Miami in Miami: Alexandra Rodriguez

Photo by Audri Rodriguez

BIOGRAPHY

Alexandra is a current junior in the Honors College at Florida International University. She plans to pursue a degree in Accounting and earn her certifications and licenses to become a CPA. She is an active member of Beta Alpha Psi, a national honor society for Accounting and Finance majors. She enjoys traveling, sports and fashion. Alexandra has explored over twelve different countries and appreciates the culture and lifestyle in each; she believes each country has something special to offer. With plans to study abroad in Paris next summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

METRO AS TEXT

Fichas by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Metrorail

Fichas by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Metrorail

As I walked beneath the metro line, I couldn’t help but notice the large dominoes painted along the sides. Like most Cubans in Miami, my family and I call these domino tiles “fichas.” With Cuban culture being extremely prominent in our city, it was no surprise these enormous tiles were depicted along the bottom of our metro. As someone who has only ever ridden the Metrorail a handful of times, certain art pieces like this quickly caught my attention. How had I never noticed such grand pieces of art and paintings like this before?

An artist named Bo Droga came up with the idea to paint dominoes along the dull pillars. I believe these paintings reflect Miami culture in a fun, playful way. Playing dominoes is a passion for so many Cubans and other Hispanics in Miami. At most gatherings in my house, the life of the party is typically around the domino table. Fortunately, Droga was able to encompass Miami culture in a large, public area for many to see.

Just like I had never noticed the “fichas” before, I’m sure there are plenty of other remarkable paintings and works in Miami I have casually walked or driven by and never spotted. As locals, we tend to walk past beautiful things and never notice and take in their actual magnificence. The nature, buildings and people we pass everyday seem so mundane to us. As humans, we continue to crave something newer and better. We are constantly searching and traveling far to see different things when in reality, we have such beauty so close to home.

DOWNTOWN AS TEXT

By Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Lummus Park

The Unexpected by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Lummus Park

Standing on the grounds of a “home” slaves once occupied is a feeling unlike any other. To think that their freedom was restricted and they were trapped in such a small, dull place is frightening. As I stood here, I reflected on the aspects of life I usually never think about. Most basic human rights, including freedom, were amongst my many thoughts. 

As we approached Lummus Park, I couldn’t help but notice how tiny the plantation appeared. As we stepped through the doors, I was even more surprised. With the limestone walls, the concrete floor and overall lackluster appearance, picturing the slaves in here was difficult. I’m sure the conditions they were put through were horrific and imposed on all basic rights. To think a city like Miami has history as such is unexpected. 

The Wagner home we visited was interesting, as the rooms were filled with tables and items that were typically in the living areas. As soon as I stepped foot into the area, the dining table with a checkered tablecloth caught my attention; it was filled with games and toys. The Wagner family had a daughter named Rose, and during those times, games and toys were extremely crucial to a child’s social development. I also found it interesting that the Wagner’s were an interracial couple, a German man and a Creole woman. They actually came to Miami to live an open marriage. 

Although I was born and raised in Miami, I had never heard of Lummus Park, let alone the fact that a slave plantation sat on those grounds. Fortunately, there is an abundance of history in Miami that is calling my name to be explored. It’s incredible to continue finding bits of my home that even a local like myself has never experienced. 

DEERING AS TEXT

By Vivian Acosta of FIU at Deering Estate

Deering Estate Through A Historical Lens by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

With its large, brown gates, plentiful greenery, and long walkaways, Deering Estate seems like a secret hideaway to me. Tucked away deep near the coast, it paints a picture of tranquility and privacy. In the early 1900s, when Charles Deering purchased the land, I’m sure he had a similar view as I do in this moment.

I had only ever visited Deering Estate before to attend the Sunrise Mass on Easter. After being able to experience this site with a different frame of mind, I realized how much history and beauty this place holds, especially for being in a city like Palmetto Bay. With every place I continue to visit, I discover an aspect of it I had never noticed before. This has essentially allowed me to “grow” with the city I have lived in my entire life.

In 1922, when Deering finished the Stone House, which now sits in the center of the land, he occupied the space with paintings, books and antiques. Although he only lived on the property for five years, he was successful in restoring the land and preserving the environment. Fortunately, today, the Deering Estate continues to live on Deering’s legacy and advocates for important matters, such as public awareness and research.

It’s always remarkable to visit a historic site and be able to picture how others lived and viewed that same area years ago. As I stood on the grounds of Deering Estate, I couldn’t help but imagine how Charles Deering and his family inhabited the land and how I am standing on that same property almost a hundred years later.

CHICKEN KEY AS TEXT

By Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

A Not So Typical Classroom by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Chicken Key

“Do you think we’re half way there yet?” My classmate Vivian asked me this question when we weren’t even a quarter of the way to the small island of Chicken Key, which is just off of the Deering Estate. As we continued to paddle our canoe closer towards the piece of land, I wondered how much trash would actually be there, how many different animals we would encounter, and exactly how I would leave my impact on this beautiful island.

As these thoughts pondered by mind, I could feel our canoe inching closer towards the island, even if we were going at the same speed as the piece of tree bark floating next to us. After finally tying up our canoe, we quickly jumped off to begin collecting the bits and pieces of trash that occupied the island. To my surprise, trash covered the land completely. I knew our beaches and islands in Miami were polluted with garbage, but I never imagined it to be this bad. We found everything from shoes to toothbrushes to fishing nets. To think our wildlife and land are full of trash is tragic. Animals are constantly being suffocated by plastic, and our lands are being subjected by toxic items such as Styrofoam.

It is estimated that fourteen billion pounds of trash are disposed in our oceans every year. If we continue to follow such a pattern, the waters we love and cherish will eventually be covered and sea animals will continue to die. The harmful effects on our environment are alarming, yet we continue to use the ocean as a dumping ground.

Having class on a canoe leaving from Deering Estate isn’t your typical classroom setting, but it sure has been one of my most memorable learning experiences as a student. Seeing the amount of garbage that covered the island really put this issue into perspective. Unfortunately, we never know just how bad the problems in our world are until we actually experience them firsthand.

WYNWOOD AS TEXT

Photo by Gabriela Lastra of FIU at the Margulies Collection

The He(art) of Miami by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Wynwood and the Design District

Wynwood and the Design District house Miami’s most popular abstract and contemporary art in a trendy, funky way. Walking around the streets in these areas reminds me of being in Miami’s most electric and fun districts. Although they are popular amongst the tourists, our locals tend to forget what artistry they have so close to home.

The first place we visited in Wynwood was the Margulies Collection. From the minute I stepped in, I began to take in the awe of the different art forms Mr. Margulies had on display; he had everything from paintings to photographs to sculptures. One of the pieces that instantly caught my attention was George Segal’s Subway. The fact that Segal used an old piece of a New York subway amazed me. Mr. Margulies explained that Segal paid around ten dollars for the subway part because he wanted to incorporate the piece into his work. It’s remarkable how the subway map of New York could even still be seen on Segal’s piece. Using an actual section of the train made the art piece seem that much more real to me. With the blinking lights and worn-in seats, I felt like I was about to hop on the New York City Subway.

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at the de la Cruz Collection

The second place we visited was the de la Cruz Collection. Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz used to display art pieces in their home and would open their doors to visitors. Eventually, when the crowds became too large, they moved their pieces to a gallery in the Design District. The minute I walked through the doors of the building, I noticed a string of lights hanging from the ceiling. Untitled by Felix Gonzalez-Torres was supposed to represent the fact that as humans, we will eventually burn out and come to an end. Just like how a light bulb doesn’t shine forever, our lives slowly dim down as well. Another exhibit that peaked by interest was the large, white papers that read “Somewhere better than this place” and “Nowhere better than this place.” Again, this work was by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Visitors are encouraged to take one of the papers home. It was explained that guests over the age of twenty-five tend to take the “Nowhere better than this place” paper and guests under twenty-five commonly gravitate towards the “Somewhere better than this place” paper. The correlation between age and which paper people tended to take showed me how our minds think at such different points in our lives. When we are younger, we tend to think there will always be better and bigger opportunities than the ones we have now. Whereas when you are older, you learn to appreciate everything life has given you up to this moment. I also enjoyed that visitors could take home a piece of the exhibit with them; it made it that much more personal.

After visiting both the Margulies Collection and the de la Cruz Collection, I have been able to experience exceptional contemporary art pieces that are in my very hometown. People in Miami love to travel to Rome and Paris to experience classic pieces, but never take the time to drive downtown and visit their city’s most precious works.

HISTORYMIAMI AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at HistoryMiami

Miami: Final Destination by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at HistoryMiami and the Freedom Tower

I always wondered just how difficult it was for Cubans to build a tiny raft, risk their lives, and paddle 90 miles until they reached the United States to officially obtain freedom. It amazes me that people have to put their lives on the line just to live in a free country. Years ago, my grandparents had to do just that. Living in the harsh conditions in Cuba, my grandparents wanted a better life for their children and family. When our class visited HistoryMiami this weekend, the struggles my grandparents went through, as well as many other Cubans, was put into perspective. The museum educator, Maria Moreno, spoke heavily on the Cuban history in Miami and showed us photos and items that occupied the museum. One item that instantly shocked me was the Cuban raft. Even more to my surprise, we were told that the man who came in that raft visited the museum and was surprised to see they had the raft he and his family had built to come to America. I instantly got chills when I heard about the man visiting the museum. To think he finally lives a free life and has the chance to show his children and grandchildren how difficult it was obtaining a basic human right is beyond words. Freedom is something we typically take for granted or never appreciate. However, today, I was certain to be thankful I have the chance to live and grow in a country that gives me the power to speak and act in any way I want.

After visiting the museum, we took a quick walk to the Freedom Tower in downtown. Ever since I was a little girl, my grandparents would tell me how they first visited this building when they came from Cuba. After seeking political asylum in the United States, Cubans would seek relief from the “Ellis Island of the South.” My grandfather told me they were given a bag of items which consisted of spam, cheese, a loaf of bread and a check for $50. This was already more than Cuba had ever offered them. To be able to visit one of the places my grandparents first sought refuge from in the United States was incredible. Just like it is for my family, the Freedom Tower is a special place for many people in Miami. It is often where their American story for freedom began.

ART MIAMI AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Art Miami

It’s the Cycle of Life by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Art Miami

School. Work. Home. Repeat. This is how the majority of us go through life every day. It’s almost like clockwork at this point. We have become so accustomed to this unhealthy American way of life that we pretend our lives contain enthusiasm and passion. The minute I walked up to Super 30 by Peter Halley at Art Miami, I thought to myself, “Wow, those are beautiful, bright neon colors.” I instantly thought this piece would entail some vibrant or celebratory meaning. However, I was quickly proven wrong as I stared longer and harder at the piece of art. Each box in Halley’s piece is meant to represent a prison. More specifically, these “prisons” represent places like school, work, and home. They are all connected in some way, but there’s nowhere else to go beyond these three places. This piece reminded me of American culture today, and more specifically, the growing infatuation of social media. Initially, people are attracted to the piece because of its standout colors; they quickly grab the eye. Nonetheless, they eventually learn the saddening meaning behind a piece with such a colorful, happy exterior. On social media today, we tend to post pictures and videos of us living our best lives. We catch the attention of our peers with our lovely smiles and attractive lifestyles. However, we all have something deeper that others cannot see. Our interiors entail almost the complete opposite of what we choose to show others. Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are actually all living the same life. We are all trapped in this prison Halley paints so clearly. Although some may look enticing and charming on the outside, we are all stuck in this mundane cycle we call life.

EVERGLADES AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Everglades National Park

Beyond the Textbook by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at the Pay-hay-okee Trail

Getting an education outside the classroom is unbeatable. Being able to experience the physical world in person and not through a textbook provides so much more perspective and value. Visiting the Everglades in my Miami in Miami class did just that for me. As I drove down the long, barren roads to reach our destination for the day, I wondered to myself, “Where in the world are we?” I have lived in Miami for twenty years, yet I have never seen this area. I always imagine Miami with tall buildings and a beach on every corner. When I arrived to class that day, I was proven that Miami had more to offer than just its sandy beaches and fancy infrastructure. The park ranger that guided us through the Everglades, Dylann Turffs, gave us a quick rundown of what to expect before heading out. After grabbing our walking sticks, it was time for the class to begin slough slogging. I quickly plunged my feet into the muddy waters and never looked back. As I followed Dylann down the path, the trail began to get extremely deep at some points, forcing me to place all trust in my walking stick. I took this opportunity to look closely through the trees and peer through the water, as I searched for any animals Dylann explained we might find. To me, seeing these natural Everglades inhabitants in their environment is the best way to explore the wildlife.  When I asked Dylann about the craziest thing she had ever seen on the trail, I expected her to tell me a story about a cunning alligator or a poisonous snake. Instead, she told me how fast the cars drive down the street along the trail, and how this poses a great danger for the visitors walking along the sides. I had never thought about humans being the greatest hazard in the middle of the park. Moreover, experiencing the Everglades with a park ranger, slough slogging as my participation for the day, and reflecting on the largest subtropical wilderness in the country are things that make this course so special. If I would have read about sawgrass and the mangroves in a textbook, I probably would have learned it and moved on. Now that I have navigated through the mangroves and felt the sawgrass, I have a greater understanding of South Florida’s two-million-acre backyard.  

SOUTH BEACH AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Designing South Beach by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at South Beach

The name Gianni Versace is familiar to just about every person roaming the streets of South Beach. It’s almost impossible to pass the Versace Mansion and not remember the fashion designer’s tragic death and legacy in Miami. Being an Italian designer, Versace caught the eye of many. His popularity and following made South Beach “the place to be” after purchasing the villa in 1992. Miami transitioned from a low-profile, retirement city to an upscale, glamorous destination. Famous singers and actors even travelled to the city to join the dynamic scene. However, after visiting the News Café one morning in 1997, Versace was assassinated on the steps of his Miami villa, marking a major change in the city forever. Being such a huge figure in South Beach, the area was left in disbelief; it felt as if a part of the city was missing. The nightlife and eclectic scene of Miami paused. Some bars and clubs even closed, leaving the streets and atmosphere unrecognizable.

Prior to Versace’s arrival, Miami was dull. It lacked a standout feature that major cities like New York and Los Angeles offered. It wasn’t until Versace’s presence that South Beach changed and gave Miami its unparalleled culture. Even twenty-eight years later, the city is still everything Versace made it out to be. His influence over the LGBTQ community and the diversity he brought still remain some of Miami’s most special features. Fortunately, the colorful city he transformed almost three decades ago continues to be as radiant and bold as it was during South Beach’s roaring era.

LOTUS AS TEXT

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Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

A Blanket of Hope by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Lotus House Miami

Lotus House Miami is an institution that aids women and children in the community, while combating homelessness. As human rights advocates, Lotus House continues to change the lives on many families every day. Fortunately, my Miami in Miami class was able to volunteer here for a full day and learn the ins and outs of Lotus House. It was amazing to see that even the volunteers that work there had once benefited from Lotus House and their service.

On that day of volunteering, one conversation stuck with me, and I still think about it today. After cleaning and sanitizing the seating rooms on every floor, one woman residing in Lotus House approached us and thanked us. She explained how worried she was about COVID-19 and keeping her children safe. Having this woman standing there, with her children, thanking us, was the ultimate reward. Her gratitude and warm smile are two things I will always remember about volunteering at Lotus House.

This shelter is now a dear place to me. I like to think of Lotus House as a “blanket of hope.” I thought about this when I came across blankets with notes, stacked up on a shelf. I asked one of the volunteers what these were for and who made them. She explained to me that those blankets were donated for people who were homeless on the streets and have no supplies. The notes attached to each blanket were hand-written by children, urging the homeless to remain positive and hopeful. I had never seen such a personable touch to a donation before. The homeless people in Miami not only need supplies and tools but also words of encouragement and happiness. It’s true that as human we need some physical, material items to survive, but we also desperately require emotional words to heal our souls.

DEERING ESTATE AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Miami’s Hidden Treasure by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

There’s no doubt the Deering Estate is rich of Miami history. It is the former estate of Charles Deering and home to the Tequesta Native American tribe. In the early 1900s, Charles Deering purchased acres of land near the Biscayne Bay. After building an estate, he was able to successfully restore and preserve the environment that is now the Deering Estate. The Tequesta tribe, whom migrated in the 18th century to the coast of Florida, has much history at the Deering Estate, as well. The grounds are home to the Tequesta Midden and the Tequesta Burial Mound. Since the Tequesta tribe is extinct and not much evidence of them exists, it’s important that places like the Deering Estate are preserving their history.

Walking and touring the Deering Estate gives visitors the chance to physically experience Miami history. There are not many places in Miami where visitors can walk along original, historical grounds. This is one of the main reasons why the estate was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I have visited the Deering Estate multiple times now, and each time I visit it’s a different experience. When I visited with my Miami in Miami class, we were able to kayak off Biscayne Bay to the small island of Chicken Key. When I attended sunrise Mass for the first time a few years ago, I was able to experience a Deering Estate sunrise, which is unmatched! Hidden just off Old Cutler Road, this area now holds some of my favorite memories and remains one of the most special places in Miami.   

QUARANTINE AS TEXT

A Sunset Walk by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

A Corona Coaster of Thoughts by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Home

“I am writing to you with sad news. All Spring and Summer 2020 study abroad programs have been cancelled.” My heart shattered as I read this email from Luli Szeinblum, the coordinator of study abroad programs in the Honors College at FIU. The most highly-anticipated month of my life was officially cancelled, the month I had been looking forward to for over a year. Just a few short days later, President Rosenburg announced FIU would be transitioning to remote learning, meaning we all had to adapt to this new way of life. Little did we all know our lives would change immensely for the next months to follow.

Throughout these quarantined days, I keep thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m really living in a chapter of history.” In years to follow, we’ll be able to reflect on this time our world went through and recollect these stories to our children and grandchildren. Although it’s a scary time with the uncertainty the virus brings, I believe it’s a situation we have all learned and gained something from.

Despite the losses and immense changes COVID-19 has brought, our world has learned and adapted to a completely new way of life, and it’s pretty spectacular. Instead of focusing on our imperfect world right now, I think it would be a better idea to focus on ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed humanity for the better.

  • A sense of community: Whenever something bad happens in our world, humanity tends to come together to make the situation easier for others. Whether it’s taking care of the vulnerable senior citizens during COVID-19 or volunteering to serve meals to children in the school district, I have seen the community unite like I never have before.   
  • A new-found love for exercise: When we started at-home quarantine about a month ago, I began to see people bike riding, running, and playing outside. I had never seen my neighborhood like this. Before the pandemic, the sidewalks were always empty and green spaces were pretty quiet. Now that we have been home for over 30 days, taking a walk or exploring the neighborhood has never sounded like a better idea.
  • A highly-needed mental break: On most days, school, work and daily responsibilities can be mentally exhausting. It’s not until we get home that we can detach ourselves from the realities of life. Being surrounded by family and enjoying the comforts of home put many people’s minds at ease. During this pandemic, isolating has given us the opportunity to reflect and rest our clouded brains.

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