“Learning to Live in Miami,” reexamines Contemporary Ecology in Miami

Princeton University Professor
Alexandra Vazquez

“It’s a strange experience talking about Miami in Miami,” said Alexandra Vazquez, Assistant Professor of African American Studies and English at Princeton University, as she opened her talk “Learning to Live in Miami” last Monday to UM students and Cuban-American studies scholars.  In the lecture, Vazquez outlined her methodology for conducting research on the city and her interdisciplinary approach to exploring local collections, which is beneficial to any researcher working in Miami.

The title of the talk was a play on Carlos Eire’s 2010 memoir Learning to Die in Miami, but it was Joan Didion’s Miami that taught Vazquez that “you can talk about where you’re from.” Through a confluence of references to local authors, anthropologists, musicians, and thespians, Vazquez attempts to identify the gaps in scholarship about Miami, and why Florida is so under theorized.

In her metaphorical love letter to Miami, Vazquez tapped on some of the tropes associated with the Magic City. Envisioned as both “refuge and terminus,” this locale has been known as something “used and left behind,” a springboard, and always on the verge of becoming a global city. 

Through her process of slow reading, a methodology from performance studies, of objects from various archival collections, Vazquez has developed new observations about the city’s “presupposed atmoshphere.”  By utilizing collections like the University of Miami Library’s Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC), Vazquez has been able to look beyond the expected narrative.  “I don’t come here looking for anything, I know the collection, but I’m open to surprise,” Vazquez said in reference to the Lydia Cabrera archive at the CHC, which is an integral part of her research.

Lydia Cabrera was a key influence on Vazquez’s work on Miami, among others like Zora Neale Hurston and singer-songwriter Betty Wright.  Vazquez has studied Cabrera’s notes and even her doodles– and through these subtleties has been able to observations about her thought processes, for example how profoundly anticommunist she continued to be into the 70’s and 80’s.

This talk was organized by the University of Miami College of Arts & Sciences’ American Studies Program in collaboration with the UMniversity of Miami Library’s Cuban Heritage Collection.

 

 

March 31, 2014