France Spring 2020 As Texts: Diana Cristancho

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My name is Diana Cristancho and I’m a sophomore at Florida International University. I’m majoring in Recreational Therapy and I hope to get my masters in Occupational Therapy. I’m on the the Street Team Committee for Relay For Life at FIU and I’m the 2019 American Cancer Society Ambassador. I love being outdoors and traveling. I’ve only been outside of the country twice and it was to Canada and Colombia. I’m extremely excited to visit France and learn more about its culture. I’m particularly excited to experience the art and food.

Vizcaya as Text

“South Florida’s Versailles” by Diana Cristancho of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

In lands of mangroves and waters of bitter salt

With trees grown tall connected by leaf and branch 

Shade hovers and sea breeze flows through petals of green 

Like ladies twisting in mazes trailed by steps of tease

With secret cellars of grapes divine

Dionysus greets with the spill of wine 

And step by step JD declines 

I have spoken, J’ai dit defined

Through caves of awakening 

To gardens with true meanings disguised 

Venus arises on ocean glass 

fueling stories of lovers never meant to pass 

Guests engaged by stages and plays 

Each lives for status, entertainment and games

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens was built by James Deering. He moved to South Florida and built the Vizcaya Villas as a way to create a name for himself. Moving there no one knew who he was but with his vision, he was able to create one of the most extraordinary places in Miami. In building Vizcaya, James Deering broke boundaries and ignored any sort of rules or structure. In a way, you can compare him to King Louis XIV. Vizcaya was James Deering’s version of Versailles. Where Louis built a room of light with windows lining one wall and mirrors on the other, James built a hidden palace in the mangroves with his own home filled with light. The center of his home is completely open facing the water. Although now windows are closing off the inside of the house, I could just imagine the wind flowing through the home bouncing off the stone walls. The rooms are of Rococo and Baroque style filled with painted marble, countless pieces of art and windows made of stained glass with caravels and seahorses shining through. Not only is the home exceptional, but so are the gardens, which King Louis XIV was also known for. In the Vizcaya gardens, there are rooms made of trees, mazes, outdoor stages, secret gardens, grottos, benches made for forbidden lovers and fountains reflecting the heavens. All these aspects as impressive as they are, their meaning makes Vizcaya even more impressionable. Like any palace, some people live there, like a court of nobles. James Deering created all these features to his homes as a place for entertainment, where men and women could chase each other around mazes and watch plays in the fresh ocean air. They could take strolls around the gardens, ride electric gondolas in the water, and have romantic encounters while sitting under benches shaded by Aphrodite’s shell. Not only that, but they could enjoy their wine that was kept in hidden cellars without being disturbed by the heavy footsteps of servants, thank goodness to the cork floors. 

In my poem, I emphasize just a small part of James Deering’s home that makes it so remarkable. All the different aspects of Vizcaya are his way of laughing in the face of society and their structure on how everything should be while also keeping the aspect of entertainment for his guests. And if the french translation of “I Have Spoken” written in stained glass isn’t enough to tell you that James Deering is a man like no other, hopefully, mosaics made of shells, triumphal arches, and the painting of a fresco outdoors will.

Tower of Snow by Enrique Martinez Celaya

MOAD As Text

“The Children and the Ellis Island of the South” by Diana Cristancho of FIU at the Freedom Tower

Built-in 1925, the Freedom Tower became the Ellis Island of the south. It welcomed over thousands of refugees and to this day holds stories and memories of the 14,000 Peter Pan children that came to the United States from Cuba. Before walking into the Freedom Tower, to the left of the building, there is a statue called the Tower of Snow. This statue shows a boy carrying a house on his back while on crutches. This boy is a representation of all the Peter Pan children who were sent to America carrying their lives and families on their backs. These children were a part of Operation Peter Pan, which involved parents from Cuba shipping their children to the states to avoid the corruption Fidel Castro and the government were creating. Many of the children stayed in foster homes or were kept in camps. Once they arrived in America, they were sent all across the country.
Being part Cuban myself, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like for my mother and the rest of her family to come down from Cuba. I eventually found out that she came down from Spain and didn’t have to enter the United States by going through the Freedom Tower. Interestingly enough, since Cuba is fairly small, my mom knows of friends and distant cousins that were Peter Pan children. I found this extremely interesting, because not only do I love the children’s story of Peter Pan, but knowing the connection of the story to history makes it even better.
Overall, the Freedom Tower is supposed to signify universal human rights, and by fleeing Cuba and its oppressive government to America, the refugees are entering a new country with the hopes of being free and getting an education.

Deering Estate As Text

“Preservation of Miami’s Land and History” by Diana Cristancho of FIU at the Deering Estate

Miami is mostly known for being one of the most popular cities in the United States. With the stereotype of having beaches, nightlife, and restaurants no one would think that there were hidden sanctuaries of nature such as the Deering Estate. Going back to the 1890s, at the birth of South Florida, Miami began as a home to mangroves, manatees and a large variety of plants and marine life. It seemed uninhabitable to anyone who wasn’t the native Americans who had lived there before. Imagining what most of Miami looks like now, it’s hard to believe that there could be an estate with South Florida’s native plants and animals so well preserved. Not only does it maintain the ecosystem that had begun there, but it also protects the history of the land and people who lived there long before colonists had arrived. 

Although the Deering Estate is one large environment of different species, in itself there are multiple locations with different ecosystems and wildlife. One spot on the estate is the Boat Basin. It has a very diverse marine ecosystem considering that it is a nursing ground for many organisms. Animals such as manatees, sharks, turtles, stingrays, and dolphins can be found there. That being said, since there are so many inhabitants in the basin, no boats are allowed in. Another important area is the shores of Biscayne Bay. It is an estuary where freshwater and saltwater mix and it is crucial to the environment of the Deering Estate and the fish and crustaceans that live in it. Apart from the coastal area and marine life, there is also a nature preserve on the premises of the estate. Inside of the preserve, there are plants such as mangroves, Gumbo Limbo trees, Wild Poppy, Orchids, Resurrection ferns, and Maidenhair ferns. The preserve is also home to foxes, coyotes, snakes, otters, crocodiles and hermit crabs. Something particularly spectacular about the nature preserve is that there are landscapes such as sinkholes, razor rocks, caves and the Miami Rock Bridge that separates Biscayne Bay and the interior basin of the southern Florida peninsula. Last, another spot on the Deering Estate that preserves Florida’s rarest plant community is the Hardwood Hammock. It is made up of higher elevated ground that is considered a threatened environment since it is a habitat from the Caribbean islands. This habitat also has solution holes which not many people know exist in Miami. 

While the estate does an amazing job of conserving the environment, it also takes a huge part in the history of South Florida and the limited knowledge we have on it. Within the nature preserve, two spots, in particular, tell the story of the Tequestas who lived there before. The first location is the Tequesta Midden, which is a spring hidden within the mangroves and holds tools previously used by the Tequestas. Under the water, buried in the mud, you can find shells, shark vertebrates and crocodile scoots that seem to fit your hand quite conveniently. The second spot is the Tequesta burial ground. It is assumed that about 12 – 18 bodies are buried surrounding a Gumbo Limbo tree. Finding the story behind the Tequestas is very interesting and tedious considering that there are no existing images or proof of language of the Tequestas. The last and most impressive spot of the estate is the cutler fossil site. This location is not open to the public due to preservation purposes. This site is a Paleo-Indian burial ground and is about 12,000 years old. The burial ground is a sinkhole about 16 feet above sea level and holds artifacts such as a mammoth tooth and bones from animals such as dire wolves, saber-tooth tigers, and American lions. 

The Deering Estate is a place like no other and stays true to its mission of preserving the environment and the history of the land. Many people may come to Miami to experience city life but the environment and the nature in Miami is even more captivating. 

HistoryMiami Museum mural of Paleo-Indians Photo taken from HistoryMiami Museum Walking Tour

HistoryMiami As Text

“What’s Left Out Of Your Common History Book” by Diana Cristancho of FIU at The HistoryMiami Museum

History class had never been my best subject. It never piqued my interest very much, nevertheless, there was always one portion of history that always caught my attention; the history of Miami and the Natives of Florida. It took up about a chapter or two of my history classes, but those two chapters were the ones I engaged in the most. Part of it could be because I wanted to know about the land I was living on, or maybe it was because a piece of its history was in the backyard of both my elementary and middle school. Both had little school houses the size of a large bedroom consisting of desks and a chalkboard. Seeing this introduced me to the history of my school and of the city of Miami. These two schools, being one of the first African American schools to be built, held two small pieces of history of Miami and the influences people of color had in South Florida. The HistoryMiami Museum goes in-depth on this topic and the effects it had on South Florida. It’s one of the most unique places to visit because it chronologically dates the history of Miami starting from the Native Americans. 

Each exhibition reflects on how Miami was built and the people that suffered for its sake. To support all its information, the museum provides 37,000 artifacts that include prehistoric archeological finds and 20th-century Afro-Cuban folk art. The core exhibition they have is the “Tropical Dreams: A People’s History of South Florida”,  which presents depictions of what artists think the native Americans and their homes looked like with the information provided by archeologists. Paintings like these are especially influential because of the limited knowledge we have on the Native Americans. A spectacular finding the museum presents is the “Miami Circle.” It is a circle of deep holes that were found at a construction site in downtown Miami. Although the area is still under investigation, archeologists think that the Tequestas used it for political or ceremonial occasions. After presenting some of their discoveries, the Museum starts digging into deeper history such as “The Creek Migration.” This exhibition goes into detail on how the Creek Indians, ancestors of the Seminole Indians, had to migrate from Georgia and Alabama to Florida due to oppressing circumstances with other Indian tribes and the Europeans. The natives faced oppression in so many ways, whether it was genocide or being used as pawns to separate the Spanish in Florida from the British Colonies. And after all the persecution they went through, when the first pioneers came to Florida by boat, they tried to befriend the natives because they were strangers to the land and didn’t know how to farm products such as starch, which they would send down to Key West. 

Not only does the Museum talk about the oppression of Native Americans, but there is also a portion that discusses the impact African Americans had on the city. For example, in the exhibition “New Peoples/New Technologies,” the difference black working men made in the construction of the city was mentioned. Not only did these men work on building on railroads and other structures around Miami, but they were chosen to vote in making Miami a city. 162 of 367 men who voted black and after they accomplished their role of voting, they went back to being treated like any other slave. 

While this museum is noted as the “largest history museum in Florida and one of the largest in the southeastern United States,” there is still more information that can be added to more history to be discovered. Visiting different sites around the city, you’ll be surprised at how much history you can find that you never read about in your history books. 

Miami Beach As Text

“The Expense of Miami Beach” by Diana Cristancho of FIU at South Beach

Like everywhere else in the world, Miami wasn’t what it is now. Most of South Florida consisted of swamplands, mosquitos, and mangroves. It might be hard to imagine, but Miami Beach, one of the most visited places in Florida, used to be nothing but nature. It was an island full of mangroves, marine life, birds, and other exotic animals. While the island was renovated into Miami Beach, a beautiful place to visit, the environment in and around it began to suffer. Carl Fisher encountered this island on vacation and bought the land in 1912 when it was still blossoming in nature. To build the tourist resort Fisher imagined, they had to cut down many mangroves, palmettos that existed in the island’s habitat. In cutting down the habitat, it reduced the population of many of the species and ruined many freshwater springs which were necessary for the natives who lived in the area. The mangroves of Miami Beach served as a sort of filter between the Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Without the mangroves, saltwater and freshwater began to mix and ruined habitats for freshwater species. To landscape the island, dredging was also involved which destroyed the environment and caused the turbidity of the water to rise  affecting marine life. Even now, the island still exists at the expense of marine animals. Due to the overactivity of people in Ocean Drive and at the beach, there is a large amount of pollution. Although many people in the area travel by foot or bicycle, most of the pollution comes from waste built up by the people who walk on the shores of the beaches. You can see plastic bags, cans, water bottles, bottle caps, glass, and many other man made pollutants on the sand, in the water, and many places that aren’t a trash can or recycling bin. Many of these products get consumed by fish, manatees, turtles, seagulls, pelicans and many other species of animals. Their home that used to be a safe place to find food has transformed into a toxic and poisonous habitat. While these objects are dangerous, they aren’t the only threatening aspects of Miami Beach. Factors such as the bright lights of the buildings and street lamps cause light pollution, again, disturbing the usual routine of many animals. The beaches of this island are popular for sea turtle nests. When the eggs hatch, the baby sea turtles use the light of the moon to guide them back to the ocean, but with the bright lights of Ocean Drive, it can be easily mistaken for the moon leading the babies in the wrong direction. While Miami Beach is a wonderful place to visit, you must be aware of whose expense you’re visiting. This is an important topic to speak about especially during this time of COVID-19 where we are seeing the effects of humans staying home on the habitats around us. Sharks, manatees, dolphins, turtles, and more species are coming out and can find the food sources they need without being threatened. 

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