Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art Community 2017

© Melanie Ponce

Contrapasso Contrapposto
By Melanie Ponce

Paradiso
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

Purgatorio
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

Inferno
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 https://miamiinmiami.com/poetry-art-community/vizcaya-2017/secret-garden-poems-at-vizcaya-2017/

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 https://peruvianimmigrant.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/featured-content/

Liza Guanch: Miami Service 2022

STUDENT BIO

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.

WHO

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.

WHY

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.

HOW

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.

WHEN

Approved/Awaiting Approval hours on MYHONORS

Summary

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.


Jahelly Maxwell: Miami As Text 2022

Photographs taken and edited by Jahelly Maxwell/CC by 4.0

My name is Jahelly Maxwell and I am a sophomore majoring in Interdisciplinary Engineering with a secondary field in Industrial Engineering at the Honors College within Florida International University. Every day I become more and more passionate about exploratory research and culturally immersed travel. I would describe myself as intuitive, ambitious and resourceful and I am incredibly excited to embark on this study abroad journey! (:


Deering As Text

To know your past, is to know your Future,” by Jahelly Maxwell of FIU at Deering Estate on January 28, 2022.

Photographs taken and edited by Jahelly Maxwell/CC by 4.0

Miami is typically romanticized as a vibrant city, with spectacular nightlife and flashing lights. Its beginnings are often neglected. The Deering Estate, though,  shows a different Miami. Consisting of 8 different ecosystems, the Estate is a cultural resource and historic site dedicated to preserving its diverse rich grounds. Located in the city of Cutler Bay, The Estate is actually on one of the first established roads and is also a burial site of the Tequesta. The Tequesta were a Native American tribe, mainly hunters and gatherers, that essentially settled near Biscayne Bay in the present-day Miami area.

Learning about the history of the Tequesta on the hike was incredibly fascinating as well as it was shocking because I realized I have been living in Miami for almost my entire life, and not once has it ever occurred to me to speculate about Miami’s tribal ancestors. At the Deering Estate I gathered that evidence of a large Tequesta community was actually living on the land. There were also these shell tools lying around that were used by the Tequesta which I found quite impressive. From an engineering perspective I thought it was interesting to note that these  Native Americans were so crafty.

The most memorable part of the experience was visiting the Tequesta Burial Mound. It was so touching to appreciate how the Native Americans were buried in a circular formation under a massive oak tree whose roots almost seemingly embraced those buried beneath. As I stand before the immense oak tree I am simply taken aback and my only thought quite literally was “wow.” Honestly, I was speechless in awe at the idea that respect and homage was paid to our ancestors. 

The most lingering thought I had after the earthly excursion was that the history of the Tequesta should be given some more dedication in elementary, middle and high schools. Our society continues growing and evolving, yet never knowing where we come from and how we came to be. My main takeaway from The Deering Estate is; To know your past, is to know your future. 


Vizcaya As Text

Curtains of the Tropics,” by Jahelly Maxwell of FIU at Vizcaya on February 20, 2022.

Photographs taken and edited by Jahelly Maxwell/CC by 4.0

Stepping into the beautiful Villa that is Vizcaya you are welcomed by a grand entrance. Similar to the Deering Estate, owned by Charles Deering, Vizcaya is actually owned by James Deering, (his brother) which explains the resemblance in some architectural structures that both places share. An interesting concept I was fascinated by is how these siblings were one of the first environmentalists because they valued the greenery and forestation of their establishments. For their time, this was really advanced and environmentally friendly, as they insisted on preserving nature.

Entering the house is a really different experience because as you are entering, you are greeted with a big Dionysus sculpture that is meant to be at the end of the house. So in essence, visitors really enter through the back doors of the building. I enjoyed learning about the meaning behind the Dionysus (or Bacchus) statue because he is known as a god of wine and ecstasy. The double meaning behind the choice of Dionysus was intriguing to me because it is used as a symbol to represent  the hedonistic pleasures that are essentially the intrinsic qualities of Miami in the modern day. For example, Miami Beach is often depicted as a fun, beach vacation destination and is known for its crazy clubs, all-night parties, stunning beaches, and art deco architecture. These ideologies were formed so long ago and still play such an important role in today’s society. Piecing the puzzle to these connections was a  really eye opening experience.

The European-inspired gardens in the Villa I thought were absolutely beautiful. The gardens have an abundance of statues with complex details, they also have elaborate fountains. My favorite garden was this one called the Secret Garden. It’s purpose was for people to discuss private matters, oftentimes about sensitive or intimate topics. The architectural statues of the gods were quite interesting because they are positioned in ways to portray their godlike power to control nature. 

Overall, the visit to Vizcaya was useful in providing better insight as to why the culture in Miami is the way it is. The influence of the Deering brothers extensively helped in shaping how our local society is today, which is nice as it provides a better understanding of the roots.


Downtown As Text

Orange You Happy to Live in Miami,” by Jahelly Maxwell of FIU at Downtown on March 11, 2022.

Photographs taken and edited by Jahelly Maxwell/CC by 4.0

Downtown is truly the epicenter of Miami. So much history and culture lies within the streets and avenues of Downtown. I had always envisioned Downtown Miami as this common part of the city but after exploring I realized that it is heavily packed with ancestral backgrounds and art that is  also very symbolic of the city. 

In the middle of Downtown Miami there are these massive orange peel slice sculptures that explode from a bowl which serve to represent the booming city of Miami. This blew my mind because oranges are native to Miami and though sometimes we don’t realize, we see them hidden throughout the city; for example, the Miami license plate has two oranges that divide the 6 digits on each car plate. 

Within Downtown also lies the division between North and South as well as East and West. The intersection consists of Flagler Street and Miami Ave. Because it is home to skyscrapers, modern architecture, shopping malls, cultural organizations, and green spaces, downtown is often known as the Heart of Miami. 

Miami’s oldest known standing house is also in Downtown. The house was built in the 1850s and was designed by William Wagner, who at the time was a young European man, married to a black woman. This was scandalous and unheard of at the time, but what could be more Miami than that!

In Downtown Miami there are also many institutions that make up the city like the The Miami-Dade County Courthouse, the Freedom Tower, the Adrienne Arsht Center,  and the  Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum. Overall, the excursion was really immersive in terms of learning about the history of the city in which I live. I love living in Miami.


SoBe as Text

Art, Architecture, and more Art!,” by Jahelly Maxwell of FIU at South Beach on April 1, 2022.

Photographs taken and edited by Jahelly Maxwell/CC by 4.0

Walking along Deco Drive was easily the highlight of my week.  During this class we were able to observe Miami’s vibrant population, and appreciate its unique architecture.  We toured several buildings varying greatly in styles including Mediterranean Revival, and Art Deco. 

 Class began at South Point Pier, and as we faced the beautiful beach it was difficult trying to imagine how this ample land was previously full of mangroves and virtually deserted.  The most persistent thought running through my head as we walked through the Deco Drive was the possibility of how South Beach could’ve turned out, if it were any different than the way it is today.

Barbra Baer Capitman, the founder of the Miami Design Preservation League, was a determined activist in her neighborhood who pushed for the preservation of the iconic Art Deco district. As numerous investors began to buy the long-neglected structures and construct buildings that had little to do with Miami Beach’s past, Barbra began to push harder for the preservation of the Art Deco district. The cultural and artististic aspect of Miami’s famous Ocean Drive was essentially crafted by a woman. 

As a result of the increase in tourism from all over the world, Miami Beach has become one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and it is all thanks to Miss Barbra Baer Capitman. She knew that if those buildings were not protected, the true history and original culture of Miami would be forgotten. Because of her, Art Deco on South Beach continues to live and flourish.

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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