Italia Spring 2020 as Texts: Lauren Farina

Photo by Lauren Farina (C.C. by 4.0)

Hi, I’m Lauren Farina! I’m a Junior at Florida International University’s Honors College as of Spring 2020. I’m majoring in Biology with a minor in chemistry and a certificate in Women and Gender Studies. I am participating in John Bailly’s Italy study abroad program this spring and summer. I’m so excited to learn more intricate details of the culture I’m from and experience it all with peers. Being Italian is a big part of my family and life, so to experience it in this way is unique and once in a lifetime.

Vizcaya as Text

Photo by Lauren Farina of the seashell mural on the ceiling of an outdoor structure at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. (C.C. by 4.0)

“James, Honey, You Got It All Wrong” by Lauren Farina of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

Our visit to the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens was an incredibly unique experience. The entire time, I was fascinated by the cultural appropriation that goes unnoticed daily. We were exposed to information about James Deering that I would argue is not discussed in the average classroom or tour. Deering was self-absorbed, materialistic, and in some ways, quite ignorant. If you don’t believe me, look at the top of the grand staircase to his guest rooms. You’ll see “J’ai dit,” which means “I have spoken.” This also doubles as his initials; (can you feel my eyes rolling?) Through some individual research, I learned that James did attend two years of university, but it seems as though learning was not something he held in high regard. One of the most ironic parts of our trip was his office. He filled a wall with what looks to be books, but is just an illusion. Right next to that was a “telephone room”. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and you’re thinking “seriously?” He literally just needed an unnecessary way to flaunt the fact that he had a telephone, which was only available to the wealthy at that point in time. He wanted to project an aura of intelligence, but it was flawed in design. James had a tendency to try to show off his wealth in a way that ends up looking pretty silly, especially in modern times… for instance, a statue of a lion in one of his many extravagant rooms. The shape of the statue is accurate, but its face is completely distorted and quite hilarious to view at a time where everyone knows what a lion looks like.

One thing that James never really took the time to do was get to know the land he was building on. He ordered his Bahamian workers (slaves, more or less) to create a mural on the ceiling of one of his outdoor structures, to be modelled off European/Italian ceiling art, but the materials didn’t exist in Miami naturally. Thus, what transpired was an admittedly stunning shell mural (pictured below). He also never took the time to ensure that his art and architecture was culturally accurate and respectful. The entrance of this beautiful estate harbors a grand statue of Bacchus, the Roman God of wine and pleasure. The statue is quite breathtaking, however, a leaf is conveniently placed over the genitalia, since it is seen as profane in American/Protestant beliefs. In Rome, this would be disrespectful to the God, the culture, and the art. Romans have no discomfort with human sexuality and bodies. Another example of this ignorance was the painting that enclosed the organ, which was cut in half. No big deal, right? What if I told you it’s a painting that now cuts the Virgin Mary in half? This is not only disrespectful to the Christian religions, but just downright ignorant of the artwork itself. All in all, Vizcaya is a beautiful and historically rich place. It tells us a lot about early Miami, including that both moats and cacti don’t survive long. There’s a lot we can learn from this place and the way it makes mistakes about the cultures it tries to emulate. It also shows us how what we see on the outside is quite often not representative of a person on the inside.

MOAD as Text

Photo by Lauren Farina of the “New World” mural at the Freedom Tower in Miami. (C.C. by 4.0)

“A Twisted History Written by Europeans with Egos” by Lauren Farina of FIU at the Museum of Art and Design

Visiting the Museum of Art and Design was a cultural experience that I don’t think many of us students expected. I wasn’t aware, prior to our visit, that the building was originally for the Miami Daily News, and later, where thousands of Cubans came for refuge during the 1960s and 70s. The building has now been converted into a museum and place that symbolizes Cuban freedom. While part of the museum remembers the people that came through this place seeking help, much of it also explores the European settlement of North America. The most eye-catching piece in the building is a massive mural depicting Ponce De Leon with the chief of the Tequesta tribe (pictured above). This was the tribe that inhabited Miami prior to European intrusion. The mural seems to present Ponce De Leon as a savior to the tribe and a pioneer of exploration. The poem written at the center of the mural also praises the Spaniard. This is so strange considering that they were forced to convert and leave their land, or simply died from the diseases Europeans brought. The Tequesta lineage most likely ended before, or early into, the 1800s. Europeans consistently elevated themselves above Indian tribes, citing them as savages. The traditions, culture, and daily practices of these tribes were significantly different than that of Europeans of the time. Instead of learning about these cultures and respecting their lives and lands, Europeans created stereotypes and belittled them based on their practices. In one book on display at the museum, there was a portrait of a Pawnee Indian chief. Not only was the chief depicted with European face structure, but the journal written about him was incredibly condescending. He was referred to as “savage” and “shrewd”. What chief wouldn’t be at least shrewd when egotistical foreigners come for his people and land? As my education progresses, it gets more and more frustrating how much of history was finely tuned towards European innocence. In elementary and middle school, I can vividly remember learning about Ponce De Leon and him being presented as a hero and savior. Same goes for Christopher Columbus. We were told they were missionaries, which has a positive connotation, when in reality, they were forcibly converting or simply killing natives. We were never exposed to the horrific murders of entire communities that were helpless against shotguns and armor. It is so important that people look between the lines when learning about the history of this continent particularly. This “field trip” so to speak, helped me to recognize the difference between history and what really happened. The two are typically drastically different, unfortunately.

Deering Estate as Text

The Tequesta Burial Mound at the Deering Estate in Miami (JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“Deering Estate: Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover”by Lauren Farina of FIU at the Deering Estate

The Deering Estate was once home to Charles Deering. While his home was ornate and one-of-a-kind, the atrocities of the area surrounding the estate are not. Unfortunately, throughout this class, we have learned about the native tribes that inhabited Miami long before any of our ancestors came, and how their bloodlines ultimately disappeared. The Deering Estate happens to be located in the forest where a Tequesta tribe once lived. Although the remains of bodies lie here, their history is unknown. There is no documentation of their language or any pictures or drawings of the people, and we know very little about their tools. It is devastating that people who initially inhabited this land were diminished to nothing because of their cultural differences from Europeans. European colonizers, including Ponce De Leon, came to Miami and typically used the native tribes to learn about the land, since they knew it best. Once they took all their valuable knowledge, they killed all the natives. This led to the native culture being lost completely while displacing the rightful inhabitants of the land.

Unsurprisingly, the cruelty here continued through Charles Deering’s lifetime. Like his brother, James, Charles used Afro-Bahamians to build his estate. While slavery had been abolished for quite some time, the working conditions were no more forgiving to these people. Not to mention that their pay was slim to none. On top of all these factors, racist attacks on these workers were not uncommon in this time period. In 1916, there was a dynamite explosion at the Deering Estate where the workers were. An hour went by before anyone even called for help. While this can be interpreted many ways, it is unlikely that a dynamite explosion occurred and no one heard it and called for help. The estate itself is beautiful; modeled off of European architecture and filled with art and antiques collected by Charles. It is hard to believe that so many race-driven cruelties were carried out in this place before, during, and after its construction.

Overall, a book cannot be judged by its cover. The Deering Estate is a prime example of this quote. The buildings that stand on the estate since the 1920’s are a stunning display of what Charles Darwin collected and envisioned. One can easily get lost in those visuals. Behind the land, the construction of the estate, and the owners of it, is generations of people that display racism in the Americas.

History Miami as Text

HistoryMiami Museum trolley (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)

“Reminding Miami of It’s Disturbing Past”by Lauren Farina of FIU at HistoryMiami Museum

HistoryMiami Museum is a breath of fresh air, to say the least. Miami has a history not unlike the entirety of the United States. It shows the broader picture under the microscope of a big city. Not to mention, this dark side of history begins with the european settlement of Miami and continues through to today. I think one could say that I find interest in the injustices of society- past and present. I yearn to know the truth of the past; the plethora of wrongdoings that led us to this very moment. The “HistoryMiami Walking Tour”held my attention because it brought me through not only the journey of the creation of a city, but also the societal injustices at each step of the way.

Beginning with the Tequesta, which we’ve visited in-depth in this class, settlers took over their land and wiped them out. Then, the Seminole Indians were being forced from their native lands in what is now considered northern Florida. Where did they flee to, you ask? Miami. And so, as more European settlers took land in Miami, these indians were either murdered or used for their knowledge and familiarity with the land. It was common that they were kept around just long enough to convey understanding of the crops and environment of Miami. This story is all too familiar in the formation of the United states, yet, no matter how many times I hear it, it never becomes less poignant.

Miami becoming a city in the late 1800’s can be partially attributed to black men. This is a bit shocking due to the lack of rights, especially in terms of voting, afforded to them in this time period. For some reason, they were given a one-time voting right, which was just as quickly revoked. Upon contributing in this one decision, most of them probably wouldn’t live to see the Voting Rights Act passed. Throughout the next 60 years or so, segregation and racism was considered normal. The trolley in the museum is a gut-wrenching reminder of what African Americans faced everyday in the United States. It is tough to see and picture what people lived through and the unethical/ unfair ways of society.

Today, Miami is a vibrant city with cultures, identities, and freedom celebrated. It is hard to imagine that it is a city that came with the same roots as the rest of the United States. Surely, racism still lies in all cities all over this country. It’s an unfortunate truth that I hope to see disappear in my generation. HistoryMiami Museum is such an important place for people to visit because it provides the context that is so often withheld. It is important to know and understand the past; most importantly- to learn from it.

Miami Beach as Text

A Miami Beach Art Deco Tour | Acqualina Lifestyle Blog
Photo provided by Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/neighborhoods/south-beach

“Appreciating the Art that is Miami Beach” by Lauren Farina of FIU at South Beach

I always wondered why walking the streets of South Beach made me feel a little more alive. The bright colors, the sleek yet simple architecture of the buildings, the short walk across the road to the beach. Where the city meets nature; hustle meets relaxation. Learning about South Beach from an artistic perspective makes it that much more intriguing. I cannot wait to get out of the house (post-pandemic, of course) and be able to explore South Beach with a new lens of perspective.

Art-Deco is a style that tries to imitate the technology of the 1920’s. This includes the definitive lines and structure of architecture. It was not fancy, ornate, or decorative; it was simple and straight to the point. It is precisely the incorporation of color that makes South Beach so renowned. During the day, one is surrounded by pastels of blues, pinks, purples, and yellows. Once the sun goes down, it’s all about fluorescent color-neon. The way that this part of Miami transforms from calm and subtle to bright and dramatic is a unique trait.

One of the coolest parts about the area is its appreciation for the artists of Miami. The Betsy Poetry Rail is something I never knew existed until the “South Beach Walking Tour”. The Rail features various works of poetry from artists that are from or have influenced Miami and its culture. Upon further research, it is affiliated with the Betsy Hotel which is owned by a poet and supports artists of all genres. It is a place where literature, music, poetry, and painting alike are appreciated and exhibited. Similarly, the Betsy Orb showcases pieces of art each month. Artists from around the world can taste the culture of Miami all in one place.

South Beach is more than a spring breaker’s oasis or a foodie’s paradise. While it is still that, it carries a special weight of the art community in Miami. It celebrates color and vibrance. It commends those that make up the community and inspire us through their art. It preserves the architecture of the 1920’s that is an important part of our history. Art is all around us on South Beach, and it’s even more beautiful when you are educated about it and the people who lent their hands to it.

Leave a Reply