Yan Baez Perez: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Yan Baez Perez is a 19 year old Sophmore attending Florida International University in the pursuit of a degree in chemistry. He was born in Cuba and came to the US at the age of 3 where he now intends to undertake a career in dentistry following his graduation from FIU. He frequently practices hobbies such as the piano, painting, and spending time with his canine companion.

Encounter as Text

“Cherish” by Yan Baez Perez at FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 01/27/2023

When initially presented with the opportunity to study abroad I was admittedly hesitant. I had previously held a vague idea to do something of the sort during my time at FIU but had never truly thought about it as it seemed honestly out of reach and implausible. Furthermore, the price and commitment of actually going through with it presented itself as a significant hurdle at first glance. How am I going to pay for it? How will it affect my classes? Will it take away from the time I need to shadow and volunteer for dental school? These were all my initial thoughts at the time.

Recently before the application for the trip opened; however, my aunt, the only grandmother figure I ever had, suffered a sudden and unexpected cerebral aneurysm which placed her in a coma at the age of 76 with no pre-existing medical conditions. This was the first loss I had ever experienced and I felt that feeling of losing someone from one day to the next for the first time. Although her condition at this time is relatively stable, both her life and the lives of my family have never been the same again. This tragedy made both my family and myself take a step back from the day to day and realize the importance of actually living, because although it is very comfortable to stay in our routines as change can sometimes be frightening, every new opportunity to live has innate uncertainty in it. I mean this not in a sense that we need to live the most we can now while not taking into account the future, that is, to live with reckless abandon, but more so in that we need to value the opportunities we have now and be willing to look through the initial hurdles of an experience so that we can gain something to cherish.

This contributed significantly to my decision to actually go through with studying abroad, to put in the work and find the money for it because I realized such an opportunity would never present itself again. I chose the France program specifically due to how the program would delve into particular historical subjects that I have held an interest in such as the Enlightenment and World War 2 as well as how France has historically been a canvas for so many political, artistic, and spiritual discussions. I have previously been to France, and although I loved the environment, people, and culture that was present in the country during my trip, I know that I was only able to gain a surface level view of the nuanced and rich history it contains.

My expectations of the program are for it to be an engaging and fulfilling learning experience that will provide a greater insight into the history of France as well as how the ideas and conflicts that have occurred during its history have assisted in the founding of our modern world and our contemporary perceptions. Furthermore, I am most looking forward to visiting the Normandy American Cemetery as I feel that both the location and class assignment associated with it will have a profound impact on me.

Enlightenment as Text

“Reconciliation” by Yan Baez Perez, 02/12/2023

Louis XIV and the Royal Family / Jean Nocret / c. 1670

The period of the Enlightenment represents one of the most crucial steps towards the founding of our modern cultural and ideological way of thinking. A shift away from a societal dependence on faith and instead towards a society which places a greater value on individual reasoning. Such a drastic and wide scale change in perspective was the first of its kind. Furthermore, this new way of thinking allowed for the more widespread development of concepts which over time essential to our modern society such as more expanded liberties for groups which were originally oppressed as well as allowing for a more significant advancement of science and the truly necessary studies included within it such as medicine.

On another note, idealistically a reconciliation between reason and faith can exist, however in order to accomplish this a much more balanced dynamic of power is necessary. Many instances of the pitfalls of a religious institution being at the center of power are exemplified in the ideas expressed by Voltaire in his satire Candide. In the novel, the protagonist Candide is subject to suffering and cruelty from religious figures in power at multiple points. This was shown in one instance when he comes across a Protestant pastor and is denied food due to his differing religious views. This general disdain of central religions at the time held by Voltaire is again conveyed when Candide is tortured and his mentor Pangloss is hanged on account of heresy by the Inquisition of the Catholic church. On the other end of the spectrum, the character in the novel referred to as Jacques the Anabaptist is shown to be very kind and generous with both Candide and Pangloss. This is not to say that with an emergence of reason that religion should necessarily be relegated to nothing. However, if religion holds such a prominent position in the ideology of society as a whole that it clouds individuals from having their own sense of reason, then it leaves society at the whim of those in power. This can be seen again with the reign of Louis XIV and him being deemed as not just a ruler, but one who has the divine right to rule by the Catholic church at the time. This power came solely as a result of the title being of mutual interest of the church and monarchs.

Thus, this unlimited power and absolute sovereignty allowed him to act on whim without taking into account those which he governed. This in turn caused a large disparity in quality of life between those who came from a royal lineage and the average French citizen. With the Enlightenment, also came the end of such absurd abuses of power which were all too common at the time and which were ultimately allowed to exist as a result of a corrupt central religious power. Furthermore, with the end of these abuses of power, a more prominent focus on science and a reformation of education allowed future generations to maintain this newly established mindset. 

Historic Miami as Text

“Adjustment” by Yan Baez Perez of FIU , 03/12/2022

Miami is formed from a complex and longstanding propensity towards interactions between different cultures, from the history provided by the Tequesta and Spanish, to the numerous Latin American immigrants of more modern times. Furthermore, in Miami’s extensive and varied history my place lies among the vast number of Cuban immigrants which have migrated here in search of a new life. Miami has historically proven to be a bastion of hope and opportunity for those who come from an inopportune life in Cuba. No other site in the downtown area exemplifies this more poignantly than the Freedom Tower, which took the role of providing respite to Cuban immigrants during the 1960s immediately following the Cuban Revolution. This structure is symbolic of the diverse cultural landscape which has historically represented Miami in other ways however, as the cupola and general structure of the Freedom Tower was designed after the Giralda which is located in Spain. The Giralda, which is in current times a bell tower for a cathedral in Seville, Spain was originally built during the creation of the Great Mosque of Seville during Muslim occupation of Spain and only later claimed by the Spanish during the Reconquista. This conveys the fascination of how such a complex and intercultural story related to this work of architecture is later recreated in Miami for a building that would become such a symbol of hope.

The sharing and combination of cultures is exemplified as well in the home of the Wagner family which is located a mere 8 minute walk from the government center. The Wagner family was subject to significant discrimination due to them being interracial as Eveline Aimar was French-Creole and her husband William Wagner was German, alongside this, they were also responsible for fostering communication between the Seminoles that were present in the area and the English settlers. This tremendously positive union between different cultures that is exemplified in the history of the Wagners represents a situation that is truly indicative of the environment of Miami.

On another note, an aspect which truly surprised me was the existence of a Tequesta grave directly under an otherwise unsuspecting Whole Foods. Despite the existence of a mural within said supermarket, the sheer disrespect of this fact can not be overstated. This lack of concern and general respect is exemplified elsewhere in the Miami River, where as a result of the creation of the Royal Palm Hotel by Henry Flagler, the clear water present throughout the entirety of the river was replaced by the polluted cesspool that currently resides there. This occurred directly from a pattern of careless urbanization which began with the hotel dumping their waste directly into the waters of the river. Additionally, an area where genuine conservation was attempted is near the river in the form of the Miami Circle, where numerous artifacts from previous Native American inhabitants of Miami have been found. Only through continued public effort and struggle has this site been protected by preservation efforts and avoided being trampled in the way of the urban development that has plagued other historical fragments in the area.

Vizcaya as Text

“Pretend” by Yan Baez Perez of FIU , 03/19/2022

The property of Vizcaya established by James Deering is undoubtedly a visual gem, in which the sheer beauty of both the interior workings of the estate and that of the exterior cannot be overstated. However, certain negative aspects of the character of its owner, James Deering also unfortunately bleed into the components that make up the estate. The tendency of Deering to take valuable items of the world which intrinsically carry meaning only to degrade them as mere decorations can be observed in multiple areas throughout his property. This is first seen near the entrance of the main house with the stone archway which indicates the entrance of the gardens. Said archway is representative of the frequently constructed memorial arches which are created to celebrate victory in battle; the shield and armor carvings on Deering’s arch give proof of this. However, James Deering simply had the archway placed on the exterior of his house for the sake of decoration and because he was wealthy enough to do so. Within the interior of the estate, this sentiment is exemplified again with Deering’s beautiful rococo music room, which contains multiple antique instruments including a harp and harpsichord. It is of note in this room that none of the instruments were ever actually played during their time within Vizcaya, as Deering collected them more for the value they contained. Within the office of James Deering next to the entrance door can be observed a portrait depicting three children playing. However, James Deering did not have any children nor did he have any correlation to those portrayed in the painting and had the painting placed there as what was typically done at the time was for oneself to have a painting of one’s children in their office. This lack of genuine value and sense of collecting for the sake of portraying an image embodies a very present negative aspect of the modern culture in Miami.

On another note, a significant aspect of Deering which sours how one views Vizcaya is that of his pompous nature and the mistreatment of those who worked for him. This is immediately noticeable at the entrance of the property with the sculpture of Ponce De Leon, this is indicative of how Mr. Deering viewed himself as well as how he sought to make his visitors aware of it. The moat which surrounds the house nearby to said statue also conveys this sense of superiority that Deering wanted to convey to the world. Said moat was unable to hold water to the porous stone into which it was dug and was later filled with cacti in order to continue to deter unwanted outsiders. Furthermore, the lack of care which he held for those who were in his employment is most apparent in the pantry on the first floor of the house. In said pantry a cork floor prevents the noise of his servants from reaching him and his guests. This along with the terrible pay and working conditions of the Bahamian workers who constructed the estate serve to prove this.

Revolution as Text

“Necessary Evil” by Yan Baez Perez of FIU , 04/09/2022

The Jeu de Paume Oath /  Jacques-Louis David / c. 1791

In an ideal world, oppressed groups of people should be able to advance human rights through peaceful actions and speech. However, when the legal system which is in place serves only those who are in power, such oppressed groups simply do not have a voice. These situations are often the birthplaces of uprisings which drastically shift the dynamic of power or fundamentally alter the systems of power which have been in place. This is what occurred following numerous generations of monarchs who reigned absolute in France, this indisputable reign would even go so far as those in power being seen as literal gods as with Louis XIV. Furthermore, although the French Revolution which uprooted the deeply ingrained monarchy was a significantly violent and destructive affair, it ultimately allowed for one of the most significant boons in the progress of universal human rights which has ever occurred in human history. 

This is not to excuse violence for the sake of violence, as what is collected from the buried history of the French Revolution in the novel The Lost King of France. It is depicted how Louis XVII, the dauphine, was not simply executed, but was extensively tortured and broken down mentally, emotionally, and physically simply for being the last remnant of the royal family which the revolution sought to destroy. Claiming that this tragedy befalling the innocent dauphine is inhuman is not an excuse for the years of poverty and sickness that an innumerable amount of poor French citizens and children suffered under the lavish reign of the monarchy. It can be understood why the French revolutionaries had a difficult choice in their hands when it came to the decision they had to make in regards to Louis XVII, as he was a child and has not caused any harm to the citizens of France. However, his existence posed a threat to their efforts of permanently ending the monarchy. As although he was a child, due to him being a descendant of royal lineage, if he were to remain alive there would be a constant threat that those who disagreed with the revolution would seek to re-establish the monarchy by bringing the dauphine back to power.

Additionally, the revolutionaries would also not have been able to execute him publicly due to the horrendous negative image that such an action would bring to their cause. A public execution would also pose the threat of the Dauphine acting as a martyr upon his death. Louis XVII did not in any possible manner deserve the atrocities he suffered, such a terrible stain in the history of the development of modern France was brought upon as a result of the countless years of disregard, poverty, and inequality which the average French citizen had to abide to while the monarchy and those in their favor essentially lived like gods on earth, free to do as they saw fit.

World War II as Text

“Lasting” by Yan Baez Perez of FIU , 04/09/2022

Maus /  Art Spiegelman / c. 1980 / CC 4.0

During World War II, humanity experienced a truly terrifying quantity of deaths and human rights abuses brought about by the regimes in control of the axis powers. The tension surrounding what would develop into World War II began with the strategy of appeasement employed by the Allied Powers and particularly UK’s prime minister Chamberlain, this involved appeasing Hitler’s desires to expand Germany by allowing him to take minor territories but forming treaties so as to prevent him from drastic expansion. This strategy quickly failed and resulted in Germany invading and annexing Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain would eventually be replaced with Winston Churchill and upon Nazi Germany invading Poland in 1939, both the United Kingdom and France declared war. Furthermore, in preparation for war, France established a significant line of defense along their border with Germany known as the Maginot line. However, through blitzkrieg Germany was able to invade around the fortified defense line of France and encircle the majority of France’s military forces. 

The invasions of Germany controlled Europe depicted in Saving Private Ryan and Easy Company show the horrifying combat experience that the soldiers which were deployed at the naval landings on D-day in the former French territory faced. The cruelty of war cannot be understated and this is exemplified in how despite extensive months of training, 21 C-47 aircrafts which were used for airborne deployment by Easy Company were destroyed before even being able to deploy successfully. This demonstrates the truly unpredictable and sudden manner in which war can take the lives of soldiers. Furthermore, the film Saving Private Ryan conveys the equal sense of death and destruction faced by the troops landing on the ground with the initial landing that took place on D-day, as well as how the war drastically affected the infrastructure and lives of French civilians. 

Moreover, the amount of trauma that World War 2 and the Nazi regime imparted on all of the survivors of the war resulted in a level of suffering that would span generations. This can be observed in the writings of Art Spiegelman in MAUS. Spiegelman depicts how his father, who suffered the death of his first son during the war and the death of his wife, Art’s mother, as a result of suicide following the war, never overcame the insurmountable mountain of guilt and trauma which had been established within him as a result of the Holocaust. This trauma in turn significantly affects his relationship with his other son Art who was born after the war, as Art often finds that any problem or personal struggle he ever encounters in his life pales in comparison to what his father had to endure. This results in a deep generational distance between him and his father that causes Art to no longer have a sense of identity as his life is also dictated and deeply shaped by the atrocities which were carried out by the Nazi regime.

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