Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios: Miami as Text 2023

Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios is a junior at Florida International University Honors who is majoring in International Relations with minors in International Communication and Political Science as well as two certificates in Pre-Law Skills and Middle East Studies. Born and raised in Miami, as a first-generation student she strives to attend law school to become an international human rights attorney.

Encounter as Text

“Development of Perspective”

by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, January 27, 2023

Basilica Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, Higüey, Dominican Republic Photograph taken by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios CC/4.0

Filled to the brim with culture and history, a study abroad in España will provide a different perspective on the ever-changing life Miami has built for itself. From the very first class one begins to understand the roots this city possesses as well as the foundation España has laid out for both Miami and the world to experience even to this day. Architecture and religion are notably evident when it comes to tracing back the origins of when these places were first colonized as a result of their perseverance still seen today. So much of Latin America and the Caribbean has been influenced by the españoles in ways that don’t seem inherent until one begins to recognize the signs. Growing up in Miami the evidence of old Spanish colonial structures is greatly demonstrated when it comes to Coral Gables. This style of architecture is found almost all across the LAC regions and leads to animate excitement when it comes to putting together this intricate puzzle piece of history. Recently I traveled to the Dominican Republic and was able to see the simplified Baroque architecture that is found throughout most of the churches in these regions. So when we travel to España, I am extremely thrilled about the prospect of being able to possess that comparison of Latin America to España. 

Always being fascinated with the cultures and histories of the world, I am delighted with all the activities that are planned out for the trip since we will be visiting various historical places. What I am most looking forward to is visiting the Mezquita-Catedral. As a student who is studying both Arabic and Middle Eastern studies, I am most enthusiastic at the opportunity of hearing from the guides about the background and the architecture of the mosque. For the past couple of semesters, I have taken various classes in regard to Islam and the anthropology of the Middle East but this is the very time I will be able to see the remnants of a mosque as well as gain insight into the development of the structure. 

Although I’ve traveled to the country before, it was just with my mom and we stuck to almost all the touristy locations. This is why when looking at some of the past activities planned, this is what mainly drew me into choosing this trip. Not only will we be visiting the historical aspect of the country but also immerse ourselves in the culture. As a little girl, I had always wanted to learn all the dances the different parts of the world have to offer and when you think of España, flamenco is one of the first things that comes to mind. Unparalleled, the complexity and emotions that this dance has to offer after years and years of the built-up immersion of various cultures coming together to formulate this are extraordinary. All in all, participating in the study abroad will enable us to become more informed and in a way more tolerant of other people’s beliefs and customs. Wanting to shift perspectives, I hope to gain a better appreciation for the arts because, at times, I feel like I take advantage of how the mind tricks us to believe in the simplicity of things when there is so much more. 

Transatlantic Exchange as Text

“Impact of Religious Imperalism”

by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, February 12, 2023

 Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, Florence, Italy Photograph taken by Fatima Parpia CC/4.0

With the initial contact between the Spanish and the Natives came about an explosion of anthropology that its remnants are still vastly prevalent even in today’s society. From the language that is spoken to the religious beliefs, this exchange provides great insight into the pieces of history that can be traced back to its origins. Although religious imperialism is still a common phenomenon in today’s times, after following the reading of the Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition, one could begin to understand the rationale behind such justification. This biography told from the perspective of Alavar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca provided an insight into the power religion has over authority. Without the backing of the church, these expeditions to the new world would not have been possible. Growing up, religion was not a massive component of my childhood and so when Cabeza de Vaca would bring up Christianity in all aspects of his expedition it was eye-opening to realize the dominion belief had over these exchanges. Even though much of Cabeza de Vaca’s work was tinted by his own agenda of wanting to be named governor of La Florida, this piece provided great insight into the landscape of the region as well as the cultures between the tribes. 

Salvaleon de Higüey Photograph taken by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios CC/4.0

One of the most shocking discoveries was the various customs surrounding women when it came to the different tribes. One particular case was the factor of the treatment of cycles. When a woman has her menstrual cycle, they must gather food for themselves as a result of nobody bringing food for them. When one reads about the typical characteristics of natives, usually it revolves around the word “savagery” and reading about their advancements in medicine when it came to the cauterization of wounds made me aware of the extent of concealment that gets shielded from children in schools. We are taught about how the Americas came to be but when one reaches maturity, it is up to them to branch out on their own and discover the information for themselves. As someone who is a by-product of this exchange from the very language that is spoken at home to the foods I consume, it has been astonishing when reading about the statistics of where certain products came from as well as where they are popularized as a consequence of this exchange. In “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas” by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian, one can learn about how the exchange not only brought about an agricultural advantage in certain countries but also the lower welfare was able to be sustainable for the first time in history. The cultivation of Old World products and the lowered prices were able to pave the way for both the rise of Europe as well as the Industrial Revolution. In the first instance of contact between the natives and the Spaniards, the manner of life in this world was completely altered. Religions, languages, and all manners of social & cultural aspects were both gained and lost as a result of these expeditions. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what was both gained and lost especially when it comes to the matters of the justifications of such atrocities.

Historic Miami as Text

“New Outlook”

by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, February 27, 2023

Government Center Photograph taken by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios CC/4.0

Walking through downtown Miami as someone who grew up and went to school in Miami-Dade County was certainly astonishing to perceive how much of its history has been swept under the rug. From about 500 BCE to 1763, a group of natives known as the Tequesta inhabited the area of present-day Palm Beach while as a group, we visited the river that is located on Brickell Bridge. The walking tour began in the Government Center which was filled with many amenities available to the residents of Miami-Dade as well as an important art piece that captures Miami culture. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were the masters behind the disarray of the chattering of the bowl of oranges. During the trip around the city, I found how truly walkable Miami’s hub of business and tourism truly is. A place that had ultimately captivated my attention was the Wagner Family Homestead. Being one of the oldest structures in Miami, this historical landmark holds no attention when it comes to the primary and secondary educational systems.

Wagner Family Homestead Photograph taken by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios CC/4.0

Constructed in 1855, a home belonging to one of the first immigrants to come to Miami, the mixed-race couple paved the path to the melting pot that is the vibrant city. A German immigrant, William Wagner, and French-Creole, Eveline Aimar, not only defied all the odds against them but during the Seminole Wars, they acted as peace negotiators for the Northern settlers. Close by the settlers’ home was the William English Plantation Slave Quarters which was later turned into Fort Dallas. The quarters housed William English’s slaves whose accommodations were later turned into a U.S. Army barracks. Afterward, we walked to the Miami-Dade County Courthouse where we had many revelations about how Miami received its foundations and its important street names. Flagler street is named after the controversial Henry Flagler, a pioneer of Miami’s existence on the map. Bringing the railroad with him, Flager relied heavily on Black laborers, especially Bahamians, to build both his railroad and hotel. However, after its building, Flagler began the segregation of Miami with Colored Towns. His monument is found even today in the courthouse and its marks on the city will continue to have its effect, especially after his hotel, the Royal Palm Hotel discharge went directly into the Miami River which still poses its degradation today.

Statue of Henry Flagler Photograph taken by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios CC/4.0

The greatest impact of the walk we took during the class is how much of history was lost as a result of capitalism. Flagler, knowing that a Tequesta burial ground was located by the Miami River, demolished the mound to make room for his hotel. As a daughter of a then-immigrant parent, these acts of cruelty create a tremendous feeling of ancient horror and guilt that will also resurface when diving into these topics. Many languages and cultures get lost as a result of these cruel acts, especially as someone who received an education in Miami it was very shocking to realize how much of our own history gets overlooked.

Magic Realism as Text

“Remembrance of Fantasy”

by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, March 12, 2023

Seen in the street art on the pavements of Miami to the very literature Latin America consumes, magic realism expresses its criticism through realistic yet magical components. Coined by a German historian, Franz Roh, magical realism was created as a term to differentiate from the arts that derived from Realism and Expressionism. When one thinks about this genre in the form of art, Frida Kahlo’s paintings always come to mind. Born in Mexico, Kahlo was an artist who is most remembered for her self-portraits in which she conveys her life experiences as well as a mix of her heritage. Employing fantasy elements of symbols by juxtaposing them but also communicating the entangled history of Europe and Latin America, Kahlo’s art was transformative when it came to speaking about such topics. 

Tree of Hope, by Frida Kahlo, 1946, is a great example of the manifestation of magical realism in art, specifically in a self-portrait. In this work, one can find the parallel contrast of night and day with two Fridas’ sharing the portrait. In “Day” Frida is lying on an operation table, displaying her horrific scars from surgery, and in “Night” Frida is seen sitting upright with a traditional Tehuana dress. The setting art takes place in a broken Mexican desert that is filled with cracks as well as the separation of moon and day. Both of her distinct inner and outer versions are portrayed in this portrait with one being a Mexican woman who relates strongly to her homelands and her counterpart, a woman who suffers in pain. The comparison of the scars on “Day” Frida as well as her past of not being able to have children to the broken, barren land gives a great suggestion of the destructive outcomes of Mexico’s intertwined history with Europe. Mexico has always suffered from the remnants of destruction left behind by colonialism and the cracks of what once could have been a fruitful land now turned into a dry heap of nothing speaks of how much the country has tolerated. 

Themes of history, poverty, political turmoil, and the suppression of indigenous people are seen in many of the works of magic realism. This form of expression is a way to capture both the youth to understand complicated topics and also as an outlet for writers in predominantly oppressed countries to be able to openly criticize their forms of government. As someone who didn’t grow up reading a lot of Latin American literature, being able to read 100 years of solitude was eye-opening in regard to the military conflict that is still seen in present-day Colombia. The destruction left behind by civil conflicts is very much apparent in places still under the control of the guerilla movements in Colombia. These movements were started in order to fight for the rights of the poor just like was demonstrated in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel. The same themes Frida Kahlo displayed in the majority of her works are consistent with 100 years of solitude especially when it comes to imperialism. Magic realism serves as a reminder of what all civilizations are destined to face at some point or another. 

Vizcaya as Text

by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, March 12, 2023

As one of Miami’s historic landmarks, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens houses that of the Italian Renaissance as well as its influences of Mediterranean architecture. Much like many of Miami’s historical landmarks, this property was built by Bahamian immigrants. With a combination of decorative arts and furnishings, this house captures the essence of European palaces with one of the rooms even taken after the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Built-in the early 20th century, the expansive estate includes many formal gardens and a mansion that is home to much of renaissance-inspired artworks. 

Walking through the estate of James Deering was astonishing to see how much of the landmark is still intact and preserved. Starting at the West Entrance, one is greeted with a moat where the owner of the estate created a barrier such as a measure of security against the very people who helped build his villa. Standing at the back entrance of the house, the Roman God of wine is surrounded by nature and a giant bathtub meant to initiate the overall mood of pure ecstasy that awaits Deering’s visitors inside. The court reveals itself to be that of the same style as Mediterranean houses with an open space that allows a breeze to travel through. One of the rooms that stood out not only because of its compelling beauty but also the historical artifacts the living room holds. 

As one of the largest rooms at the landmark, the living room happens to house one of the most interesting pieces which is a large admiral carpet. Being able to see how the outer edges of the tapestry are written in Arabic and learning about a new art was riveting. Mudejar art is a form of expression in which Islamic artists who were commissioned by Spanish nobility during a time of persecution were able to produce work that still retained Islamic traditions. This mantle is a direct result of this art which was commissioned by King Ferdinad’s grandfather during the 1450s. The juxtaposition of both the Catholic coat of arms and the border of the repeated words in Arabic (la ilaha illallah, There is no God but Allah) can be quite heart-wrenching once one understands how for these artists, this style of art is their only outlet of expression as of consequence of religious expulsion. 

Going with the name of the location, the gardens of Vizcaya are just as impressive as the Deering’s mansion. Decorated with fine statues, exotic wild plants, and graceful tiled fountains, these formal gardens offer a peaceful setting as well as adventure with their maze-like design. Walking through the historical landmark, I think that it is important to both remember the beauty the grounds have to offer and also to remember how much of the credit of the laborers were lost as a result of the time of racial segregation. The Deering estate was located in a part of Miami where serration was very prominent. With strict racial boundaries, at Vizcaya, this movement was apparent in the ways of payment and the use of facilities. The discrimination that took place in James Deering’s paradise was an evident reflection of the time in which the height of attractiveness of the estate possessed. This serves as a reminder of the struggle for equality and justice that people of color had to survive through in order to maintain freedoms.

Author: Kelly Diaz-Rios

Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios is a junior at Florida International University Honors who is majoring in International Relations with minors in International Communication and Political Science as well as two certificates in Pre-Law Skills and Middle East Studies. Born and raised in Miami, as a first-generation student she strives to attend law school to become an international human rights attorney.

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