Stephanie Momblan: Miami as Text 2023

“Photo by Stephanie Momblan/CC by 4.o”

Stephanie Momblan is a 20-year-old junior student at Florida International University pursuing a degree in history. Following the completion of her undergraduate studies, she intends to pursue a law degree in order to achieve her dream of becoming an attorney. The hobbies that she enjoys include reading, watching movies, and socializing with her friends. Furthermore, she enjoys traveling a lot, and this will be the very first time that she will be traveling to Spain, so she is very excited about the opportunity.

“Encounter as Text” by Stephanie Momblan of FIU at Florida International University, January 20, 2023.

“Photo by Stephanie Momblan/CC by 4.o”

“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”

-Walt Disney

For me personally, there are a number of reasons why I always wanted to come to Spain in the first place, and why I chose to do it with the honors study abroad program at FIU. In spite of the fact that I have traveled to many different countries in the past, I have never actually been to a European country or even to a country outside the Americas in general. In light of this, I have always had a dream of traveling to one of the European countries including Spain, and getting to know its rich culture. In addition, as a Cuban-American woman, I believe that traveling to Spain is essential since I will learn a little bit more about myself and my culture. When I first saw that the FIU Honors program was offering a study abroad program in Spain for an entire month for such a low and affordable price, I knew that this was an opportunity that I could not miss.

At first, I was nervous about doing this study abroad because I had never really traveled on my own before, much less to a foreign nation. Despite that, as Walt Disney pointed out, curiosity always leads us to try out new things, and so my curiosity led me to participate in the study abroad program. I know that there are a lot of risks involved in participating in this program. The fact remains that I believe that it will all be worth it in the end, as I will be able to gain valuable experience from the experience. Even though I am a little nervous that I might make a mistake and do something that will ultimately ruin the trip, I have decided to put aside those fears so that I can enjoy it more than I might otherwise.

Despite wanting to visit Spain for years, I know very little about the country. As soon as I think of Spain, I immediately think of the flamenco dancers in Andalucia and their delicious paella (which I might add, happens to be one of my favorite types of food). Having listened to what my instructor has told me so far in class, I believe that I can also expect to see a lot of similarities between Miami and Spain based on what I have learned so far. I am certain that I will be shocked by how similar it is to my hometown, how similar it is to my Cuban cultural background that I developed within my own family, and how similar it is to the reality of my own life. I have no doubt, however, that this trip will be amazing due to all the things I will learn about this country during this trip.

“Transatlantic Exchange as Text” by Stephanie Momblan of FIU at Florida International University, February 12, 2023.

“Photo by Stephanie Momblan/CC by 4.o”

The picture above shows me being held by my mother following my baptism as a baby. In Catholicism, children are permitted to be baptized as babies for the purpose of washing away the original sin from the soul. It is interesting to note that some baptismal traditions such as mine would not have existed in the Americas without the Columbian Exchange. Between the Old World and the New World, the Columbian Exchange was the process where plants, animals, and diseases were exchanged between the two continents. During the European exploration and settlement of the Americas, many things that had never been seen in the Americas before were introduced. It is because of this that many people in the Americas are Catholic today, and they practice things such as baptisms of children like the one I did in the picture above, which I believe is very meaningful.

Additionally, in addition to establishing traditions, the Columbian Exchange also resulted in the transfer of a wide variety of different foods from the Americas to Europe and from Europe to the Americas. Would it be possible to live in a world where there were no tomatoes for pizza in Italy or no potatoes like in a country where potatoes are famous, like in Ireland? Well, thanks to the Columbian Exchange, these countries are now able to prepare their most popular foods with the necessary ingredients. Many of us tend to think of them as being from these countries. In reality, these foods come from the Americas and would not exist without the people who grew them before the arrival of the Spanish. As a Cuban-American, it sometimes surprises me that some foods, such as pork, come from the Spanish considering it is extremely popular in Cuba. The Spanish at the Columbian Exchange, however, made it possible for me to enjoy some of the foods I eat today.

Despite the numerous positive things the Columbian Exchange did for both the old and new worlds, there were also a lot of atrocities that were caused by this exchange. These atrocities ruined the lives of a lot of people in the Americas and they are still affecting them today. As a result of the Columbian exchange, the Spanish brought with them diseases and social structures, which, as a result, ruined the lives of the majority of Native Americans in those areas. It is estimated that millions of Native Americans were killed by the diseases that the Spanish brought to their lands faster than they could move. In the movie, Apocalypto, we see that a little girl’s whole village is wiped out before the Spanish even arrive, illustrating how fast these diseases spread. Despite this event being a long time ago, we can see the Columbian exchange still affects the Natives today. In the movie, Tambien la lluvia, we can see how the social structures that the Spanish brought are still affecting many Natives today and they cannot even drink their own water as a result of it. As a whole, the Columbian exchange had a profound effect on the lives of people in the new world and the old world, which is why it is valuable to learn more about it.

“Historic Miami as Text” by Stephanie Momblan of FIU at Downtown Miami, February 26, 2023.

“Photo by Stephanie Momblan/CC by 4.o”

In the picture above you can see the house of the mixed-race couple William Wagner, a German immigrant, and Eveline Aimar, a French-Creole immigrant. While I was on the tour downtown, this was the part of the tour that really caught my attention because despite living in Miami for most of my life, I had never heard of this couple, and their story fascinated me deeply while I was listening to it. In spite of the fact that at the time, it was controversial for a mixed race couple to be together, it was not a big deal for these two people and they even had children together despite the fact that they would probably face a great deal of discrimination for doing things like that. Not only were they a mixed-race couple that was happily married to each other and had children, but they were also peacemakers that helped prevent another Seminole war. When the Wagners lived in Miami, they became close friends with the Seminoles in their time there, and the Wagners acted as an arbitrator between the Northern settlers and the Seminoles during their time there. There is no doubt that if they had not been there, there would have been another war between the Northern settlers and the Seminoles that would have resulted in tremendous tragedy and loss of life.

The story caught my attention because we don’t typically hear about these kinds of stories in school, and because our history classes typically leave out anything related to non-white or non-Anglo contributions to the development of our civilization. My belief is that this story is one of these cases. In addition to this, I believe that it is important to learn how in Miami, one of the people who contributed to the history of our city was a mixed-race peacemaking couple, because Miami is such a diverse city at the moment and it is very important to learn how to remain united just like them. It is important to understand that people who criticize Miami for being too diverse or for having too many immigrants tend not to understand that our history has always been this way, and stories like these reflect this fact. Even if I walk around the campus of FIU, I can see how diverse it can be, as it contains a wide range of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and this is a direct reflection of Miami’s diverse nature.

As much as we value and appreciate the positive elements of our history, there is also a lot of darkness hidden within it as well. While I was doing my downtown tour with the rest of the class, I also noticed that the Fort Dallas/William English plantation quarters were located right next to the Wagner’s houses as we were walking through the historical district. I think this served as a reminder that while our history has been filled with beautiful things, there have also been many dark things that we need to atone for in order to move forward. In my walk downtown, I learned a lot about our history, including the fact that Miami-Dade was named after Major Francis L. Dade, a soldier who led a genocide against natives, and that Henry Flagler segregated his own workers after completing the project in Miami. Overall, I believe that there are a lot of good and bad things about our history and we should learn about both.

“Magical Realism as Text” by Stephanie Momblan of FIU at Florida International University, March 12, 2023.

“Photo by Gabriel Garcia Marquez St/CC by 4.o”

I learned in class about magical realism, a revolutionary genre that has its roots in Latin America.   It depicts a world that is both realistic and magical, frequently blending the boundaries between truth and fiction. Magical realism is a particularly South Latin American cultural identity even though many expressions of the Americas have roots in Spain. Overall, based on what I’ve studied about magical realism, I enjoy it a lot. There are many aspects of it that I find to be incredibly intriguing, especially considering that it originated in Latin America. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel 100 Years of Solitude was my one of my first exposures to the genre. The Buendia family and the hamlet of Macondo where they reside are the focus of the book. One can perceive the magical realism throughout the novel and how it plays a significant role in the story. There are some events in this novel that could be considered magical in some ways, yet the characters act as though these kinds of events are common and occur in everyday life.

An example of this would be when José Arcadio Buendia passed away and yellow peddles started to fall from the sky. The establishment of a banana plantation outside of town by an American fruit company, along with the construction of its own segregated village across the river, would be another illustration of this. This would result in a period of prosperity that would ultimately end in tragedy when the Colombian army massacred thousands of striking plantation workers, a tragedy that was modeled after the Banana Massacre of 1928. Everyone simply forgot about the incident after it occurred, which is an implausible outcome and another illustration of magical realism in the novel overall. In general, I really liked this book, and I think that going forward, magical realism might turn out to be one of my favorite genres. I think these books have a particular feel to them when I read them, and as I keep reading them, I really like the mental pictures they inspire.

Despite the fact that magical realism is reportedly a big literary genre in South America, I haven’t read much of it. Chronicle of a Death Foretold, another book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, is the only other example of magical realism that I am aware of. Chronicle of a Death Foretold is a book that I was assigned to read during High School and there is where I learned about magical realism for the first time. In the book there are a lot of similarities to 100 years of solitude in the sense that they both used a lot of magical realism, take place in a small town, and present a scenario that starts from different parts of the book and puts it in the beginning. You can tell that both books were written by the same author since they both have pretty similar styles and themes. Ultimately, I think that when it comes to Latin American literature, magical realism is a genre that should be thoroughly explored, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a superb example of it.

“Vizcaya as Text” by Stephanie Momblan of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, March 19, 2023.

“Photo by unknown/CC by 4.o”

During this semester, I was fortunate enough to visit Vizcaya’s Museum and Gardens, which I believe was the most beautiful and mind-capturing place that I visited with Bailly’s class. The picture above shows me alongside other students of the class posing in front of a beautiful glass-colored window, which illustrates the many beauties of Vizcaya. Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a world-class visitor attraction, once owned by the businessman James Deering, who during his construction of his villa was greatly influenced by European culture and art. James Deering constructed many things in his estate that were inspired by Spain, and those things were brought back to Spain during the first contact in the Americas, so this corresponds to what I hope to learn during my study abroad in Spain. As I walked into the estate, I was amazed at the beauty of the Mediterranean architectural components and the tropical environment. Nevertheless, with beauty, there always comes darkness, and Professor Bailly reminded me of this when he mentioned that the estate was built by black laborers at a time of racial segregation and the working conditions there were terrible. In my mind, this led me to feel somewhat conflicted because, on the one hand, it is clearly a beautiful estate, but on the other hand, it is also one that was built from the blood and suffering of black laborers. I was able to resolve this conflict by admitting that it was just a product of the time and that we just have to acknowledge the mistakes of the past and move on.

As soon as I entered that estate, the statues of Bel Vizcaya and Ponce de Leon caught my attention because I found the idea of why they were placed there to be fascinating. Bel Vizcaya is the statue of a fictional character that James Deering created to represent stories of shipwrecked Spaniards. In his mythological accounts, he lived among the Tequesta on the now-named Biscayne Bay, and this is the figure that James Deering saw himself as. The other statue, Ponce de Leon, was a real explorer that was assigned by Spain to take over Florida and is known for the legend of the fountain of youth. Additionally, he is another type of explorer that James Deering envisioned himself as. When I heard that he envisioned himself as both of them, I thought that he was really full of himself, but that makes sense considering that he grew up super-rich. As I learn more about Vizcaya, I believe that my assessment of him as a rich man who was full of himself was correct considering he would just buy whatever he wanted from Europe like it was no big deal and reinvented it to fit the narrative of the estate. A lot of the things that he brought or got inspired by from Europe was usually from Spain, which fits into the overall narrative of the class.

In my opinion, a good example of what he took back to the US out of Spain would be the living room with its large Admiral carpet hanging on the wall. A rug such as this was commissioned by King Ferdinand’s grandfather in the 1450s and it is an excellent example of Mudejar art that can be found in the palace. As the name implies, Mudejar refers to Islamic artists who provided art services for the Spanish Catholic monarchy, maintaining Islamic styles and writing, but celebrating Catholic rulers. The type of art produced from Arab countries is very beautiful in my opinion, as it reminds me of countries such as Morocco. Considering that Islam plays such a huge role in Spanish culture, this is an example of what I’d learn in Spain. Overall, I enjoyed my time in Vizcaya a lot and I think it gave me a little insight into what I might see in Spain as a result.

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