Francisco Fuertes is currently a junior in FIU majoring in chemistry. Always having a curiosity for the human body, he plans to attend medical school after obtaining his degree. He was born in Miami, Florida, and has a strong connection to the Dominican Republic where his family moved from. In his free time, Francisco likes to learn and experience new things, such as different cultures, languages, cuisines, and many more.
Introduction: La Vuelta
For years my family and I have been trying to go to Europe together. Sadly, there was always something that came up– monetary restraints, work/class obligations, a global pandemic… As much as we strived and fought for our trip, it never worked out. That is, until I received an email from my school, Florida International University (FIU). The chance arose for me to go with my university and finally go to Europe. Though it was not how I planned with my family, I was still grateful to go on this life-changing opportunity. I had heard so much about Europe: the food, the art, the culture. The thought of never going was driving me insane. It was as if with every comment someone made, the straps of my straightjacket were being tightened. Once I heard the wheels of the plane smash the ground, I felt the jacket loosening. I’m finally here. Even though I knew to expect another world, I was not expecting it to be a world so different to my own. With a new place came new ideas and a new understanding for things such as identity, intellectuality, and originality.
The Forgotten Capital of Florida: Madrid
Our first stop of our tour of Spain was Madrid. It was great to visit the capital of Spain first, as it made me understand more what was to come for the rest of the trip. Madrid is an interesting place, riddled with graffiti and areas of the antique and of the new. However, what struck me the hardest was how relevant this city is to not only Spain, but to all the land they once held. This is not only the capital of this beautiful country, but the forgotten capital of lands that stretch all around the world.
Like everything on this trip, I had to begin my questioning. Who am I? Where do I come from? I was born from Dominican parents in Miami, Florida, but it was here in Madrid where I learned that my family name dates back to my ancestors in Asturias, Spain. It was also here where I relearned the history of Spanish Florida. In 1513, Juan Ponce de León stepped foot on new soil, setting the scene for Spanish Colonization near what is now St. Augustine (History.com editors). This made Madrid the capital of the land I and other Miamians inhabit today.
Our trip to El Palacio Real was eye opening. To be standing inside of a building with such a rich history for not only Spain, but for all of its colonies, placed a lot of things into perspective. To walk through the halls where kings and queens roamed and the rooms where pivotal historical decisions were made was an experience that cannot be replicated here in Miami. These people and decisions dictated numerous outcomes to the world that we know and understand today. Not only does El Palacio Real have centuries of history, but the sheer magnitude of influence, whether good or bad, cannot be overlooked when discussing this magnificent structure. It is this colonial stronghold that Spain once had that has me conflicted on my ethnical identity. When does a lineage become “too old” to not be considered a part of you? I see this in Florida; yes, we are from the United States, but why does that stop us from remembering we were once considered Spaniards?
It was during my time in Madrid where I had the opportunity to link a lost trace of my story. It is the place where I was able to learn about my Asturian ancestors and how they came to the Dominican Republic, and the place where I was able to connect with a side of Florida I never felt to consider. That does not mean that I am a Spaniard, however. The way I see it, we as formerly colonized people have grown to become our own separate entities. Sure, we have our roots in Spain and in other parts of the world, but that does not limit us to who we are and can become. With time comes change, and with change comes rebirth.
Las Letras and its intellectual lifestyle
In Madrid lies a neighborhood where the souls of the literature greats lurk. Authors from El Siglo de Oro (The Golden Age) of Spanish literature, such as Cervantes and Quevedo, resided here and wrote the many works we praise them for today. The reaction to having this historical monopoly on Spanish literature has been to have a local custom of reading. Here you can find plenty of bars that have books to share. I enjoy reading, and it was an amazing experience to see such an emphasis on this art. What I liked most about this neighborhood is that reading is done as a hobby, not as a requirement. I have noticed that reading in the United States is not as common as it might have been before. I hypothesize that it may be due to the school system’s treatment of books and readings as an obligation. I remember as a kid the churning in my stomach all summer long, worriedly thinking about having to read my summer reading book and the report that was to come. Reading to many is work, and not the adventure that authors intend on creating. That is why I felt at ease here, as the neighborhood shows that there is still hope for reading and writing, and maybe one day others will be inspired to begin reading for entertainment, not for grades. What was also a beautiful aspect of this neighborhood was the quotes on the ground. It showed that this area is all about writing and the promotion of it. They were presented in such a beautiful gold and bold font that catches your eyes from neighborhoods away.
What I also enjoyed about the area was the amount of statues and museums for the authors that lived here. It gave me a connection to the ones I knew and taught me about the others that I had not heard of before.
Andalusia and Sitges: Miami’s Influences and Differences
An intrinsic fulfillment I had traveling through Spain was to visit all the areas that I drive through in Coral Gables. All these mysterious Spanish cities like Madrid, Sevilla, or Córdoba tantalized me every time I saw the little street markers. But now, as I drive around Coral Gables, I say to myself, Hey! I’ve been to Granada! I’ve traveled through Andalusia! There is no hiding the fact that Coral Gables is influenced immensely by Spain, and Europe as a whole. For me, it was different to assume this than to actually experience it. Everything I see now makes more sense: the roofs, the color choices, the tile arts… it all leads back to Europe. The two places that caught my attention the most were Sevilla and Sitges. Even small neighborhoods like Sant Marti sent nostalgia crawling down my spine. I did not understand it at first, but when I returned back to my city, it all started to make sense. Being able to drive around the neighborhood, and pinpoint these influences in other areas of Miami is now possible for me.
While it is riveting to experience Europe in Miami, I can’t help but miss the architecture that is not as prevalent. One style I fell in love with was Arabic and Mudejar architecture. One building that stuck out to me was the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain. The red arches were mesmerizing, spinning me around at each glance, splitting my vision in two as I slowly regained my composure. Once the dizziness settled, the mosque opened before me and became balanced, united, and completed. Before coming to Spain, I had never been inside a mosque (or at least a mosque turned catholic church). It was not necessarily something I was introduced to or interested in attending. Although this was the case before, I was massively intrigued by not only the architecture, but the philosophy behind it. The premise behind this style is not to show grandiose and lavish aspects of the building on the outside, but to keep it bland and boring.The inside is where all the intricate pieces of what makes these buildings so fascinating are. This is supposed to signify how we should act. We should not outwardly project our qualities or wealth to others. Instead, we should allow the people themselves to search through us and find the beauty. This philosophy resonated with me, as I find it distasteful when someone posts their new Rolex, or their Lamborghini, or their designer shoes on social media. We should not boast about our riches, as the philosophy entails, it is through the universe (in this case Allah) that you are able to have these things. Let not your materials speak for you, for the voice of your true self will be crushed.
Barcelona and Sagrada Familia
What is a Gaudí? I rummaged through the list of websites for snow globes that Google threw at me. Is it a company? Why so many? Hopelessly staring outside the train window, I counted the hours until we reached Barcelona. It was until we were scheduled to explore Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell where I found the meaning behind this mysterious word. Antoni Gaudí, the most esteemed architect from Catalan and known worldwide as one of the best. His work, especially Sagrada Familia, to me was the most inspiring of the entire trip. I have always had inner struggles with originality. I always want to be original- copying someone has never been an option for me- but the more I try to be original, the more I notice that I take inspiration from others I look up to. After several years, I came to the conclusion that originality is impossible, as to have an idea, it needs to stem from earlier knowledge. However, to be original for me is to take something, and add your own twist to it. I see this all the time in music, art, architecture, innovations, and even now in my own work. To me, Gaudi’s line of work is the epitome of this idea. It was as if all the styles we saw during the trip clashed together. What makes this style even more captivating for me is that he found originality in unoriginality. Taking the building piece by piece, there is nothing new: stained glass, statues, etc. When viewing the building as a whole, it becomes a unique entity. The style of roof, the use of organic materials and images, the way the arches are built, all aspects combined in a Catholic Church creates a fresh style of architecture.
Not only was it remarkable in its originality, it was also remarkable to be there. Being raised a Catholic, I was always in a church. Having now graduated from all my years of Catholic schooling, I am always away from a church. When having to learn about so many things about a religion, you get to see a lot of the same things sadly, and looking back at it now, church to me was a mundane experience. Everything is dead and about death: The crucifix, the artwork bleeding off the stained glass, the people sitting and waiting for the hour to meet the dreaded scythe. This church was different: you walk and you feel alive. There are sculptures everywhere of animals, prancing and pouncing along the corners of the Church, guarding it from the heretics. The colors of the stained glass melt along the sides and drown you with its beauty. As you walk to the middle, a crucifix with a wounded and breathing Jesus lays vulnerable for you to grieve. Birth, success, struggle- this Church is a living representation of what life is like until our last breath. Shouldn’t all Churches be like this? Maybe not, but it is a beautiful way of representing the faith. I think this idea of death being needed in churches is due to life on Earth not being the end goal, but only a way to get to the real paradise. However, it does not mean that we should forget all of the glorious things that exist here, with or without a god’s help. To my point, it is for this reason that I enjoyed this rendition of a church so much. It understands that we are not only here to suffer and to die for god and his paradise. We are here to bask in the light, breathe in the air of the pure, and share this gift with each other and all the animals that come along with it.
All in all, this trip was an experience that can never be replicated. I am sure that my friends and family are getting tired of me saying, “Well, when I was in Spain…”, but this trip was more than just a getaway to another country. It was an opportunity to learn more about myself, about what is around me, and what isn’t around me. It was an opportunity to get out of my bubble I have called home for 19 years of my life and challenge my knowledge and philosophies. It was an opportunity to get to know another culture intimately, and maybe call home one day. One of the reasons why I joined this class was in hope of finding a new lifestyle. The siestas, the transportation, the language… I can go on for as long as the lands of Spain lay. Whether it will be a future home, it has changed my ideas of living and understanding of the world. Having been able to see such beautiful places like Sagrada Familia, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, Alhambra, and a multitude of other human achievements has given me a chance that many people dream of. I could not ask for a better group to do it with than Professor Bailly and the wonderful people I call my friends now.
History.com editors. “Ponce De León Claims Florida for Spain.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Feb. 2010, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ponce-de-leon-discovers-florida.