“For a long time the Universe has been germinating in your spine.

” ~Hafiz I live and work in the South Florida bioregion. This area is framed by Lake Okeechobee at its northern border, Florida Bay at the southern end, the Gulf of Mexico to the west, and the Atlantic to the east. This bioregion is quite young in terms of its current manifestation. Its shape and form are only about 6,000 to 10,000 years old. Humans have been around most of that time. The two major people who were the original inhabitants of the area were the Calusa and Tequesta. South Florida’s current social/cultural incarnation is about 100 years old. Modern Miami (named after the Calusa word for sweet water) develops when the Flagler Railroad moves to the area in search of warm breezes and agricultural and tourist dollars. The center of the city is physically built upon the sacred burial grounds of the Tequesta people, a nation that was killed off by European disease and persistent Spanish slave raids. When Flagler built the first hotel on the mouth of the Miami River, photographs were taken and used as postcards of his men digging the site and dumping what seem to be rocks into Biscayne Bay. If one looks closely at these photographs, however, one can see that the content of the wheel barrows are human remains. Not all of the skeletons where disposed of this way; some where kept and given to special guests who would come and stay at the hotel. VIP status sometimes came with the privilege of a hand, foot, and/or skull. Flagler’s legacy is not just of disregard for the sacred value of the land, he also physically carved into the limestone and culture of South Florida a form of apartheid that still is evident 100 years later. If one looks at a map of Florida’s east coast, from Jacksonville to Miami, one can see that all of the northwest sections of each of the major towns that develop are African-American. Flagler segregated each of his communities, placing Blacks farthest away from tourists but close enough to provide a cheap labor force to run his businesses. If one visits Overtown, the historic African-American community in Miami, one can clearly see the economic and very American logic of Flagler and his men. In the late 1950’s another form of institutional racism was inscribed in South Florida. This happened when I-95 was brought south. There were several choices where to lay the freeway, but the one made went right through historic Overtown. Within a short period of time the community lost 44,000 people and its middle-class base. Businesses closed, substandard housing became the norm, and the seeds for the riots of the 1980’s were sown. The freeway came with shackles. At the same time that Black Miamians were being expelled from their homes, Cuban migration became a reality that also changed the South Florida landscape. The area next to Overtown, Little Havana, became the hub of the Cuban exile community. What happened next is classic and a story that has happened many other times in US history. Conflict between new immigrants and established poor minorities created a dynamic ripe for injustice, violence, and an even deeper memory loss. At the same time that humans were messing with one another, South Florida became an engineering water theme park. Lake Okeechobee was dammed so that farmers and, more significantly, sugar growers could produce a federally subsidized product at the

expense of massive environmental destruction to the Everglades. In a matter of a couple of decades, the Everglades shrunk by 50%. Bird populations plummeted and water supplies have become threatened and mercury laden. What the engineers had not figured was that if one alters the water flow of the Everglades by creating an extensive canal system taking water out to the ocean, the aquifer where the major population areas get their water supplies does not get recharged; more significantly, because population increases and demands even more water, these aquifers become susceptible to salt water encroachment, making the future questionable for those who call South Florida home. South Florida is an ecological landscape of deep loss. Tourists come and go without realizing the tragedy that is happening under their sun tanned bodies. More importantly and sadly, the current inhabitants of the area lack a clear understanding of the loss. We are an orphaned culture, one where violence and greed have undermined the possibility of fully belonging, of becoming integrated not just to the diversity of the human community but also to the diversity of the natural ecosystems that support the very life of the area. How does an orphaned culture educate its children? For me this is the central question regarding so called environmental education. The answer to this is clear in many if not most of our schools in South Florida. We may have science curriculum that touches on the importance of conservation and biodiversity, but the schools are structured from their physical form to their pedagogies to see themselves as separate from the life force around. They also perpetuate a dominator mindset that sees nothing wrong with consistent and ever increasing growth and development. The American dream so many of my own people come seeking is nothing but a parasitic vision which leaves areas like South Florida in ecological and social shambles. True ecological education is rare in my region. I don’t think I have really seen it. It does not exist because we have built our culture not on top of sand as a scripture would say but on top of sacred remains. Maybe each school community in the nation does not have the same exact story; however, I have a sneaky hunch that the themes are similar. Industrial education is incompatible with true human needs. We were not meant to be treated as objects. When we do, the response is usually violent. How to work with what we have is a great challenge. I think that whatever we can do right now to provide pockets of sanity in otherwise dysfunctional schools is important, not just for the children but for those of us who want to see a different kind of society. The key for me is to change the dream. I’m not sure how to do this working within our current system. I do know that this work is profound and calls for my own transformation as I seek to find ways to invite others in the process. Carlos González Miami Dade College http://philliswheatley.wordpress.com *Much of the historical source material in this presentation comes from Dr. Marvin Dunn’s work found in his many texts on the history of Black Miami.

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