Miami in Miami: Hanna Sotolongo-Miranda


Hello, my name is Hanna Sotolongo-Miranda, and I am currently a freshman at the Florida International University Honors College. As a resident of Miami, I graduated from Coral Reef Senior High School with honors and under the International Baccalaureate program. As a freshman in college, I look forward to learning and experiencing the many opportunities that college and classes have to offer. I aspire to have a career in Marine Biology and work towards this goal in my studies at Florida International University. I look forward to the rest of my time at FIU, and to the opportunities yet to come.


During Miami Metro Day, I had the experience of exploring parts of Miami that I had never seen before. We started at Dadeland South and bought our tickets for the day there. We discussed the benefits of having a public transportation system and how it helps many people in the community but also critiqued it knowing that is was expensive and that it didn’t extend to most places in Miami. 

Our first stop was University, where we walked down Ponce de Leon to the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami. In the museum, we saw Greek pottery that was over 2,000 years old, and two new El Greco baroque pieces, and how it differed from the gothic style, in the new donated Crest Collection. There we talked about the cultural exchange across cultures and the beginning of modern Miami. 

Walking through the Vizcaya Trails

After that, we stopped at Vizcaya, a European villa built during World War 1 by James and Charles Deering. Entering, we see a statue of Ponce de Leon, the founder of Florida and Miami, and later Dionysis as we enter the very roman style house, greeting guests with this idea of luxury and fun when entering Miami, made by the wealthy ‘gods’ of Vizcaya as represented by the glass window of “J’ai Dit,” I have said. 

In Overtown

We then went to Overtown where we learned about the Lyric Theater and the importance of the community until the 1960s, when I-95 was built above it. We then ate at the delicious and unique Jackson Soul Food, a historic restaurant opened in 1946 by Jessie E. and Demas Jackson and their 12 children. Now it is owned by Shirlene Jackson, and the family legacy still continues. 

My first excursion with Professor Bailly was definitely memorable, and I definitely learned so much more about Miami, even though I have lived here my entire life. It was an eye-opening experience, and I look forward to riding the Metrorail more often, and to our next excursion.


On this week’s excursion, we explored the historical side of Downtown Miami and Viscaya, and discussed the problematic issues and saddening truths, while also exploring the beautiful culture and creative background of the city we call home.

“Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels”

Starting at the Government Center Metrorail Station, we viewed a fountain by famous pop artist Claes Oldenberg of a broken bowl of oranges. This completely compliments Miami’s style, as it references the famous Orange Bowl football stadium, and Florida being the ‘orange state’. Although the positioning of the sculpture made it hard to see what it actually is, it is symbolic of Miami’s nature as this city and its downtown is not what it appears to be.

Miami River

As we continued down to the Miami River, we encountered Miss Lucia Meneses and she was kind enough to let us into the slave residencies of the last remaining building of Fort Dallas, a former plantation of Miami. Although the structure was altered with new wood beams and a concrete floor, the conditions of this house were unlivable. Even with adaptations over the years of being Miami’s first courthouse, to becoming the meeting area for the Daughters of the American Revolution, to stand where people of history stood before us was amazingly impactful, and extremely depressing.

Flagler’s Impact

Even after all these years, it’s amazing how Flagler’s railroads affected and created the city of Miami today. The search for citrus pushed the building of the railroad all the way down to the Florida Keys, and formed the need for a new city. However, the sad truth is a backstory of the racism occurring at this time as the slaves working we’re allowed to vote in support for a new city, but immediately after we’re segregated to the conditions of the previously mentioned Fort Dallas’s slave residencies.

Viscaya Styles

The mix of different artistic styles in the Vizcaya Villa is described perfectly by Professor John William Bailly; it makes no sense. From the outside of the villa, it has a very European style architecture, but the adventure begins when you enter the house. The statue of Dionysus and The Dancing Faun show that this residency is one of earthly pleasures and escape. The next room to the left then tells a different story of neoclassical art where the expressionless art gives a sense of intelligence, and the subliminal sense of structure give the space a uniformity and sense of harmony. However entering the next room is one of baroque and extremely emotional art, reflecting the Sun King’s palace of Versailles. The topic of cultural appropriation of art was frequent such as the Catholic painting of the Virgin Mary being used to cover up organ pipes, and Islamic art being used to describe the Catholic god. 

The mix of art in Viscaya making no sense, to the contradictory nature of the creation of the city, are perfect representations of Miami and the mix of cultures that make no sense, but still collaborate and work together to create the historically problematic, yet extremely impactful city of Miami.


On the excursion of the Deering Estate, we encountered many incredible feats of nature. Although we will return as a class later in the semester, my first encounter with the residence was truly spectacular. The grounds of the estate include the building itself, and the nature-filled hiking trails. On this excursion, we focused on only the hiking grounds, more specifically the Pine Rocklands, and the Tropical Hardwood Hammocks.

Getting Started

Before going out into the wilderness, we were met with the Director of the estate, Jennifer Tisthammer, and she described the history of the hiking grounds and the geology about some of the sites where we were going. As there are many poison ivy and poisonwood, especially in the Hammocks, it was highly recommended we wear clothing that covered our legs and arms as much as possible and to be cautious of what we touch with our fingertips. She informed us that the site, called Miami Rock Ridge, was formed over 120,000 years ago and had elevations up to 25 feet above sea level, which is fairly impressive for someone who has only experienced flatlands for most of their lives. She also warned us to be wary of any holes on the trail, as they are archeological sites.

Pine Rocklands

Heading into the ridge, we started off at the Pine Rocklands, which true to its name, had many pine trees and cones in the area. It was incredibly eye-opening to see an environment so unlike the rest of Miami’s tropical oasis, however, it still being able to thrive. As promised, there were many holes in the path which thankfully I did not fall in. Ms. Tisthammer informed us that most of these holes are archeological sites usually about 1 meter wide and 1 meter deep. Many animal and even human remains have been found in these archeological sites, such as one particular site that we visited where human remains were found in the corner of what may have been a living area. Seeing this was amazing and being able to stand where history happened is even more awesome.

Tropical Hardwood Hammock

The Hammocks was a completely different environment from the Rocklands, needless to say, it was incredible seeing how two completely different ecosystems coexist so perfectly. Subtle differences such as temperature, humidity, and even the smell of the air seemed so drastic. It was here where Ms. Tisthammer once again warned us to be extra wary of poisonous plants and told us for cautionary reasons, to push aside any plants with our arm or our wrist so as not to expose our skin to the poisonous plants. It was here where we learned that in many of the holes animal remains were found due to what is most likely a tar pit. In these traps, and animal is put in a ‘sticky situation’ where they can’t move, therefore their predator comes to hunt, and a similar effect happens to them, causing and affecting the lives of animals and the food chains.


This visit to the Deering Estate and its hiking grounds was truly awe-inspiring as we learned about the history, background, and geology of the grounds by not only discussing it but by experiencing it. The beautiful wilderness of this estate is truly captivating and I recommend visiting to anyone in Miami, whether you are a local or a tourist. I had such an amazing time, and I look forward to returning for our next excursion to Chicken Key.


On this week’s excursion, we met at the Deering Estate once again and visited Chicken Key, a beautiful island filled with flora, fauna, and unfortunately lots and lots of trash. Our goal in coming out here was to pick up and return to the Deering Estate with as much trash as we could collect in the time we were there, and as much as we could fit in the class’s canoes. Before setting out, we began forming pairs of the more experienced with the less experienced. Although the majority of the class traveled, in canoes, I was one of the fortunate few to travel in a kayak. I prefer kayaks to canoes because the wind resists less, and I have more experience with kayaks. After some safety tips and a crash course on manoeuvering the boats, we set out to Chicken Key.

On the way to the key, I paired up with Annette to go to the island together. Of the two of us, I was more knowledgeable of kayaks, and so because of that I went in the back and controlled the steering, while she went in the front and paddled. After a fairly short amount of time, we made a lot of progress, and because kayaks are so much faster than canoes, we waited until the rest of the group got closer before continuing and reaching the island.

We arrived at the key and I was immediately at awe at the mangrove habitat of the island and the life that flourished there. However, my amazement quickly turned to disappointment as we went to work, picking up trash we could find. I found what looked like a large dish rack and filled it three times, completely horrified by what I saw: liquor bottles, shoes, glass, plastic bottles, bottle caps, children’s floaties and so much more. As we piled it onto the kayaks and canoes, we decided to take a break and explore. 

We found many horseshoe crab shells and many hermit crabs about the island, even finding a few raccoons who were curious about our lunch. We then went swimming where we encountered two wild lobsters in a plastic tube that Professor Bailly triumphantly held above the water. We returned to our mission once more before leaving the island, however, we still barely scratched the surface on the amount of pollution on that island. It truly saddens me to see such a beautiful environment become a trashcan for human civilization. As we left we picked up some last-minute Pikachu balloon trash and went on our way. 

On the way back, Annette and I got caught in the mangroves trying to pick up some trash and I came face to face with a wild iguana. As a marine biology major, I know a lot about these creatures as I have studied about them and how they are an invasive species in south Florida, and how they are also very dangerous. Thankfully, my partner Annette didn’t see it as in order to safely get out of the situation, I needed to be calm and collected. My voice level dropped into a whisper, and I swiftly got us out of the mangroves. I later told Annette who was thrilled she remained ignorant during the situation.

In returning to the Deering Estate, we loaded all the canoes on the vehicle and disposed properly of all the trash. It was definitely eye-opening to see where some of these everyday objects go. The accumulation of trash is a big problem, and soon the solution will be too far out of our reach. In order to preserve our natural habitats and appreciate the environment, we need to help it flourish and prevent waste and other pollutants from entering the beautiful area our flora and fauna call home.


Wynwood and its many art filled collections were the focus of this week’s many excursions. As we traveled to the Margulies Collection, and later the De La Cruz Collection, we discovered a part of Miami that’s largely underground and unnoticed by both tourists and locals. Miami’s thriving and contemporary art are hidden behind the unique graffiti of Wynwood and the high end stores of the Design District, however, we traveled to a brand new part and learned about the artists and their works as part of Miami, and learned that not all art serves as just a decoration.

Margulies Collection

This collection was spectacular and inspiring, as different themes of hunger and oppression were shown through the many works. We were lucky enough to be given a tour by the very collector himself, Mr. Margulies. One of my personal favorites in this collection was the room with many people, filled with hollow, stiffened cloth made to look like headless people. The symbolism of the artist is shown through the way that the cloth was molded, all the same, but the folding completely different. The headlessness of these figures was a symbolism for the people who felt their identity and humanity was stripped of them as their names became numbers. This is an example of unappealing art, because the color of the fabric was just a brown cloth, and overall, not aesthetically pleasing, however this piece is not meant for that, it is meant to make you observe and look beyond, for a purpose or a meaning.

Another very moving piece was a replica of “The Bread Line” by George Segal, the real one being in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. This shows the turmoil from a time of despair and disillusionment of the Great Depression, and the reality of people during this time period, and the emotions of the financial struggle. It shows how the lessons and events of history can be transported through time to show impact and emotion in something as simple as an art collection. This piece impacts multiple audiences globally, not unlike how the Great Depression impacted the entire world. The impact in this sculpture is truly meant to make you stop and think.

De La Cruz Collection

Felix Gonzales-Torres was one of the more impactful artists of this collection, and personally one of my favorites. His works mostly revolved around the idea and construct of time and how its many qualities are beyond culture and language barriers, and can relate to every human being. One of his works consisted of 31 paintings of charts set up similar to a calendar. The reason the collection shows to have it in this manner is due to the meaning behind the paintings, both literally and figuratively. Behind the canvas of each painting are photos, letters, and treasured items, but the meaning of the work is the end of Felix Gonzales-Torres in the month that he died, and the chart were the doctor’s report in his last days. The charts have been painted over with white as a way to ignore the truth, but once the paint dried, the charts would seep through the layer of white, and the reality would once again resurface.

Another work by Felix Gonzales-Torres were the lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling to the floor by the bare, electrical cords. Much like the calendar, the theme was also the universal construct of time, and the meaning behind this work was much easier to understand. Time for everyone is limited, just as the lightbulbs will eventually go out one by one. There are also 42 lightbulbs in total, which made me think of a possible allusion to a book titled “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams where the supercomputer says the answer to the meaning of life is 42, which although the two are most likely completely unrelated, personally finding meaning in a piece of art truly made the art not only more appealing to me, but gave the work a deeper meaning and a hidden mystery altogether.


For such an under-appreciated part of Miami, I was truly impressed with the rich culture of modern and contemporary art that the city neglects to advertise. Miami is a culturally and historically rich city, however, the way we portray the city to tourists is a city that is filled with material wealth, high-class living, long-lasting parties, and lots of liquor. Although that does attract tourists, there should also be the display and appreciation of another part of Miami filled with moving art by incredible artists. We also, as a society, should stray away from this idea that art needs to be beautiful in order to be appreciated. Not all art serves to decorate or please, but instead is supposed to make you think, feel, and question the world you live in.


The tour of the HistoryMiami Museum was unlike any other tour of the semester. Instead of trying to cover up history, our tour guide Maria faced it head on, talking about members of history such as the hispanic slave Francisco Menendez who was so important and crucial to the colonization of Spanish Florida as Captain of Fort Mose, yet was still denied by the Spanish Crown his freedom. Despite his importance, Menendez and other slaves of Florida’s past have a very small role in this museum, only having a small corner of the exhibit, which shows the prejudice still very much alive during the time that this museum was built in the 70s. It is also reflected by the built-in exhibition of important African-American figures next to the bathrooms. The staff at this museum is fully aware of this problem and does nothing to hide its racist past, in fact, they understand it and work to improve it with their rotating exhibitions. 

In the Gesu Church, many representations of Christ and the Virgin Mary are varied in order to attract many audiences. Due to one of the reasons of American colonialism was God, and spreading christian beliefs. In order to appeal to the indigenous people of the land, there were many depictions of the Virgin Mary as a mexican woman with dark hair and dark eyes, and even a dark, tanned Jesus on the cross. There was even a depiction of Mary and her child as Africans, which served as not only a way to attract more people to the church, but also a way for slaves to continue working without complaints or resistance because it was ‘God’s work’. 

Although we criticize America’s past, there are still aspects that show the freedom we aspire to have as a nation. Walking through the streets of Downtown Miami, we saw a building by the Muslim architect Zaha Hadid, a condo that had a beautiful design of the movement of pillars in the building. We also saw the Freedom Tower, a building based on the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain. This mix of architectural styles with a Roman base, a Muslim build, and a Renaissance bell tower shows the mix of styles that is Miami, and the aspiration to be a land of freedom for the Cubans fleeing the clutches of Fidel Castro. This shows that despite its history being imperfect and very problematic, this country continues to strive to be the land of the free.


In going to Art Basel, I saw a piece of artwork that really caught my eye. This piece called “Red Spaceship” by artist Karla Knight in the Andrew Edlin Gallery made me think about what exactly this was meant to be. At first glance it looked like a piece of technology equipment known as a ‘raspberry pie’, however when looking closer, I noticed the sides with the circles increasing in size, which was similar to something of planets. This piece was meant to be a reflection on the possible future for humanity, however, the symbols on the border and within the piece made me think of a potential hidden message which intrigued me even more. The interpretation of a painting or work of art is important, but finding the hidden messages always adds more to the experience and gives truly makes the work linger in the mind. I hope to decipher the symbols and code within this, if there is a solution.

On the other hand, the Art Miami fair had these works of the ‘Black Series’ by Alejandro Monje caught my eye because I disliked them. The series within the 3 Punts Galleria consists of 4 works: “Disney”, “Welcome”, “The Sun Is Overrated”, and “Art Is Not A Kid’s Game”. These four works together created a very dark image and mentality about the world of today, depicting how in today’s world, we must abandon childish thoughts such as Disney, carnivals, and ideas like how daytime is playtime in order to be accepted into ‘the real world’. Although I dislike this message, I understand why it’s so prevalent in our society, because there is pressure, that I personally feel, to abandon things that are considered childish because it makes me less of an adult. I believe that a person’s maturity should be based on their decisions and actions rather than their likes and dislikes. But the wonderful thing about art, is the fact that it doesn’t matter what my opinion is. The opinion of the individual is irrelevant because what makes the art is the impact it has on the mind, and it’s ability to make you think, which makes Alejandro Monje’s series good art.

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