MIM Spring 2020 Service Project: Alexandra Rodriguez

Biography

Photo by Audri Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

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. Born and raised in Miami, she enjoys giving back to the community she has called home for so many years.

Volunteering at Lotus House Miami

a blanket of hope by alexandra rodriguez

Blankets and notes prepared by the children at Lotus House Miami, Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez (CC by 4.0)

Who?

The institution I volunteered with was Lotus House Miami. They aid women and children in the community, while combating homelessness. As human rights advocates, Lotus House continues to change the lives of many families every day.

Why?

Although we went to Lotus House as a class, I still found this place to be incredibly special to me. As a woman, seeing a place like Lotus House helping and empowering females was inspiring and invigorating. It’s also remarkable to help women in a community that we both call home.

How?

Since our Miami in Miami class decided to visit and volunteer at Lotus House, I was able to here about their impact and generosity. Thanks to our professor, John W. Bailly, I had the pleasure of meeting the powerful women that operate Lotus House. Working closely with these women meant that I was able to establish connections with them. After this experiencing, I look forward to visiting and connecting with them in the future.

Where and What?

On the day of visiting Lotus House, we began our day by listening to the stories of the volunteers that make everything possible. One of the women that spoke told her story and how she used to benefit from the help of Lotus House. Now, she is able to give back and help women who were in her position. After that, we split up in to groups and began different tasks. My group began by clearing out the garage/unloading station. We were told that the floor and area had not been cleaned for years; they desperately needed our help to finish this mammoth task. After removing all the garbage and scrubbing down the floors, we were left with a shiny, new area. All the other volunteers that came in later that day had something remarkable to say about the newly cleaned space.

While cleaning the floors, we were told that a few new mattresses had been delivered and had to be placed in different rooms. We quickly took the mattresses up the elevator and replaced those who really needed it. I was told that some people had been asking for new mattresses for months, but they only get a certain amount delivered every couple of months.

After finishing up with the cleaning and unloading mattresses, my classmates and I began cleaning the chairs, desks and computers on every floor. Unfortunately, during the time, COVID-19 was becoming a serious virus. Lotus House wanted to take precautions and make sure all the areas were organized and sanitized, especially the floors with children. We wiped down computers, book shelves, sofas and anything and everything we possibly could.

When?

Summary

I like to think of Lotus House as a “blanket of hope.” I thought about this when I came across blankets with notes, stacked up on a shelf. I asked one of the volunteers what these were for and who made them. She explained to me that those blankets were donated for people who were homeless on the streets and have no supplies. The notes attached to each blanket were hand-written by children, urging the homeless to remain positive and hopeful. I had never seen such a personable touch to a donation before. The homeless people in Miami not only need supplies and tools but also words of encouragement and happiness. It’s true that as human we need some physical, material items to survive, but we also desperately require emotional words to heal our souls.

“Everyone needs someone to provide emotional support. If you can’t find one. BE ONE.”

Unknown

MIM Ineffable Miami: Aventura by Alexandra Rodriguez

Photo by Audri Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

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 travel abroad this summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

Geography

Map of Aventura from Google Maps

Stretching as long as 3.2 square miles, Aventura is an Intracoastal Waterway in northeast Miami-Dade. Offering residents a quiet suburban lifestyle, this area is home to many shops and restaurants. It is about 19.4 away from the heart of downtown Miami and 15.3 miles from Fort Lauderdale. Some cities that surround Aventura include North Miami Beach, Sunny Isles Beach and Hallandale. Although the area is home to the famous Aventura Mall, it’s mainly a residential space with many eateries and buildings. There are approximately 13,484 persons per square mile, making Aventura a large space with many residents. Although Aventura is Intracoastal, there are still some green areas and access to beaches. This gives visitors and residents views of both the Intracoastal Waterway and the ocean.

History

Judaism, Photo courtesy of cottonbro on Pexels.com

Funny enough, Aventura’s original blueprints were drawn on a cocktail napkin by Donald Soffer. He purchased 785 acres of land with hopes of eventually building the city of Aventura. At the time, Aventura was nothing but undeveloped swamp (Turnberry). His goal was to turn this marshland into an area with luxury condos, hotels and residential homes. The city was eventually developed during the 1970s and became incorporated in 1995 (Wikipedia). The city of Aventura is fairly new, compared to other areas in the county.

The Jewish history in Aventura dates back early in its development. The Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center’s history began after the Six Day War in 1967. This is when Donald Soffer’s company purchased the land in Aventura and developed the suburban neighborhood (Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center). The area is so important to the city of Aventura that Former President Bill Clinton gave a speech shortly after leaving the White House at this very Jewish center.

Demographics

With a population that totals about 39,000 people, Aventura is home to many Miami-Dade County residents. The median age in the area is approximately 43 years old, however there is a large population of residents over 65 years old. More than half of the residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is a big accomplishment compared to many other neighborhoods in Miami. The most common jobs within the area are occupations within the sales field and office and administrative support. While the median household income is over $64,000, a very large amount of the population earns over $100,000 (Miami-Dade Beacon Council). Again, this goes hand-in-hand with more than half of the population earning a higher-level education.

interview with resident, yina cabrera

Photo courtesy of Yina Cabrera

How long have you lived in Aventura?

I’ve lived in Aventura for eighteen years. I attended elementary through high school here and moved into a dorm in Sweetwater when I started college at Florida International University.

What’s your favorite aspect about living in Aventura?

I think what I enjoy most about Aventura is the people I have met here. We all grew up in this neighborhood and have gone to school together since we were ten. Our families are also extremely close, and we often include them in all our family events.

What’s your favorite local restaurant?

One of my favorite food spots is Power Smoothie. It’s authentic to Aventura and all the locals know about it. My friends and I would always go there in high school, and everyone was friends with the workers. The place was so popular that they printed coupons in our high school newspaper every week!

Yina’s Power Smoothie recommendation: chipotle chicken wrap

Do you plan on living in Aventura in the future?

Although I’ve loved growing up in Aventura, I don’t see myself living here in the future. I currently work in Brickell, and the commute is extremely difficult on a day-to-day basis. After I finish college, I plan on moving to downtown Miami.

Landmarks

Aventura Mall, Photo courtesy of Ashley Diaz

Aventura Mall: Being the third largest mall in the United States, Aventura is home to this famous tourist spot. Built in 1984, the mall has been around for thirty-six years already and brings a major source of income for Aventura. There are numerous luxury shops like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany and Co. and eateries like CREAM and Zuuk Mediterranean Kitchen. It’s also a great place for children, as they have the Aventura Slide Tower and an interactive playground. It’s free of charge for anyone to play!

Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center: Home to a large Jewish community, Aventura has many centers and offer numerous services. The Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center has Shabbat morning prayers on Saturdays and many other community events for its residents. Located in the heart of Aventura, it’s a beautiful location to visit and learn more about the growing Jewish community in this part of Miami-Dade.

Aventura Circle: This is a great spot for someone looking to do a bit of exercise. While you walk along the scenic path, you will come across the Turnberry Country Club and Spa, golf courses and condo buildings. It’s a spot in Aventura always crowded with people getting some fresh air; people here often enjoy rollerblading, bike riding and jogging. The route is a 2.76 mile walk and is located adjacent to Aventura Mall on NE 192nd Street.

Green

Founders Park, Photo courtesy of Ashley Diaz

Although Aventura is located along the Intracoastal Waterway, there are still plenty of green areas to enjoy nature. One spot that is especially great for families is Founders Park. This wide green space features athletic fields, fitness trails, play areas, picnic shelters, tennis courts and a water playground. I think green spaces like these are extremely important, especially in residential areas. It encourages exercise and an escape for many people, without having to travel too far. Being a 12-acre park, there is plenty of room to play a soccer game or even just picnic, while enjoying the fresh Aventura air (City of Aventura).

Another green space in Aventura is the Turnberry Gold Course. Golfing is a common activity in Aventura. On the weekends, you will find this spot full of people. Located on the property of the JW Marriott Resort and Spa, this golf course offers rentals and lessons, golf programs for juniors and a driving range and putting green. Although Aventura may lack several green spaces, they make do with the few that they do have. Every park and green space are always busy with residents and tourists. I think the area of Aventura would benefit from opening up more green areas to the public, but due to the number of condos and homes, this would be extremely difficult.

Transportation

Bus Services, Photo courtesy of Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

Car: This is the most obvious and common of the modes of transportation. In an area like Aventura with many residential spots, most people travel by car to their destinations. Many of the people living here travel to different parts of Miami for work, school, etc. It’s also a common occurrence to find Ubers and Lyfts in the streets of Aventura. Since the mall is such a large tourist attraction, people are constantly ordering car services to bring them from and to their destinations.

Aventura Express Shuttle Bus: Boarding the Aventura Express Shuttle Bus to get to your destination is a more efficient and eco-friendly manner for transportation; it’s a great alternative to always using your vehicle. The shuttle has six different routes that go through Northern, Central and Southern Aventura. It’s a great option, as it can get you to Miami-Dade or Broward transfers, routes around and near Aventura Mall, and many other spots. Luckily, the service is free of cost, allowing residents and tourists to take advantage of this offer.

Although Aventura offers the shuttle bus, I think the area lacks a better transportation system. In South Miami through downtown Miami, the Metrorail and Metromover help alleviate much of the morning and evening traffic. Unfortunately, the Metrorail line ends around the Hialeah area, leaving out many parts of northern Miami. Building a metro system in Aventura would be extremely beneficial, as people could use this transportation system to get to work in Broward or South Miami; it would help reduce the heavy amounts of traffic in the area.

Food

Left: Juice and Java, Top Right: CREAM ice cream sandwich, Bottom Right: Zuuk Mediterranean Kitchen, Photos courtesy of Yina Cabrera

Food is an extremely important aspect of Aventura. In 2011, the last Burger King in Aventura closed, and that was the history of fast-food in the area. If you walk around Aventura, there is not a McDonald’s, Taco Bell or Wendy’s in sight. Instead they take pride in their authentic restaurants like the following:

Zuuk Mediterranean Kitchen: The owner of this casual restaurant was born in Colombia, but his heritage stems from Middle Eastern descent. All items on their menu are made in-house every day. They take pride in serving their visitors fresh and authentic Mediterranean food. With the option to cater, eat in or dine out, Zuuk’s has a wide range of food options. First, you start with a base of rice, salad or pita and then proceed to add all the toppings and sauces you desire! $$

Juice and Java: Since opening in 2002, this local eatery promotes healthy living and eating to their customers. They offer breakfast, juices, wraps and bowls, all of which are made fresh. With the option of delivering and catering, this café believes, “You are what you eat…” They believe food should make you feel strong and energized (Juice and Java). $$

CREAM: If you’re searching for a dessert place to visit in Aventura, CREAM is the place to be. This ice cream shop is known for their insane ice cream sandwiches. You have the option to customize your sandwich and chose your type of cookie, ice cream flavor and a topping. Some popular combinations are chocolate chip cookies with vanilla ice cream and Oreo crumbs and sugar cookies and fruity pebbles on the outside. It’s a great location for families, and they are sure to have something for everyone’s tasting. $$

P.S. Find these food spots on Instagram by clicking their names!

Businesses

Artisan, Photo courtesy of Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

There are many small businesses around Aventura that are locally owned. Listed below are a few that many locals and tourists would visit:

The Aventura Market: Hosted every Saturday and Sunday, this event is packed with vendors from all varieties. Whether you are searching for new hand-made jewelry or looking to try homemade baked treats, this market covers all the bases (Aventura Mall). It’s a great method of allowing local vendors in Aventura to attract new buyers in an extremely busy location like Aventura Mall.

Jessie Boutique: Aventura is known for luxury shopping. Although the mall is home to hundreds of stores, boutiques like Jessie Boutique offer unique pieces you can’t find in Macy’s or Nordstrom. At a small clothing store like this one, you will receive a personalized shopping experiences and meet friendly staff. Purchasing clothes from here also supports locals like Jessie, the owner.

A Step Above Shoes: Back in 1988, Jerry and Rhonda Milo opened A Step Above Shoes in Aventura. Both Jerry and Rhonda had a passion for shoes. Their small shoe boutique has attracted many shoppers and has become a staple store for many locals. Their personalized touches in their store keep their customers always coming back for more.  

P.S. Find these businesses on Instagram by clicking their names!

Summary

No one can argue Aventura’s beauty. Being an Intracoastal Waterway in Miami means you have the luxury of enjoying not only the beaches but also the canals and bays. Aventura is a unique spot in Miami and doesn’t really compare to the other parts, in my opinion. When we think of Miami, we always revert to South Beach and the downtown Brickell area. Hardly ever do people think about Aventura, unless they are planning on visiting the mall. I also think the city of Aventura is an incredible place to learn about the Jewish culture, since the community is so large; there are several centers and synagogues to visit and thousands of residents to speak to.

One major downfall of Aventura is their lack of transportation. Their shuttle bus is a great, free service but does not help much with the substantial amount of traffic in the area. Not only does the traffic cause delays, but it hurts the environment and exposes the air to toxins. Heavy amounts of car fumes can eventually lead to noncancerous health effects, which would put all residents at risk.

Being a small area, Aventura is an ideal family neighborhood. Most adults in the area have two-three children, and there are exceptional private and public schools. Although tourists may not spend weeks in Aventura, the area is definitely worth a visit. As a family-friendly, shopping-filled neighborhood, Aventura is sure to be fun for visitors of all ages.

Works cited

Aventura Market. “Local Farmer’s Market at Aventura Mall in Miami – Ft. Lauderdale, FL.” Aventura Mall, aventuramall.com/programs/aventura-market-farmers-artisans/.

Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center. “Clergy.” ATJC, http://www.atjchome.org/clergy.

City of Aventura. “Founders Park.” Aventura, FL, http://www.cityofaventura.com/Facilities/Facility/Details/Founders-Park-4.

Juice and Java. “Home.” Juice&JavaOfficial, http://www.juiceandjava.com/.

Miami-Dade Beacon Council. “Aventura.” The Beacon Council, http://www.beaconcouncil.com/why-miami-dade/cities/aventura/.

Turnberry. “TURNBERRY’S HISTORY.” TURNBERRY, http://www.turnberry.com/history/.

Wikipedia. “Aventura, Florida.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aventura,_Florida.

France 2020 Ineffable Miami: Coconut Grove by Alexandra Rodriguez

Photo by Audri Rodriguez CC by 4.0

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 travel abroad this summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

Geography

Image from Google Maps

On a total of 1,471 acres, Coconut Grove sits along the Biscayne Bay. The area is between North Prospect Drive to the south, LeJeune Road to the west, South Dixie Highway and the Rickenbacker Causeway to the north, and the bay to the east. Being a waterfront neighborhood, there are many palms and sand around the area. With several parks along the coast, greenery is a large part of Coconut Grove and its habitat. The area still has a “city like” feel to it, as there are many businesses, buildings, hotels and homes in the area. Sitting on a total of 5.607 square miles, “The Grove” continues to be a commercial, yet functional area for residents and visitors.

History

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

As the oldest inhabited area in Miami-Dade County, people began to immigrate to the area of Coconut Grove in 1825. In 1873, Dr. Horace P. Porter named Coconut Grove after renting a home and eventually residing there for a year. At the time, many immigrants came to this area due to the Homestead Act; they traveled mainly from the Bahamas in the late 1800s. There were also many travelers from northern parts of the United States and from across the pond in Britain.

Later on, the Bayview Inn (Peacock Inn) was built as South Florida’s first hotel on the mainland. Many of the Bahamian immigrants worked at the inn, establishing the area’s first black settlement. Mariah Brown, an immigrant, became the first black Bahamian resident, marking an important direction change for the neighborhood.

In 1925, Coconut Grove was annexed by the city of Miami (Wikipedia). The area encompassed a bohemian vibe and began to host concerts and “love-ins” where several people gathered. Today, Coconut Grove still gives off a very distinctive vibe, as it continues to attract residents, tourists and large events.

Demographics

The population of Coconut Grove sits at about 19,000 residents. On average, most people in the area are around thirty-nine years old. Although the population is fairly young, only 11% of the households consist of married couples with children. Latinos make up about 15%, while African Americans make up about 50%. The rest of the population consists of White and other race ethnicities (Wikipedia). Surprisingly, the median household income is around $64,000, which is less than the United States’ average of $73,000. Most of the residents are self-employed, work for private companies, or work for the government (Point 2 Homes).

Interview with resident, rachel marolf

Photo courtesy of Victoria Marolf

How long have you lived in Coconut Grove?

I moved here in 2013 when I began high school. I attended Immaculata La-Salle High School, which is in the neighborhood.

Do you prefer living in your old neighborhood or Coconut Grove?

I definitely prefer living in The Grove. I used to live in the Kendall area, and my family would always have to drive our car to get everywhere. Now that I live in Coconut Grove, I enjoy walking places and taking scenic routes.

Do you plan on living in Coconut Grove in the future?

As of now, I see myself living here until I’m ready to have a family. Although I enjoy the parks and living by the water, I would prefer to live in a quieter, more secluded area when I have kids. But, who knows? I just might end up retiring here.

Lastly, what do you think makes Coconut Grove, Coconut Grove?

I think what’s so special about this area is its overall vibe. Everyone is extremely laid-back, yet on top of all their work. It’s a great place to work hard and play harder!

Landmarks

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, CC by 4.0

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens: Lavish marble walls, extravagant landscaping, large portraits and grand décor are parts of Vizcaya visitors can’t miss. Being one of Miami’s most popular tourist attractions, visiting the museum is a must. James Deering, the former owner of the villa, began constructing in 1912. Vizcaya successfully encompasses different styles like Italian and French Renaissance. (Fun fact: Many films like Iron Man 3 and Ace Ventura were actually filmed in Vizcaya!)

The Barnacle Historic State Park: This park is the location of the oldest original house in Miami-Dade. It was built in 1891 and owned by Ralph Middleton Munroe. Munroe is also known as one of the founders of Coconut Grove (Wikipedia). There are plenty of activities to do in the park. While some may picnic in the large green space, others enjoy taking a tour and experiencing the wildlife. The admission to enter the park is only $2, making this a great destination for visitors in Miami.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Home: This cottage, home to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, was built in 1924. Although it has exceptional architecture, the home serves as an education center. Stoneman Douglas wrote many of her stories here, and it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2015 (Viglucci). After writing The Everglades: River of Grass, she shaped one of Miami’s most beloved places and brought much attention to the state park.

Regatta Park: This location successfully encompasses all Miami has to offer. Being outdoors, many people enjoy bike riding, docking their boats, dog walking and picnicking near the water (Gil). It’s a great place to relax and take in the view after a long, busy day around the city. Plus, the view of Biscayne Bay is unlike any other!

Green

Biking in Kennedy Park by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Coconut Grove is home to many parks; it’s what makes Coconut Grove so refreshing and enjoyable. David T. Kennedy Park is amongst one of the many green areas, and you will always find it full of people (and their dogs)! It’s a great place to bike ride along the bay, walk your dog, or even play beach volleyball. Covering about 20 acres of the Grove, it’s a great escape for visitors and residents. Another large park in Coconut Grove is Peacock Park. Also on the shore of Biscayne Bay, this park covers 9.4 acres. Most people enjoy taking walks in this area after shopping and eating at the Grove’s finest shops. It’s also well known for hosting the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, which occurs every February.

The Barnacle Historic State Park mentioned earlier is another large green space. Since it’s such an old, historical site, tourists are particularly fond of this area in Miami. Many people enjoy taking tours and learning about the grounds. Alice C. Wainwright Park, another famous green area, is a great place to visit with kids. With padded playgrounds and small hiking trails, it’s a perfect family spot. Just to keep in mind, most of these green areas are open sunrise to sunset, so there is always time to enjoy these leafy grounds.

Transportation

Metrorail Tracks by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Car: Traveling by car is the most popular form of transportation in Miami. Luckily, there are about thirteen parking garages in Coconut Grove, making it extremely easy to park your vehicle in the area. Rates can vary anywhere between $2-$10, depending on location and time. Since most residents in The Grove work, seeing many cars along the streets is common.

Walking: Since The Grove is such a personable neighborhood, it’s easy to walk to different destinations in this area. Walking is the second most common mode of transportation, especially because of the numerous shops and places to dine. Getting to you destination on foot in Coconut Grove is not only enjoyable but extremely scenic.

TrolleyBus: This is a great option for both residents and visitors, as this trolley is completely free. It stops at many different locations in Coconut Grove including Peacock Park, Kennedy State Park, and the Metrorail station. It even offers services on Sundays in certain areas like Coconut Grove.

Metrorail: The Metrorail would be a good choice of transportation for anyone looking to visit downtown or just a little more south of Coconut Grove. It’s an extremely efficient way to get to different locations in Miami, since traffic can be an issue on most days. A single day pass for the Metrorail would cost you around $5, while a yearly pass could cost around $100 for an adult. Both the green and orange Metrorail lines make stops in Coconut Grove.  

Food

Egg Omelet, Toast and Potatoes @ GreenStreet Cafe by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Eating great food with a scenic view is a common occurrence in Coconut Grove. There are many popular restaurants in the area, and most of them recommend outdoor seating. Here are a few of my personal recommendations:

GreenStreet Café: One of the most iconic, and a personal favorite of mine, is GreenStreet Café. Founded 23 years ago, this café offers some of the best brunch options in Miami. Whether you’re in the mood for red velvet pancakes or a Greek salad, GreenStreet has you covered. With a moderate price range, this is a must visit in Coconut Grove. $$

Tigertail + Mary: My favorite aspect of this restaurant is the design. With leaves and greenery hanging from the ceiling, this tiny spot reminds me of everything Coconut Grove encompasses. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. My personal favorite at this restaurant is their charred octopus with avocado. (Don’t forget to stop by for their happy hour every weekday from 5:00-7:00pm! It definitely beats waiting in Miami traffic!) $$$

Vicky’s House: If you are craving something sweet, Vicky’s is a great option. This 80s inspired milkshake spot has some of the craziest desserts in town. Named after the owner’s mother, Vicky’s has a vibe unlike any other dessert spot in Coconut Grove. They successfully encompass the retro experience and make an insane milkshake! My personal favorite is the “Golden Girls” milkshake. This comes covered in whipped cream, toffee bits, Twinkies and tons of caramel! $$

A.C.’s Icees: I have been visiting this tiny icee truck in Kennedy Park for as long as I can remember. My dad used to take my sister and I to the park on Saturday’s, and our day would always end with an A.C.’s Icee. Using the best lemonade, you can get a classic lemon icee or experiment with the cherry-lemon icee! Both receive two thumbs up from me! $

Enjoying A.C.’s Icees on a sunny day by Alexandra Rodriguez at Kennedy Park, CC by 4.0

Businesses

Photo courtesy of Sidnei Maia on Pexels.com

One of the most famous places to visit in Coconut Grove is CocoWalk. This mall is filled with tons of shops and eateries. Whether you want to stop by and catch a movie or do some high-end shopping, this area is a great choice. If you prefer smaller, local businesses, Coconut Grove houses many shops and boutiques. If you walk along the Main Highway, you will come across clothing boutiques, jewelry stories and even florists. These local businesses are extremely important to Coconut Grove and mainly earn income from tourists. Here are a few businesses you may come across walking down the Grove (Culture Crusaders):

Romana La Rue: This clothing boutique sells pieces unlike any other. Their clothing prints and patterns encompass the bohemian, tropical vibe that Coconut Grove and Miami give off. Although the pieces are a bit pricey, they are extremely fashion forward.

Celestial Treasures: This small boutique carries everything from crystals to incense. Celestial Treasures is also known for selling unique pieces of jewelry. They even have great, bundled gift options.

The Blonde Tulip: Located in the heart of Coconut Grove, this florist shop sells beautiful arrangements for décor, weddings or just for loved ones. Since Coconut Grove is known for its greenery, I think a florist shop in the middle of the Grove is perfect!

Summary

Photo courtesy of One Shot on Pexels.com

As someone who was born and raised in Miami, Coconut Grove has always been one of my favorite areas in the city. Whenever I’m craving some Vitamin D and a nice bike ride, I’ll head down to the Grove to relax. I think Coconut Grove is an extremely fun and efficient place in Miami and definitely attracts many tourists. With its countless green spaces and outdoor appeal, it’s a great spot for families, tourists, and just about anyone else. They have great access to transportation, especially with their own Metrorail stop and the TrolleyBus. Being home to Vizacaya and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Home, it also proves to be a historic site.

One aspect of Coconut Grove that struck me was the demographics. More than 50% of the residents in the area are African American, yet the area fails to incorporate restaurants and places that celebrate their culture. While there are plenty of American and Latino restaurants in the tourist areas, the restaurants serving African American foods are hidden or not easily accessible by the tourists. It would be a great addition for Coconut Grove to move a restaurant like Jackson’s Soul Food next to a restaurant like GreenStreet Café, which brings in many tourists.

works cited

Culture Crusaders. “Coconut Grove Takes the Lead in Supporting Small Business.” Culture Crusaders, 2 Apr. 2020, culturecrusaders.com/2020/04/02/coconut-grove-takes-the-lead-in-supporting-small-business/.

Gil, Virginia. “The Best Things to Do in Coconut Grove You Can’t Miss.” Time Out Miami, http://www.timeout.com/miami/things-to-do/things-to-do-coconut-grove.

Parkopedia. “Coconut Grove Parking.” Coconut Grove Florida Parking – Free or Cheap Lots, Garages and Street Meter Spots, en.parkopedia.com/parking/coconut_grove_florida/?arriving=202004182100&leaving=202004182300%2B%28Parkopedia%29.

Point 2 Homes. “Coconut Grove Demographics.” Coconut Grove Population & Demographics, Median Income – Point2 Homes, http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/FL/Coconut-Grove-Demographics.html.

Viglucci, Andres. “Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ Home Belongs to You. The Neighbors Don’t Want You to See It.” Miamiherald, Miami Herald, 15 Mar. 2018, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/coconut-grove/article205263894.html.

Wikipedia. “Coconut Grove.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Apr. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_Grove.

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.

Ineffable Miami: Key Biscayne by Alexandra Rodriguez

Welcome to Key Biscayne!

Video by Alexandra Rodriguez

Student Biography

Photo by Audri Rodriguez

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 next summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

Geography

As a small island just off the coast of Florida, Key Biscayne encompasses everything you would expect of a typical Miami town. To get into the island, you must first cross the Rickenbacker Causeway, which connects Miami to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. When looking at a map, you will notice that the island is sandwiched between two large parks: Crandon Park and Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. From start to finish, the island is about five miles in length and one and a half miles wide.

The island is made up of sand that eroded from the Appalachian Mountains, which was carried by rivers and coastal currents. The elevation of Key Biscayne varies, but it typically averages less than five feet above sea level (Wikipedia). It’s sandy beaches and parks completely cover the north and south areas of the island.

Although greenery makes up the majority of Key Biscayne, the middle of the island offers a significant urban feeling. With countless hotels, homes and buildings, the residents often associate the area with a “city like” feeling. With the causeway just a short couple of miles away, the island of Key Biscayne always feels like an extremely functional and commercial area.

History

About 1,000-2,000 years ago, the first group of inhabitants living in Key Biscayne were the Tequestas. When shells, bones, and several different artifacts were found on the grounds, researchers were certain these indigenous peoples occupied the land. The Tequesta Indians of the Calusa Nation were able to hunt and fish on the island, as they were surrounded by green land and the ocean.

In 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon found the island, he called it Santa Marta and planned to claim is for the King of Spain. After the King sold is to the Fornelis family, it was purchased by Mary Ann Davis of St. Augustine in the mid 1800s for a total cost of $100 (Village of Key Biscayne). The lighthouse, which Key Biscayne is most known for, was first lit in 1825, and it was used to help ships navigate along Florida’s coast. However, after Indians attacked the lighthouse during the Seminole Wars, the island’s monument was burned and destroyed. It was soon rebuilt in 1847 and remains the same tall and bright lighthouse in Bill Baggs Park today.

In 1908, William John Matheson purchased property in Key Biscayne and grew a coconut plantation and fruit grove. Soon enough, the Matheson family created a community on the island; schools, zoos and transportation were added to the land. In the mid 1900s, William John Matheson’s children decided they wanted to donate the northern half of the island to the public (Village of Key Biscayne). Following this, the Rickenbacker Causeway was built, allowing visitors to reach the mainland.

Key Biscayne soon became an island consisting of hotels and villas, which celebrities and politicians typically visited. As of today, Key Biscayne is still very much known for its luxury and prestigious hotels, as well as its vacation style homes. The island was officially incorporated in 1991.

Demographics

Key Biscayne sits at a moderate population of just over 13,000 residents. With the median age being around 44 years old, it is just 6% higher than the average Floridian. The island is known for housing some of the wealthiest families in the south Florida region. The median household income for the area sits at a hefty $130,000, which is $73,000 more than the average US income. The top employment industries of these residents consist of finance, professional services, healthcare and real estate. Moreover, the race and ethnic diversity in Key Biscayne is extremely poor. There are only two dominant races: White and Hispanic. While whites make up 31% of the island, Hispanics make up another 68% (AreaVibes). The remaining 1% consists of individuals with Asian background. 

interview with resident, ana perez-blanco:

Photo by Isabella Miranda

How long have you lived in Key Biscayne?

I’ve lived here for my whole life. I’m nineteen years old now, and my parents first moved here right before I was born.

Did you attend school on the island when you were younger?

I attended elementary and middle school at St. Agnes. It would only take me about 10 minutes to get to school every day. However, for high school, it would take me about an hour to get to school, as I went to Our Lady of Lourdes Academy in the South Miami area.

What do you enjoy most about living in Key Biscayne?

I enjoy living so close to the beach and being able to walk everywhere. My brother and I love to go on morning walks along the beach on the weekends. I also like that all the residents are extremely friendly; we’re always doing activities with our neighbors and friends.

Do you think you will live in Key Biscayne in the future, or do you plan to move?

I plan on moving outside of the island. Most of my friends live almost an hour away from me, and I drive long distances to go to work every day. I feel like I might come back and live on the island when I reach retirement age, but as I approach my twenties, I plan on moving to the South Miami region.

Landmarks/Place to Visit

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park: Bill Baggs Park is one of the most popular places in Key Biscayne. It is home to the famous lighthouse, or as we call it in Miami, “El Farito.” The Cape Florida Light is actually the oldest standing structure in the Greater Miami area. Most visitors enjoy planting their feet in the sand and enjoying a beach day here. Keep in mind that to enter this park, it costs $8 per vehicle!

Crandon Park: Once you pass through Key Biscayne’s entrance, you are left in Crandon Park, and it’s the perfect welcome into the island. This park is a great place to swim at the beach, barbecue on the weekends or even just walk along its trail. Fun fact: This park used to be the coconut plantation the Matheson family built in the early 1900s!

Neptune Memorial Reef: This memorial reef is the largest man-made reef ever created. For those who chose cremation, their remains can be placed in the Neptune Memorial Reef. It was made to represent the Lost City of Atlantis and has brought the marine life up significantly around the area (Neptune Memorial Reef).

Bear Cut Preserve: Just along the shore at Crandon Park, there is a hiking trail across the water and under the numerous trees. Whether you just want to take in the scenery or explore the park’s sandy dunes, the walk is sure to be a memorable one. At the end of the trail, you are left at a 6,000-year-old fossilized forest reef (Florida Hikes).

Green Space

Key Biscayne is home to many green areas and state parks. The most popular are the two previously mentioned: Bill Baggs State Park and Crandon Park. With such an immense amount of greenery, both of these areas are typically enjoyed by tourists and even the residents. The parks are always occupied with people playing sports, having a picnic, or even just basking in the sun.

Green spaces like these are extremely important to any city. Greenery is actually proven to reduce stress and offer better quality of air. This is most likely why the area of Key Biscayne is extremely laid-back and carefree.

Along most of the island’s green areas, there are numerous amounts of garbage and recycling bins. At every entrance of the park, a Miami-Dade County trash bin stands proud. I think this is an extremely great effort by the island of Key Biscayne and the county, as trash in our parks and oceans continues to hurt our environment and animals.

Transportation

Metrobus: The Metrobus makes numerous stops in Key Biscayne including the Rickenbacker Causeway, Crandon Park, City of Key Biscayne and Cape Florida State Park. Although walking in Key Biscayne is preferred by most, it is also convenient to take the bus, especially if you’re in Bill Baggs Park and need to get to Crandon Park. Having busses pass through the island is helpful, as it aids in the reduction of the amount of traffic.

Bicycle: Many residents travel on bicycle to get to their destinations. The entire five-mile length of the island has designated bike lanes for those choosing this form of transportation. Having these bike lanes are extremely efficient and add an extra form of safety. Bicycling is a great way to exercise and save the environment, as well. Who wouldn’t want to peddle down the beach to get to work every day?  

Golf carts: Surprisingly, besides driving a car, cruising around the island in a golf cart is extremely common. In the morning and afternoon, you typically see children being picked up and dropped off at school in golf carts. On the weekends, families will drive to a restaurant down the street in the golf cart, and even park it in a designated parking spot for golf carts only (yes, they have that in Key Biscayne!).

Boat: If all other modes of transportation fail, do not fret! You can always come to the island on a private yacht or speedboat. With the number of marinas on the island, there is always a place to dock a boat.

Food

Costa Med: This “chic bistro” is owned by Venezuelan, Antonio Braschi and is inspired by European, Mediterranean and South American style. Common foods to order from this bistro are escargots, lobster ravioli, steak tartare and any catch of the day! It is also very highly recommended to pair their entrées with a glass of rosé or champagne. $$

Milanezza Restaurant and Bar: As soon as you enter this laid-back atmosphere, you are instantly greeted by the friendliest waiters. Whether you are in the mood for a classic Italian pasta dish or an Argentine churrasco, this amazing little spot has your back! After bringing the check, the waiter brings a stand of lollipops to finish off your meal. *My personal recommendation: Churrasco steak sandwich (and a strawberry lemonade flavored lollipop!) $$

Donut Gallery Diner: This family-run diner delivers an American classic. The restaurant has been passed down since 1971. They are most famous for their comforting breakfast options like pancakes, grits, hash browns and eggs (Miami and Beaches). They are also open for lunch with all your favorite, staple dishes. $

Businesses

Clothing Boutiques: Small, independently-owned clothing boutiques are a common business on the island. One particular boutique, Moda Boheme, offers unique pieces from around the world. The owner enjoys mixing chic, bohemian, and sophisticated styles of clothing. Ten years ago, Moda Boheme was able to open Mercedes Benz Swim Week with a few of pieces from their collection (Boheme Boutique).

Watersport Rentals: In Key Biscayne, there are countless places to rent kayaks, canoes, and jet skis. What makes each of these places special is the fact that most of these businesses are ran by residents. This business is definitely geared towards Key Biscayne, as they are surrounded by beaches. One specific company that offers rentals is Miami Watersports: Hobie Cat and Windsurf. Staying active while visiting the Key is a must! This company offers everything from kayaks to paddle boards to flyboards.

Real Estate: An extremely common business in Key Biscayne is real estate. There are dozens of realtors across the island, especially since property there is so expensive. Most realtors in Key Biscayne sell properties ranging anywhere from $150,000 to $3,000,000 (US News). Whether they own a company or sell homes independently, real estate agents in Key Biscayne are always busy, year-round.

Summary

As you pass over the Rickenbacker causeway and begin to see the white, sandy beaches of Key Biscayne, you already know what’s ahead. The island successfully encompasses everything from greenery, to urban lifestyle, to toes in the sand. As far as what works well in the town, transportation seems to be doing great. With most residents walking or bicycling everywhere, the traffic on the island is light and the air pollution is low. In addition to a good transportation system, the island knocks it out of the park when it comes to authentic restaurants. If someone is in the mood for Argentinian food or even Mediterranean, the restaurants in Key Biscayne have got all the bases covered. It’s comforting to know that the restaurant owners on the island come from around the world; this helps spread the culture and ideas to a new set of people. Another important aspect of Key Biscayne to note is their environmental awareness. Recycling bins and trash cans appear everywhere on the island; this is probably why the streets are so clean. The residents seem to be reducing their carbon footprint, as well, as many homes on the island were powered by solar energy.

Although the island has its many perks, there are a few drawbacks and unfortunate cases to note. The first, and probably very obvious, is the income gap between Key Biscayne residents and those living in other parts of Miami, Florida. The average Miami resident makes about $30,000 a year. Compared to Key Biscayne’s $130,000, the average Miamian cannot afford to live on the luxurious island. Another disappointing statistic about the island is its extremely poor ethnic diversity. Although its restaurants offer a cultural experience, the population of Key Biscayne has little to no variety. There are only about thirty-nine individuals with African American descent living on the island. This is shocking, as African Americans make up almost 20% of the entire Miami area. Staying on the same topic of culture, Key Biscayne’s places of worship only include Christian and Catholic churches and only one Jewish center. With there being over thousands of religions in the world, it’s sad to see an area only focusing on three common faiths. Again, this just proves Key Biscayne’s poor diversity.

*All photos are by Alexandra Rodriguez, unless stated otherwise.

works cited

AreaVibes. “Key Biscayne, FL Demographics.” Key Biscayne, FL Population & Demographics, http://www.areavibes.com/key+biscayne-fl/demographics/.

Boheme Boutique. “Boheme Boutique- Key Biscayne.” Boheme Boutique, 2010, bohemeboutique.blogspot.com/.

DeFrancisci, Leonard. Coconut Plantation Memorial. 2009.

Florida Hikes. “Bear Cut Preserve.” Florida Hikes!, 3 June 2019, floridahikes.com/bearcut.

Miami and Beaches. “Your Official Miami and Miami Beach Guide.” Your Official Miami and Miami Beach Guide, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/.

Neptune Memorial Reef. “The Neptune Memorial Reef ™.” Neptune Memorial Reef, http://www.nmreef.com/index.html.

US News. “Top Key Biscayne Real Estate.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World Report, realestate.usnews.com/agents/florida/key-biscayne/.

Village of Key Biscayne. “History of the Island of Key Biscayne.” History of the Island of Key Biscayne – Village of Key Biscayne, 2013, keybiscayne.fl.gov/index.php?submenu=_island_history&src=gendocs&ref=IslandHistory&category=About.

Wikipedia. “Key Biscayne.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 12 Nov. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_Biscayne.

MIM Fall 2019 Service Project: Alexandra Rodriguez

LnS Gallery

Photo by Audri Rodriguez at LnS Gallery

I had the opportunity of doing service work with John William Bailly at his first solo exhibition at the LnS Gallery. This gallery, in specific, is geared towards showcasing contemporary art by Miami based artists (Laino). Sergio Cernuda and Luisa Lignarolo have managed to create such a unique and inviting space. Surprisingly, this was my first time ever visiting a gallery, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The minute I walked in, I noticed everyone dressed in their best attire and an extremely welcoming environment. I eagerly glanced at all the pieces in the gallery, trying to decipher what each of them meant. After taking in the art and familiarizing myself with the space, it was time to help Sofia Guerra, the curator of Bailly’s project room, greet the guests and display the art for others to see. I had never seen anything like this before, nor knew how to properly open the drawers and speak to the viewers. After putting on my black gloves, I quickly got the hang of displaying the pieces for people to see and explaining the exhibit. It was interesting to hear everyone’s perceptions of the art pieces, as they all had a different view. This was probably my favorite part of the night because being there allowed me to view the pieces in a way I would have never seen them. It amazes me how much detail is put into every piece, and how people catch on to these slight details. Being an Accounting major, the furthest thing possible from an Art major, I never expected to volunteer in a gallery, let alone explain art pieces to potential buyers. It was a side of me that I never knew existed. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone, as I now feel confident in a place like an art gallery.

Camillus House

Photo by Alessandra Laricchia at Camillus House

The second institution I did service work at was Camillus House. This non-profit agency offers aid to those who are homeless, in need of food, or even seeking rehabilitation (Camillus House). I had always thought of Camillus House as just a place to receive food and donations. To my surprise, they had an extensive about of benefits and programs for anyone seeking help. As soon as we arrived, the director, Alessandra Laricchia, gave us a tour of the campus. We visited the emergency housing center, the clothing and shower rooms, and the mailroom. The emergency housing center consisted of several beds and night tables lined up next to each other. The first thing I noticed when walking in to the emergency housing was the fact that every single bed and sleeping area was occupied. Homelessness is a leading problem in Miami, especially in neighborhoods like Overtown, where Camillus House is located. They explained that less than ten beds become available every few months, which is certainly not enough to help everyone seeking a roof over their head. The clothing and shower rooms were places that made those staying there feel like they were at home. Every Tuesday and Thursday, Camillus House allows everyone to choose clothing from several racks of shirts, pants, business attire, shoes, etc. I thought this experience was something extremely special. We pick out clothes from our closet everyday and don’t think twice about it. These people are picking up an old pair of shoes and thinking about it for weeks. They are relieved to be able to save their weeks’ worth of money to buy necessities. Another area that I thought was interesting, but didn’t think much of, was the mailroom. I found it helpful for those living there to be able to receive their mail at the location they were currently residing. However, I quickly learned that the Camillus House mailroom is an extremely important place, even for those individuals living in the streets. The organization allows people, who have no address to send mail to, to use Camillus House as their mailing address. This means people receiving welfare, money from other places, or even immigration papers can finally have a place to collect their mail from. Something as simple as receiving mail is especially difficult for those with no place to call home. Visiting Camillus House made me reflect on the aspects of my life that are customary. I wake up every morning in my bed, I take a hot shower every night, and I receive my mail almost every day. To most, these routine activities sound so mundane, but to the people in Camillus House, they sound like a dream.

Contact:

Alessandra Laricchia- Community Relations Manager

Cell: 786.775.8192, Email: alessandral@camillus.org

Citations:

Laino, Jessie. “LNS Gallery: Artists, Art for Sale, and Contact Info.” Artsy, 2019, http://www.artsy.net/lns-gallery.

“Camillus House – Camillus House.” Camillus House – Camillus House, 2019, http://www.camillus.org/.

Miami in Miami: 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 next summer, she is excited to embark on a whole new journey. 

METRO AS TEXT

Fichas by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Metrorail

Fichas by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Miami Metrorail

As I walked beneath the metro line, I couldn’t help but notice the large dominoes painted along the sides. Like most Cubans in Miami, my family and I call these domino tiles “fichas.” With Cuban culture being extremely prominent in our city, it was no surprise these enormous tiles were depicted along the bottom of our metro. As someone who has only ever ridden the Metrorail a handful of times, certain art pieces like this quickly caught my attention. How had I never noticed such grand pieces of art and paintings like this before?

An artist named Bo Droga came up with the idea to paint dominoes along the dull pillars. I believe these paintings reflect Miami culture in a fun, playful way. Playing dominoes is a passion for so many Cubans and other Hispanics in Miami. At most gatherings in my house, the life of the party is typically around the domino table. Fortunately, Droga was able to encompass Miami culture in a large, public area for many to see.

Just like I had never noticed the “fichas” before, I’m sure there are plenty of other remarkable paintings and works in Miami I have casually walked or driven by and never spotted. As locals, we tend to walk past beautiful things and never notice and take in their actual magnificence. The nature, buildings and people we pass everyday seem so mundane to us. As humans, we continue to crave something newer and better. We are constantly searching and traveling far to see different things when in reality, we have such beauty so close to home.

DOWNTOWN AS TEXT

By Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Lummus Park

The Unexpected by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Lummus Park

Standing on the grounds of a “home” slaves once occupied is a feeling unlike any other. To think that their freedom was restricted and they were trapped in such a small, dull place is frightening. As I stood here, I reflected on the aspects of life I usually never think about. Most basic human rights, including freedom, were amongst my many thoughts. 

As we approached Lummus Park, I couldn’t help but notice how tiny the plantation appeared. As we stepped through the doors, I was even more surprised. With the limestone walls, the concrete floor and overall lackluster appearance, picturing the slaves in here was difficult. I’m sure the conditions they were put through were horrific and imposed on all basic rights. To think a city like Miami has history as such is unexpected. 

The Wagner home we visited was interesting, as the rooms were filled with tables and items that were typically in the living areas. As soon as I stepped foot into the area, the dining table with a checkered tablecloth caught my attention; it was filled with games and toys. The Wagner family had a daughter named Rose, and during those times, games and toys were extremely crucial to a child’s social development. I also found it interesting that the Wagner’s were an interracial couple, a German man and a Creole woman. They actually came to Miami to live an open marriage. 

Although I was born and raised in Miami, I had never heard of Lummus Park, let alone the fact that a slave plantation sat on those grounds. Fortunately, there is an abundance of history in Miami that is calling my name to be explored. It’s incredible to continue finding bits of my home that even a local like myself has never experienced. 

DEERING AS TEXT

By Vivian Acosta of FIU at Deering Estate

Deering Estate Through A Historical Lens by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

With its large, brown gates, plentiful greenery, and long walkaways, Deering Estate seems like a secret hideaway to me. Tucked away deep near the coast, it paints a picture of tranquility and privacy. In the early 1900s, when Charles Deering purchased the land, I’m sure he had a similar view as I do in this moment.

I had only ever visited Deering Estate before to attend the Sunrise Mass on Easter. After being able to experience this site with a different frame of mind, I realized how much history and beauty this place holds, especially for being in a city like Palmetto Bay. With every place I continue to visit, I discover an aspect of it I had never noticed before. This has essentially allowed me to “grow” with the city I have lived in my entire life.

In 1922, when Deering finished the Stone House, which now sits in the center of the land, he occupied the space with paintings, books and antiques. Although he only lived on the property for five years, he was successful in restoring the land and preserving the environment. Fortunately, today, the Deering Estate continues to live on Deering’s legacy and advocates for important matters, such as public awareness and research.

It’s always remarkable to visit a historic site and be able to picture how others lived and viewed that same area years ago. As I stood on the grounds of Deering Estate, I couldn’t help but imagine how Charles Deering and his family inhabited the land and how I am standing on that same property almost a hundred years later.

CHICKEN KEY AS TEXT

By Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

A Not So Typical Classroom by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Chicken Key

“Do you think we’re half way there yet?” My classmate Vivian asked me this question when we weren’t even a quarter of the way to the small island of Chicken Key, which is just off of the Deering Estate. As we continued to paddle our canoe closer towards the piece of land, I wondered how much trash would actually be there, how many different animals we would encounter, and exactly how I would leave my impact on this beautiful island.

As these thoughts pondered by mind, I could feel our canoe inching closer towards the island, even if we were going at the same speed as the piece of tree bark floating next to us. After finally tying up our canoe, we quickly jumped off to begin collecting the bits and pieces of trash that occupied the island. To my surprise, trash covered the land completely. I knew our beaches and islands in Miami were polluted with garbage, but I never imagined it to be this bad. We found everything from shoes to toothbrushes to fishing nets. To think our wildlife and land are full of trash is tragic. Animals are constantly being suffocated by plastic, and our lands are being subjected by toxic items such as Styrofoam.

It is estimated that fourteen billion pounds of trash are disposed in our oceans every year. If we continue to follow such a pattern, the waters we love and cherish will eventually be covered and sea animals will continue to die. The harmful effects on our environment are alarming, yet we continue to use the ocean as a dumping ground.

Having class on a canoe leaving from Deering Estate isn’t your typical classroom setting, but it sure has been one of my most memorable learning experiences as a student. Seeing the amount of garbage that covered the island really put this issue into perspective. Unfortunately, we never know just how bad the problems in our world are until we actually experience them firsthand.

WYNWOOD AS TEXT

Photo by Gabriela Lastra of FIU at the Margulies Collection

The He(art) of Miami by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Wynwood and the Design District

Wynwood and the Design District house Miami’s most popular abstract and contemporary art in a trendy, funky way. Walking around the streets in these areas reminds me of being in Miami’s most electric and fun districts. Although they are popular amongst the tourists, our locals tend to forget what artistry they have so close to home.

The first place we visited in Wynwood was the Margulies Collection. From the minute I stepped in, I began to take in the awe of the different art forms Mr. Margulies had on display; he had everything from paintings to photographs to sculptures. One of the pieces that instantly caught my attention was George Segal’s Subway. The fact that Segal used an old piece of a New York subway amazed me. Mr. Margulies explained that Segal paid around ten dollars for the subway part because he wanted to incorporate the piece into his work. It’s remarkable how the subway map of New York could even still be seen on Segal’s piece. Using an actual section of the train made the art piece seem that much more real to me. With the blinking lights and worn-in seats, I felt like I was about to hop on the New York City Subway.

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at the de la Cruz Collection

The second place we visited was the de la Cruz Collection. Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz used to display art pieces in their home and would open their doors to visitors. Eventually, when the crowds became too large, they moved their pieces to a gallery in the Design District. The minute I walked through the doors of the building, I noticed a string of lights hanging from the ceiling. Untitled by Felix Gonzalez-Torres was supposed to represent the fact that as humans, we will eventually burn out and come to an end. Just like how a light bulb doesn’t shine forever, our lives slowly dim down as well. Another exhibit that peaked by interest was the large, white papers that read “Somewhere better than this place” and “Nowhere better than this place.” Again, this work was by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Visitors are encouraged to take one of the papers home. It was explained that guests over the age of twenty-five tend to take the “Nowhere better than this place” paper and guests under twenty-five commonly gravitate towards the “Somewhere better than this place” paper. The correlation between age and which paper people tended to take showed me how our minds think at such different points in our lives. When we are younger, we tend to think there will always be better and bigger opportunities than the ones we have now. Whereas when you are older, you learn to appreciate everything life has given you up to this moment. I also enjoyed that visitors could take home a piece of the exhibit with them; it made it that much more personal.

After visiting both the Margulies Collection and the de la Cruz Collection, I have been able to experience exceptional contemporary art pieces that are in my very hometown. People in Miami love to travel to Rome and Paris to experience classic pieces, but never take the time to drive downtown and visit their city’s most precious works.

HISTORYMIAMI AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at HistoryMiami

Miami: Final Destination by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at HistoryMiami and the Freedom Tower

I always wondered just how difficult it was for Cubans to build a tiny raft, risk their lives, and paddle 90 miles until they reached the United States to officially obtain freedom. It amazes me that people have to put their lives on the line just to live in a free country. Years ago, my grandparents had to do just that. Living in the harsh conditions in Cuba, my grandparents wanted a better life for their children and family. When our class visited HistoryMiami this weekend, the struggles my grandparents went through, as well as many other Cubans, was put into perspective. The museum educator, Maria Moreno, spoke heavily on the Cuban history in Miami and showed us photos and items that occupied the museum. One item that instantly shocked me was the Cuban raft. Even more to my surprise, we were told that the man who came in that raft visited the museum and was surprised to see they had the raft he and his family had built to come to America. I instantly got chills when I heard about the man visiting the museum. To think he finally lives a free life and has the chance to show his children and grandchildren how difficult it was obtaining a basic human right is beyond words. Freedom is something we typically take for granted or never appreciate. However, today, I was certain to be thankful I have the chance to live and grow in a country that gives me the power to speak and act in any way I want.

After visiting the museum, we took a quick walk to the Freedom Tower in downtown. Ever since I was a little girl, my grandparents would tell me how they first visited this building when they came from Cuba. After seeking political asylum in the United States, Cubans would seek relief from the “Ellis Island of the South.” My grandfather told me they were given a bag of items which consisted of spam, cheese, a loaf of bread and a check for $50. This was already more than Cuba had ever offered them. To be able to visit one of the places my grandparents first sought refuge from in the United States was incredible. Just like it is for my family, the Freedom Tower is a special place for many people in Miami. It is often where their American story for freedom began.

ART MIAMI AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Art Miami

It’s the Cycle of Life by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Art Miami

School. Work. Home. Repeat. This is how the majority of us go through life every day. It’s almost like clockwork at this point. We have become so accustomed to this unhealthy American way of life that we pretend our lives contain enthusiasm and passion. The minute I walked up to Super 30 by Peter Halley at Art Miami, I thought to myself, “Wow, those are beautiful, bright neon colors.” I instantly thought this piece would entail some vibrant or celebratory meaning. However, I was quickly proven wrong as I stared longer and harder at the piece of art. Each box in Halley’s piece is meant to represent a prison. More specifically, these “prisons” represent places like school, work, and home. They are all connected in some way, but there’s nowhere else to go beyond these three places. This piece reminded me of American culture today, and more specifically, the growing infatuation of social media. Initially, people are attracted to the piece because of its standout colors; they quickly grab the eye. Nonetheless, they eventually learn the saddening meaning behind a piece with such a colorful, happy exterior. On social media today, we tend to post pictures and videos of us living our best lives. We catch the attention of our peers with our lovely smiles and attractive lifestyles. However, we all have something deeper that others cannot see. Our interiors entail almost the complete opposite of what we choose to show others. Whether we choose to believe it or not, we are actually all living the same life. We are all trapped in this prison Halley paints so clearly. Although some may look enticing and charming on the outside, we are all stuck in this mundane cycle we call life.

EVERGLADES AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Everglades National Park

Beyond the Textbook by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at the Pay-hay-okee Trail

Getting an education outside the classroom is unbeatable. Being able to experience the physical world in person and not through a textbook provides so much more perspective and value. Visiting the Everglades in my Miami in Miami class did just that for me. As I drove down the long, barren roads to reach our destination for the day, I wondered to myself, “Where in the world are we?” I have lived in Miami for twenty years, yet I have never seen this area. I always imagine Miami with tall buildings and a beach on every corner. When I arrived to class that day, I was proven that Miami had more to offer than just its sandy beaches and fancy infrastructure. The park ranger that guided us through the Everglades, Dylann Turffs, gave us a quick rundown of what to expect before heading out. After grabbing our walking sticks, it was time for the class to begin slough slogging. I quickly plunged my feet into the muddy waters and never looked back. As I followed Dylann down the path, the trail began to get extremely deep at some points, forcing me to place all trust in my walking stick. I took this opportunity to look closely through the trees and peer through the water, as I searched for any animals Dylann explained we might find. To me, seeing these natural Everglades inhabitants in their environment is the best way to explore the wildlife.  When I asked Dylann about the craziest thing she had ever seen on the trail, I expected her to tell me a story about a cunning alligator or a poisonous snake. Instead, she told me how fast the cars drive down the street along the trail, and how this poses a great danger for the visitors walking along the sides. I had never thought about humans being the greatest hazard in the middle of the park. Moreover, experiencing the Everglades with a park ranger, slough slogging as my participation for the day, and reflecting on the largest subtropical wilderness in the country are things that make this course so special. If I would have read about sawgrass and the mangroves in a textbook, I probably would have learned it and moved on. Now that I have navigated through the mangroves and felt the sawgrass, I have a greater understanding of South Florida’s two-million-acre backyard.  

SOUTH BEACH AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Designing South Beach by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at South Beach

The name Gianni Versace is familiar to just about every person roaming the streets of South Beach. It’s almost impossible to pass the Versace Mansion and not remember the fashion designer’s tragic death and legacy in Miami. Being an Italian designer, Versace caught the eye of many. His popularity and following made South Beach “the place to be” after purchasing the villa in 1992. Miami transitioned from a low-profile, retirement city to an upscale, glamorous destination. Famous singers and actors even travelled to the city to join the dynamic scene. However, after visiting the News Café one morning in 1997, Versace was assassinated on the steps of his Miami villa, marking a major change in the city forever. Being such a huge figure in South Beach, the area was left in disbelief; it felt as if a part of the city was missing. The nightlife and eclectic scene of Miami paused. Some bars and clubs even closed, leaving the streets and atmosphere unrecognizable.

Prior to Versace’s arrival, Miami was dull. It lacked a standout feature that major cities like New York and Los Angeles offered. It wasn’t until Versace’s presence that South Beach changed and gave Miami its unparalleled culture. Even twenty-eight years later, the city is still everything Versace made it out to be. His influence over the LGBTQ community and the diversity he brought still remain some of Miami’s most special features. Fortunately, the colorful city he transformed almost three decades ago continues to be as radiant and bold as it was during South Beach’s roaring era.

LOTUS AS TEXT

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is IMG_2708-1024x768.jpg
Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

A Blanket of Hope by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Lotus House Miami

Lotus House Miami is an institution that aids women and children in the community, while combating homelessness. As human rights advocates, Lotus House continues to change the lives on many families every day. Fortunately, my Miami in Miami class was able to volunteer here for a full day and learn the ins and outs of Lotus House. It was amazing to see that even the volunteers that work there had once benefited from Lotus House and their service.

On that day of volunteering, one conversation stuck with me, and I still think about it today. After cleaning and sanitizing the seating rooms on every floor, one woman residing in Lotus House approached us and thanked us. She explained how worried she was about COVID-19 and keeping her children safe. Having this woman standing there, with her children, thanking us, was the ultimate reward. Her gratitude and warm smile are two things I will always remember about volunteering at Lotus House.

This shelter is now a dear place to me. I like to think of Lotus House as a “blanket of hope.” I thought about this when I came across blankets with notes, stacked up on a shelf. I asked one of the volunteers what these were for and who made them. She explained to me that those blankets were donated for people who were homeless on the streets and have no supplies. The notes attached to each blanket were hand-written by children, urging the homeless to remain positive and hopeful. I had never seen such a personable touch to a donation before. The homeless people in Miami not only need supplies and tools but also words of encouragement and happiness. It’s true that as human we need some physical, material items to survive, but we also desperately require emotional words to heal our souls.

DEERING ESTATE AS TEXT

Photo by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

Miami’s Hidden Treasure by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Deering Estate

There’s no doubt the Deering Estate is rich of Miami history. It is the former estate of Charles Deering and home to the Tequesta Native American tribe. In the early 1900s, Charles Deering purchased acres of land near the Biscayne Bay. After building an estate, he was able to successfully restore and preserve the environment that is now the Deering Estate. The Tequesta tribe, whom migrated in the 18th century to the coast of Florida, has much history at the Deering Estate, as well. The grounds are home to the Tequesta Midden and the Tequesta Burial Mound. Since the Tequesta tribe is extinct and not much evidence of them exists, it’s important that places like the Deering Estate are preserving their history.

Walking and touring the Deering Estate gives visitors the chance to physically experience Miami history. There are not many places in Miami where visitors can walk along original, historical grounds. This is one of the main reasons why the estate was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I have visited the Deering Estate multiple times now, and each time I visit it’s a different experience. When I visited with my Miami in Miami class, we were able to kayak off Biscayne Bay to the small island of Chicken Key. When I attended sunrise Mass for the first time a few years ago, I was able to experience a Deering Estate sunrise, which is unmatched! Hidden just off Old Cutler Road, this area now holds some of my favorite memories and remains one of the most special places in Miami.   

QUARANTINE AS TEXT

A Sunset Walk by Alexandra Rodriguez, CC by 4.0

A Corona Coaster of Thoughts by Alexandra Rodriguez of FIU at Home

“I am writing to you with sad news. All Spring and Summer 2020 study abroad programs have been cancelled.” My heart shattered as I read this email from Luli Szeinblum, the coordinator of study abroad programs in the Honors College at FIU. The most highly-anticipated month of my life was officially cancelled, the month I had been looking forward to for over a year. Just a few short days later, President Rosenburg announced FIU would be transitioning to remote learning, meaning we all had to adapt to this new way of life. Little did we all know our lives would change immensely for the next months to follow.

Throughout these quarantined days, I keep thinking to myself, “Wow, I’m really living in a chapter of history.” In years to follow, we’ll be able to reflect on this time our world went through and recollect these stories to our children and grandchildren. Although it’s a scary time with the uncertainty the virus brings, I believe it’s a situation we have all learned and gained something from.

Despite the losses and immense changes COVID-19 has brought, our world has learned and adapted to a completely new way of life, and it’s pretty spectacular. Instead of focusing on our imperfect world right now, I think it would be a better idea to focus on ways the coronavirus pandemic has changed humanity for the better.

  • A sense of community: Whenever something bad happens in our world, humanity tends to come together to make the situation easier for others. Whether it’s taking care of the vulnerable senior citizens during COVID-19 or volunteering to serve meals to children in the school district, I have seen the community unite like I never have before.   
  • A new-found love for exercise: When we started at-home quarantine about a month ago, I began to see people bike riding, running, and playing outside. I had never seen my neighborhood like this. Before the pandemic, the sidewalks were always empty and green spaces were pretty quiet. Now that we have been home for over 30 days, taking a walk or exploring the neighborhood has never sounded like a better idea.
  • A highly-needed mental break: On most days, school, work and daily responsibilities can be mentally exhausting. It’s not until we get home that we can detach ourselves from the realities of life. Being surrounded by family and enjoying the comforts of home put many people’s minds at ease. During this pandemic, isolating has given us the opportunity to reflect and rest our clouded brains.