Daniela Alvarez-Sierra: Miami as Text 2023

Photograph by Isabella Ojeda // CC by 4.0

Daniela Alvarez-Sierra is a second-year student at Florida International University currently majoring in Finance on a pre-law track. Daniela was born in Lansing, Michigan to Cuban immigrant parents and moved to Miami, Florida at 6 years old, allowing her to connect more to her Cuban heritage.

Encounter as Text

There are many emotions I am feeling after having the first official class of España Study Abroad. The main emotion I am feeling is excited and positive towards this journey and everything it entails, and although I am not exactly sure of what is to come, I know it’ll be an experience I will never forget. Growing up in the United States and taking history classes throughout the school years, I had always heard of people from Latin America having Spanish roots, and as a Cuban I was always intrigued at how I am of Spanish descent. After taking this course and visiting the country, I hope to become more connected to my roots and culture, as well as learn about traditions I partake in now that come from España. I have never been anywhere in Europe, but España has always been somewhere I have wanted to go since I was a child since my mom has visited many times and has always told me how much she loved it. While the reason I chose this class was rather random and not planned, I feel like that has allowed me to come into the course with no expectations on what I want to learn about, see, or do, and will allow me to enjoy the class and the different directions it may lead to.

As of right now, I have basic knowledge on the culture of España, such as the traditional foods Spanish people eat, like paella and their love for tapas. Additionally, I am familiar with Flamenco music and dance, as well as musicians and actors from España such as Rosalía, Julio Iglesias, and Antonio Banderas. It is interesting to realize how much figures such as these have an impact of the entertainment industry around the world. On the other hand, when it comes to important buildings, churches, and monuments in España, I know little to nothing about them. Off the top of my head, I can only think of knowing about the Sagrada Familia, so I am looking forward to learning more about the history the places we will visit have and why they are so important to Spanish culture.

Before having the first official meeting of España Study Abroad, I was nervous about meeting new people and traveling alone for such a long period of time without someone I am close to; finding flights and coordinating dates was particularly nerve-racking and stressful. Now though, I am excited at these new opportunities, and I believe doing this Study Abroad program will allow me to become more independent, as well as confident in my abilities to travel on my own and have to navigate myself through airports and trains to get to Madrid as well as when leaving from Barcelona. Because I am a commuter student, I have never been away from home for as long as I will be, and I am looking forward to placing myself out of my comfort zone while exploring a country I have never been to with my peers.

Transatlantic Exchange as Text

Elliot Key. Photograph by Wikimedia Commons // CC by SA-3.0

When thinking about it off the top of their heads, what one may think of when hearing the words “Transatlantic Exchange” is one of three things: slaves were brought to the Americas, different foods were being introduced to both the New World and the Old World, and diseases were spread. In reality, while all these things are true, there is a much deeper description to the Transatlantic Exchange and the impact it has made, even in present times. Food was being brought back and forth from the Americas and the Old world, and the foods that were introduced to the Old World had an impact on the cuisines of different regions that we wouldn’t have seen if it weren’t for that exchange, such as tomatoes turning into a key ingredient in many Italian dishes. The exchanges of foods between both the New and Old World were able to create a boom in population due to the new calorie-rich foods each part was now consuming and the nutrients they provided (Nunn & Qian, 2010). Diseases may have lessened this impact though, since new diseases were being introduced, and at the time were deadly to those that had not built immunity, consequently wiping out a large population of Native Americans and additionally causing many European casualties. One of the biggest impacts of the Transatlantic Exchange was the way Native Americans were treated; they were taken as slaves, their villages were burned down, or they were even killed because of their refusal to comply with conquistadors. The main goal of people coming from the New World was to convert Native Americans into Christians and be able to use them as slaves. Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, a Spanish explorer, stated that other explorers they would encounter wanted to take Native Americans as slaves even after those same people had guided them and helped them (Cabeza de Vaca, active 16th century).

It would be ignorant for me to not note that without the Transatlantic Exchange, my life would not be the same as it is today. To anybody living in what was once considered the New World, none of it would have been made possible if not for the Transatlantic Exchange. I am Cuban, which means I am of Spanish descent and my ancestors back in the 16th century probably had an active role in what the Spanish were doing at the time. While I do not agree with what the Spanish did when it comes to the displacement of Native American tribes and the way they were forced to convert religions as well as flee from their homes in fear of Old World explorers and believe that we live on stolen land, where I live is a product of all of it. For that, it is not something I can entirely condemn because my livelihood has been built on living in Miami, and I must consider myself a product of the Transatlantic Exchange. I benefit from this land that was taken over from the Spanish every day; I have a nice home, can get an education, and have the ability to visit many places in Florida as well as all of America.

Recently, I visited Elliot Key by Homestead, Florida for the weekend. It is a key only accessible by boat that has been created into a campsite for anyone to stay at. There is a high probability that where I stayed was once home to Native Americans and has now been converted into a campsite that other people now benefit from due to the Transatlantic Exchange. There is no right or wrong opinion to have towards the Transatlantic Exchange, but both the positive and negative impacts must always be considered and brought up.


Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, Alvar, active 16th century. Chronicle of the Narváez Expedition. New York :Penguin Books, 2002.

Nunn, Nathan, and Nancy Qian. 2010. “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas.” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 24 (2): 163-88.

Historic Miami as Text

Fort Dallas Slave Quarters. Photograph by Daniela Alvarez-Sierra // CC by 4.0

Beginning the walking lecture at Miami’s Government Center, my assumption was that we would walk around the surrounding blocks and Professor Bailly would explain to us more present-day cultural aspects of Miami. Once the class started actually walking, I realized that is not what was going to happen, and this lecture would require us to walk through all Downtown Miami. These days, people travel mostly by car and with that, they tend not to look at their surroundings while driving and tend to miss so much. This walking lecture allowed me to stop at places I have only driven by and not paid much attention to. Throughout this lecture, I was surprised at how much of a historical and cultural impact Miami has had on the United States and its citizens.

The first destination was the Fort Dallas slave quarters. This was already a surprise to me because I never would have thought that in the middle of Downtown Miami there would be slave quarters used about 150 years ago. It was eye opening to see that slavery was present in the same place as where I live now, and so many people had to endure that, living in small quarters such as the one we saw. Professor Bailly mentioned that touching the walls of that place is surreal because those same bricks were used to build that so many years ago, and it is mind-boggling to realize that once I touched those bricks. Moving on, the class ended up at the Miami-Dade County courthouse and Professor Bailly explained where the “Dade” in Miami-Dade originated from and how it was named after Major Dade who led his troops right into a Seminole Tribe’s trap, leaving only three survivors. I never thought much about the origins of how the name “Miami-Dade” came from, but it was odd knowing that it got named after a Major that led his soldiers to death. Another part of the walking lecture that surprised me in when getting to the Miami River and being explained how raw sewage from Henry Flagler’s hotel was dumped into the river causing it to now become so polluted that people cannot swim in it or drink from it like before. I go out on the river often on my family’s boat, and I have seen how polluted it is and how much trash is in it, but I thought that was just due to years of construction and development around the river. Knowing now that it was due to Flagler’s hotel was surprising, especially since the effects are still present today.

Overall, the walking lecture was able to teach me more about the history of Miami, as well as allow me to gain more knowledge on things I was already aware of, such as how Henry Flagler’s railroad cause a boom in Miami’s culture allowing it to be more connected to the U.S., now I am aware that that also caused Miami to become segregated and was the beginning of gentrification in the city. This lecture also made me realize that cities have so much history that may not be well known, and I am looking forward to doing these lectures in España, where I know less about the history.

Magic Realism as Text

Black Madonna of Santería // National Museum of Natural History CC0

Different types of fantasy stories have been around for centuries, and different countries have their different ways of presenting stories with magical or fantasy elements. These are able to take myths and beliefs and turn it into entertainment, and one example that comes to mind are Greek mythologies and Epics such as The Odyssey. In the context of this class, Magic Realism is the most relevant, and although it does not have Spanish origins, it is a key type of work for Latin Americans that are descendants from the Spanish.

One example of Magic Realism is the book One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It combines political elements as well as other our of the ordinary elements such as the levitating priest, and is presented in such a way that all these elements of the story flow so naturally that the fantasy aspect is made to seem ‘normal’. Stories such as this are able to personally make me see a part of my culture that is so normalized in a different context where I had not realized that the book even had Magic Realism elements. For me, things such as a levitating priest, although I had never heard or seen one before, are very prevalent in the stories and myths in my Cuban culture, similar to other Latin American cultures. I see this a lot in the context of religion. Hearing about people seeing divine beings and things out of the ordinary that their definition of God has created a normalization in hearing those things where it is not seen as something out of the blue where people that say such things are seen as ‘crazy’ and whatnot. The Afro-Cuban religion of Santería has been practiced by some of my family members for many years, and especially during the time of the Castro regime, I hear stories of people struggling in times of revolution and seeing different spirits, having ceremonies and participating in rituals. To me, it is nothing out of the ordinary and Magic Realism is the embodiment of the intertwining of all these cultural features.

To be honest, the idea of Magic Realism was confusing to me, because I feel like in different European and Asian cultures, these magical elements are being written into real settings, but after thinking more about it, there is something unique in books such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and other Latin American Magic Realism books, such as House of Spirits by Isabel Allende, set during times of political turbulence in Chile where the protagonist experiences different omens and spiritual aspects. This is not really common in the Unites States, where many books that include fantasy are set in different worlds, or focus more on science fiction. I had never even heard of the Magic Realism genre, but now I am able to see the connection with those books and my personal experiences, and am looking forward to learning more about it and possibly reading more books like it throughout this class before going to España.


“Cuban Santeria Tradition and Practices.” Cuban Santeria Tradition and Practices, https://www.anywhere.com/cuba/travel-guide/santeria.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Translated by Gregory Rabassa, Penguin Classics, 2000.

Weeder, Emma. “An Introduction to Latin American Magic Realism in 6 Novels.” Culture Trip, The Culture Trip, 30 May 2017, https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/chile/articles/introduction-to-latin-american-magic-realism-in-6-novels/.

Vizcaya as Text

Dionysus at the West Entrance Loggia // Photograph by Daniela Alvarez // CC by 4.0

In all my years of living in Miami, Vizcaya has always been a place people mentioned, and in this instance for some reason my curiosity never got the best of me, and time and time again I forgot this place existed. Thankfully, because of my decision in travelling to España on my Study Abroad trip, I have been lucky to finally visit Vizcaya and saw with my own eyes everything it had to offer, and any premade assumptions I had made about it were able to have been debunked.

Without even entering the villa, I was already surprised at the fact that James Deering was the mastermind behind Vizcaya, firstly because I thought Vizcaya was always a museum from the start and not a place where someone lived and had guests, and also through knowing who Charles Deering was from the Deering Estate, I was already familiar with the name. The views while walking through all of Vizcaya were jaw-dropping, from the gardens to all the statues of different figures from history and mythology, such as Dionysus at the entrance of the house, symbolizing and celebrating drinking and festivities. Just knowing that James Deering is the one who wanted to put up Dionysus specifically shows that Deering was a man that enjoyed a lavish and expensive life, although one would know that the moment they step foot into Vizcaya, seeing how big and detailed every single part of it was.

With this lavish and expensive lifestyle though, it would be ignorant to not mention the hundreds of black laborers, primarily Bahamians, that helped construct these 100 acres of land. From previous lectures and trips, it is now known that most of the people who built Miami and started its development into the city that it is now were people of color, yet nobody is familiar with that because of how it is kept under the rug. Professor Bailly showed the class that surrounding Vizcaya is a moat that once had cacti in it in order to keep out potential trespassers. Who do you think those trespassers were? People like the ones who built Vizcaya to begin with. James Deering was able to completely isolate from these minorities that were not of the same social status as he was, and completely ignore that in order for him to continue his life of drinking, smoking, and partying. While there is nothing that can be done now, it is important to always acknowledge this part of history.

Throughout the tour Professor Bailly gave the class, I grew more and more fascinated with James Deering’s life, and Professor mentioned a few times that there is a possibility that Deering was gay, primarily using the art he displayed as a ‘tell’. It’s interesting how personal details of someone such as James Deering are never known, and how rumors being spread over about 100 years are still talked about today. Deering never married or had kids, so he really just spent his time at Vizcaya, partying with any guests that may have come from the bay.

Ida As Text

Since the beginning of history that has been recorded, religion has been depicted in many different forms of art. One of the earliest works of Christian at dates back to the Romans in the 6th century, where Jesus Christ is depicted as a fish. As we advance as a society, so does art and religion, and the two go hand in hand when it comes to people representing their faith and beliefs. Since Spain did not become the country we know now until the 1400s, many different influences played a role in art representing various religions up to that point, and the Spanish were able to change how Catholic art is expressed there, and across the world in the Americas.

Jusepe (José) de Ribera, The Martyrdom of Saint Philip, 1639, oil on canvas, 92 x 92″ / 234 x 234 cm (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid)

With the Spanish came stylistic changes, especially realism during the Baroque period, which became a common way to represent Jesus Christ and other Catholic figures. It is stated by The National Gallery of Art that these realistic paintings were “starkly austere, emotionally gripping, and even gory, intended to shock the senses and stir the soul.” Many Spanish people at the time started to become familiar with painters such as Diego Velazquez and Francisco de Zurbarán. Paintings such as The martyrdom of Saint Philip by Jose de Ribers were able to show  religious events and the artist’s interpretation and rendition on it, painting real people as opposed to figures and symbols. 

Juan de Mesa (1583–1627), Christ on the Cross, about 1618–1620, polychromed wood, 100 x 65 x 22 cm (39 3/8 x 25 9/16 x 8 11/16 in.), Archicofradía del Santísimo Cristo del Amor, Collegiate Church of El Salvador, Seville

Over time, paintings were not the only way people expressed religious figures, and sculptures became popular as well. Jesus on the cross during his crucifixion was largely popularized, showing how real he was and his struggle on the cross. These days in Spain as well as in the Americas, sculptures like this are very present in churches and other religious locations, illustrating the similarities and influence the Americas took from realistic sculptures and paintings. Spain’s use of realism opened doors for the Americas to do the same, and they began to depict religion using realistic painting, but it was not limited to Catholicism, but other Christians would do the same. The paintings and sculptures were able to show the raw reality and show figures in ways that could make viewers feel many different emotions, and connect to their religion more than ever before. 

Peruvian (Cuzco) Painter. Our Lady of Guàpulo. Circa 18th century, oil on canvas, 67 1/4 x 43 1/2 in. (170.8 x 110.5 cm). Gift of Loretta Hines Howard, 1964. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Living in America, I see portraits and different paintings of Catholic figures such as the Virgin Mary and Joan of Arc at churches, on social media, prayer candles, etc. This was able to be due to Spain’s evolution of art and how it was brought across the World. In the Americas, realism was not black and white though, and artists were able to use their own cultures and backgrounds and combine that with what they learned from the Spanish. In Peru and New Spain (currently regions in southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America), Spanish religious art had a heavy influence, but when mixed with influences from the Aztec, Maya, and Incan empires, the art from those regions became unique, as it had different influences combined into one work of art (Hecht, 2003). 

To conclude, I am able to see the influence that Spain has on religious art – not only in the Americas, but all over the World . Spain and Italy were pioneers during the Baroque era through the use of realism and religious sculptures to depict religion in a way that had never before been explored. Spanish religious art was able to be replicated in the Americas, as well as be a new introduction and influence in religious art that was based on the regions in the New World. Next time I go to a place of worship, I will be able to identify that all of the art I see has been influenced by Spain in one way or another.


Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Early Christian art”. Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date, https://www.britannica.com/art/Early-Christian-art. Accessed 14 April 2023.

Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker, “Jusepe de Ribera, The Martyrdom of Saint Philip,” in Smarthistory, November 25, 2015, accessed April 16, 2023, https://smarthistory.org/jusepe-de-ribera-the-martyrdom-of-saint-philip/.

Hecht, Johanna. “Arts of the Spanish Americas, 1550–1850: Essay: The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, 1 Jan. 1AD, https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/spam/hd_spam.htm.

Tchakarov, Vladislav. “10 Famous Spanish Painters of the 17th Century.” TheCollector, 2 May 2020, https://www.thecollector.com/famous-spanish-painters/.

“The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1600–1700.” National Gallery of Art, https://www.nga.gov/features/slideshows/the-sacred-made-real.html#slide_4.

Departure as Text

Photography by J.W. Bailly // CC by 4.0

As Harry Styles has stated in his hit song As It Was, “Leave America..” and that’s exactly what I will be doing in a month from now. Of course, what Styles meant was not to leave America to go on a three-week-long study abroad trip, but that is how I am now interpreting it because I will be leaving America for that and I couldn’t be happier. There are no words to explain the excitement I am feeling to finally be able to embark on this trip of a lifetime after looking forward to it for months. When reflecting upon how I felt before even having the first class of Spring Semester, everything has fallen into place in terms of everything I was worried about when signing up for Spain. I have all my flights scheduled and dates coordinated, which was initially stressful because I was unsure of where I would be before and after the trip, but I am excited to take the opportunity and visit other countries before going to Spain. Additionally, I was able to meet people in my class that I know will make my experience on Study Abroad even better.

            My biggest takeaway from this Spring Semester class before our departure has been the connection I was able to form with where I live: Miami. There is so much history in this city that nobody would know unless actively searching, and learning about how Miami was established and how we have become a melting pot of culture has been enriching and has made me appreciate Miami much more than I used to; previously, I didn’t care for living in Miami and only really saw it as beaches and delicious restaurants. The knowledge I have gained about Miami and its influences, particularly from the Latino culture, is something I will never forget.

            Looking back at my first submission, “Encounter as Text”, I have grown more confident in traveling alone without any family or people I trust, although it is still terrifying to think about how I will maneuver through different airports in different countries that speak languages I do not understand. To be honest, I’ve indulged myself in travel videos and tips on how to travel across the world by yourself, so using that I do not feel as anxious as I previously did. In terms of Spanish history, I know more than I did before, particularly about Spanish art, and the influence Spain has had on New World Latino/Hispanic culture, that I used to think did not have any connection to Spanish traditions.

            Overall, now that the Spring Semester is over and we will all be meeting again in Spain, I am more excited and confident than ever to leave my home for a month and immerse myself in Spanish culture and traditions. I know this is an experience I will never forget and every day that it gets closer, I get more excited. I am grateful for the experiences I have had in this class so far, and I know it will only get better.

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