Jose Kajatt: Miami as Text 2023

South Pointe / Photograph taken by Jonathan Guerra / CC 4.0

Jose Kajatt is a first generation Peruvian immigrant currently attending Florida International University. Following his six years of service in the U.S. Navy as a Hospital Corpsman, he began work on earning an undergraduate degree in Biology with the aim of pursing his goal to become a practicing physician. While generally reserved in nature, he enjoys the diversity and change in perspective that meeting new people and cultures brings and is excited to experience more of the world outside of the United States. Traveling, photography, film, and hiking are passions that he has carried with him throughout his adult life.

Encounter as Text

“Limitations” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, January 26th, 2023

Virginia Key Beach Park / Photograph taken by Jose Kajatt / CC 4.0

Grief can be powerful. I’ve been fortunate in my own life, in that I have never lost anyone that’s been dear and close to me through death. That facet of life is still foreign. But alongside the ultimate loss of a loved one, there are other reasons, other types of loss that can open a door for grief to walk through. I met grief for the first time when I truly learned what it meant to be heartbroken. This loss was unlike anything I ever felt before. She was in my life for three significant years. We had a dream of what our future looked like together, we had our apartment, our puppy, our daily routine, our love. But love alone isn’t enough to keep two people together and happy. It’s been four months since. And as I’ve carried the weight of this loss, as I’ve experienced the breadth of the emotional spectrum, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect. It was painful to realize how much of myself I lost, with every heavy compromise made, every resignation, every imposed limitation, I lost sense of who I was. Of what made me unique as an individual. But there is power in grief. While I’ve allowed myself to sit with this unwelcome but necessary friend, I realized there were many lessons it offered. One of them being that through this kind of loss there is opportunity.

Since I started attending FIU, I’d see our school’s study abroad program advertised through flyers and emails. The opportunities and breadth of experiences each program could offer always called out to me. In my life, I’ve found joy in traveling, in being enriched by a new destination, a place filled with the potential for new and unique experiences. And Europe is a part of the world I’ve always wanted to have a lived experience in. But each time I saw them, I felt limited. Constrained even. It had been present in my adult life for the past eight years. And at times, it could be an incredibly frustrating feeling to experience. You see, I spent six years serving our Navy and with that came obvious limitations in that regard. Then, to still feel limited, constrained, two years past my separation from the Navy, certainly wasn’t pleasant. When November came around last year, I received an email advertising the final spots left in each study abroad program and I knew I couldn’t hesitate.

Now truth be told, I didn’t really have any specific reason for choosing France beyond knowing that it was a European nation with rich history and world class cuisine. I remember looking at the list and thinking, “Well… France it is!”. So, with my paperwork processed and dues paid, I knew this program was an experience that would be right for me. I’m incredibly excited as I look forward to the future. When I think about being in France, of being given the opportunity to be enriched by the history and culture of each location through the walking lectures and the hiking that will be done in the French Alps, I recognize experiences that I know will be meaningful and that will leave an  impact on me. They will be the antithesis of the limitations I felt before.

Enlightenment As Text

” Je Pense, Donce Je Suis” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, February 10th, 2023

Reading of Voltaire’s tragedy of the Orphan of China in the salon of Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin in 1755 /  Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier / c. 1812

“I think, therefore I am”, written by René Descartes, was a brilliant way of alluding to the idea that nothing is exempt from doubt. That all beliefs can be subject to questioning. While I’ve read that historians have come to the consensus that the Enlightenment period began with the death of King Louis XIV (1715), it is interesting to note that Descartes published that declaration in his autobiographical work, Discourse on the Method, in 1637. That is close to a century of separation between the two events! It is quite fascinating as it can be seen as a cultural root for one of the pillars of the Enlightenment, which was rationalism. A profound emergence of the idea that beliefs and behaviors should have the weight of justifiable reason behind them. That they not merely be based off religion or clouded with emotional judgement. To me, this resonates deeply with the way I view the world and how I approach my own held beliefs and ideas of the world and people.

Something that I often struggle with myself, is holding deep and strong opinions on subjects that I feel I do not know enough about. There are always variables, questions, and history that I feel needs to be known and contextualized in order to be properly understood. Problems, ideas, they are often times rather nuanced. Not simply black and white. It’s often the shades of grey that need to be recognize within the scope of the bigger picture. Justifiable belief is the basis of the epistemology behind the Enlightenment. And I appreciate that greatly. That justification is crucial to have in one’s own beliefs. For the opinions and ideas that I know I do hold strongly, I find it helpful to often question and challenge them much in the way Descartes alluded to in his writing.

I look forward to engrossing myself more behind the men and women who embodied this movement. How did they think? What was the justification behind the beliefs and ideas that they held? How did they impact the world around them? And of course, there are two other pillars attributed to the Enlightenment period. The pillars of Science and Individualism. How was scientific advancement impacted during this time? The idea of individualism, personal liberties and rights was at odds with the traditional authority and power structures that existed during that time. Could violent revolutions have been avoided? Or were they a necessity?

Being honest, before this course, I did not know or pay much attention to the Enlightenment or the people who were a part of this movement. But having read Candide by Voltaire, having listened to the discussions held in class by Professor Bailly, and doing a bit of my own research on the time period and the movement, I see exciting times ahead of me. I see how I will not only be given the opportunity to contextualize this when I’ll be spending time in France but also as an opportunity to learn how I can apply these philosophical ideas into my own form thinking and the way I perceive the world.  

Historic Miami as Text

Right Under My Nose” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, March 10th, 2023

Standing on Brickell Bridge / Photograph taken by Jose Kajatt / CC 4.0

Something that has begun to stand out to me, more and more with each lecture and excursion, is just how much history is always surrounding us here in Miami. It’s hard to see this city in the same light that I did before. It’s all been here. It’s always been here, right under my nose. Aspects of our culture, behaviors of the people that call this city home and even something as simple as a street name are all rooted deep within the origin of this city. It was not a boom, sudden and immediate, that has made Miami what it is today. It was an array of seeds that were planted many many years ago, that have given rise to trees that have helped slowly grow our city, our culture, our people into who they are in this present day. Call it naivete, call it short sightedness, most certainly call it lacking perspective. But I am ignorant no more. Or at the very least, slightly less so.

Standing by the Flagler monument that sits outside the courthouse, I was captivated by the story of a man whose name I had seen so many times before but realized I knew nothing about. Henry Flagler was pivotal in the incorporation of the City of Miami and without his efforts, and those of Julia Tuttle and Mary Brickell, this area could not be what we know it as today. At the same time, Henry Flagler also introduced segregation down here after relying on the people of color who made his railroad and thus his wealth, a reality. One outcome, seen as a positive. Another, rightfully seen as a negative. And there has been a recurring pattern like this, where people have suffered or where taken advantage to give us what we have today (such as the Native American people who originally called this land their home). How does one reconcile this besides acknowledging that it happened? It’s difficult for me to do so without it feeling shallow. While my perspective is limited, I have traveled and lived in many different areas of this country, north and south, coast to coast. I’ve yet to find another place that is quite like Miami. There is something inherently unique about living in this region of South Florida. We have such rich cultural diversity. You can eat food from almost any region of the world. Drive around for an hour and you’ll see the buildings inspired by Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern architectural styles. Talk to people, make friends, and you’ll see how many different cultures you’ll be exposed to. I’m grateful for the city I’ve grown up in (though I do have a love, hate relationship with it at times as I believe most people do).

So I go back, how does one reconcile with the negative aspects of our history? Should I just accept that this is another facet of life? I know life isn’t fair. It’s a fluid amalgamation of “good” and “bad”, “okay” and “random”. Maybe that’s where religion and spirituality can come into play? For now, I think educating myself more is the key. With time, comes more clarity. Becoming less and less ignorant of our complicated past is a step forward in the right direction in my eyes. One of the questions for this reflection asked me where I could place myself in the history of Miami. I’m another immigrant, whose family brought him here and sacrificed so much to give him an opportunity at a life they could not have. And within the context of what I’ve learned about this city I’ve called home since the moment I arrived as a child, I want to place myself as a future resident who understands and acknowledges the sacrifices, struggles, and injustices that other immigrants and native people who lived here went through to make what I have experienced in my life here, possible. It doesn’t erase what has happened. It doesn’t make it okay. But I know how important it is to remember. Otherwise, how could it mean anything? And maybe, one day, I’ll understand a better way of addressing this aspect of Miami. Not just for myself, but for my children in the future so they don’t lack perspective quite as I did for so long.

Revolution as Text

Nature of Man” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, March 10th, 2023

Noah (2014) by Darren Aronofsky | GIF created by LeoCaparelli on

Hope, progression, freedom, equality, peace. Suffering, stagnation, slavery, oppression, war. Two diametrically opposed sets of words. Each evoking emotions that lay on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum. Why is it that it seems like one must always be present to give way to the other? When thinking of the Revolution, it is hard for me to not tie this aspect, of the Reign of Terror, to how I view our own history here in our home city of Miami as I wrote in my previous reflection. How do you accept the French Revolution and its principles of liberty and equality and fraternity as a good thing when the events of the Reign of Terror occurred? Is this reconcilable?

I think my mind goes to this because for me, thinking of how human suffering and pain is an unfortunately common occurrence and regular facet of life (on a global scale), I know it is a heavy burden to experience and witness. I’ve had the misfortune of seeing people pass away, through the nature of working in medicine. I was a medic for a period of time in the Navy and I remember what it was like for me to see a Marine, who was shot in the head as a result of a training accident, pass away in front of me. That was roughly eight years ago and it’s something I still think about today. Now I imagine what it would be like to be a common person, a noble person, or even a member of the French military or revolutionary and having that level of violence, or greater, executed on a daily basis. Not to mention the other forms of atrocities, neglect, and abuse that could have been occurring alongside it. But I realize I’m viewing this from an emotional perspective tied to my own experiences and upbringing. Maybe, and it is unfortunate, but given the nature of us as a species (the dark and primal and viscerally repulsive side of us that is hard to acknowledge and talk about) it was an inevitable and necessary step to move forward. To make progress for the people of France. If that’s the case, then the next question really, would be if it was justifiable.

I would say that it was. It sounds incredibly utilitarian, but considering the conditions and quality of life that the common people of France had prior to the Revolution, it created a path forward for a better system and way of life for a majority of its citizens. It was an overall net positive. And it can almost be seen as a natural course of action that they would revolt the way they did. I don’t want this statement to be seen as my way of condoning the violence, abuse, and other atrocities committed by some of the revolutionaries. Especially that which was done to the Dauphin of France, Louis XVII, who was a child. In no world could I see any level of abuse on a child as a justifiable course of action to prove a point or advance any kind of political agenda. I’m speaking within the context of the Revolution as a whole, Reign of Terror included. And I think I see things this way right now because from what I’ve experienced and seen in this world, difficult choices are always being made, all choices have consequences, good and bad, and when you sprinkle in the unpredictability of people and the general course life takes, it is impossible to get everything right and perfect without hurting anyone. Collateral damage, and I don’t mean to sound reductionist saying this, is unfortunately difficult to avoid.

Vizcaya as Text

Dichotomy” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, March 19th, 2023

South Pointe / Photograph taken by Jose Kajatt / CC 4.0

The early spirit of the Miami we know today lives in Vizcaya. You can see it as you walk up the north staircase, inscribed on a section of stained glass, J’ai Dit. In the music room, full of instruments that never had the chance to fulfill their purpose. In the boldness required to split a 17th century painting of the Virgin Mary in half. And most interestingly to me, in the admiral carpet hanging in the living room, born from the work of Islamic artists in Spain who worked for the monarchy and nobility. I believe these accurately reflect an aspect of our culture here in Miami that I have referenced before. I’ve always noticed the air of wealth, of status, of appearance that is seemingly ever present wherever you go. People can also appear to lack the awareness required to express a bit of empathy with their fellow neighbor. You can most certainly feel that on the road. And I look at Vizcaya, what I saw in all its grandeur and what I learned about its history and I still couldn’t help but feel impressed. Amazed even, by the vision James Deering must have had to build the place. Isolate the estate from the man and its history, and it is quite the marvel to stand in. To look at. To explore. But then I think of the instruments that never got the chance to bellow out the kind of music only an impassioned musician could bring out and that painting, of the Virgin Mary, that someone must have poured hours and hours of work into that was cut in half for the sake of convenience. I think why? Very much similar to what I ask myself when I see the gaudiness present in parts of our city. And this isn’t even touching on how all of it was made possible by the blood and sweat of Bahamian laborers who must have worked under strenuous and unsafe conditions. Any recognition or respect for them, their culture, and what they accomplished is hauntingly absent within Vizcaya.

Vizcaya itself is an amazing work of art. Much how I view Miami as a city with amazing composition made possible by the rich diversity of the people that inhabit it. But what’s always present at the surface is clearly illuminated, it wants to be seen. And we can see it in the architecture of our buildings, the local art we can find, and even the entrepreneurial spirit that gives us so many different experiences and options and never leaves us bored. And in the shadows that are cast, we find what’s ugly and what no one wants to see. There in lies the exploitation, pain, suffering, bloodshed, corruption, the sexism and racism. The words are raw and uncomfortable to write, a visceral punch to the gut, but they can’t be ignored once you see it. Segregation was brought to this city for the sake of its growth by Henry Flagler. Blood was spilled to drive the native people who inhabited these lands before us out of it. Much of the early city was built through the exploitation of the labor of people of color. Even our own county is named in honor of a man who died, alongside a majority of his men, after leading them into an ambush during the Second Seminole War. It’s an odd dichotomy to contend with and it certainly leaves me with much to think about.

WWII as Text

For Those Who Came Before” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, April 12th, 2023

Surviving Members of Easy Company / September 1945 / CC 4.0

Growing up through my adolescence, I would see movies about war depicting brave men living and fighting in austere conditions. It was almost always portrayed in a way that romanticized the violence, the bloodshed, the death that’d be depicted on screen to my young mind. The acts of valor portrayed were always brave and honorable and heroic. What I didn’t understand, and how could I at that age, was the horrifying reality of the events that were being depicted. How do you understand what it means to take a life, to see a life taken, to know that every soldier and civilian on screen was more than just a depiction of a character from a historical event. The full weight of life didn’t really dawn on me back then. And that is a testament to the privilege of my own life, growing up in a world were there is no threat of war on our own soil here in the US to contend with.

World War II is one of the few wars where it’s very easy to see a morally righteous reason for the war effort. The men and women who served to fight against the Axis powers were doing so justly. And the trials endured by The Greatest Generation is truly a testament to their resolve in the face of the worst humanity has to offer.

Now I had seen Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers in my teens. The shift in perspective having seen it now, a decade later and with more life experience, was staggering. I connected the most with the bonds of brotherhood and camaraderie depicted between the men of Easy Company and Captain Miller and his troops. I think that’s because it reminded me of the same sense of brotherhood I experienced during my time in the service. It’s one of the aspects of being in the military that I miss and reflect back on the most. But alongside that, I also felt genuine horror as I watched how these men died, how it affected their brothers, and how callous and cold the loss of human life could be. I’ve seen the effect war can have on people who have lived through it. I have friends and met people who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each carry with them trauma from their experiences that comes to surface in different ways, whether it is PTSD, an anxiety disorder, sleep disturbances. What is universal, however, is that it’s ever present within them and has had an adverse effect on them. It’s a weight they must now carry on their shoulders, something they have had to learn to contend with.    

The suffering and sacrifices of those who came before will lay heavy on my mind when we find ourselves at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. I was assigned to write about the revered Major Thomas Howie, the man who Captain Miller from Saving Private Ryan was based on. I’ll be thinking of how he paid the ultimate sacrifice in service of his nation and of how he exemplified what it meant to not only lead men into battle but fight alongside them.

Departure as Text

Limitless” by Jose Kajatt of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, April 23rd, 2023

Honors Study Abroad Class 2023 at FIU / Photograph taken by John Bailly

Time within our own minds, as a concept, is so easily separated from the objectivity of measured time. I know it has been three months since the start of this semester, but it feels like it has only been three weeks. Time can be funny like that. As the months have flown by, I have found the perspective I had not just concerning my trip to France, but how I view the world here in Miami has already changed so much. Maturity and growth, two things that we should always welcome as we go through the experiences of our lives, have come to me as a result of this course. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Having learned so much about the history of the city I have called home for most of my life has not only been a pleasure, but I realize a necessary experience. I have seen the power history can have on the brush and paint you use to color your surroundings. How it can help you understand the in between of our world. I understand Miami, as a city and the people that inhabit it, so much better than I did before the start of this semester. I understand why we find the architecture we do in areas like Coral Gables and why our roads and towns are named the way they are. I see that the culture that permeates every inch of this city has its roots in its origins. I understand that in order to see this, I have to open my mind up to the history and actions of the generations that came before. I know my recognition of this will help me better appreciate and take in France, its history, and its culture so much better than I could have imagined before. I feel prepared and ready. Excited even. Not just for the novelty of being in a European nation but to be immersed in it. To truly have a lived experience, one that I knew I always wanted but didn’t quite understand how.

I look forward now, in time, to when I’ll find myself landing in Barcelona for a week before making the trek to Paris. To when I’ll find myself walking the streets of the city I’ll call home for a month and be enriched in its history and culture through the walking lectures Professor Bailly will take our class on. To the time we will spend hiking the French Alps and the moment we will all have to speak about a special person from history buried at the Normandy American Cemetery. All of these are experiences I will be given the opportunity to have, not just on my own but shared with my fellow classmates. How will it be when I find myself on my return home? I’m excited to find that out. I welcome this next step of my journey with open arms, I’ll embrace it. While I know I felt limited only a few months ago, today I feel limitless.

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