Italia Spring 2020 As Texts: Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz

Hello, everyone! My name is Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz and I am currently a sophomore in Florida International University’s Honors College. I am a local “Miami-an”, as one could say, as I was born and raised in the incredible city of Miami, Florida. Despite my great love for Miami, and the fact that I have lived here for 19 years, it is very possible that a tourist that comes to visit the city for a weekend could potentially explore more parts, and learn more of the history of Miami, than I have in my entire span of living here. For this reason, I am truly looking forward to exploring new parts of Miami during this upcoming semester, as I am taking part in the Italia Study Abroad course at Florida International University. Throughout this semester we will learn about much of Italy’s rich culture and history in order to prepare for the study abroad trip this upcoming summer. In this class we will also dive into the city of Miami and visit different landmarks that have Italian influence and analyze how the cultures of Miami and Italy both have many similarities and differences.

I am majoring in Accounting, and minoring in Business Analytics, and hope to soon attain my Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license as I head into the public accounting industry. Some hobbies of mine include playing sports, especially baseball and volleyball, and going to the beach. All in all, I am excited to begin to learn about the Italian influence on the culture of Miami, and I want to thank you for reading!

Vizcaya as Text

“Italy First Hand” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens

I have visited the incredible Vizcaya Museum & Gardens several times now, and I am truly always able to learn many new things about its rich history every time I attend. This past time that I visited Vizcaya was very different than the other times I had attended because of the fact that I was looking at everything in a new perspective. I was looking at everything knowing that I will soon be seeing the original forms of many of the incredible art works and styles of architecture that are located in Vizcaya, first hand in Italy. Knowing this, I truly did see many of the artifacts that are inspired by Italian works in a new light as I now had more excitement and curiosity to learn about their diverse history and meanings.

One of the main artworks that truly stood out to me during the visit was the sculpture of “The Spinario”, which is also known as the “Boy with Thorn.” “The Spinario” is located at the Uffizi Gallery in Rome, Italy and this is one of the potential art works that I may have the opportunity to see the original sculpture during my study abroad in Italy. I truly appreciated this sculpture because of its incredible historical meaning behind it. This sculpture is a representation of the incomparable love that roman citizens had for their country during the times of the Roman Empire. The boy with the thorn in his foot represents a boy who ran miles to warn his people about an approaching threat from an external army, and he didn’t stop to take out the thorn until he reached his destination and the task was complete. This is a symbol of how Roman citizens truly put the good of their country before themselves. Similarly, the painting of the city of Pompei truly was something that I found a great appreciation for because of the fact that I will be able to see this incredible city first hand. All in all, this was an incredible first experience in learning about how much influence Italy truly has on our culture as a whole, and I am excited to continue exploring more about the similarities that we share.

MOAD as Text

“The Little Things” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at the Museum of Art and Design

“That cool historic building across the street from the American Airlines Arena” is a sad depiction of what many life-long residents of Miami, including myself prior to this excursion, use as a reference to the Freedom Tower, because not everyone is aware of the incredible role that this building played towards making Miami the city that it is today, and I am very grateful that I was able to experience everything that it has to offer. The Freedom Tower of Miami, which is the iconic landmark in which the Museum of Art and Design is located, is personally one of the greatest landmarks that depicts the history of Miami in a truly original and interesting way primarily because of the fact that so much rich history happened first hand in that building. 

The Freedom Tower is commonly referred to as the “Ellis Island of the South” because of the role it played as the Cuban Assistance Center from 1962 through 1974 as it was the location that offered registration to Cuban refugees who sought political asylum from Fidel Castro’s communist regime, yet it also did much more than just that. The Freedom Tower was the central location that helped establish Cubans with everything from health care to living, financial help, and education. Due to the harsh political climate in Cuba at the time, it was very difficult for adults to be able to leave Cuba so it was common for parents to send their children, and often very young at the time, to the United States on their own in the hopes that they can create better lives for themselves in the States. Due to this mass wave of young kids arriving to the United States without any parents, a big role that the Cuban Assistance Center played was in finding homes for all these children, and often having to relocate them to all different parts of the United States where they could find homes that would take them in. This is truly a touching and incredibly sad part of history as I could never imagine the pain that these families went through in having to send their children on their own to a new country where they potentially didn’t even know one person or relative. The museum features an incredibly moving display that depicts pictures of dozens of the Cuban children that migrated to Miami without any parents and were forced to create new lives for themselves in a completely foreign land. 

Apart from the this more recent history, the Museum of Art and Design does an incredible job at displaying the long-term history of Miami and Florida as a whole, as well as the European movement towards the west. The MOAD truly captured the history of the origins of Miami in a unique way because of the plethora of different ways in which they depict history through a multitude of installations such as painting, old maps and charts, and small artifacts. One of the main pieces that I took interest to was the chart that showed how early navigators would create maps and document water depths for future explorers to use. This truly always had been a topic that I was very intrigued in because I was always immensely curious as to how early explorers would be able to create maps by simply following along the coasts of lands and without any modern technology, so it was a great experience being able to see the progression of how these maps evolved over time into more detailed and accurate documents. All in all, learning about the rich history of Miami at the MOAD truly made me reflect on my own life and genuinely made me realize how many things we often take for granted in our day to day lives and the little things that we should always be thankful for.

*Due to the impact of Covid-19, we unfortunately were not able to visit these locations in person and the following reflections are based on the virtual walking tours which were created by Professor John William Bailly: Deering Estate Walking Tour, South Beach Walking Tour, and HistoryMiami Walking Tour.

Deering Estate as Text

“Scenes” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at the Deering Estate

In my past, I have sadly only visited the Deering Estate for a short amount of time when I took part in a beach cleanup event on Chicken Key, and due to this, I feel as if I haven’t gotten the full Deering Estate experience. Although, through the virtual Walking Tour, created by Professor John William Bailly, I have truly been able to gain a more rounded idea of everything that the Deering Estate has to offer. Ranging from incredible sceneries, immense amounts of history, natural beauty which one can explore, art exhibits, and a plethora of other opportunities in which one can take part in, the Deering Estate truly is one of the greatest landmarks which Miami has to offer. 

The island of Chicken Key, as previously mentioned, is one of my favorite aspects of the Deering Estate because of its natural beauty and peacefulness. Chicken Key is located roughly one mile off the shore of the Deering Estate in the beautiful waters of Biscayne Bay. The most common ways in which one can get out to Chicken Key are through kayaking and canoeing, and being an adventurous person, this is another big factor as to why I truly enjoy Chicken Key. The beach cleanup in which I took part in at Chicken Key is hands-down my favorite volunteering cleanup experience that I have ever been involved with because it was an experience like no other. Not only being able to canoe through the beautiful water of Biscayne Bay, but more importantly being able to fill up our canoes with trash and debris, and bringing it back to the mainland is an awesome experience because you are able to see the tangible impact in which one is making to help clean up the island. Taking part in this cleanup also made me realize first-hand the extent to which pollution truly impacts our planet because despite the fact that no one lives on the island, Chicken Key is still filled with immense amounts of pollution all throughout the island.

Apart from Chicken Key, the Deering Estate offers numerous other sports where one can enjoy some of the most beautiful views that Miami has to offer. For instance, the Deering Estate Boat Basin is one the best spots in Miami where one can enjoy an incredible landscape alongside Biscayne Bay, while also being able to see various types of sea life such as manatees, stingrays, and turtles. The supply of fresh water in the Boat Basin is a big factor as to why manatees are often seen here, and also because of the fact that they use its calm nature as a place to mate. The Boat Basin was completed in 1918 as a harbor for Charles Deering to hold his two boats. Two other spots from the Deering Estate in which one can enjoy some of Miami’s most breathtaking views are at the People’s Dock and Deering Point. The Deering Estate has made an incredible impact on the community by offering these two locations because of the fact that they are amongst some of the only places that offer free public access to Biscayne Bay for everyone. These locations offer a plethora of activities which visitors can take part in such as fishing, canoeing, picnicking, or simply taking in the incredible sceneries. All in all, the Deering Estate is a place unlike any other in Miami and I can’t wait to return in order to truly experience all that it has to offer first-hand.

South Beach as Text

Barbara Baer Capitman Memorial, Photo by JW Bailly CC BY 4.0

“Second Home” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at South Beach

One of Miami’s most notable landmarks, which attracts millions of tourists from all around the world every year, is the incredible South Beach. South Beach, also referred to as SoBe, is a neighborhood of Miami Beach which may be small in land area, but definitely does not fall short in providing a plethora of different activities which locals and tourists can take part in. Some of the most notable attractions of South Beach include incredible eateries, historic buildings, a renowned nightlife, activity-filled parks, and its world-famous beaches. Amongst these attractions, the beaches are definitely the most notable and are the primary sources of tourism in South Florida.

Being a local “Miami-an”, South Beach is a place where I have come to love and consider as a second home, despite never having lived there. Similar to thousands of other local residents, South Beach truly holds a special place in many of our lives because of the fact that we have either grown up coming here or have brought our families here on numerous occasions. South Beach is a place where one can go to forget about all their daily stresses and feel as if they are on vacation, despite only being several miles from home. I would often refer to South Beach as a second home of mine because of how often I would go to play beach volleyball at the well-known Lummus Park. Lummus Park is a beachfront park located alongside Ocean Drive, from 5th street to 15th Street, that includes dozens of different activities that individuals, or whole families, can take part in such as beach volleyball, rollerblading, biking, running, tanning, or even working out at Muscle Beach South Beach. By going to play volleyball so frequently, I was able to make a small community of friends that I would often see playing volleyball as well, and that culture of friendliness and happiness was always one of my favorite aspects of going to the beach. Every time I would play, I was always amazed and grateful to have the opportunity to play a sport that I love right in between some of Miami’s most famous landmarks, as to the east lied the beach and to west lied the legendary buildings and neon lights that encompass the Art Deco style of architecture that exists in South Beach.

Despite having visited South Beach my whole life, there are many things that I didn’t know about it in regard to its history, demographics, art, and influential people prior to reading the South Beach Walking Tour. One of the people in which I was most intrigued to learn about was Barbara Baer Capitman as she played one of the most crucial roles in helping make South Beach what it is today. Barbara Baer Capitman was a community activist who fought to protect South Beach’s Art Deco district and helped found the Miami Design Preservation League. If it wasn’t for Capitman’s fight to preserve the art deco style, South Beach would not be the same place it is today considering the fact that the art deco style is such a significant part of South Beach’s identity. All in all, South Beach is truly like no other place in the world as its people, art, history, and sceneries are all unique in their own special ways. 

HistoryMiami Museum as Text

“Our Roots” by Alejandro Ruiz-Paiz of FIU at the HistoryMiami Museum

I am extremely thankful that I have had the opportunity to visit the HistoryMiami Museum in person as it truly encompasses the whole history of Miami in a way that is not only informative, but also incredibly intriguing as well. By reading the HistoryMiami Museum Walking Tour I was able to virtually revisit all of the incredible artifacts and historical teachings that the museum has to offer. One of my favorite aspects of the museum that I always find to be really fascinating is the fact that you are taken on a journey of Miami’s history as you walk through the museum because it is structured in chronological order so one is able to follow the growth of Miami as a sort-of storyline.

A feature that makes the HistoryMiami Museum so unique, is the fact that it shows both the good and the bad of Miami’s history. This is a feature that is incredibly important because people often only know the positive sides of history because those are the ones that are most talked about, but by not learning about the negative sides of history we are often forgetting about the many lives and communities that could have been hurt along the way in creating the city in which we know today. Also, in reference to the well-known saying of “history tends to repeat itself,” by learning about both sides of history people could be able to make stronger decisions in assuring that history does not repeat itself when referencing times that had negative impacts on society. For instance, one of the displays within the museum that truly shocked me to learn about was one that pictured the presence of Ku Klux Klan members in Miami. Prior to this experience, I had never known that there was a large presence of racism and Ku Klux Klan members in the city of Miami due to the fact that it is not commonly talked about in many places. One reason as to why I probably felt that there was never a presence of racism in Miami is because of the fact that current-day Miami is a melting pot of people from all around the world, especially people from Latin American countries, and there is not much racism that is seen today. My lack of knowledge about that negative side of Miami’s history is a prime example of the importance, and the incredible impact that the HistoryMiami Museum has because it teaches us about the parts of history that we have overcome to become the city we are today. Similarly, another important part of Miami’s history that is highlighted within the museum is one which talks about the Tequesta tribe, which was a group of native people that lived in what is present-day Miami in the 18thcentury. The displays about the Tequesta people are incredibly important because of the fact that the Tequesta people are often forgotten by history, due to the fact that there is no existing knowledge about their language or any existing images of how they looked. One of my favorite aspects about the museum is the fact that it ties together all of Miami. For instance, there is a display which shows ancient Tequestan tools which were dug up from the grounds at the Deering Estate. This was truly a fascinating display to see because it tied together our different class excursions and showed how Miami’s history is connected to different landmarks around the city.

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