“Ineffable Miami Project: Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz

Student Biography

My name is Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz and I am currently a sophomore in Florida International University’s Honors College. I am majoring in Accounting, and minoring in Business Analytics, and hope to soon attain my CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license as I head into the public accounting industry. I am a local “Miami-an”, as one could say, as I was born and raised in the city of Miami, Florida. I truly do have an immense love and sense of pride for the city of Miami and hope to one day be able to raise a family of my own in this beautiful city. Despite my great love for Miami, and the fact that I have lived here for 19 years, it is very possible that a tourist that comes to visit the city for a weekend could potentially explore more parts, and learn more of the history of Miami, than I have in my entire span of living here. For this reason, I am glad that, throughout this past semester, I have had the opportunity to take part in the “Miami in Miami” course at Florida International University, where we have explored the city of Miami as tourists and have learned about its culture, history, artwork, flora, fauna, and everything else that Miami has to offer. Furthermore, I have also had the chance to explore a specific neighborhood of Miami and learn about its individual characteristics in relation to the rest of Miami. The neighborhood I chose to explore for my ineffable Miami project was Little Havana and I have documented everything I learned from this incredible experience down below. I want to thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy!

Geography

Little Havana is a truly incredible and unique neighborhood different from any other place in the world. It is a place that is filled with infinitely many things to do ranging from shopping, visiting landmarks, walking in scenic areas, exploring the night life, and best of all dining. Little Havana is located near downtown Miami and is split up into Little Havana and East Little Havana. The total squared mileage of Little Havana is roughly 5.74 mi2. Little Havana has a very interesting geographical layout as its northeastern borders are defined by the Miami River. This is a very nice aspect of the neighborhood due to the fact that the river brings about nice places to walk, incredible sceneries, and much tourism. Little Havana ranges from NW 37thAvenue on its western border and is defined by the Miami River and the Interstate 95 Highway on its eastern border (Google Maps). To the north Little Havana is bound by NW 20thStreet and is broken up into three different borders to the south, which include SW 16thStreet, SW 8thstreet, and SW 11thstreet (Google Maps). Of the three southern borders, the most famous of these streets is 8thstreet by far, or as it is commonly known as “Calle Ocho,” which simply refers to the term 8thstreet in Spanish. Calle Ocho, in Little Havana, is an incredibly well-known area that has dozens of different tourist and local attractions such as authentic Cuban cuisines, historical monuments, places for shopping, nice sceneries for walking, and an incredible night life.

History

Little Havana is filled with many incredible features and a rich history is definitely one of them. When one first thinks of Little Havana, many people immediately associate it with a strong Cuban culture, older people playing dominos in the park, incredible art throughout the walls of the streets, and rooster statues everywhere; and although all these things are very present today, the neighborhood of Little Havana has come a long way towards becoming the vibrant place it is today. The neighborhood of Little Havana first began its transition towards the community which we know today in the late 1950’s when thousands of political exiles arrived in Miami due to the Communist takeover of Cuba. Before the 1960’s, the area where Little Havana lies today, was actually home to primarily Jewish and black communities before the mass wave of Cuban exiles arrived (Vasilogambros 2016). In fact, the Jewish community had a very prominent presence in South Florida for a very long time, and even played a big role in the incorporation of Miami considering the fact that out of all the residents who signed for Miami’s incorporation, 25 of them were Jewish (Baca 2016). Also, in relation to Little Havana, one of Miami’s initial prominent Jewish communities, Shenandoah, was located near present day’s Little Havana (Baca 2016). Shortly after the wave of Cuban immigrants arrived in Little Havana, many other Latin American immigrants also fled their countries in search of safety due to political turmoil in their home countries. For instance, when the communist Sandinista National Liberation Front forced their way into power in Nicaragua in 1979, mass waves of Nicaraguans came to Little Havana in search of safety. Similarly, other Central American countries dealt with alike situations, and in turn, immigrants from Guatemala and Honduras also arrived in little Havana (Vasilogambros 2016). Ever since, Little Havana has been prospering and growing into the vibrant and exciting neighborhood that it is today.

Demographics

In a similar manner to the rest of Miami, the demographics of Little Havana consisted of a melting pot of people from all over the world. As one would assume, the dominant heritage of the population in Little Havana is of Cuban descent, but there was still a great amount of diversity through the streets. Similar to most other parts of Miami, a majority of the demographics consist of people from Latin countries from all over the world including those such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Colombia, and a plethora of others as well. Depending on what parts of Little Havana I was near, the demographics would change drastically from place to place. For instance, when I entered the famous Domino Park on Calle Ocho, the main portion of the population consisted of older men of Cuban descent. This is a characteristic which could be highly anticipated because of the fact that the game of dominos is a big part of the Cuban culture. The Domino Park, also known as Máximo Gómez Park, is a very well-known landmark of Calle Ocho that has been around for over 35 years (“Domino Park In Little Havana”). It was originally constructed in 1976, but was later renovated to its current state in 1983 in order to provide the people of Little Havana with nicer amenities for their beloved meeting spot (“Domino Park In Little Havana”). This popular spot has always been a gathering place for local residents to meet up and play games, tell stories, and meet new people. Considering the fact that this is a very popular landmark, the demographics around the park contained a big presence of tourism of people from all around the world admiring the culture and taking pictures with the local murals. Similarly, a big presence of tourism was also seen near many of the clothing and gift shops where people can find nice souvenirs to remember their time in Miami. Lastly, another big demographic that can be found in the streets of Calle Ocho, in Little Havana, is young adults who go for the night life. With popular bars such as “Ball and Chain” and “El Santo”, it is very common to see young men and women roaming the streets who are headed to one of these many popular spots in search of having a fun night out in the town in Miami. In fact, while in Little Havana I interviewed a young man in order to gain knowledge about the demographics and learn about a specific individual’s story and why he was there. The young man I interviewed was named Miguel and he was from Miami, but his family was of Venezuelan descent. Having many friends and family members that are from Venezuela, I was able to spark up very interesting and fun conversations with this complete stranger I just met, and I found this to be a very nice reflection of the people who visit Little Havana as many of the people I met and observed all seemed very friendly and genuinely enjoying their day. I learned that Miguel was heading to the popular bar, “Ball and Chain,” to meet up with some friends and have a good time.

Landmarks

Little Havana is home to dozens of notable landmarks that represent all sorts of concepts ranging from history, entertainment, comedy, and culture. The landmarks that can be found in Little Havana are primarily in the form of monuments, or sculptures, and art. One of the primary monuments in Little Havana is the Bay of Pigs Monument that is located on 8thstreet and 13thavenue. This monument was made in dedication to the lives that were lost at the attempted Bay of Pigs Invasion that took place on April 17, 1961 (“The Bay of Pigs Invasion Begins” 2009). The Bay of Pigs Invasion was an attempt by US-sponsored Cuban refugees to take down Fidel Castro’s communist government, but it was a complete failure. The soldiers were met by unexpected counterattacks from Fidel Castro’s Military, and from that moment were completely overpowered, and as a result “over 100 of the attackers were killed, and more than 1,100 were captured” (“The Bay of Pigs Invasion Begins” 2009). The names of the fallen soldiers are engraved on the monument, and at the top of the monument lies an eternal flame.

A mass presence of artistic expression is seen all throughout Little Havana and is truly a big factor that contributes to the vibrant and unique culture that Little Havana encompasses. Some of the other landmarks that Little Havana has to offer come in many forms. For instance, a very well known trademark of Little Havana is the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame. In similar fashion to the much more famous walk of fame that can be found in Los Angeles, California, this walk of fame consists of stars that are engraved in the sidewalks, and these stars include names of influential figures that have relation to South Florida or the Hispanic culture in general. Some famous names that can be found on the Calle Ocho Walk of Fame include Thalia, Celia Cruz, and Gloria Estefan. Another famous landmark of Little Havana, and this is truly my personal favorite, is the roosters of Calle Ocho. All along Calle Ocho, in Little Havana, one can find many rooster sculptures that are located outside of different establishments and restaurants. These sculptures have truly become a notable trademark of Little Havana as they genuinely create a fun culture and environment throughout the streets. All of the roosters are painted and decorated in different manners to represent different things. For instance, most of the roosters are located in front of individual establishments, and are therefore decorated to promote or represent these businesses, such as the rooster located in fron of The Havana Shirt Store is decorated with the traditional Cuban Guayabera style shirt. Most of the roosters don’t depict the artist’s names sadly, but I was able to find one that was located outside of an antiques shop that included the name of the artist on the platform of the sculpture. The artist who created that specific rooster is named Jackie Sarracino, and the name of that art piece was “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” and it was created in 2013. Also, a personal experience that I found to be quite funny was that while exploring Little Havana, I ran into real roosters in the streets and believed that it would be a shame if I didn’t document it and share it here as well. Lastly, other trademarks of Little Havana come in the form of art in many different ways. If walking through the streets of Little Havana, one would see endless amounts of murals and paintings all through the walls of different buildings. These paintings represent all sorts of things ranging from politics to simple comedy. One painting that has become very popular over the years is a painting of the famous singer Pitbull, who is truly an icon in the neighborhood of Little Havana because that is where he grew up. Pitbull, popularly known as Mr. 305 because of the area code of Miami, is a true inspiration for the people of Little Havana as he is an individual that was able to make it big in the industry and never forgot his roots and where he came from. Other paintings throughout the streets have a big presence of sexuality, and I found this to be quite normal due to the fact that sexuality is always considered to be a big part of the stereotype of what Miami is like. All in all, art has an incredible impact on the culture of Little Havana and it plays a big part in making Little Havana what it truly is today.

Green

Green spaces within Little Havana are relatively limited as much of the neighborhood is packed with construction of both residential and commercial buildings. Along the streets of Calle Ocho, in Little Havana, greenery is very rare and is primarily seen through trees that are planted all along the sidewalks, but it is not common to see large plots of open grass. The only park located in this area is the Domino Park, or Máximo Gómez Park, but it doesn’t contain any real greenspace apart from tiny plots of grass and several trees. Throughout the rest of Little Havana there are several parks, but they are mostly located in the region of East Little Havana near the Miami River, such as Riverside Park, Jose Marti Park, and Sewell Park. I believe that this is something that Little Havana should possibly attempt to work towards by providing more parks and greenspaces near the residential areas. Parks are important factors of neighborhoods that allow kids to roam around, make friends, and exercise freely, and they also allow adults to get fresh air and enjoy nature when possibly needing to take their minds away from their busy lives.

Transportation

The notorious Miami traffic rings true in little Havana as it does in most other parts of Miami as well. Transportation within Little Havana primarily consists of automobiles in the streets as there is very limited options for public transportation. Options for public transportation within Little Havana include the public bus system and a relatively limited trolley system. The Miami Trolley runs a route within Little Havana, but it only covers a small portion of the neighborhood. The trolley covers the entire span of Little Havana from the East to West aspect, but it only ranges between Calle Ocho and West Flagler street in the North to South aspect (“Public Transportation Web Tracker”). These limited options for public transportation make it difficult for people to rely on them, and due to this, the simplest mode of transportation is simply driving oneself or using transportation methods such as Uber or Lyft. 

The public transportation system in Miami as a whole is a wicked problem due to the fact that not enough locals actually use the public transportation system enough for them to be economically beneficial. The city is not able to continuously work to improve the public transportation system if they will not be sufficiently used. I personally understand the difficulties as well because of the fact that I rarely ever find myself using public transportation within Miami, and that is sadly the case for a majority of the people that I know that live in Miami as well. There are many benefits that could arise from higher usage rates of public transportation systems such as lowering our carbon footprint and traffic alleviation, so I definitely do hope that our city can one day find a solution towards making Miami a more public transportation-friendly city. The image above was a picture I captured that perfectly depicted the Miami traffic in a nutshell. I truly enjoy this picture because it was a very funny site to see at the time when I took this picture of how one guy was able to cause about three blocks worth of traffic hold-up. This picture depicts a very large bus that was attempting to cross lanes, but got stuck for some reason, and wound up blocking the three entire lanes of traffic. Thankfully, the driver was able to quickly get out of the situation and allow the flow of traffic to keep moving, but it truly showed how it takes something so menial to cause so much traffic in the streets of Miami.

Food

IMG_0776

Food is one of the most important topics of conversation when talking about Little Havana, and Miami as a whole. Cuban cuisine is a massive staple of the Miami culture and is definitely something that is very present amongst all restaurants and businesses that you see all throughout the city. Assessing the food of Little Havana was definitely one of the parts I was looking forward to the most during this assignment and it definitely lived up to expectations. While exploring Little Havana, I ate at a small family-owned business called Mercado Havana Daily Café. This restaurant was truly one of the most unique restaurants I had ever seen because of the fact that it was not simply a restaurant, but in fact was a restaurant, a grocery store, a bakery, and a bar all at once. Prior to walking in, I did not know that it was going to be anything more than a restaurant, but it was truly a very cool surprise. The market in the back of the restaurant contained many grocery store items, but the interesting part was that these goods were items that are commonly found in Hispanic countries, but are rare to find here in America. The shelves contained all sorts of untraditional brands that are not well known here, but are beloved my many people in other countries. The Mercado Havana Daily Café truly does an incredible service by doing this because many times people can’t get a hold of specific goods that are common in their home countries unless they take a trip and bring them back to their homes here in Miami. For instance, my mom was born in Nicaragua and one of her favorite perfumes growing up is one that she has never been able to find here in the states, so every time a family member visits Nicaragua, she always asks that they bring back some perfume for her. At the restaurant, I ordered a breakfast plate which included eggs, fries, ham, a tostada (buttered bread), and a café con leche (coffee with milk) and I truly enjoyed every part of the meal and it was an incredibly cheap price as well. 

A major staple of the Cuban culture is the Cuban coffee and it can be found in almost every authentic Cuban restaurant. A very popular trademark that many restaurants and cafes have throughout Little Havana, is that they have small windows, or “ventanitas,” outside of the restaurant where customers simply walk up and order their food without having to go into the restaurant. This idea is similar to that of drive-throughs, but it is unique because one still has to get down instead of driving through. The most common items that are ordered at these windows are usually Cuban coffees or small bakery pastries such as empanadas and croquetas. The most popular forms of Cuban coffee are the cortadito, colada, and café con leche and these are all types of espressos. One of the restaurants in Little Havana that had this small window was called La Esquina de La Fama. La Esquina de La Fama has become a minor landmark in Little Havana due to its unique exterior design that is filled with artifacts that display the traditional Cuban culture and also due to its eye-catching colors of the building which are red and green. Furthermore, they also have live bands playing traditional Cuban music in the restaurant which truly gives the restaurant a unique experience. I truly love the video that I was able to capture of the environment at La Esquina de La Fama because I feel like it truly encapsulates the stereotype of what Miami is like, which is eating Cuban food, partying, and dancing all at the same time. Lastly, another food establishment that has become very popular over the years due to its eccentric and eye-catching design on the outside of its building is the Azucar Ice Cream Company. Azucar does a great job at reeling you into the ice cream parlor with the extravagant ice cream sculpture that is on the front of the building, but they also do a great job at making sure you come back by providing incredible ice creams and sorbets in traditional Cuban tropical flavors such as mamey, mango, and avocado. 

Businesses

Unique businesses and family owned shops can be found in every direction you look within Little Havana. This was an aspect that I truly appreciated about this neighborhood because of the fact that family businesses are relatively rare in Miami, as almost everything is run by massive chain businesses and high-end stores. One of the unique businesses which I found really interesting was the Little Havana Cigar Factory. Cigars have a big presence in the Cuban culture, so it definitely was not a big surprise to find a cigar shop in Little Havana. This cigar shop was particularly cool because they not only had hundreds of cigars of all types of models and brands, but they also produced their own cigars right there in the shop. There was a man who was sitting at a table in the store making cigars from scratch and that was truly an incredible sight to see. I never had truly put thought to the process of making cigars, before seeing it being done in front of, and after that I gained a great respect for the art of cigar making. Cuban Cigars are amongst the most popular cigars around the world, so it was definitely a cool site to see authentic cigars being made right in front of me. Another unique business which I was very intrigued by was The Havana Shirt Store. In this store, they specialized in selling authentic Cuban clothing and specifically guayaberas, which were a main item in the store. Guayaberas are traditional Cuban shirts for men that are usually made out of linen or cotton, generally are short sleeve button downs, and almost always have front pockets. Apart from guayaberas, The Havana Shirt Store also had lots of traditional Cuban clothing for women as well. Considering the fact that both of these items, cigars and guayaberas, are staples in the Cuban culture, there are several other shops similar to these located all around Little Havana, such as D Asis Guayaberas, The Havana Collection, Sentir Cubano, Havana Classic Cigar, and Art District Cigars (Google Maps).

Summary

Overall, Little Havana truly is like no other neighborhood in the world as it is filled with endless amounts of culture, art, history, life, and so much more. Prior to this project, I had been to Little Havana hundreds of times, but I had truly never experienced Little Havana like I did this time around. Interacting with the locals, analyzing things like the history and geography, and trying new places for food that I normally wouldn’t try all truly added up to an incomparable experience that one cannot attain by simply driving by the neighborhood. I was able to see Little Havana in a new light and I have genuinely gained a deeper love and understanding for this incredible neighborhood. Many aspects of Little Havana work very well for the neighborhood, while there are also several things that can definitely be improved on. I believe that there are endless amounts of things that work incredibly for the neighborhood and play a big role in making Little Havana what it is today, such as the entrepreneurship of small businesses and non-chain restaurants, the incredible landmarks, the mass presence of art, and above all, the incredible people that live in and visit this great neighborhood. On the other hand, there are serval aspects of the neighborhood that could potentially be improved on in some ways, such as bettering the public transportation systems and creating more greenspaces and parks throughout the neighborhood. All in all, I have truly gained a great love for the neighborhood of Little Havana and am thankful that I chose this location for my project. Little Havana is just one neighborhood out of the dozens that exist within Miami, and thinking about the fact that so many other neighborhoods offer just as much culture and history as Little Havana does, has finally brought me to the realization that Miami cannot be described in words that would truly do it justice, and therefore is genuinely ineffable.

Sources

Baca, Mandy. “Shtetl by the Sea.” The New Tropic, 1 Sept. 2016, https://thenewtropic.com/miami-jewish-history/.

“Domino Park In Little Havana.” Miami Culinary Tours, https://www.miamiculinarytours.com/domino-park-in-little-havana/.

FoodEstablishment. “Miami Flavors.” Azucar Ice Cream Company – Cuban Ice Cream – Miami, FL,  https://www.azucaricecream.com/menu/miami-flavors/.

Google Maps, Google, https://www.google.com/maps/place/Little+Havana,+Miami,+FL/@25.7818547,-80.2143721,13.95z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x88d9b71705159fe7:0x35255f234772db89!8m2!3d25.7776438!4d-80.2377078

Public Transportation Web Tracker, https://publictransportation.tsomobile.com/webtracker/webtracker.htm?labels=false&tkn=81E39EC9-D773-447E-BE29-D7F30AB177BC&lan=en.

“The Bay of Pigs Invasion Begins.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 Nov. 2009,  https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-bay-of-pigs-invasion-begins.

Vasilogambros, Matt. “Cuba, the Brand.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 7 Apr. 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/04/little-havana-miami/477204/.

MIM Fall 2019 Service Project: Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz

Throughout this semester, which was filled with incredible adventures and unparalleled first-hand learning experiences in every corner of Miami, one of the aspects of the class which I am definitely most thankful for is the service learning. Community service is a deed which one can never do too much of and is truly one of the most rewarding feelings in the world. Community service, to me, means that I am able to use the blessing which I have been given in my life in order to make a difference in someone else’s life who may not be as fortunate. This semester I was thankful to have had the opportunity to volunteer at Camillus House. Camillus House is a non-profit organization that provides a plethora of opportunities to homeless people who are in need of different services, such as housing, food, clothes, and much more. Through my service at Camillus House, I feel as if I gained a deeper meaning of what service truly means and it honestly never resonated with me more than when it did there. I feel this way because while we served at Camillus House, we were joined by past members of Camillus House who were helped through difficult times and were able to rebuild their lives. I learned the true meaning of service when I saw people who were serving alongside me who didn’t have much money but were still thankful for what they had and were eager to give back to the organization that gave them all that they had.

Throughout our day at Camillus House we did many different things to help in any way we could. We started off the day by arriving very early in the morning and helping with setting up the decorations for the Christmas season. This factor, even though it may seem small and unimportant, was something that I truly appreciated in the fact that Camillus House makes sure to provide the best quality service to the individuals they help by doing things such as providing clothes that looks new, serving good food, and putting up nice seasonal decorations. I truly respected this small touch because I believe that it makes a great impact on the individuals who come to Camillus House and not only receive nice clothes and food, but also are welcomed by jolly decorations that might, even if only for a second, take their mind away from all their stresses and allow them to enjoy Christmas decorations which they may not have the chance to see very often. Therefore, part of our service included putting up a Christmas tree and other Christmas theme decorations which serve the purpose of creating a happy environment for the people who come to Camillus House in seek of help. After helping set up the tree, we took part in helping set up the biggest fundraiser of the year in which Camillus House takes part of annually. This fundraiser consists of an auction of hundreds of different items that are donated to Camillus House by very generous people who appreciate the work that Camillus House does. The main portion of the donated items consisted of very expensive wine bottles and incredible art pieces. We helped out by assisting load, transport, and set up all of the items by moving them from the Camillus House campus and taking them to the location of the fundraiser, which was held at the Hilton Miami Downtown. Once we arrived at the Hilton, we unloaded all of the packages from the trucks and began setting up the event by organizing all of the items by number and then setting up the layout the actual event. It was truly an incredible day filled with joy, service, and learning and I genuinely appreciated every second of it. Despite not having been able to do more work directly with the people in need, the Camillus House workers reassured us multiple times that the service we were providing that day meant the world to them and the organization as a whole, and that we shouldn’t feel as if our service was any less valuable because of it, and this was genuinely nice to hear and see how appreciative they were of the things we were doing. 

Camillus House is truly an incredible organization that not only provides housing and food to the poor, but they go above and beyond in providing a plethora of different services and opportunities to homeless people. For instance, some of the services they provide the less fortunate with include food, housing, rehabilitation, clothes, career development, and much more. Therefore, they are not just providing food and housing to people in need, but they are truly helping them rebuild their lives so that they can live and prosper on their own. For instance, they have an incredible program where they help their members who have interests in cooking, receive culinary degrees from Miami Dade College. By providing them with this opportunity they are giving them the toolset needed in order to go out into the real world and make a true living for themselves. It truly impacted me how incredible this opportunity is because while we were serving, they were having their graduation for their culinary students that day, and we were able to talk to one of the members who was graduating and she was genuinely overjoyed with happiness and thankfulness for having the opportunity to go out and do what she loves. All in all, my service at Camillus House genuinely helped me take a step back and truly give thanks for all that I am fortunate enough to have. I am grateful that I was able to interact and learn from the people who had so much less but yet were still incredibly thankful for the blessings they had. It helped me realize that some problems in our day to day lives that seem dire to us truly are nothing in comparison to the problems that so many people around the world are dealing with. Camillus House is sincerely an incredible organization that does amazing things for the community of Miami and I am genuinely excited to return to serve again soon and I truly advise everyone to volunteer here if they have the opportunity to do so.

Miami in Miami: Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz

Hello, everyone! My name is Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz and I am currently a sophomore in Florida International University’s Honors College. I am a local “Miami-an”, as one could say, as I was born and raised in the incredible city of Miami, Florida. I truly do have an immense love and sense of pride for the city of Miami and hope to one day be able to raise a family of my own in this beautiful city. Despite my great love for Miami, and the fact that I have lived here for 19 years, it is very possible that a tourist that comes to visit the city for a weekend could potentially explore more parts, and learn more of the history of Miami, than I have in my entire span of living here. For this reason, I am ecstatic that, during this upcoming semester, I have the opportunity to take part in the “Miami in Miami” course at Florida International University, where we will dive into the city of Miami as tourists who are hungry to learn about its culture, history, artwork, flora, fauna, and everything else that Miami has to offer.

I am majoring in Accounting, and minoring in Business Analytics, and hope to soon attain my CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license as I head into the public accounting industry. Some hobbies of mine include playing sports, especially baseball and volleyball, and going to the beach. I have a great love for the beach, and honestly anytime where I can spend some time in the water, it is a successful day in my eyes. I often go to the beach to play beach volleyball near Ocean Drive and 7th street, and every time I go I am happy, and humbled, that I get to go out and do what I love right next to one of the most famous landmarks of Miami, which is the Art Deco neon lights of Ocean drive. Lastly, I’d like to share a cool fact about myself which is that my family has a very strong twin gene considering the fact that I myself am a twin, my father is a twin, and my father’s twin also has twin kids. Apart from this immediate family, I also have two uncles who are identical twins. All in all, I am thrilled to begin my journey through this course, and I want to thank you for reading!

My Miami as Texts can be found below!

Metro as Text

“More Than Just a Quinceañera Photoshoot Location” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Truly and genuinely ineffable, is how I felt from the moment we stepped out of the Vizcaya Metrorail Station all the way until we boarded back onto it. Admittedly, I am not one to often truly appreciate, or give it’s deserving respect, to the beauty of the flora that surrounds me on a daily basis, but when we entered the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, I was taken away by the vast and beautiful landscapes that covered the territory. The first aspect of the flora that stood out to me was actually located in an area that we travelled across before even entering the museum. I am referring to a plot of land where a bridge was located, but contrary to most bridges and structures that are created by man, this particular bridge curved around a plethora of magnificent trees, as it was built in respect to them, rather than simply bulldozing over and creating a straight bridge as most others do. I felt a great respect for that preservation of the trees because in a city such a Miami, the natural greenery that is present in that location is extremely rare to see due to the mass urbanization that exists throughout the city. Once having entered Vizcaya, the second aspect of the flora that genuinely amazed me was the immense trees that surrounded both sides of the principal walking path that led towards the museum and garden. Despite the obvious aesthetic benefits that the massive trees provided, they also serve the purpose of providing shade that is much needed when standing under the intense Miami heat. Sadly, during our visit, there were numerous trees that were not present, which were historically present, due to the fact that they were knocked over by Hurricane Irma which impacted Miami and many other cities in the year 2017. Lastly, the gardens of Vizcaya were truly a breathtaking sight that made me feel as if I were transported to an entirely different place. I felt this sensation because that was the intended goal of the landscape architect, Diego Suarez, whom designed the garden in reference to Italian and French gardens that were created in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. 

I was stunned at the fact that within my 19 years of living in Miami, I had never visited the beautiful and historic landmark of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. After learning about the culture and history of Vizcaya I was shocked to recall that one main reason as to why local Miami residents have even visited Vizcaya in the first place, is simply to take photos for quinceañera’s and for weddings. Despite its beautiful scenery, I was saddened to remember that it has this label because of the fact that it is very commonly referred to as “the place where people take their quinceañera pictures”, and admittedly was referred to in that way by my family and myself as well, prior to having taken my excursion, because it truly is so much more than that. I definitely intend to take my family to experience Vizcaya for what it truly is in my near future.

Downtown as Text

“The Forgotten Names” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Lummus Park Historic District

Henry Flagler, James Deering, Ponce de Leon. These three names of these historical figures are common household names when referring to the history of Miami and when visiting some of Miami’s most historic landmarks, yet almost nobody can list the names of the workers who actually built these landmarks with their bare hands. Names of the wealthy and powerful are always remembered as history progresses, but it is a sad truth that the names of the hardworking individuals who actually created these historic structures often go unremembered. For instance, one example of a building that has survived hundreds of years and has served for dozens of different purposes, to many different social or political groups, is the building of Fort Dallas which is located in Lummus Park Historic District. We were incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to enter this incredible building that has an astonishing amount of history within its walls, all thanks to the very generous Lucia Meneses who gave us a spectacular tour of the structure.

It is rare to see a building that serves different purposes than the one that it was intended for, for instance a house will likely remain a house over time, despite new people inhabiting it, and it will probably never turn into a restaurant or a movie theater. However, this was not the case with Fort Dallas. Fort Dallas, which was built in 1836, served the purpose of over five different functions over the years and these functions had a massive range. Throughout the years Fort Dallas took the role of being a military post established during the Seminole Wars, then was converted into a slave plantation, then was seized by the U.S. Army and was used as barracks, then was used as the Dade County Courthouse, then was used as a gambling establishment, and lastly was used as the headquarters for the Daughters of the American Revolution. I was taken away by the vast history that existed within the walls that I was walking in and the floors I was standing on. I was amazed about the history I was experiencing first hand, but at the same time, I was also saddened to realize the horrible conditions that many people must have endured within those walls. I was curious to know the names of the men, women, and children that lived within these quarters and worked the land during the time that it was a plantation, but similar to many cases, their names were forgotten and only the name of the plantation owner, Colonel William English, is remembered. This excursion reminded me that when learning about history we encounter some of humanities best qualities while many of our worst qualities as well. It was truly shocking to hear that roughly 100 slaves lived within those quarters during the time that it was a plantation. Excursions such as this one truly make you reflect on your own life and remind you to be thankful for the little things that you are blessed to have on a day to day basis.

The Tequesta Burial Mound and the Cutler Fossil Site at the Deering Estate (Photographs by Vivian Acosta and Gabriela Lastra)

Deering as Text

“Our Unknown Ancestors” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at The Deering Estate

The Deering Estate, located in present day Biscayne Bay, is most commonly known for once serving the purpose of being the winter home for Charles Deering and his wife, but those grounds are so much more than that. Charles Deering bought and created the estate between the years of 1916 to 1922 to create the historic landmark we know today. Deering hired well known botanists and architects to construct the estate with the style buildings and fauna in which he envisioned it to look, and the estate is still maintained to this day as a great source of history of our past. Furthermore, despite the great impact in which Deering had by creating the estate, the grounds in which it is built on are home to so much more history and findings that are a vital part of Miami’s origins.

The great history that lies on the grounds of the Deering estate belong primarily to the early natives of hunters and gatherers that are known as the Tequesta. The Tequesta lived in present day Miami and there are findings that show that they lived on the grounds of the Deering estate from around the time of the early 1500’s. Juan Ponce de Leon first came in contact with them in the year 1513 when he landed on the Florida Coast. The Tequesta community are in sorts the ancestors of Miami and play such a crucial role in our cities origins and history, but it is a shame that they are unknown to us. Findings have been able to tell us factual things about their ways of life, such as the ways they hunted, survived, and where they lived, but that’s about all that we know about them. There are no existing images of anyone from the Tequesta tribe and there is no knowledge of the language in which they spoke. It is sad to know that we truly don’t know how these people interacted with each other, what they believed in, and what sorts of potential rituals or practices they took part in. It is sad that that these are the ancestors of our city, but we can’t name a single one of them. Despite not knowing much about their personalities and culture, findings have been able to tell us a lot about the ways in which they lived. For instance, from the grounds of the Cutler Fossil site we are able to know that animals such as mastodons, camels, llamas, and saber-toothed tigers roamed the grounds in which the Tequesta lived. Also, we know that the Tequesta performed burials due to the Tequesta Cutler Burial Mound where it is believed that 12 to 18 Native Americans are buried. This burial ground is located under a massive, roughly about 500 year old, oak tree that lies over the burial mound. All in all, an excursion such as this one truly allows you to travel back in time to learn about history in a first hand experience and about the people that once lived on the same grounds that we live on today.

Chicken Key as Text

“Stuck in the Mangroves” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at The Deering Estate

“Hey, do you guys want to see something cool” are the nine simple words that changed a peaceful beach cleanup trip into a tretorous and crazy adventure. Prior to our professor asking us that question that led us on the incredible yet trying excursion, the day was panning out to be a truly incredible journey. Our class trip took place at the Deering Estate in the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay. Our day began at around 10AM when our class began showing up to the Deering Estate and preparing to head out on the canoes. The plan for our trip was that we would all head out on canoes to the island of Chicken Key, where we would spend the day cleaning up the island of any trash we could find and fit into our canoes. Apart from that we were going to have a picnic on the island and some great fun in the water at the beach. The day played out exactly as planned and was without a doubt the most fun field trip I have ever been on. The only roadblock that we encountered that we had not planned on was the route in which we took to get to Chicken Key. Originally we were supposed to canoe straight to the island where we would have our class activities of cleaning up and have our picnic. This is how the day played out for the majority of our class, but for myself and four of my classmates the journey to the island went much differently. It all began when our professor asked our group the question that changed everything, which was if we wanted to see something cool. Without hesitation, all of us wanting to see something cool, we agreed and followed him. Professor Bailly was asking us if we wanted to take a little detour and go through an incredible journey through mangroves. The route through the mangroves truly was incredible, but the only problem was that Professor Bailly is a very experienced canoer, and me and my peers were not to say the least. To put it into perspective, Professor Bailly got through the mangroves in about forty-five minutes while it took my peers and myself roughly two hours to get out. Canoeing through mangroves was a lot more difficult than we anticipated, but the main factor that truly made the route even more challenging was the fact that the water tide dropped an immense amount while we were in the mangroves. The drop in water level made it impossible for us to continue canoeing, and forced us to step out of the canoes and carry it the rest of the way out.  Throughout the rest of the journey we encountered a countless amount of crabs, an immense amount of alligator burrows that made it impossible for us to walk through without falling down, and an unimaginable amount of flies. Despite the struggles we encountered, I wouldn’t have asked for our day to have turned out in any other way. Apart from doing a great thing of cleaning up our ocean and environment, this day was much more special to me because of the struggles we went through. Together we were able to all work as a team in order to get out of the mangroves and truly make the best out of the situation we found ourselves in. Chicken Key truly is an incredible island and I would recommend this beach cleanup adventure to everyone.

Wynwood as Text

“A New Perspective of Art” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Wynwood

Our day at Wynwood consisted primarily of visiting two incredible art collections that truly changed my view on art. The art collection that truly stood out to me was The Margulies Collection at the Warehouseand this was honestly an incredible experience that I genuinely enjoyed. I say this in all sincerity that the Margulies Collection not only changed my view of what art collections consist of, but it truly changed my perspective of art as a whole. Prior to visiting the Margulies Collection, I will be honest in saying that I did not have much interest in art and likely would not have visited an art collection any time soon. Prior to visiting, I had a mindset that art collections would consist solely of different paintings by different artists that wouldn’t genuinely seem like anything that I hadn’t seen before. I was very wrong. The Margulies Collection truly amazed me by having art displays that varied all the way from simple paintings all the way to massive sculptures and even videos. This was astonishing to me because I never realized that so many things can be considered to be art, and that it does not consist solely of paintings. A big factor as to why I enjoyed the Margulies Collection so much was because of the tour which we received. We were given the tour by Martin Margulies, the founder and owner of the collection himself, and he is truly one of the greatest figures I have had the honor of meeting. He truly has given so much to artists, both local and from around the world, and to city of Miami as a whole by contributing this incredible collection to the community. From the moment that the tour began Margulies acknowledged my exact misconception of what art is by telling us that anything can be considered art, including things as random as urinals on display or even shirts. 

The first display that truly caught my attention was a wall of photographs of prisons in Texas from the 1950’s. Due to the fact that I had never been to an art collection, the first reason as to why this display caught my attention was because I was unaware of the different mediums that could be used in different exhibits, such as photographs. This display was very interesting to me because I have always been very intrigued with prison movies and documentaries in general, and these photographs specifically were very real, and somewhat crude. For instance, there was one photograph of an electric chair and a prison guard standing next to it, and this one particularly stood out to me because it showed me that every photograph truly told a story of their own. Another display that truly blew my mind was one of an elevator that wasn’t really an elevator. This display consisted of elevator doors that would open up every few seconds, and every time the doors opened, a video of different people of Asian descent would appear. I truly enjoyed this display because to many people who would just walk by quickly, it is very easy for them to not notice that it is an art display because it genuinely seems like a real elevator. Similarly, another display that was very intriguing was a video, that was projected on a wall, of the last three minutes of the O.J. Simpson case verdict. Again, a display such as this one truly stood out to me because I would have never thought that a video from a projector could be considered art and that I would see it in an art collection. Also, I really enjoyed the fact that different displays can be perceived to represent very different things based on the eye of the beholder. Lastly, the final display which truly caught me by surprise because of how odd and funny it was, was a display that consisted of sculptures of super heroes that were now old and in a retirement home. It was awesome to see Superman using a walker and the Hulk in a wheelchair because superheroes getting old is something that one never thinks about when thinking about superheroes. All in all, this experience truly opened my eyes as to what art truly is and coming to the realization that anything can be considered art, no matter how simple or crazy it may seem.

HistoryMiami as Text

“Our History” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at HistoryMiami

Similar to many times before, I am extremely thankful for this class for having introduced me to a new part of my city that I possibly would not have explored on my own accord. HistoryMiami Museum, a building which I have passed by dozens of times in my life, yet have never entered. By entering HistoryMiami Museum, I was not only introduced to this building for the first time, but I was truly introduced to my city of Miami and what has shaped it into what it is today. Led by one of the incredible HistoryMiami Educators, Maria Moreno truly enhanced out experience at the museum by teaching us facts about the artifacts and artworks that one can’t simply attain by reading the descriptions in front of the displays. One of the primary things that I learned from our tour of the museum, that truly shocked me the most, was the fact that Miami had such a strong presence of racism in our recent history. I believe that this truly came as such a surprise to myself, and several of my classmates, for two main reasons that I believe are conceptions that many local citizens of Miami have as well. First off, due to the fact that Miami is a melting pot filled with diverse backgrounds in any direction you look, I believe it very easy for people to assume that it has always been this way and not look into our city’s true history. The other reason as to why I believe that this sad history of our city is not well-known, is because of the fact that Miami is never mentioned in textbooks as a main city that struggled with overcoming racism during the civil rights movements, and in turn, people wrongly assume that we never struggled with it at all. Also, due to the fact that the main topics that are talked about when referring to Miami’s history are the times when there was heavy drug flow through our city and the migration of Cuban’s in search of asylum, it is easy to forget that there were other things happening during these times as well. 

There were several displays that truly opened my eyes about the severity of racism that existed in our city. The first display consisted of several different photographs that pictured dozens of members of the Ku Klux Klan dressed in their notorious white robe attires. Simply the site of a person wearing these horrible robes is enough to shock and anger anyone, but these photographs included so much more. In these photographs were pictured dozens of KKK members dressed in these horrific robes walking through the streets in groups and standing on floats as if they were a part of a parade. I was genuinely stunned to see these pictures and to learn that these members were able to walk through the streets in groups like that as if it was no big deal. Shortly after, one of my peers told our class that in her neighborhood she has seen on multiple occasion men dressed in these robes and that truly sickened me to learn that not only was this a big part of our city’s history, but that it is still present today. Another display that showed the presence of racism that existed in Miami, was a sign that was part of a trolley car that used to run through our city. This sign read “State Law White Passengers Seat From Front”. This sign was posted in the middle of the car in order to assure that it could be read by everyone who entered the car. This again truly surprised me to learn that racism, in such a vulgar and obvious manner, existed in our city in such a recent time. In many ways, this tour truly was an incredibly eye-opening experience that I would suggest everyone to take part of in order to truly understand the history of our city.

Miami Art as Text

“Art Changes the World: One Letter at a Time” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach and Art Miami in Downtown

This week, with our class, we were fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to go to two different incredible art fairs during Miami Art Week. We attended UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach and Art Miami in Downtown and they were both truly incredible experiences. Similarly to how this class has done for me many times before, I was thankful that I was able to go to a part of Miami that I probably would not have discovered on my own accord. Truly, I was somewhat disappointed in myself when I came to the realization that people travel from all around the world to come to this incredible event, and I had never attended it while having it right in my own backyard. I was truly grateful that I was able to experience what Miami Art Week consists of and that I was able to see so many incredibly talented artists, and their works, from all over the world. In fact, that was one of the aspects that was the most amazing to me, which was when you looked down the aisles at the fair, you would see signs that that depicted where the works of art are from, and it would be endless amounts of cities from truly every corner of the world, such as Madrid, Los Angeles, Havana, Amsterdam, Accra, and infinitely more.

While seeing hundreds of truly breathtaking works of art, there was one particular piece that stood out to me the most. This piece really impacted me because it made me realize how art can truly change the world and the power that art has to teach people incredible things. The artwork I am referring to is called “Futurescape Miami: Skyline to Shoreline”, which was created by Xavier Cortada. This piece was located at UNTITLED, ART Miami Beach, but it was not a traditional art piece that was located in the tent in one of the booths, but in fact, it was located outside of the tent on the beach. It was located on its own because of its grand stature and because of its interactive quality with the viewers. At “Futurescape Miami: Skyline to Shoreline,” we were able to add to the art piece by writing letters to the future citizens of Miami, and describing to them what we see at Miami Beach, because it is possible that it will not look the same way in the year 2119. This piece spoke about climate change and about how we truly need to begin making a difference in the way we live our lives because we are nearing the point of damage to our planet where we will no longer be able to save it. Personally, the message I received from this piece was that we, as a world population, need to begin walking the walk, rather than talking the talk. I mention this because of the fact that we often hear phrases that imply bettering our environment, such as “Save the turtles,” but not many people actually take action towards changing their lifestyles towards being more environmentally friendly. This piece really impacted me because it spoke to me about climate change in a way that truly put it into perspective. One very commonly hears about climate change on a very frequent basis, whether it be on the news or in class, but it all begins to sound like the same thing after a while. For this reason, hearing about it through art truly made me hear it in a different perspective. Lastly, the piece was accompanied by a wall of cups of water filled with a stem of plants. These cups with the stems reminded me of experiments that are done in elementary school, where we would grow little plants in our classrooms. I took this to signify that it takes minimal effort to make a difference in our environment and help save our planet by taking actions such as planting trees or recycling. All in all, I truly had an incredible time at the art fairs we visited and I would recommend everyone to experience Miami Art Week for themselves.