Amanda Sarmientos is a student at Florida International University Honors College, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a Pre-Law certificate. She is a Cuban immigrant who came to the U.S. at the age of 10, and is passionate about creating meaningful change for the situation of her home country through her aspirations of becoming an attorney.
Spring Encounter as Text
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 27th of January, 2023.
I anticipated the first encounter since the Fall, so walking into the tiny classroom that Friday afternoon felt freeing. It was a long-awaited moment that finally arrived. After the first meeting, I feel like this is really happening, it felt far away before but now it’s right around the corner. I feel very motivated and anxious about the trip to come. Although, I wouldn’t say that anxiety is the best word to describe how I feel. The word that comes to mind is ansias, which directly translates to craving. The meaning is lost in translation a bit though, by ansias, I mean more like looking forward to, wanting it to come already, so craving is an interesting translation but not super accurate.
I’ve thought long and hard about why I am in this class, and mainly I’ve realized it’s for selfish reasons. I want to become a better-rounded version of myself, but mainly I’m here because I want to do this for myself before I start law school. I have been working non-stop every summer since 8th grade towards building up a good resume for law school, and this summer I want to do something for myself, as a celebration of the start of my twenties and probably the last “free” summer I’ll have for the next 3-4 years.
I don’t know much about France, which I believe puts me in an optimal position for quality learning; I know the basic things everyone knows, I guess. I have a lot of ideas about the way different things are, and I am excited to see which parts of my mental conception of France are accurate and which ones are simply skewed by American public opinion of the French way of life.
When thinking about France, the image in my mind is split between the French countryside and Paris. For Paris, I have a skinny dirty-blonde woman wearing black, leaning on a wall on the side of the street, smoking a cigarette, she looks like Lilly Rose Depp but tall. The cobblestone is wet from the rain and there’s jazz playing somewhere along the street, maybe out of a passing car. For the French countryside, the image looks more like a sunny Sunday morning. A white-haired grandma gets out of bed and glances outside checking on her sheep. She wakes up her husband, kisses him on the cheek, and walks through her hallway towards the kitchen, straightening up one of the family portraits on her gallery wall on the way. Consider this second mental image as mundane in the most relaxing, enjoyable, and simple way possible.
I have never been to France, so it’s very exciting to get to experience it for the first time and have it be such an educational experience. I thought this trip (especially our class topics and assignments) was the perfect way to exercise a good habit of reflecting on my experiences as I enter my twenties. There is such a pressure to experience a multitude of things during your twenties, that I hate it, but I want it. As someone who has lived a somewhat stable and normal life so far (which is a blessing), I want to have interesting stories to tell.
My expectations of the program are to learn fun, interesting things. To see beautiful architecture, paintings, and sculptures. I hope to be able to visit many cities in France during the days off. I hope to go through at least one life-changing experience that revolutionizes the way I see the world. I am most looking forward to visiting Versailles, because I am a girly girl, in love with the baroque and rococo artistic styles, which are fully represented there. And overall, I hope to come out of this experience with more than I came in with, more empathy, knowledge, experience, and curiosity.
Enlightenment as Text
“The Human Inability to Take off the Blindfold”
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 12th of February, 2023.
Candide by Voltaire left me with two things. The question of ‘How many times can one person die and come back to life before it becomes ridiculous?’ And the realization that humans are really never content with anything, we live in the future, full of greed and blind to the privileges of the moment. We strive for more, and always want something other than what we have.
Many times throughout the book, Candide found himself in good situations, which he left looking for what he felt was missing in that moment. Then when he ran into perilous or unfortunate circumstances as a result of his actions, he cried, complained, and could not believe that those horrible events would happen to him.
The book was a constant unstable ride of one event leading up to the next, some great, some really not. However, whether good or bad, Candide never felt satisfied. This commentary comes through very clearly, that humans spend their lives chasing something, working towards it. Sometimes encountering perfect situations in which they’re happy, but always leaving them or risking them to strive for what they think will make them happier. The adage of ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’. This exact example can be seen through Candide’s visit of El Dorado and how this city was everything anyone could ever dream of. Candide would have been able to life a happy and fulfilled life there, but that was not enough. He wanted Cunegonde.
Cunegonde is to Candide the dream, the goal, the ultimate pleasure. Which is ironic and hypocritical because when he finally gets this prized dream, he doesn’t want it anymore. The strong and potent love he felt for her was lustful and faded along with her beauty. This situation demonstrates how a superficial dream can trick you into leaving the privileges you actually have for a chance of what you think you want, which you may end up no longer being interested in.
Tying together this book with the time period, the Enlightenment as a whole and what it represents, I can see how Voltaire satirically exposed not just faults of the human nature but also society for overlooking these faults and following a system which perpetuates them. The Enlightenment to me represents a scandalous exposition of the rotting base of the system that everyone upheld. It encouraged questioning the status quo, it made fun of just living life accepting that “everything is for the best, and this is the best of all possible worlds”. This was more specifically ridiculed by Voltaire through the many horrible and disheartening misfortunes that preceded and followed that statement being used in the book. Things could not possibly get worse at times, which made those who spoke that phrase seem like blind sheep, finding reason where there is none and following a lie until the end. Candide does not provide one clear answer for anything, other than that humans are masochists and not created to stay still, and that the status quo must be questioned. It is a book very representative of its time, that cannot be argued.
Historic Miami as Text
“The Ambiguity of Everything”
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 24th of February, 2023.
As we walked through the dirty downtown of the city, I learned about the beginnings woven together to form what we currently consider as Miami. The story went as expected at first, like any other, but soon enough I thought about how ambiguous it was. A mix of regrettable circumstances and unprecedented diversity. A rich melting pot of all kinds of people and their culture. Miami is certainly a place like no other.
I expected typical history. Natives of the land living peacefully in their society until one day they are “discovered” (*eye roll*) by a colonist, they battled, they lost, they died, they’re remembered somberly but not too often or grandly as to incite guilt or action. The new settlers of the land bring their good and bad contributions. Ultimately after trials and tribulations the land exhibits growth with these new people, for the most part leaving behind the past of its original inhabitants and history. This growth is filled with racism, oppression, sexism, and struggles for the poor while the rich become richer.
Looking at the period of the Native history, to the Spanish landing in Biscayne Bay, later the British conquer, then again, the Spanish and ultimately the United States, Miami seemed to be exactly what I thought. A city with a dirty and deplorable history of oppression, merciless exploitation, and disrespect.
A piece of the history that added to this negative perception was the Flagler Statue in front of the courthouse. Evoking statues highlighting the contributions of martyrs and men of high rank and importance is inappropriate, specially of men who were as morally ambiguous, as Flagler. I may be very biased, coming from a communist education system that glorified bad men for questionable decisions.
Flagler is primarily highlighted in front of the Miami-Dade Courthouse for agreeing to the request of Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell, whose idea to bring down the railroads to Miami eventually became the reason why Miami as a city is even here in the first place. The courthouse doesn’t credit Julia or Mary or mention their names at all. Instead, Henry Flagler, a slaveowner businessman and the reason why segregation existed, who decided to follow the money and self-interest, is revered with a statue in his honor. Fortunately, Julia was ultimately credited as the mother of Miami when mayor Daniela Levine Cava was elected. At that point the offense can’t be undone though. Julia has a plaque near the Miami River while Flagler has a statue at the courthouse.
Even today, in 2023, as a society we give a huge spotlight to people like Flagler, whose contributions are outshined by the damage he caused to the black laborers he exploited, to the towns he segregated, and to the river he polluted. To that point, Miami history was as expected, regrettable. As we continued in our lecture walk however, history showed that there were some redeeming qualities to the beginnings of this city.
Including colonists who are just the greedy, entitled, and aggressive version of a regular immigrant, Miami was from the start, a home for anyone who came here. From the original inhabitants, the Tequesta, to Spanish settlers, British, Bahamians, and Americans, to Cubans, Venezuelans, Hondurans and the hundreds of current nationalities that you can encounter today by taking a walk along Miami streets.
Miami is essentially at its core, a city of diversity, whose first registered citizen is a man of color. Miami is one of the first places where free black people, who escaped slavery, lived a normal life within the bounds of their racist society. Miami was the home to the Wagner family. The owners of the oldest standing house in Miami. An interracial couple who lived peacefully near a Seminole settlement and often mediated between the government and the natives.
I felt troubled through our walk of the downtown, having learned of this history. But at the same time realized that this was one of the more grey, in-the-middle stories, crossing into territories that other cities hadn’t before. Miami’s history was not all bad, unfair, and disheartening. Not even close to my own. Learning Cuban history made me unexcited about the topic of colonialism, in part because if it wasn’t for colonialism I may have a traceable lineage, but then again, if it wasn’t for colonialism I probably wouldn’t exist. Which is important to note, that although many times we are wired to place things in categories and say things are bad or good, many things, most things are grey, ambiguous. Humans are ambiguous, history is ambiguous, everything is ambiguous.
Vizcaya as Text
“Beyond the Naked Eye”
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 16th of March, 2023.
Through plain observation, Vizcaya may seem to be just a beautiful castle. An influential piece of Miami history, stemming from the ideas of grandeur of its owner, James Deering. Vizcaya may seem to be a palace exclusively, of glory and enjoyment. It may seem an invitation to “gladly accept the gifts of the present hour and abandon serious things” as Deering had etched on the front wall of the mansion which greets visitors and faces the sea. However, the mansion of worldly pleasure and its master, the Miamian Gatsby, contain a less glamorous truth which is masked by their apparent glory.
Beneath the surface, and through personal research, you will learn of the beginnings of the mansion and gardens, tainted with the lack of recognition given to the laborers thanks to whom Vizcaya exists today. In times of intense racial segregation, black Bahamians were largely those responsible for the arduous work of building everything that now stands in the grounds. You wouldn’t know this information by taking a walk along the grounds of the mansion and gardens. To learn about this, you’d have to visit an online page by the museum, where there is a brief description of what the kinds of positions the Bahamians may have held, a few pictures and a YouTube video link, of a collaborative interview with a representative of a non-profit called Black Archives.
Every inch of the home is thought-out and filled with the best money could buy, this restless necessity to emulate to perfection a respectable and abundant European home, reveals something about its owner that can be overlooked by a superficial visit. It is obvious, by looking closely at and within Vizcaya, that James Deering attempted to emulate the customs and fashions of European high society. The mansion, although full of glamour and money, is truly empty. As empty and hollow as the smiling faces of the children in the portraits of his study. Unrelated to him, only there for appearances.
The lavish gardens and art-filled mansion, conceal the fragile ego of its owner which manifests itself under multiple symbols that can be found by walking through the halls. The first, greets you as you walk into the property. James Deering, despite not fighting or winning any wars, built himself an Arc of Triumph at the entrance of his gardens. Another can be seen by looking at the stained glass which welcomes you into the stairs going up to the second floor. The phrase ‘j’ai dit’, is where James Deering places himself in the position of God, as God says this phrase when he creates the world “let there be light”, but in this case, Deering’s creation is Vizcaya.
Vizcaya is truly a structure of its time, remaining true to a pretentiousness particular to these lands despite the passage of time. Vizcaya represents, since the early 20th century, the ostentatious nature of the rich that we see the people trying to emulate in Miami today.
Revolution as Text
“The Pursuit of Freedom”
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 9th of April, 2023.
Experiencing a retelling of the events preceding and following the French revolution was a wild, wild ride. From our initial conversations in class regarding Versailles and King Louis the XIV, I knew I supported the common folk in being sick and tired of the treatment they received from their royals, as well as the conditions they lived in and the manic and irresponsible, self-serving decisions they had to endure.
Being aware of these ongoing issues with the monarchy and discontent among the people, allowed me to have a basis on which to stand when reading “The Lost King of France”, which in my opinion was heavily sided with the monarchy beyond just being written on their perspective during the conflict.
Eradicating a monarchy was never going to be an easy job, so although I find regrettable the ways in which the revolutionaries took action against their monarchs, I fully support the sentiment of wanting the monarchy ended for good. Violence against the royal family was to the extent committed, unnecessary and cruel. Although the royal children posed a threat to a monarch-free France, the elimination of those threats could have been given more thought and have been handled with much less cruelty and ridicule. The royal family was, after all, a family. A set of parents and their children, who had to suffer irreparable damage during their years of captivity.
The people of France were brave, in initiating their revolution and saying ‘enough is enough’. Learning about the hungry women who marched to the front of Versailles demanding justice and bloodshed, was a proud moment as a woman. Women are often pictured if at all, as passive during wars and conflict. This is why I rejoiced in seeing that a large part of the revolutionary action was begun by hungry mothers, daughters and sisters who had enough of the misery of their situation. In saying this I do not mean that I support the violence and death they posed on the royal family that day, but rather that I admire their strength and determination in following through with what they believed was just at that point in time.
Although the book strives to incite sympathy within the reader for the royal family and sometimes it is successful in doing so, the cruelties the monarchy had for ages imposed upon its people kept me from feeling any deeper sympathy for the institution and only allowed me to feel for the family as I would for any other family facing the same predicament.
In perspective, learning about the French Revolution left me thinking of my own country of birth, Cuba. On July 11th, 2021, for the first time in Cuban history, the people took the streets in protest. A sign of their discontent with the oppressive communist regime. The demonstrations were met with violence from the government and mass incarceration. This violation of universal human rights went ignored by the international human rights watch, the UN and all other entities which pride themselves in tackling similar issues around the world. This fact left me disappointed, but not surprised, for over 60 years the people of Cuba have endured similar and worse conditions while the world watches silently and while its people stay down in fear. As I read about the bravery and success of the French people in pursuing their freedom and justice, I hoped to some day see the same for my people.
World War II as Text
“The Irony of War”
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 9th of April, 2023.
Going into my sophomore year of high school, I was assigned “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien as summer reading. Reading this book was unpleasant, but eye-opening in a way that books about war should be. Reading the book was as unpleasant as watching both films and the show in preparation for writing about this topic. The gore, the blood, the suffering, the guns and shootings and dehumanization of people. As I powered through the World War II material, I was reminded of many points made on the book. Although this book is about the Vietnam War, and not the second world war, many aspects of the things soldiers carried stuck with me while experiencing the new content. I thought often about the literal things soldiers carried such as guns and cans of food, but I also thought about the more figurative and inherent things they carried like fear and the weight on their conscience.
Thanks to having read the book, I thought about these soldiers as boys. The movies and show are shot in a way that allows for you to see their humanity behind their strength and occupation, but not in the same way that the book does. Having come into this experience having read a book about war and its effects on the soldiers, truly shaped the way I experienced the content I was consuming. I thought about their families, their hobbies, their moments of teenage embarrassment and stupidity. About whether they had allergies or phobias, whether they liked pineapple on pizza or how they would react to certain situations.
Watching Band of Brothers, I was specially reminded of the poem “The Man He Killed” by Thomas Hardy, where the ironic humanity of two enemy soldier’s relationship is exposed. The author talks about how he may have shared a drink with this man, who he now faces in the opposite side of the field and must kill. The savagery and the irony of war is eminent through this poem and through the character of the author who even mentions that the only reason why they are foes is because maybe just like he did, the other man may have sold his straps. I thought of the familiarity of this concept and how often this goes overlooked.
I respected how in none of the films the men ever judge each other harshly on their reactions to the war and its situations. In moments where as the audience, we may condemn a soldier of acting cowardly, I never sensed that the men made each other feel any kind of way for reacting or not, to any situation. This was something I enjoyed, and which taught me that only when you live through it can you respect it to a point that you have no expectation on how others should or would react. There is a lot of vulnerability in accepting that your life is not your own and that in any moment and for at times no reason at all, your life may be ended in a blink.
I felt privileged that I’ve never had to see a friend be blown up into pieces or drag them from whatever body part is left of them across the field. That I have never felt the warm embrace of a bloody body falling on top of me and that I have all limbs attached, living a mundane life, and worrying only about typical young adult things.
Hardy, T. (n.d.). The man he killed. Poetry Foundation. Retrieved April 9, 2023, from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44329/the-man-he-killed
O’Brien, T. (2022). Things they carried. Mariner books.
Deering Estate as Text
“The Strangler and The Strangled”
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 14th of April, 2023.
During our walk through the abundant greenery of Deering Estate, my attention was drawn to a tree that seemed to be taking over the space in which another tree stood using its limb-like branches. The tree’s limbs hovering and wrapping itself around its prey, suffocating it.
Professor Bailly explained that my suspicions were right, murder was in action. This was a tree known as the Strangler Fig, which kills other trees in its vicinity by wrapping itself around them, consuming them and making them become part of its trunk. Ultimately erasing their existence as if no other tree had ever stood there before the Strangler Fig did. Like poison, the branches of the Strangler Tree grow and spread slowly, immobilizing and taking ownership of the space they invade.
Like the defenseless trees which have fallen victim to the strangler, Native Americans have dealt with the displacement from their lands and the attempts and successes at erasing their history, many tribes suffering complete extinction. Like the Strangler Trees, colonists invaded and spread their influence on Native American lands. Suffocating the traditions and culture, attempting to sow-in their own ideals and way of life to a point where the original people of the lands would be but a forgotten molecule of bark within the trunk of the colonist society.
In the same lands where that day we walked as a class, the Tekesta, original people of present-day Miami, once dwelled. Their history cannot be observed by a simple walk through their lands through, only the sensible buildings owned by wealthy landowner and businessman Charles Deering, after whom the estate is named. Professor Bailly’s efforts to teach in accuracy the true beginnings of the lands where the estate currently sits, are the only introduction to the molecule of bark that the Tekesta represent today in the flamboyant trunk of the evolved society that is Miami. Despite being the true Miamians, history of the Tekesta is not taught in Miami-Dade schools. Colonialism succeeded in spreading its venom enough that its branches completely consumed and erased the existence of the Tekesta and a large majority of their history.
As a society, we barely acknowledge past mistakes, we do brief mentions of the negatives and choose to focus on the “good”. We teach mild adaptations of historic events we deem inappropriate in certain cases. We continue a chain of ignorance and lack of responsibility.
I heard one day that people who do not know their history are bound to repeat it. Which is a large concern I hold about the current state of the United States and Florida specifically. Governmental censoring in public education will doubtlessly play a propelling role in the development of an ignorant future society. Even more unaware than the current society of the horrors of the past, and free of responsibility or education on how to avoid the repetition of past mistakes. Living among the privileges of a first world country, there is no harder truth to accept, no harder pill to swallow than seeing the decline that may result from these decisions peaking on the horizon.
Departure as Text
By Amanda Sarmientos of FIU in Miami, Florida 23rd of April, 2023.
I titled my encounter as text “Ansias” because I felt the word pop into my head and fit perfectly the minute I began reflecting on the trip to come. Now only a couple of months away, I begin to reflect on what has changed from January until today, shaped by my experiences in the Miami in Miami class and all we’ve learned about and discussed at our meetings.
The reason I am in this class still stands. A celebratory beginning to the start of my twenties, which as a very sentimental person means a lot to me. This study abroad experience and its specific location, will allow me to experience something extremely rare and valuable for someone like me (a child immigrant who never thought she’d even ride in a plane). As an aspiring attorney I am drawn towards the human rights aspect of the class, and I’ve found myself really deepening the connections I make with the materials we’ve explored thus far. I cannot wait to learn of all that’s to come once we land in Paris and begin what we’ve been preparing for. I’m still every bit as motivated to learn and experience all that there is, and my ansias grow every second as the moment nears.
One main difference between my encounter as text and now, my departure as text, is my answer to the question “What do you know about France?”. This class has truly show me so many different faces of the French culture and history that I feel much more familiarized with what to expect than I did back in January. Reading the books, watching the films, and listening to the history truly shaped the initially shallow understanding I had of what France was like.
France does, however, conjure the same image in my mind as it did at the start of the class. The French countryside: A serene, mundane cottage where a sweet old couple enjoys the simplicity of a life lived slowly and meaningfully. As for Paris, I can only picture it in the rain now after having watched Midnight in Paris. I can only see rainy cobblestone streets, empty and lovely.
Versailles remains at the very top of my list of places I am most excited for, now joined by Mont St. Michel after seeing a million videos of the areas surrounding it and the French Alps after the wonderful stories we’ve heard from alumni. Each place unique, offering an array of different experiences that I hope will truly shape me as a person and teach me lessons I’ll never forget.
Somehow, I am only a couple of months away and I feel as if time was going by so slowly that years stood between the trip and me. It feels surreal that my life will have such a special highlight in just a couple of months. I feel very hopeful for all the wonderful things we will get to live through and learn about. I cannot wait to get started.