Miami in Miami: Annette Cruz

My name is Annette Cruz and I am a sophomore at Florida International University currently majoring in Elementary Education. I plan on pursuing a career where I can work with kids to help them achieve positive outcomes. I love to bake and experiment with as many flavor combinations as possible when I attempt new recipes. My signature treat is cheesecake. My goal is to run my own baking business so I can share my sweet treats with the South Florida community. Maybe one day you’ll be trying my signature 305 Cheesecake! I have always lived in Miami, but I do not know the city as well as I should. Like many tourists, my knowledge of Miami is filled with stereotypes that are probably false. Although I have lived here for nineteen years, I have not ventured or explored into the landmarks or historical sites that are the foundation of Miami. I am excited to be taking “Miami in Miami” this school year to push me out of my comfort zone and discover what makes Miami the city it is.

Metro as Text

An Open Letter to the Metro by Annette Cruz of FIU at Miami Metrorail System, 11 September 2019

I arrived at the Dadeland South Metrorail Station. I stared up at the grey columns. I heard the rattling of the tracks. The butterflies I felt when I woke up started to flutter again. “Tenga cuidado con el metro,” I hear my abuela’s warning whispered to me by the breeze. This is not my Miami. I know my city. I have existed in my city for nineteen years. What can this rusty public transit show me that I am not already comfortable with? Don’t be comfortable. Besides, I have seen the assaults and crimes reported at the metro on the news. Is it even safe?

I stare up at the grey columns. I hear the rattling of the tracks. I know my city. But have you lived in it? With butterflies still in my stomach, I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. What could you show me that I do not know? Come look through my eyes.

I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. My sweaty hands grabbed onto the overhead handrail. The car rattled and swayed as we traversed the tracks. I see the University of Miami as we approach University station. Hah! I am already familiar with this location. Are you really? As I disembarked, I saw the columns. They were not grey. They were familiar, giant dominoes. The butterflies fluttered away, and a smile spread across my face. I remembered the nights, the parties filled with cafecito and pastelitos. Those nights were also filled with dominoes clacking against the domino tables. I had never noticed the domino columns before. Were they always like that? As I approached the Lowe Art Museum, I noticed the students scurrying to class and laughing with friends. Not much different than me at FIU, things I am already familiar with. But my breath is taken away as I stare at not one but two paintings by El Greco. I did not know these paintings were harbored in my city, in a place I thought I was familiar with. As I walked back to the metro station, I stared up at the domino columns. I heard the rattling of the tracks. Did you see? I did and I guess I really do not know my city. Can you show me?

I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. My sweaty hands grabbed onto the overhead handrail. The car rattled and swayed as we traversed the tracks. I stared out the window as the metro showed me the city. I smelled the sea at Vizcaya and felt the leaves of its beautiful garden. The sweat dripped down my face, the baptism of my city. I tasted one of the juiciest chicken sandwiches in Overtown and saw a glimpse of the past through the highway that was built over the Church. I ended the day by observing a mural of how my city was built.

I walked through the gliding doors of the metro car. I looked at my clock. Was it really time to end class? As I got off the metro at Dadeland South, I turned to stare at the grey columns one last time. I did not know my city and I did not know you. You are Miami’s eyes. You represent Miami’s heart. One railway, connecting cultures, socioeconomic classes, time, and space, with one swipe of a card. Thank you for letting me see through your eyes. Any time.

Downtown as Text

If the Walls Could Speak by Annette Cruz of FIU at Lummus Park Historic District, 25 September 2019

If the walls could speak, they would have a lot to say, but no one listens. The walls would share of the times when slaves would share ancestral folk lore, when soldiers would clack their tins waiting for their next assignment, and when the neighborhood criminal was put to justice. Oh, the stories the walls would share, if only someone would listen.

I saw a narrow, rectangular building in front of me, with its walls built of limestone and its roof built from wood and shingles. The windows are tucked inside their own crevices, protected by black, iron bars. It’s dark inside. I have never seen such a building filled with so much history in my city of Miami. I see the history seep through its dingy, outer layer. What kind of rich history can this building have treasured between its walls? I stand before a marvelous structure, guessing the purpose it once held many years ago. I hear the words “Fort Dallas,” “war,” “plantation,” “slave.” This used to be slave quarters? I feel the chills run up my spine. I feel the hairs on my arm stand up. I am confronted with the history of Miami I never learned, the history I was blind to. How can this city of mine, a city that is decadently filled with beauty and culture, have a piece of history so dark and dreadful? I am told that I will have the opportunity to enter this building. My eyes meet the entrance. I will come face to face with the treasured history buried within this place called “Fort Dallas.” Would the walls share their secrets?

The door was unlocked, and I prepared myself to be carried away by its sweeping secrets, but it’s empty. It’s simple, with only summaries of its history spread across on the limestone walls. There’s a stage. There’s a fireplace. There’s a mural that is inscribed with the words “Love & Slavery.” Huh. Two words I didn’t think I would see together. Where does the history begin? This building was first built to be part of a fort. It is why it gained the name “Fort Dallas.” It later became a part of a prosperous plantation, which is where it was used as the slave quarters. How much more history can be buried within these four walls? Turns out, this building was also used by soldiers as a military barrack, owned by Miami founder Julia Tuttle, turned into a residential home by her son, used by the Daughters of the Revolution, and was the very first courthouse in Miami. I was standing in a building that encompassed an important piece of the history of Miami, yet I did not know it existed. Miami does not know it exists. How can a building that serves as an icon in Miami history be forgotten to the ever-changing melting-pot I call home? Had the walls been trying to speak this truth? Was I not listening?

Fort Dallas is more than a building. Yes, it encompasses the ugly reality that happened years ago, but something beautiful can always come from something ugly. This is the history we need to protect from fading memory. This is the history that transcends beyond us. I stepped into this building and became a sliver in its history. I became a part of one the stories the walls learn. Would the walls tell my story if they could speak? Oh, but only if the walls could speak.

Deering as Text

She Fooled Me by Annette Cruz of FIU at Deering Estate, 13 October 2019

She fooled me and I don’t think I am the only one. I knew her has a lively, wild personality surrounded by diverse cultures, decadent food, and the best hot spots. She has lights shining so bright that they would blind the stars in the sky. I’ve known her for all my life and never realized she was hiding behind a mask, a mask that society has placed on her. The voices of her past are struggling to break the mask that hides her ancestral roots.

She’s an archaeologist. Who knew! She has preserved years of her history through the land she calls her own. She comes from an ancestral line of Paleo-Indians, natives who would travel with the remains of their loved ones because family was important to them. I never knew this about her, how her history encompasses such a developed culture and not savage beginnings. Yet, I learned of others from her past. A tribe of natives called the Tequestas. You can say they are a mystery because there are no records of how they looked like, but her history is stained with their suffering. These natives were sold into slavery by the Spanish and driven out of the land they called home. Two pieces of her past that contradict each other in nature, a matured culture that chose to appreciate their own members and the barbaric consequences of exploration. Is this why she wears a mask?

She collects remnants of the years that have passed, from the smallest shell to the largest tooth. She holds an unlimited collection of treasures. I didn’t know that she was in possession of a mammoth tooth. I didn’t even know she was ancestrally connected to mammoths! The natives that wandered her land lived with the most advanced technology available to them, shell tools. Shell tools that served as their hammers, their knives, their Swiss Army knives, and their scrapers (to say the least). These shells were even traded along the trading routes. Her collection holds a piece of vertebrae of a shark and a ray. Why would she want to hide this?

She is a living museum. Not many people know that about her. People only see the superficial elements that give her the lively, wild personality that so many know her for. However, behind the mask she wears, she is not so superficial. She thrives where man has not touched. She shines the brightest where the sun meets the glistening surface of the water. Miami is remarkable when unmasked.  

Chicken Key as Text

Only One Day by Annette Cruz of FIU at Chicken Key, 23 October 2019

Only one day. It took only one day to experience the wonder and disappointment that living on this planet brings. They are the things you hear about in passing, in lecture halls, in the news, and even what you see in pictures. They are the things you don’t think you will see or experience for yourself, until you actually do and become faced with reality. This was me. I thought I had seen and done everything I had imagined. I was wrong. I was faced with the beauty of nature and the recklessness of humanity.

I have never gone kayaking/canoeing before. It is an activity I have always wanted to try but never got around to fulfilling. I was excited to finally try it out, but as I stared out to the designated destination, part of my excitement turned into nervousness. What would I encounter? A thought ran through my mind. I would be exposed to open waters and to the dangers that lie beneath the glistening current. I soon found myself in a kayak, partnered with someone who has done something like this before, paddling to a new kind of vulnerability. I felt my arms begin to tire but I knew I couldn’t stop. I got into the rhythm and then realized there was some distance between my kayak and the rest of the group. I could hear the words of my father linger in the back of my head, “always stay in a group.” We stopped and waited for some of that distance to be recovered. It was then when I realized where I truly was. There is nothing like sitting in the middle of the ocean being overcome by the silence that is only found away from the city. I was overcome by a feeling of liberation I hadn’t felt before, something you don’t feel very often. The stress of the week seemed to be lifted off my shoulders for that moment. I was surrounded by boundless waters with green foliage in the distance and became aware of the natural beauty Miami holds, just on the outskirts of the shoreline. I became mesmerized by nature’s beauty. I felt an overwhelming calmness and all my worries vanished without me even noticing. How can something this beautiful be hidden by the streets’ shining lights and the progressing development?

I saw one, then two, then countless of them. Pieces of trash scattered all around the ever-essential key. Plastic bags and ropes stubbornly tangled around the roots of the mangroves, bottles buried under the sandy mud, and broken styrofoam filled the shorelines of Chicken Key. How can something so beautiful be mistreated in this manner? Remnants of people’s stories are carried through the currents and wash up on this small piece of land in the middle of the ocean, things that can be useful and ever so damaging. I was astonished to see how much trash was out there. We, humans, are a highly developed species. We are the ones who have invented modern technology that help us thrive in today’s society, and yet are reckless enough to damage our own home, other creatures’ home. Moreover, we are exposing other creatures to suffering and even death. When did we let ourselves get consumed by plastic and blinded by modern pleasures? When did we stop remembering there are other creatures sharing this land with us?

I discovered a lot on that trip out to Chicken Key. When you step away from the hustle and bustle of daily routine, you become enlightened to the outside elements of your personal bubble. You realize that another world exists beyond the one you are living in. One that needs to be protected from careless outsiders. You find that Miami’s beauty extends beyond the bordered trees and that we are doing harm when we think we are doing good. It may surprise you. It definitely surprised me. In only one day.

Wynwood as Text

We Live in a Grand Art Piece by Annette Cruz of FIU at Margulies Collection in Wynwood and De La Cruz Collection in Design District, 6 November 2019

We live in a grand art piece. An elaborate art piece that is comprised of all kinds of materials, paint, rock, fabric, metal, and even light. Our neighbors are strokes of colors, our homes are protrusions coming off the canvas, and we are the ideas coming to life. When put together, we become a connection to our past, present, and future. It’s a funny thing that this grand art piece will never be done though. Miami will always be touched by the hands of the artists that live in it.

If we were to step back and look at Miami on its display from afar, everyone would see the same thing. We’d see clear, blue skies overlooking the translucent waters of the Atlantic neighboring the towering skyscrapers of Miami Beach. But, that’s not all the art piece would hold. Look closer. Miami holds many truths we turn a blind eye to. Like the 250 pieces of headless, human molds (of both children and adults) incorporated by Magdalena Abakanowicz, conveying the mood of the Holocaust through the stripped humanity of millions of victims. Details like this are easily missed but are the ones that remind us of the ugly past humans created, the past that has shaped the future.

What’s amazing about this grand art piece we live in is that there is no one creator to claim it. It is claimed by anyone who contributes to its whirlwind of colors and meanings. We all hold truths and realities within us but prove to find it difficult to accept them. This grand art piece we live in is a piece that allows any artist to share their truths. Like Felix Gonzalez Torres, when looking closer at Miami, we’d find a string of hanging light bulbs, shining as bright as their energy can give. The light bulbs all speak the same language and we all speak the same language with the light bulbs, but time eventually runs out for the light bulbs. We eventually run out of time. The details of Miami remind us of the harsh reality we live in but give us a new perspective to view our ever-changing art piece.

We live in a grand art piece. We may not know it, but we do. Every decision we make becomes a new paint stroke on the canvas, every smile we make becomes a new speck of light in the horizon, and every building that is built becomes a new drop of imagination reaching out to those gazing at Miami. Miami is ever-changing and we get to decide how beautiful we make it.

HistoryMiami as Text

A Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban by Annette Cruz of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum, Gesú Catholic Church, and Freedom Tower, 20 November 2019

A Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban all walk onto land. What do they have in common? A question I never thought I would be thinking of, but after experiencing a walking tour with HistoryMiami Museum’s Educator Maria Moreno, I believed it was a question that merited a response.

I come from Cuban ancestry, so I know very well of the Cuban tyranny that drove my family to the city of Miami. With the narrative constantly being told through family and friends, it became the predominant history I was aware of for my city. I was reminded of it looking at the Cuban raft that was hanging in HistoryMiami. Similar to how the owner of the raft was reminded of the darkness he traveled through as he gazed at his past, I too gazed at the raft thinking of my family’s own struggle to have a better life. Then it all connected for me. My people were not the only ones who sought refuge in Miami. At HistoryMiami I learned that others too, like the Seminoles and Miccosukee, were pushed out of their ancestral land by President Andrew Jackson. We think of Miami’s history in segregated parts, like Miami has ten different stories to tell. Yet, Miami only has one history, one narrative. We’re all different but our stories are the same. Miami is a land for redemption and second chances.

Miami tells of redemption stories on new land, but it also tells of redemption built on blood. The first church the Spanish built, known as Gesú Church, was built to depict a compassionate Christ through the different stages of his life. Historically, the goal of the Spanish was to convert the natives to Catholicism to redeem them of their sins. Afterall, Jesus’s death was an act of redemption. Yet, the Spanish were sowing their sins as they disrupted, disrespected, and uprooted the lives of the natives. While some redemption stories are riddled with hypocrisy, others are faithful to their noble intentions of freedom and equality. The Freedom Tower, which was used to legally process Cubans to come into the US, draws inspiration from a building that is part Roman, part Islamic, and part Catholic.

A Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban all walk onto land. What do they have in common?  Although their stories differ, they are united by the same theme: a rebirth from the ashes of their past in a land that promised new beginnings. From the cunning, intelligent black Seminole Abraham to our grandparents, many individuals that call Miami home are united by this theme, despite from coming from different backgrounds. This narrative is etched in the city from artwork to architecture, creating a living museum. Although Miami prides herself on the diversity of her population, the true beauty of the city is that a Seminole, Miccosukee, and Cuban can all find a home on the same land.

Miami Art as Text

My Prison Cell by Annette Cruz of FIU at UNTITLED, ART in Miami Beach and Art Miami in Downtown, 4 December 2019

I see a painting of a man. Do I know him? He doesn’t look familiar. He has a halo around his head, signifying someone that is celebrated. I see another art piece. This one is particular. Nothing that I’ve seen before. It has three neon rectangles with horizontal lines inside each rectangle. It’s definitely bold, but what is it supposed to mean? I stand gazing at these artworks, tranced by their mystery.

I look at the painting of the man again thinking he is definitely a boxer, but I can’t quite figure out his history. I then see the artist’s signature, signed Godfried Donkor, and hear the name Tom Molineaux. It is a painting that is part of Donkor’s collection Battle Royale: Last Man Standing. It represents historical imagery of slave boxing and boxing royales, where masters would choose their best slaves to fight their best friends. Tom Molineaux was a slave that was so good at boxing he fought his way to freedom. A man who definitely should be celebrated.

I look at the art piece with the rectangles again. This one now has an identification next to it. The artist is Peter Halley. It’s called Super 30. I gaze at the neon rectangles trying to find its meaning. Something about it feels familiar. They almost look like prison cells? Wait. All of a sudden, I am overwhelmed with a moment of clarity I can’t seem to shake off. What may look like ordinary shapes are actually prisons. Living in Miami, we live in a bubble and only transfer from one bubble to another in our daily routine. It’s what makes us feel comfortable enough to expose ourselves to the ever-changing world we know as Miami. Yet, we unknowingly only expose ourselves to the boundaries of our own bubble. We are trapped in our very own prison. I’m trapped in my own prison now.

Tom Molineaux was trapped in slavery and found a way out through his own merit, an accomplishment that deserves to be celebrated for it. We are the ones who have to get ourselves out of our prison. We need to step out of our bubbles and gain a new kind of freedom, unbound from the four sides of our rectangles.

I see Miami on the other side of my prison. I’m ready to leave.

Everglades as Text

Disconnected by Annette Cruz of FIU at Everglades National Park, 22 January 2020

I connected my phone to my four-door Chevrolet at 9:00 AM. As Apple CarPlay displayed on my car’s radio screen, I input the address of the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center. I began my morning following an artificial intelligence voice instructing me to continue straight for 11 miles or turn right in 1.7 miles. I was grateful to technology for getting me to my destination smoothly. When my day was finished, I hopped back in my four-door Chevrolet again, connected my phone, and wasn’t surprised that I had no service. Spending the day in Miami’s wilderness will disconnect you from modern day technology. Either way, I input my house’s address, hoping that as I drove away my phone would find service to guide me back home. I soon found myself lost in Homestead, using my own navigational senses to hopefully find my way to the one road I knew would lead me home. I never gained service on that ride home, not even when I arrived at my home network. That day, I realized the heavy reliance I have for technology. I put my trust in faulty artificial intelligence every day. Yet, I never feel as free as I did standing in the wilderness of Everglades National Park.

The Everglades is the longest living entity in Miami and is distinctive in its raw simplicity, yet many individuals see the superficiality of an abundance of trees. When examined, the Everglades can offer so much more than people think. I observe the wetland waters trickle down to the Florida Bay or encounter a cypress dome that shelters an alligator hole. Guided by Park Ranger Dylann Turffs, I had the opportunity to enter only a mere fraction of the 1.5 million acres of wetlands known as the Everglades on an adventure called slough slogging. It is an experience where I ventured inside a cypress dome and immerse myself in Miami wilderness, trudging through freshly made mud, quintessential periphyton, and some of the clearest wetland water available. Removed from the noise pollution Miami holds, the Everglades granted me hours of reflective thoughts. Trying to not fall into a camouflaged hole or get my foot stuck between tree logs, I realized I was standing in something bigger than I, or any of us, ever will be. The Everglades is Miami in its rawest form. It is what Miami was at the very beginning.

Technology distracts us. Many people showcase their adventures in exotic places or mystical landscapes. They spend more time flaunting their experiences instead of living them. I, admittedly, have fallen victim to the power of technology. Technology is my portal to the outside world. I can see and learn everything I need to know. I use a laptop for school, I use a phone for communication, I use an iPad to play games, and I rely on apps downloaded on these appliances to be my eyes and ears in the world. There are very little times where you’ll find me enjoying the luxuries of the natural environment. The Everglades helped strip me away from the screens I hide behind. Instead of worrying of showcasing what I was doing, I was forced to immerse myself in the Everglades’ wonders because of the lack of cellular service. This forceful disconnect allowed me to appreciate a newfound freedom that technology is incapable of offering. I didn’t quite know what I was missing until I was standing knee deep in wetland waters. I remember standing at the edge of the cypress dome, looking up, and seeing a radiant, blue sky that was broken by towering cypress trees that danced to Miami’s lullaby. The wind whistled through individual tree branches as it filled the dome with a profound sense of tranquility. Technology has created an artificial heart for this city, but the Everglades holds the original heart of Miami.

Leave a Reply