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 marriage and family therapy. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat certain psychological disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences. In experiencing John Bailly’s Miami in Miami, she hopes to do just that.

Downtown as Text

Beauty Despite the Scars” by Monica Perez of FIU at Downtown Miami, 08, September 2021

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

Nowadays, a simple stroll through any large city’s “Downtown” is bound to evoke some level of emotion. The COVID-19 lockdown seems to have left a gaping hole in our cities. Streets are empty, and businesses old and new have been forced to shut down. Downtown Miami is no different. Any native can walk down Miami Avenue and notice the difference pre-and post lockdown. Business is slow, and people carry themselves with heavy hearts missing what was lost. However, the city is not completely lost. A quick visit to some of Downtown’s cultural hotspots shows that Miami has retained her beauty despite the loss.

Lummus park is a public area just oozing with pain, beauty, and history. Upon entering through the green fence, one is met by a melancholy presence that can only be explained by the impressive Fort Dallas. The long, limestone building has seen the dehumanization of black people through slavery and a year’s worth of bloodshed. Just one touch of the rough exterior brings a montage to mind of everyone who has bled, cried, and attempted to keep themselves from collapsing right where one stands.

Just one glance to the left reveals the beauty despite the pain. The William Wagner House is a perfect symbol for what so many world leaders strive for: peace and acceptance of differences. It is so moving to know that the house once held a white man, woman of color, biracial children, and Tequesta people all at once. This is what Miami is truly about. This is not to say the figures discussed were of no fault, but this beautiful moment marked the house forever with light and warmth. The fact that these two landmarks share a space is a testament to how Miami citizens can also share in beautiful experiences despite the pain and loss that COVID-19 has caused.

Miami’s cultural diversity and appreciation reveals itself in Downtown’s public art. Dropped Bowl with Shattered Slices and Peels is a prime example. It incorporates classical Floridian imagery (orange slices) to pay respects to the reason for the city’s founding. The shattered bowl is a perfect embodiment for Miami’s place in the post-COVID world. It is an explosion of cultures and diverse perspectives. Sure, the “shattering” may be painful, but even a scarred city can be beautiful.

Overtown as Text

“Not just a building” by Monica Perez of FIU at Overtown, 22, September 2021

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

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.

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

Photography 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.