Alexandra Alsina: Miami as Text 2023

Alexandra Alsina in St. Clair West Station (Photo by Alexandra Alsina/ CC by 4.0)

Alexandra Alsina is a 4th-year student at Florida International University majoring in Biological Sciences with a minor in Psychology. She hopes to pursue a career in Genetic Counseling as well as doing research in epigenetics in the future. In her free time, she enjoys roller skating at her local skate park, going to escape rooms, watching anime, and spending time with her five cats. She is part of an animal rescue based in Cuba and hopes to one day open her own cat sanctuary.

Encounter As Text

Trip of a Lifetime By Alexandra Alsina of Florida International University, January 27, 2023.

Image of Cinque Terre by Udo from Pixabay

My first encounter with my class left me even more excited and eager than before about having the opportunity to travel to Italia for a month this upcoming Summer. This trip is something I have dreamed of doing since middle school when I took my first Italian language and culture class and fell in love with the country. I noted on my mental bucket list back then that I would one day travel to all the beautiful cities my Italian teacher spoke to us about with so much love. I want to explore further the few things that I have already learned about and discover all of what Italia has to offer. After taking a few years worth of Italian courses, I am also looking forward to finally practicing and putting to test my Italian skills and conversating with the locals to really immerse myself in every city we visit.

I am both motivated and nervous about this experience. I can’t wait to walk the streets of Italia and experience the culture shock as I take everything in for the first time. I look forward to my first Italian coffee and delicious pastry to start my morning off on May 9th and proceed to walk through Rome and admire the architecture, art, and history hidden in its walls. I am nervous about many things, starting with being away from my husband and pets for a whole month and traveling so far on my own but I know the homesickness will go away when I stand in the center of Rome and see the Colosseum standing two feet away from me. It is a big push out of my comfort zone but an exciting one. I am also nervous about the physical aspect of this trip as it will be a drastic change in my routine of staying home immersed in video games and anime but I will be trying to incorporate more exercise in my day-to-day before the trip so I am not the student that gives up halfway through the Cinque Terre hike.

When I think of Italia, I picture crowded cobblestone streets, with towering historic buildings and many small stores and restaurants. I picture the famous colorful cliff in Cinque Terre and a picturesque gondola going down the flooded streets of Venezia. I have never been to Italia before but have a general concept that was formed through my classes, travel videos, Assasin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and Medici: The magnificent.

My goals and expectations of this course start on a social level with making lasting connections with my classmates as we travel together on this unforgettable trip and make memories of a lifetime. On the academic level, I expect to expand my overall knowledge of art, architecture, history, and culture. On a personal level, I expect to gain more independence, travel, and language skills and push myself out of my comfort zone. The thing I look forward to and fear the most on this trip is the Path-of-the-gods hike. I love nature more than anything and am excited about the incredible views at the top. Hiking through a mountain is the most impossible thing to do in Florida so I am looking forward to this challenge and unique experience in Cinque Terre. Fear of change won’t hold me back in this class and I look forward to embarking on this incredible journey.

Ancient Rome As Text

“Powerful and Influential” By Alexandra Alsina of Florida International University, February 12, 2023.

Image by Mark Thomas from Pixabay

Ancient Rome was both an admirable and deplorable republic from what we know today. Ancient Rome was complex and advanced for its time and had a tremendous lasting influence on the rest of the world even to this day. Its achievements in art, government, engineering, architecture, etc. are the basis of what we now see around us in Western civilization. However, as the show Rome on HBO portrays, some aspects of Roman life were appalling and deeply unjust from the lens of today’s society. The treatment of women, children, and of slaves was very difficult to watch. Leading me to overall reject the ways of life in Rome and its patriarchal society. Class inequality, family structure, the deep influence of religion, lack of freedom, lack of representation in the government, corruption, and expansionist policies are just some other aspects of Ancient Rome that I reject.

Although living in a time and place that is rich in history, culture, beauty, and art and leading a much simpler life sounds intriguing, the day-to-day life of an average woman in Rome is frightful. A life with limited rights and strict social expectations, limited activities, and double standards for women is something I wish we further ourselves from every day. The life that some select women in ancient Rome led was a step in a positive direction in history from previous civilizations, but women’s equality was still not recognized and they were merely defined and respected based on the men in their life and their status. The lives of freed lower-class women and of slaved women were unjust and harsh. Life as a lower-class woman in Ancient Rome is not one I would ever wish to experience however if I had the option of going back in time and selecting to be a high-class respected woman married to a good husband I would love being able to experience the rich culture of Ancient Rome and gaze upon a famous architecture at its prime, witness plays, pieces of artwork, poetry, live in a less industrialized polluted environment and having real human interactions before technology came along in the modern world.

The Roman Republic was a powerful and influential civilization, much like the United States is today and much of our government is thanks to the structure and lasting influence of Ancient Rome. Like the Roman Republic, the United States is a federal republic with a system of checks and balances, with powers in the US divided between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. People in power were elected and laws were clearly recorded and applied to all individuals equally- this is the basis for the Supreme Law of the Land now. Furthermore, Roman architecture also made its way into the current United States with the United States Capitol building being inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and other buildings such as the US Supreme Court, White House, Union Station, and Lincoln Memorial also owing their architectural beauty to the early influential works of the Romans. American literature also drew heavily from Ancient Rome’s mythology, history, and common themes found in Roman literature.  Shakespeare’s play “Julius Caesar” is a prime example of this influence. Overall, early Romans had much to teach us and have greatly shaped the world we live in today, their powerful legacy will live on worldwide in many ways, and rightly so.

Historic Miami As Text

“Dynamic and Diverse” By Alexandra Alsina of Florida International University, February 25, 2023.

Image of the Miami River by Pixabay

The city of Miami has been and continues to be a dynamic and diverse city that attracts people from all over the world starting with its early beginnings when the Spanish first encountered the Tequesta tribe in the Biscayne Bay area in 1513. Miami is unique in its continuously wonderfully diverse population. Learning about the rich history of Miami surprised me because, for me, the history and roots of Miami feel as if it was fully shadowed by its explosive expansion, modernization, beautiful beaches, and infamous traffic. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s artwork  Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels really captivated me at the start of the walking lecture as at it first felt very out of place at first but once we delved into its meaning, it felt like it was the perfect piece to encompass what the city of Miami is. It was strange, chaotic yet beautiful in its meaning. I am not a Miami local but I have lived within an hour of the city for the majority of my life and was shocked that I didn’t know so much about a city I have often found myself in.

One of the other aspects of this lecture trip that surprised me, besides the long history of continuously diverse populations, was the diverse architecture now present in the city. Seeing and touching a structure built in 1844,  another in 1855, then seeing a few examples of Neo-Classical architecture after walking and driving through modern 20th-century skyscrapers most of my life is a fascinating concept. I hope all these structures and sculptures we witness which encompass in part a dark history of Miami continue to be preserved and accessible to all.

Although many things fascinated me about Miami’s history in this walk, many things upset me including seeing the polluted Miami River, learning about the deeply engrained history of racism, segregation, and slavery; and Flagers disrespect toward the Tequesta burial mound which he knowingly destroyed.

I place myself in the history of Miami as nothing but a migrant among many. Not the first and certainly not the last. I am a Cuban migrant who migrated to Miami in the early 2000s in hope of freedom and opportunity. I came at a time when technology was booming and changing all aspects of life, a time when buildings and roads were fast expanding, a time were Covid-19 changed everything in May of 2020, and a time Miami faced many challenges such as traffic congestion, affordable housing shortages, and climate change-related risks such as sea-level rise.

Taking a walk down the history of Miami was a unique experience that led me to have a newfound love and appreciation for the city. Learning that I live near a city that is noted as the only major city in the United States founded by a woman- Julia Tuttle is something I will take pride in. I hope Miami continues to be what it has always been and provides hope and opportunity to many. The Freedom Tower will continue to stand tall as a symbol of liberty, the Wagner family homestead an example of equality, love, and cooperation between communities, the Miami Circle a reminder of the true first settlers of Miami- the Tequesta, etc.

Italia America As Text

“Paterfamilias” By Alexandra Alsina of Florida International University, March 3. 2023.

Roman bas-relief showing Roman family | Photo by Ortolf Harl 2012

A standard family structure is taught to us from a young age, and we subconsciously accept this way of being without giving much thought as to why we tend to accept it, follow it, and implement it when starting our own relationship. We simply assume this is how it should be and how it has always been. Its origin, however, can be traced back to Classical Rome, Roman Catholicism, and Renaissance Florence. Modern things like a head of the household, gender roles, emphasis on marriage, a nuclear family, and the importance of religion in family structure go back to ancient Rome.

Classical Rome has had an immense influence on American family structure, starting with the patriarchal family model, which emphasizes the male head of the family as the decision-maker and provider for the family, a model we still see in many families today. Ancient Rome was a man’s world, at the head of Roman family life was the “paterfamilias,” or “father of the family” who was the oldest living male in the family (PBS, 2006). The paterfamilias controlled everything regarding his household and children’s lives. Although it is not as extreme nowadays, men are still seen as the “head of the house” and are in many families the decision makers, holders of assets, and face of the family. Women have made great strides, but tradition runs deep and persists in many families in the country.

Classical Romans placed a strong emphasis on bloodlines, family heritage, and marriage. In the US there is an importance placed on family genealogy and marriage as well although not as intensely as it used to be in classical Rome. Regarding marriage, more freedom is present now, but family opinions and approval are still important for many individuals. It is common for a man to still ask for “a woman’s hand in marriage” to her father for example.

The biggest influencer in family structure worldwide may very well be Roman Catholicism. Its big emphasis on marriage and its strict teachings on divorce has been passed down through time and still holds strong today. The church’s teachings on the nuclear family have influenced American attitudes toward family, marriage, and procreation. A nuclear family is the most common type of family in the Western world, containing two parents and their children (Marca, 2022). The traditional common family according to Roman Catholicism should be between heterosexual, binary, and married parents with biological children but the definition has expanded and changed through the years to be more inclusive, with many new modern alternatives.

The Renaissance in Florence was a time of great change and influence in many areas. During this time, the role of women in the family and household was emphasized and the roles of women from this time persist in many American families today. A Renaissance an’s primary virtues were chastity and motherhood; her domain was the private world of the home. (DR. Heather Graham, 2020) Although women have gained equal rights, gotten closer to equality, and gained more freedom with their lives and future, about 93% of homemakers are still women (Zippia, 2021) and 36% of married mothers with children ages 0 to 3 do not work at all outside the home (The Healthy Journal, 2012). Many women in the US embrace the roles and duties that were placed on them since way before the Renaissance and there is nothing wrong with that, every woman should, however, be free and not forced to make these choices for herself. Living in a time where over half of the women are in the workforce, hold positions of power, and are role models to younger women is an incredible thing that I’m proud to experience.

While some women enjoy their careers and financial independence, many others do argue for more traditional times instead. These women uphold traditional values like that of the Romans such as men being the head of household and women being the homemakers. This demographic gives us a modern-time comparison to the old ways of the Roman Era; showing how strong family traditions can last even into the future. The structure of family derived from Rome and Florence is ingrained into our beliefs but luckily we have redefined it and given our modern take on what family is and what the roles of those in it are.

Renaissance As Text

“Humanism and Innovation” By Alexandra Alsina of Florida International University, April 8. 2023.

Birth of Venus By Sandro Botticelli

New concepts and ways of thinking emerged in the domains of philosophy, science, history, and literature during the Renaissance period in the 1400s. This period has always been highly interesting for me as I can see how discoveries made then affect my own life and my major now. I see how it has fueled my own curiosity and enthusiasm for learning and provided me with the means with which to do it. The idea and spirit of exploration and discovery from then have endured and had a lasting impact on humanity. Much like people did throughout the Renaissance, we work to learn, discover, and satisfy our desire to understand the world. I wholeheartedly support the notion of exploring and delving into the unknown, yet there are elements during the time of the Renaissance that I do disagree with and reject.

I have been particularly impacted by the scientific developments of the Renaissance as a biology major. In the field of science, many important advancements were accomplished during the Renaissance that set the stage for later, more sophisticated methods and technologies. One of the biggest impacting things that came from the Renaissance in my opinion was the development of a new method for investigating the natural world – the scientific method which has been a topic I have learned about and applied in all my science classes from elementary school up until now at FIU and I will continue to use it in my future career. During the Renaissance, many original new tools were also invented which have been perfected and improved through time, but all come from this time period. The telescope and the microscope are good examples of some of the groundbreaking tools invented during this time which play a big role in my own academic life. However innovative and amazing this period was, it is important to acknowledge that the scientific community during the Renaissance was not without flaws.

Even though the Renaissance saw tremendous prosperity and made great strides in the science world, injustice and inequality were present and ingrained in society at this time. Despite the emphasis on humanism and freedom, certain marginalized communities, including women and people of color, continued to face persecution and intolerance. Throughout the Renaissance, a significant social and economic barrier hindered many women from pursuing their passions and careers, and they were routinely excluded from the intellectual and artistic circles of the time. This is a characteristic of the Renaissance that I reject as a woman in STEM today. I believe nobody should be excluded from participating and contributing to the field.

The Renaissance is also recognized, above all, for being a period of significant artistic innovation, with famous artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Brunelleschi all being figures of this time. As a feminist, I was particularly drawn to the works of Renaissance artists which we learned in class who used their art to send a message, challenge societal norms and promote gender equality, paving the way for future generations of women such as the painting Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. I also liked the controversial paintings by Botticelli The Birth of Venus and Primavera which were revolutionary for their time for breaking away from the conservative art of the middle ages and going against Christian values to highlight female sexuality.

All things considered, the Renaissance was an interesting period that had a significant impact on my life and my academic endeavors. As a biology major and a feminist, I’m dedicated to advancing the Renaissance’s accomplishments throughout my life and carrying the spirit of humanism and skepticism.

Departure As Text

“The final countdown “ By Alexandra Alsina of Florida International University, April 27, 2023.

Image of Santa Maria Del Fiore by Leila Firusbakht

The Spring semester has come and gone and now I am left rummaging through my backpack for a 5th and, hopefully, final time making sure all my important items and clothes are indeed packed away. I am now 8 days away from embarking on an incredible journey by myself for the first time, and I can’t wait. I have my Osprey backpacks all packed up, passports ready, and a full itinerary written down that will get me through spending a week in Spain alone before meeting up in Rome on May 9th.

Throughout the semester I have felt myself gain confidence and certainty about this trip. Many of my fears have subsided. Although I am still quite nervous about leaving my house, pets, and family behind for a month, I no longer feel as nervous about being in a completely different country and environment. Getting to know about Italy’s history, culture, and knowing what to expect the different cities we will be exploring to look like has me more at ease. I have also practiced my Italian and researched the methods of transportation so I can feel more confident getting around from place to place by myself.

My biggest fear at the start of the semester was the activity level expected. Hearing about 10-mile walks and going up and down 463 steps made my heart speed up and my eyes widen. Luckily, I decided to take action after and I started practicing on a treadmill and step master. I feel more confident about being able to walk up Santa Maria Del Fiore and admire Brunelleschi’s hard work and legacy. At the start of the semester, I was most excited about Cinque Terre but now I can’t wait to be on top of the dome. Through HBO Rome, Brunelleschi’s Dome, Brown’s Inferno, and Angels and Demons I have learned and gotten excited about visiting many locations throughout Italy now that I know their meaning and history. Throughout the semester we have also learned about different art pieces and sculptures that I now look forward to seeing with my own eyes.

One of the most important things that has changed from the start of the semester is definitely the connections I have now built with my classmates. I now know everybody’s name and their personality and have become friends with many. I feel less alone and scared about embarking on this journey now that I know those that are embarking on it with me. I hope to expand these connections further throughout the trip and after. Hearing the perspective, and tips from students from previous years throughout the semester has also been a tremendous help in preparing me for this trip and I am thankful for their advice.

Overall, from the start of the semester to now, I believe I have grown in many ways and will do so further. I have grown from an academic, social, personal and physical level which were my goals when I first wrote my encounter as text. In just a few weeks I will finally be exploring with my own body and mind the rich history, stunning architecture, and mouth-watering cuisine that Italy has to offer.

Author: Alexandra Alsina

Alexandra Alsina is a 4th-year student at Florida International University majoring in Biological Sciences with a minor in Psychology. She hopes to pursue a career in Genetic Counseling as well as doing research in cytogenetics in the future. In her free time, she enjoys roller skating at her local skate park, going to escape rooms, watching anime and spending time with her five cats.

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