Amanda Ruiz-Diaz is a junior pursuing a degree in accounting at FIU. After graduating, she hopes to gain her CPA license and enter a career in forensic accounting. She was born in Miami but is a descendant of Cuban and Argentinian immigrants and is the first in her family to attend college. Amanda enjoys drawing, rollerblading, drinking coffee, and traveling.
Encounter As Text
Photograph by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, 2016
“Transcending Experience” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, January 26th, 2023
My grandparents have ultimately motivated my passion for traveling.
As the eldest grandchild, I was spoiled rotten. My grandparents took me on solo trips almost every year. I shared my first plane ride with them, I experienced the mountains for the first time with them, and they even took me on my first cruise. Many other family vacations I’ve experienced have been filled with chaos and frivolous adventures, and while they have been fun, my quiet, introverted self loved the peaceful getaways my grandparents provided me.
Since their days as a young couple, my grandparents traveled all over the US. As they traveled the states, they visited numerous national parks, engaged in a copious amount of antique shopping, and took pleasure in learning about the history of the country. Despite being immigrants, exploring the states made them feel connected to the land. I learned how to travel just like them. Whenever I travel, I seek out connections to the places I visit. I want to learn about their regular daily life, their unique traditions, learn about their architecture, and the stories they pass down to their children.
The study abroad program was the main reason I joined the Honors College at FIU, as never in my life have I been granted such an amazing opportunity. I would not only get to travel to Europe for the first time, but I would get to do it the right way. It did not matter much to me which program I chose since I had never traveled out of the country (besides some cruises in the Caribbean). Spain intrigued me because that is where my family originated from, but I wanted to save that trip so that I could one day take my grandmother to her ancestral homeland. The Italy program also called to me as I am deeply in love with their food and architecture. However, once I learned all that the France abroad program had to offer, I was sold.
Out of all the programs, France is the one I least expected to choose since I know so little of France, and all I have ever heard from friends and family was negative stereotypes, but I am so happy I chose it. I am thrilled to learn all about France from a French professor. I am excited to go in-depth and ready to have a transcending experience that will change my life forever. I understand that this experience is not just a vacation but one that will require discipline and higher thinking, which is what makes this opportunity so unique. I will be able to take something away from this experience that will change the way I view the world. I am also prepared to step outside my boundaries and get accustomed to international traveling as I plan to travel to other countries a lot more in the future. I cannot wait to share all my new knowledge about France and Europe with my family so I can encourage them to step out of their comfort zones and join me!
Enlightenment As Text
Photograph by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, 2023
“Faith Behind Reasoning” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, February 12, 2023
Leading up to the Age of Enlightenment, society had been polarized by wealth and religion. As the impoverished were suffering, the wealthy were living in lavish comfort. Those who ruled derived their power from divine right, and thus, the government and church were completely intertwined. Moreover, those who strayed from the established religions and ways of thinking were outcasted and prosecuted. With the criticism of Catholicism, we began to see a shift in thought and soon a revolution that spread throughout the world.
The Enlightenment was a turning point that shaped our modern world into what it is today. It was a culmination of progressive ideas that led to revolutionary developments in art, science, philosophy, and politics. The movement focused on the human pursuit of happiness and the concept of natural rights. The Enlightenment introduced the idea of equality under the law, shedding previous concepts of a separate society. As this progressive movement started to spread, other radical political theories took form. Those who preached about individual rights also questioned those in authority. The concept of the “divine right to rule” was toppled as many criticized how leaders were obtaining their power from God. Today we establish in our governments the concept called a “social contract.” It is the idea that leaders acquire their power from the people, and thus in return, the leaders protect the individual rights of the people, but this power can be taken away if a leader fails to perform this duty. Thus, the Enlightenment helped to shed the old, oppressive systems of government and inspired future governments to come.
Moreover, as shown in Candide, the Enlightenment transformed philosophy. It was a “period of profound optimism” that emphasized human’s ability to use reason to progress society (Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris et al.). Voltaire emphasizes the notion of reasoning as a tool to find the truth in the world. In turn, Voltaire criticizes those that live through blind optimism, as it obstructs the perception of reality. The Enlightenment was a philosophical and religious awakening that strived to criticize faith and highlighted science as the new means of truth. Faith can be seen as the antithesis to reason. Faith is essentially blind optimism, as it is when one puts their complete trust in a belief, even though there is no proof supporting this thought. The concept of faith and religion are very similar, as without faith, religion has no power. When we believe in deities, we are putting our trust in an idea that has no scientific proof to be true. However, that is not to say that there is no relationship between faith and reason. Despite many who believe that the two concepts cannot coexist, the two have a natural connection. Behind many religious theories, there is rational reasoning, and behind many scientific theories, there is the “unevidenced faith in the “orderliness of nature” and unexplained set of physical laws ” (Coyne). We place our blind faith in reason when we declare it is the only way we can derive the truth. Therefore, it is wrong to say that faith and reason cannot be connected.
Coyne, Jerry A. “Why Scientists Have No Faith in Science.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 14 Nov. 2013, slate.com/technology/2013/11/faith-in-science-and-religion-truth-authority-and-the-orderliness-of-nature.html.
Dr. Steven Zucker and Dr. Beth Harris, et al. “The Age of Enlightenment, an Introduction.” Smarthistory, smarthistory.org/a-beginners-guide-to-the-age-of-enlightenment/.
Historic Miami As Text
Photograph by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, 2023
“New Light” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, February 28, 2023
Miami has always been known as a great melting pot of different cultures and experiences. It is a city full of endless opportunities and adventures. Despite living my entire life in Miami-Dade, I never learned about the history of the land. I was taught to memorize the dates of wars and the names of people who lived somewhere I had never even seen. How could I identify myself as a Miamian if I knew nothing of our history? Our walk through the city opened my eyes to this lack of education we have in Miami.
The displacement of Native Americans is something taught to us at an early age, though as children, we were taught the sugar-coated version of the grand exchange. We were told to call Native Americans “Indians” and celebrated Christopher Columbus as we read stories about his discovery of America, overshadowing how he brought slavery, rape, and murder to the Old World. As a descendant of Cubans, I learned of Juan Ponce de Leon, who “discovered” Florida and became the first governor of Cuba. We were told that his expedition was inspired by the search for the fountain of youth, but in reality, it was in search for gold and profits, as most expeditions were during that time.
It was surreal to see on our walk, the spot where Ponce de Leon entered Biscayne Bay in 1513; a moment that completely changed the future of this land and those inhabiting it. Although it was such a momentous event in history, this change instigated the beginning of an era with many disastrous battles and countless casualties and diseases. As we got older, we finally learned of the brutal and savage treatment of the native Americans.
The county I live in is named after a military officer whose ignorance led his soldiers to their death, and the plaque honoring him at our courthouse calls those who ambushed them “Indians and negros.” The city we see now has destroyed and covered up thousands of years of history that I was never taught. The Tequesta tribe, who once lived off this land and drank from the Miami river, are now a mural in a Whole Foods built over hundreds of their graves. The Miami Circle is ignored by those who walk by it because they never learned of its significance. The Royal Palm, built by Henry Flagler, who, with the ingenuity of Julia Tuttle, brought railroads down to Miami, is heralded as a great tourist destination. But it was built over the burial mound of Tequestas and spewed tons of sewage into the Miami river, making it inhabitable. And soon after, Henry Flagler established segregation in the city to encourage northern migrants to move to Miami. Now he has his own statue in front of the Miami-Dade courthouse. It is difficult to enjoy the luxuries of industrial development when we remember how it has devastated precious historical artifacts and polluted nature. Not to mention that it was all built employing the exploitation of black labor.
Photographs by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, 2023
Though learning about the tragic history of my city has been shocking, I am proud of what it has become. In some way, learning about the past has made me more grateful for the life I am living now. I feel more connected to history now, knowing how Miami came to be and all the tragedies that occurred for it to happen. With this newfound awareness, I can look at my home in a new light, one not clouded with sugar-coated stories.
Revolution As Text
La prise de la Bastille (The storming of Bastille), Jean-Pierre Houël
“Justifying Violence” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, March 12, 2023
Just as with any revolution, we see the contrast between tyranny and freedom. At its fundamental, it is the battle for human rights, those universal rights we are born with, and no other person can deprive us of. We want to hold those in power responsible for the suffering and oppression of the people. In our own revolution, we fought against the unjust rule of a king who infringed upon our natural rights. Thus we fought to dissolve ourselves from monarchical rule and, in turn, established a democratic form of government. In the process, there was violence and bloodshed, as with any war, but in the end, there was a more significant cause we were fighting for.
The French Revolution was more complex than our own. It was a culmination of hundreds of years of unhappiness and billions of dollars of debt escalating into an outburst much more extraordinary. In this battle, there are two sides at war, those struggling for change and those who want to stay in their ways. We look back upon their struggle and applaud their bravery and courage to stand up against the Ancien Régime that failed them. However, the revolution also led to anarchy and violence, resulting in millions of deaths. But it is difficult to put into perspective that those on “bad side” of history were also real people with their own families and emotions. This leads us to think: How can people fight for their own human rights and commit atrocities against their own species? There are always two sides to one story, as we saw with The Lost King of France. Although we look at these historical events as simply black and white, it is much more complicated than that.
When we look at the actions committed by the revolutionaries, it seems hypocritical to condemn the monarchy for their oppressive rule but lock them in jail and control their every move; to abuse and neglect a child who had no control over his upbringing and the status of his family. But how would you act if you were put in that same situation? When your own family cannot afford to buy bread gets charged with taxes, but those controlling all the wealth have to pay nothing at all. You begin to feel a wave of anger so great you want to take action. It feels like it is something you must do to save not only your family but the future of your country. It is difficult to condemn the behaviors of the revolutionaries, as on the one hand, they went spreading radical violence and murder, but they themselves were dying of hunger and living in poverty caused by their rulers, and in the end, the bloodshed led to such great change. You can justify that all the pain was worth it in the end, as it led to the dissolution of the unjust feudal system and created a better world of freedom and unity. No war is exempt from violence, though we wish they could be.
Vizcaya As Text
Photograph by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, 2023
“Parties and Pain” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, March 14, 2023
Despite never having been to Vizcaya, I always knew of its tremendous impact on Miami culture. The lavish and lux atmosphere of Vizcaya perfectly exemplifies Miami’s nature as a city full of glamour. As a person who thoroughly enjoys art history, it was fascinating to see the combination of different architectural styles employed to make the villa feel like I was truly in Europe. Not to mention how all the historical artifacts preserved in the building add to the artifice of its European character. While the artifacts are impressive, it seems that they were implemented more as to match a particular style; thus, it was not intended to be made into a museum as we see it today. However, the clever execution of different European elements is what makes it a unique landmark.
For this reason, Vizcaya is known to locals as a popular quinceañera photoshoot destination where young girls get to display their extravagant gowns besides beautiful Mediterranean-style buildings and enchanting gardens inspired by the Italian renaissance. It is also a beautiful venue for weddings with its majestic scenery and magical atmosphere that sets the tone for a romantic celebration. When entering the Vizcaya estate, you are transported to a world away from the bustling city of Miami into a quiet and elegant estate overlooking Biscayne Bay. Therefore, it is quite fitting that, like many wealthy men in Florida, James Deering bought the property upon his retirement. It is even more fitting that James used his estate as a sort of “bachelor pad” where he could indulge in drinking and grand parties (which is very Miami of him).
Photographs by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, 2023
The construction of Vizcaya juxtaposes the extravagant richness of James Deering’s lifestyle. As we have come to see, the construction of Miami heavily relied on black labor, which is overlooked in today’s age. It does not surprise me that, like most old buildings in Miami, Vizcaya was built by Bahamians during intense racial segregation. And James made it obvious he wanted to separate himself from those ‘inferior’ when he built a moat around his entire estate, something a rich king would do to keep the commoners away. It is even more ironic to remember that Bahamians also constructed this moat, demonstrating how the rich thrive off the exploitation of the poor.
Moreover, the fact that Vizcaya is simply a recreation of Europe exemplifies how the Transatlantic exchange wholly dominated and destroyed the native aspects of the land. To make a point of this, it is thrown upon you when you walk into Vizcaya, a statue of Ponce de Leon with a globe, demonstrating Spain’s world power and influence. Nothing in Vizcaya alludes to the Native Americans that once lived on the land. This is highlighted by the fact that the ground it is on was once named Tequesta Bay but was changed to Biscayne Bay because of Spaniards that had settled onto that same land in the 16th century. While Spanish influence is a major portion of Miami’s past and the past of most of the immigrants that have come to live here, it is a shame to see the eradication of the land’s original history.
World War II As Text
Photographs by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz, April 1st, 2023
“Always Remember” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, April 9th, 2023
Through the smoke and debris, I watched as the aircrafts zoomed by, followed by the flash of fire and the subsequent boom three seconds later. I know it sounds silly, but for the first time ever it felt like I was finally in the shoes of a war troop; it was a surreal experience that put all of my thoughts and opinions into a new perspective. It tore down the walls between history and myself.
I was at the Homestead Air Reserve Base, watching a spectacular air and space show from the comfort of a VIP tent. As I sat there watching the planes and listening to the commentator speak facts about the force and the US’s involvement in World War II, I was amazed by the skill and training of the service members. It was incredible how they all made the same exact movements at the same time like they were putting on a performance. At some point, I realized that I was experiencing a small fragment of what I had seen in all of those books and movies.
Starting at the time I was in middle school, I learned about the devastating tragedies that occurred in the 1940s. I was taught to memorize the facts and events of the second world war and was educated on what mass genocide was. I read books such as The Star of David and Anne Frank and watched documentaries or movies such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. However, despite the strong emotions and tears provoked by these works, I always felt disconnected from the past, especially from stories about the troops. I could not understand the connections between these events and myself. It was not until this class, and witnessing the airshow, that I was truly able to empathy and appreciation for those who risked and lost their lives in service. Brave people have volunteered to protect our freedom and rights, they have spent hundreds of hours training and fighting so that I can live comfortably within my little bubble of life. It is a privilege to be able to go to school and work towards my dream career; it is a privilege to spend time with my family and travel the world.
I have also come to know that acknowledging the past is extremely important. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history and its legacy continues to mold society and politics today. It reshaped our international power relations and left several countries, such as France, devastated and destroyed. It was the first war in which nuclear bombs were used as weapons, marking a turning point in the history of warfare. Being such an intense and immense event in our history, it is no wonder we are still speaking of its tragedies and making movies about it today. It would be ignorant to ignore the miseries and hardships that occurred during its time. For instance, those who reject and deny the Holocaust are attempting to nullify one of the most traumatic events in human history. Acknowledging history is a significant aspect of understanding the present and shaping the future. The past allows us to understand current events and social issues and involves recognizing the impact of events on those who are marginalized or oppressed. When you deny historical events, you are opening the future up for failures. The term “history repeats itself” suggests that events in our politics and society tend to occur in patterns. If we do not put history into perspective, we lose the valuable insights that the past may provide.
Deering Estate As Text
Photo of myself at the Deering Estate (Photograph by Meghan Marrero-Beyra)
“Exceeding Expectations” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, April 16, 2023
The Deering Estate was a mystery to me before our trip in January. I had only ever heard its name a few times in my life, and to me it just sounded like some grandiose mansion that became a museum. However, I quickly learned as we walked inside its gates that it was something much more significant. Walking down the gravel path as I neared the Richmond Cottage and Stone House, I gazed in wonder at the tall trees surrounding me. I had no expectations for what I was about to encounter but I suddenly felt at peace.
Once I set eyes upon the structures in front of me, I was both amazed and confused. The two buildings had such juxtaposing architectural styles, yet it felt like they were meant to be together. The Mediterranean styled stone mansion with yellow tinged concrete walls and arched windows and sitting next to it the cottage with bold red siding and green shutters. It was a showcase of some of the most common styles in south Florida. On one side we see the Floridian vernacular architecture of a cottage that was created utilizing the surrounding hardwood hammocks and built to withstand the state’s humid and tropical climate. On the other side we see the Spanish influence that has engulfed much Florida’s buildings, including my own home. This is something that always stands out to me as my family descends from Spain, thus it just seems natural to call Florida my home.
While touring the buildings fascinated me greatly, what really stole my attention was the land surrounding them. You can imagine my shock as I learned that humans inhabited the area from as early as 10,000 years ago. Furthermore, I was not aware of the Deering Estate’s role in nature conservationism. In a busy city that experienced rapid industrialization it is important to preserve what is left of its wildlife. South Florida is a region filled with such diverse ecosystems that are essential to the balance of nature. As with so much development we have hurt and destroyed many habitats of our land’s native creatures. Humans have robbed animals of their homes, hunted many of them to the point of extinction, and polluted the water and air with chemicals. It is necessary that we protect the land we take from.
And it was also my first time learning of the Tequesta. They are a part of history I had never learned about and yet I walk over the land they once made their homes with. It felt surreal feeling the seashells they converted into their little tools for their everyday lives. It was fascinating seeing how they could utilize the different shapes to fit their needs. I still remember holding a small piece of shell that is thought to have been used as a spoon by the Tequesta. It fit perfectly in my hand like it was made to be for that purpose, yet it is something straight from nature. This experience made me realize how much life has changed and how much technology has advanced.
Deering Estate Historic Structures: Miami, Florida. Deering Estate. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://deeringestate.org/history/historic-structures/
Florida vernacular architecture. Florida Vernacular Architecture | Groveland, FL – Official Website. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://groveland-fl.gov/535/Florida-Vernacular-Architecture
Departure As Text
Photograph by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz
“Exhilarating and Intimidating” by Amanda Ruiz-Diaz of FIU, April 23, 2023
Since the start of the semester, my excitement for this trip has not died down. As I prepare myself for travel and ensure I’m checking everything off my list, my mind is filled with images of European adventures. In just under two months, I will depart on a seven-week voyage with new people, foods, customs, and freedom. I hope that spending an entire month in France will be as fulfilling and wonderful as I imagine. Considering that it will be the first time away from my family for so long, it’s normal that I feel nervous to depart. Not to mention how nervous my family is to see me travel across the world on my own without their guidance. They always ask me if I know what I am doing, and to be honest I don’t, but I doubt that they would know any more than me since they have also never been to Europe.
Despite these challenges, after this spring semester, I have enough confidence to say that I am ready for this new chapter in my life. Going abroad will open my life to so many opportunities that I would have never had without the honors college. I will be able to broaden my worldview and finally visit the places I have been dreaming of since I was a child. This past semester has already taught me so much I did not know. It not only expanded my limited knowledge of French history, but it challenged my own beliefs in ways I didn’t think this class would. I cannot wait to experience this once again in Europe and finally see in person all of the French history and culture we spoke about this spring. I want to become one with the country and expose myself to everything that France has to offer.
With my newfound freedom, I will finally experience true “adulthood,” as some might say. Although I am now twenty years old, I still have the privilege of living under my parents’ roof. I am relieved to have so much love and support, but living under my parents’ roof can sometimes feel restrictive and limit my ability to explore and experience the world on my own terms. This summer will be the official passage into my twenties and will hopefully set the tone for the rest of my life. Studying abroad will be a time of untested independence and responsibility. A time away from the comforts of home and taking on the challenges of living in an unfamiliar environment. This is a time of personal growth, reflection, and discovery. It is both exhilarating and intimidating to navigate these new obstacles, but it helps to remember how this will help me reach my goal of traveling the world as I have been aspiring to since my first trip with my grandparents.
I won’t be entirely on my own, however. I am lucky to experience this with amazing classmates and a brilliant professor who will guide me on this personal journey during this new time in my life. I am grateful to be given this chance.