Vox Student Blog

Michelle Gonzalez: Normandy as Text 2018

Michelle Gonzalez: Normandy as Text 2018


Many generations have come to learn the history behind World War II, but many (much like myself) overlook the lives of men and women that have sacrificed their lives for the freedom we often take for granted. Much less, we only see veterans as sacrificial lambs that were destined to be soldiers, with no attention to their lives neither before nor after the war. Sure, we visit memorials and take a few pictures to say we were there—but were we really there? 

 Many historians try to combat this shroud of ignorance, but their efforts are futile when it comes to the lives of young men and women that have no remarkable distinction, only after they have enlisted and lost their life, such as the majority of World War II. 

Elizabeth A. Richardson was no exception to this unfortunate reality. Very few research is available online—she was just another American girl that grew up in an industrial town in Mishawaka, Indiana (Madison, 2007).  However, as this writing progresses, I’ll do my best to convey the most accurate information of the remarkable Ms. Richardson, whose life and death deserve such honor, as the rest of the three women and many men that are often forgotten and taken for granted outside of Normandy Cemetery. 

Before, During, and After World War II

Before World War II, Elizabeth A. Richardson was born in Mishawaka, Indiana where she later graduated from Mishawaka High School in 1936. Like any young girl, full of life and expectations, Richardson moved to Wisconsin where she later enrolled in Milwaukee-Downer College and worked at an advertising agency.

Before her service in the war, the isolationist policy resonated within her beliefs in which she advocated that Americans should not intervene in World War II: “The U.S. will be suckers if they enter it” (Madison, 2007). However, like many American’s perceptions, her perception also changed on December 7th 1941—the day Japan awoke the “sleeping giant” in Pearl Harbor, declaring war on the United States. 

Subsequently, as she saw her friends and loved ones being drafted, she refused to stay idle in her advertising job so she enlisted as a volunteer for the American Red Cross in 1944, along with two of her close college friends (Madison, 2007). 

After passing her physical and psychological evaluation to join the American Red Cross, Richardson began six weeks of intensive training in Washington D.C. (Madison, 2007). After her successful training, she later boarded Queen Elizabeth where she was one of fifteen thousand Americans to set sail across the Atlantic to war, in July of 1944 (Madison, 2007). 

Once in England, The Blitz and other destructions immersed Richardson in a country whose environment and infrastructure had been deteriorated by World War II (Madison, 2007). To many English and Americans of the time, the efforts of Americans such as Richardson were much revered through signs of hope. 

That is, the American Red Cross’ responsibility was just that: bringing hope to fallen troops. Richardson did this through volunteering in clubmobiles, a single decker bus that brought food and entertainment to soldiers in order lessen the stress of war and have a connection to home. However, not only did Richardson bring hope to the Americans stationed in England, she also felt like an oddity since war had created a stupor amongst men in disassociating themselves in the presence of American girls, “…you feel sort of like a museum piece—’Hey, look, fellows! A real, live American girl!'” (Madison, 2007)

Ultimately, Richardson was even more convinced that her role was to heal morale and support her brothers in uniform. She did this through bringing American culture to American soldiers that had been far away from home. Through small talk, Richardson was able to lend an ear to soldiers who hadn’t seen their wives and children or those who simply missed home. 

Moreover, throughout the war, Richardson, like the other women that volunteered for the American Red Cross, did not let her appearance fall through. I believe her attention to detail in her appearance, though rugged from war, was important in establishing morale, much of what the American Red Cross strived for. It was attention to these details that gave soldiers a sense of hope that life does carry on and that savagery does have an end. That is, like many volunteers, Richardson took the time to apply lipstick, nail polish, and even perfume! (Madison, 2007) Such pride in her appearance paralleled with her devout patriotism and efforts for soldiers to persevere. Soldiers acknowledged her feminine attempts and appreciated how women like her brought “a little bit of home” to war (Madison, 2007). 

Painted red lips, coupled with a big smile and greeting made the donuts and coffee taste better for the soldiers. However, as Richardson grew closer to the soldiers, she began to learn of accounts that were never released in newspapers or shared with a loved one back home. Richardson had become much of the soldier’s confidant, seen through what she would write to her parents, always tip-toeing around the notion of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the affect it had on the men: “If you only knew what combat does to these boys—not in the physical sense, although that’s bad enough—but mentally.” (Bosshart, 2014).

Ultimately, though Richardson’s role was not that of a soldier, she was in battle against soldier’s disillusionment and morale. Her work was what we consider domestic in which she would cook, clean, and wait on soldiers (Madison, 2007). But to what extent was her role domestic amidst the battlefield? Her job required a strong emotional quotient, interpersonal, and organizational skills not all women have when embarking to a foreign country, much less war! (Madison, 2007) Richardson was much of what made the American Red Cross special to men who were absent from loved ones since the onset of war—demonstrating violence and pacifism can meet in the middle as seen through her life and death. 


            When enlisting in war, the fear of never returning to your loved ones is always eminent. For Richardson, she hoped her involvement in the war was like a “toothache” that ended quickly. Unfortunately, on July 25, 1945 at Le Havre, Richardson boarded a two-seater military plane in route to Paris that never landed but crashed near Rouen, instantly killing her at twenty-seven years old, with pilot “Sgt. William R. Miller of the Ninth Air Force” (Indiana Magazine of History, 2013).

Richardson is now interred in “Plot A, Row 21, Grave 5” in the Normandy American Cemetery in France (Madison, 2007). 

What Her Sacrifice Means to Me

             When we think of World War II, it’s difficult to find a personal connection with the many men and women that sacrificed their lives for our freedom. Many of us recall those who were drafted onto unwanted war duties, but forget those who whole-heartedly volunteered because of a sense of moral obligation to better the lives of people. Society also tends to forget the lives of women—a recurrent theme in society, evident in the four women that are buried here.

That is, Elizabeth A. Richardson was not part of an unwanted synecdoche of young men that were drafted out to fight World War II. Instead, she was a self-made woman from Mishawaka, Indiana that felt a selfless desire to help victims of war in Europe, ironically becoming a victim herself. 

It’s inevitable to feel detached to her, simply because of time and circumstance. However, the fact that she, a woman in the 1940s, volunteered in a Clubmobile through the American Red Cross to provide not just food, but a connection to home says a lot about her character to me. 

I can’t say I would personally do the same, waking up every morning, on the brink of death, applying lipstick and a smile to lessen the ambiance of war. But she did, and so did three other women here and that makes me feel so powerful as a woman. It reminds me to remember that I am also capable of doing such a selfless act for principles of freedom. However, it also reminds me that freedom comes at a price

We’re amongst that price of 9,387 dead, in which Richardson contributed smiles through doughnuts, gum, cigarettes, newspapers, and music (Bosshart, 2014) while others contributed bullets and bombs. The peace that emanates from her story signifies hope in humanity in a time of genocide, where she only contributed compassion and everyday experiences war desensitizes soldiers from. 

A quote from Richardson reads, “I consider myself fortunate to be in Clubmobile–can’t conceive of anything else. It’s a rugged and irregular and weird life, but it’s wonderful. That is as wonderful as anything can be under the circumstances.”  Though Richardson was only twenty-seven at the time of her death, she managed to be an empathetic figure of a mother, sister, girlfriend, and wife to all the men she encountered. 

Ultimately, her sacrifice is something I’ll never fully understand but can learn from to be a better person. Seeing the “wonderful” in such a bleak time is the hope we can hold onto like many fighters and victims of World War II have demonstrated. 

Currently, recent politics seem to foreshadow this historic recurrence in which we will need individuals like Richardson to see the “wonderful” again and try to forget fighting but compassion for one another, be it through coffee, doughnuts or a smile. 


American Battle Monuments Commission. (1970, January 01). Normandy American 

Cemetery. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://www.abmc.gov/cemeteries-memorials/europe/normandy-american-cemetery

Bosshart, M. (2014, January 29). Elizabeth A. Richardson, an American Red Cross 

volunteer buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy. Retrieved July 23, 2018, from http://www.outandaboutinparis.com/2011/08/elizabeth-richardson-american-red-cross.html

Indiana Magazine of History. (2013, December 30). Soldiers’ Solace: Clubmobile 

Women During World War II. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://indianapublicmedia.org/momentofindianahistory/soldiers-solace-clubmobile-women-world-war-ii/

Madison, J. H. (2007). Wearing Lipstick to War. Retrieved June 30, 2018, from https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2007/fall/lipstick.html

John William Bailly  20 July 2019

Isabella Marie Garcia: Normandy as Text 2019

Isabella Marie Garcia: Normandy as Text 2019


for Dolores Browne

Sergeant of the U.S. Women’s Army Corps. 

Drafted from Connecticut.

Gone on July 13th, 1945 and only 23, maybe 24, years old.

I know you served in the first and only all-female, all-black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps. Number 6888th. I know you’re one of only four women buried in this very ground as a result of your service. I know you were one of three black women killed in a Jeep accident in France and that your fellow comrades and gracious French citizens had to raise money in order to organize your funeral. I know you were the only one of those three women who died days later as a result of your injuries and that no other traces can be found of where you come from. 

Who claims you?

That’s all I know of you. 

The women of the 6888th Postal Directory Battalion, also known as the “Six Triple Eight,” went by one motto:

No mail, no morale. 

They converted temporary post offices into demanding workstations, with several shifts of sorting through sky high piles of letters and packages in order to get mail to its proper owner. Even if there were 1,000 Robert or John Smiths fighting in Europe, they would find the exact man to hand a personal message to, never failing in fully delivering and completing their missions. Over 855 women served in the 6888th battalion of Women Army Corps, and 150,000 served in the Women Army Corps. Their conditions were rough, their sacrifices were great, and for the women of the only all-black battalion, they were never publicly recognized for their service at the end of the war. 

I don’t know much. I don’t know who your mother is or where you went to school, if you loved coffee or smoked cigarettes. I don’t know if you owned a record player and would play the top hits with your best friends after school, I’m not sure if you had many friends or if you were a loner. I don’t know if you intended to marry or if you wanted to become a doctor. 

I don’t know who you really are but I recognize you today.

What I can guess is that you went abroad with a fire burning through your veins to prove yourself. Not just your individual persona, but the color of you skin and the hearts of your fellow sisters. You have to prove your worth when you shouldn’t have to explain yourself to anyone. I’ve felt the need to prove myself but never to your extent. 

I’ll never be in your shoes. I’m not black. I come from a Cuban family that fled to avoid persecution but the shade of my skin isn’t vulnerable in the eyes of the world.

I’m a woman but privilege is real. 

I can’t relate to much of your life, but what I do relate to, I cling to, that urge to prove yourself only to fall into a trap. Nobody there at the end of the day to recognize all of your hard work. Nobody who believes in you, or at least you think doesn’t believe in you. You’ve felt all that and I have as well.

I don’t know the details of your life, Dolores, but the circumstances you lived in and what you represented have paved the way for women of color across all fields, making strides gradually but surely. You are one of four women in this cemetery, and that’s little, sure, but it’s never been about quantity.

As a young woman of your age, I thank you for what you’ve done and what you could’ve been. You are one of 150,000 women who gave themselves to us in order to be stronger, freer women. 

I see you in the young girls who run freely without care.

I see you in the young black woman who fights gun violence and breaks her throat in protest.

I see you in the innocent black lives that are lost as a result of hatred and ignorance.

Young black women, ready to fight, not with guns, but with words and their crafts, I see you.

I see myself in you, Dolores, and for that, thank you.

Isabella Marie Garcia

John William Bailly  19 July 2019

Victoria Atencio: Normandy as Text 2017

Victoria Atencio: Normandy as Text 2017


I don’t know you but I do
I admit I don’t know your name, your birthday, or even how you look 
But I know who you are. 

I don’t know you
But I know you lived, you fought, you died
Trying to resist a life that threatened the very core of humanity
From spreading its salute any further

I don’t know you
But I know you sabotaged the oppressors at every stage
Even from within the walls of a prison built to stifle your sprit

I don’t know you
But I know you rejected the dehumanization of the human race 
Under the constant cover of the cattle tag permanently etched onto your skin

I don’t know you 
But I know you questioned the prejudices that a seemingly meaningless act 
Could assign to your peers
Or the stereotypes it could confirm to the world

I don’t know you 
But I know you lived, you fought, you died without ever knowing who your actions would save
Simply hoping that you could

I don’t know you 
But I know that even if you were too young to understand the significance of your actions
The uniform you carry yourself under expresses it to the world 

I don’t know you 
But I know your experience as a casualty of war
Directly influenced the end of the horrors against humanity And exemplified the success of your ideals

I don’t know you 
But I know that even if you did not want to contribute the way that you did
You lived, you fought, you died so that little Lucienne Friedler and all the children from Maison d’Izieu could survive strongly, running and playing freely
Alive through the sentiments of society. 

I don’t know you 
But I know you tightly gripped the torch from Flanders fields 
And carried it zealously up the shores to certain death 
To confront a foe you could not see

I don’t know you
But I know you felt the responsibility of passing this idea
Through time and space from failing hands 
Of refusing to accept the unacceptable. 

Though you might not have done it all alone,
Anyone who had any role in this fight for freedom is responsible for it all
So I don’t know your name, your age, your favorite color, not even your hopes and dreams
And I’m very sorry I don’t know you
Just know that you may now sleep soundly under the poppies
Because, along with the rest of the world, 
I god damn son of a bitch sure as shit am glad that I do 
Know you 

(Editor’s note: “god damn son of a bitch” makes reference to the first English words young Joseph Weismann learned from US GI’s when they liberated France.)

John William Bailly  19 July 2019

Allison Vargas: Vuelta España 2016

Allison Vargas: Vuelta España 2016

Allison Vargas of FIU Honors College in the Alhambra in 2016


Studying abroad in Spain with Professor John William Bailly

“I began to examine the different aspects of freedom in the United States and Spain when I saw La Giralda in Sevilla. La Giralda has an immediate connection to Miami because both the Freedom Tower as well as the Biltmore Hotel were inspired by it.”

La Giralda,  a bell tower of the Sevilla Cathedral, includes parts from many cultures. Stones with Roman inscriptions were used to build the original Moorish minaret before the mosque was turned into a church during the Reconquista.

The Freedom Tower, on the other hand, was used in the 1960s to process, document, and help Cuban refugees fleeing Castro’s regime. The tower is now a symbol of hope and freedom.

I found it interesting and ironic that a tower that is the product of cultural and religious conflict is the inspiration for a tower representing freedom across an ocean. However, in the case of both towers, conflict brought about cultural blending. La Giralda itself is the product of cultural blending, while Cuban and American culture began blending at the Freedom Tower. Although the towers have very different histories, they have had parallel functions in the merging of cultures.

Sevilla’s Giralda served as inspiration for Miami’s Freedom Tower and Biltmore hotel. (Photos by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)


Religion plays a huge role in Spanish history and identity—so much so that it would be illogical, even impossible, to visit Spain and not visit the amazing cathedrals and churches, regardless of your own religion.

The difference in the history of religion in the United States and Spain is starkly obvious: the U.S. has always supported religious diversity and tolerance, while Spain is the product of religious control.

Here is a brief history lesson to explain.

Both the Reconquista and the Inquisition established Christian dominance in Spain. During the Reconquista in the Middle Ages, Christian armies conquered the Moors, and the Moors were driven out of Spain. Spain became united under Catholicism by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, which led to the Inquisition. During the Inquisition (1478-1834), anyone non-Christian, especially Jews, was punished. Later, during the Franco era, Catholicism was the only religion allowed legal status. The government passed laws supporting Catholic teachings, and Catholic religious education was mandatory in schools.

Today, most Spaniards identify as Catholic, but religion has become more of a tradition than anything else. There are still remnants of Spain’s authoritarian religious history, however. Cities like Toledo and Sevilla have a “Juderia” or Jewish neighborhood, although no Jews reside in it. To me, the signs of the Juderia are more like gravestones than neighborhood labels. I personally did not see a single synagogue or mosque that had not been converted into a Catholic church. During my entire time in Spain, I saw only one other church among the countless Catholic churches—a Scientology church.

The lack of religious diversity in Spain stands in stark contrast to the United States, where you may  stumble upon a multitude of different places of worship in any town. However, the U.S. is not impervious to religious discrimination, and it is not unique to Spain. Also, although both countries now claim separation of church and state, religious ideologies constantly permeate politics. In Spain, this separation is difficult, given its history;  but in the U.S. it is notable that religion plays such a large part in a country that has always had a separation of church and state, and that it is even referred to as “one nation under God”.



As I have studied in Spain, I have become aware that the level of conservatism is different than in the United States. The U.S. is actually more sexually restrictive, a reality that was blatantly obvious, especially on the beaches.

At Barceloneta and the beach at Sitges, women of all sizes and ages are commonly topless. In the U.S., topless women at a beach would most likely receive stares and even sexual harassment. In Spain, breasts seem to almost be completely desexualized, and toplessness at the beach is regarded as the norm.

Another less in-your-face, but still apparent, way in which Spain is less conservative than the U.S. is the view on homosexuality. I first began to consider this distinction on the day of the Orlando shootings. On that day, the Real Casa de Correos, a building located in Madrid, hung gay pride flags with a black ribbon on them in solidarity. After seeing these flags, I felt proud to be in a country that was standing with American citizens and the gay community. I further noted the difference in views on homosexuality after seeing several gay couples together. Although this is just as frequent in Miami, I did not notice any glares or harsh looks in Spain. These observations led me to do a little research. I found that, according to Pew Research Center, 91% of Spaniards are accepting of homosexuality, while only 60% of Americans are. Furthermore, Spain legalized gay marriage in 2005, while in the U.S., it has only been legal since 2015.

In light of the historical role of religion in these countries, the different attitudes on sexuality are ironic. It is almost paradoxical that a country so dominated by Catholic and conservative ideals legalized such a liberal statute a decade before the U.S. However, it is also relevant to note that the  Pew Research Center also found that half of Americans deem religion to be very important in their lives, while less than a quarter of Spaniards do. Needless to say, Spain’s societal attitudes have evolved rapidly, and in my opinion, for the better. I only hope that American attitudes undergo a similar evolution in the near future.

A Demon dances in fire at the Nit de Sant Joan Festival in Barcelona. (Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0)


By a stroke of luck, we were fortunate enough to be in Barcelona for the celebration of the Nit de San Joan on June 23rd. I had never heard of this holiday, or what it commemorated, before. My curiosity led me to a swift Google search. I quickly learned that the holiday has pagan origins, and long predates the introduction of Christianity. It is a celebration of the summer solstice, and the Catholic Church later combined it with the birth of St. John the Baptist. Bonfires and fireworks are at the heart of the festivities; the flames are believed to frighten and dispel evil spirits abroad on this night.

Before actually witnessing the celebration, I expected it to be similar to the American Fourth of July, which I associate with fireworks and bonfires on the beach; so when I learned that the Nit de San Joan was celebrated similarly, I imagined them to be alike. Well, it was nothing like the Fourth of July.

There was no part of Barcelona that did not have people out celebrating. Throughout the city, music was playing and fireworks were shooting. These fireworks displays, though, were like nothing I had ever seen. You did not watch them up in the sky while sitting in awe. Instead, they were detonating right beside you in the hands of people dressed up as devils—odd, I thought, for a holiday that celebrates a saint. Although being in such close proximity to fireworks is dangerous, the excitement and thrill in the atmosphere gave me an adrenaline rush that made me completely forget the potential risk.

Participating in this unique celebration really focused my attention on the differences between the U.S. and Spain; a celebration like the Nit de San Joan could never exist in the U.S.; the U.S. imposes too many restrictions! A celebration consisting of fireworks and bonfires would never be allowed to extend throughout a U.S. city. There would be regulations on the beach in the name of environmentalism, regulations on the streets in the name of safety and noise control, and regulations throughout the city in the name of keeping the festivities small enough for the police to control.

What the two countries do have in common, though, is that they have lost sight of the meaning behind their celebrations. The Nit de San Joan felt like an excuse to drink and party, not really to celebrate St. John the Baptist. Similarly, St. Patrick’s Day in the U.S. has little religious meaning and now centers on drinking and partying.

Audri Rodriguez and Yina Cabrera of FIU in Espana (Photo by Vicky Atencio CC BY 4.0)


In no way is either Spain or the United States more technologically advanced than the other, but the use of, and importance placed on technology, is slightly different. Two applications of technology that I found to be unalike when comparing the countries were transportation and cellphones. These two technologies can either be used in society to augment freedom or to restrict it.

Throughout my time in Spain, there were perhaps only two occasions where I used a taxi to commute. On all other occasions, we either walked or used public transportation to get around, which seem to be the more popular transportation methods. This is a pronounced difference when compared to the most common method of transportation back home in Miami: driving.

Transportation in Miami, in fact, restricts our freedom. I can probably count on my two hands the number of times I have used public transportation in Miami, and I am willing to bet that most other Miami locals can say the same. This heavy reliance on cars leads to our infamous traffic problems. People waste countless hours of their lives in traffic, an issue that the average Spanish citizen would never encounter. Spain’s substantial use of public transportation allows for virtually no time spent wasted commuting, as well as an overall more positive commuting experience.

Cellphones are another technology that appears to restrict people in Miami more than in Spain. My reasoning for this claim lies in the observations I made while eating out at restaurants. In Spain, people at restaurants were always fully engaged in conversations with each other, and never on their cellphones. In Miami, the opposite holds true. Back home, it is rare to see people not check their phones at least once during a meal. But cellphones are not the only culprit. Some restaurants in Miami, like Chili’s for example, have tablets on every table that offer games, which further socially withdraw people from what should in reality be a social event.

So when considering transportation and hand-held devices, Spain seems to be doing a better job at using these technologies to improve lifestyles, rather than hinder them.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso is the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid


There is a complicated relationship between conflict and freedom. Conflict threatens freedom,  but it is also sometimes needed to gain or keep freedom.

Pablo Picasso’s Guernica depicts the bombing of that city during the Spanish Civil War. Seeing this massive work of art at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid was extraordinary; the painting caused me not only to  appreciate Picasso’s one-of-a-kind genius, but also to reflect on what it depicts. The combination of Picasso’s artistry and the compelling meaning of the piece makes it my favorite painting of the trip.

The artwork is a universal symbol warning against the suffering and devastation of war. For this reason, a copy is displayed in the United Nations Building in New York. This fact led me to directly link the U.S. and Spain once again as I researched the willingness of both countries to use military force. I found that three-quarters of Americans agree that it is sometimes necessary to use military force to maintain order in the world, while narrower majorities of Spaniards share the same view. Furthermore, when asked whether their country should have UN approval before using military force to deal with international threats, only 45% Americans agree, compared to the 74% of Spaniards who do.

This difference in opinion may be due to Spain’s more direct connection to the pain and horror of war on its home soil. Perhaps the U.S. is more focused on the use of conflict to foster freedom, while Spain is more aware of the suffering conflict causes.

Xsaiver Horn: España as Text 2022

About Me:

My name is Xsaiver, and I use He/Him and She/Her pronouns (Name pronounced Xavier) and I am a current FIU Honors student. I am working towards a BFA in Studio Arts, and I am super eccentric, exciting, and creative. This semester and the next (Spring and Summer 2022) I will be exploring the synchronicities between Spain and Miami, as well as visiting Spain to compare the same ones and back. I am super excited to learn more about the culture our city runs on and dive into the roots of lots of our modern workings from Spain!

Continue reading “Xsaiver Horn: España as Text 2022”

Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art Community 2017

© Melanie Ponce

Contrapasso Contrapposto
By Melanie Ponce

We stand together beneath the muffled rays of light
A group of bare kneed students with wrinkled shirts and crumbled pamphlets
Looking ‘round the Kingdom of Limestone
Sweat runs down our backs, the humid air stagnant as we breathe collectively
The smell of salt and ocean mist clinging to our skin
We are the architects of this room, our future
A plethora of decisions yet to come
We hold the collective steps and potential pathways
That will carve our Vizcaya in the coarse sands of time

The rallying cry of change calls for us
An echo pounding against the white walls
The chiseled figures sculpted by our ancestors
Works of art
Smooth marble
Breaking apart by the sound of our pleas, the stomping of our feet
Shake their foundation
‘Till they break

But the marble hid the steel inside
Its structure, the decrepit beams which woke
The ardent stares of those who came before us
Their eyes digging a hole at the back of our necks.
Their cry for change was good enough for them
And everything that we do
That I do
Poses a threat to their lifestyle
To their evening luncheons and art excursions
To their carnival cruise ships and holiday trips to the north.
The old men and women of yesteryear,
Whose chant echoes how our future is in our shoulders but in turn slap our hands away
When we ask for help.
Their backs face us, draped with the cloths of their experiences.
They wash their hands with our sweat.

Originally posted in https://miamiinmiami.com/poetry-art-community/vizcaya-2017/secret-garden-poems-at-vizcaya-2017/

Melanie Ponce: Poetry, Art, Community 2017

Village Garden © Melanie Ponce

Paintbrush from the Past

by Melanie Ponce

Strokes of wet paint glides on a canvas
Pigments from bone
Colored hues whose origins were
Dug from the roots of mangroves and wildlife
They whisper
Through layers of sediment and artifacts
An identity which lies buried in the ground

The foundation of skeletal remains
That braved to touch this land
Mixed tongues and dialects communicate
Through each twist of the wrist and flick of the hand
Of the artist whose job is to mix
Blood and oil
To form a village of dreams

Originally shown at https://peruvianimmigrant.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/featured-content/

Melanie Ponce: Italy Grand Tour Redux 2014

“All Beef, 1983″ by Jean-Michel Basquiat © Melanie Ponce

“A Cultural Analysis” by Melanie Ponce

I have questioned my heritage before. As a child, I have held cardboard packaged lunches at a higher standard than my parent’s cooking. I have pretended my thick accent was an evil placed upon me by the universe. I have acted as if I didn’t know Spanish. I felt that I had to erase my heritage in order to fit the image that I saw everyday. In the television, movies. Everyday, an image that was not mine. So I tried to fit in. And everyone around me tried to do the same. Some were successful. They erased their roots.

But I did not succeed.

As I grew older, I started to appreciate my skin. My voice. The way my tongue can’t wrap itself around certain words. My sound. A memory of my past. Anything that connected me to the country that I can no longer relate to but that I still call home. Too many nights spent under a foreign sky that does not fully accept the color of my skin nor the sound of my voice but still takes my accomplishments and calls it their own. Because at the end, who do I belong to? To the country that I was born in or the one in which I was raised. If the years are now tipping towards the land that does not accept me, does that make me an outsider? If the years back in my land are dwindling, will I ever be able to go back? In both countries, I am considered a foreigner, an outsider. If I belong to none, who am I?
And then it unfolds.

A blast of yellow, of red, of light. Jean-Michel Basquiat, who wrote in three languages to remind you he mastered more than one. Who painted black men to remind you he was one. Who rose above it all despite the odds. I see his art and I see hope. He painted his heritage onto a blank canvas. A theme that we are the same even though we are not treated as such. That this country belongs to us as much as the next person. And I could be over-analyzing into his work. But the fact remains. He was a black man who knew he was black and never pretended to be otherwise. In my eyes that is courage. In my eyes that is love.

He is color, and so am I.

Originally shown at https://johnwbailly.com/miamiastext/pamm/ponce/

Gabriella Peña: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio

Photo taken by Lien Estevez/CC by 4.0

Gabriella Pena is a 19-year old entering her sophomore year at Florida International University, majoring in Marine Biology. She is not entirely sure what she wants to do after graduation, but what she is sure of is doing anything that involves travel.

Deering Estate. Photo taken by Gabriella Pena/CC by 4.0


The first volunteer opportunity I had was with Bill Baggs State Park, located in Key Biscayne and known to be home to beautiful beaches and the Cape Florida Light, the oldest standing structure in Miami. The second institution I volunteered with is the Deering Estate, a historical landmark and what used to be the winter home of businessman Charles Deering until he passed away in 1927. Cleanups and other landscaping jobs are hosted at these parks regularly to beautify and maintain the nature of the parks for years to come. Various volunteering opportunities hosted at these places include weeding, mulching, gardening, cleaning up, etc.


The volunteering opportunity was given to our Miami in Miami class by Professor Bailly of the Honors College.

While I did not necessarily select these opportunities, I volunteered regardless. Not only because it was technically required, but because volunteering always end with a feeling of fulfillment that is hard to find in many of the other activities that I perform on a daily basis. And as many know, volunteering benefits your community, living and nonliving. This might not count as a reason, but it doesn’t hurt that I always come away from volunteering days with funny stories. I also get to talk to new people all the time when I volunteer, and potentially new long-term friends.

As a marine biology major here at FIU, this volunteering activity definitely involves my studies to a certain extent. Especially with the mangrove cleanups, as I had just recently learned about mangrove swamps in my coral reef biology class. And since I have a natural keenness towards all things animals, particularly marine animals, I can notice things that others might ignore or mistake for being something nonliving. Being in an area as biologically productive as a mangrove swamp will never disappoint any zoologist or marine biologist. As for Bill Baggs State Park, while removing weeds isn’t necessarily connected to marine biology, I did take a stroll along the coast during our lunch break and saw many things like chiton, crabs, fish, and dead coral.


I connect with this opportunity mainly through the flora and fauna. As I mentioned before mangrove swamps are high in productivity. Fish darting through the roots, spiders catching prey in their webs, mollusks suctioned to old bottles of alcohol. No matter how busy our own lives might seem, it will never be anywhere near the level of goings on in the non-human world. There are a million things happening each second, most of which we do not even get to see. While we see ourselves as more complex than any other organism on the planet, the opposite is also true in many ways. Everything in this ecosystem is connected to each other, with a cause and effect relationship between each little cell, spore, root, string of a web, or what have you.

I also connected on a social level during this volunteer opportunity. Though I usually avoid talking to my classmates because of my social anxiety, it always becomes easier for me to converse when I feel like I’m in my element. It was funny watching my classmates get scared by the wasp nest as we were removing plants from the forest at Bill Baggs. Teasing them about their fear of insects (rightly so at times) and asking them about their fears and phobias out of sheer curiosity. That alone can start a conversation I normally wouldn’t have with someone outside of parks like Bill Baggs or the Deering Estate. You can have human and environmental connections during volunteer opportunities like these.


Originally, our class was planning on doing a second cleanup at Chicken Key, an island just a mile offshore from Deering Estate, however, both weeks that we planned on doing them were cancelled due to strong gusts of wind. So, our professor had us clean up the mangrove forests on the coast of the estate instead. But before we got our hands dirty, our professor asked us to sit down on the ground and to reflect on the times that we had in the class. Each student was asked to name their highlight of the course. Naming just a few highlights was difficult, let alone one since everything about this course was new and amazing for me. Regardless, I named a few that I could remember off the top of my head, like Untitled Art at Art Basel, Jackson Soul Food, and the plane crash in the middle of a mangrove forest. My peers brought up some memories of which I forgot and was happily reminded of. And while this pre-cleanup discussion was going on, several manatees were swimming around in the dock of the Deering Estate! I tried to get video of the manatees interacting with each other and gloriously failed. Once we finished our class discussion, we rolled up our sleeves and headed to the historic mangrove trail, a wooden boardwalk predating the estate itself that unfortunately collapsed due to Hurricane Irma in 2017. With my bag and bare hands, I headed to the area of the mangrove forest closer to the open ocean because I was hoping to see some crocodiles or fish. Most of the trash I collected came in the form of bottles, bottle caps, and sheets. However, I had my mind set on a large crate I saw lodged at the front of the swamp. I nearly lost my water shoes trying to collect that crate, but I managed, and the clue crate became my second bag for other pieces of trash I found (sytrofoam board, road, sheets of plastic, etc.). Trudging back to the swamp, I found a bottle with several mollusks suctioned to the glass. I had never seen that many mollusks at once. I found a small spider, who caught a large fly in its tiny web. Several golden orb weavers were also found in the swamp, and hundreds upon hundreds of mangrove snails bunched up just above the roots, many leaving fresh slime trails. The one fish that I barely saw in the swamp zigzagged through the roots, and I had never seen a fish swim faster in my life. And just for fun, I attempted to walk through the original wooden boardwalk, now a makeshift obstacle course. I survived, finished collecting trash, cleaned myself up a little in the bathrooms, and took a short walk around the estate.



My experiences at Bill Baggs and Deering Estate were ones I deeply enjoyed. I always approach these excursions with a sense of curiosity and open-mindedness. What works for me is mentally preparing myself for what could be the best andthe worst. That way, I never let myself return from these volunteer days feeling angry or annoyed by something. What also worked for me is that I wore the right clothing for these trips, as it made my experience much easier to enjoy.

Amaranta Bailly: Miami Service 2022

Student Bio:

This image was taken by Michael Hibbert of Florida International University on 2nd February 2022// CC by 4.0

My name is Amaranta Mattie Bailly and I am an Honors College student at Florida International University. I am currently in the midst of studying Art History and hope that I may one day become a curator based in Miami, associated with out of the country, working with artists to bring their successes to America. I am currently invested in my studies, as well as studying the unique habitat Miami has to offer. I have been working at Galloway Farm Nursery for the past two years, and have discovered that on top of a fair income, it has given me a lovely opportunity to learn more about the world of business, as well as wildlife that thrives around me everyday. 


This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

I participated in two community service projects taking place just a week apart, the first being in Bill Baggs State Park, and the second taking place in The Deering Estate. Bill Baggs Paker is in Key Biscayne, and the beach east flanking the park is voted one of the best on the planet. For everyone involved, it was a privilege to maintain one of the most admired and visited places for tourists in Miami. The Deering Estate cleanup took place after the Bill Baggs restoration, and involved a bigger group, meaning both Miami in Miami classes attented and participated. Originally, our plan was to kayak to Chicken Key and replicate our previous cleanup, meaning that we would load trash on our boats and sail back after some time. The wind was unfortunately at an all time high, andd we remained on Miami’s mainland instead and completed a mangrove cleanup. Our brilliant professor, John William Bailly, and various park rangers were also involved in the success of our projects. 


This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Both community service projects were in fact a requirement for the Miami in Miami course, and maintaining the quality of unique and valuable locations around our city is instilled in us students to remind us of hown they came to be originally. Without hard work, Miami would not exist, without our har dwork an dothers like us, it would descend into an irreversible state of uninspired landscape. Aside from the importance of these locations, I personally found a drive to maintain and clean up both these places because of my personal value of nature. South Florida is home to ecosystems unique and set apart from the rest of the world. It is a great privilege of mine to be raised in such a beautiful environment, through my years in Miami I have honed a talent for caring and nourishing plant life. Through my job at Galloway Farm Nursery as well as my personal explorations with family and friends, a part of my heart has grown attached to the Magnificent Miami and every Sea Grape, Gumbo Limbo and Palm Tree the graces the ground I walk on. Although community service was a requirement for the completion of this course, I didn’t at all feel pressure to participate or a desire to be elsewhere. I continuously found myself immersed in mother nature’s landscape gorgeously carved before me, and only felt strong desires to endlessly explore as I was cleaning. 

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0


Each student and participant was tasked with the responsibility of arriving appropriately and on time for each of our excursions, in order to be best efficient, coordination before, during and after our tasks were absolute necessities. In the Bill Baggs State Park, my class and I were tasked with re-mulching the walkway to the Cape Lighthouse as well as other small areas surrounding the area. The fortune was almost comedic, as my time at the nursery has gifted me with the knowledge to know precisely exactly in what way to lay mulch. We were working with Cypress Mulch, which although it is a rich golden-brown, is very natural compared to other dyed and chemically treated mulch. I was pleased with the parks selection as I knew it would maximize the aesthetic appearance of the walkway as well as protect from erosion and keep the ground moist. We first moved the Cypress Mulch to different areas along the walkway and dropped the bags a respective distance away from each other. Then, we began to open the bags and spread them approximately a foot and a half from the walkway. It might have seemed like tedious work to do alone, but I did not feel challenged and struck up conversation with circulating classmates. It didn’t take us long through our hard work together to re-mulch the entire walkway, and it looked quite fantastic. 

This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 20th April 2022// CC by 4.0

The Deering Estate was equally as important but a different monster entirely. Because our original plan had been thwarted by the heavy winds, we instead completed a mangrove cleanup off the shore of the Deering Estate. We were sent to a walkway that extended approximately a mile through a thick, tangled web of roots and branches. The walkway, however, had been completely obliterated by Hurricane Irma, which hit Miami approximately a half decade ago, and the Deering Estate never pooled the finances to replace the damages. Fast forward to today, we were faced with a smashed pathway, leaving an array of wood and oxidized nails all over the place. Some portions of the walkway were gone entirely, leaving steep drops into the water. Others were turned completely diagonally, and the majority had various pieces of wood missing. The walkway was not only unusable, but it left a challenging obstacle for us to dominate in order to clean to the best of our abilities. Little by little we worked our way through, wandering off into small groups and helping each other through various spider webs, random sinkholes in the knee high water, and dangerous wood blocking our path. The few women in my group continued to fall although they stayed motivated throughout our quest. We attempted to pick up the smaller pieces of trash because they’re more catastrophic to the health of the organisms that inhabit the Deering Estate. We ended up taking longer than originally anticipated, because of the obstacles, our curiosity, and carrying the trash out of the mangroves and to the dumpster. 


This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 6th April 2022// CC by 4.0

The significance of maintaining both the Bill Baggs state park as well as the Deering Estate is monumental and integral to the health of Miami. Both Bill Baggs Park and the Deering Estate have rich hisgtories, and the Miami in Miami course is geared toward educating us about those histories and their value. It would only make sense that a portion of the Miami in Miami course is contributed to maintaining these historic sites, as one is challenged when attempting to learn of the past without a place to do so. Bill Baggs State Park has a rich history of becoming a massive hub and escape route for many enslaved African Americans and Bahamians, which gives the area a heightened level of importance. The park is home to the Cape Lighthouse that has existed since the 1820’s and has become a historical landmark, although it put an end to the escape route altogether. The Deering Estate was constructed in 1922 and was built as a winter home for Charles and Marion Deering, who were an incredibly wealthy couple at the time. In the hundred years since its building, it has become a stunning homestead that curated incredible Miami artists, and reveal deep truth about the socioeconomic state of Miami in the past century. 



This image was taken by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University on 20th April 2022// CC by 4.0

Both cleaning the mangrove forest and maintaining Bill Baggs Park are integral to the Miami and Miami course because it emphasized the fact that if we want to continue appreciating our beautiful city, we need to do the work collectively to ensure our city remains beautiful. Every single individual in our class, and every single individual inhabiting Miami has a responsibility to care for the land we use to live our best lives. I hope that through our hard work, we have and will continue to pay our respects to the hard workers that came before us, and set an example for those who come after. After each cleanup, I felt nothing but re-energized, happy, and grateful to be alive and well enough to contribute to Miami, my home.

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