Caitlyn Ratto: Miami as Text 2023


Caitlyn Ratto volunteering at Baptist Hospital (Photo by Caitlyn Ratto/ CC by 4.0)

Caitlyn Ratto is a third year student in the pre-medicine track in the Biology major at Florida International University. She will be the first in her family to go to graduate school, and wants to specialize in orthopedic surgery. Both her father and mother have been involved in the medical field, but there has never been a doctor in the family. Her family is originally from Genoa, Italy so she wants to see where her great-grandfather lived before he immigrated to Peru in the early 20th century.

Encounter as Text

Image by Gianluca from Pixabay
“5,000 Miles” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU at Miami, January 22, 2023

When I first heard about the honors study abroad program, I was initially interested in two destinations. I finally decided on the Italia program because I discovered that my great-grandfather was born in Genova in 1888 and moved to Peru after he got married.

I have traveled to Peru many times, but I haven’t visited Europe, let alone Italy so I thought that this would be a great way to see where my family is from and how it has changed along the way. I would also like to see how different Europe is to North and South America. This will also be my first time traveling without my family so I am pretty nervous about flying and the language barrier. I’m used to my dad speaking Spanish while my family and I were in Peru and the Dominican Republic so I have never really applied a lot of thought whilst traveling.

For this trip I know that I will be one hundred percent alert, and this means that I will probably get exhausted quickly. In order to combat this, I have been practicing Italian since I got accepted into the program, and I have also watched a couple of Italian movies and shows. I know that this isn’t enough but I hope that with the continued practice I might be able to get by without any problems. 

Through this program, I hope that I will be able to grow as a person. Right now I am living on campus with my puppy, Bowie, and I have learned a lot about self-management and how to take care of others. I also know that traveling to a country that I haven’t visited yet is extremely different and it will be a learning experience. I hope to be able to learn how to interact with people regardless of the language barrier and I hope to grow into a more cultured person. Some small obstacles I hope to overcome are flying by myself, finding a hotel room in another country, and coming up with my own plans for the free days. After the trip, I hope to gain some confidence in myself because just the fact that I am going is out of my comfort zone so if anything I have done something that most people will never be able to do. I would also like to learn how to rely on other people because it would be extremely hard to do everything by myself, so I have to be make friendships in this class. This will be different from my first 2 years in college because all of my classes had about two hundred people so I haven’t reached out to any of my classmates in a while. I am very nervous, but absolutely excited about meeting new people, going to new places, and eating new food! 

Step 1: Make a friend and schedule a flight together 

Step 2: Practice Italian 

Step 3: Fly to Italy 

Step 4: Have the experience of a lifetime! 

Ancient Rome as Text

“Family Affair” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU of Miami, February 12, 2023

A very prominent aspect of Roman life styles was sex. Everyone was seen as a sexual being, and there were only a few taboos. I really liked how there was a taboo of incest, and it was really frowned upon. I did not like how they sexualized young men and thought that it would make them real men if they slept with someone. I think it was quite sad that some boys weren’t interested in sex at all, but were forced to do it to go through that rite of passage and enter society properly. Sisters and daughters were used as tools for connections and were given to someone before their marriage had even been confirmed, being used for a one night stand instead of a person. There’s also the timeless double standard of men and women as sexual beings. When a woman is a sexual being she is a whore and when a man is a sexual being he is seen as a man. This was evident in the depictions of Rome that we saw but there was the case of the soldier who did not sleep with anyone while he was at war. This should be a given when someone is married but this decision painted him to be a saint and showed just how much self control he had. I also thought that the casual sex parties was interesting because they are so taboo in our society, I liked that it was seen as more of artistic expression then mindless lust.

Family Structure Family structure was interesting to me because it was like the typical modern family structure. Some differences included: the daughters were given dowries when they were married off and it was not as taboo for children to have kids. There was one moment when a father referred to his daughter as his property and that the the boy who slept with her had no right to mess with his property. I found that very shocking and honestly it rubbed me wrong. When there was not a man of the house the women were matriarchs and the sons were almost completely subservient to them. It looked like there was a lot of respect for their mothers, but when they treated them as less than men they would lash out and remind them that they should know their place. It was also interesting to see

Photo taken by Caitlyn Ratto/ CC by 4.0

that when a family had slaves they were seen as better than people who did not so there are different levels of class structure within society. Nobles with slaves were better than those without, and lower class people were better than slaves. One way a low class person could rise through the ranks would be if you held a position on the senate. There were different levels of the Senate, so technically a lower class person could have a higher position than some of the nobles. Age was also an important structure indicator, but women were always less than the men, so older sisters held less power than their younger brothers. The only way women could secure their positions was to marry up in society. 

Overall there are a lot of similarities between Ancient Rome and modern American societal norms, with some good and bad differences. Like the celebration of sex and blatant show of second class women.

Historic Miami as Text

“Creating a Sense of Belonging” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU of Miami, February 26, 2023

Growing up my entire life in Homestead, I never felt that I was a part of Miami. This feeling was further reinforced by my friends and parents as well, with little comments like “you live in the middle of nowhere” or “you need to go to school outside of Homestead, so you don’t end up in the bad schools down here.” So, when I decided to live on campus, on eighth street no less, I thought that this was my introduction to the real Miami. I’ve slowly started to learn more about the immense diversity outside of just Homestead or Kendall, but still find myself in the liminal space of being in Miami without knowing its history.  

The Miami River with a mural recognizing the Tequesta/ Photo by Caitlyn Ratto CC 4.0

Before this lecture, I knew that Florida was a territory of Spain and that the escaped slaves would come through and settle here, but even AP history classes don’t really talk about Florida’s history outside of its purchase in 1819. I didn’t even know that there were native Americans, the Tequesta, living here before the Spanish arrived because I had assumed that the Everglades made it impossible to survive. Once Florida was somewhat established, I found it inspiring that women were some of the first substantial landowners, including Julia Tuttle who founded Miami. I never knew that Miami was founded by a woman, and don’t know why this isn’t mentioned in our basic history classes. Julia Tuttle and Marie Brickell also persuaded Henry Flagler to extend his railroad to Miami. This railroad helped move the Florida exports further and faster alongside the Miami River. Surprisingly, the Miami River is still in use today, however, it has been severely polluted throughout the years and started when Miami was industrializing. Thankfully, through lots of conservation efforts, the river has bounced back and some of the original species have returned, which include manatees. 

It seems that Miami is full of unexpected beginnings for lots of people, including all the immigrant populations that find their way here. My family is no different, my dad immigrated from Peru during the civil unrest in the 80s and my mom found her way to Hialeah from North Carolina after graduating college. Like my parents, many others have come to Miami to escape hardships and I find it amazing that Miami is seen as a place where anyone can fit in. We were able to see just how important immigration is to Miami with the Freedom Tower. I didn’t even know that this existed and honestly, I’m a little embarrassed because the Cuban population is such a big part of Miami’s culture. You always hear about Ellis Island, so I think that it is great that we can have our own version right in the heart of the city. Now that I have been able to see just a little of Miami’s history, I have a greater appreciation for the diversity and the space that we are able to foster for everyone to feel welcome. I can’t wait to learn even more about this great city of ours! 

Viscaya as Text

“Tractors & Green Lights” by Caitlyn Ratto of FIU, Miami, March 19, 2023
Front view of the late James Deering Home and Stone Barge forming part of the fabulous $16,000,000. Deering Estate, Villa Viscaya, as seen from the Deluxe Sightseeing Show Boat.” by Boston Public Library is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When walking around the Villa Viscaya it’s hard to ignore the ridiculous extravagance of it all. Even when you first drive into the area, the arch, and Greek statues that greet you place you into a different atmosphere. It sets the scene of being a languid and luxurious place, with the help of the beautiful plants and paved road amid the mangrove marshes just outside of the compound. The moat was what made me realize that I had seen some of these characteristics before, in Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Both Jay Gatsby and John Deering were narcissistic, spendthrift people who had no regard for anyone but themselves and their guests. 

champagne tower” by Kenichi Nobusue is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In both cases, the most active parts of their lives happened in the early twentieth century, a time known for salacious parties, excessive drinking, and the rise of the nouveau riche. Both men felt on top of the world and made it a point to separate themselves from the poor people that lived just a little bit away. Deering built a moat to keep out any of the people who originally lived in the area, and Gatsby lived in a rich neighborhood so they were really good at further marginalizing the people who helped build the houses and cities they lived in. 

Both men, also made sure to show off their status every chance they could. For Deering, it was expressed with the architecture and decorations of his villa, whereas Gatsby would make it a point to know everyone in a room and be friends with all of them. It feels like they were both compensating for something, and I believe that it was their fear of commitment. Neither Deering nor Gatsby were in a long and stable relationship and both died unmarried. John even had a problem committing to the building of his Villa, when he left to Europe for many years to go shopping instead of overseeing his winter residence. Torrid love affairs were the vice of choice for both Deering and Gatsby, and the latter even followed his former lover to her new house that she lived in with her husband. Deering was more of a romantic, as can be seen with the little lover’s corners hidden around the garden. 

Another motif that is present in both The Great Gatsby and Villa Viscaya is the romanticization of foreign societies. Gatsby’s house was filled with alcohol and foreign objects much like that of Deering’s, and were so out of touch with the society right outside their walls or moats. One structure that stood out to me at the Villa was the arc, which signified a victory of some kind to honor soldier and their leader after a battle. I could not understand why Deering would include this apart from him seeing himself and all of his accomplishments as a victory over the rest of the people, like the Bahamians in the area. I can also appreciate the luxuries of other places, but both Deering and Gatsby took that escapism and forgot to return to the communities they were part of.

Works Cited

SparkNotes. “SparkNotes: The Great Gatsby: Plot Overview.”, 2019, Accessed 12 Mar. 2023.

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