Christian Gonzalez is an FIU student and active member of the FIU Honors College. Born and raised in Miami, his passions lie at the intersections of art, nature, and technology. Christian is a senior seeking a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and is currently majoring in Finance.
Encounter as Text
“Cuando me vaya”
by Christian Gonzalez
January 22nd, 2023
Last year Gisela Teresa Layuno passed away. To her friends, she was Teresita. To my sister and I, she was our abuelita Nani. When we were kids, Friday was unequivocally our favorite day of the week because that was the day we knew Nani would pick us up from school. We would typically be stuck for several agonizing hours after class was over, long after all the other kids had been picked up. But not on Fridays. On Fridays, without fail, Nani would be there as soon as that last bell rang, waiting first in the carpool line outside of school in her 2002 Honda Accord with some snacks, some stories, prepared to cook us our favorite meals for Friday dinner. Never once did she fail to pick us up on time. Everyone loved Nani.
Ever since Luli Szeinblum’s orientation presentation, I have wanted to participate in the travel abroad program but I was never sure that I would have the opportunity to go. Ultimately, I was convinced to apply for España after receiving secondhand exposure to the program through Professor Bailly’s Miami in Miami class and learning that I would have a couple free months this upcoming Summer before starting full-time work. Although, this would not be my first time traveling abroad.
I went backpacking around Europe once before, after finding myself with a free month at the end of the Summer and some leftover income from my NVIDIA internship. Looking up the cheapest ticket to Europe I could find took me direct to Lisbon. From there I traveled from country to country, city to city, hostel to hostel on roughly $30 per day. It was incredible.
Before I left for Lisbon, I told Nani about my plan. I can still remember how enthusiastic she was. She asked where else I’d be going. I told her I had no idea. She told me to visit España. It’s the most beautiful country, she said, and her favorite place in the world aside from her home where she grew up in Cárdenas. So I told her that I’d go.
And I did. After Lisbon, I went to Barcelona and telephoned Nani shortly after I arrived to tell her about it. She told me how excited she was, she told me I should go see the Alhambra, and she had something else she wanted to tell me. After traveling all over España when she was much younger, she discovered a secret.
On the Southern coast of Spain there is a beach, along a gorgeous seaside town with a small port. From this small town she took a boat, an excursion to an island off the coast, a nearly uninhabited unspoiled little island, immeasurably enchanting. She told me that I had to go there, and I told her that I would. But I never did.
I left Barcelona sooner than anticipated. After making some friends at the Hostel Kabul, they convinced me to travel with them to Milan. And so I went, forgetting about the beach, about the seaside town, about the island.
Thinking about Spain, a few images come to mind: the view of Barcelona from Parc Güell, Miles Davis playing the flugelhorn in Concierto de Aranjuez, the spectacular expansive vistas captured by the films of Corbucci and Sergio Leone. However, I cannot think about Spain without also thinking about Nani, about the time she spent there when she was young, about the things she wanted me to see. She was never the same after Covid. Permanently attached to an oxygen tank for over a year and suffering from dementia praecox, she was hospitalized shortly before Hurricane Alex struck Miami. Alex was downgraded to a tropical storm shortly before it hit, and we survived just fine. Nani did not. I know she would have wanted me to take this trip. I know that she would have been happy for me now that I’ll get to see Madrid, Sevilla, and the Alhambra. I just wish I could remember the name of that island.
Columbian Exchange as Text
“La ola y la ira”
by Christian Gonzalez
February 12th, 2023
“Why do you drink so much, Antón?” / “Pues porque tengo siempre mucha, mucha … sed ”
In the 1990s, Bolivia asked for international assistance in order to refinance its public water service. The World Bank stepped in to deliver much needed aid on the condition that the Bolivian water service would become privatized. Only one organization was willing to bid on this project. This is how the Bechtel corporation of San Francisco gained control over the water supply of the poorest country in South America. Infamously, the Bechtel consortium claimed that harvesting of rainwater by the Bolivian people violated the contract it made with the government.
And so began the leasing of the rain.
Two parallel stories are presented in También la lluvia: First, there is the story of Columbus’s atrocities under the banner of the Spanish empire, the role of religion in the Spanish conquest of the New World, the heroic defiance of Taíno natives like Hatuey, and the desperate acts that Native men and women endured in order to escape the subjugation of Spanish slavery. Second, there is the story of an impoverished Bolivian nation, the defiance of protesters who struggled to resist the privatization of their water supply, the violence invoked by the Bolivian government in order to defend its privatization of the water service, and the complicity of fictional film producers who find themselves entangled between a conflict of interests.
There is a superficial level of irony that permeates the two interlocking narratives within the film. The specific systems that the film calls into question are thus. There is the system that enabled Columbus to enslave the Native people of the New World in a zealous search for gold and a feverish desire to spread Christianity. This system stands in stark contrast with the ones that exist today, the systems that push the impoverished Native people of Bolivia to line up for days in hopes of finding work in order to subsidize the burden of paying for their newly privatized water utility.
Unpaid water bills gave Bechtel the legal authority to repossess peoples homes and auction them off. And so, the people had to make sacrifices. Do they eat less in order to pay for water? Should they put off going to the hospital for medical treatment or stop their children from attending school so that they might help the family work to pay for their water service?
For years, the Bolivian government adamantly defended the Bechtel corporation’s right to charge families living on $2 a day as much as 25% of their income for water. As protests grew larger and louder, the Bolivian government enacted a state of national emergency, authorized police officers to fire tear gas at protesters, and gave police departments a 50% pay raise in addition to arming them with weapons and riot equipment. Weber says a government is defined as any entity that possesses a monopoly on violence. Such a monopoly may be used to propagate and promote slavery, indentured servitude, or cultural subjugation of specific groups of people by an oppressive system that has cumulatively stripped them of their heritage, their possessions, and their potential over many centuries.
Alas, hegemony is seldom satisfied.
In También, scenes depicting acts of mundane modernized violence are contrasted with the violence of Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors. When subjugated indigenous people fail to produce a sufficient amount of gold for the Spanish, their fingers and limbs are perfunctorily dismembered. When the Taíno men and women attempt to run away from their captors, they are subsequently chased by men and bullets and hounds. In the film, native Bolivian extras are understandably reluctant when asked by the fictional film producers to depict harrowing acts of survival. They refuse to reenact scenes where their ancestors were forced to leave their infant children behind.
The mortality rate of children under 5 years of age was approximately 100 per 1,000 live births during this period, according to the World Bank itself. This means that 1 out of every 10 children died before the age of 5 during the period of Bolivia’s water crisis.
Echoes of the Columbian Exchange in this way, are still felt by people and nations today. They exist in the systems that govern us. They exist in the social strata of humanity. They exist in the collective memory of our cultural consciousness. They even exist embedded in our genetic makeup. The legacy of oppression and violence perpetuated through colonialist systems still lives on and haunts the lives of those it has affected and may continue to do so for generations yet to come.
- “Bechtel.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 4 Feb. 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechtel#2000_Bolivian_Water_privatization,_rate_increase_and_violence.
- “Cochabamba Water War.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Jan. 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochabamba_Water_War.
- Mortality Rate, under-5 (per 1,000 Live Births) – Bolivia. World Bank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.MORT?locations=BO.
Historic Miami as Text
“A Down Town Wake”
by Christian Gonzalez
February 26th, 2023
As night falls, the first lights of Miami flicker into view, winking like distant stars in the darkness. The man at the helm of the boat sweats, his hands tightening on the rudder as the vessel pitches and rolls against the agitated tide. I lean forward, peering out into the humid twilight, trying to make out the shapes of the buildings rising up around us. The rocks and stones jutting out of the bayside have given way to imposing skyscrapers, their sharp edges and clean lines cutting through the starless sky. The sound of the boat’s engine is drowned out by the hum of the city, a low thrumming that seems to fill the very air.
The city is a convergence of contrasts, of old and new, of tradition and innovation. The old downtown expands outward in a grid of cluttered streets and crumbling buildings, a place where the past seems to linger in the air like an acrid mist. The noise is overwhelming, a cacophony of machinery and shouting voices, of cars honking and sirens blaring in a discordant chorus, their engines revving like growling beasts. Palm trees sway in the salty breeze as tourists flock to the beaches, but beyond the glamor and veneer lies a city that writhes like a wounded animal.
As we draw closer inland, the city looms ever larger, a wilderness of concrete and steel that seems to stretch on forever. The city is a living thing, pulsing with effervescent energy, a creature of light and sound that dominates the landscape. The people are as diverse as the city itself. There are those who languish in luxury, in penthouses and mansions with views of the ocean and skyline. And there are those who eke out a living in the shadows, in the alienated alleyways and abandoned buildings that litter the landscape. It is a place of extremes, of towering structures and twisting canals, beaches and swamps, wealth and poverty, bread and circuses, bones and butter, cabbages and kings.
The waterways are as much a part of the city as the buildings themselves, the bayside crowded with boats, their chains clinking like rusted shackles, the canals and harbors home to luxury yachts and fishing barges, coast guard patrols and tugboats, cargo ships and cruise liners. The waters are thick with detritus and crowded with vessels that putter through the plastic and the waste, weighed down with cargo ranging from the opulent to the mundane. The river twists and turns in the moonlight, guiding us deeper into the heart of the city. Here, there is no wake.
“It is a transitory town”, the captain bellows unprovoked, the answer to a question never asked. “Been cursed ever since Tequesta left. Nobody stays for very long. Not the English, not the Spanish, not the Bahamians, not any of the rest of them. Like a place people come when they’re on their way to something else. Or when they running from something else.”
As our boat nears its dock, the engine slows and the water boils with eddies from below. The stench is a heady mix of salt water and diesel fumes that fills the air as the river seems to writhe with a life of its own. The captain leaps ashore and ties up, relieved to be done with the journey.
“It ain’t what you wanted, but it’s what you’ve got,” he laments conclusively as I disembark.
The surprising thing about Miami is that it is a place of contradictions, of beauty and ugliness, of poverty and wealth, a miasma of sunshine and swindlers. The city’s heart is a hollow core, and yet it beats with the frenetic tumultuous energy of its people, their culture and their collective histories. It is a place where the spirit and vitality are almost palpable. As I meander off the docks and delve deeper into the heart, I am assailed by the sheer endlessness of it all, left with the sense so infinite, so inexorable, so apoplectic, that the city and its stories may never be holy preserved. But then again, how can anybody create something that is truly sacred until the end?
Magical Realism as Text
“deus ex infinitum”
by Christian Gonzalez
March 12th, 2023
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
In Cien años de soledad, many great and terrible technological advancements are introduced to Macondo by Melquíades, the gypsies, travelers, and other opportunists. Some of these modern tools and inventions include magnets, the pianola, the electric lightbulb, automobiles, telegraphs and telephones, locomotive trains, airplanes, phonographs, movie theaters, and machine guns. One of the most notable applications of technology in Cien años occurs in Chapter 3, when patriarch José Arcadio Buendía obtains access to Melquíades’ daguerreotype laboratory.
By harnessing the power of the daguerreotype, an early form of photography, José Arcadio Buendía aims to obtain scientific proof of the existence of God. The Buendía patriarch’s methodology is described as a complicated process, yet the reasoning is simple. Using the daguerreotype, José Arcadio Buendía plans to develop an image for every image that can possibly be developed. His hypothesis is that if he obtains a copy of every possible image then sooner or later he would obtain a daguerreotype of God, if he exists. Like Icarus flying too close to the Sun, it can be argued that this is the point in José Arcadio Buendía’s story where he truly succumbs to madness.
Are there some things that man was not meant to know?
In Genesis, Adam and Eve are allowed to indulge in all the pleasures that the Garden of Eden has to offer with the explicit exception of the Tree of Knowledge. This, ultimately, would be their downfall. Throughout literature, many authors would borrow this device to reinforce the idea that there are fundamental secrets of the universe that we are not meant to know. Consider the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark, who attempt to commune with God and are obliterated instantaneously or the man in Paradise Lost who is rebuked when he asks the angel Raphael about the nature of divine beings. Students of quantum physics similarly will sympathize here.
One of the greatest works in the oeuvre of science fiction is Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 short story, The Nine Billion Names of God, about a sect of Tibetan monks who rent a computer. Similar to José Arcadio Buendía’s experiment, the monks attempt to use this computer to print every possible name in order to reveal the true name of God. The monks estimate that this process would take over 15,000 years to accomplish by hand, however the computer is able to complete this task in less than 3 years. The result of the experiment is comparable to the fate of Adam and José Arcadio Buendía.
In 1980, Benoit Mandelbrot was one of the first people to visualize fractal geometric images using computer graphics technology, resulting in the discovery of what is known today as the Mandelbrot set. The Mandelbrot set, defined by the function fc(z) = z2 + c, is likely the best demonstration of a simple yet elegant idea that yields infinite complexity. While the Mandelbrot set is impossible to conceive in words alone, this set of numbers has been colloquially referred to as the “Thumbprint of God”, for a very good reason. Exploring the bottomless depths of the Mandelbrot fractal, it is difficult not to think about the intricate geometric patterns of arabesque design in Islamic architecture.
Mandelbrot himself referred to the set as a perfect example of roughness, with rough being defined as the opposite of smooth or flat. The more you examine the boundaries and edges of the set, the more you will realize that there are no true boundaries to be found here. Notably, there is no single subset that can be found contained within the Mandelbrot set that is identical to any other subset. The image of the set iterates and collapses in on itself, creating a seemingly infinite set of otherworldly images and permutations. This fact alone leads some to hypothesize that every image that can possibly be rendered is contained within the visualization of the Mandelbrot set.
“Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable,” García Márquez said upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Cien años is a semi-fictional work that demands to be believed even when our belief is challenged every step of the way. We are introduced to a world where magic carpets are mundane amusements and ice is a modern marvel. It is a world where levitating priests, raining flowers, and girls ascending up to heaven are less noteworthy and less impactful than the introduction of movie theaters and railroads.
And yet it is a story that demands to be believed, because it is a story that most of us share.
It is a story for all of us whose lives have been defined largely by ordinary and inevitable outcomes rather than our imaginative and impassioned endeavors, our steadfast toil that we pour an ounce of blood and and a pound of our souls into that is overlooked in favor of the superficial and the desultory. This, more than anything else, is the bane of real magic and the essence of our mutual solitude.
Vizcaya as Text
by Christian Gonzalez
March 19th, 2023
In the stillness of a Winter afternoon, the old house stands silent, its faded walls a testament to the passage of time. Its shingles creak and stutter in the gentle subtropical breeze, as the leaves of banyan trees sway in unison. The house is a relic of the past, perhaps not the past of any specific era or time or place, but the embroidered past of a man. It is his past and his editorialized legacy that the house preserves now.
The preservation of Vizcaya is much more than just a time capsule thrust into the present from 1916. It is the preservation of a man’s vast collection of toys, antiques, collectibles, portraits, paraphernalia, and all the walls and spare rooms money could buy at the time. Neoclassical sculptures accumulate and are arranged like theater props furnished by Hieronymus Bosch, placed beside models of Spanish ships, Roman artifacts, ill-fitting organs, Greek murals, Baroque ceilings, and Rococo armchairs. In a strange way, the present and the past are both present in this house.
It is unclear what Deering’s intentions were regarding his own legacy, the items he wished preserved, or the manner in which his home was presented. And yet, as a visitor, we observe portraits hung on walls, vases placed on tables, and books arranged on shelves with meticulous attention to detail. It is the kind of arrangement and methodology that is far more reminiscent of a museum than a home.
The things that Deering left behind seem random and eclectic, yet they are all items carefully curated and intentionally placed. Rather, what speaks volumes are the things not left behind. Moving through the house among his collection of things, I cannot shake the feeling that someone took care to bury all that they could, locking away the secrets and sorrows of the man’s past. Deering’s struggles, his regrets, and his moments of weakness all carefully concealed, hidden away so that only he knew of them. In Florida, however, the Earth is too shallow to bury some things entirely.
Despite efforts made to bury these things, the man knew that it could not be erased completely. We observe traces of this past in the relics left behind. There are traces in the West Pavilion statue retitled Ponce de Leon. There are traces in the Living Room tapestry of Hercules and the Nemean Lion. There are traces in the Gardens where imprints of Bahamians who built this home linger. Deering’s life and all of its reverberations had left a mark on the house, a trace of his presence that could never be fully eradicated.
The old house still stands, a reminder of the man who once lived here. Its walls may be faded, and its shingles may creak in the wind, but it still stands tall, a tribute to a life lived. In the stillness of the afternoon, you can almost hear the echo of the man’s footsteps, as he strolled through the garden and watched the world go by. They say in death, the rain falls on all of us equally. Ultimately, he was a human being more or less like any other, living a life marked by joy, marred by pain, struggling to bury all that he could, while fighting to leave a trace of a man.