Vox Student Blog
Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios: Miami as Text 2023
Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios is a junior at Florida International University Honors who is majoring in International Relations with minors in International Communication and Political Science as well as two certificates in Pre-Law Skills and Middle East Studies. Born and raised in Miami, as a first-generation student she strives to attend law school to become an international human rights attorney.
Encounter as Text
“Development of Perspective”
by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, January 27, 2023
Filled to the brim with culture and history, a study abroad in España will provide a different perspective on the ever-changing life Miami has built for itself. From the very first class one begins to understand the roots this city possesses as well as the foundation España has laid out for both Miami and the world to experience even to this day. Architecture and religion are notably evident when it comes to tracing back the origins of when these places were first colonized as a result of their perseverance still seen today. So much of Latin America and the Caribbean has been influenced by the españoles in ways that don’t seem inherent until one begins to recognize the signs. Growing up in Miami the evidence of old Spanish colonial structures is greatly demonstrated when it comes to Coral Gables. This style of architecture is found almost all across the LAC regions and leads to animate excitement when it comes to putting together this intricate puzzle piece of history. Recently I traveled to the Dominican Republic and was able to see the simplified Baroque architecture that is found throughout most of the churches in these regions. So when we travel to España, I am extremely thrilled about the prospect of being able to possess that comparison of Latin America to España.
Always being fascinated with the cultures and histories of the world, I am delighted with all the activities that are planned out for the trip since we will be visiting various historical places. What I am most looking forward to is visiting the Mezquita-Catedral. As a student who is studying both Arabic and Middle Eastern studies, I am most enthusiastic at the opportunity of hearing from the guides about the background and the architecture of the mosque. For the past couple of semesters, I have taken various classes in regard to Islam and the anthropology of the Middle East but this is the very time I will be able to see the remnants of a mosque as well as gain insight into the development of the structure.
Although I’ve traveled to the country before, it was just with my mom and we stuck to almost all the touristy locations. This is why when looking at some of the past activities planned, this is what mainly drew me into choosing this trip. Not only will we be visiting the historical aspect of the country but also immerse ourselves in the culture. As a little girl, I had always wanted to learn all the dances the different parts of the world have to offer and when you think of España, flamenco is one of the first things that comes to mind. Unparalleled, the complexity and emotions that this dance has to offer after years and years of the built-up immersion of various cultures coming together to formulate this are extraordinary. All in all, participating in the study abroad will enable us to become more informed and in a way more tolerant of other people’s beliefs and customs. Wanting to shift perspectives, I hope to gain a better appreciation for the arts because, at times, I feel like I take advantage of how the mind tricks us to believe in the simplicity of things when there is so much more.
Transatlantic Exchange as Text
“Impact of Religious Imperalism”
by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, February 12, 2023
With the initial contact between the Spanish and the Natives came about an explosion of anthropology that its remnants are still vastly prevalent even in today’s society. From the language that is spoken to the religious beliefs, this exchange provides great insight into the pieces of history that can be traced back to its origins. Although religious imperialism is still a common phenomenon in today’s times, after following the reading of the Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition, one could begin to understand the rationale behind such justification. This biography told from the perspective of Alavar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca provided an insight into the power religion has over authority. Without the backing of the church, these expeditions to the new world would not have been possible. Growing up, religion was not a massive component of my childhood and so when Cabeza de Vaca would bring up Christianity in all aspects of his expedition it was eye-opening to realize the dominion belief had over these exchanges. Even though much of Cabeza de Vaca’s work was tinted by his own agenda of wanting to be named governor of La Florida, this piece provided great insight into the landscape of the region as well as the cultures between the tribes.
One of the most shocking discoveries was the various customs surrounding women when it came to the different tribes. One particular case was the factor of the treatment of cycles. When a woman has her menstrual cycle, they must gather food for themselves as a result of nobody bringing food for them. When one reads about the typical characteristics of natives, usually it revolves around the word “savagery” and reading about their advancements in medicine when it came to the cauterization of wounds made me aware of the extent of concealment that gets shielded from children in schools. We are taught about how the Americas came to be but when one reaches maturity, it is up to them to branch out on their own and discover the information for themselves. As someone who is a by-product of this exchange from the very language that is spoken at home to the foods I consume, it has been astonishing when reading about the statistics of where certain products came from as well as where they are popularized as a consequence of this exchange. In “The Columbian Exchange: A History of Disease, Food, and Ideas” by Nathan Nunn and Nancy Qian, one can learn about how the exchange not only brought about an agricultural advantage in certain countries but also the lower welfare was able to be sustainable for the first time in history. The cultivation of Old World products and the lowered prices were able to pave the way for both the rise of Europe as well as the Industrial Revolution. In the first instance of contact between the natives and the Spaniards, the manner of life in this world was completely altered. Religions, languages, and all manners of social & cultural aspects were both gained and lost as a result of these expeditions. It is important to recognize and acknowledge what was both gained and lost especially when it comes to the matters of the justifications of such atrocities.
Historic Miami as Text
by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, February 27, 2023
Walking through downtown Miami as someone who grew up and went to school in Miami-Dade County was certainly astonishing to perceive how much of its history has been swept under the rug. From about 500 BCE to 1763, a group of natives known as the Tequesta inhabited the area of present-day Palm Beach while as a group, we visited the river that is located on Brickell Bridge. The walking tour began in the Government Center which was filled with many amenities available to the residents of Miami-Dade as well as an important art piece that captures Miami culture. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen were the masters behind the disarray of the chattering of the bowl of oranges. During the trip around the city, I found how truly walkable Miami’s hub of business and tourism truly is. A place that had ultimately captivated my attention was the Wagner Family Homestead. Being one of the oldest structures in Miami, this historical landmark holds no attention when it comes to the primary and secondary educational systems.
Constructed in 1855, a home belonging to one of the first immigrants to come to Miami, the mixed-race couple paved the path to the melting pot that is the vibrant city. A German immigrant, William Wagner, and French-Creole, Eveline Aimar, not only defied all the odds against them but during the Seminole Wars, they acted as peace negotiators for the Northern settlers. Close by the settlers’ home was the William English Plantation Slave Quarters which was later turned into Fort Dallas. The quarters housed William English’s slaves whose accommodations were later turned into a U.S. Army barracks. Afterward, we walked to the Miami-Dade County Courthouse where we had many revelations about how Miami received its foundations and its important street names. Flagler street is named after the controversial Henry Flagler, a pioneer of Miami’s existence on the map. Bringing the railroad with him, Flager relied heavily on Black laborers, especially Bahamians, to build both his railroad and hotel. However, after its building, Flagler began the segregation of Miami with Colored Towns. His monument is found even today in the courthouse and its marks on the city will continue to have its effect, especially after his hotel, the Royal Palm Hotel discharge went directly into the Miami River which still poses its degradation today.
The greatest impact of the walk we took during the class is how much of history was lost as a result of capitalism. Flagler, knowing that a Tequesta burial ground was located by the Miami River, demolished the mound to make room for his hotel. As a daughter of a then-immigrant parent, these acts of cruelty create a tremendous feeling of ancient horror and guilt that will also resurface when diving into these topics. Many languages and cultures get lost as a result of these cruel acts, especially as someone who received an education in Miami it was very shocking to realize how much of our own history gets overlooked.
Magic Realism as Text
“Remembrance of Fantasy”
by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, March 12, 2023
Seen in the street art on the pavements of Miami to the very literature Latin America consumes, magic realism expresses its criticism through realistic yet magical components. Coined by a German historian, Franz Roh, magical realism was created as a term to differentiate from the arts that derived from Realism and Expressionism. When one thinks about this genre in the form of art, Frida Kahlo’s paintings always come to mind. Born in Mexico, Kahlo was an artist who is most remembered for her self-portraits in which she conveys her life experiences as well as a mix of her heritage. Employing fantasy elements of symbols by juxtaposing them but also communicating the entangled history of Europe and Latin America, Kahlo’s art was transformative when it came to speaking about such topics.
Tree of Hope, by Frida Kahlo, 1946, is a great example of the manifestation of magical realism in art, specifically in a self-portrait. In this work, one can find the parallel contrast of night and day with two Fridas’ sharing the portrait. In “Day” Frida is lying on an operation table, displaying her horrific scars from surgery, and in “Night” Frida is seen sitting upright with a traditional Tehuana dress. The setting art takes place in a broken Mexican desert that is filled with cracks as well as the separation of moon and day. Both of her distinct inner and outer versions are portrayed in this portrait with one being a Mexican woman who relates strongly to her homelands and her counterpart, a woman who suffers in pain. The comparison of the scars on “Day” Frida as well as her past of not being able to have children to the broken, barren land gives a great suggestion of the destructive outcomes of Mexico’s intertwined history with Europe. Mexico has always suffered from the remnants of destruction left behind by colonialism and the cracks of what once could have been a fruitful land now turned into a dry heap of nothing speaks of how much the country has tolerated.
Themes of history, poverty, political turmoil, and the suppression of indigenous people are seen in many of the works of magic realism. This form of expression is a way to capture both the youth to understand complicated topics and also as an outlet for writers in predominantly oppressed countries to be able to openly criticize their forms of government. As someone who didn’t grow up reading a lot of Latin American literature, being able to read 100 years of solitude was eye-opening in regard to the military conflict that is still seen in present-day Colombia. The destruction left behind by civil conflicts is very much apparent in places still under the control of the guerilla movements in Colombia. These movements were started in order to fight for the rights of the poor just like was demonstrated in Gabriel García Márquez’s novel. The same themes Frida Kahlo displayed in the majority of her works are consistent with 100 years of solitude especially when it comes to imperialism. Magic realism serves as a reminder of what all civilizations are destined to face at some point or another.
Vizcaya as Text
by Kelly Johana Diaz-Rios of FIU at Florida International University, March 12, 2023
As one of Miami’s historic landmarks, the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens houses that of the Italian Renaissance as well as its influences of Mediterranean architecture. Much like many of Miami’s historical landmarks, this property was built by Bahamian immigrants. With a combination of decorative arts and furnishings, this house captures the essence of European palaces with one of the rooms even taken after the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Built-in the early 20th century, the expansive estate includes many formal gardens and a mansion that is home to much of renaissance-inspired artworks.
Walking through the estate of James Deering was astonishing to see how much of the landmark is still intact and preserved. Starting at the West Entrance, one is greeted with a moat where the owner of the estate created a barrier such as a measure of security against the very people who helped build his villa. Standing at the back entrance of the house, the Roman God of wine is surrounded by nature and a giant bathtub meant to initiate the overall mood of pure ecstasy that awaits Deering’s visitors inside. The court reveals itself to be that of the same style as Mediterranean houses with an open space that allows a breeze to travel through. One of the rooms that stood out not only because of its compelling beauty but also the historical artifacts the living room holds.
As one of the largest rooms at the landmark, the living room happens to house one of the most interesting pieces which is a large admiral carpet. Being able to see how the outer edges of the tapestry are written in Arabic and learning about a new art was riveting. Mudejar art is a form of expression in which Islamic artists who were commissioned by Spanish nobility during a time of persecution were able to produce work that still retained Islamic traditions. This mantle is a direct result of this art which was commissioned by King Ferdinad’s grandfather during the 1450s. The juxtaposition of both the Catholic coat of arms and the border of the repeated words in Arabic (la ilaha illallah, There is no God but Allah) can be quite heart-wrenching once one understands how for these artists, this style of art is their only outlet of expression as of consequence of religious expulsion.
Going with the name of the location, the gardens of Vizcaya are just as impressive as the Deering’s mansion. Decorated with fine statues, exotic wild plants, and graceful tiled fountains, these formal gardens offer a peaceful setting as well as adventure with their maze-like design. Walking through the historical landmark, I think that it is important to both remember the beauty the grounds have to offer and also to remember how much of the credit of the laborers were lost as a result of the time of racial segregation. The Deering estate was located in a part of Miami where serration was very prominent. With strict racial boundaries, at Vizcaya, this movement was apparent in the ways of payment and the use of facilities. The discrimination that took place in James Deering’s paradise was an evident reflection of the time in which the height of attractiveness of the estate possessed. This serves as a reminder of the struggle for equality and justice that people of color had to survive through in order to maintain freedoms.
Stephanie Momblan: Miami as Text 2023
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.
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maria Cobian: Miami as Text 2023
Maria Cobian is a senior at Florida International University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in Finance and a minor in Business Analytics. She aspires to become an attorney and is currently in the process of applying to law school. In addition, she is gaining real-world experience as a legal administrative assistant at a real estate and probate law firm in Coconut Grove, Florida. She is part of a large Mexican family and as a result, grew up immersed in the culture and language. She enjoys many different hobbies such as reading, drawing, painting, dancing, exercising, and trying new foods, and hopes that traveling becomes a regular adventure in her future.
France Spring Encounter as Text
by Maria Cobian of FIU, 26 January 2023
First impressions are significant and powerful. They are what form your opinions and perspective of a person, topic, situation, and in this case a class. My first impressions have left me anxiously excited for what is to come not only in this Spring course but in the adventures that lie ahead in France. In a way, I feel nervous about traveling alone in an unknown country with a language I do not speak but could not imagine missing out on this possibly life-changing opportunity. On the other hand, traveling alone is also an aspect of this course that I am excited to explore because of the freedom that it provides and the lessons that it will teach me, which I will end up taking with me forever. I chose France to study abroad because it was the one that most called out to me and interested me. It aligns with my future career and aspirations to become an attorney because of the human rights component that we will be extensively studying in the course. I am eager to learn how France and its revolution have inspired other countries, not just the United States of America, in their fights for liberty, equality, and fraternity and the people that ignited those conversations.
Furthermore, not only does France conjure visuals in my mind of the French Revolution and its long, complex history, but it also makes me think of elegance, art, music, and exquisite cuisine. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Paris before and I can, with all confidence, say that it did not disappoint. I was fascinated by the architecture, the streets, the food, and even their incredibly efficient public transportation system. I am interested in seeing Paris in a different light this time around and learning more about the sites and monuments I have already seen such as the Louvre Museum, Saint-Chapelle, the Arc de Triomphe, and obviously the Eiffel Tower. More importantly, I would like to explore the narrow, hidden streets and find the restaurants, shops, and small businesses that locals adore. There aren’t enough days that would allow the ability to experience Paris to the fullest and get to know every little corner. However, I look forward to being able to once again enjoy the luxuries Paris has to offer and immerse myself in the culture, history, language, and cuisine.
Additionally, I am looking forward to visiting all the cities and areas in France that I have not been to, especially the Alps. I believe that hiking in such an awe-inspiring gift of nature is an experience you might only have the chance to participate in once in your life and I am willing to push myself mentally and physically to live in the moment to the fullest. Ultimately, I expect to leave this course with a deeper understanding of the intersectionality of France’s politics, culture, and intellectual conflicts with the United States and the rest of the world with the hopes of becoming a more cultured and knowledgeable person, not to mention the connections and life-long friends I hope to leave with as well.
Enlightenment as Text
“The Simultaneous Existence of Reason and Faith”
By Maria Cobian of FIU, 12 February 2023
The Enlightenment, also commonly known as the Age of Reason, was a time of social and political disruption as many philosophers or enlightenment thinkers changed the mindset of the masses. During this time emphasis was placed on many ideals centered around the individual and inalienable rights, which are basic human rights that every single person is entitled to no matter their socio-economic status, race, gender, religion, or education. I believe that without the Enlightenment many of the rights and liberties we have today, especially as a woman, would not exist because not only did the Enlightenment do away with the systems of the ancien régime of monarchy and nobility in France as discussed in our seminar, but it also eventually led to the birth of the feminist movement and the abolitionist movement, which has always been intertwined with feminism in history. For that reason, I maintain that the Enlightenment was a powerful movement that toppled the first domino in swaying societies around the globe in the right direction that has granted greater equality and liberty to all people in the course of history since the 17th and 18th centuries.
During the Enlightenment, one of the most prominent philosophers of this time period was Voltaire, who was a French writer well known as the author of Candide or l’Optimisme. Candide is a satirical novel of a journeying traveler that is faced with many sorrows and obstacles yet navigates the world with an optimistic philosophy that is analyzed by J.B. Shank in his article, “Voltaire”, to be a direct attack on the philosophy of the principle of sufficient reason, which Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz is mostly associated with (Shank). Leibniz believes that there are reasons for every “truth or fact” in life “even if such reasons are unknowable” by people (Melamed). For example, Candide applies this philosophy of optimism while searching the globe for his love, Cunegonde, and throughout every single beating, hardship, and betrayal he endured. If it hasn’t already felt familiar, Pangloss, the “professor of metaphysico-theologico-cosmolo-nigology” in Candide is supposed to represent Leibniz and his optimistic philosophy that “all is for the best” in this world (Voltaire). Candide lives by this philosophy despite constantly being on a downward hill that seems to never end and continues to have faith in the people around him and the world even though reason would suggest he should not.
Consequently, reason and faith are not concepts that must exist separately from one another, rather they exist simultaneously in the world. I believe it is necessary to have both in life as difficult situations arise and need to be navigated. Without reason, there is no sense in the world and without faith, life can start to seem bleak. If Candide did not have faith that the world was good and just or based his reasoning on Pangloss’ philosophy, I wholeheartedly believe that his life would not have gone past his expulsion from the castle of Baron Thunder-ten-Tronckh in Westphalia because a lack of faith that he would one day be reunited with his dear Cunegonde would have sent him into a spiral of despair. Voltaire shows us that no extreme is healthy through his depiction not only of Pangloss but also of Martin the Manichean that believes the world is full of evil and suffering and that God is no longer watching over us or guiding us (Voltaire). At the end of the novel, Candide rejects both extremes and chooses to replace his previous optimistic philosophy with that of hard, strenuous work cultivating his garden. The action of cultivating his garden is a metaphor, in my opinion, for focusing on oneself and choosing to work on what you can control, and is not about spending time analyzing life on philosophical ideas of optimism or pessimism.
Furthermore, Voltaire criticizes the Roman Catholic Church constantly during Candide by showing the many ways that the institution of the church is hypocritical. One such instance would be when the Franciscan friar steals Cunegonde’s jewels, which breaks one of the Ten Commandments that the Catholic Church urges every single Catholic to follow: thou shalt not steal (Voltaire). The actions of a man of God that lay people regard as holy and should set an example of how Christ would act are shown to be breaking the laws God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. Voltaire goes as far as to show how priests even break the vows of chastity they take when ordained when he insinuates that Cunegonde’s brother, now the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh and a priest himself, was sexually involved with the Jesuit priest who cared for him when he was nearing death after the Bulgars attacked his castle in Westphalia and later in the novel explicitly states that the Baron was excommunicated because he was found bathing naked with another man (Voltaire). One last example, which should not be shocking if you know the history of the Catholic Church’s indecencies, is that the old woman’s parents are Pope Urban X and the Princess of Palestrina, which not only indicates the breaking of sacred vows but shows that even Christ’s representative on Earth is no more holy or pious than the next person (Voltaire).
Moreover, Voltaire extensively criticizes the institution of the Roman Catholic Church and depicts the fraudulent actions of those in positions of power within the church, yet he does not criticize the religion itself. I believe that is because although the church is corrupt that is not because of a lack of faith, but because there is a lack of reason. As mentioned in our seminar in class by Professor Bailley, Voltaire was a leading figure of the Enlightenment that attacked the Catholic Church, but he did not attack Protestantism to the same extent because Protestants were educated individuals that used both their reason and faith as part of their religious beliefs. If the Catholic Church at the time hadn’t encouraged the ignorance of its followers and protected those existing systems that maintained the lower class uneducated, then Voltaire would not have attacked them as he did. Ultimately as a result of my analysis of Candide, I believe that reason and religious faith can be reconciled because religion does not need to exist separate from reason, on the contrary, religious spirituality can be better explored through higher education and understanding which can only exist because of reason.
Melamed, Yitzhak Y. and Martin Lin, “Principle of Sufficient Reason”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2021 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2021/entries/sufficient-reason/.
Shank, J.B., “Voltaire”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2022/entries/voltaire/.
Voltaire. “Candide.” Apple Books, Instaread, 12 June 2020, https://books.apple.com/us/book/candide/id1518273519.
Historic Miami as Text
“Conflicted State of Mind”
By Maria Cobian of FIU at Downtown Miami, 8 March 2023
As I write this reflection on my thoughts of our first walking lecture in downtown Miami, I can only describe my state of mind to be conflicted. Confused and saddened by my lack of knowledge of the place I have called home for the past 21 years of my life. It is disheartening to feel as though you do not know the city you grew up in, not only because I believe everyone should have basic knowledge of the history of their hometown, but because I have always felt as though I am from two places and nowhere at all. To shed some light on my background, my family moved to Miami in July of 2001 when my mother was heavily pregnant with me. I was born in November just a few short months after my parents made the big move to the United States from Mexico City with my four older siblings. My heart has always been split in two, half with my roots in Mexico and half with my upbringing in Miami. When people asked me where I was from as a child, I would always reply, “Naci en Miami pero toda mi familia es de Mexico,” and to me, that meant that Miami was only a place I was born in by chance, but that I was truly from Mexico. Even today I have difficulty deciding how to answer that question because I am not just American and not just Mexican, I am simultaneously both and the words Mexican American to me do not encompass all that I am. As I have grown older Miami now holds a more important place in my heart as the city that has provided me with so many experiences, friends, love, and identity. My story is not new, different, or unique, it is the reality of so many others born of immigrant families in the United States, not being enough of one half or the other. I am grateful to Miami for being so diverse and for allowing me, without judgment or discrimination, to explore my culture, traditions, language, and so much more because of the acceptance of immigrants in this city. I apologize to this beautiful city for not knowing its past whether it is derived from a lack of local education in all schools in Florida or from my own lack of initiative to learn more about Miami. So, it is difficult to accept that I am only now learning about Miami, a city I thought I knew much about.
However, today marks a new day where I am not as ignorant of the history of Miami as I had been for my entire life. To me, Miami was always a new and constantly developing city and although it is, the history of the land is rich and ancient. The diverse ecosystems of Miami were sustainably utilized by the Tequesta, the native people of the area from Palm Beach County all the way to the Northern Keys, for thousands of years and even coexisted with Spaniards for a portion of their history only to disperse and disappear once the Spanish traded Florida with the British. The few traces left of them show up in different parts of Miami one being the Miami Circle, which we visited from afar in our downtown walking lecture, and the Deering Estate, which we also visited a few weeks prior. In the Miami Circle evidence of ceremonial activities of the Tequesta were discovered and not too far from there a massive Tequesta grave lies under what is now a Whole Foods and only a mural exists to remember those who called this area home for thousands of years. It is ironic that Miami is a mix of so many cultures and a place where many people have fled looking for freedom, yet the Tequesta themselves were pushed out of their home by those that have led the way to what Miami is today. The memory of the Tequesta, the true native peoples of this land, is all but forgotten and is not even taught in public schools in South Florida.
Furthermore, I was even more shocked to learn that Henry Flagler, who brought the railroad down to Miami from North Florida, manipulated the large black Bahamian population of Miami that not only built the railroad but many of the building structures that are considered historic buildings today, to vote for the incorporation of Miami only to then introduce segregation to a city that had never experienced that cruel concept. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised at the revelation that Miami is one of the few cities to be founded by a woman in the United States. Julia Tuttle owned extensive land in Miami and when a big freeze happened in Florida that led to most citrus agriculture lands producing no fruit, Tuttle sent Flagler a box of oranges to show him that the freeze had not affected the Biscayne Bay area, convincing him to build his railroad down south to Miami. This eventually led to the incorporation of Miami, previously mentioned, which was an initiative greatly pushed by Julia Tuttle. Moreover, the Royal Palm Hotel that Henry Flagler built in Miami would dump all the raw sewage from the hotel into the Miami River, converting a once clean, pristine drinkable river that the Tequesta had depended on into an environmental hazard that is still to this day not resolved. My shock, unfortunately, did not end there when I found out that Miami once had enslaved people, specifically, those of the William English Plantation that built their own slave quarters which continue to stand today in Lummus Park as a historic site. It is quite inconceivable to learn of the history of Miami and not be in a state of turmoil, as I am now.
Ultimately, the horrors of Miami’s past, although not excused and always acknowledged as stated by Professor Bailley, have led to the integration of a plethora of ethnicities, races, cultures, and traditions all in one city. It is thanks to how accepting Miami is that I can feel connected to both parts of me, my Mexican heritage, and my American life. I cannot confidently say that I would be who I am today had my family moved to any other city in the United States. Miami has allowed me to grow up speaking Spanish absolutely everywhere and has even given me the privilege to experience other people’s cultures almost as my own. If not for Miami, I would not have grown up with Venezuelan arepas, tequeños, and hallacas, La Carreta’s ventanita for some quick croquetas and a sandwich Cubano, Colombian pan de bono, Brazilian pao de queijo, and so much more food I savor and appreciate. If you grow up in Miami you are a mix of cultures and that can sometimes cause confusion, especially for those born of immigrants, like me, who are constantly looking to connect with their heritage, however, it is a blessing to live a life surrounded by diversity because, at the end of the day, it makes you a more understanding, empathetic, and worldly person. Learning about the true history of Miami can deepen and enrich a connection to the city and create appreciation and respect for those that came before us such as the Tequesta and Julia Tuttle, who took great care of the land and walked the same terrain as we do today.
Revolution as Text
“Does the End Justify the Means?”
By Maria Cobian of FIU, 12 March 2023
The question most people ask themselves of unpleasant moments in history that eventually led to the greater good or that paved the way towards a better future: “Does the end justify the means?” That is what I asked myself constantly while reading the Lost King of France by Deborah Cadbury, being met with a completely different perspective of the French Revolution that I had not delved into. The French Revolution officially started on July 14, 1789, which we know as Bastille Day when the people of Paris were fear stricken and believed that the aristocracy was planning to overthrow the Third Estate or National Assembly and so they stormed the Bastille, a state prison, which had long been a symbol of the tyranny of the royal family (Britannica). However, the revolution had been brewing for a long time as France was riddled with poverty, famine, and a dire financial state. The generations of extravagant spending by each King of France and the country’s involvement in the American Revolution left King Louis XVI with depleted state funds and heavy borrowing that was no longer sustainable. The people of France were suffering the effects of generations of detrimental financial decisions with heavy taxation on the lower classes and little to no taxation on the nobility and clergy, despite owning a great deal of land within France. Furthermore, as King Louis XVI attempted to resolve these issues by calling the Estates-General, the injustice against the lower classes continue to be seen as the Third Estate, although representing the majority of the population of France, received the same number of votes as the nobility and the clergy. Evidently, the Third Estate was always outvoted in any reforms attempted concerning taxation by the other two Estates. However, the Third Estate put a stop to their unjust treatment and declared themselves the National Assembly in the famous Tennis Court Oath, which said that they would not leave Versailles until a Constitution was adopted. Eventually, as one event led to another, the royal family was forced out of Versailles when the women of France marched demanding reforms from the King and the royal family’s presence in Paris. This return to Paris marks the moment in history when the royal family would meet their eventual demise.
As mentioned previously, Cadbury’s account of history in the Lost King of France opened up a new perspective of the French Revolution that I had never considered and one that was never presented to me. However, her account of the events that led to the fall of the monarchy in France is very much biased towards the royal family which is important to keep in mind as a reader and essential to recognize when trying to understand the complexity of the French Revolution. Her book mainly focuses on King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette’s son, Louis-Charles, and his mysterious death and unspeakable treatment by the revolutionaries. After many attempts to govern under a constitutional monarchy, coupled with the royal family’s attempt to escape France, the revolutionaries realized that true reforms would never be fruitful if the royal family continued to have presence and power in the government. This realization led to the execution of the King and a few months later that of the Queen by guillotine. Now the children of the late King and Queen of France were left orphaned and imprisoned in the Temple prison. Louis XVII had long been separated from his mother and older sister, Marie-Thérèse, being mentally, physically, and sexually abused by his so-called caretaker, Antoine Simone (Cadbury). Louis XVII’s presence, although only a child less than 10 years old, continued to be a threat to the revolution because of the possibility of the other monarchies of Europe aiding him in his rise to the French throne. However, the treatment of Louis-Charles towards the end of his life was nauseating and incredibly difficult to imagine that an innocent child could be left in such a deplorable state despite him having no role in the actions of his ancestors. Cadbury described the child to be in a room with no natural light full of his excrement, with rags that barely resembled clothes or covered his body, and surrounded by insects and rats due to the filth. The child was in such a miserable state that he lost significant weight, his joints were covered with tumors, his open wounds and scabs were alive with maggots, and he would even refuse to move or eat because of the pain (Cadbury). I could not imagine how someone could intentionally neglect and put a child through those awful conditions and not have it weigh on their conscience. A quick death by guillotine would have been a much more forgiving and humane death than what Louis XVII suffered when he finally passed away from tuberculosis at the age of 10.
Moreover, the cruelty of the French Revolution did not stop with the treatment of the royal children, it extended to the people of France during the Reign of Terror when thousands of people were executed by guillotine for the slightest appearance of supporting counterrevolutionary efforts. The hypocrisy of Maximilien Robespierre, the mastermind of the Reign of Terror, was evidently shown in the movie Danton when, in my opinion, he becomes exactly what he preached against. His influence on the Committee of Public Safety led to the execution of thousands of people during this period in the revolution and even the execution of leading figures of the French Revolution such as Georges Danton and Camille Desmoulins (Wajda). I constantly wondered during the movie if he recognized his position of power and if he ever realized that he was practically a corrupt authoritarian leader that ruled through fear alone. If he ever saw how far he had gone and if he truly believed he was uplifting the rights enumerated to all people in the Declaration of Rights of Man and of the Citizen during the Reign of Terror. It was during these moments I questioned the means of the French Revolution, something I had never done before.
Ultimately, just like any event in history, it is not all black and white. It is easy to sit here and analyze an event that happened hundreds of years ago because the reality of it is also incredibly difficult to imagine. Although the mistreatment of the children of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI was unforgivable, particularly that of Louis XVII, and the senseless bloodshed during the Reign of Terror is not excusable or justifiable it is hard to say whether these events were necessary for the benefits later derived as a result of the French Revolution. Had Louis XVII lived, would France have converted back to its long-standing tradition of monarchial rule? If the Reign of Terror had not happened, then would the revolution ever have advanced towards a more moderate rule? These are questions that we will never know the answer to and at the end of the day every event in history has led to another, without one the other cannot happen. The answer of whether the means justify the ends will vary greatly from person to person and even I cannot say I have answered it myself because the horrors described by Cadbury still plague me and I cannot find a way to justify them, but that does not mean that it did not pave the way towards a better life for the French people and that it did not also influence other countries in their revolutionary efforts for equality.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “French Revolution”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2 Jan. 2023, https://www.britannica.com/event/French-Revolution. Accessed 12 March 2023.
Cadbury, Deborah. The Lost King of France: How DNA Solved the Mystery of the Murdered Son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. St. Martin’s Griffen, 2003.
Wajda, Andrzej, director. Danton. Gaumont, 1983.
Vizcaya as Text
“Illusions of Miami”
By Maria Cobian of FIU at Vizcaya Museum and Garden, 19 March 2023
Vizcaya perfectly depicts the illusions of grandeur, wealth, and importance that Miami is known for today. Even before Miami was considered one of the hedonistic capitals of the world, James Deering set the example and we can see this today by visiting Vizcaya. Right as you arrive at the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens from the main visitors’ entrance, you are greeted with two statues, one of Ponce de Leon who claimed Florida for Spain in 1513, and the other of a fictional explorer named Bel Vizcaino. Bel Vizcaino is a character fabricated by James Deering and is supposed to represent the alleged Spanish explorers that shipwrecked here in Miami and lived amongst the native people of this land, the Tequesta. It seems that James Deering was enchanted by the story of Spanish explorers making their way to what is now known as Miami, and he wanted to represent Europe coming to his very own winter home by having these sculptures welcome all those who visited. As you take a few steps further you are greeted by beautiful greenery that invites and motions you towards Deering’s Italian-inspired villa right on the water of Biscayne Bay. However, in the past there was no glass roof or windows, it was completely open, so the ocean breeze would flow through the entire home. As you arrive at the west entrance of James Deering’s house you lay eyes upon Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and pleasure or also known as Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility. The sculpture depicts Bacchus with a crown of grapes pouring wine into a large bathtub. Deering could not have chosen a more perfectly suited representation of what Miami is other than the city people visit to experience the pleasures of life such as food, wine, and beautiful people. As you walk through the courtyard inside his home that is illuminated with natural light from above you see a stained-glass window by the stairs leading to the second floor, with words that read “J’ai Dit,” which means “I have spoken” in French. It is a very interesting choice of words considering that not only does it elude the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis, specifically when God creates light, but the words themselves start with James Deering’s initials as pointed out by Professor Bailley in our visit. All of these aspects of Vizcaya show how Deering believed himself to be better than those around him and might have even seen convinced himself to be a European explorer in unknown terrain, highlighting those illusions of grandeur. They also eerily resemble the modern-day notions that society has of Miami, which is a city where everyone is wealthy and people live a life that can only exist in paradise. Unfortunately, these ideas as pleasant as they sound are unrealistic and only represent a minority of people in Miami, while at the same time erasing the true history behind Vizcaya.
Vizcaya was built on the backs of black Bahamian laborers at a time of racial segregation in Miami and not only was the pay poor, but the working conditions were physically straining. It is not often recognized how big of a contribution the black population of Miami has made in the creation of this city and of the historic landmarks we know and love today. As you walk through Vizcaya you realize nothing about it points towards Bahamians ever being present or the Tequesta having lived on that same land. James Deering built a dream concocted in his mind of an Italian villa as his winter home without ever paying tribute to those that came before and to those that built it for him. We see this often happen to the black population of Miami in the erasure of their contributions to the incorporation of the city as discussed in the downtown Miami lecture. In addition, we constantly see this with the Tequesta all over downtown in the areas surrounding the Miami River and in Charles Deering’s Estate as well.
Ultimately, Miami is a city that on the surface is a beautiful tropical paradise to many outsiders, and even to many people born and raised here, however, on a deeper level, it is complex and requires a difficult conversation about slavery, racism, segregation, and privilege. It is those who were privileged like James and Charles Deering, Flagler, and Major Dade that created the narrative and shaped the history we know today of Miami, without addressing the slavery, the forced segregation and displacement, and the working conditions that existed, which are all unknowing reminders in the landmarks of Miami we visit and love today like Vizcaya. It is necessary to acknowledge the reality of the past in order to fully understand and study the modern-day notions of society and where they come from. Additionally, you can appreciate Vizcaya’s beauty, while also educating yourself on the discrimination, segregation, and brutality that the black laborers experienced. They are not mutually exclusive, rather it is essential to recognize the intersectionality of the situation.
Camilo Rivera: España as Text 2023
Photo by Camila Rivera/ CC by 4.0
Camilo Rivera is a third-year student at Florida International University who is majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Relations. He is a first-generation student attempting to study in the field of law. Camilo is passionate about learning knowledge, such as his favorite philosophers are Plato and Machiavelli. He is ambitious to be a member of the world and as a current student, his task is to learn about different cultures, history, and the order of society. Miami is an extravagant place to begin thy journey, but thy journey has already begun.
ESPAÑA ENCOUNTER AS TEXT
I am extremely excited to go on a trip to España with my other classmates that are also taking the course. I met them all in our first official class and already socialized with some of them, but I am missing to communicate with nearly all of them. Yet there is still enough time and the ones I’ve already talked to seem to be amazing people. Thus, I am eager to go on a whole adventure in Europe with such an awesome group. I believe that a whole trip changes when you go with a group of people that are similar to you. Ambitious students that want to explore. For instance, I already went to Spain with my whole family but not to criticize, it was extremely boring. The weather was too cold and the only cool things were the architecture of the churches. I also want to say that I went at a young age when I was still immature and had a narrow definition of what’s beautiful in life. Now that I have this second chance to improve my perspective about España and accompanied by an amazing group of students around my age, and the best tour guide in the world Professor Bailly, it’ll be a memorable experience.
To continue in order and answer the first question. I am in the España Honors Study Abroad to improve my perspective of the world. I want to grow my historical, cultural, and social knowledge. Everyone that I’ve met who knows about the Study Abroad programs had been a motivational push for me to take advantage and join a program. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just like the prom dance in high school. It is an opportunity to take when it’s ripe because once time goes by, this opportunity will probably never show again. I also want to network with honor students and there is no better way to network with students, than going for a whole month to Europe in a group adventure. This is awesome! To think and type it down is making me more excited to go. The experience of going to Europe and learning a whole different culture can improve my perspective on how a society functions. I believe it is vital for my major career, to learn firsthand, how societies function together.
I believe that my knowledge of España is very general. I am most informed about the Spanish-American war due to my Political Science classes. The most intriguing information that I hold about España is that they colonized Florida and we took it from them. Also, in the same war, we took the Philippines from them. España went into a hard decolonization era, from being one of the world’s most prominent superpowers to becoming a crumbling empire. Everyone has different opinions, but I believe that España was similar to the British downfall. Yet they are still significant players in the modern world, but they don’t have the similar influence as they once did. I am aware of the Cristopher Columbus voyage coming from the Spanish monarchal rulers’ decision, and it led to the whole history of America coming into place. I see Cristopher Columbus from a neutral perspective because he was an awful person for the number of horrific things he did to the natives, but thanks to the actions he committed. The timeline in history was able to take place, so Columbus needed to do as he did. Allowing the U.S. to grow into an anti-monarchical power and creating democracy in the world. Therefore, I want to learn more about the important trip of Cristopher Columbus, since it was a critical component of history that led us to where we are now in the world.
Full-on honesty, when I think about España. The first image that comes into my mind is Don Quixote de la Mancha. I read the book in my high school years, and it is one of the first books that I truly enjoyed, also remember that I considered myself to be immature during those times. So, that is how special the book became in my life. I also had the best Professor for Spanish AP Literature, not to brag but she is the best. The beginning chapters develop his demise, fighting windmills, and concluding with his demise coming back to reality. His heavy armor shows that the physical body is just an excuse, but the strength of one’s soul or willpower is what drives people to their goals. I believe Granada or Sevilla, where the streets are full of antique shops and the roads are made of rocks. It gave me the Don Quixote de la Mancha vibes and I want to re-experience it. The other image that would come to my mind when I think about España is the food because I have the superpower of always being hungry. I’ve tried the Spanish Tapas here in Miami, but I am fully aware that it’ll be way better in España. For example, I am half-Mexican and the Mexican food people try to recreate in Miami, is not the same. Thus, I am eager to try the Spanish food system. How many times do they eat per day? Do they eat a lot in the morning? What is the most common dish?
In conclusion, I expect to have a wonderful summer. Exploring in depth a whole new culture with student friends, savoring new foods, and learning new history. I want the program of España Study Abroad to teach me valuable information so that I can have an educated discussion in the future with someone from the experience I gained from this program. To become a well-cultivated person and be far away from being an ignorant person. I expect most from the program to network and become close friends with the other honors students going on the trip. I look forward to purchasing some Don Quixote de la Mancha merchandise, from its original creation. I look forward to learning more about the history of Christopher Columbus. I look forward to learning how España maintains its legal or political branches in order. Whereas I want to compare and contrast the U.S.A. and España systems of government.
Angela Stea: Miami as Text 2023
Hi, my name is Angela Stea and I am currently a junior at FIU majoring in accounting. Currently, I am a tax intern at an accounting firm and having my first real experience with my career. This is my last summer before I graduate, so I am excited to take this class and experience a summer in Europe and make memories of a lifetime. Learning more about Spain is something that will help me connect to my ancestors as well as my extended family as I have family in Toledo (a city we are visiting). This class and Spain are going to truly impact my life and make me view life and my surroundings differently.
ESPAÑA SPRING ENCOUNTER AS TEXT
After experiencing the first day of class and officially seeing everyone that is going to travel with me in my first trip to España I felt a sense of relief, because everyone genuinely seems like great people, and a buzz of excitement to be able to experience this travel experience with others who seem to have the same excitement as me. I was happy to see how many other women were going to be on this trip because I genuinely believe that I can create some long-lasting friendships because of it. Continuing with the questions laid out I will explain why I am even in this class. If I am being completely honest ever since I was little, I have loved traveling and wanted to go to Spain, my first and only other time in Europe was in Paris and I truly cherish that trip and all its memories as I was only eight, so I had a very childlike view of the trip. To give you a view into me as a person, I have always loved food and many of my memories are attached to a meal I have had that altered my brain chemistry, one of those meals being a baguette sandwich that we found in a sandwich cart in the underground subway in Paris. All these little details do have a point as España is known for having an amazing cuisine, from their tapas to the delicious Gallego paella. Continuing, in 2020 my family and I planned a trip to Spain where we were going to visit multiple cities and I was going to experience watching one of my favorite soccer teams FC Barcelona. However, as we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic hit at that time, so we were not able to go. Ever since then, I’ve felt at a loss of not being able to visit, because it has been one of my dreams for as a long as I can remember. Throughout my life my mother has always talked about studying abroad in college and that it is an opportunity that I must take when it is presented to me. When I saw that FIU Honors offered this program I immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Another influencing factor for choosing Spain specifically to do this program is my ethic background. I am Cuban and Venezuelan from my parents, however my grandparents are Italian and Spanish, and we are visiting my family’s hometown, Toledo. I really believe that traveling to Spain will help me connect to my roots and learn more about my heritage. I also believe that this class that Professor Bailey teaches will help me see the Spanish influence in my parents’ cultures as well as the influences that the Americas have given to Spain. Finally, I just really hope to gain a better understanding of the European culture and see what it would look like to live in Spain, even if it is just for a few weeks. I am really excited to visit Barcelona specifically because of all the history and architectural significance.
TRANSATLANTIC EXCHANGE AS TEXT
Ever since starting this class, I have learned facts and details of the transatlantic exchange that I didn’t know of before. I had always known about the whole colonization process and how most of the Americas were colonized specifically by Spain, but a fact that really surprised me was the origin of coffee as I always assumed it to have been from the Americas considering the popularity of the bean in Latino culture. I’m Cuban so coffee is huge in my culture (Colada is an example of a popular Cuban coffee style) and I drink it more than I should, so learning of the origin made me realize how many other things could be from the old world as well as what I might assume is from the old world is actually from the Americas.
Being Cuban I knew how ruthless the Spaniards were with the natives as we have no pure Taínos like you might see in Puerto Rico. There are many Cubans who have the Taíno bloodline within them, but many of them were told not to speak of it because during the Cuban Revolution the communist government dissuaded distinct racial identification and instilled a singular mind set of ‘Cubanness’, in order to make everyone equal. This caused the already small percentage of people connected to their Taíno roots to become extremely small, however, there is still a few areas in rural Cuba where you can find people who try to keep whatever traditions they know of alive. If we compare the situation in Cuba and Florida, there would be clear differences as we have a higher percentage of natives, even though the oldest remains we have of humans in Florida are not a part of the tribes we have currently. Visiting the Deering Estate and the discussions we had in class on the different films and books we had to read really educated me on what went on in Florida during the Columbian exchange era and how you can see the ruthlessness on what I thought was only the Spaniard side but as well as the natives. Obviously, the Natives showed aggression to the Spaniards because of how the Spaniards came in and acted as if they owned the place and could just treat them how ever they wanted as well as completely force the natives to change their whole identity in order to not be killed. You can really see this in the “Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition”, where Narvaez shows his lack of social awareness when he would complain about how tribes that he had tried to enforce his religion as well as kill some of their people would then try and hunt him down as well as his comrades.
I believe that what happened to the Americas would’ve happened no matter what because as humans we are curious and the governments of the time wanted to see if there was more out in the world, however, I believe that the way the Europeans went about it was cruel and dictatorlike. However, I believe that the world now is more understanding of other cultures as well as representing your background and that in the time of the Columbian exchange this way of thinking was not common. I also know I am part of the Exchange just because I my mother is from Cuba and father is from Venezuela and they experienced living in those countries in a way that would’ve been very different if the Exchange were to not have happened. However, I do not have any native in my blood as my Abuelos on my dad’s side are from Spain and Italy and my mom’s ancestors are from France and Spain, but not far back enough to be existent in the Exchange era.
Historic Miami as Text
Walking through downtown Miami the way we did for this class was an experience I had never had nor ever thought about. Growing up in Miami and then moving away I never saw some parts that I did in this course, the Miami I know of is the Westchester and Kendall area, obviously I had visited the more touristic spot such as Lincoln Road, Brickell, Wynwood, Biscayne Bay area, as well as Coral Gables; but I had never honestly walked through the historic and governing building section of downtown Miami. Which consequently made the walk through these historic sites in Miami, which is known for being more modern in architecture than a city like New York, a surprising experience. As we continued our walk Bailly showed us the oldest structure in Miami to date, which was the home of the Wagner family, hearing how mixed the cultures in Miami have been since the beginning gave me a pleasant surprise as it further proves how different Miami is from some other cities and how diverse the people that have traveled through and lived in Miami throughout the years have been.
There were a couple aspects that connected me to my parents and their youth here in Miami. The first one being Freedom Tower as it was the place that my mom had to go to with my grandparents when they arrived from Cuba in the early 70’s, even though they wouldn’t be moving to Miami until a couple years later, due to them being claimed by some distant family members in New York. Seeing this building in person and making the connection to the the stories from my mom and grandparents throughout the years made me feel as though I was getting an insight to my family’s beginnings in the city of Miami. Moving on to one of the main forms of public transportation available in downtown Miami, is the Metrorail, this has existed for so many years and my parents have always told me how they would always take it to work when they used to work in banks in downtown and how they would even take it together once they met and started dating, so actually riding the same Metrorail system that they would take is a full circle for me. I felt as if I was receiving a snippet into my parent’s lives knowing the stories and connecting it with the experience of riding the Metrorail. If I were to place myself into the different migration groups it would be with the Cubans because my family came to the United States because it was what was best for their future as Cuba has been in a dictatorship for so many decades and still hasn’t gotten better, whereas my father although he migrated from Venezuela he did not see the country when it got bad because they left in the 80’s. There was a different sense of urgency with my parent’s migration stories that impacts my decision in choosing a migration group.
Emma Rogers: France as Text 2023
Yan Baez Perez: France as Text 2023
Sofia Prieto: Miami as Text 2023
Photo of Sofia Prieto in 2022 (Photo by Sofia Prieto/CC BY 4.0)
Sofia Prieto was born and raised in Asuncion, Paraguay. She is currently a senior at the FIU Honors college, majoring in International Business. Sofia’s desire to explore France is rooted in her love for the country’s rich history and culture, particularly in the arts.
In her free time, Sofia enjoys reading, kayaking, and exploring new places with friends. She is also deeply connected to music and dancing, and is excited about the opportunity to immerse herself in the vibrant cultural scene that both Miami and France have to offer through this course.
Eager for new adventures, Sofia is looking forward to the opportunity to travel in the future. Whether it is trying new foods, visiting famous landmarks, or immersing herself in the local music and dance scene, Sofia is eager to experience it all.
Encounter as Text
“To be human” by Sofia Prieto of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, January 27, 2023
Reality hit me hard on that first class. When the professor started describing life in France, something as simple as the heated French arguments on the table, that’s when it sunk in. I was really going to France. I started noticing tears forming in my eyes. Emotions flooded through me, embarrassment mixed with excitement mixed with longing. This trip meant everything for me.
I was born in Paraguay, Asuncion. A humble city. Everybody knows everybody. My grandpa knew the true meaning of poverty, what it was like to struggle for his next meal. My grandma fought through the extreme patriarchal system and the toxic rumors of the townspeople. When they met, my grandpa was serving in the military and my grandma was 17, 10 years younger than my grandpa. They fell in love, fought through people’s judgemental rumors, and married. Through hard work and dedication, they created a wonderful future together.
Out of all my cousins and siblings, I was the first born. Needless to say, my family loved to spoil me, especially my grandparents. I grew up surrounded by their love and support, and would go to their house every weekend, sometimes staying for weeks on end, because my heart couldn’t take it to leave. I would love to go to the farm and play with the animals, garden with my grandma, and run around the enormous backyard. My family was always very encouraging, sending me to the best schools and dance academies to give me an opportunity to be successful.
Hanging out at my grandmother’s farm in 2004 (Photo by Sofia Prieto/CC BY 4.0)
My grandma has always been one of the most supportive people in my life. This is why it was so hard for me to move to the United States when I was 11. At the time, I couldn’t understand it. I was mad, even. In what world was moving away from my family the right thing to do? But my family always pushed me to learn, value my education. What better way than to explore the world? Their encouragement surpassed my fear, but at the same time, this is the first time I started to feel the pressure of expectation.
My grandparents and I in 2004 (Photo by Sofia Prieto/CC BY 4.0)
The time I spent here in the U.S. I have done my best to honor my family’s name the best I could. I didn’t want to be a disappointment. At one point, I started to notice that my desire to be perfect became unhealthy. Sleepless nights, endless tears, and a grieving heart. I was being unrealistic, and it shattered my self-esteem. It made me incredibly anxious and scared to try new things out of fear of failure.
This time around, I’m starting to feel the same pressure again. The similarities between traveling to France and coming to the US for the first time strongly resonate in my mind. My thoughts race while they wonder whether I’m good enough to deserve this opportunity. I feel the weight of my ancestors in my shoulders, how can I make them proud? Traveling like this is an immense privilege that I know they wouldn’t even dare to imagine. I’m starting to notice that fear again, the paralysis it leads me to.
This time around, I won’t let the fear stop me. This time around, I will let this experience set me free instead of confine me. Yes, I’m nervous, but most of all I’m excited. Excited to learn, to live, to make mistakes… to be human. I want to use the French I learned for so long yet pronounce incorrectly, I want to dramatically sing along the words of “Non, je ne regrette rien” by Édith Piaf while walking in Paris, I want to go to the Louvre and spend hours analyzing art, I want to get lost in the metro, hell, I want to be licked by a cow… but most of all, I want to be grateful and present in the moment.
Although I am in this class to learn more about the language and culture, I am here mostly to set myself free from expectation. As I studied the French language and culture for many years, France is, in a sense, a fairytale to me. La cité de l’amour. I want to take what my already conceived notions of France are and expand them to places I can’t even imagine. There is not one particular thing I’m looking forward to the most, instead I want to be open to every single experience, as sometimes the best things in life are unexpected. The fear of letting go that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.
“We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen”Paulo Coelho
The Enlightenment as Text
“The paradox of philosophical optimism” by Sofia Prieto of FIU at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, February 12, 2023
Finding Joy in the Whirlwind: Embracing Small Moments in the Face of Paradoxical Optimism (Photo by Sofia Prieto/CC BY 4.0)
Liberty, progress, reason, humanism, rationality… all of these words describe what we know today as the Enlightenment, or the Age of Light. A time of change, bravery, and cultural awakening, where people dared to question the very foundation of society. A turning point in history where, after centuries of unchallenged dominance, religion (and therefore power structures like the monarchy) was finally subjected to critical examination. People started to realize that God, although a source of comfort and guidance for some, was a source of pain and injustice for others. Simply an excuse to keep the masses in control. The world as they knew it was crumbling down.
This time posed many questions, causing discomfort and unease among individuals. Could there be a world where reason and faith are reconciled? Or must we face the daunting choice between the comforting refuge of religion and the undeniable, unyielding truth? Is there a reality where philosophical optimism can be achieved?
This is when Voltaire came into play. As one of the most important figures of the Enlightenment, Voltaire decided to mock the old ways and oppressive institutions, being an advocate for the rights of individuals and the spread of knowledge. He became a voice of reason and liberty in a world full of ignorance and blind faith. A fierce opponent of tyranny, he exposed the corruption and hypocrisy of the elite, stating that reason, education, and human progress are essential for the advancement of society.
Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are all miserableVoltaire
What particularly stood out to me was Voltaire’s critique of philosophical optimism. I personally found it quite… heartbreaking. In fact, sometimes I realize that extremely smart people tend to not be the happiest, and I imagine Voltaire was one of them. As an individual who greatly values positivity, it caused me to ponder (not for the first time) on this timeless existential question. It somewhat clashed with my beliefs.
I am a firm believer in the power of positive thinking. I refer to it as having “the lucky girl syndrome.” This optimistic outlook always brings me good fortune. While it may seem delusional and naive, the alternative of constantly grappling with the suffering and inequalities of the world does not appeal to me. Ultimately, my goal in life is to find joy in the small things and minimize stress, in pursuit of overall happiness.
Our thoughts play a major role in shaping our emotions and actions. Thus, the quality of our thoughts directly affects our level of happiness. If, like Voltaire, we consistently focus on negativity and misery, our quality of life would greatly diminish. Why live with such pessimism? It’s not only a very disheartening perspective, but it is simply not objective. Of course, in life things inevitably go wrong, but it is important to consider how we react and view those challenges. As Dr. Robert Puff so wisely noted, “our thoughts create our happiness or unhappiness.” Even as an agnostic, I still have faith in the goodness of the universe. Reason and faith can be reconciled. The problem lies not in faith itself, but rather in the abuse of power and injustices committed in its name.
Puff, Robert. “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2021, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meditation-modern-life/202103/the-power-positive-thinking.
Historic Miami As Text
“Miami’s Bright Lights and Dark Shadows” by Sofia Prieto of FIU at Downtown Miami, February 17, 2023
The Miami River (Photo by Sofia Prieto/CC BY 4.0)
Miami, often referred to as the Magic City, is a place known for its breathtaking beauty and infectious vibrancy. It is a place where the sun appears to melt into the sea in a poetic display, and a colorful community celebrates life day and night. As charming as it may appear at first, it’s important we remember that every rose has its thorn, and this city has a dark past that lies just beneath the surface. Take the Miami River, for instance. Once a crystalline stream and source of life, it is now a dark reflection of past greed.
10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians first inhabited the area we now know as Miami. Hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, the Tequesta tribe already lived there (Florida Center for Instructional Technology). The Miami river supplied abundant food and transportation during all those years as well as years to come. That was until 1896, when Henry Flagler, the tycoon who brought the railroad to South Florida, ran the city’s first sewer line into the river. Despite its cultural and ecological importance, the waterway now became the city’s toilet. Soon, the crystal-clear sweet water became dark and salty. Although the practice of dumping raw sewage in the waterway ended in the late 1950s, untreated sewage still seeps in from cracked pipes and illegal hookups today (Bell).
The development Flagler brought was clear, but so was the exploitation. Along with progress came pollution. Miami would not be Miami without him, that’s for sure. But at what cost? Blinded by greed and financial gain, he left a legacy of environmental degradation, social inequality, and economic injustice that continue to haunt Miami to this day. How far can we go before we realize that “progress” may be causing more harm than good?
The suffering of marginalized communities soon followed. The black and latinx communities were the first to see the consequences of this neglect, as well as having to deal with displacement and gentrification that came with the development.
The tragic story of the river is a metaphor for Miami’s dark history of exploitation and greed. It reminds us that greatness and growth is not always morally or environmentally responsible. Yet, the story highlights potential for change and transformation. Through environmental advocacy, the Miami River is slowly being restored today. It is a testament to the power of collective action, a symbol of hope and resilience.
Representing Miami itself, the Miami River is where beauty collides with tragedy to create something powerful. A victim of its own success, it lured developers with its abundant natural resources, only to be exploited and polluted in the name of progress. Despite its troubled history, the Miami River remains a vital part of the city’s identity, a symbol of resilience and perseverance for the indigenous, escaped slaves, latinx, immigrants, and all who fought for a place in Miami’s beautiful chaos.
As someone who moved from South America to Miami, I consider myself a part of the continuous successive large migration in the story. I find hope in the river’s restoration and its ability to serve as a symbol for resilience. We have created a unique identity, one that although has faced the horrors of discrimination, is welcoming and inclusive today. The Miami River is more than just water, it’s the human spirit triumphing over adversity. A gateway to a better tomorrow.
Bell, Maya. “Miami’s Dirty Little Secret.” Sun Sentinel, 30 Oct. 1994, https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1994-10-30-9410310311-story.html.
Florida Center for Instructional Technology. Florida’s Historic Places: Miami, 2002, https://fcit.usf.edu/florida/lessons/miami/miami.htm.
Vizcaya As Text
“Silenced Voices” by Sofia Prieto of FIU at the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, March 10, 2023
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens (Photos by Sofia Prieto/CC BY 4.0)
Stepping into the West Entrance Loggia of the Vizcaya mansion, one is immediately greeted by a symbol of extravagance and indulgence. A naked man, gazing dreamily into the distance while holding a vase filled with wine serves as a reminder that life in Miami is all about pleasure, sex, and drinking. Vizcaya itself is a perfect metaphor for the city it resides in: a place where the rich flaunt their wealth and power, indulgence is the norm, and subtlety is foreign. Beneath the shimmering glamour of this opulent mansion, however, lies a darker side full of secrets and scandals surrounding its founder, James Deering. The beautiful architecture and gardens of Vizcaya may hide this controversy, but also serve as a reflection of society itself – a place where the underprivileged and marginalized are forgotten, and even powerful voices are silenced.
What many visitors may not know is that the construction and design of the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens may have been heavily influenced by the sexuality of James Deering. Despite this, the conversation around his sexuality has been erased from the narrative, and is often considered mere gossip without enough substantial evidence. This erasure is harmful as it perpetuates a culture of silence around LGBTQ+ identities, and it reinforces the idea that someone’s sexuality is controversial or scandalous.
Although it is true that there is no concrete evidence of James Deering’s sexuality, according to Gay Influence: James Deering’s Vizcaya, there are some signs in the design of the mansion that may point to it, as well as past historical rumors. For instance, although James was discreet about his private life, he was often referred to as a “life-long bachelor” or “eccentric,” which back then were considered coded words. He never married or showed romantic nor physical interest in women. He also had a guest bedroom secretly attached to his bedroom, which makes one wonder why he would want to hide this access from other house guests. There were also rumors circulating by his large staff of servants that he held all male parties at Vizcaya.
As far as the design and architecture goes, Vizcaya’s architect and interior decorator, Paul Chalfin, was openly gay. He wanted to have a home that he could furnish lavishly, and so James Deering hired him. As one sees the tapestry of Hercules fighting the Nemean lion in the living room, one could almost be convinced about the LGBTQ+ influence of the design. There is also the fact James Deering had the sculpture of the northern female figure altered, as he believed her breasts were too large.
All of this evidence may suggest that James Deering was comfortable enough in his sexuality that he was able to hold this as an “open secret.” His privilege as a wealthy white man allowed him to live his life more freely. Other people, such as the Black Bahamian laborers who built the estate on their backs, did not have such privilege. It is important that we become aware of this censorship, as Black and Brown voices have been left out of the general narrative of LGBTQ+ history for far too long. This also highlights the broader pattern of race and class inequality in Miami history.
It’s important that we acknowledge that Vizcaya fits into a broader narrative of queer cultural landmarks in Miami as it has played a prominent role in the past few years. For instance, according to Christiana Lilly, it has held the White Party from 1985 to 2010, and then again in 2018, which was a monumental event dedicated to HIV/AIDS education, highlighting queer visibility and resilience. We must highlight the importance of including LGBTQ+ narratives in the interpretation of cultural landmarks, as it fosters a more inclusive understanding of Miami history and culture.
The question remains: why continue to silence the voices of marginalized communities throughout history? Even today we have bills coming out such as the one known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which effectively silenced conversations about sexual orientation and gender identities in Florida schools, further perpetuating the erasure of LGBTQ+ narratives from public discourse. In the past couple of days there has also been a proposal to eliminate majors in Florida universities that focus on critical race theory, race studies, ethnic studies, feminist theory, gender theory, queer theory, social justice, and intersectionality, again silencing the voices of important individuals of our community and eliminating essential elements of history. It is disheartening to see such erasure that limits our understanding of the past and present, and it is my hope that we can fight against it together.
Lilly, Christiana. “A Century of Gay Rumors Surround Miami’s Iconic Vizcaya Estate.” QnotesCarolinas.com, 2 Sept. 2021, https://qnotescarolinas.com/a-century-of-gay-rumors-surround-miamis-iconic-vizcaya-estate/.
Terry. “Gay Influence: James Deering’s Vizcaya.” Gay Influence, 31 Jan. 2020, http://gayinfluence.blogspot.com/2012/01/james-deerings-vizcaya.html.