France Spring 2020 As Texts: 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 this summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

Vizcaya as Text

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

A Lost Culture by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Vizcaya

Lavish marble walls, extravagant landscaping, large portraits and grand décor are parts of Vizcaya visitors can’t miss. Being such a notable museum and garden in Miami, many know about James Deering and his history at the villa. However, no one ever speaks about the Afro-Caribbean men who, quite literally, built Vizcaya from the ground up. There are no Bahamian references, no Caribbean themes, or décor displayed throughout the villa. James Deering was an extremely wealthy man, yet these poor black men were building his estate. The lifestyles of these men greatly juxtapose each other. Deering had just about anything he could have ever needed, and these Afro-Caribbean men were limited in many aspects of life. After inheriting his family’s business, James Deering was able to invest and later take the Deering Harvesting Company further. The Bahamian men didn’t have stories anywhere near these. They would migrate to a place like South Florida in hopes of finding work and having food to put on the table. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the opportunity to inherit a family business or invest in a winter home like Deering. It’s ironic that these men were among the many to build such an extravagant place, when their lives were anything but extravagant.

While the architecture in Vizcaya includes inspiration from Italy, Spain and France, we fail to see the inclusion of a culture that has such significance to the villa. Much of the stonework throughout the property were even carved by Bahamian stonemasons. It would be a great celebration to include Caribbean references around Vizcaya and represent the men who built such a significant place in our city, especially since Miami is still very influenced by this culture.

FREEDOM TOWER AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Operation American Dream by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at the Freedom Tower

I grew up listening to my grandparents’ stories of their migration to the United States. I was always intrigued as to how and where they took their first steps in the country I have called home for twenty years. My mother’s mom, my Lela, has explained her journey to America several times to me. When she was just eight years old, she was to separate from her family in Cuba and board a plane that was to take thousands of children to the United States. “Pedro Pan” was an operation to help minors reach safety from the Castro regime. My grandma explains that at that time, around the early 1960s, the Freedom Tower hadn’t been a reception center for Cuban refugees yet. Instead, she was taken to a small building, “almost like a post office,” she explains. Here, the children were processed, and many were sent for adoption or claimed by relatives. After she was claimed by a family friend, she was able to reunite with her parents a few years later due to a program called “Freedom Flights” in 1965.  

On the other hand, my father’s mom, my Yeya, boarded a flight from Cuba to Miami when she was five months pregnant with my father. When they reached US soil, they were sent to the Freedom Tower. Since large numbers of Cubans began to migrate to the United States, the Freedom Tower was a larger and more efficient place for in-processing, as opposed to the small building my other grandma came through a few years earlier. In the “Ellis Island of the South,” my grandparents were given a check, a loaf of bread, and a can of spam before starting their lives in a whole new country. Although it was a frightening time, they were glad to lead a new life for themselves and their son.

Visiting the Freedom Tower allowed me to see how and where my grandparents immigrated. Now, I haven’t just heard their stories. I have experienced the place where their American journey began.

DEERING ESTATE AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Deering Estate: A Tequesta Time Capsule by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at the Deering Estate

The Deering Estate is a special place in Miami. It’s home to hundreds of animals and paints some of the prettiest sunsets and sunrises. Hidden in the Village of Palmetto Bay, the estate is easy to miss. However, after just one visit, visitors are sure to fall in love with its remarkable beauty and history.

Since Miami was made a city in 1896, you wouldn’t expect the area to hold such history. However, the Deering Estate is home many people from centuries ago. The Tequesta tribe occupied a large area along the coast of Florida. As migraters in the 18th century, the Tequesta’s were hunter-gatherers. While walking along the Tequesta Midden, a trail at the Deering Estate, you can actually find the tools the Tequesta used to hunt and gather food. They often used shells for fishing and drilling, allowing them to be self-sufficient. Also at the Deering Estate is the Tequesta Burial Mound. They believe there are about 12 to 18 Native Americans buried here, making the site an extremely historical and sacred ground. This area was their home thousands of years ago and fortunately, the area has been preserved and serves as an educational experience.

As there is not much information about this Native American tribe, it’s interesting to see so much evidence in one area. To think the Deering Estate has such tools and history from centuries ago is extraordinary. It’s a cultural ground that shows just how far Miami’s history dates back.

HISTORY MIAMI AS TEXT

Photos by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Telling Miami’s Story by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at History Miami

I always thought Miami had little to no history to offer. Of course, I knew the city was discovered and built in the late 1800s, but I always thought it was a fairly new city that didn’t compare to the older, more historical sites in our country. However, History Miami showed me a completely different aspect of the city I have called home for years, and it holds some of the most significant history.

Each exhibit in History Miami made me feel a different emotion. Walking through the Tropical Dreams: A People’s History of South Florida excited me. Seeing the tools and artifacts that were excavated at the Cutler Fossil Site at the Deering Estate was something I had never experienced. To think a museum in Miami has such historical pieces is special. It was also interesting to see the exhibit about the Tequesta, which I had learned about at the Deering Estate. Since they are “largely forgotten by history,” it was a great addition to History Miami and educates visitors on southeastern Florida in the 18th century.

While walking through the museum, two exhibits made me feel extremely emotional. The first was the 1920s trolley. Being able to examine the trolley and read the horrendous, discriminatory sign about the state law at the time was distressing. Everything about this exhibit felt so real, since I was able to actually walk and sit in the trolley. I believe this is what makes the piece so impactful to the visitors. As I entered the “Gateway to the Americas,” I was struck with emotion, yet again. This exhibit hit close to home; it encompasses my family’s journey to America and the fight for freedom. Seeing the rafts Cubans and Haitians would build just to gain freedom is heart-rending. I think this exhibit stands out the most to me and successfully reveals what makes Miami so exceptional.

MIAMI BEACH AS TEXT

Photos by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

The People Who Built Miami Beach by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Beach

Miami Beach, the heart and soul of Miami, is an unrivaled experience. There’s nowhere else in world with such architecture, charm, and culture. I believe this part of Miami encompasses everything our city has to offer, including deep-rooted history and an art deco scene. However, it’s important to note that Miami Beach was built by many special people to get to where it is today.

Although Miami Beach is a glamourous city, it hasn’t always been that way. Since Carl Fisher wanted to turn the area into a tourist spot, the mangrove forests were destroyed. Based on photographs, Miami Beach was believed to be built by African American and Afro-Bahamian laborers. This goes back to the point that without the blacks, Miami would be nothing. They are a big part of Miami’s history and often forgotten.

Present day Miami Beach still has some of the historical art deco architecture from years ago, thanks to a woman named Barbara Baer Capitman. In 1977, she founded the “Miami Design Preservation League” and battled to protect the neighborhood. She is the reason we call still walk down Ocean Drive and take in the beach’s originally-designed buildings like Essex House, The Carlyle, and The McAlpin.

Another important figure to mention when speaking about Miami Beach’s culture is Gianni Versace. The Versace Mansion, located on Ocean Drive, is visited by tourists every day. Not only did Versace play a massive role in developing Miami’s culture in the 90s, but he also left an impact on the city that is still celebrated today. His influence over the LGBTQ community and the diversity he brought still remain some of Miami’s most special features.

Miami Beach owes much of its culture to the African Americans and Afro-Bahamians, Barbara Baer Capitman and Gianni Versace. Without these people, Miami Beach wouldn’t be the enchanting, eclectic scene that everyone enjoys today.

Leave a Reply