Alexis Mas: Miami as Text 2023

Photograph by Alexis Mas / CC by 4.0

Hello dear reader. Throughout this collection of texts, you will find a detailed and personal description of my experiences throughout my journey in the Spain study abroad Class. However, before writing about any of my experiences, I will start with a brief self-introduction. My name is Alexis Mas and I was born in Havana, Cuba and raised in both Cuba and Miami. Currently, I am a senior at Florida International University studying to get a bachelor’s degree in biology. Throughout my time at the university, I have had the privilege to participate In a wide range of research, science volunteer programs, and extracurricular science programs, where I have learned a wide set of techniques that are used in research laboratories. Once I graduate I will pursue a Ph.D. in microbiology with the hopes of contributing to the world of science.

“Encounter As Text”

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University, January 27, 2023

Upper left photograph was taken by Emmanuel Villazon, all other photographs were taken by Alexis Mas

For as long as I can remember, the topic of Spain was something that was always talked about in Cuban households, especially in mine. Different conversations on similar Spanish topics could be heard all around the country, whether it was about a Spanish descendant trying to apply for Spanish citizenship, the developmental and cultural impacts that Spain had on the island, to the role Spain played in the Spanish-American war. No matter how you put it, Spain was always at the centerpiece of Cuban life.

Around the age of 10, when my mother took me for about the 6th time to the “Castillo De Los Tres Reyes Del Morro”  (a similar fortress can be seen in the lower left-hand corner of the collage, this fortress was made as well by the Spaniards in Santiago de Cuba) I made my very first realization that Cuba was not an independent culture, or a culture of its own, much rather it had been deeply influenced by Spain. This connection was made, after seeing that the Spanish had made such a mighty fortress (simply called El Morro) on what some might say to be an insignificant island. Nevertheless, this island was the last stop for many of the Spanish ships coming from Central America on their way to Spain (Staten). Hence, given the importance of the island, Cuba became a key place to establish in (among other reasons). With this establishment, came things like cathedrals, Christianity, Spanish traditions, customs, immigrants, Spanish architecture, and so much more, with impacts that can still be seen to this day. As for me, growing up in Cuba, I would often stare for hours both inside and out, at the awe-inspiring cathedrals (an image of this cathedral called “La Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana” can be seen in the upper left-hand corner of the college) that were left over by the Spaniards. These cathedrals made you feel as if you were right there next to God.

Years later, after moving to Miami and living here for about 6 years, I started to talk with my great-grandmother about her past and how life in Cuba was before the Castro regime. Through this, and many other conversations, I soon came to learn that her father or my great-great-grandfather (His name was Manuel Lopez Lopez and a picture of him can be seen on the lower right side of the collage) was born in Spain, and went to Cuba to escape the forced military training that males had to go through during his time in Spain. After learning about this, I became interested in wanting to see where he lived during his time in Cuba. Unfortunately, his house was located in Guantanamo, about 500 miles from Havana. But after a lot of planning and money saving, I was able to go to Guantanamo and visit most of the island during a 2-week trip I took with my family. Throughout that journey, I felt closer than ever to my heritage and the connection I had with Spain. During this trip, we traveled from city to city where repeating Spanish cathedrals could be seen in all the main plazas of the country. Moreover, when I got to Guantanamo, I learned all the traditions my great-great-grandfather would do when he was here in Cuba, one of the being “Noche Buena” or Christmas eve. Here again, I felt joy that a tradition that my great-great-grandfather did, was still being done and pass down by his great-great-grandson and all his family. Lastly, towards the end of my trip, I saw something that allowed me to understand the big picture of Spain in Cuba. This was a replica of a cross called “La Cruz de la Parra” (an image can be seen on the top right-hand corner of the collage) placed in the exact spot where Christopher Columbus placed his cross when he first arrived in Cuba. At that moment, I realized that what Cuba is, what its people are, is the pass down of the Spanish culture, from things like Christianity to the celebration of “Noche Buena”.

Now years later, after my big trip around Cuba, when I first learned about the honors college study abroad program, I always thought that it was just a vacation, a trip to a country in Europe, and something too expensive for me to pay. As time went on, one of my friends told me about her experience in the Italian study abroad and how much more than just a trip this was, much rather, it was an experience and a cultural integration. After this, I decided to attend an honors hour, where they were going to talk about the European study abroad programs. By the time the event was over, I was hooked, the next question was, which country was I going to choose? At first, any European country seemed appealing, given that I have never traveled anywhere else besides the United States and Cuba. Italy was going to be my first option, since this is a country that everyone wants to visit and it is said that it is where many modern ideas and philosophies were born. But, after more thinking and further consideration, I realized that I should pick a place because it has meaning to me and something that I would be able to take with me for the rest of my life. It was not long after I thought of Spain, the personal experiences I had with the Spanish culture, and the main objective of the Spanish study abroad class “Ida y Vuelta”. For a second, I remember back to all I had learned, seen, and experienced during my life and the many trips I took to Cuba. With this, I realized that by visiting Spain I was going to add the missing link to my journey of understating my culture and heritage.

In conclusion, I am excited and motivated to learn as much as I can about Spain, and how their culture influenced those in Latin America. Much more, I look forward to not only visiting spain, but becoming part of its culture during the duration of my trip. Moreover, I look forward to seeing its cathedrals and how they will compare to the ones the Spaniards left hundreds of years ago on the island of Cuba. With this, I will be able to assimilate and combine both the Cuban and Spanish sides in me, to form a unity that will give me a more complete sense of my heritage and who I am.

Work Cited

Staten, Clifford. The History of Cuba. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005

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