France Spring 2020 as Texts: Ana Estevez

Photo by Anne Mejias (CC by 4.0)

Ana Estevez is a junior at the Honors College at FIU. She is majoring in both Psychology and Women’s and Gender Studies. She is a research assistant at the PWR lab and hopes to pursue a career in academia in the future. Her interests include psychology, politics, cooking, and, of course, traveling. She is in the France 2020 study abroad program and is excited to learn about a new culture and gain new experiences.

Vizcaya as Text

“Vizcaya and the Gilded City of Miami” by Ana Estevez of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Photo by Ana Estevez (CC by 4.0)

Vizcaya, to most Miamians, is nothing more than the perfect place to have a quinceañera photoshoot. Most people are not aware of the Italian, French, Spanish, and Islamic influences that shaped this landmark, but this isn’t the biggest takeaway that I got from my trip to Vizcaya. Instead, I saw a physical manifestation of the wealth, greed, and self-aggrandizement that has plagued Miami since its conception. The empty shell of Venus placed atop this bench in the secret garden was meant to symbolize love and sensuality, but just as Venus rose from the sea foam caused by the castrated testicles of the god Uranus, the history of Vizcaya isn’t as beautiful as it appears.

Vizcaya was owned by James Deering, a man whose priority was to display his immense generational wealth in every aspect of his design for his winter home. From the paintings on the walls that were meant to look like marble to his apathy for cutting a piece of artwork in half, one can question if his intention was to acquire beautiful art or just maintain his gross extravagance. His mere disdain for the less fortunate can be exemplified by using cork for the floor in the kitchen so he wouldn’t have to hear his servants’ footsteps and dressing up as Italian peasants for the Vizcaya opening party. He built the north staircase so that he would be able to look over his guests with the words “j’ai dit” displayed over his head in stained glass, an obvious display of his power and wealth.

James Deering and his home, Vizcaya, did foreshadow what Miami would end up being. More than wine, pleasure, and festivity, Miami is a city of extravagance and ego. Celebrities come to party and buy houses on Star Island, while its residents are struggling to pay rent in increasingly gentrified neighborhoods. Miami has one of the largest wealth gaps in the country and a growing population of homeless people. Like Vizcaya, Miami is known for its beauty, wealth, and vibrancy. However, a true dissection of both would reveal a gilded and dishonest story.

MOAD as Text

“The Guilt of an Immigrant” by Ana Estevez of FIU at the Museum of Art and Design

Photo by Ana Estevez (CC by 4.0)

I’ve lived in Miami for over a decade and, for some reason, never thought to visit the Freedom Tower. Reflecting upon my visit, I wondered how this building that is so essential to Miami’s cultural identity and many of our own histories has just become a pretty tower that you pass by on your way to Bayside or the American Airlines Arena.

 I have to admit, this trip was a little embarrassing for me. I was born in Cuba and my entire family is Cuban, and yet there is so much of our history that I don’t know. This feeling is familiar to immigrants, always feeling like you’re missing a piece of your culture, whether it’s the one you’ve had to leave behind or the one you’ve had to assimilate to. This is probably how Cuba’s “Peter Pans” felt as they had to leave the only country they’ve ever known and their family and friends in efforts to make a better life for themselves as well as their family, figuratively “carrying their house on their back.”

 I feel guilty that I have not done a better job at amplifying these stories, who are similar to those of my own family. Sometimes I feel guilty that I take these sacrifices for granted, that I haven’t had to struggle as much as my parents or the Cuban immigrants that came before us. This is also a feeling that immigrants know far too well: guilt. Feeling like we can’t speak up about injustice in America in fear of sounding unpatriotic or ungrateful; feeling like we had to exchange our voice for this opportunity.

The Freedom Tower reminded me that this is exactly the reason we came to America: a country that prides itself on liberty, individual freedom, and democracy. I was reminded that the America that I love for giving me and thousands of other Cubans a home isn’t as kind to refugees of other countries. I was reminded that the biggest gift that I can give to the immigrants that came before me is to set aside my guilt and use the things that I came to this country for: freedom of speech, expression, assembly, and more, in hopes that others can experience these liberties too.

Deering Estate as Text

“Discovering the Unknown” by Ana Estevez at the Deering Estate

By John W. Bailly (CC by 4.0)

Deering Estate was the class field trip I was probably most excited to go on, and after reading the walking lecture, I am even more disappointed. Miami is known for many things, but, besides its beautiful beaches and tropical landscape, its nature is not usually one of them. I remember learning about the Everglades in the fourth grade. We had to memorize all of the species that reside in it and learn about everything that makes it special. However, I don’t understand how the Deering Estate was never brought up in these lessons. I only learned of the Deering Estate’s existence a few months ago and I would’ve loved to have become familiar with it previous to this.

I really appreciate the work that they are doing in environmental preservation and supporting local artists. It seems like the perfect place to spend the day, observing wildlife, learning about the history of Miami, being amongst the mangroves and other plants that exist within it. While manatees remain endangered, they are often spotted in the Deering Estate Boat Basin, even mating. It seems like wildlife thrives here, being home to many different species of birds, turtles, dolphins, manta rays, manatees, and even sharks. The Deering Estate also plays an important role in keeping the legacy of the Tequestas alive, a tribe that inhabited Miami long before we did. The Deering Estate is home to one of two discovered Tequesta burial sites, as well as a collection of tools they carved out of seashells and other organic materials.

Although I did not get the chance to visit the Deering Estate, it is definitely one of the first things I will be doing after we are allowed to go outside again. I believe that it deserves more appreciation and recognition for the work it has done over the years and is definitely an asset to Miami.

HistoryMiami as Text

“Remembering” by Ana Estevez at HistoryMiami Museum

(Photo Courtesy of HistoryMiami Museum ©)

Miami is a cultural melting pot where all kinds of people coexist. If there is something that Miami doesn’t lack, its culture. I think there is no other place in the world that replicates this like Miami does and it’s one of the things I appreciate the most about this city. However, it is important to remember the many cultures and civilizations that existed before us, many of whom were exploited and dehumanized. The HistoryMiami museum is not shy about the ugly parts of Miami’s past, and is dedicated to making them known so they never occur again.

The first civilization to inhabit Miami was the Tequestas. Very little is known about them to this day, but HistoryMiami has fossils of the tools that they used which were found in the Deering Estate. They became extinct, and much of what they left behind has been destroyed or unrecovered. The Seminoles inhabited Miami, who had to migrate south to be safe from the United States, who were very dangerous. The first pioneers had to be respectful to the Natives so that they would teach them what they know and have a better chance at survival. Some years later, a group of 12 disenfranchised black workers were allowed rights for one vote to help incorporate Miami as a city. They were essential in the evolution of Miami, but their right to vote was quickly removed following this. HistoryMiami also contains examples of the routine segregation of black people in all of the United States at the time.

This history is not pretty and probably not what tourists and even Miami residents wan to hear. Many of these events were not out of the ordinary for their time period or location, and sadly, not very surprising. To some, it may seem pointless to talk about these things or be “stuck in the past,” but HistoryMiami is an essential museum to Miami that is accomplishing very important work. It is important that we never forget, and never repeat.  

Miami Beach as Text

“Not for Everyone” by Ana Estevez at Miami Beach

By Ana Estevez (CC by 4.0)

As someone who has lived in Miami nearly my whole life, I’ve been to Miami Beach a good amount of times. After all, there is a reason it’s one of Miami’s most popular tourist destinations. Not only is it a great place to spend the day at the beach, but its surrounded by 5 star restaurants, landmarks, museums, and usually some type of festival or convention. However, upon reading the walking lecture, Miami Beach has a darker past than what I would’ve expected from the glamorous, tropical way that it is portrayed in its recent years.

Carl Fisher, a pioneer of the automobile industry, is largely to owe for the development of the Miami Beach that we know currently. However, the telling of this story often leaves out that there plenty of people that already frequented what was known as “Ocean Beach.” Some people like to push the idea that Miami Beach was empty wastelands, but in reality, white and black people alike lived in the area and enjoyed weekends in pre-Miami Beach. After Fisher developed it, these same black people were not allowed to enjoy this area anymore and were banned. Carl Fisher and Henry Flagler acted in similar ways towards the Jewish people in Miami Beach. Many businesses put up signs that forbade Jews from entering and contributing to their business.

Although this is what happened a long time ago and Miami Beach is a place now where any kind of person is accepted and enjoyed, it is important to not forget about the injustice and dehumanization that took place against people not of the majority race or religion. Miami Beach symbolized glamour, indulgence, and festivity now, but it hasn’t always been that way for every kind of person.

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