Spain was a never-ending opportunity to learn, grow, and understand. Many preconceived notions were eliminated at the start of the course as I was traveling with 19 other individuals all from different backgrounds. Using our differences to experience the program made it especially unique as we were able to share various perspectives. Having a Basque-Cuban background made the experience that much more enriching and rewarding as I was able to understand and learn more about how Spain played a role in the exchange of culture and traditions between America and Europe.
Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0
Miamian or Spaniard?
Growing up, I frequently traveled to Spain to visit my family from my mother’s side. Simultaneously, I was always reminded of my Cuban family and the sacrifices my grandparents and great-grandparents made coming to the United States. Therefore, I always felt comfortable in my identity in terms of knowing about my ancestry, background, and family relations. However, the program made me realize I am Spanish more than I am Cuban, Miamian, and Latino. All that I know can be traced back to Spain as Florida was once under Spanish rule. From the 16th to 19th century, Florida was under control of the Spanish government. Therefore, many customs and traditions were enforced on the people that inhabited the land at the time. Although I do consider myself from Miami, as I was born and raised here, part of me has come to understand that my identity is much more complex and that there were many different historical and personal journeys that led me to be the person I am today.
Madrid: Ciudad de Diversidad
On that note, identity is something that I have grown to learn about over the past years. More specifically, personal and self-identity. Madrid, capital of Spain, full of great ancient artifacts such as El Museo Del Prado and La Reina Sofía, can be seen as a very primeval city. With such devotion to religious commemorations and gothic personifications, one would assume that the atmosphere and its people follow the same rhythm of their city. On the contrary, Madrid presents a very vibrant, young, and progressive environment. Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was not able to express my identity as freely as others did. Arriving in Chueca, my group’s neighborhood, it was so interesting to see the juxtaposition of conservative and progressive ideals. Known as the gay neighborhood in Madrid, Chueca was decorated with pride flags, balloons, and murals like I had never seen before. There was such an expressive vibe within the neighborhood that embraced sexuality rather than deny or shun it. Many restaurants, shops, and apartments supported the movement that is gay rights to create a unified population that gives Chueca its infamous title of Madrid’s gay neighborhood. At the same time, Chueca presented a historic offering with the Museum of Romanticism, the Museum of the History of Madrid, and The Longoria Palace. The duality of the space was astounding as it did not focus on solely one thing.
Our group’s other neighborhoods were Conde Duque and Malasaña. In Conde Duque, we visited El Centro de Cultura Contemporánea which is a large building that houses all sorts of people and activities. In one part of the center, there is a museum that exhibits contemporary art through a unique layout. Another part of the center was a hall for people to gather for performances or events such as the ballet show we witnessed during our visit. The concept of having multiple arts demonstrated in one building was truly clever. The people of the neighborhood simply have to travel to the center and they can see a multitude of artistic exhibitions.
Perception v.s. Reality
Visiting Cordoba was an eye-opening experience. Prior to my program abroad, I truly did not know anything besides the Catholic religion I was born and raised with. Traveling with other students of different religions such as Islam and non-denominational Christians, my perspective was extremely broadened. Around the year 711, Muslims crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and gained control of Spain. The country had always been a collection of small cities without unification. Therefore the Visigoth Christian towns that the Moors encountered took a small force to take over and conquer Spain. However, under Isabel and Ferdinand’s rule in 1492, the Reconquista began. People were told to convert to Christianity or they would be expelled from the country. Many faced persecution for claiming they converted when in reality they would practice their religion behind closed doors. Arriving at the Mezquita and Cathedral of Cordoba was an experience mixed with great awe and guilt. Once a mosque, the building was converted into a cathedral for Christians to practice Catholicism. For this reason, the building is named the Great Mosque of Cordoba as the areas surrounding the cathedral remain intact. The combination of gothic and Islamic architecture is something that only exists there. It was cumbersome however, to walk into a space that once belonged to other people that was then robbed by people whom I identify with.
Although contradicting, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was a great example of a concept we learned called “convivencia.” The exact translation of the word is coexistence. If there is one thing I walk away with from the program it is to live with this attitude of coexistence. Nowadays, we often try to point out our differences and allow that to impact the manner in which we interact with people. Some allow differences to hinder conversations and even relationships. In Cordoba and Madrid, I was able to experience this sense of coexistence first hand. Traces of Jews, Catholics, and Muslims all exist within this region. They were able to respect each other’s beliefs and live harmoniously. People have the capacity of living among one another without feeling the need to disrespect or mistreat others based on religion, sex, or race. It is something I hope can be implemented in other countries as well and something I will begin implementing in my own lifestyle and interactions.
One day did not seem to be enough for the palace of Granada. Built by King Yusuf I and Muhammed V, La Alhambra’s construction traces back to the 14th century. During the Reconquista, however, the Catholic Church gained control of the palace and exiled the Isalmic kings. Now considered a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, the architecture of the palace is quite striking and unique. Due to its pigmented walls, the palace was named Alhambra which translates to “The Red” in Arabic. Aside from its amusing design, the palace also has a magnificent garden called Generalife that was created for Muslim royals to enjoy in their pasttime. Apart from the palace, we were able to visit the neighborhood of Albaicín. Here, we encountered street musicians that took an interesting twist on flamenco. They began by singing, “La Alhambra, La Alhambra, mira que bonita es!” and slowly transitioned to modern pop music by singing one of Rosalia’s songs. It was so refreshing to see how classic flamenco has the possibility of being modernized and is not something that can simply be categorized. It reminded me how entities can coexist with one another and that convivencia does not only apply to people; it too can be in the perspective of music, culture, and language.
Our assigned neighborhood in Barcelona was an absolute spectacle. Arriving on June 23rd in the city, our class was able to attend Las Fiestas de San Joan, the patron saint of Catalonia. As it lands on the summer solstice, the parties focus on giving more energy and strength to the sun. Citizens go outside and begin creating fires and performing firework shows. For this reason, the Feast of San Joan takes the name “Night of Fire.” Our group watched the fireworks from the Barceloneta Beach which was extremely dense as all the people made their way down to the shore to get the best view. The night was full of neighborhood gatherings, dancing, and celebration.
On our exploration day, we got a taste for the rest of Barceloneta which encompasses The Catalonia History Museum, L’Aquàrium Barcelona, and its infamous seafood paella. Conquered by Muslims in 735, the city was under Islamic rule for almost 200 years. Eventually, they were expelled by King Ferninand and Queen Isabella during the Reconquista. After some time, in the late 1800’s, Barcelona encountered a new era known as “Catalan Art Nouveau.” This period gave birth to new mannerisms of art, architecture, and literature, beginning with the modernist movement. Notable leaders of the movement include Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The hub for all things moderniz was 4GATS. After the explosion of art in Paris, Pere Romeu wanted to recreate the same atmosphere in Barcelona. Inspired by the Perisian cafe style, he believed the center of the artistic world was in these cafes. The movement quickly spread its way around the city with creations such as El Palau de la Música, La Sagrada Familia, and Park Güell.
Among all the works during this period, Gaudi’s were the ones that captured my attention the most. The anecdote behind his great masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, truly captivated me. Spending approximately 43 years of his life on this building, the basilica was beyond impressive. His vision to personify nature and the Bible can be seen all throughout the structure. The basilica is most easily recognized by its eight towers which each represent a monumental biblical figure. In addition, the basilica has three facades: The Nativity Facade, The Passion Facade, and The Glory Facade. The details in these facades are so unique to the modernist movement and more importantly Gaudi’s work. The Passion facade and Nativity facade are complete opposites. The Nativity facade is highly decorated with intricate details and complex images whereas the Passion facade takes a form of cubism as the structures implement straight lines. Even the altar takes an unusual form where one can see the crucifix hanging from the baldachin, a canopy-like structure that is a representation of the Holy Spirit. In the same manner, Park Güell takes an inventive approach. Decorated with mosaic tiles, the park provides a great deal of sitting areas for visitors to enjoy the outdoors. The style of broken glass and tile is named “Trencadís” and is seen all throughout the park. All in all Barcelona possesses a unique style of art due to the influence of the modernist movement.
Studying abroad was truly an enlightening experience. The program shone light upon my identity in a way I had never considered before. Prior to abroad, I did not consider the thousands of people that have come before me. I found myself exploring the question, “How did I end up in Miami?” With great pleasure, I explored new areas of the country that I had not seen before. Arriving in Andalucia was as if I had entered another country. Between the flamenco and Islamic architecture, I was transported to a different kind of España. After having this great opportunity, I hope to continue traveling the world with this frame of mind. Considering how other countries have influenced my own country, similarities or differences between the various regions of the country, and the willingness to experience new things is something I learned to do from this program. I noted that the moment I discarded expectations and my typical way of living, the experience was truly enhanced. Our program was not an easy one. Challenged at many moments, I had to realize for myself what Bailly asked us during our last hike: “What does this program mean to you?” For me it meant overcoming fears, finding my roots, exploring new territories, and discovering the purpose behind exploration. To explore means to cherish moments, meet new people that can provide a new perspective, and to learn from experiences. I finish this course knowing that there is so much more to explore and endless opportunities to continue growing.
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