Fabiana Rojas: Miami as Text 2023

Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

Fabiana Rojas is currently a Junior at Florida International University’s Honors College pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Fabiana’s hobbies include reading writing, playing the piano, and traveling. She hopes to continue traveling the world in order to learn more about international cultures and languages.

Encounter as text

Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

After my first class meeting of España Study abroad, I am ecstatic to see what is to come. I originally joined this class for a couple of reasons, the main one being the experience. As a lover of traveling, the idea of learning about a new culture while exploring a foreign country with new friends sounds like a dream. My family is also planning on moving to Spain in the coming years, so learning more about the country I will be potentially living in will benefit me greatly in the future. Besides learning about the country itself, I also hope to become more independent and better at traveling alone, as well as navigating public transportation.

I feel a lot more motivated than nervous. At first, the idea of traveling abroad without family seemed a bit daunting; however, meeting the group I will be traveling with helped me feel a lot more comfortable with the idea because it is clear that everyone going intends to be there for each other, and make the experience as safe and enjoyable as possible.

Right now, I have general knowledge when it comes to Spain. I know a lot about Spanish culture, the foods, and the people because I have family and friends in Spain, and have visited in the past. I would like to gain a deeper understanding of what Spain really is, though. I hope to learn more about Spanish art, architecture, and history both before and during the trip. Spain conjures many things in my mind. When I think of Spain, I think of bright colors, flamenco, cheerful music, and kind people.

I went to Spain last year for the first time with my family, the main places I visited were Madrid, San Sebastian, and Santander. I also visited smaller neighboring cities in the area. Overall, the experience was wonderful. The food and architecture are amazing, but my favorite part was meeting the locals. Everyone in Spain is so kind and diverse. Within a few weeks there, I met people from all over the world and made amazing friends. With this program, I expect and hope to grow my knowledge of the country and meet more people around the world. I love learning about new cultures and I believe the best way to do that is by learning directly from others with different life experiences.

One of the places I am most excited to visit is Barcelona. I have seen so many pictures and videos of Barcelona and the city looks very beautiful. I am also excited to visit La Sagrada Familia the popular areas all around the city. Finally, I am eager to go out at night with my new friends from the group and experience the nightlife in the city, because I feel like it would be an excellent opportunity to meet new people and make friends from both Spain and all around the world. Overall, the program has given me a great first impression and I am looking forward to the amazing experiences that are to come!


Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

The transatlantic exchange brings many mixed emotions when I sit down and really think about it. It is one of the most controversial events in our history, as it brought many positive and negative aspects into both the old and new world. When the Spanish first entered the Americas, they brought with them a new language, religion, and culture that was shared with the Indigenous. They also traded ideas, technology, and new foods, which had an extremely large impact on both the Americas and España. I am personally very grateful for these exchanges, for they built the foundations to various beautiful Latin American cultures we can experience today. With both of my parents being born in Venezuela, I know that the transatlantic exchange is the reason I am of Spanish descent, speak Spanish, and practice Catholicism- the colonization of the Americas ultimately built my family and country of origin, meaning it plays a considerable role in my identity as a Hispanic American.

The transatlantic exchange also developed my current home- Miami. Miami is one of the biggest cities in the United States and is enriched with hundreds of different cultures. Everywhere you go, you will always find individuals from a different country. It is a melting pot that allows you to explore the foods, traditions, and cultures of various international regions, with Latin America being the most prominent. The blending of these traditions and ideas bore a new culture that is specific to Miami- I believe that this culture is especially beautiful because it was developed by practicing the lifestyles of a very diverse population.

At the same time, many of these cultural exchanges have a dark and gruesome origin. The indigenous groups that lived before us were treated horribly and massacred when these exchanges took place. Many of these cultural exchanges were forced upon indigenous tribes- this is especially seen with the spread of Catholicism. Because the church funded many of the conquests in the Americas, millions of indigenous groups were mandated to either begin practicing Christianity or face punishments such as death. A vast majority of the Natives were killed by the Colonizers or converted into slaves. The sad reality is that although the Americas today are a beautiful place as a result of the Transatlantic exchange, this exchange also destroyed the lives of millions and killed off hundreds of beautiful cultures and traditions. Our current education system tends to dehumanize what was sacrificed to build this country by simply brushing over our history with statistics and stories from the perspective the groups that took control.

Although I am grateful for the things the transatlantic exchange brought to the world, it is hard not to feel guilt when I am reminded of what was sacrificed in order to develop the region I have the privilege to enjoy freely. I believe what was developed as a result of this exchange is ultimately a beautiful thing, as long as we remember, acknowledge, and take accountability for the history that truly built the Americas.

Historic Miami as Text

Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

Having grown up in Miami, visiting downtown was not something out of the ordinary for me. I visit Brickell quite often and have always seen downtown as a beautiful part of my city- nothing more, nothing less. Entering the lecture, I was looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of Miami’s history. Now that I knew a little bit more about the history of Florida’s colonization with previous lessons, I knew that it would be easier to picture the past in the places we were about to visit.

            On Friday, we visited downtown Miami with a different lens. Rather than view downtown as it appears right now, we saw Miami from a historical perspective. Flagler was no longer a street I take regularly on my commutes- Flagler became a historical figure that contributed to founding the city I enjoy every day. Miami River became the land of the Tequesta tribe- it felt surreal knowing that the water I was looking at is the same water that once supported a tribe with a completely different lifestyle and culture.

            One of the moments of the lecture that caught my attention the most was when we visited the Wagner house. I was in awe knowing that I was standing a few feet away from one of the oldest buildings still standing in south Florida. I have driven by it before, but I never knew its history or significance until that day. It is so much more than a historical monument. Built in 1855 by German immigrant William Wagner, the house homed him, his wife, and their children. This house was the product of true love and commitment- Wagner and his wife were a mixed-race couple and came to Miami in hopes of raising their family together. Although they and their children faced discrimination, the home they built flourished- they lived off the land and were able to form friendships with the Seminoles that lived nearby. The relationship between the Wagner family and the Seminoles was so strong that they would have meals together and share food. The Wagner family would even help maintain peace between the Seminoles and other settlers.

            Learning about this relationship warmed my heart- I felt proud knowing that the roots of Miami were, in part, built through the acceptance among different communities. Although there was still lots of discrimination that both parties had to face, positive relationships between the indigenous and other settlers were not very common during times of conflict.

The Wagner family was just one example of the positive influence that diversity had during the creation of Miami. The first inhabitants of one of the most popular cities in the world were a mixed-race couple. Before segregation was established in Miami, it was a land where individuals of all different races were able to live together with less discrimination (compared to most other cities in the North). We also learned that one of the main founders of Miami was a woman! Throughout history, women have dealt with vast amounts of discrimination, yet one woman in Miami had the power to begin the establishment of a city as powerful as this one. Learning about the Wagner family truly made me prouder of the city that we still appreciate today. It also reminded me to open my eyes and realize the diversity we are still lucky to see throughout the city.

Magic Realism as Text

Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

Magic realism is a literary genre that blends realistic and historical fiction with fantastical elements. After seeing it in writing, I think the name of the genre perfectly depicts how I feel about it- it is absolutely magical. One of my favorite elements of the genre is the contradiction between the obviously fictional and realistic details in the writing.  I especially like how it allows readers to learn while allowing them to use their imagination.

When reading historical books, it is possible to get mixed up between accurate historical facts and the author’s added details to make a book more interesting. For example, Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition is a historical book told from the perspective of someone who lived through the events that were written- Because of this, we may take information as completely accurate, even though the writing may be exaggerated and sprinkled with the bias of a Spanish explorer. On the contrary, reading a book with magic realism allows me to learn about a culture from a more subjective point of view. The details aren’t written to be taken literally; rather, they are written to both entertain the reader and represent aspects of reality with fictional concepts.

While reading 100 Years of Solitude, I can develop a deeper understanding of real-life themes while understanding that the details in the book are fictional. For example, although the characters in the story may be ascending to the heavens or experiencing supernatural events, they also teach readers real ideas surrounding family, relationships, love, and pain.

Moreover, it’s always more fascinating to read books with fantastical elements! Reading Magic realism reminds me of the vibrant imagination I had during my childhood. I would read fictional books and play pretend, so in a way the blending of fiction and reality is a part of how I grew up.

when I think of magic realism in everyday life in the Americas, the first thing that came to mind was Catholicism. With Catholicism being one of the most prominent religions in Latin American families, it is a huge part of my everyday life, as well as the life of my family and many friends. In the bible, we see a mix of historically accurate events with supernatural details. the realistic and fictional stories blend to create the fundamental basis of my religion. Although most Catholics are aware that many details in the bible are fictional, we take these writings to build a system of values and beliefs practiced in everyday life.

Magic realism also builds a foundation for many styles of art, media, and mythology. Growing up, I was always extremely fascinated by Greek mythology. Learning stories of the Greek gods and goddesses was one of my favorite pastimes, and I never realized one of the reasons for this was because of the fascinating genre the stories are written in. These epics and tales used fictional and supernatural elements to explain real occurrences in nature, such as shadows, rain, beauty, and more. It is especially fascinating to look at from a current point of view- these Greek tales gave us temples, traditions, and art that we still appreciate to this day.

Vizcaya as Text

Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

For the longest time, the thought of Vizcaya always brought me back to my first communion. I remember entering for the first time when I was about 9 years old- I was in my white first communion dress, with a flower crown on my head and a rosary in my hands. As we walked around looking for places to take pictures, I was in awe of what looked to me like a palace; I was surrounded by beautiful architecture, intricate gardens, and winding paths, all within reach of the ocean nearby. To me, Vizcaya was the hidden gem of Miami. It is easy to drive by if you do not know about it, but if find your way into the estate, you are faced with dozens of acres of art, history, and beauty.

9-year-old me was not fully educated on the history of Vizcaya, however. My young eyes viewed the estate as. beautiful location that happened to be in Miami, and that was it. Visiting Vizcaya again over a decade later allowed me to see the same beautiful place with a new lens. I was fortunate enough to gain a completely new understanding of the estate and appreciate it from a historical view, rather than simply the beauty that is seen on the surface. One of the things that caught my attention the most when learning about Vizcaya was the realization that part of the estate’s foundation was the desire to show off wealth. The reason I was surprised to hear this was not because I am against the display of extravagance; rather, it is because I realized that this desire to “show off” has been built into Miami from the city’s beginnings. Today, Miami continues to be one of the wealthiest cities in the country, and many residents want to make this known- like Vizcaya, you can drive around and find houses that resemble castles. In certain areas, you will see fancy sports cars, people covered in designer accessories, and much more. From the time of Vizcaya to now, Miami is the place where people come to show just how many luxuries they can afford.

one of the places where this was evident was in the music room. Upon walking in, I was welcomed by a beautiful harp and a piano that date back hundreds of years. I assumed the instrument’s owners must have been very talented, only to find out that the instruments were never played! the instruments were simply purchased for show, just like many other items in the estate. the harp and piano were absolutely beautiful, so it pained me to find out that they were only really enjoyed for the view and not for the music they are capable of producing.

The Beautiful Rococo room was decorated with intricate details on the walls, expensive chairs, and a chandelier imported from Italy. James Deering made sure that by walking into this room, along with the rest of the estate, guests will have an idea of just how wealthy he was.

the paintings on the wall of the music room were imported from Italy, just like many other valuables in the estate. my jaw was on the floor when I learned that one of the fountains outside was from a city in Italy too! James Deering could have had a fountain made locally but instead chose to have works imported internationally, which was very rare at the time.

Leaving Vizcaya, the estate was much more than a pretty location for pictures. It became a puzzle with hidden symbols, a historical monument, and a symbol of the show of extravagance that the people of Miami value so much.

Departure as Text

Photograph taken by Fabiana Rojas CC/4.0

The semester has finally come to an end. In January, I walked into this class with much excitement and anticipation, and as I walked out of the last lecture, these feelings of excitement remain as strong as before, if not stronger.

Entering this class, one of the things that made me most nervous about studying abroad was the idea of traveling so far without my family. After meeting the wonderful group I will be exploring with, the nerves are gone- my classmates have become some of my closest friends and are soon going to become my Spain family. I never expected to get along with them so well! Some of us have even hung out outside of class, and the idea that they will soon be the people I get to travel with makes the idea even more exhilarating.

Gaining more knowledge about Spain and its relationship with the Americas also changed my perspective on the trip. The emotions remain the same, but my intentions are now more centered on learning about Spain’s connection to my past. I’ve always known my family is primarily of Spanish origin, but taking this class has helped me begin to understand what that truly means. Now that I have more knowledge of my personal ties to the country, I can explore it once again through a new and more educated lens. It is also especially exciting that I can see firsthand the places that we have been learning about this semester.

Because I have more knowledge of Spain, I also have a better understanding of what they did in the Americas. Although they established my future home and greatly advanced the western hemisphere, they also uprooted thousands of families, spread diseases, and slaughtered millions more. The Spanish are my ancestors, but to many individuals, the Spanish are the killer of theirs.

This is something that I will have in mind when exploring Spain. At the same time, I know not to blame anyone today for decisions that were made hundreds of years ago. All I can do is hope that the Spanish today understand the past and can acknowledge their contribution to what actually happened on the land they colonized just a few generations ago.     

Just as before, I am most excited to visit Barcelona, mainly because I have never seen it before. I cannot wait to visit the beautiful monuments and see the unique architecture. Because we also learned about art, I feel like I’ll be able to have an even deeper appreciation for the little details that I may not have noticed otherwise. From the pictures I have seen, the art and architecture in Barcelona is one of a kind, so I cannot wait to learn more about the art and artists that we will come across once we get there.

Overall, the excitement I have to arrive at the airport in June is unlike anything I have felt before. I always heavily anticipate trips to new places, but I have never done it with a group of classmates and am especially excited to learn and travel at the same time. This experience is going to be one of the highlights of my college life, and because of that, I will make sure to take in every second of it!

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