Micah Sotolongo-Miranda: Miami as Text 2023

France Spring Encounter as Text – From the Burnt-Out Former Gifted Kid

Micah and Nicole at the Lotus House (Photo by Micah Sotolongo-Miranda/CC BY 4.0)

I never wanted to be in the Honors College. I already experienced 12 years of being gifted honors AP and IB. I just wanted to be normal. My whole life I heard and lived by suffer now, succeed later. Put in the work now so later you can relax. Study hard for that test so later you can party. Sacrifice your present happiness so later you can guarantee your future happiness. I was so tired of expectations it was something I was looking forward to leaving for college. But I applied anyway, and I got in.

I never wanted to be in the Honors College. I already had a bachelor’s in science degree to worry about and to me it was more of a chore than an opportunity. More classes, more credits, more tests, and topics I never found interesting, not to mention my lack of social skills due to my previous educational experience. It wasn’t horrible but I didn’t feel like my college experience would be any different without it.

I never wanted to be in the Honors College. Until I took Miami in Miami. It was fun, interesting, and engaging. This was different than the rest of FIU; I could tell. It was still antisocial, but I connected with one of my peers cleaning the Lotus house on March 11th, and I finally felt a little less alone and a little more confident in myself. Around 6pm, FIU sent out mass emails to the students, faculty, and staff that all classes were to be online for 2 weeks. March 12th was the beginning of the longest year of my life.

I never wanted to be in the Honors College. Due to the global pandemic my confidence quickly dropped and so did my view on life. Bored, I packed my schedule with boring classes for my degree. Eighteen credit semesters were now new normal for me. All that time alone with myself and my family left me mentally and emotionally drained, and the opportunities I thought I would once have were gone.

I never wanted to be in the Honors College. Until I got a WhatsApp notification from Professor Bailly. I wish I could tell you why I chose France; but, in the end, it chose me. After three years of not being in contact at all from both Bailey and my peer from Miami and Miami, Nicole Patrick is now the head of study abroad for the Honors College, guiding me through the process. It was surreal, and yet welcoming.

I never wanted to be in the Honors College. But I’m so glad that I applied, so glad that I got in, and so glad that I stayed. I’m still the awkward kid from before; I still need to work on my confidence and social skills, but I’m getting better, and I think a big part of it is because of the Honors College. I’m no longer sacrificing myself for the potential of happiness, and instead I’m investing all of myself in both the present in the future.

Deering Estate as Text – Surrounded by Salt

The Freshwater Spring (Photo by Joshua Villamizar/CC BY 4.0)

At the Deering Estate, there exists a freshwater spring in the middle of the saltwater mangroves. At first, the freshwater coming from deep underground, interacting with the saltwater at sea level was intriguing to me. As someone who studies science, how was this possible? Would there be no mixing? How do freshwater species and saltwater species coexist in the same habitat? It turns out this specific scenario is possible due to freshwater and saltwater having a different density, but the answer is more complicated that one would think. Sometimes a freshwater spring works, more often it does not. It is up to us and humanity to preserve the freshwater springs to celebrate the diversity and culture of this world from the people who seek to snuff it out.

The Tequesta were the very first people from Miami, although before going to the Deering Estate, I’ve never heard of them. These people were resourceful. They used the abundant shells from the shore to craft tools, fitting perfectly in their hand to use them as spoons or knives. They knew how to extract the meat from a conch without harming the shell, so it could be used for other purposes. They used their environment to their advantage in what we know now as the Tequesta Midden, and we stood where the Tequesta once stood. Understanding the burial mound is also understanding a big part of their culture; it’s evidence of a greater respect for life and a sense of community in the burial and it shows respect for the remains of their people. The Tequesta culture was the closest we will ever see to a truly pure culture, freshwater. The native people of Florida were so rich and so influential to the Miami we know today; however, many do not know their existence, let alone their stories. Even the language is lost to the sands of time. Ponce De Leon came in 1513, and many Spanish and other European explorers came to Miami to look for gold and converts to Catholicism, and from the beginning of their interactions, the freshwater began to be surrounded by saltwater, with both good and bad consequences on both sides. For a while they lived in peace and traded, but the battles begun, and the Tequesta as a people dissolved. A freshwater spring that once worked, is now snuffed out by the salt that suffocated it, and it was forced to dissolve into the new Aryan ways. This is the unfortunate truth of unpreserved and disrespected cultures and societies.

Tropical hardwood hammock is one of the original ecosystems of South Florida, once enveloping the entire area we know as Miami 10,000 years ago. Today, forests are not usually associated with Miami; instead, we see imported palm trees, invasive iguanas, and nonnative flamingoes decorating every post card on South Beach. However, the Deering Estate Natural Preserve is a wonderful example of the Miami thousands of years ago. Once roaming these hardwood hammocks were dire wolves, saber-tooth tigers, camels, llamas, and American lions. These remains can be found in the Cutler Fossil site, which was once a watering hole. This beautiful habitat filled with native species and plants are hidden from the rest of Miami, and any land that isn’t preserved by the Deering Estate or another organization is being used to build new housing, shopping areas, and modern appliances. The once freshwater ecosystem of Florida is being surrounded by the salt of industry. The need for preservations like the one here is extremely apparent, as any native and natural habitat is disappearing from this city.

In today’s world, cultural and environmental preservation take a back seat to economic and political issues. When we think of cultural preservation, we think of genocides like the Holocaust, and mass extinctions like the Native Americans, but cultural preservation is still very important, especially today. Governor DeSantis, according to CNN, is removing books from children’s classrooms, going through them, and removing anything they deem unnecessary (Santiago and Forrest). Having any books at this time is considered a third-degree felony. NBC News states he is also pushing for the removal of classes such as AP African American Studies and courses that teach about LGBTQ+ culture and history, claiming that issues such as these should not be taught to children; even if they are high schoolers, teenagers on the cusp of adulthood (Edelman and Horowitch). World War II and the Holocaust started with book burning, depletion of knowledge from the population. We are dangerously close to a genocide of minorities. It is now more than ever that we need to protect the freshwater spring.

Resources

Edelman, Adam, and Rose Horowitch. “Academics Revising AP African American Studies Course Insist They Won’t Cave to GOP Pressure.” NBC News, 31 Jan. 2023, http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/academics-revising-ap-african-american-studies-course-insist-wont-cave-rcna68207.

Santiago, Leyla, and Jack Forrest. “Florida School District Begins ‘Cataloging’ Books to Comply With DeSantis-backed Law.” CNN, 26 Jan. 2023, edition.cnn.com/2023/01/25/politics/florida-school-library-books-law-desantis/index.html.

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