calculated attack that left only one survivor. In addition, the park provides information about how the park was a checkpoint for the Underground Railroad. Local schools, however, prefer to keep this information quiet to distance Miami from slavery, the Underground Railroad, and any signs of racism.

As I mentioned before, Miami is a diverse community that includes people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. However, schools are not doing the best job at making sure accurate local history is being taught. So many believe that the answer to the most complex racial and discrimination issues is erasure and re-writing. Erase lessons about how Miami was (and still is) a part of “The South”, which encouraged slavery and racial injustice. Re-write the Seminole people as inferior. The best way to alleviate the pain is to educate. As a Miami-raised college student in 2022, I wish I had known more about my local history, including that of Key Biscayne.

Coconut Grove As Text

Plymouth Congregational Church/ Photo by Monica CC by 4.0

“Many Perspectives”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Coconut Grove 30 March, 2022

A native “Miami-an” would categorize Coconut Grove to be “that place with no parking and lots of expensive restaurants”. It is a place where the lower-middle class goes to experience luxury, and only the upper class can stay the night. However, Coconut Grove is also home to a historically significant Bahamian community, groundbreaking faith communities, and nationally-recognized green spaces. It holds a surprisingly wholesome bit of Miami’s complicated history. Learning about Coconut Grove is essential to a well-rounded education on Miami’s history because it highlights so many different perspectives.

One of the most moving parts of Coconut Grove is the historic Bahamian community. Most educated “Miami-ans” know that there was a significant Bahamian population before white settlers colonized Florida and developed Miami Dade. This original community, neglected in the census, was responsible for actually building most older neighborhoods in Miami because they were the ones who best knew how to manipulate materials like oolite and limestone. Those honorable people now lay in a Bahamian-style cemetery that keeps their legacy alive. This style cemetery is so different from most North-American cemeteries that it inspires certain artists to replicate it as a setting for productions.

As with any other community in any part of the world, a great way to learn about Coconut Grove is to visit the different faith communities. Christ Episcopal Church, founded March 24, 1901, tells the story of the community because it represents it on their stained glass windows. Contrary to many Christian Churches that depict predominantly white figures, Christ Episcopal Church depicts significant characters in the bible, like Jesus, as black. This better immerses the community in the faith because they can see themselves represented on the walls. Plymouth Congregational Church, organized November 7, 1897, represents the land in the materials used to build it. The stone used to build it was gifted by a member of the community and sourced from Coco Plum Plaza. It is art and function created by hand, from the land it sits on.

The Barnacle was built in 1891 by Ralph Middleton Munroe, a middle-class, blue collar worker from Staten Island, New York. He built his house away from the developing city to maintain a “simple and genuine life”. Even today, few cars are allowed in the park, and little city noise can be heard from inside. The house is well known across the country for being built from the top down. The roof had been modeled similar to a boat (due to Munroe’s occupation), the second story was originally the first story, and the whole house was picked up using railroad jacks to build a first floor. Deemed a Florida Heritage site, it is a beautiful example of a hard-working, simple gentleman calling Miami his home.

Liza Guanch: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photography by Liza Guanch//CC by 4.0

About Me

Liza Guanch is a 19-year-old junior at Florida International University. She was born and raised in Miami but embraces her Cuban and European background. She is a cancer survivor and sees that as one of the blessings in her life. She is majoring in Psychology and wants to pursue a graduate degree in Forensic Psychology to then work in the FBI. She continues to challenge herself to accomplish all her goals and learn every piece of knowledge she is able to.

Downtown as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Roots of the City as Text”

by Liza Guanch of FIU at Downtown Miami, 1 September 2021

Color can be found deep within the roots of Miami. However, it seems that this story of color has been washed out. The original inhabitants of Miami were colored, the Tequestas. The first named citizen was a colored man, a Bahamian. The first buildings to be built in Miami were created by African-American people. Miami runs on color, but with so much of the history that is told being based on the European colonization, it gets pushed underground.

To be colored in a society that was crafted by those who were colored should be something powerful, yet it has brought so much fear and struggle instead. In the beginning, the Tequesta people brought life to this city prior to it being a city. They used their knowledge of the land that they called home to survive 250 years past European colonization. They passed on many skills and lessons to these foreigners such as farming in this wet environment and hunting methods to get the best catch in the Miami wild. Without these skills, the foreign Europeans would not have lasted long. Yet, somehow, the foreigners decided that these Tequestas were of no use as the years went on and ran them out leading to their extinction. Miami may have been inhabited by color, but it then became a European settlement.

As the Europeans continued to take over the land we know as Miami, a man by the name of William English came from the Carolinas to create a civilization based on fertile soil. While this can be seen as good, all good brings on its fair share of bad. To take care of this land, labor was needed, and what better labor, English thought, then free labor. Slave labor was introduced because of civilization creation and agriculture in Miami. The first buildings ever built were slave quarters, “Longhouse” which then turned to “Fort Dallas” to be used in the Seminole Wars, and they were built by the African-American and Bahamian people. While slavery may have started because of William English, the foundation of Miami being built by color was also started.

Further understanding of Miami roots running deep and filled with color are the Seminole Wars. These three wars paved the way for the Seminole Indians to have the home that they have now in the Everglades. These wars were some of the most gruesome wars on both the European and the Seminole sides. While they were the most gruesome, the end result was freedom for the colored people, despite them still being pushed into the Everglades. The colored roots of Miami may run deep and may be underground in most parts, but the Seminoles prove that these roots are present and are never-ending.

As the creation of Miami continues, Henry Flagler brings railroads to Miami which is an extreme improvement to the city that Julia Tuttle founded. However, these railroads allowed for town separation which Flagler took advantage of and created segregation among Miami through the development of the city we know as “Overtown”, but was known as “Colored Town” and referred to as “Darkie Town”. This was the first appearance of segregation and continues to prove that despite Miami being crafted and built by color, there is more fear and struggle than power and freedom in these colors because of its European history.

As time goes on, segregation eventually ends in the 1900s, but the divide never disappears. Racism dates back to the early 1700s-1800s when the Europeans first came to interact with the indigenous people and any other tribes that made their presence known such as the Seminoles and Tequestas. Racism does not limit itself to only the African-American people, it extends to those of all color, and it does not leave color out. It is a prevalent issue that still exists today which is a deep shame because this city would not exist if not for color. Our roots are color, we were built because of color, the society we know today would not be if not for color. Our roots run deep and they are colored.

Overtown as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Racing Time”

by Liza Guanch of FIU at Overtown, 15 September 2021

Time. We know it as the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years of our lives. We see it as a wake-up or go to sleep reminder, we see it as class/work start and end times. In present day society, many simply see time as a concept that helps our day-to-day lives. The reality is time is not just an aiding concept. Those of us who do not see time in this “present” view are those who have been at war with it, those such as the Tequesta tribe and other Native American tribes or the lively community that was forcibly created in Overtown who have suffered so greatly at the hands of this unbeatable force.

The beginning of this fight in Miami against time starts with the Tequesta inhabitants, the Miamians before Miami. This tribe and a few others such as the Seminoles and Miccosukee found the area of what is now known as Hialeah as a place to farm because of its fertile grounds, but it was also used as time went on with those newer Miami people. As time passed, the Tequesta went extinct after 250 years of living alongside foreigners, the Seminole people fought for their land and never surrendered but were forced to move to the Everglades where they presently reside. Time forced these inhabitants out of Hialeah, so a city could be built, as if a community was not ruined. Hialeah Park was created as time passed and it became the center of Hialeah in the 1920’s standing as a family friendly location to bet on horse races and greyhound races. This seemed wonderful and it lasted for several years leading up to the late 1990’s/early 2000’s, but again, time passed meaning that laws were passed, and those laws include gambling and animal cruelty laws which shut down horse and greyhound racing; this led to the eventual shut down of the Hialeah Park amusement area and it is now seen as a protected piece of history. While the loss of business in Hialeah Park is not as much of a loss as what the indigenous people faced, it is still a clear example that the more time passes, the more life can be altered in so many significant ways.

One of the most saddening challenge that has been faced with time is portrayed in Overtown. This city was created to segregate the Blacks from the Whites during the time of Henry Flagler and was known as “darkie town”, so these people of Overtown were forced to create a community out of this area and they did. They made the most out of this forced lifestyle and even developed a business sector and a “Little Broadway” which is where the city would come to life with the constant performances from big name Black celebrities such as Billy Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Count Basie among others. As the enemy known as time continued to terrorize life as they knew it, developers came and decided that many buildings, homes, and areas needed to be updated to give Overtown more appeal. If you view Overtown today, it is filled with high-rises including excessively expensive apartment buildings and there is a highway, I-95, that sits around 50 ft from one of the first historically Black churches in Miami. This is called gentrification. Gentrification is dislodging a community to try and create a different image for the city, despite the city already being beautiful and filled with passion. All those high-rises were once family homes and businesses that were forced to move because developers decided they had a better plan for that one specific area which overruled having to uplift so many families and hard workers from the only places they knew as theirs. The only buildings left from this massive development are mainly the ones that must be protected by the National Register of Historical Places such as the two historically Black churches, the Dorsey house, and the Lyric Theatre. These churches still have services to this day where they speak on all the good the Lord has provided them with, yet they are still made aware every day of all that has happened leading up to present times. They never forget the effect that time had on them and continues to have on them. While time may bring some good, we can never forget that we are always racing time.

Vizcaya As Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Ignorant Pleasure”

By Liza Guanch of FIU at Vizcaya, 13 October 2021

Ignorance is bliss. Bliss is defined as perfect happiness or an immense level of joy. What brings on bliss during times of struggle? Pleasure. People crave to be pleased and to please because of the satisfaction it brings despite any issues they may be facing. James Deering, one of the wealthiest men in Florida in the late 1800s to early 1900s, desired a lifestyle filled with this concept. He enjoyed traveling and experiencing all the world had to offer, but he was enamored by Italian living. As he was planning his next expedition to Italy, World War I struck preventing him from doing so. What does a man who longs to be entertained and pleased do when he is kept from his place of enjoyment? Naturally, a man like Deering would bring Italy to Miami, Florida.

Deering not only brought Italy to Florida, he brought Europe as a whole to Florida during his creation of Villa Vizcaya, an Italian-style villa made to represent pleasure and entertainment. He hired Paul Chafin as an artistic director to bring his ideas to life in this villa. To provide an idea of what Deering wanted to have on display in his villa, one has to understand that despite wanting to create a theme of indulgence, he also had to have anything that was new in technological advancements or that showcased his wealth such as a phone which he primarily used to contact his brother, Charles Deering at the Deering Estate, and an organ in one of the rooms.

Villa Vizcaya was created amongst the 180 acres of Bayfront land that Deering purchased, but it only makes up about 38,000 feet and Vizcaya Museum only consists of 50 acres to date. Deering made it a point to buy this much land but only build on such a small portion in comparison to be able to preserve the natural environment. The creation of this villa took about 4 years and utilized 10% of Miami’s population at the time with most being Afro-Caribbean, black laborers that were paid more at Vizcaya as opposed to any other job they were able to get yet it was still nowhere near a stable living for these laborers. While Deering may have been an avid nature conservationist, he remained blind to the main issues at hand such as racism, prohibition, and many others. Some would say that his wealth blinded him, but being ignorant comes from only viewing the world in a singular view, and in his case, it was his hedonistic view that shut out any that would impact it negatively— though, I suppose wealth could also play a part in this. His ignorance might have prevented him from being involved in society and using his wealth for more than just self-satisfaction, but Deering never seemed to create any label for himself that would place him as a vile person, just possibly overcome by his status.

Deering believed himself to be made up of many different personalities. He believed he was an adventurer, a pioneer, and a hero to name a few. He crafted statues of Ponce De Leon and a man from the Vizcaya shipwreck which he placed across from each other on the grounds to showcase who he thought himself to be. Throughout his villa, many representations show his egotistical view of himself in several ways, but there are also many depictions of ecstasy and indulgence such as the statue of the Roman God of Hedonism, Dionysus, the statue of Leda who had relations with a swan that was Zeus in disguise, or the music room with “Cupid” seen on the walls and ceilings and floral patterns seen in the light fixtures, furniture, and walls representing the female anatomy in art.

Deering crafted a beautiful villa with representations of Spain, Italy, France, and Rome in the architecture and design. The villa immersed visitors in a trip around the world that satisfied all of their visual needs and allowed them to be consumed in pleasure and blind to reality. With secret garden hideaways, breath-taking pieces of artwork, stunning natural landscaping, and hedonistic symbols throughout the property, Vizcaya lives up to Deering’s goal of being a place of pleasure. Living in ignorant pleasure may not be suitable for day-to-day life in present times, but if there is a chance to experience it for a moment and escape true reality, then that is a chance worth taking.

South Beach as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch//CC by 4.0

“Diversity and Design”

By Liza Guanch of FIU at South Beach, 27 October 2021

Diversity is defined as the quality of including people from different ethnic, religious, social, and racial backgrounds along with those of different genders and sexual orientations, so how is there diversity in design? South Beach has not always been known as a place filled with unique architecture, as it was once a mangrove-filled habitat that transformed into a getaway beach paradise for those of all colors. However, as time progressed, diversity was strained until design in architecture decided to take over which allowed for a grand re-opening of a shared city.

There are three main architectural designs that South Beach is filled with: Mediterranean Revival, Mimo, and the most famous, Art Deco. Mediterranean Revival comes from Spanish and Mediterranean influences and is known for creating an atmosphere of relaxation and serenity; identifying this style involves looking for archways, porches, balconies, and iron fixtures much like the Versace mansion. This form of architecture can be found throughout South Beach and was introduced to Miami in the 1920s-1930s to entice tourists and add an “exotic” appeal. Mimo is the second style found throughout the architecture in South Beach and stands for Miami Modern. It was developed in the post-war period and was meant to fulfill the intrigue of people’s fascination of futurism with acute angles and other geometrical forms. Last, but not least, is Art Deco, which by itself can stand to represent the beauty and symmetry of the diverse and tropical city that we live in. Art Deco first began in France just before World War I and is where the name was founded, but it made its appearance during the design period of the 1920s and 1930s which is when the other styles began to emerge as well. This movement was a strong influencer and motivator to more than just building styles, it inspired fashion and art as well. These buildings are not easy to miss and that was intentional as the goal was to create a modern look that was simple, yet fresh. Noticeable features of these Art Deco buildings are their bright colors, their porthole style windows, the symmetry of “three”, and the detailing that is usually of geometric shapes or of nature.

These three design styles may only be buildings, but they are creations of different backgrounds that serve as a destination for all to view, therefore increasing diversity in and through design. It may not make total sense, but Miami often does not, yet the chaotic nature of this city is what helps it thrive. We are diverse and beautiful in every sense of the word.

Deering Estate as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Dangerous Beauty”

By Liza Guanch of FIU at the Deering Estate, 10 November 2021

The Deering Estate is made up of over 450 acres of natural Miami landscaping. It was once the home of the Tequesta people and is still the home of many animals such as gopher tortoises, river otters, spiders, snakes, coyotes, and many more. There is so much history that is found within the roots of the mangroves, within the bark of the tree, and within the holes of the earth. Even the extinct Dire Wolf ran across the prairies that made up the land that is now the Deering Estate.

Step into the past. The roots run deep here. Imagine you are a foreigner because that is what you are in this terrain. The mosquitoes flying at full speed like fighter jets just to get a taste of your sweat-covered body, coyotes howling in the distance, unknown steps being taken into mangrove-filled freshwater that can house all from alligators to snakes to the tiniest of insects, the beautiful danger is all around. You discover several holes on your trek through this wilderness, some are solution holes, some are the doings of the animals around you such as the crab, but all are not meant to be stepped in with their varying depths, they are threats that contain history that is not meant to be disrupted. The type of history that is found here is the type that tells stories. From animals being trapped in the deep holes that they just went in for a sip of water, but never lived to drink anymore as they were devoured themselves to human remains that were buried as part of a ritual. This is a land of many stories. A land of several habitats and homes. This is not a foreigner’s land, but it welcomes it with all its dangerous beauty. This is and was the true Miami.

Being able to preserve this part of Miami is crucial because it helps remind us of our roots. It helps archaeologists better understand our roots. It helps the mangrove roots survive and continue to spread, providing a better environment for everything. Our roots run deep and the Deering Estate is proudly preserving them.

Rubell as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Immersive Experience”

Modern art and contemporary art define two versions of artistic style. Contemporary art usually refers to current artwork that is thought-provoking and creates an emotional response, whereas modern art is about the medium being used which began with a simple painting but has evolved into using any and every material for creation. Combine these two styles together and you have Modern Contemporary Art. A style that contains art done with all imaginable items such as wood, plastic, oil, fur, or something as simple as a pencil and some paint. Modern Contemporary Art is a style that uses multiple resources to create the final piece which often tells a story or can create one by touching on sensitive topics such as societal issues. Some say that these pieces of work are a conversation between the creator and the piece, itself, but I believe that the piece stands as a message man for the creator who is screaming their message across in immersive and abstract beauty.

“Where the Lights in My Heart Go”- Yayoi Kusama Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

At the Rubell Museum, there is a constant flow of artwork traveling through from over 1,000 artists. The latest and most featured exhibit are the works of Yayoi Kusama. Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who had spent the past 40 years being a voluntary patient in a psychiatric hospital due to severe hallucinations and panic attacks that stem from childhood trauma among other situations she has encountered.  She has lived through a series of events and depicts that in her art. It seems that she is insistent on making her work come to life to tell her story, as any contemporary artist would, but she does this to a deeper level. Her artwork takes you places, it takes you to other worlds, and immerses you in her headspace, into her creations. She has been creating ever since she was a child, detailing her trauma, her loss, her suffering, her lessons learned, all through the medium of artwork. Knowing her intention and background significantly affects how her art is viewed, but without that knowledge, her artwork is incredibly powerful and speaks for itself. A personal favorite is “Where the Lights in My Heart Go”, it is a piece that immediately drew me in and a piece that I developed a connection with. This piece reminds me of a city of stars and being lost in the light. I was instantly overwhelmed by the beauty of it and wish I had more time to spend inside of this art installation, but it created a lasting memory in my brain. It told a story of being caught in a never-ending world and how it is so easy to be caught up in the endless and all-consuming side of it, but the constant rays of light show that while it may be endless, it is also beautifully lit up and filled with extraordinary moments. It is safe to say that Yayoi Kusama has successfully mastered the art of immersive experience and I hope that she continues to tell her stories and allow others to create stories of their own with her work because it is truly captivating.

Everglades as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“An Alligator’s Oasis”

The Everglades is made up of 1.5 million acres of natural landscape from saltwater marshes to pine rockland. Within this vast amount of land, there are several species of animals and plants, but the alligator holds the spot as the most well-known. Alligators are perceived as dangerous creatures and their level of violence has been exaggerated through the years. This is not to say that they are not strong and ferocious creatures, they are, but they usually prefer to keep to themselves. They have a unique lifestyle, and the Everglades acreage is perfect for it.

It is common to see alligators in groups, or congregations, basking in the sun, but alligators do not actually spend all their time in this groups. They enjoy their privacy and time has taught them a solution to this. One of the nicknames that alligators have is “engineer” and this is because of their ability to create. These reptiles have mastered the art of construction within nature. They construct massive homes for themselves that define serenity. These homes are known as “alligator holes” to people, but a proper name would be “alligator’s oasis”.

Upon entering an alligator hole, a feeling of peace immediately takes over. It is a creation unlike any other. The alligator hole from the outside looks like a simple hill, but within, it is made up of so much more. Water covers the ground with depths usually being around 2-3 feet all around, but there are deeper spots throughout. Massive trees are spread out all over the land with small spots of dry land that provides just enough room for an alligator to relax and a large opening in the center of the hole to let all possible natural light enter. The beauty in this hole is surreal. The alligator’s oasis is not just for the alligators, as owls and other species have been seen enjoying their own moment of serenity.

Alligators may not be human, but they understand the importance of having a place of peace that helps escape reality. These reptilian engineers craft nature’s 5-star resorts and it is truly impressive. Once one enters this oasis, leaving becomes a challenge because there is no place on earth that is as quiet, as serene, or as beautiful, as the alligator hole.

Coral Gables as Text

“Step into the City”

The city of Coral Gables opened in 1906 and was founded by George Merrick. Merrick’s name is controversial to some, as he used Black laborers for much of his construction, but he remains a man who crafted a successful city, despite how many attempts there are at erasing his name in history. A major highlight of his success is the Biltmore hotel.

The hotel was originally created by Merrick as a place for his new landowners to stay while they awaited the completion of their new homes in Coral Gables, but it became more than that. It became a hot spot for entertainment and fashion. It opened in 1926 with 400 hotel rooms, an 18-hole golf course, beautiful views, and designs crafted in Merrick’s vision of beauty which was of Arabic and Mediterranean style. During the years leading up to World War II, the hotel was hosting major events and housed several celebrities and exclusive individuals from royalty to Al Capone. It was also during these years that the Biltmore overcame the economic downfall that was occurring by using the pool that was the largest pool in a resort at the time for aquatic events from alligator wrestling to synchronized swimming.

World War II changed the Biltmore from an exhilarating tourist destination to an army hospital. This is where many haunted stories of Coral Gables began due to the many deaths that have occurred during the years of the war. It remained a hospital until the late 1960’s and then was owned by the city but left abandoned for about 10 years. These 10 years involved endless amounts of trespassing teenagers looking for ghosts, specifically the lady in white who jumped out of the balcony window in hopes of saving her son and while she managed to save him, her spirit is said to be trapped in the Biltmore; alternatively, these trespassing teens could have simply wanted an exciting adventure.

Around the early 1980’s, the Biltmore began a major restorative process to reopen as a hotel. It opened after 4 years, remained open for 3, and closed again for another 4. Another attempt was made to restore this hotel to its natural beauty and elegance and this attempt took 10 years but exceeded expectations. It is a National Historic Site and is an expensive landmark that has tourists flying in from all corners of the world. Going to the Biltmore may seem like an escape from reality and into royalty, but it really is a step into the city of Coral Gables and a step into history. The Biltmore was crafted by Merrick and will be forever known as the place made for the city. It will also be known for its haunted history, so feel free to stop by for a ghost tour and a day at the pool.

River of Grass as Text

Absent from this excursion; photo is from previous Everglades excursion// Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Everglades Defense”

Stepping foot in the Nike Missile Base is taking a step into history. From the dog kennels to the missile itself, it is 100% authentic and preserved. This site was finished in 1965 and served as protection to air attacks that could occur from the Soviet Union as this was in the middle of the Cold War. This war was the result of an ongoing political rivalry between the Soviet Union and the United States post World War II; the reason for the name is because neither officially declared war which means they never fought directly, as opposed to a “hot war” where nuclear weapons can destroy. With this knowledge, it can be understood that the missile sites that were created all over the United States served a purpose of protection; it can be called a “just in case” measure.  

The Nike Missile Base in the Everglades is called “HM69” or “Alpha Battery”. It was a part of a project called Project Nike (Nike being the goddess of victory in Greek mythology) that involved setting up these sites around the country in efforts to protect U.S grounds from Soviet air attacks. The Everglades was not a major city, but it was at a perfect location because it was on watch for attacks in the South, or rather from Cuba which was a Russian hotspot at the time. This specific location housed 2 missiles with extensive technological advances that allowed for a better defense of South Florida. During the time it was in use, it was home for over 140 soldiers, and they stood as the manpower behind the missiles. In my opinion, the most interesting remnant of this site is the dog kennel because if this was a site to prevent air attacks, the purpose of the canine’s presence other than companionship is unknown to me.

However, this site was not used; the soldiers who made up the staff of this site were given an “Army Meritorious Unit Commendation” for its deterrence ability rather than attack. Overall, this historical site is an impressive location that deserves continuous recognition for the part it played in the war and the protection it gave to the Everglades and all South Florida.

Design District as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“The Art of Giving”

Art is powerful. It can take on many forms and meanings. An artist’s mind is almost as powerful, as it creates the ideas behind the pieces. An artist’s work is a way of storytelling, and it is an extension of themselves. These stories in these pieces speak volumes and they need to be heard.

In both the Margulies Collection in Wynwood and in the De la Cruz Collection in the design district, there was art that immediately immersed its viewers, but Felix Gonzalez-Torres was the most intriguing of all. His work is located at the De la Cruz Collection which is a private collection owned and started by Rosa and Carlos De la Cruz. The De la Cruz couple had personal ties to Felix which made the exhibit even more impactful.

Felix was a Cuban artist who referred to himself as American and crafted his work around engagement of the community. His main intentions of his pieces were to be intellectually immersive and some physically immersive. He wanted his art to give something more to people, so he began crafting pieces with the sole purpose of it being given to anyone who sees it, for free. Many of his art installments were untitled, but there was a subtext which provided some insight on the meaning. A specific piece that gave to the public and is untitled is the stack of white candies on the floor which is crafted in his father’s memory as it detailed in the subtext. These white candies may not mean much to the outside eye, but the idea that it is art that one can interact with is significant.

Another piece of giving art made by Felix was these two stacks of paper with one sentence on each, “Somewhere better than this place” on one and “Nowhere better than this place” on the other. Felix wanted people to take a paper and choose their own meaning. He wanted people to think upon their life and make the decision if they were where they were meant to be or if they still had to find their better place. Obviously, some viewers may not think much and just choose one or both simply because it is there, but it was the idea that Felix made this piece to influence the mind and allowed this influence to be a take-home item.

Art can tell many stories and hold many meanings, but the most significant art is art that gives. Felix Gonzalez-Torres spent his life telling his stories through art that put the mind to work, but also established new meaning by giving his art. He was and forever will be an inspiration that lives on through his powerful pieces.

Coconut Grove as Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“The Creator’s Home”

Coconut Grove is far from what it used to be, yet the stories of its past remain intact in several places. Like all Southern Florida, the land that would eventually turn into the city we know belonged to the original inhabitants, the Tequestas. The Seminoles also shared this land as time went on, but the first to live were the Tequestas. These were the Miamians before Miami, and they created the beginning of the Miami legacy. There is much to learn about these original creators, but this story is of those less spoken of, the Bahamians.

Coconut Grove existed prior to Miami being incorporated as a city and had an influx of settlers from the Bahamas and other Northern states. While the settlers from the northern states did make a name for themselves such as the Munroe family, the Bahamian presence and impact is the focus. These were laborers, but they were so much more than that. The Bahamians were one of the few who knew how to thrive in the Southern Florida environment and work with what they were given. They knew how to plant crops, harvest food, and use limestone to aid in construction projects that would put roofs over their heads. Without them, Miami may not have existed in the way it does. Bahamians travelled for a better life opportunity and were one of the first immigrant groups to arrive in the Grove which makes it one of the oldest black communities in Dade County to date.

Of the many, the most notable Bahamians would be E.W.F Stirrup and Mariah Brown. The stories of these two individuals in unlike any other. E.W.F Stirrup started his life in Key West and used his charismatic spirit to get into the world of real estate. He became one of the icons for Bahamians and was one of the few rich Black men. He would buy several plots of land and would sell them to other Blacks because he believed that homeownership was key to a better life and being a better person. He also built himself a beautiful two-story house that would be wood-framed and is still standing to this day. Aside from selling houses, he owned several local stores which made the community thrive. E.W.F Stirrup is a man to be remembered for the impact he had on the creation of the Coconut Grove community. Mariah Brown was a pioneer in the Grove. She had travelled to work at the Peacock Inn and her family was one of the first to settle in Coconut Grove. Her significance is within her homeownership. She had purchased land for $50 and constructed her house. She is known as one of the first Black homeowners and she is a woman which expresses the importance of women in the creation of Miami. It is a one-and-a-half story white house built out of Dade County Slash Pine with a construction design intended to aid in harsh weather such as humidity, tropical storms, and wind pressure. This design was influenced by Bahamians as this came from their homeland and was known as Conch houses. Conch houses were made with large roof overhangs and high ceilings among other features to ensure airflow and sturdiness. Brown’s house is still standing today but does not seem to be receiving the care it deserves, so there is something to be said about that. These are landmarks and they should be treasured, not trashed.

In the city of Coconut Grove, there is a cemetery. This is unlike any other cemetery as it is solely a Bahamian cemetery. This is a place for Bahamians to recognize their loved ones and the creators of Coconut Grove that were not white. Where it is today was not its original location, but it outgrew the previous space and required a different location. For this move to occur respectfully and correctly, the leaders of the city such as E.W.F Stirrup and others purchased the property it is on today to keep their loved ones safe and secure. This is the resting place of many of the creators of Coconut Grove and it should be kept as such. A unique feature about this cemetery is that all the caskets are above ground. In my opinion, it added a personal touch and allowed for a deeper level of respect and recognition to be given. This cemetery is a constant reminder of who created Coconut Grove and who is keeping the creation alive. Coconut Grove is one of the oldest black communities in Dade County and it should be known that it is the home of the creators. It is home of the laborers. It is home of the constructors behind most of Miami. History has stories of these individuals, but we must continue to tell them, so that they may never be forgotten.

Key Biscayne As Text

Photograph by Liza Guanch// CC by 4.0

“Escape to Paradise”

What is the ideal outdoor location? Beach access? Trails to walk or bike through? Areas for fishing? Restaurants/Cafes on site? Or simply just somewhere to sit? Whatever your preferences may be, Bill Baggs State Park has it all. It is at the farthest end of Key Biscayne and is made up of 442 acres of natural beauty. It is home to one of the oldest standing structures in Miami Dade County, the Cape Florida Lighthouse, and protects a vast majority of South Florida’s natural landscape and wildlife.

Once you pass the entrance, you are immediately transported into a tranquil paradise. This park has so much to offer, both in activities and history. The Cape Florida Lighthouse, which is a must-see location, was built in 1825, but suffered damage during the Seminole Wars, so it was reconstructed in 1846. This lighthouse is not currently in active use, but there are tours offered for locals and tourists to see some breathtaking sights from atop the lighthouse and to experience what it was like inside a lighthouse. Many are familiar with the underground railroad, but there is another underground railroad that is not often spoken of. Between the years 1821 and 1861, there was a coastal route that would help lead slaves to freedom in the Bahamas and it was known as the Saltwater Underground Railroad. The Saltwater Underground Railroad route would occur in Cape Florida which is the land that Bill Baggs is on today, making this state park more interesting. The Cape Florida Lighthouse is listed on the National Register for Historical Places and Cape Florida is known as a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site to allow the continued remembrance of the lives they saved, and the slaves freed.

To be at the park is to be immersed in nature and to step on the park’s soil is to be taking the same steps as history. Marjory Stoneman Douglas once called Key Biscayne, “a romantic hideaway”, however I believe that the true hideaway is in Bill Baggs State Park. Bill Baggs State Park is simply a drive away for Miami locals, so if there’s ever a need to escape to paradise, it is found there.

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