Melissa Alvarez: España as Text 2019

By Melissa Alvarez of FIU Honors College

Biography

Melissa Alvarez is a student at Florida International University majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Melissa plans to graduate in the Spring of 2021 from the Honors College with the future goals of attending Medical School. Melissa plans to peruse a career in General medicine and trauma care. Her passions include dancing and music and caring for children. She loves to travel and learn about different cultures and customs.

Madrid as Text

“My Spanish Roots” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at Museo de Las Americas in Madrid, Spain, June 7, 2019

An old Cuban saying always told me who I was and where my roots came from “ Tan mitad Español que mitad Africano”, meaning all Cubans are half Spanish half African. However I always considered my self to be purely Cuban because I could never find my connection to Spain, Africa or Natives. As I become older I was more interested in my ancestry and my heritage and decide to create my own family tree and with time I was able to find the first Spaniard that traveled to Cuba in my bloodline. I was astonished that it was more than 200 years ago and to me it meant that I was not ready that Spanish. Time passed and DNA testing peaked my curiosity and the results proved me completely wrong. Not only was I Spanish but I was almost 40% Spanish and 80% European overall. I finally knew my heritage and the connection I had to Spain. This influenced my decision to travel to Spain on a study abroad to learn about the place I came from.

On my first week I was happily surprised just how much I learned about my ancestors in El Museo de Las Americas. I learnt about the journey the Spaniards took and the consequence that this important event in history had on Spain and in the Americas. The most impactful exhibit was one where there were old paintings of how artist pictured the people from the New World based on descriptions and tales. In the center was a glass with the this picture of a Spanish woman. It wasn’t detailed and it and looked like a sketch. However, when going to the backside of the glass there is the same outline of the Spaniard but looking like a Native American. The duality of this picture reminded me exactly of who I was and how I related to the Spanish that traveled to the Americas. It was the same woman but depending on how she was looked at it described who she was. It described all the descendants of the people that traveled to the Americas. I saw myself in those clothes showing that decided into two different worlds that no matter how little or big my percentage of “Spanish or African” I was, the food I ate the language I spoke and even the music I listened to were perfect prof that I was a mix of old and new worlds. I identified with both sides of the man on the painting and learned the biggest lesson. If we speak Spanish and come from Hispanic backgrounds than we are all Spanish.

Toledo as Text

“A walk to Remember ” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU in Toledo, Spain, June 12,2019

Ever since I was younger I have been crossing goals off my bucket list, from skydiving to simply learning to dance however on this trip to Toledo I was able to experience an bucket list event that I did not even know I wanted to do. Seeing Toledo from the top of a mountain showed me breath taking scenery and how important it is to live life to the fullest. Not only was I on top of the world but I was able to see what El Greco saw when he decided to paint Toledo from the outskirts. When the hike started I was not expecting to climb rocks slide down slopes yet I felt like a new person when I accomplished everything the Professor told us to do. I saw a new Toledo.

The last time I visited Toledo I went on a tour and we saw the tourist part of the town and when we were going through the mountains I slept until we made it to the town. I saw a beautiful town and with a nice history. However on this trip I saw a beautiful city from the top of hill that I climbed and was able to experience something that maybe a local would do I felt as a part of the town and found a new happiness that I had not experienced before. It brought me back to my childhood and the exploring I used to do as a child, it brought out curiosity and a sense of gratefulness. I hiked Toledo and accomplished something that many people probably don’t and experienced a new way of living life, and broke barriers I would have not on my own. The trip helped me find a piece of me I did not know I had. A full walk to remember and ice cream with a twist to finish the day.

Sevilla as Text

“The Underground Taberna” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at Casa de Flamenco in Sevilla, Spain, June 19, 2019

A small city with an vast history and a vibrant lifestyle. I had heard so many stories about their famous bull fighting “la corrida de los toros”, but the one that amazed me the most was the flamenco dancing.

Having done a project on the diferente dance styles of spain I had seen the history behind flamenco, how it originated and that there’s even different styles, they specifically told us that they would perform sevillanas. 

Seeing the dancers on a computer during research was nothing compared to the real attraction between the two dancers. They showed love and passion and even despair. It is said that this style of flamenco is meant to represent a bull fighter and his cape. The male lead the female across the dance floor as if she was his cape, yet it showed as she took a life of her own and moved with fierce passion with the dancing they explained what the singer was telling the crowd. 

As foreigners we all see flamenco as the representation of Spain but it did not start that way. The dance originated in the poor neighborhoods of Spain by gypsies and was mostly danced in the underground’s if Spain. When the artist sang for the couple it was difficult to understand what he was saying, than I noticed it was not Spanish, the music was Gitana, gypsy.

Being part of such an intense performance was accelerating and emotional and everything that I did not expect but what perplexed me the most was that as a tourist sitting in the crowd I had been able to experience what the poor minorities of Andalucía used as an escape from repression and expulsion, I was able to see the romanticization of an art that was oppressed by Spaniards but is now recognized as the dance that represents all of Spain.

Granada as Text

“The Heavenly Gardens” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at El Alhambra in Granada, Spain, June 18, 2019

Since I read the poem “Romance de la pérdida de Alhambra” a story on how the Moorish king lost Alhambra to the Christians. It was sad, emotional and astonishing, the story of this fascinating castle that was a devastating loss for the moors. 

The smell of jasmine was intoxicating and the sights overwhelming. However, the gardens where the most captivating and beautiful sights of the Alhambra 

When the lecture started the professor had asked us to pretend to be Muslim, a complex concept to me as a non religious person. How can I encompass an entire religion and culture with only knowing few things about it? It was my question though the entire trip. I did not know how they thought or their beliefs. However, when we arrived at the General Life gardens it helped me completely understand a part of their religion. These gardens recreated the heavens and gave me a visualization of what they believed true perfection was. 

The fountains reflected the heavens and the flowers showed true beauty and contemplation. 

The trip to The Alhambra showed me how important it is to understand religion and appreciate beauty for more than just the appearance but for the meaning behind the appearance. 

Barcelona as Text

Photo taken by John Bailly @johnwbailly

“Dancing with the Devil” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at Plaza Barcelona in Barcelona, Spain, June 23, 2019

Barcelona was the most impressive of the cities from “La Sagrada Familia” to Park Guell to the overall atmosphere and livelihood of La Barceloneta and Las Ramblas. The history of the controversy between Los Catalanes and Los Españoles and the story of the Barcelona flag. It was the city that I learnt the most about myself and the one that changed me the most. However, Dancing with the Devil, or “El Festival de San Juan” was the most impressive and beautiful spectacle I have ever seen.

The festival is done to celebrate the longest day of the year or better known as the Summer Solstice. All the Catalanes light bonfires and throw fire works to represent light and sun. The myth is that since the sun represents fertility, life and good things, on the longest day of the year the people of Cataluña light up fireworks bonfires and sparklers to feed energy to the sun and give it strength. After attending the part of the festival where we dance with the devil everyone heads to the beach to continue the celebrations until morning. This tradition is said to have started because San Juan is represented by fire, for purity, water for healing, and herbs for remedy. Whether the people do it because they know the myth or just because of tradition is up to the individuals, but one thing is for sure, it is a night where Barcelona becomes one to celebrate their unity and life. Strangers come together to celebrate life in the most beautiful and crazy way, from children playing with sparklers at midnight to couples watching the fireworks on the sand everyone comes together to celebrate.

Me as an outsider, felt immersed in this beautiful tradition the act of being part of the ceremony of dancing with the devil made me fell strong and brave and like I was part of something. During the festival I did not know the traditions and history of the festival, I was just going with the people and with what our professor told us but as the show began and the music started I began dancing to a common rhythm with the people of the town and the lights showed me extraordinary beauty. I became part of the festival and hope to dance with the devil once more.

Sitges as Text

Extra Credit as Text:

“Reflections in the sea of La Barceloneta” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at La Barceloneta Beach in Barcelona, Spain, June 22, 2019

Barcelona is a city full of life day and night, adventure calls in every corner and the puzzle like streets immerse travelers in world of culture, religion, and soccer. The hot day of the Barcelona walk was an interesting lecture where we traveled through the gothic streets and the school that had been bombed during the Spanish Civil War. The 13 punishments of Santa Eulalia explained why she is the female patron saint of Barcelona and the beauty of The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, where Santa Eulalia is buried, show the devotion of the people of Cataluña. On every corner it is represented how San Jordi slayed the mythical dragon and won over the village, making him the male patron Saint of Barcelona and other countries. Walking through “Las Ramblas”, a street originally made for streams of water and sewage, now governed by pedestrians and street musicians I noticed how identified I felt with this beautiful city. The Barcelona flag, that resembled the Cuban flag so much, showed me why the Catalanes wanted independence from Spain and explain the feud that has been going on for decades. From the four bloody stripes to the lone star of independence Barcelona’s flag represents the passion and character that the locals show.  

“La Barceloneta” was one of the most interesting and beautiful places to visit in Barcelona. The crystal-clear water entices the hodgepodge of locals and tourist alike. The professor had explained how beautiful a day in the beach would be and a group of the students decided to walk and see. Once there we were all filled with spontaneity and excitement and went in the water just as we were dressed, we bonded as a class and interacted as a group of students all living different lives and finding different experiences on the study abroad trip, that moment on the beach represented what the entire trip entailed of, beauty, new experiences, knowledge and growth as people and as group.

John Bailly said that life after study abroad would be somewhat boring a bit sad but overall very different than what it was before, now looking back on the trip the day in La Barceloneta put in to perspective the importance of study abroad and how it changed me.

Leave a Reply