Say Miami and people reply with, “Beach, please.”
Yes, from what I saw in my brief time in Miami, the city is all about its many beaches, suntans, margaritas, and coastal souvenirs.
But what if you don’t like all of the above?
That was me in Miami. A vegan in the seafood city. A park walker among shopaholics. The best thing about it, though, about being an outcast, is that you find places no one else talks about.
Like The Freedom Tower, for instance.
An art museum and the headquarters of a few departments of the Miami Dade College, the Freedom Tower was once the epicentre of Miami’s people.
When I first set eyes on the building, I knew nothing about it. My map informed me it was a museum, and curious to learn the city’s culture - and more so to avoid standing under the sun - I entered the intricate architectural marvel. I’d noticed from afar that it was a proper tower. Although smaller in diameter than the buildings I’d seen in New York City and Chicago, it’s just as tall.
Paying a rather hefty entrance fee of $12, I went it with a confused mind. Perhaps I over paid, I wondered. I worry about entrance fees where ever I go, not because of the price but because I hate leaving thinking I’d wasted it. The thought lingered as I accepted the brochures from staff, listening as they explained what I should expect to see before letting me explore.
Constructed in 1925, The Freedom Tower was the headquarters of The Miami News, which the publication vacated in 1957 as refugees from Cuba flocked the city and the government needed a place to process them.
As I stood there watching vintage photographs of the people who’d fled Fidel Castro’s regime to come to Miami instead, I felt an intense coldness replace the heat in my body. Children torn away from their parents, families shattered, lives disrupted, these people had come to the only place that’d take them. And there I was, half a century later, on the same spot that the early residents of Miami had bled and wept.
It was a powerful moment of realisation. Although the government sold the building to private buyers afterwards, it still stands as a haunting reminder of the city’s history. It’s no wonder that Spanish is such an integral part of Miami - airports, stores, street signs all had a Spanish version of their English text and messages.
Concluding that I hadn’t wasted my money at all, I moved on to other exhibits. Sure, I could’ve learnt the history and, perhaps, even seen the photos online. However, there’s a strange comfort about being in the presence of history.
The New World Mural 1513
The building’s design included the original but painters had to recreate it in 1988 to protect it from ruin.
This one showcased hundreds of artefacts and tools used by early settlers of Miami, including cultural representations from ancient civilisations, as well as paintings and statues of olden traditions like games, meditation behaviours, and social gatherings. Original copies of history books and writing samples, and even copies of Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.
By the People
This is an entire floor dedicated to social and technological advancements in the US. It was perhaps the most interesting and surprising part of my visit to The Freedom Tower. It showcases social developmental proposals from individuals and organisations. Some of them were just plans but some were in production.
Examples include, an urban housing plan for California, an upgraded city plan for Detroit, eco-friendly gear and cycles for farmers, waste management systems, abortion awareness campaigns, hydrology development plans for LA, and even a proposal to revamp windows in prisons to improve inmates’ morality.
These stunning proposals made me wonder how much the world is changing and how less we’re aware of it. New home designs, architecture plans, systems for police personnel protection, smart vehicles, all of which were a glimpse of our potential and the possible future. Humans are incredible, and the mind’s capabilities transcend the impossible.
If only we put that to good use, we’ll leave the world a far better place than we found it. Perhaps humanity isn’t lost after all. If only -