Italia Spring 2020 As Texts: Ana Ruas

Photo by Ana Ruas (CC by 4.0)

Ana Ruas is a sophomore at Florida International University and its Honors College, currently majoring in both Biological Sciences and English and minoring in Chemistry. Her interests are a dichotomy of sorts, where on one hand she is interested about ovarian cancer research and the advancement of genetic editing via CRISPR, but Ana is also passionate about literature and traveling. Ana will be graduating in Spring 2022 and is currently enrolled in the Italy Study Abroad course with Professor JW Bailly; below are her Italia as Texts.

Vizcaya as Text

Sculpture of Bacchus at the entrance of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens
Photo by Ana Ruas (CC by 4.0)
“Vizcaya: Unexpected in Miami” by Ana Ruas of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Vizcaya is a place that outsiders would say does not make sense in Miami, or at least is not expected. Think about it, the Magic City is the place for club parties and days tanning on the beach along the Atlantic. Vizcaya, with its Greek and Roman-inspired art, Mediterranean-style architecture and peaceful gardens, should clash with the modern and hip Caribbean theme of the city. But upon walking into the villa and seeing the sculpture that greets whomever comes inside, that is as Miami as it gets in one piece of art. Bacchus (or Dionysus) is a god that loves deeply, but not for another person. He is the embodiment of the pleasures of the flesh, taking joy in food, drink, and the company of those around him; most people come to Miami for those very reasons. But even though Bacchus is associated with this debauchery, I feel he represents a vibrance and personality that extends past physical content and goes into something more spiritual: a joy of being oneself. It reminds me of immigrants who flee their countries to avoid persecution, to just be themselves. Many Cubans did just that, coming to Miami since the late 1950s to avoid Castro’s regime, and with them they brought a lively and vibrant culture that is as intertwined with Miami’s identity as its beaches and club scene are. Miami may not be known for having stood a thousand years in history, but it is definitely known for its bright and energetic culture, and both Bacchus and Vizcaya are perfect examples of just that.

MOAD as Text

Stained-Glass Window Depicting Jesus Christ Turning Water into Water located inside the Gesù Church
Photo by Ana Ruas (CC by 4.0)
“Gesù Church: Beauty and Catholicism” by Ana Ruas of FIU at the Museum of Art and Design

Stepping into the Gesù Church truly felt like going back in time. Looking at the gilded alter and columns throughout the front and the detailed, lifelike quality of the structures, I felt I had stepped into a church reminiscent of the Baroque style in Europe. Intricacies of the stained-glass windows augmented this effect, making it feel as if I were walking through Jesus’ life in real time, as if I had been present throughout all these important events in Catholicism. I can imagine that the beauty and tranquil nature of the Gesù Church is what attracts its congregation members to frequent this space, and I will admit that I felt at peace and calm during my time in the church, which is something I have not felt in such a place of worship for many years.

Despite its splendor, what most impacted me about the Gesù Church was its history with the city of Miami, specifically how it followed its development since the arrival of Europeans in the late 1500s. As Miami grew into the international hotspot it is today, the Gesù Church has served at the forefront of promoting Catholic teachings and beliefs in the community, given that it was the city’s first Roman Catholic church. Not only has the Gesù held Mass for parishioners for centuries, but it has also played a role in converting local Tequesta Indians to Catholicism during Spain’s occupation of the region. I have passed by the Gesù many times throughout my life and I never would have thought that a seemingly quiet church would have such a rich history. I thought I had known nearly every facet of Miami, though learning about the Gesù Church, its relationship with both the city’s growth and history, has showed me that Miami is always going to have an ace up its sleeve, presenting to me some new feature I had never known before.

Deering Estate as Text

View of Boat Basin from Deering Estate
Elisa.Rolle / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
“Escaping Miami: A Fresh Breath of Air” by Ana Ruas of FIU at the Deering Estate

Late January of 2020, before the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic, I had the chance to visit the Deering Estate to hear Richard Blanco read a selection of his poems to an audience. Up until that point I had never been to a poetry reading before, nor had I ever been to the Estate, so I was unsure of what to expect from either.

Upon arrival, tall stone columns and wide wooden gates welcomed me to the historic property, with billowing trees lining my path to the buildings and ocean beyond. The Mediterranean Revival architecture of the mansion was grand and elegant, and several artists were painting and sketching the beautiful buildings or the flora and fauna around them. Such beauty and peace was costly in a moral sense; like most of Miami, the Deering Estate has a dark past of having subjected African-American and Afro-Bahamian labor to poor working conditions during the construction of the property in the 1920s. Though nothing can rectify those wrongs, at least the Estate continues the philanthropic work that Charles Deering started in supporting artists, though now extends those resources to encourage diversity and freedom of expression in the artistic world for both the Miami community and the world to experience and enjoy, like the sponsored Richard Blanco poetry reading.

Despite the beauty of the Stone House and the surrounding wildlife, the view of the bay from Boat Basin was truly the star of the show. Strong winds swept in from over the water, bringing in the tang of the salt from the far-off ocean in the air. Manatees and other marine life can sometimes be seen in the Basin, though I personally did not see any on that winter day. Everything around me had a calming effect, from the gently lapping water to swaying palm trees. All thoughts cleared from my mind and I was able to fully appreciate being in the moment, fully enjoying the natural scene surrounding me. Experiencing that is rare in the Miami, for this city is chaotic and never stops moving, not really allowing a moment to stand still and just breathe. Being at Boat Basin, and ultimately at the Deering Estate, showed me that there are small spaces carved into Miami’s landscape where you can get away from the city and noise for a little while, providing just enough room to have a fresh breath of air.

South Beach as Text

“South Beach: Behind the Building Facades” by Ana Ruas of FIU at South Beach

South Beach is the universal image of the city individuals think of when they hear “Miami.” One waiter in Paris told me, “Wow the beaches, they must be everywhere!” when I told him that I was from Miami, and even though he was right, this comment did reveal to me that Miami is almost exclusively synonymous to “beaches” around the world. If only they could see what else Miami, and specifically South Beach, has to offer, then the world would know that there is so much more to this unique city.

Here you can find the largest collection of Art Deco style buildings in the world, with the neighborhood being a designated National Historic District since the 20th century to preserve this unique architecture. Many hotels and buildings along Ocean Drive were built in the Art Deco style, having made the street one of the most famous and photographed in the world. Nowhere else can you find the futuristic looking details on the buildings, as well as the pastel colors that, when night falls, turn into bright neon that are reflective of the city’s vibrant nightlife.

South Beach has also had a deep-rooted history with the Jewish community, something even some native Miamians do not know much about. From the beginning, during the development of the neighborhood by Carl Fischer and Henry Flagler in the 1900s, Jews were frequently discriminated against. Many hotel and restaurant owners barred these individuals from their businesses, and some even utilized their prejudice to attract other potential clients, advertising statements such as “Always a View, Never a Jew” and “Gentiles Only.” The South Beach Jewish community withstood this treatment for many decades, and despite these transgressions, they have flourished and become a prominent force in the South Florida community; the Jewish Museum of Florida – FIU chronicles this history and aims to educate the general public on these past events through their multitude of exhibits.

Having learned all this, South Beach and the picturesque view from Ocean Drive may be the Miami the world sees, though there is more to the city than just bright colors and pretty oceans; there is a rich, and unfortunately turbulent, history behind these building facades.

History Miami as Text

“A Not-So-Detached History” by Ana Ruas of FIU at the HistoryMiami Museum

Miami sometimes feels more part of the Caribbean than of the United States. With the close proximity to these islands and their large influence on the city’s culture due to increased immigration since the latter part of the 20th century, Miami at times feels detached from the U.S. and its history. Despite this feeling, HistoryMiami does what any good museum sets out to do: it reminds its community of its history, no matter how disturbing.

Since even before the development of Miami, grave racial injustices were being committed against multiple groups, the first being the Tequesta Indians. Though historical records on these Native Americans are seriously lacking, it is likely that the Tequesta were subjected to relocation from their native lands to other parts of South Florida due to the colonization of the region by Spanish conquistadores. The Seminole Indians that migrated from Georgia and Alabama to the Miami area in the 1800s suffered a similar fate, though the white pioneers inhabiting the area befriended these Native Americans only to glean knowledge from them on how to survive off of the land. After that, they were forced to relocate once more due to the Indian Removal Act, which aimed to make ample room from the influx of white settlers to soon migrate from the North (“Second Seminole War”).

Injustices continue in this city, as shown via the HistoryMiami Museum Virtual Walking Tour, where images of the 1920s Buena Vista trolley are displayed with its original sign: “State Law: White Passengers Seat from Front;” it was disturbing to see how prevalent racial segregation was in Miami and so close to modern times, since these events took place less than a hundred years ago. Though what was the most impactful for me personally was seeing the photograph of the twelve African-American men credited with being “the black pioneers of Miami” destroying a Tequesta burial mound. Not only were these men only allowed to vote for the incorporation of Miami due to the economic benefits it would provide the business / construction tycoons making millions from the city development, these African-Americans were then forced to return to dismal working conditions and further forced to play an active role in destroying the little remaining history of the native Tequesta that previously inhabited Miami. Whites coercing one minority to destroy another; rather than poetic justice, this was poetic cruelty.

Miami’s history has a dark underbelly that many wish to ignore, though the HistoryMiami Museum did an excellent job of showcasing these commonly hidden stories and perspectives, showing that our community’s past is not so different from that of the country’s. HistoryMiami also provides hope to museum visitors that continued change can take place if the community is well informed and active in making these changes take place; all of that starts with opening up a dialogue, and HistoryMiami did just that.

Works Cited

“Second Seminole War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 18 Apr. 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Seminole_War.

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