Miami in Miami: Blanca J Alcaraz

Hi everyone! My name is Blanca J Alcaraz – I am 20 years old and I am currently a senior at Florida International University. I am double majoring in Finance and International Business and I am obtaining a certification in Spanish Translation and Interpretation. I am a fraternal twin but before you ask, no sadly we do not look alike 🙁

I was born in Colombia but I have lived in Miami for 18 years, therefore this is the city I call home. I love the sun, the beach, the culture and especially the plethora of food we have at our disposal in this city and yet Miami is so much more. I began to start exploring the different aspects of my city later in life and boy was I sadly mistaken to think that there was not much more to it.

I am very optimistic, I believe in the kindness of humanity and I know that each and everyone of us have something to offer the world – whether your world is a small town or the entire country. To me this class is a once in a life time opportunity because we always seem to be too busy to stop and appreciate the little things that make this city great. Therefore, I am beyond excited to learn about the city I call home, meet new people and expand my knowledge on the culture that influences my everyday life…. welcome to Miami in Miami.


Exploring Miami One Metro Stop at a time -as text

Come to think of it, Miami is a city like no other in the world, it is a different breed and rarely fits into the rest of the country, but in this lies its great potential. Our city is filled with history, culture, diversity and lots pleasures. It is a city that is always on the go and as rich as it is – we have one great disadvantage; TRAFFIC. Public forms of transportation are not popular and our city is not designed for their success, our sidewalks are narrow, our bus routes are not exclusive and “walking distance” is minimum a mile away. 
 
In our first excursion of the semester we experienced first-hand what it feels like to use public transportation and public transportation alone to get around the city and I can say that there is an immense amount of untapped potential in this resource. Besides reducing our environmental footprint and being more cost effective, the interactions we have, the sights we see and the things we learn along the way cannot be beat. 
 
While going through the city there was a common theme present in every piece we saw and place we visited. We aren’t a single whole but rather bits and pieces put together, we are unique and rich in culture, taste and ideologies. We are made up of the people who impact us, the moments we live and the cultures we merge together to make one. Professor Bailey said “we are cultural appropriation” we take a little from everything that comes our way and we are shaped by it. We aren’t smooth clean cuts, instead were uneven and a little rough around the edges but that gives us character. We see this theme in artist like “El Greco” who’s paintings hang in the Lowe Art Museum in the University of Miami and Purvis Young who’s mural is found in the Northside Station of the Miami metro .
 
While visiting Vizcaya we were able to see the perspective outsiders had of Miami  back then and one that is still very prominent today – A place of pleasure, a city where decadence is normalized and heathenism is praised, a place where man can play God. For the most part we have played along with this side of Miami and we’ve become popular for it, from our beaches to our nightclubs and it was really interesting to see how even long ago this was the goal. 
 
One of my favorite stops was in Over town, this place was filled with history, culture and at the same time the reality of what it means to live in a poor community. We saw historic buildings like the house of the first African American Millionaire! And we got to taste the flavor of their dishes! Jackson Soul food was a restaurant that served more than just a plate of food, they served an experience – from their décor to the service, they made us feel welcomed and they enjoyed our company. Their food was authentic, it was filled with flavor, it made you want to get your hands dirty and dig in! It lived up to the name “SOUL FOOD”. 
 
Throughout the day I walked through a city I called home yet I do not know and it made me more excited for what’s to come for the rest of the class. Please enjoy my picture, a depiction that we Miamians aren’t a single whole, but pieces put together just like the rest of our city. 

-Blanca J Alcaraz

Downtown – The heart of our city – as text

Starting our day in government center, I never felt more like tourist in my own city. The metro station that gave me that “traveling” feeling without being far from home, the experience was exciting. Walking around downtown was like walking in the heart of my city, we had most of the government offices around the corner, the main public library and courthouses for every division of law. We walked along the Miami River and saw the skyline in the distance but this excursion was more than just a walk downtown. We were walking in the beginning, the beginning of our city, the start of what would become the great city of Miami. Not far from our stop, we walked into the past, a medium size structure of rectangular shape and coral stone walls that held many purposes that shaped the future of our city.  
It was used as a slave house – where the hidden figures of our history would be kept, isolated and in conditions that were nothing short deplorable, unlivable and simply unacceptable. Later on, this same structure was the first court house in Miami, a place where laws were enforced and society shaped. These two functions seem so different yet the same walls housed them both. Being in that place sent chills down my spine and I felt grateful, grateful because I was able to experience this, grateful because I was able to walk the floors of this historic monument, grateful because this history has not been forgotten and I am now part of the remnant that can continue to share this and be aware of the “ugly” parts of our history. Grateful wasn’t the only feeling I experienced, most of the time I was in awe but I was also saddened because such things happened in history. There was such cruelty and disregard for people, people who deserved so much more yet it is labeled “Love and Slavery” for a reason. 

– Blanca J Alcaraz


The Deering Estate & Our Geographical Ancestors – as text

Located along the edge of Biscayne Bay, the Deering Estate is an archeological and historic preserve that allows us to experience the unique Florida resources first hand. This nationally historic place gives us the opportunity to walk through native habitats and become culturally educated on who our ancestors were and what their interactions with the surrounding habitats consist of. The way of life these natives lived, their day to day routines and the way they so seamlessly worked with nature to live is what impressed me the most. 

The Tequesta were an Indian tribe located at the mouth of the Miami river and according to my research they created and sustained a complex society that thrived despite the lack of agriculture they had. They instead used the resources found in their environment to succeed, they used conch drills to make holes of all sizes and they fished all year round. Now although this is all great information, one thing that impacted me the most was the way the tribe was referred to by my professor. The Tequesta are our geographical ancestors, although not a single word of their language remains and they were virtually wiped out, we have a bond. They were the beginning of what one day would become the great city of Miami and the fact that places like the Deering estate exist, that allow us to experience what once was, is such a privilege. The ingenuity that the Tequesta possessed, the culture and the characteristic that made such a powerful tribe can be witnessed at the estate and that so culturally enriching. The picture attached above was taken by Gabriela Lastra and it is of some of the conch drills used by the Tequesta, these are the smaller ones but they varied greatly in size and in function! Enjoy!

-Blanca J Alcaraz


Deering Estate – Saving the planet and ourselves one canoe at a time – as text

This site allowed us to embark on a mini journey to chicken key island located about a mile and a half from the mainland. Although it may not seem far, actually canoeing or kayaking there is a whole other story but it’s one I’d love to tell. I myself had never been canoeing and I was beyond excited for the experience. I was marveled beyond words at the sight of the sea meeting the sky, I felt like I was at the edge of the world and although I know it’s not possible, I felt like I could fall over. Being in that canoe just peacefully rowing was a phenomenal way to relax and disconnect, but sadly this wasn’t how my entire trip played out. 
            About 10 minutes into our journey, our professor encourages us to follow him through the mangroves and we thought this was a great idea but quickly we realized we were wrong. The mangroves were extremely narrow and our canoes kept getting stuck but we were not struggling that much and we could still see our professor in the distance. What we did not notice was that every time we were set back because we got stuck the tide was getting lower and lower and our professor was further and further away.  About an hour passed by and we couldn’t canoe anymore, there was no more water so we were forced to get out of the canoes and carry, push and drag them through the mangroves. We were trying anything and everything but we weren’t making much progress and we were getting increasingly worried, our professor was no longer in site, our belongings were covered in mud water and the insects and humidity were just making the environment more hostile with every minute that passed by. Although the water was shallow there were waist deep and chest deep holes we were constantly slipping into, we got bruised and cut up and we were getting dehydrated. At one point the 5 of us stopped and considered the situation we were currently in and we didn’t start to panic but we weren’t far from that. After about another 30 minutes our survival mode kicked in and we made the decision to not give up, this wasn’t what would defeat us and today was not the day we would die and as cheesy as that sounds it’s what got us through. We continued to push and drag and carry each one of the boats regardless of how many bug bites we had, how soggy our clothes was or how bad we were bleeding because we needed to get out and another 30 minutes later we finally did!
            This 2-hour experience felt like we were in there for days and as miserable as we were we each learned something about ourselves. I personally realized how strong I was and how much I actually could withstand. I was scared but I didn’t lose my calm and although a breakdown was imminent I held it together and I pushed my canoe through. It’s funny because on the car ride to the Deering estate I was telling my friends that I wasn’t a person who was built for survival, I was the person who when in danger I would just give up or give in and sacrifice myself for the others yet that day I proved myself wrong and I am glad I did. In hindsight although we were in a dangerous situation I am glad we went through it, I’m also positive we wouldn’t have died because someone would’ve come for us but it fills me with pride to say we did it on our own. 
            Once out of the mangroves it was smooth sailing from there, for about another 20 minutes we canoed to chicken key island and met up with the rest of our class and laughed about what we had just gone through. On this island we picked up trash and filled our canoes with all sorts of things that were damaging to the islands environment. Our class collectively brought back about 15 canoes filled with trash which may not have been much in comparison to how much trash there was but we did our part and that’s what matters. Please enjoy this picture of me before our day began not knowing I would come back with a new perspective of myself and how strong I actually am. 

– Blanca J Alcaraz

Contemporary Art Collections – As Text

A day in Wynwood is always a day well spent. Walking through the streets of Miami and being able to admire the beautiful art on the walls is always exciting but it is limited and sadly I thought that this was as much art as I would see considering I’m a college student who cannot afford to constantly pay the admissions prices some exhibits have. Luckily I was proved wrong and my class and I got to walk through two amazing contemporary art collections and we got to speak to the collectors themselves a get a little insight of their world, their taste and their reasons behind starting the collection. Both collections were captivating in ways I didn’t know art could captivate, this type of art speaks to a generation that doesn’t fit the mold of “traditional” as it goes beyond the rules of what art is and this is what attracted me the most to it. I was able to see such spectacular art pieces that completely blew my mind and the ranges from enormous sculptures to a video recreation of the OJ Simpson trial verdict.

The collection that touched me the most was the De La Cruz Collection, the pieces were so simple yet their message was so transcendental. In many of the pieces there was a reoccurring theme of “time” and how the art transcended through time, it portrayed the idea that we are not timeless and that like everything we too must come to end. However, this idea itself is timeless and it goes beyond the art as I think that in life we are all trying to achieve or create something that is timeless, something outlives us and carries out the legacy we have created during our lives. The art works mesmerized me, even the most simple ones because their idea went beyond what met the eye.

The picture I’ve included is one of my favorites, created by Felix Gonzalez- Torres, because it is so simple yet its message speaks to generations after its creation. Its sight was captivating, the hand of a man who would treat HIV/AIDS patients back when this disease was thought to be a consequence of sin, and next to it the infinity sign. This hand represents bravery, not for aiding those who were thought to be condemned, but because it went against the thoughts of society, it represent humanity because it looked past the differences and it lent a helping hand. And this is what must live on forever, hence the infinity sign, this is an attitude we must all take when looking at those that differ from us because this kind of humanity is what makes the world a better place and the principle itself is timeless. 

– Blanca J Alcaraz

The History of Miami Museum – As Text

The history of Miami Museum, an American Alliance of Museums accredited institution, is one of the only two history museums in Miami-Dade county and provides a sense of place for the people of Miami by helping us understand the importance of both the good and the bad historical events that have shaped our community and culture. The museum does not try to erase the negative aspects of our beginnings but rather highlights them in an attempt to never let these occur again and these range from religious cleansing to cultural racisms. The museums has a vast collection that depicts the prehistoric times of the city of Miami that help us explain the why behind many of our cultural practices. The museum’s collection includes more than 37,000 artifacts and exhibits and my personal favorites are the individual recounts of the early settlers and their everyday life in the place that would one day become the city of Miami. 

            Reading the testimonies of people like Flora Hill Connelly from 1905 allowed me to connect and be able to relate to someone from long ago. “Mosquitos were terrible” – Flora Hill Connelly, something even today we can relate to! 

            Sometimes I think that it’s very easy to disassociate from our history as we get caught up in our everyday worries and years go by without acknowledging and wisely cherishing our beginnings and how far we’ve come. The History of Miami Museum does an amazing job at depicting how life has been for Miamians from beginning to end and it touches on difficult topics that should not be forgotten but instead incessantly talked about to avoid having them affect our city in silence. I am referring specifically to racism and the segregation that plagued our city for such a long time. The exhibits that highlight the ugly truth of this time are breathtaking – they immerse you into the reality that once was and still silently is for many neighborhoods in our city. I have to say my favorite exhibit was a real trolley that roamed the city of Miami during this time of segregation, it had the sigh that explicitly stated that it was state law for white passengers to sit in the front. This sign was an original and one many faces saw daily on their rides home and to work – a sign that reminded the people of color that they were inferior in society, that they were less valuable and therefore would be treated as such. Being able to sit inside the trolley in the same seats these Miamians once did transported me to that time and as a person of color I sympathize with the emotional pain of those who like me where not white. The museum went above and beyond the necessary to preserve this piece of art in order to remind people that not long ago this was our reality. 

            The museum has done an outstanding job at bringing to the light the important people of color who helped our city become what it is, yet were kept behind the scenes because of the color of their skin. Its exhibits of African American leaders and the depictions of African American life in a segregated society are eye-opening and they touched me very deeply. Today Miami is so diverse and inclusive, for the most part, that we can’t fathom the idea of racism or segregation being something so recent or something that people still face today. We many times ignore the subtle remarks heard or attribute racist behavior to ignorance when in reality this is the opposite of what we should be doing. The History of Miami Museum sets an example for us, we must not forget our beginnings but rather constantly seek to learn more about our history to better understand where we came from and where we are going. 

-Blanca J Alcaraz

Miami Art Basel – As Text

Art Basel is the world’s biggest international art fair, created in 1970, for an entire week collectors, dealers and creators of contemporary art come together to showcase their creations and interpretations of anything from modern society to global warming issues. This art fair is held once a year and it is hosted in three cities worldwide, Miami Beach Fl, Hong Kong in China and Basel in Switzerland. In hosting these fairs, hundreds of galleries from around the world are given the opportunity to showcase and sell art pieces of contemporary artist. The art pieces range in style and presentation and this is mainly because with contemporary art, it isn’t simply a painting that is being portrayed but rather an idea is being presented. This in itself is art because it communicates matters of greater intensity in simple or enjoyable formats allowing us as a society to address to address these conflicting matters in a way that doesn’t become politicized and in a nonpartisan way. 

Skyline to Shore line by Xavier Cortada. An art exhibit that motivates you to do something about the future, a future that might not be so bright if we continue down the same road. These art pieces present an awareness not an idea of an art concept.

This same concept was one of the first things I encountered when entering Art Basel for the very first time in Miami Beach Fl, and I was in awe at the excellence with which the artist conveyed this message.  Xavier Cortada, an American contemporary artists, is known for his environmentally oriented artwork and has traveled far to create art with meaning. The art piece “Skyline to Shoreline” is an interactive art piece that raises awareness of our current global climate situation. The art piece contained a few art pieces and the fact that they were displayed on the beaches of Miami, a place that can very well be under water in a few years, is very meaningful. Xavier Cortada traveled to Antarctica and worked along scientist to develop one of his art pieces.

What he did was take pieces of glaciers that were melting in Antarctica and he used them to create a series of watercolor paintings that are now displayed on the beach. This idea is transcendental, it is amazing because what he did was foreshadow what one day will fill the beaches and the land that once was Miami Beach if we do not begin to work towards reducing our global warming. We were also able to contribute to the art piece and we each wrote “a letter to the future” that would be displayed on one of the walls of the exhibit. The idea behind this concept is to write to a future youth, a generation that might not experience the wonderous of life and the beauty of nature because by the time they are born it’ll all be destroyed. This piece was in Untiled, art and I loved every minute of it. 

Three separate works displayed at Untitled, art in Miami Beach Fl. The gallery displaying this was gallery 1957. The artist behind these pieces is Joana Choumali – a visual artist based in west Africa .

The second exhibit that impacted me was an exhibit being showcased by Gallery 1957, a gallery based in west Africa. The three pieces of Joana Choumali went beyond what the eye could see and her art was a reflection of perseverance, of dedication and of barriers being broken. Joana was a photography artist and she thrived from the images she captured yet unfortunately fell very ill and could no longer travel to take pictures. The thing that filled her with joy had been taken away from her and that could’ve been the end of her artistic career, yet she did not give up. Instead Joana found a way to incorporate her photographs into her new art. Her visual art transcended into a new level, she began to weave within her photographs and gave every piece a new sense of direction. The parts she would weave would highlight the personalities, energies and concepts that were beings transmitted in the photographs. I looked at every piece carefully and I was in love, every piece was unique yet every piece had Joanna’s creativity embedded and hope and perseverance shined through. In that way although they were all different, they were very much alike. 

Attending an art fair was not something I had ever done in my life and yet I was marveled with every step I took. My mind was constantly shocked, by the sculptures, the colors, the magnitude of creativity that these artist possess. Every idea, every stereotype and construct that existed in my mind of what art was supposed to be was broken. Art is so versatile and so diverse, anything and everything can be art because its classification isn’t dependent on your approval of it. Please enjoy all the pictures I’ve added, I had a blast!

Everglades As-Text

The first couple minutes of our adventure – there was a little bit of uncertainty but a lot of expectation

The Everglades national park is a national treasure of 1.5 million acres and it has so much to offer nature, its cities and visitors. This park is referred to as an unparalleled landscape as it is a habitat for a number of rare and endangered species. This park is the largest subtropical wilderness of the united states and the third largest mangrove forest in the country. Being established in 1947its purpose was to conserve natural landscapes from any further degradation as early settlers and developers saw this land as potential farm land as well as a home for new communities. The park is composed of 9 ecosystems and has two very distinct seasons: the dry season and wet season and visiting the park is a life changing experience.

 Amongst the activities that can be done in the park are exploring the flora and fauna, tropical hammocks, cypress, and freshwater sloughs. Some of these activities can be done alone and others can be done with a guide which is exactly what we did. As a class we went slough slogging with ranger Dylan and this was definitely a life changing experience. Never in a million years did I think I would be knees deep in the everglades walking next to alligator holes and touching bird bones with my own two hands yet there I was and I was loving every minute of it. The experience was extremely educational and I learned that not everything is what it seems. One of the things that caught my eye was the way the water looked; it seemed dirty with this brown, spongy and slimy substance all over it. Turns out that this is fresh water that is clean enough to drink (although not recommended) and this spongy substance is called periphyton which is a mixture of algae that lies on the surface of aquatic ecosystems and it absorbs water like a sponge. This allows small animals to feed off it, it also absorbs contaminants from the water removing them from the water and lastly it’s a great indicator of the water quality of the ecosystem. We were able to hold the periphyton in our hands, squish it and smell it and we were all pleasantly surprised.

Now, I could go on and on about all the things we learned, and the animals we got to see but you definitely need to see it for yourself. My favorite part was the view, the stillness and peace that is perceived even though every drop of water contains a chaos of ecosystems and processes operating to simply continue to exists. It’s a great experience, to hear the trees sing with the wind and walk through untouched ecosystems that do so much more than meets the eye. Thank you ranger Dylan for guiding us and exposing us to another part of Florida, a side that is just as interesting but unknown to many. This will definitely not be my last time there.

Our views! Those dark water marks you see on the bottom of the trees are a sign of how high the water level can get. That could be chest high in some cases

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