Miami in Miami: Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz

Hello, everyone! My name is Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz and I am currently a sophomore in Florida International University’s Honors College. I am a local “Miami-an”, as one could say, as I was born and raised in the incredible city of Miami, Florida. I truly do have an immense love and sense of pride for the city of Miami and hope to one day be able to raise a family of my own in this beautiful city. Despite my great love for Miami, and the fact that I have lived here for 19 years, it is very possible that a tourist that comes to visit the city for a weekend could potentially explore more parts, and learn more of the history of Miami, than I have in my entire span of living here. For this reason, I am ecstatic that, during this upcoming semester, I have the opportunity to take part in the “Miami in Miami” course at Florida International University, where we will dive into the city of Miami as tourists who are hungry to learn about its culture, history, artwork, flora, fauna, and everything else that Miami has to offer.

I am majoring in Accounting, and minoring in Business Analytics, and hope to soon attain my CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license as I head into the public accounting industry. Some hobbies of mine include playing sports, especially baseball and volleyball, and going to the beach. I have a great love for the beach, and honestly anytime where I can spend some time in the water, it is a successful day in my eyes. I often go to the beach to play beach volleyball near Ocean Drive and 7th street, and every time I go I am happy, and humbled, that I get to go out and do what I love right next to one of the most famous landmarks of Miami, which is the Art Deco neon lights of Ocean drive. Lastly, I’d like to share a cool fact about myself which is that my family has a very strong twin gene considering the fact that I myself am a twin, my father is a twin, and my father’s twin also has twin kids. Apart from this immediate family, I also have two uncles who are identical twins. All in all, I am thrilled to begin my journey through this course, and I want to thank you for reading!

My Miami as Texts can be found below!

Metro as Text

“More Than Just a Quinceañera Photoshoot Location” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Truly and genuinely ineffable, is how I felt from the moment we stepped out of the Vizcaya Metrorail Station all the way until we boarded back onto it. Admittedly, I am not one to often truly appreciate, or give it’s deserving respect, to the beauty of the flora that surrounds me on a daily basis, but when we entered the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, I was taken away by the vast and beautiful landscapes that covered the territory. The first aspect of the flora that stood out to me was actually located in an area that we travelled across before even entering the museum. I am referring to a plot of land where a bridge was located, but contrary to most bridges and structures that are created by man, this particular bridge curved around a plethora of magnificent trees, as it was built in respect to them, rather than simply bulldozing over and creating a straight bridge as most others do. I felt a great respect for that preservation of the trees because in a city such a Miami, the natural greenery that is present in that location is extremely rare to see due to the mass urbanization that exists throughout the city. Once having entered Vizcaya, the second aspect of the flora that genuinely amazed me was the immense trees that surrounded both sides of the principal walking path that led towards the museum and garden. Despite the obvious aesthetic benefits that the massive trees provided, they also serve the purpose of providing shade that is much needed when standing under the intense Miami heat. Sadly, during our visit, there were numerous trees that were not present, which were historically present, due to the fact that they were knocked over by Hurricane Irma which impacted Miami and many other cities in the year 2017. Lastly, the gardens of Vizcaya were truly a breathtaking sight that made me feel as if I were transported to an entirely different place. I felt this sensation because that was the intended goal of the landscape architect, Diego Suarez, whom designed the garden in reference to Italian and French gardens that were created in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. 

I was stunned at the fact that within my 19 years of living in Miami, I had never visited the beautiful and historic landmark of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. After learning about the culture and history of Vizcaya I was shocked to recall that one main reason as to why local Miami residents have even visited Vizcaya in the first place, is simply to take photos for quinceañera’s and for weddings. Despite its beautiful scenery, I was saddened to remember that it has this label because of the fact that it is very commonly referred to as “the place where people take their quinceañera pictures”, and admittedly was referred to in that way by my family and myself as well, prior to having taken my excursion, because it truly is so much more than that. I definitely intend to take my family to experience Vizcaya for what it truly is in my near future.

Downtown as Text

“The Forgotten Names” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Lummus Park Historic District

Henry Flagler, James Deering, Ponce de Leon. These three names of these historical figures are common household names when referring to the history of Miami and when visiting some of Miami’s most historic landmarks, yet almost nobody can list the names of the workers who actually built these landmarks with their bare hands. Names of the wealthy and powerful are always remembered as history progresses, but it is a sad truth that the names of the hardworking individuals who actually created these historic structures often go unremembered. For instance, one example of a building that has survived hundreds of years and has served for dozens of different purposes, to many different social or political groups, is the building of Fort Dallas which is located in Lummus Park Historic District. We were incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to enter this incredible building that has an astonishing amount of history within its walls, all thanks to the very generous Lucia Meneses who gave us a spectacular tour of the structure.

It is rare to see a building that serves different purposes than the one that it was intended for, for instance a house will likely remain a house over time, despite new people inhabiting it, and it will probably never turn into a restaurant or a movie theater. However, this was not the case with Fort Dallas. Fort Dallas, which was built in 1836, served the purpose of over five different functions over the years and these functions had a massive range. Throughout the years Fort Dallas took the role of being a military post established during the Seminole Wars, then was converted into a slave plantation, then was seized by the U.S. Army and was used as barracks, then was used as the Dade County Courthouse, then was used as a gambling establishment, and lastly was used as the headquarters for the Daughters of the American Revolution. I was taken away by the vast history that existed within the walls that I was walking in and the floors I was standing on. I was amazed about the history I was experiencing first hand, but at the same time, I was also saddened to realize the horrible conditions that many people must have endured within those walls. I was curious to know the names of the men, women, and children that lived within these quarters and worked the land during the time that it was a plantation, but similar to many cases, their names were forgotten and only the name of the plantation owner, Colonel William English, is remembered. This excursion reminded me that when learning about history we encounter some of humanities best qualities while many of our worst qualities as well. It was truly shocking to hear that roughly 100 slaves lived within those quarters during the time that it was a plantation. Excursions such as this one truly make you reflect on your own life and remind you to be thankful for the little things that you are blessed to have on a day to day basis.

The Tequesta Burial Mound and the Cutler Fossil Site at the Deering Estate (Photographs by Vivian Acosta and Gabriela Lastra)

Deering as Text

“Our Unknown Ancestors” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at The Deering Estate

The Deering Estate, located in present day Biscayne Bay, is most commonly known for once serving the purpose of being the winter home for Charles Deering and his wife, but those grounds are so much more than that. Charles Deering bought and created the estate between the years of 1916 to 1922 to create the historic landmark we know today. Deering hired well known botanists and architects to construct the estate with the style buildings and fauna in which he envisioned it to look, and the estate is still maintained to this day as a great source of history of our past. Furthermore, despite the great impact in which Deering had by creating the estate, the grounds in which it is built on are home to so much more history and findings that are a vital part of Miami’s origins.

The great history that lies on the grounds of the Deering estate belong primarily to the early natives of hunters and gatherers that are known as the Tequesta. The Tequesta lived in present day Miami and there are findings that show that they lived on the grounds of the Deering estate from around the time of the early 1500’s. Juan Ponce de Leon first came in contact with them in the year 1513 when he landed on the Florida Coast. The Tequesta community are in sorts the ancestors of Miami and play such a crucial role in our cities origins and history, but it is a shame that they are unknown to us. Findings have been able to tell us factual things about their ways of life, such as the ways they hunted, survived, and where they lived, but that’s about all that we know about them. There are no existing images of anyone from the Tequesta tribe and there is no knowledge of the language in which they spoke. It is sad to know that we truly don’t know how these people interacted with each other, what they believed in, and what sorts of potential rituals or practices they took part in. It is sad that that these are the ancestors of our city, but we can’t name a single one of them. Despite not knowing much about their personalities and culture, findings have been able to tell us a lot about the ways in which they lived. For instance, from the grounds of the Cutler Fossil site we are able to know that animals such as mastodons, camels, llamas, and saber-toothed tigers roamed the grounds in which the Tequesta lived. Also, we know that the Tequesta performed burials due to the Tequesta Cutler Burial Mound where it is believed that 12 to 18 Native Americans are buried. This burial ground is located under a massive, roughly about 500 year old, oak tree that lies over the burial mound. All in all, an excursion such as this one truly allows you to travel back in time to learn about history in a first hand experience and about the people that once lived on the same grounds that we live on today.

Chicken Key as Text

“Stuck in the Mangroves” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at The Deering Estate

“Hey, do you guys want to see something cool” are the nine simple words that changed a peaceful beach cleanup trip into a tretorous and crazy adventure. Prior to our professor asking us that question that led us on the incredible yet trying excursion, the day was panning out to be a truly incredible journey. Our class trip took place at the Deering Estate in the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay. Our day began at around 10AM when our class began showing up to the Deering Estate and preparing to head out on the canoes. The plan for our trip was that we would all head out on canoes to the island of Chicken Key, where we would spend the day cleaning up the island of any trash we could find and fit into our canoes. Apart from that we were going to have a picnic on the island and some great fun in the water at the beach. The day played out exactly as planned and was without a doubt the most fun field trip I have ever been on. The only roadblock that we encountered that we had not planned on was the route in which we took to get to Chicken Key. Originally we were supposed to canoe straight to the island where we would have our class activities of cleaning up and have our picnic. This is how the day played out for the majority of our class, but for myself and four of my classmates the journey to the island went much differently. It all began when our professor asked our group the question that changed everything, which was if we wanted to see something cool. Without hesitation, all of us wanting to see something cool, we agreed and followed him. Professor Bailly was asking us if we wanted to take a little detour and go through an incredible journey through mangroves. The route through the mangroves truly was incredible, but the only problem was that Professor Bailly is a very experienced canoer, and me and my peers were not to say the least. To put it into perspective, Professor Bailly got through the mangroves in about forty-five minutes while it took my peers and myself roughly two hours to get out. Canoeing through mangroves was a lot more difficult than we anticipated, but the main factor that truly made the route even more challenging was the fact that the water tide dropped an immense amount while we were in the mangroves. The drop in water level made it impossible for us to continue canoeing, and forced us to step out of the canoes and carry it the rest of the way out.  Throughout the rest of the journey we encountered a countless amount of crabs, an immense amount of alligator burrows that made it impossible for us to walk through without falling down, and an unimaginable amount of flies. Despite the struggles we encountered, I wouldn’t have asked for our day to have turned out in any other way. Apart from doing a great thing of cleaning up our ocean and environment, this day was much more special to me because of the struggles we went through. Together we were able to all work as a team in order to get out of the mangroves and truly make the best out of the situation we found ourselves in. Chicken Key truly is an incredible island and I would recommend this beach cleanup adventure to everyone.

Wynwood as Text

“A New Perspective of Art” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Wynwood

Our day at Wynwood consisted primarily of visiting two incredible art collections that truly changed my view on art. The art collection that truly stood out to me was The Margulies Collection at the Warehouseand this was honestly an incredible experience that I genuinely enjoyed. I say this in all sincerity that the Margulies Collection not only changed my view of what art collections consist of, but it truly changed my perspective of art as a whole. Prior to visiting the Margulies Collection, I will be honest in saying that I did not have much interest in art and likely would not have visited an art collection any time soon. Prior to visiting, I had a mindset that art collections would consist solely of different paintings by different artists that wouldn’t genuinely seem like anything that I hadn’t seen before. I was very wrong. The Margulies Collection truly amazed me by having art displays that varied all the way from simple paintings all the way to massive sculptures and even videos. This was astonishing to me because I never realized that so many things can be considered to be art, and that it does not consist solely of paintings. A big factor as to why I enjoyed the Margulies Collection so much was because of the tour which we received. We were given the tour by Martin Margulies, the founder and owner of the collection himself, and he is truly one of the greatest figures I have had the honor of meeting. He truly has given so much to artists, both local and from around the world, and to city of Miami as a whole by contributing this incredible collection to the community. From the moment that the tour began Margulies acknowledged my exact misconception of what art is by telling us that anything can be considered art, including things as random as urinals on display or even shirts. 

The first display that truly caught my attention was a wall of photographs of prisons in Texas from the 1950’s. Due to the fact that I had never been to an art collection, the first reason as to why this display caught my attention was because I was unaware of the different mediums that could be used in different exhibits, such as photographs. This display was very interesting to me because I have always been very intrigued with prison movies and documentaries in general, and these photographs specifically were very real, and somewhat crude. For instance, there was one photograph of an electric chair and a prison guard standing next to it, and this one particularly stood out to me because it showed me that every photograph truly told a story of their own. Another display that truly blew my mind was one of an elevator that wasn’t really an elevator. This display consisted of elevator doors that would open up every few seconds, and every time the doors opened, a video of different people of Asian descent would appear. I truly enjoyed this display because to many people who would just walk by quickly, it is very easy for them to not notice that it is an art display because it genuinely seems like a real elevator. Similarly, another display that was very intriguing was a video, that was projected on a wall, of the last three minutes of the O.J. Simpson case verdict. Again, a display such as this one truly stood out to me because I would have never thought that a video from a projector could be considered art and that I would see it in an art collection. Also, I really enjoyed the fact that different displays can be perceived to represent very different things based on the eye of the beholder. Lastly, the final display which truly caught me by surprise because of how odd and funny it was, was a display that consisted of sculptures of super heroes that were now old and in a retirement home. It was awesome to see Superman using a walker and the Hulk in a wheelchair because superheroes getting old is something that one never thinks about when thinking about superheroes. All in all, this experience truly opened my eyes as to what art truly is and coming to the realization that anything can be considered art, no matter how simple or crazy it may seem.

HistoryMiami as Text

“Our History” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at HistoryMiami

Similar to many times before, I am extremely thankful for this class for having introduced me to a new part of my city that I possibly would not have explored on my own accord. HistoryMiami Museum, a building which I have passed by dozens of times in my life, yet have never entered. By entering HistoryMiami Museum, I was not only introduced to this building for the first time, but I was truly introduced to my city of Miami and what has shaped it into what it is today. Led by one of the incredible HistoryMiami Educators, Maria Moreno truly enhanced out experience at the museum by teaching us facts about the artifacts and artworks that one can’t simply attain by reading the descriptions in front of the displays. One of the primary things that I learned from our tour of the museum, that truly shocked me the most, was the fact that Miami had such a strong presence of racism in our recent history. I believe that this truly came as such a surprise to myself, and several of my classmates, for two main reasons that I believe are conceptions that many local citizens of Miami have as well. First off, due to the fact that Miami is a melting pot filled with diverse backgrounds in any direction you look, I believe it very easy for people to assume that it has always been this way and not look into our city’s true history. The other reason as to why I believe that this sad history of our city is not well-known, is because of the fact that Miami is never mentioned in textbooks as a main city that struggled with overcoming racism during the civil rights movements, and in turn, people wrongly assume that we never struggled with it at all. Also, due to the fact that the main topics that are talked about when referring to Miami’s history are the times when there was heavy drug flow through our city and the migration of Cuban’s in search of asylum, it is easy to forget that there were other things happening during these times as well. 

There were several displays that truly opened my eyes about the severity of racism that existed in our city. The first display consisted of several different photographs that pictured dozens of members of the Ku Klux Klan dressed in their notorious white robe attires. Simply the site of a person wearing these horrible robes is enough to shock and anger anyone, but these photographs included so much more. In these photographs were pictured dozens of KKK members dressed in these horrific robes walking through the streets in groups and standing on floats as if they were a part of a parade. I was genuinely stunned to see these pictures and to learn that these members were able to walk through the streets in groups like that as if it was no big deal. Shortly after, one of my peers told our class that in her neighborhood she has seen on multiple occasion men dressed in these robes and that truly sickened me to learn that not only was this a big part of our city’s history, but that it is still present today. Another display that showed the presence of racism that existed in Miami, was a sign that was part of a trolley car that used to run through our city. This sign read “State Law White Passengers Seat From Front”. This sign was posted in the middle of the car in order to assure that it could be read by everyone who entered the car. This again truly surprised me to learn that racism, in such a vulgar and obvious manner, existed in our city in such a recent time. In many ways, this tour truly was an incredibly eye-opening experience that I would suggest everyone to take part of in order to truly understand the history of our city.

Miami Art as Text

“Art Changes the World: One Letter at a Time” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach and Art Miami in Downtown

This week, with our class, we were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to go to two different incredible art fairs during Miami Art Week. We attended UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach and Art Miami in Downtown and they were both truly incredible experiences. Similarly to how this class has done for me many times before, I was thankful that I was able to go to a part of Miami that I probably would not have discovered on my own accord. Truly, I was somewhat disappointed in myself when I came to the realization that people travel from all around the world to come to this incredible event, and I had never attended it while having it right in my own backyard. I was truly grateful that I was able to experience what Miami Art Week consists of and that I was able to see so many incredibly talented artists, and their works, from all over the world. In fact, that was one of the aspects that was the most amazing to me, which was when you looked down the aisles at the fair, you would see signs that that depicted where the works of art are from, and it would be endless amounts of cities from truly every corner of the world, such as Madrid, Los Angeles, Havana, Amsterdam, Accra, and infinitely more.

While seeing hundreds of truly breathtaking works of art, there was one particular piece that stood out to me the most. This piece really impacted me because it made me realize how art can truly change the world and the power that art has to teach people incredible things. The artwork I am referring to is called “Futurescape Miami: Skyline to Shoreline”, which was created by Xavier Cortada. This piece was located at UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach, but it was not a traditional art piece that was located in the tent in one of the booths, but in fact, it was located outside of the tent on the beach. It was located on its own because of its grand stature and because of its interactive quality with the viewers. At “Futurescape Miami: Skyline to Shoreline,” we were able to add to the art piece by writing letters to the future citizens of Miami, and describing to them what we see at Miami Beach, because it is possible that it will not look the same way in the year 2119. This piece spoke about climate change and about how we truly need to begin making a difference in the way we live our lives because we are nearing the point of damage to our planet where we will no longer be able to save it. Personally, the message I received from this piece was that we, as a world population, need to begin walking the walk, rather than talking the talk. I mention this because of the fact that we often hear phrases that imply bettering our environment, such as “Save the turtles,” but not many people actually take action towards changing their lifestyles towards being more environmentally friendly. This piece really impacted me because it spoke to me about climate change in a way that truly put it into perspective. One very commonly hears about climate change on a very frequent basis, whether it be on the news or in class, but it all begins to sound like the same thing after a while. For this reason, hearing about it through art truly made me hear it in a different perspective. Lastly, the piece was accompanied by a wall of cups of water filled with a stem of plants. These cups with the stems reminded me of experiments that are done in elementary school, where we would grow little plants in our classrooms. I took this to signify that it takes minimal effort to make a difference in our environment and help save our planet by taking actions such as planting trees or recycling. All in all, I truly had an incredible time at the art fairs we visited and I would recommend everyone to experience Miami Art Week for themselves.

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