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

“Transatlantic Exchange as Text”

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University, February 12, 2023

First landing of Christopher Columbus in America, painting by Dióscoro Puebla, 1862

In this modern era of political correctness, inclusive language, and an ever more understanding of our past, has led us to judge harshly and reprehend the actions and events taken by the early conquistadors that entered the Americas. It is no lie that many of the events that took place during those early settlements were and are acts of horror and outright cruelty by modern and even by past definitions. Despite this, one should not judge a race or country by the events in their past or the actions they have taken, based on our modern moral views and beliefs. Throughout the world, there were and currently are actions and events that by Godly definitions could be said to be horrendous. Such actions are not limited to the early settlers of the Americas, they extend and include every race and culture that ever lived and will live. For instance, the catholic church and their persecutions against Jews and Muslims to their modern concealment of sexual assault cases, from the Spanish conquistador era to the Spanish Civil War (1936–39), from the United States use of slavery to the unnecessary war against Iraq, and for all the atrocities and horrors every nation has committed from the beginning of times to now. This should demonstrate that what the conquistadors did was horrible, yet similar events were committed, are committed, and will be committed by every country in this world as long as humans exist. But the world as I see it, is not completely without hope, because for every horrific event and action in this world, there were always individuals who stood up and fought against such atrocities. A great example of this can be seen in the movie “The Mission” (Joffe) where a group of Christians demand that the catholic church recognizes the Christian mission to prevent native Americans from being captured as slaves by the Portuguese. This demand comes at a cost since the Christians are forced to protect the mission against the church’s wishes and attacks from the Portuguese. Like these Christians many other people have, are, and will always stand up for what is right.

  Now as for me, and almost everyone that lives in the American continent including Miami, we have what we have, are who we are, and exist thanks to the Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, and every settler that impacted the Americas. For instance, I being Cuban am about 75% Spanish and 25% African. Moreover, many of my traditions and customs like Noche Buena, the belief in a Creator, and much more is thanks to the passing down of traditions from my early ancestors to close family members that still practice these traditions to this day. Moreover, despite gaining a lot from the Columbian exchange like food and traditions, there is one thing that has impacted all of us in one way or another, this is our current moral views and beliefs. To put this in better words, thanks to the introduction of Christianity to the new world, every person born thereafter whether being religious or not has had a moral view shaped by their parents, society, and country, which ultimately has had a certain foundation and ties to the Christian faith. As a result of this, Christian views of morals and ways of living have been integrated into societies of both the new and old world, hence impacting those individuals living in these societies. Overall, despite the atrocities committed in the past by many of our ancestors (like the conquistadors ), because of them we exist today and can witness the cultural advances seen throughout the American continent.

Work Cited

The Mission. Directed by Roland Joffé, Goldcrest Films, 1986.

“Historic Miami as Text”

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University at Miami’s Downtown, February 26, 2023

Figure 1 Broken bowl with peels sculpture (photo by John Bailly/cc BY 4.0 )

After having walked around for about two and a half hours in the center of some of the most symbolic places of Miami, and seeing and learning things I had never seen or known for the 14 years I have been in this country, I could not help but feel I mix of emotions when this walk was over. At first, I was surprised and filled with curiosity at the diverse history of the city of Miami, from the naming of our county to the story of William Wagner and Eveline Aimar. Then I felt part of the history of this diverse city, as I (like many of the people that build the city of Miami) am an immigrant that came here to build a better life. However, I then felt mad at both myself and the education system. I was mad at myself since after having lived in this city for 14 years, I did not know or had seen most of the things we experienced during this walk. It was as if I was ignorant of the city I lived in. Then I became upset at the school system given all the classes they teach and the ones I had taken, I had never learned most of the things I learned during this walking lecture (with the exception of the history of Henry Flagler).

Now,  the main thing that surprised me about this lecture, (which I have told the story to most of my friends and family) was how our county got its name. This story surprised me the most since firstly, I never stop to think why the county was named Dade. Moreover, it is hard to understand why our county is named after a general that was sent to dislocate the Indians and then was killed in battle.

Throughout the lecture, there was one topic that came up time and time again that can describe the city of Miami in one word, “diversity”. It is clear that Miami (like many other places) was and is the city it is because of its wide cultural diversity. This, which changes time and time again through the history of the city leads to ever more changes which makes the city more diverse and inclusive to all the travelers that arrive here. At first, it was the cultural integration of the indigenous people with the Spanish and then the Americans. Then with the expansion of the railroad by Henry Flagler and with a little bit of persuasion from Julia Tuttle, tourists and settlers from up north were able to travel and establish in the city of Miami. With this expansion also came African workers that built the railroads, which once completed stayed in the city of Miami but were serrated from the whites. Then in the late 50s and early 60s, the city saw a huge wave of Cuban migrants escaping the communist revolution led by Fidel Castro. And now, Venezuelans with the same hopes of Cubans are fleeing their country to the city of Miami. As time goes by Miami will again see other groups from around the world seeking a better life where they will feel welcome and call Miami their home.

Now as for me, I use to think that Miami is what it is today thanks for a big part, to the Cuban immigrants that settled here. However, after this lecture, I realized that Miami is what it is not because of the Cubans alone, but thanks to all the groups that make up this city. The city is what it is thanks to its acceptance and wide history of people from different cultures and different parts of life. After realizing this, I saw myself as someone that is part of the history of this great city, someone that was inside looking in.

“Magic Realism as Text”

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University, March 12, 2023

spiral stairs in Vizcaya (Photograph by Alexis Mas / CC by 4.0)

Upon first learning of magical realism, it was hard at first to truly understand what this concept meant. I knew the generic definition after reading it ten times, but I did not fully understand it until I correlated it with physics. As a biology (science) major, it is often difficult for me to understand concepts in fictional literature as I rarely read such things. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see how concepts that are completely different can have similarities among them. As is the case of magical realism and physics (science). I first made this connection after reading for the 10th time the definition of magical realism, which is said to be a depiction of reality (whether in the form of science, or a historic event) with fictional components that seemed to be natural to the story. This in my mind relates to physics, as here we have an understanding of how our universe works in a real sense, but it is easy to eventually get lost in the theoretical aspect of physics which just like magical realism is ultimately connected to physical reality but has components that at first do not coincide with reality. This can be better explained by contrasting some of the magical realism stories and a theory in physics. A Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most famous pieces of literature that uses magical realism. In this book, one specific example is when the town of “Macondo” “gets infected with insomnia”. This is a great example of the use of magical realism as in the story they explain how the people of the town treat this as it was a real disease, for instance, they did not allow  “infected people to interact with non-infected people” (as to not spread the disease), or eventually the people get used to the disease as it was an incurable. This regular treatment of insomnia a “disease” that is not infectious, shows how both reality and fiction interwind. A great example of this can also be seen in Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, where at first, he proposed that matter and hence its gravity caused space time to curve which allowed planets like earth to orbit the sun. This theory is widely accepted today, but during the time it was proposed it received a lot of criticism from many experts in the field. Now, when this theory was proposed, it combined both aspects of reality with ideas (fiction) that had to coincide with reality, nevertheless were, for lack of a better word, “fictional” during its time due to the high level of theory behind the concept. This leads me to think that magical realism is not a concept that originated solely in south America, much rather is something that we use every day, in our imagination, dreams, and hopes. Magical realism along with fiction is how the human imagination explores concepts that are not yet within our realm of reality, nevertheless, perhaps, with the advancement in technology and time we will be able to combine( just like in physics) both fiction with reality.


By Alexis Mas of Florida International University at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, March 19, 2023

Figure 1 :  Vizcaya villa (Photograph by Alexis Mas / CC by 4.0)

Upon entering Vizcaya, it is easy to get lost in the beauty of the place. You are first greeted with beautiful fountains that lead your eyes to a European-style house at the end. After just a few seconds of entering the house, it’s as if you have been transported away from the city of Miami and into a European time capsule. Among the many sculptures, paintings, construction styles, architectures, gardens, and many other things found in the villa, is as if you are visiting different periods of different countries throughout the European continent. Nevertheless, after a few moments, you are brought back and if you have a good tour guide you remained that you are back in Miami and not in a heaven-like place. This comes mainly in the form of awareness after you are taught that the history of this beautiful villa is rooted in slavery, segregation, and the removal of indigenous people from their land. To add on, this history is rarely depicted through the beauty of the house, statues, or garden. It’s as if we only learn about the history of the workpieces of art such as the Greek stories behind many of the sculptures, or how the owner James Deering built such an extravagant place, while simultaneously ignoring both the bad and ugly history behind this villa. Given this, every institution should display an accurate and unbiased story of its history, both bad and good, as they should do in Vizcaya. But after that, what should we do? Should we have this history in the back of our minds to stop us from feeling too much joy from being in such a beautiful place? Or should we simply be aware of what has happened in the past and enjoy the beauty that is left in the present? If we were to do this, should we also feel bad every time we buy clothes knowing that most of it was done in a third-world country, or feel bad every time we drink water knowing that other countries do not have access to clean water, or feel bad anytime we have something that someone else does not? If we were to live like this, it would be hard for us to enjoy anything in life. Instead of feeling bad, we should act to fix that which is not right in the world. However, this does not mean giving up what we love. In like manner, Vizcaya should display both its good and bad history. Yet everyone who visits this place should be reminded of its motto  “Dona praesentis cape laetus horae ac linque severa” which translates to “Gladly accept the gifts of the present hour, and abandon serious things.” This is great advice given by James Deering to any visitor that enters his house, a message that is true today is it was more than 100 years ago when the house was built. Hence one should not feel bad or sorry when one is visiting this beautiful place, much rather be made aware of the history of this villa in its totality and enjoy the calming feeling one gets from being in such a beautiful place.

“Miami España as Text”

Religious Rituals

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University, April 16, 2023

It was the morning of October 12, 1492, when the sun started to rise on the “Guanahani island” (later renamed by Christopher Columbus to San Salvador, in the Bahamas). This morning was like many others, however, in the distance 3 vessels that no inhabitant of this hemisphere had seen before, started to appear in the distance. These vessels were “Niña” “Pinta” and “Santa Maria” which carried Christopher Columbus and his crew. Then, when Columbus and his men landed on the first island, like the explosion of a canon, the Columbian exchange began. This was the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, an era that would change the world as we know it. Within the first phew seconds of encounter with the natives, an exchange of hand languages, objects, disease, religion, and more, began. No one could have imagined what was to come. Within time, Christianity, smallpox, malaria, coffee beans, citrus fruits, people from the old world, and much more would be introduced (Nunn) and spread like wildfire through the new world. In exchange, the old world was introduced to the discovery of new lands, foods like potatoes, tomatoes, corn, and more. Moreover, this initial exchange would give rise to hundreds of different new customs and new ethnicities resulting from a wide range of interactions between many people like the Spaniards, Africans, Native Americans, French, Portuguese, and more. Now, despite all that would come to be as a result of this exchange, there was one main objective (among other obvious ones) by Columbus, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile ( King and Queen of Spain in 1492) this was the introduction of Christianity to the new world. Just before Columbus’s departure from Spain, he started writing the “Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus”, where he would document all his discoveries and experiences he had throughout his expedition. At the beginning of the journal, Columbus writes to the queen and king of Spain, that one of their main missions was to convert the people of India to their holy faith. In his journal, he writes the following, “YOUR HIGHNESSES, as Catholic Christians and frinces who love the holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristobal Colon, to the said parts of India to see the said princes, and the cities and lands, and their disposition, with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith” (Columbus). This purpose resulted in the introduction of Christianity to the new world, forced conversions, and the birth of new religions, religious ideas, and religious rituals that combined both the views of Christianity and foreign religions.

There are many examples in the Americas of the combination of the Christian faith and foreign religions. One, in particular, is Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion born after combining the Catholic faith and Yoruba faith. This resulted after the Spaniards introduce African slaves to Cuba and force them to convert to Catholicism. Their efforts however fell short, as African slaves hybridized both their religion and the catholic faith, given the general similarity of both (Glaude). In both religions, followers believe that there was one god, who could be communicated with, by means of other spiritual beings. For the Catholics these were saints and for the Yoruba these were orishas. The “Latin American History and Culture: Encyclopedia of Early Modern Latin America (1820s to 1900)” describes this as the following, “ Practitioners of Santeria believe in one supreme being who is accessible through intermediaries known as orishas. These beliefs, derived from the Yoruba religion, fused with the Christian concept of one true god and the Catholic veneration of the saints” (Rankin). In a way, Catholic saints served as a mask for the Yoruba followers, where at a glance it might be seen that they are worshiping the catholic saints, but behind the mask, they were worshiping their gods. As time passed by, the hybridization of these two religions give birth to what we now call Santeria. An example of this hybridization is the orisha “Yemaya” and the saint “la Virgen de Regla”. Yemaya is the orisha god related to maternity, rivers, and the sea. By contrast, La Virgen de Regla is a version of the Virgin Mary that originated in Chipiona, Spain. It is also called Virgen Marinera (sailor virgin) given her relation to the sea. In the article “La Virgen de Regla: a Material Approach to Lived Religious Transformation in Latin America” the author writes the following about both Yemaya and La Virgen de Regla, “This ‘Virgin’ is a replica of La Virgen de Regla in Chipiona, Spain. She is a Virgin Mary in her own right within the Cuban Catholic context, and significantly, she is also the Orisha Yemayá, an African Goddess, and she governs the sea, maternity, fishermen, and the tempest” (Whitehead). Given African slaves’ inability to congregate in a place of worship, the Santeria religion is scattered throughout Cuba where specific differences in practice can be noticed, however, the general ideas behind these deities are still the same. A visual representation of Yemaya, La Virgen de Regla, and a combination of both can be seen in the images below. In figure a, a botanica can be seen, this is a place where Yoruba followers can buy religious items. To the left of the image, blue vases and necklaces are seen, which are used as altars for worshipers of Yemaya. In figure b an altar to the Virgen de Regla can be seen in a church in Havana, Cuba. Lastly, figure c shows a combination of both of these where at the top you can see the virgin holding baby Jesus with a cross above her head depicting the connection to Catholicism. On the other hand, at the bottom, seashells can be seen depicting Yemaya’s connection to the sea. Examples such as this are quite abundant through the Santeria religion, where both European and African faiths are combined.

Figure a: Cuban Botanica, to the left blue vases are used to build altars to Yemaya. (Ji-Elle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons)

Figure b: Virgen de Regla saint in Havana, Cuba (Image is a zoomed-in version of the original photo) (Christian Pirkl, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons)

Figure c: Hybridization of Virgen de Regla and Yemaya altar in the Yemaya temple of Trinidad, Cuba. (Ji-Elle, CC BY-SA 4.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons)

The hybridization of these deities is also apparent in the religious rituals/ways of worship of the believers of the religion. Depending on where the believer falls, so does their religious ritual to the deity. Moreover, the altar of the deity (like the ones seen in the images above) also plays an important role in the ritual/worship, given that this is where the followers of the deity come to pay tribute to them. For instance, if someone falls more under the Yoruba side, they will throw a party to worship the saint. Here food will be offered to the saint, along with extensive dancing and music. In a way this allows believers to come together and worship their deity (Orisha Yemaya: Queen of the Sea). Now on the other hand, those who worship the saint version, or in this case la Virgen de Regla, would go to the specific church designated for this saint and bring her flowers, burn a candle, and pray to the saint for whatever they might want or need. Now, when these two are hybridized we get a way of worship that seems to combine aspects of both the Yoruba religion and Catholicism. For instance, something that is commonly seen in Cuba is that both women and men all dress in white (something common to the Yoruba followers) would often come to the Catholic church where the Virgen de Regla is held in order to worship her. Hence we see followers of the Yoruba faith going to a catholic place of worship.

Overall, here we see just a small glance of the religious impact Spain had on the Americas. In this example, you have seen how Spain not only introduced Catholicism to Cuba (and also to the rest of the Americas) but also through the slave trade introduced the Yoruba religion. This resulted in not just the introduction of two new religions to a hemisphere that has never seen such things, but the hybridization of two religions giving birth to a new one. This is not only apparent in Cuba, but through all parts of the Americas, where we can see not only religions of the old world but new religions that were born after the hybridizations of different cultures and traditions.

Works Cited

Columbus, Christopher. “Journal of the First Voyage of Columbus” (during his first voyage, 1492- 93), Accessed 16 Apr. 2023.

Glaude, Ludmille, “Perceptions on Santería: Then and Now” (2018). Undergraduate Research. 15.

Nunn, Nathan, and Nancy Qian. “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 24, no. 2, 2010, pp. 163–188.,

“Orisha Yemaya: Queen of the Sea.” Original Botanica, 29 Dec. 2022,

Rankin, Monica A. “Santeria.” Latin American History and Culture: Encyclopedia of Early Modern Latin America (1820s to 1900), edited by Monica A. Rankin, and Thomas M. Leonard, Facts On File, 1st edition, 2017. Accessed 16 Apr. 2023.

Whitehead, Amy. “La Virgen de Regla: a Material Approach to Lived Religious Transformation in Latin America”. Interdisciplinary Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society (published online ahead of print 2022). Web.

“Deering as Text”

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University at the Deering Estate, April 16, 2023

View of the Deering Estate from the Biscayne Bay (Photo by Alexis Mas/ CC BY 4.0)

When I entered the Deering Estate for the first time with Professor Bailly, is as if I was entering the Deering Estate for the first time in my life. I have been here many times before, but this time was different. It was as if I was made aware of every detail this place holds. From its enriching and destructive history, diverse architecture, to the vast ecosystem that surrounds this environment. Throughout the walking lecture, I was not just seeing the Spanish-style stone house, or the nature preserve, but, I was witnessing this place through different times and through the eyes of different beings. At one point, I was in 2023 and a phew seconds later I traveled to 1922 when the stone house was originally built. In my mind, I could see Charles Deering enjoying a cup of wine in his wine cellar during prohibition, while in the background smugglers tried to sneak the liquor into the cellar. After returning to the present and making our way to the nature preserve, we saw shells that were used by the natives to extract meat from foods. Here I once again escaped reality and saw myself among a short group of Native Americas fishing in the waters near Biscayne Bay, using shells to cut the meat of different crustaceans and animals.

Now out of all the wonders this place has to offer, there is one in particular that stuck with me. This was the diverse and preserved ecosystem of the areas around the estate and those of Biscayne Bay. As both a biology major and someone who has lived in Miami for about 15 years, I was shocked to learn that the nature preserve of the Deering estate depicts the natural landscape of Miami before it was colonized. At first, I completely forgot that civilization was just a few miles away. This preserve looked like something out of a movie, with trees everywhere you look, rocks that stood out of the ground were covered in green moss and small marine fossils, uneven terrain that had what appeared to be holes randomly throughout the preserve, mangroves that stretch for miles over crystal-clear water that flowed to the ocean. For anyone that comes here, it would be hard to not get lost in time to when Native Americans inhabited this place. Not only this, but a wide range of birds, reptiles, amphibians, fishes, crustaceans, and even small mammals could be seen from time to time. This place was as if it was untouched by human hands. Despite all this, after being here for a while, we return to where we started, and reality kicked in. I was left wondering why I didn’t know about this place, if I didn’t know, then how many people do not know, or how many people who have lived in Miami all their life will never come to know what Miami looked like before it was even inhabited? For a second I thought that more people should know that Miami is not just a city of beautiful beaches, downtown, or bad traffic, but it is also a wonderful and diverse place where nature inhabits. But, I quickly stopped myself as I was thinking this, and made what might seem like a sad and selfish realization. Perhaps the reason this place was the way it was, is because not a lot of people know about it. The fewer people know the better, because sadly, most people tend to destroy rather than preserve.

“Departure as Text”

By Alexis Mas of Florida International University, April 22, 2023

Photograph by Alexis Mas / CC by 4.0

As I think back to my first day of class, I can see now that I have come a long way, not only in my knowledge of the history of Miami, Spain, and South America but in how I see myself. By the time this class ended, I had learned things about the history of Miami that I never knew before. For instance, before taking this class I thought that Miami was the city it was mainly because of the many Cubans that influenced the development of this city. How wrong I was. After taking this class, I saw that Miami is a combination of many cultures, origins, traditions, and much more. This is a city that was first inhabited by the Tequesta, concorded by the Spaniards, built by Bohemians, settled by Americans, and a destination for many Hispanic immigrants. Hence, Miami is not just the product of one thing, but it is a collective result of many origins. This was a message I saw time and time again not just for this city but for many of the things that we were exposed to throughout the class in the form of books, films, walking lectures, and regular discussions that we had during the class lecture. Now, this idea impacted me the most when I was reading “El Principe de los Cocuyos” where Riqui the main character goes through a journey trying to find out who he is. While reading the book, I stopped and ask myself, who I really was. A used to think of myself as a Cuban who was half Spanish and half African. As the class went on, I realized that I am one individual entity, just like Miami. It would be wrong for me to say that I am mainly Cuban or Spanish or try to identify myself to a specific origin over the other. In reality, I am the product of the combination of many different traditions and customs. Hence my Cuban, Spanish, African, American, and any other parts of myself are combined to make the person I am today. I realized that this was also true for Spain itself. For us Cubans, one of the many things we take pride in is being descendants of Spaniards. This gives many of us a feeling of belongingness to what many Cubans would see as a similar culture in a European country that speaks the same language. Moreover, many Cubans are of Spanish descent and still practice several Spanish customs. Spain, as I have learned, is a result of many different cultures that came together over the years and form what is now Spain.

Now that the spring semester is over, I can see that I am not the same person (as far as knowledge and cultural understanding) I was when I entered this class. Given this, it is my expectation that visiting Spain and living like a true Spaniard will have a much greater impact, one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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