Monica B. Perez: Miami As Text 2023

Monica at the Everglades by John Bailly // CC by 4.0

Monica Perez is a student of the FIU Honors College pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer therapy and conduct research. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat PTSD and anxiety disorders. Her current motto is “seek radical empathy” as she strives to understand and share in others’ thoughts and life experiences.

Spring Encounter As Text

Monica and Professor Bailly demonstrating “selfie attendance” By John Bailly / CC by 4.0

“The Last Chapters”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU on the first week of class, January 13, 2023

On one’s last semester of undergraduate study, it is common practice to reflect on what has made the past few years so special. My undergraduate experience has been far from conventional. It was not until my second year that I was fully able to attend school on campus. Now, it is my third and last, and I am looking for a way to approach this semester that will make the confused freshman inside of me proud of what she becomes. One thing I am heavily focusing on is how to make the most of my commitment to study abroad in France with the Honors College.

This is a moment I have been dreaming of ever since I was a little girl listening to my mother tell stories of her own travels to Europe as a young adult. She has never been back since (life gets in the way), so this has been one of the greatest motivators for me to seize the opportunity to experience something different. I chose this program for long list of reasons, so I will only name a few. For one, France is the European country I am most intrigued by. From my limited knowledge, it is so culturally different from the United States despite being so heavily involved in its conception and history. In my time there, I would like to explore this difference a bit further and theorize why I think it is present and what I can learn from the French lifestyle.

Another reason I chose this class is because of the professor and course content. I am familiar with Professor Bailly’s teaching style and personality as I have taken his courses and interned with him in the past. It is very complementary to mine as I am highly anxious, overly empathetic, and an overall over-thinker. I know that the fast-paced, “just do it” attitude of the course is exactly what I need to make the most of this trip. The content of this course interests me because as a psychology major, I learn about mental health and society from the American perspective (understandably so, considering I will be conducting research and psychotherapy in the United States). It will be useful to learn about how a society’s history influences their artistic expression, which may hint at their views and values regarding mental health and wellness.

It is safe to say I am feeling curious, excited, and motivated about this course and my last push at FIU. I am curious to discover what my findings will be, what new questions I may develop, and how I may change over the course of the trip. I am excited to experience something so old yet so new to me. I am motivated to make the most of this trip by honoring my past and current selves in this transitional period of my life. I expect the course to challenge me physically and mentally. I expect to be uncomfortable and find comfort in my discomfort. Most importantly, I expect to learn more about art, world history, current world issues, and myself. I look forward to seeing what the last chapters of my undergraduate study may hold.

Enlightenment As Text

Image by Ekaterina Ershova from Pixabay / CC by 4.0

“Just the Beginning”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU on February 3, 2023

When studying history, it is important to note the language being used to convey certain events and figures. For the sake of making a subject appropriate for younger students, those writing textbooks and designing curriculums will simplify conflicts and ideas, understandably so. However, there are times where these people become carried away and certain topics are oversimplified. This comes to mind regarding the Enlightenment. he Enlightenment was a time where society shifted the focus from religion to science, embracing “reason” over “superstition”. In my experience, this time is presented to us as a start-and-finished period where humans simply “woke up”, embraced science, and there is no more necessary growth to be done.

Voltaire’s Candide addresses this by poking fun at the idea that Enlightenment thinking and philosophy was a humanity’s saving grace. In Voltaire’s eyes, this radical optimism leads to the same tragic life as belief in religion. Growing up around philosophers, the titular character was fed the notion that humanity had achieved the “best of all possible worlds” due to the innovations of the time. After a traumatizing life, he realizes that the enlightened world of philosophy and science is not humanity’s savior, and he concludes that we must “cultivate our own garden.”

Voltaire’s message can be interpreted in several ways, but many choose to understand the “garden” as a metaphor for one’s inner peace and personal enlightenment. One must put time and effort into it to see it blossom and produce fruits. I like to think of the period of Enlightenment the same way. Instead of a start-and-finish time where humanity was saved by the sciences, the Enlightenment was a time where we started to normalize and prioritized critical thinking, personal growth and education, and the pursuit of equality. While great strides were made in these areas, humanity still struggles with these ideas even today. We need to work on these areas in order to make true progress.

The education system leads us to believe that society made this swift change toward reason, and there is not much else to learn. It depicts the modern day as a utopia by oversimplifying the past and omitting current scientific and socio-political struggles. This leads to complacency, and people do not feel motivated to cultivate these ideas for themselves. We need to acknowledge that we still have not reached “the best of all possible worlds” despite making incredible progress. The Enlightenment planted the seed, but it is our responsibility to cultivate our garden and grow.

Historic Miami As Text

The Miami River by Image by Marco Brugo from Pixabay / CC by 4.0

“Back in Time”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Downtown on February 17, 2023

There is something very special about historic buildings and landmarks. They have the ability to connect us to our geographic ancestors by transporting us into the past. Downtown Miami is home to several geographic and architectural landmarks that have seen Miami become what it is today. Some places represent the “wins” of Miami’s history, and others represent times where greed and racism led to the mistreatment, oppression, and murder of innocent people. From the Miami River to the Freedom Tower, these places tell Miami’s story in a way no textbook can.

One building that perfectly encapsulates Miami’s history is the Wagner Family Homestead. It was built around 1855 and housed the interracial immigrant couple: William Wagner and Eveline Aimar and their children. According to a text by Margot Ammidown, the Wagner family was on a walk near the Miami River when they encountered a group of Seminoles. Rather than act defensively, Wagner invited them for dinner at his home and offered them garments to replace their tattered ones. While these events do not discount the atrocities committed by United States’ settlers on the Indigenous nations, it is important to recognize that this is an excellent display of modern Miami. It is a city where people of every race, ethnicity, shape, and gender identity come together to eat, dance, tell stories, and celebrate life. The Wagner house is now located in Lummus Park, where people can visit the structure and picture the eclectic group sitting around the house enjoying a supper despite the turmoil surrounding them.

A landmark that exhibits Miami’s shortcomings is now located just feet away from the Wagner Homestead. The structure known as Fort Dallas was constructed at around 1844 on the William English plantation as slave barracks. In the 1850s, the structure was used by the Unites States’ Army as a trading post and military barracks. This building marks a time of intense racial injustice and reminds us that Miami’s history is not perfect. While the city is marked by diversity now, it had similar beginnings to the rest of the country. To touch the limestone wall is to touch the hands that built it- the hands that built the city.

One geographic landmark shows both the beauty and shortcomings of the city, both of which are still present today. The Miami River is what brings life to Miami. It carries fresh water from the Everglades into the Atlantic ocean and originally created a unique ecosystem for that the Tequesta used to drink, bathe, and eat. Miami would truly not exist without it, and we have it to thank for our presence here, no matter how we arrived. In 1897, Henry Flagler opened the Royal Palm Hotel, which started a cycle of pollution into the river. Today, the very water that brought civilization to this land is not even safe to bathe in. This shows a part of Miami (and the rest of the United States’) hubris: greed and ignorance. It was greed that brought Henry Flagler to Miami, and while it was his railroad that kickstarted the development of the city, he destroyed its natural resources in the process.

Downtown Miami is a treasure trove of history and has many lessons to teach us. It shows us our successes and juxtaposes them with our faults and shortcomings. It can be tricky to talk about history, especially in times as divisive as these, because there is no way to talk about one without the other. It is uncomfortable to admit when we were wrong, but it is part of the truth. Both the beautiful and the painful can be true, and it is landmarks like those in Downtown Miami that teach us that.

Revolution As Text

Execution of Louis XVI from Wikimedia Commons

“How Far?”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU on February 27, 2023

The French Revolution is characterized as a pivotal moment in French history that overthrew the monarchy and set the stage for a new country built on equality and liberty. Nearly 100 years after the Enlightenment, the people of France were ready to liberate themselves from the rule of the monarchy and the Church. After years of living in poverty as the monarchy wasted their money on aesthetics and luxury, revolutionaries were pushed to use extreme lengths to achieve their goal. While their methods were questionable, they succeeded in transforming their country, lighting a fire that will likely never burn out.

The Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury details the events of the French Revolution from the perspective of the monarchy. It describes in painstaking detail the methods employed by the revolutionaries to torture and kill the royal family. This skewed perspective causes modern readers to consume this media and become lost in its captivating story, developing sympathy for Louis-Charles, the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The eight year old boy was manipulated, drugged, and sexually mentally abused for years before being killed via neglect. He was manipulated into believing that his mother and aunt sexually abused him as a child, delivering a testimony that lead to his mother’s execution.

It is clear that the acts against Louis-Charles were entirely unethical and justifiably considered “evil”. However, what the book fails highlight are the identical stories of every child neglected by the monarchy for years before the revolution. If each of those stories were recounted in such detail, all the libraries in France could not hold the novels written. If the revolution had not happened when it did, hundreds more innocent people would have died from very similar conditions as the lost king. In the opinion of a modern, sarcastic, leftist college student, most of the revolutionaries’ actions were justified and necessary. The monarchy had to die to end the atrocities they were committing, and there could not be hope for a reinstatement.

The acts I found the most troubling, however, are the lengths at which the revolutionaries went to abuse Louis-Charles. It is clear to me that the use of physical, sexual, and psychological violence against children is never justified, no matter how atrocious the actions of their parents were. Because of his age, it is my opinion that Louis-Charles was as much a victim of humanity as the other deceased children of France. It is important to note that my opinion carries much less weight than that of people less privileged or more educated than I am. While I will never apologize for my opinions, I will always do my best to admit my privilege. It is easy to give an uneducated opinion because you do not have to do much work. I hope to never understand what it is like to experience the level of oppression the French people did, and I hope to never have to make such a difficult decision as war heroes and revolutionaries have made and continue to make.

Vizcaya as Text

Photo of Vizcaya by Elisa Rolle // CC by 3.0


By Monica B. Perez of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens on March 10, 2023

In efforts to calm tensions and promote peace among all people, certain people and institutions find it appropriate to simply not discuss the downfalls of the past by individuals or institutions. These decisions, however, tend to be made not by the victims or descendants thereof, but by the oppressors or their descendants. The problem with this situation is not the approach itself so much as those enacting the approach. If a victim wants to “forgive and forget”, then they should feel empowered to do so, but if the voice of the victim is being silenced, shut out, or goes unheard, a second layer of oppression is occurring. This concept is unfortunately evident in Miami’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens officially opened its doors in December of 1916 as the winter estate of James Deering, a wealthy and prominent figure in Miami’s history. It began operations as a museum in 1953, and has since been the home to numerous cultural events and enjoyed by many from all over the world. It exemplifies the Mediterranean architectural style complemented by features made from limestone, a material native to Miami’s tropical climate. This makes it a shining example of Miami’s cultural exchange and identity as a sliver of Europe interacts with the Americas. Most (if not all) limestone elements were constructed or somehow manipulated by black Bahamian workers; however, there is little to no representation of this or other marginalized communities in Vizcaya’s permanent exhibits.

It must be admitted that the institution of Vizcaya is taking steps to acknowledge the role of Bahamians in the construction and design of the estate. They have released a few articles, podcast episodes, and hosted several events to uplift those stories. However, the current layout and exhibit of the estate holds little to no acknowledgment to this practical and cultural contribution (spare depictions of Bahamians kneeling in submission carved in limestone, a material which only Bahamians knew how to manipulate properly). This brings to mind the disturbing new legislation presented and approved by Governor Ron Desantis to ban numerous majors and minors, including those related to Gender Studies, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and others that include these ideas in their curriculum. While the actions of the Governor are far more extreme and reach much further than those of Vizcaya, the deliberate avoidance of addressing these topics in any way contributes to the harmful and disgusting culture of academic censorship politicians like the Governor wish to create.

The actions of the governor compromise academic integrity, freedom, and truth because they gloss over the harsh effects on past oppressions on today’s world. As mentioned prior, this creates further oppression. Vizcaya’s hushed approach at discussing the contributions of black Bahamians on the construction and design of the structure may have been acceptable in the past, but in light of recent attacks on education, it is becoming more important for institutions to promote truth and encourage real healing by highlighting the oppressed as much as the wealthy parties that funded the endeavors.

World War II as Text

Image by Larah Vidotto from Pixabay

“Scars Inherrited”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU

Evolutionary psychologists and other scientific researchers are just beginning to study how certain life events and traumas affect people for generations after the event occurs. Generational trauma (also called inter-generational trauma) is described as a series of events that evoke negative psychological symptoms and distress to people (typically families) across multiple generations. There are multiple events that are severe enough to cause such damage on a bloodline. Mass exile and displacement, racist actions, war, and genocide are a few. This concept is different from PTSD and other trauma-related issues because it takes many forms. Some people may adopt or inherit symptoms that mask as other disorders.

Heightened anxiety and difficulty focusing may present as ADHD. Obsessions, intrusive thoughts, and related self soothing behaviors may mimic OCD. Depressive symptoms and disorders may arise due to hopelessness, internalized anger, or intense confusion. When untreated, these symptoms can further traumatize others that are completely removed from the original event. Because of this, it is crucial to understand generational trauma and how we can help those who may be suffering due to a trauma that they did not even experience.

Besides scientific research, there are ways to explore the complexities of generational trauma and how different members of a family may suffer the effects of a tragedy despite not living it. In the 90 years following the Jewish Holocaust, much media has been created to discuss the ways that survivors and their descendants cope with the tragedy. One incredible example of this is MAUS by Art Spiegelman, a graphic novel that addresses life in a Nazi concentration camp the complex relationship between father and son after horrific tragedy. The novel alternates between two storylines: one that details how his father, Vladek, survived survived the Holocaust, and the other in the years leading up to his death. Spiegelman discusses his mother’s suicide and how deeply it affected him. She chose to end her life after battling with depression as a consequence to the Holocaust, and this further strained the relationship between Art and his father.

In MAUS, readers see how despite not living through the Holocaust, Art still suffers from the after-effects. While we cannot be sure what their lives would have been like without the trauma, we see how this event created a scar in the family that may affect them for generations to come. While many like Art sought psychological help, others have not had such an opportunity, and it is likely that the after-effects continue to linger. Even today, family and other close relationships are deeply affected by the Holocaust and other tragedies.

Despite the lack of scientific validity, works like MAUS can inform how we approach generational trauma because it details its evolution in a personal way while still being easily generalizable. More research is needed to develop interventions for this phenomena, but works like this help survivors, their descendants, and outsiders understand their own traumas. This raises awareness for the issue and may push agencies to fund more scientific research.

Departure as Text

Image by Free Photos from Pixabay

“The Last Page”

By Monica B. Perez of FIU

My last Spring Semester has been one of immense growth both personally and professionally. I have landed a position for a post-bachelor’s experience, dove into the world of research by co-authoring a poster at a conference, and begun to prioritize my own personal and professional needs. I have planted the seeds of numerous friendships and can already see them sprouting. As I become more secure in my personal and professional identity, I feel more prepared to travel to Europe.

The content of this course has inspired additional reading and watching to better understand the culture and values of the country I will be visiting. I have read more French literature and watched French films because I simply cannot wait to immerse myself in the lifestyle. Our course discussions have challenged my opinions and philosophies, strengthening some and changing others. Reading books that have been banned in the past and some that are banned now (like Candide and MAUS) help me understand why it is so important to do one’s own digging to find truth. Needless to say, my expectations for the Spring course alone have been exceeded.

As mentioned above, I am feeling much more prepared to travel on my own and much more excited for everything I will learn about art, history, French culture, and myself. This excitement has caused my nerves to spike because I am imagining the newness and change this will create within me. To be frank, I am a little scared going into this program because I know I will be very different when I return.This, however, is a fear I will attempt to diffuse because there is nothing I can do now but wait and see how this change manifests.

I expect this trip to expose me to concepts and physical experiences I have never seen before (this is a given since I have never been to Europe, but I suppose I should be realistic about my expectations). I also expect to become more in tune with myself and how I want to live the rest of my life. I do not want to make finite life decisions or commitments because that would hardly be realistic, but I do want to get a better idea of who I am and who I want to be. This is not only because I am traveling without family for the first time, but it is also because I am graduating this summer. Because of all these changes, I am feeling a wide ranges of emotions I have difficulty describing.

I am more than satisfied with my choice in program, especially since this program will not be the same after this year. I know that the professor, pace, material, and teaching style are right for me because I am pushed in a way that other courses do not push me to step out of my comfort zone and try something new. I am happy to be grouped with motivated classmates who will teach me so much and encourage growth. It a great environment for learning, and I cannot wait to see what this summer holds.

Author: Monica Perez

Monica Perez is a student of the FIU Honors College pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with a minor in Religious Studies. With that and future schooling she hopes to administer therapy and conduct research. With a secondary interest in ecopsychology, she hopes to also use elements of nature and the environment to treat PTSD and anxiety disorders. Her current motto is "seek radical empathy" as she strives to understand and share in others' thoughts and life experiences.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: