Maria Cruz: MIM Service Project (Spring 2020)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Service Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Spring of 2020. For her project, she spent a day volunteering at the Lotus House Women’s Shelter with her class.

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Photo by Katy Roth, edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Who & How

Quite frankly, the day my classmates and I spent volunteering at the Lotus House was one of my favorite offsite excursions. In recent years, most of the volunteering work I had completed was organizing events or activities of that manner for organizations, which was rewarding at the time because it allowed me to raise further awareness for their work and the impacts of supporting their efforts. However, because of the indirect nature of my positions, it has been a while since I contributed my personal time and efforts to face these issues head-on. This is why I was so interested in volunteering at the Lotus House since I first heard of the opportunity, and despite just how unprepared I initially felt when we showed up for our shifts I now feel more motivated than ever to help those whose struggles are being widely ignored in our community.

Where & Why

Despite the list of chores we had to complete and various hours of work, throughout our day at the Lotus House my classmates and I came to know many of its workers, the story of the women and children that seek their help, and the sanctuary’s mission. At the start of our volunteer shift, I was completely unaware of what the expectations set for us will be and how our involvement could benefit the center’s residents; however, our guides fro the day were very welcoming and forthcoming with information. They started off by telling us the Lotus House’s mission, how the facility recruits its workers to ensure the maintenance of operations, and just how grateful they, as a non-profit, are grateful for contributions of any kind. Immediately afterward, we began our work for the day. As the complex is large and is constantly offering services to its residents and outside members of the community, we were all split up into different groups and sent to complete separate tasks. There were those who went to sanitize, help out in the kitchens, and finally, the last group was asked to clear out the docking bay and help clean up for the arrival of new shipments. The final group of us were tasked with seemingly the most daunting responsibility — can you guess which one I was assigned to? Nonetheless, we started working immediately.

As we were clearing out the warehouse and separated the items into two separate categories for the items that were being donated and those that were being thrown out we learned more about the inner operations of Lotus House. First, the items that were being donated were actually being sent to their own thrift chic boutique whose proceedings go back to the center. Also, this shop runs one of its empowerment programs whose retail job training opportunities “assist[s] women, youth, and children experiencing homelessness improve the quality of their lives on every level and achieve greater self-sufficiency.” Once all the items were loaded into the truck and it was good to go we began a deep clean of the warehouse itself. While I was asked to help organize their “goodies” closet in the midst of this, I eventually rejoined my classmates and professors in this great task. Eventually, everything was squeaky clean and my group and I grabbed lunch with the classmates we were separated from. Wr ended the day by cleaning the communal areas on the floors of the apartment complex, with a new appreciation for the shelter and all the work it does for our community.


While this was a completely new experience for me, it is an opportunity I am truly grateful for having. Looking back on our time here, despite my own economic troubles and personal issues my time in this quarantine world has helped me realize that I am still a position of privilege. Our work at the Lotus House gave me a new perspective on what I, and our community, can do to support one another because no matter how small of a contribution you make, it can result in a grand difference in somebody else’s life. From clearing out the warehouse to sanitizing the common areas, we put maximum efforts in making sure everything was left squeaky clean. The shelter’s workers profusely thanked us for assisting them, expressing to us how despite their best efforts, the “village” (the rebranded name for this shelter) has become so large and there are so many daily operations they have to look over that sometimes menial tasks like these get pushed back.

We may have only spent half a day here, but I was really looking forward to going back and completing the remaining of my volunteer hours at the Lotus House — a sentiment I know I share with some of my classmates. After personally witnessing how they are making their mission a reality and the change this organization is making in Miami, I feel more empowered than ever to help combat the issues of homelessness and socioeconomic disparity in Miami. 

Maria Cruz: MIM Ineffable Miami Project (Spring 2020)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Ineffable Miami Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Spring of 2020. Acting as a tour guide for the prominent area of West Kendall these are her findings.

Student Biography

Photo by Jessica Horsham (CC by 4.0)

Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez is currently a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marketing. Fresh from her study abroad trip she completed this past summer in France with Professor Bailly she is in the midst of completing her final year at FIU, greatly looking forward to graduating in the Spring of 2020. Her travels abroad have reignited her interests in the arts, inspiring her to pursue a career focused on the intercultural aspects of international relations through non-traditional forms. Through her academic and future professional endeavors she aims to bring a holistic awareness between arts, politics, and cultural dynamics of the global arena. While her studies are a major focus of her life, outside of school she loves traveling, new places to eat, and hanging out with her friends — all things that can be found in FIU’s Honors College new course Miami in Miami and are bound to make for an exciting semester.


Located near the Everglades, West Kendall has come to epitomize what suburbia life in Miami is like. While its geographical boundaries are very limiting, most citizens overlook it and also classify the larger surrounding area as “West Kendall.” Littered with strip malls, school zones, and housing developments, I am one of the many that get to call it home. While I have lived here for less than a decade, I have witnessed great changes during this time as the natural environment was overtaken by the suburban world. It seems as if wherever you go here, the work is not complete — with development signs and construction sites littered throughout the entire area it is quite clear the neighborhood still has plans to expand. This continous growth is a great contrast to the established communities in Miracle Mile and Coral Gables, which was the study of my project for the previous semester. West Kendall does not represent the glamor and gaudiness of the city’s richest, rather it reflects the average life of most of its citizens.

Historical Insight

In terms of historical insight, there is not a lot to say about West Kendall. There is no official founding date, designated business center, nor museums dedicated to documenting life here before the 21st century. In comparison to my project for last semester, I had a more difficult time doing research for this project. Unlike Miracle Mile, the last neighborhood I explored, Kendall is not littered with memorial markers that provide pedestrians with the historical background of the area. Moreover, the archives of the Coral Gable and HistoryMiami Museums, two accessible sources that provide information about Miami’s past to the public, do not provide much data, if at all, about how West Kendall came to be. Thus, much of what I know about my own home is based on conjunction from other historical tidbits of Miami. For example, since this was one of the latest sections of the city to be developed after being bought by the State of Florida in 1883, a century ago all you would find here were swampy marshes and other natural habitats of the Everglades. 

I could not find the specific date the boundaries of this community were established nor when development of suburban areas began, but this area started to gain traction the latter half of the 20th century. Additionally, with the population boom and growth of the city, it is predicted that this neighborhood will be expanded to accommodate for even more residents. As a result, housing units have attempted to maximize their space to fit in as many residents as possible and with the houses and apartment buildings beginning to resemble even more West Kendall has lost its individuality. This showcases the socioeconomic standards of this area because in more affluent areas, like around Miracle Mile, the houses are known for their distinct styles as their owners show off the extent of their wealth.


Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Similar to the rest of Miami, there is not a lot of geographical diversity here. All around you will find flat plains of land (that are more often that not marked for construction), palm trees, and the occasional man-made lakes. One of the more distinctive “features” are the small stretches of land of native forests. While most of West Kendall has eradicated the natural environment that once flourished, it would not be the suburbs if each housing community did not have space for jogging, walking dogs, and other family-friendly activities that require open spaces. These observations are also applicable to Country Walk, The Hammocks, The Crossings, and the other surrounding “unincorporated communities” that Miami residents agree are also part of West Kendall. In addition to this, sites and places are spread far from each other to make room for shopping centers and housing sites, making getting around this neighborhood complicated if you do not own your own car.

Additional notes on greenery

There is not a lot of open greenery to admire in this area; however, as you drive around you will find small areas being visited by families or individuals looking to enjoy the outside. However, they are not as frequented as one would hope as our culture is not big on spending much time outdoors. This is a true shame because Miami’s biodiversity is truly unique and it would be amazing if more people began to appreciate the beauty of our tropical environment. There are a few recognized parks and public areas, such as the Kendall Indian Hammocks Park; yet, they offer limited opportunities for us to appreciate our surrounding nature as a lot of its features are man-made or minimized to make room for further construction. Often, some of these parks will be by school and viewed as an “extension” of these institutions as the limited space of this site calls for “dual purpose” areas. This leaves us with little to appreciate as we are overwhelmed with the city’s desire to develop shopping locales and property complexes. Over time, some residents have raised concerns about the environmental impact these practices have, yet these criticisms are often overlooked by city developers.

Additional notes on transportation

Transportation: Some of the biggest issues of living in West Kendall that ALL its residents agree upon are traffic congestion and lack of adequate access to public transportation. As this is one of the most populated areas of Miami you will always find yourself coming across some traffic on 88th street, no matter where you are planning on going. Even when you attempt to beat it, for example, me planning for an hour commute to and from school every day, you will never get to your destination when you expected to. This is one of the reasons we are accustomed to “running on Miami time.” Moreover, even though there are some stops for buses they are located in traffic-heavy areas that are dangerous to walk to and from, far from a people’s destinations, and a major inconvenience to access if you do not already own a car. 

Demographics and Interview

As previously mentioned, West Kendall is one of Miami’s most populated areas. Due to its appeal to those looking to settle down, the neighborhood has exponentially grown in the 21st century as people seek to settle in more “reasonably priced” and family-friendly areas. By living here, you get to experience the city without committing to the staggering costs of rent in downtown or the chaos of life in South Beach (the two major metropolitan areas that most people think of when they hear Miami). Nonetheless, as the price of living has gone up in the city its residents are still faced with similar socioeconomic issues found in other neighborhoods. While not as discernible as when you drive out from Coral Gables, it is still apparent that not everyone here lives a perfect suburbia life.

Miami’s society is known for its diverse cultural makeup and for my interview I wanted to get in touch with someone who fit this profile to get a more accurate depiction of life in West Kendall. As a Cuban immigrant I know my background reflects many of the neighborhood’s residents; however, I know my experiences are not universal and there are people that have different perspectives based on their own experiences. Thus, I contacted Izka Edmond who moved here from Haiti in 2010 and has now moved to New York to attend college there. I was especially interested in her insight as she is someone who has intimate knowledge of living in both the suburbs and the city.

What was your first impression of West Kendall? Was it difficult to get accustomed to your new home or was the community inviting?

My first impression of Kendall was of Hammocks Middle School. I had landed in Orlando the day before after flying in from Haiti because of the earthquake. I remember thinking it looks different to what I was used to [and that] it was clean too. It was difficult moving at first because I was living with my aunt and her family. After we were signed up for school my mom and dad returned to Haiti and my brothers and I had to stay with her for about six months. She immediately immersed us in our culture as much as she could in Miami, from Haitian- American Alliance clubs to going to other family members' houses, I think she did her best to keep us grounded. I struggled at school but it was because i was getting labeled the “earthquake kid” along with my friends rather than getting a chance to acclimate to my new surroundings.  I made friends on my first day of school and I still talk to them. So to answer your question, I think that in a way the community was welcoming but a lot of people wouldn’t get past their prejudices.

Growing up here, did you appreciate the suburbia life or did you prefer the bustle of Downtown and South Beach?

I never went to South Beach until I was, like, a senior in high school. I was so used to Suburbia that I was shocked that this was so close to me. I think suburbia has its charm but there is something about a city that creates a sort of freedom. Living in New York now (pre-Covid) it is easy to be entertained at all times.

What were the most memorable places that you frequented? Would your friends and past classmates also agree?

I really liked my ballet studio. If I’m honest I didn’t go anywhere much but my house because my mom was so protective. I remember Mcdonald’s after school in middle school and the Ice Arena. I really loved going to Tutti Frutti with friends. That shopping center where Publix is saw more of me than anywhere else in Miami I feel like. I think if you went to Hammocks and Varela there is a familiarity with those areas and I feel like there is a nostalgia that comes up when I go there. When I go there now I feel like I'm looking at it from an outsiders point of view. 

Do you hold any opinions regarding the recent boom of housing developments and continuous growth of the neighborhood?

To be honest, not really. I mean living there from 2010-2016 I definitely was curious seeing the new construction sparking up around town. 

Do you ever envision yourself moving back or do you think you’ve outgrown the place? Do you think this is a widely held sentiment amongst the kids that grew up here? 

I don't envision myself moving back. I do think I’ve outgrown Kendall and I don’t think I’m anywhere near the person I was when I lived there. Moving to New York for college was the best decision for me to make. I got to just experience life on my own and build opinions outside of those held in Kendall. I don’t think this is held by a lot of people. I see a lot of the people I knew in high school having kids and just settling down in Kendall but I also have friends who have moved away and are planning to start their lives elsewhere. I think it depends on the person and on their willingness to explore. 

Following this conversation I began to rethink my past observations and consider the validity behind others’ claims that this is one of the best neighborhoods to live in Miami. Despite my own bias, I can recognize that people’s experiences, no matter how different from mine they may be, deserve to be addressed as well. For example, as an immigrant from a developing country I was also amazed by the differences in my living situations in both countries; however, I always felt welcomed here and like my own ethnic background was respected. Throughout my expeditions with this class and follow-up reflections I have noticed a similar theme — no matter how picturesque an area may appear, there are always criticisms that need to be addressed due to the dynamic nature of different social environments. 


Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Life in West Kendall is what you expect from the suburbs; however, this tranquility and peace have their limits. As development throughout the area increases and more people have started to relocate here, noise pollution from construction, traffic, and other daily life activities are a constant nowadays. Well, at least in our pre-quarantine days. 

As someone that spent their teenage years here, there is still not a lot that can be said about activities or must-see places. While this may sound boring, and do not get me wrong it definitely can be when things get repetitive (i.e. when you have been in your house under lockdown for over a month because of a pandemic), at night it is a nice reprieve from the chaos of everyday life in Miami. Sometimes, we forget to appreciate just how nice the mundane can be.

Additional notes on landmarks

In terms of “landmarks,” the most interesting places to visit are the shopping malls that have varying shopping and dining options. However, if you are looking to get more active you can visit affordably-priced golf courses, a roller OR ice skating rink, skate park, arcade, or one of the local community parks. During the weekends you can find teens hanging out at the Kendall Ice Arena, meeting up at the closest Regals Cinema, or catching up over dinner at Panera. Pretty tame in comparison to the usual tales of Miami, right? 

Additional notes on food and businesses

One of the most unique things about West Kendall are their local businesses. As this area is populated mainly by immigrant families there are a lot of people that are looking to make their dreams of owning their own business and making a name for themselves. From food to shopping, there are more options than you would think of thriving independent businesses. While there is still the competition with national chains, such as Costco, Starbucks, and Target, you still see people going out to support food trucks, independent restaurants, and small businesses. For food, some of my top recommendations are: Tacos and Tattoos, Amici’s, Latin House, Bonjour Bakery, and Finka (this one is a bit further North but I have loved everything I have tried from their menu, and trust me I have tried a lot). There are also a variety of food trucks along 88th street that will be open on different nights of the week and people highly rave about!


Admittedly, there is not a lot that can be said about West Kendall; and thus, there is not a lot I can give my opinion on. Yet, despite the ultimate mundaneness of the area I cannot help but miss it every time I go away on long trips. Or how often I look forward to the quietness of my neighborhood when I am in bumper to bumper traffic on the Turnpike. While I would have loved to have further explored West Kendall, my time in quarantine has allowed me to appreciate this neighborhood like no other. Despite all the other uncertainties and problems I am facing because of this pandemic, I am still very blessed that I get to spend my time in such a safe and beautiful place like this. Despite all of this, I acknowledge that this is not the “perfect” nor the “best” place to live for all despite my own positive experiences. For example, there are still microaggressions that people from marginalized communities face from their own neighbors because of widely held preconceptions. There is also the matter of the declining health of our environment that despite the looming threat of climate change is going largely unaddressed as the county looks to develop more housing zones. Moreover, there can be improvements to how the locals socialize with one another, with there being more activities that promote community building and support. Needless to say, there are still opportunities for improvement that can be made to make others’ feel as welcome as I did. Miami is one of the country’s most dynamic cities, and as it continues to grow it is important for us to acknowledge and embrace the uniqueness of our cultural makeup.

Works Cited

Maria Cruz: MIM Ineffable Miami Project (Fall 2019)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Ineffable Miami Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Fall of 2019. Acting as a tour guide for the illustrious are of Miracle Mile these are her findings.

Student Biography

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez is currently a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marketing. Fresh from her study abroad trip she completed this past summer in France with Professor Bailly she is in the midst of completing her final year at FIU, greatly looking forward to graduating in the Spring of 2020. Her travels abroad have reignited her interests in the arts, inspiring her to pursue a career focused on the intercultural aspects of international relations through non-traditional forms. Through her academic and future professional endeavors she aims to bring a holistic awareness between arts, politics, and cultural dynamics of the global arena. While her studies are a major focus of her life, outside of school she loves traveling, new places to eat, and hanging out with her friends — all things that can be found in FIU’s Honors College new course Miami in Miami and are bound to make for an exciting semester.


Photo by Google Maps (CC by 4.0)

Located in the very center of Coral Gables, or what some people refer to as the “downtown” area of the city, Miracle Mile is one of Miami’s most distinguished sites. Stretching just 0.5 miles of the entirety of Coral Way, this section of the road perfectly embodies the affluent environment of the surrounding neighborhood. While it was initially founded in 1922, it was not until 1949 that Miracle Mile developed to be one of Miami’s leading centers for business and commerce, and garnering the interest (and investments) of the richest in the city. This statement is still relevant to this day as the area is known for its expensive boutiques, parking garages overrun by foreign luxury cars, pricy restaurants, and the leisure lifestyle of those with the highest socioeconomic status.

Historical Insight

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Recognized as one of the main streets for both the city of Coral Gables and the county of Miami-Dade, Miracle Mile has played an important role in the development of south Miami as it has transitioned to be one of America’s leading metropolitan areas. While Miracle Mile is merely a smaller portion of Coral Way it has its own distinguished history and has gained notoriety amongst locals and tourists alike.

Real estate developer George E. Merrick, who’s most well-known project was the establishment of the City of Coral Gables, had the original vision for Miracle Mile, laying out the design for it when he originally found Coral Gables. However, it was after the conclusion of World War II, in 1949, that the concept of Miracle Mile that has been preserved throughout the decades was “conceived, developed, and implemented,” by City Commissioner Rebyl Zain and her husband George K. Zain. The couples were able to transform Merrick’s earlier aspirations of introducing a successful commercial district to the area to what it currently is today. Acting as one of Miami’s main hubs of shopping and dining, attracting individuals of all ages as it provides a relaxed and leisure environment during the day and later changing to a more exciting atmosphere for its bustling nightlife. Therefore, whether its families looking to take their kids out on for a fun day or college students hoping for a fun night out there are plenty of activities to do in this small boulevard and its surrounding areas. 

While I had visited Miracle Mile before starting this project, I had never been as observant of my surroundings nor spent so much time there. All of my experiences, like many of my friends, have been limited to merely driving by as we are heading to another destination in Coral Gables or stopping by to dine at the latest trending restaurant. Yet, after my prolonged time there I came to the realization that it is one of the few areas in Miami that I have found throughout my months of re-exploration of the city with the class that makes it a goal to share their historical significance and preserve its original mission. Still despite all the plaques of its grand successes and innovation Miracle Mile, and Coral Gables in general, largely ignores its impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods. Being one of Miami’s richest neighborhoods, visiting the city feels like being in a completely different state. There is wider access to public transportation, more open areas for walking, cleaner streets, less intense traffic (aside from U.S. 1), and more local businesses — all things not associated with the average Miami experience. It is quite evident that the resources allocated here are not equal to other places throughout the county. The realities of their residents and those that frequent the shopping boulevard is so distinct from a majority of Miami’s residents that one can not help to be equally amazed and disillusioned.


Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

Much like the rest of Miami, Miracle Mile is a completely flat stretch of road that is at the mercy of the surrounding mercurial, tropical environment. Many (like myself before the start of this project) assume that Miracle Mile encompasses the entirety of the main road, but it is in fact just the portion of the Coral Way between Douglas Road and Le Jeune Road. This designated section was officially named “Miracle Mile” in 1955, its name referring to the hope its developers had for this new venture to bring economic revenue to the area following the Great Depression.

My initial interest in Miracle Mile and desire to further explore it for this project is mainly due to the fact that it is one of the few places I know of in Miami where you can explore its entirety by foot and in a reasonable time. Even more importantly, it is one of the few developed areas in Miami where you can freely walk without fear of running into a crazy driver. Despite us being so advanced, Miami was never supposed to become the grand city it is; therefore, the original city plans that were built upon throughout the decades of development are often criticized for the spacing and public transportation it has caused. As someone who has lived a majority of their life in the suburbs, Miracle Mile is especially interesting because it offers the complete opposite to what I am accustomed to.

Additional notes on greenery

Unsurprisingly, aside from the palm trees lining the road there is not much greenery to be seen in Miracle Mile. This is just one of the many areas of Miami that have been overrun with buildings and paved roads, where the expansive landscape of mangroves and other natural habitats have been sacrificed for the sake of modernity. The most noticeable patch of green is by the City Hall where there is a small park for children; however, this is by no means a significant amount of land, especially when compared to how many concrete and limestone structures dominate the remaining streetscape. 

Additional notes on transportation

As previously mentioned, Miami does not have the best track record with public transportation — a commonly said phrase amongst its locals is that “if you do not have a car, you are not getting anywhere.” However, this is one of the few areas that can actually be accessed through public transportation, both through the Metro Rail and city trolley, if you choose to not drive over. Moreover, there is plenty of space for those who wish to ride bicycles, scooters, or any other form of pedestrian-vehicle along the sidewalks and open streets.

Interview and Demographics

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

During my time exploring Miracle Mile, I had two guests with me, Victoria Suarez and Gustavo Tovar — two students of the University of Miami and are frequent visitors of Miracle Mile. Their short distance from the area means that they often frequent it and have vastly more knowledge than me on the latest activities and trending spots. Below are some of the highlights of my interview with them.

As college students what stands out the most to you about Miracle Mile and Coral Gables in general?

 V: I would say the sense of community that defines the neighborhood because even though these places that are off-campus everyone always frequents them, so it’s become this “campus off-campus” site. Like how we just saw Ameer (a friend of theirs from the same university we ran into earlier in the day), and he was stepping off-campus to unwind for a bit before going back. So it’s a very welcoming environment for a lot of people.                                                                                                                                           
G: I think for me I like the rich history the most. Like I find it beautiful that the buildings are still very much old and historic, I love the limestone and mixture of architectural styles for the buildings... It’s also not often that you see so many preserved locations, such as the old movie theater and city hall, in Miami.

Now that you have pointed out the differences, does this area remind you more of Miami or places outside of the city (or states)?

V: I still think it’s very much Miami.
G: I think for me this place is definitely an anomaly in the sense of what Miami is made up of, because if you go to [the suburbs where we live] it’s not historical or well kept like this.
V: Right, so that’s why [Miracle Mile] is seen as the center of the city, because it’s where you see the best of what we have to offer manifest itself.
G: I understand that perspective but I think it’s equally important to note the dichotomy between the old and new, and how that influences our community’s (as a whole) perspectives on these locations. So, Coral Gables and similar areas are seen as “the real Miami” and everywhere is else is kind of like a background.

In comparison to the suburbs where you live and grew up in, do you prefer this area or your home?

G: I like this place better because I feel like there’s a lot of walking distance you can cover on your own and a variety of associated activities... as opposed to where we live where you need a car to get anywhere.
V: It’s like a good middle ground between the city and the suburbs, you get a good mix of both so it’s easier to both navigate and live in.
G: My only issue is how horrendous the parking situation is.
V: And the city planning as well, like we were just talking about how this city wasn’t built to be as big as it is now. So while these are some major downsides it’s justified.

Off the top of your head, what is the top place you recommend visiting in Miracle Mile?

V: Coral Gables Art Cinema, the local theater, and Books & Books are at the top of my list. I think these are places a lot of people will enjoy visiting. I also know they host a few festivals near the main street throughout the year, like this art one that’s put up in the Spring, so that’s something I would recommend as well because of it’s accessibility.
G: Those are my top recommendations as well, but every time I come to try a new restaurant here I always have a good time, so I would tell others to explore the restaurant options based on their preferences. Even if you’re a local and frequent the area, Miracle Mile is an area where there’s constantly something new to try out.                                                                                                      

Aside from the candidness of their responses, what was most interesting to me was how their individual answers resonated with my own observations and thoughts. Living in Miami, there is always so much going on that it is impossible to pay attention to it all simultaneously. As a result, many (including myself) stick to their daily routines and forget that there are more people than just yourself and your small bubble of friends, family members, and acquaintances. This disconnection from your local community makes you think that you are alone in your experiences, which I have felt many times before, but it is important to remember that this is not the reality. This is definitely an idea I have reconciled throughout our different class expeditions this semester and my individual explorations for this project.

I also chose two college-aged individuals to interview because when I have visited Miracle Mile in the past it was very evident that it is an area frequented more by those in younger generations, and the statement still stands. While there were some families out together, when I was there researching for the project I saw a lot more people around my age range. This may be surprising to some as Coral Gables as a whole is seen as a very family-friendly residential area and higher price points of the luxury boutiques and popular restaurants tend to repel younger people; however, there is no doubt the proximity of UM has skewed the demographics of the city’s most known locations. This is especially discernible at night where you will find the crowds from open businesses spilling out into the sidewalks as hundreds of people are trying to get into the trendiest spots. Therefore, while they may not visit Miracle Mile to shop or drop obscene amounts of money, they still show up because of their attraction to its bustling environment and desire to partake in the many ongoing activities. 


Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

When you first arrive at Miracle Mile the most notable thing is its extensive space for pedestrians and recreational activities alike. This open planning allows for a casual and relaxed ambiance for the day before enhancing the dynamic energy of the boulevard at night. There are barely any areas left in Miami that have preserved this type of versatile environment, choosing instead to adapt to the rules of uniformity of modern urban planning — much to the dismay of our community and local businesses. Overall, this section is very reminiscent of Europe to me as streets just like it are found all throughout and getting the chance to explore them was one of my favorite activities during my travels there. From seeing friends riding bikes together to artists painting en plein air in the sidewalks my time at Miracle Mile was a very refreshing break from the chaos that my Miami life is. This is one of the key reasons why this road is one of the remaining developments of its type that has “maintained its original purpose and significance” in the continental United States.

Additional notes on landmarks

Due to the short length of this road there are not many notorious landmarks around; however, the ones that are present are important in adding to the cultural richness of the street and by default the city. Of political importance is not just Coral Gables’ historic City Hall but the various embassies that are found near the main street as well. These locations have played significant roles in Miami’s development in both the domestic and international arena, and as a result, have made the local area even more illustrious than it originally was. Moreover, there are several markers located along the street that informs visitors of past figure and events that were major contributors to forging Mr. Merrick’s dreams into a reality. There are also places like the Coral Gables Art Cinema and Books & Books (as previously discussed in the interview) that are well known in our local community. These are hallmark places that through the widespread appreciation of Miami residents have been embedded into the image of Miracle Mile.

Additional notes on food and businesses

As the heart of the Central Business District there are constantly new locales to visit, even more so since the boulevard’s redesigning to attract more tourists and keep up with the modern demands of locals. Still, the original beauty and elegance of this street are standards that have been upheld by local merchants, adding a layer of authenticity to the surroundings that many developed cities are currently lacking. The businesses on Miracle Mile are more than just luxury boutiques and pricey eateries; despite, the superficial beliefs of consumer culture their presence reinforces they have played an equal role in creating a distinct neighborhood that has allowed them to preserve this sense of community so many desperately seek.


Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

The term “ineffable” refers to a concept that is “too great or extreme” to be merely described in words, something I definitely think is applicable to my findings of Miracle Mile. For example, for me, my personal exploration of this sector was a great reinforcer of past societal and cultural judgments I have made of my home city, Miami. As a thriving downtown boulevard, this reality of the people that live in this area is vastly different from my own, from the resources allocated to there to peoples’ perception of its cultural value. Solely by traveling to and from there, you can see the substantial economic disparity between residents from that area and the rest of the city. Miracle Mile is merely a microcosm for a much larger issue that plagues our home, and these are topics that have barely been acknowledged by those in power that are capable of introducing the necessary means for change. While spending a day there is fun for all that go, I could not discuss the beauty of it without recognizing the many problems that are widely ignored because of the illusions of refinement and excellence centers like this cover up. It is important to remind visitors, like I have been thanks to the themes tackled in this class, that there is much more to our original appreciation of a location.

Works Cited

Maria Cruz: MIM Service Project (Fall 2019)

This post is dedicated to Maria Cruz’s Service Project she had to complete for her Honors course in the Fall of 2019. For her project, she worked directly with Art Miami at their Aqua Art Miami fair during Miami Art Week.

Photos and edits by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

If I could describe my time at Aqua Art in one word it would be unforgettable. As a first time worker at an event of this magnitude, there were a lot of factors I had not originally expected to encounter and definitely a lot of new obstacles to overcome. Still, I put forth my maximum energy and effort and managed to survive the week, making my time there one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. While my official title was “Exhibitor Services Lead” I, alongside the rest of the fair’s small team, were involved with all the aspects of production. From December 1st to the 9th we all dedicated the entirety of our days to put up, run, and clean up an entire art festival. There is also the fact that this being hosted during Miami Art Week — a globally renowned event that draws in thousands of tourists and art appreciators alike from all over the world to the city. While I had an understanding of the pressures that this position came with when I first signed on to the work the fair reality is always much different than your original expectations. Nonetheless, it is something I am immensely proud of taking a part in.

Photos and edits by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

I originally got in contact with Art Miami after an opportunity Professor Bailly presented us with; yet, my original expectations were not to work the Aqua Art Fair. Still, once I was presented with this new position I was extremely excited by the prospects. While there were very difficult and tiring times – my team and I were working over 10-hour long days in attempts to meet the very high expectations of us – it was immensely fulfilling to see how successful we were. Aside from it being the first time I would get an extensive look at the background scenes of a Miami Art Week event, the premise of the fair actually correlates with my studies of international relations. Thus, by taking on this endeavor I not only got to directly help in enriching my community, but I also spent the week engaging with topics and issues that will benefit my future academic and professional initiatives. As stated in their mission on their website, Aqua Art “has consistently earned critical recognition for presenting vibrant and noteworthy international art programs.”

Photos and edits by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

As someone who has had her interest in the arts reignited and is pursuing a career focused on the intercultural aspects of global affairs through non-traditional forms, my work at the event has gave me a newfound appreciation for the influence of the contemporary art world. Both in Miami and internationally, individuals’ modes of expression through art is largely ignored and I hope to bring a holistic awareness between arts, politics, and cultural dynamics of the global arena with my future career. However, before I can accomplish this feat I am aware I have to start on a smaller scale. Getting involved with Art Miami and actively participating in Miami Art Week made me realize just how much we, as a community, are lacking in providing adequate support systems for artists and their works. Whether their pieces focus on immigration, environmental degradation, or any other current event topics these individuals’ efforts in spreading awareness for these issues go beyond the political implications. Historically, artists have helped societies have a broader understanding of sociocultural issues; however, what many fail to realize is that their roles have not changed, they have merely adapted their mediums of expression. This is why, if given the chance, I urge every student, no matter what their academic background, is to get involved with cultural programs because I can guarantee with art you will always find something that inspires or enlightens you.

Maria Cruz: Miami in Miami As Texts

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez is a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marketing. Fresh from her study abroad trip she completed this past summer in France with Professor Bailly she is in the midst of completing her final year at FIU, and looking forward to graduating in the Spring of 2020. While her studies are a major focus of her life, outside of school she loves traveling, new places to eat, and hanging out with her friends — all things that can be found in FIU’s Honors College new course Miami in Miami and are bound to make for an exciting semester. Below are her reflections of the these experiences throughout the academic year.

Miami Metro as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Redefining Miami,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Miami on September 11, 2019

For many, art is viewed as the height of a society’s culture. Whether it has historical relevance or ties to the modern scene, a city’s association with art has been a defining factor in its cultural value — and consequently, an individual’s appreciation of these locations. Despite Miami being one of the United State’s most popular metropolitan areas, and my home for the past 17 years, it is a place I took for granted for many reasons. For one, it lacked the cultural appeal and charm that other cities, such as Los Angeles and New York City, are renowned for. For example, in terms of the arts, we are seemingly lacking in widespread access and appraisal. As someone who spent the summer throughout Europe studying the origins of some of the most important artistic developments in the world, the opportunities to view the masterpieces of Monet, Da Vinci, and Caravaggio on a regular basis is something I have increasingly mourned. In many parts of the world, art, in all its forms, is something that is greatly appreciated by the public and largely celebrated; however, the same can not be said for Miami. Or well, that is what I used to believe. Throughout our class excursion day, it became even more clear to me that I could not be more wrong.

With art pieces strung throughout metro station stops and university museums, the city of Miami is investing in enhancing its culture, and in turn, redefining its residents’ cultural values. In our modern-day, art is not limited to the banquet halls of châtalets and internationally known museums for the privileged to visit, but it has transformed to become a public act for all to enjoy. Whether it be the domino themed walkways or recreations of sculptures, art has increasingly become accessible in the city, opening many to the importance of it. For many years, I, and millions of others, merely associated Miami with the art deco style that dominated the look of its downtown area. However, I now know that the city’s ties to art have deeper historical connections, going back several centuries to the times of El Greco. Even more recently, artists such as Purvis Yung have contributed to the contemporary art scene in Miami, reforming people’s views on modern art and its association with the city. I was truly astonished at just how much we discovered by spending just one day using the metro. While I cannot help but lament over all the years and experiences I missed, I cannot be more excited to discover the other hidden gems of Miami and form the relationship with my home that I have missed out on these past 17 years.

Downtown Miami as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Ground Zero,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Downtown Miami on September 25, 2019

With just over a century of its existence, Miami is one of the most unique urban areas I have encountered. Being established in 1896, Miami is one of the youngest major cities in the U.S., still in the midst of developing and forming its identity. The history of the city began with Julia Tuttle’s spirit of entrepreneurship, and since then has become a place for individuals from all backgrounds to start their new lives  — a ground zero, if you will. From the start, Miami has reflected the values and cultures of its everchanging population, making all those that seek its solace feel welcomed. It has become the home of countless marginalized communities, and I, a Cuban immigrant who regularly speaks Spanish outside of my house and can go to a local cafeteria to get a cafecito can attest to that fact. But the reputation of the city was elevated by the artists that found inspiration in this tropical paradise, Haitian and Puerto Rican refugees who sought to rebuild their lives, members of the LGBT community who found themselves accepted, and millions of others that have come to call Miami their home.

Despite this progress, the city is not immune to the tragedies the rest of American history is plagued with. From racism to misogyny, Miami is still dealing with its “problematic past”(as our professor refers to it) and its modern-day implications. Tuttle’s efforts are ignored for the economic achievements of Henry Flagler, the city’s involvement in the violent persecution of Native populations is disregarded,  and its involvement in the discriminatory racial policies of the South is largely omitted from its historical narrative. Therefore, it is imperative that the younger generations, who are still living with the consequences of these actions, do not ignore our past. Rather, as a local community, we must come together to confront these issues while we are in the midst of making history and have the time to make a change. 

Deering Estate as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“From Fossils to Modern Politics: The Value of the Deering Estate,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at the Deering Estate on October 13, 2019

Following its unmarked paths and navigating through the dense forestry of the Deering Estate you will find yourself in the parts of Miami that are unknown to a majority of the public. With its acres of undeveloped terrain, thriving flora, and undisturbed wildlife, it felt like I was transported from the city I grew up in to a land far, far away. From the Paleolithic era to the times of the Tequesta, the area Charles Deering’s luxurious estate was built on is the very site of centuries of history and environmental splendor. Getting the opportunity to walk through such valuable land, retracing the very steps our ancient animal and human neighbors did, is an opportunity that I never thought I would get to experience in such a “new” and developed city like Miami. Our exploration of the estate was one of the most impactful on-site lectures of the semester for me as it directly exposed me to the historical value of Miami, which, despite my many years of residence here, is something that I have not grasped the full depth of. This lack of awareness partly comes from locals’ unfamiliarity with the subject, which can be blamed on the local government’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of such a past for the sake of future ideals.

Our time at the Deering Estate was enhanced by the presence of its director, Jennifer Tisthammer, as she accompanied us throughout our exploration of the grounds, acting as a personal guide for us. As a group we traversed the pine rockland and hardwood hammock, learning more about the sabor tooth tigers that once roamed the land and the native communities that would years later settle into the same area. However, some of the most important pieces of information I learned that day was not about the history of the estate itself, but rather its modern-day conditions. In a candid conversation, Jennifer spoke about the many issues she has faced throughout her time as director to ensure the estate’s maintenance as a public establishment for the enjoyment and enhancement of the community. From dealing with local politics and its leaders to branching out to schools for research programs, Jennifer and her team have countlessly attempted to preserve the land and the centuries of history contained within it. As someone who studies international relations, I must admit I have a tendency to overlook issues in local politics; however, Jennifer’s words reminded me that if you want there to be any change in this world, you must always start off in your own community.

Chicken Key as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Just us, some hermit crabs, glass bottles, and the haunting reality of the state of our planet,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at Chicken Key on October 23, 2019

Our journey to Chicken Key started off quite simple; however, what we were able to accomplish by the end of the day was remarkable. For my peers and me, our day of exploration was filled with many challenges, but without these obstacles we were forced to confront and overcome we would not have been as enlightened on the environmental problems plaguing our local areas. My time in the mangroves demanded I keep up with a level of physicality and awareness that I had not been directly exposed to in a long time, and as a result, my experience has impacted me beyond my original expectations.

Immediately following our canoe ride to the island we were met with a site of chaos, to put it simply. Amongst the trees and hermit crabs were endless pieces of plastic, shards of glass, and countless of other discarded objects that do not belong in such a scenic location. However, much to our surprise the present conditions of Chicken Key were exacerbated the more we got to explore — the further we walked along the shore from our original parking site, the worse things seemed to be. While I was aware of the pollution issues in Miami beaches and other nearby water sources, my day out in Chicken Key was definitely a moment of awakening on how grand this dilemma is in our community. One would originally assume with how pressing of a topic this is our local government would be proactive in matters where our national one is lacking, but what I witnessed out there proved that this is definitely not the case. It is up to us, individual citizens, to unite and protect our own “backyards” because what we found in Chicken Key is not an isolated incident, but rather a microcosm of a much bigger problem that is being continuously ignored. Without us being proactive in this issue, there is no telling of what lays ahead for us. The reality of environmental degradation and its disastrous effects are not our future, their our present, and without any immediate action, we are dooming the land we are dependent on, the many animals that are under our protection, and ourselves. Canoeing back to the Deering Estate, all those that volunteered alongside me knew that we were not just carrying back all these pounds of trash on us, but also the burden of sharing the reality of what we witnessed.

Wynwood as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Analog,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at Wynwood on November 6, 2019

Founded in the early 20th century, modern-day Wynwood has come a long way from its farming origins. Now, internationally recognized as the center of Miami’s contemporary art scene, Wynwood and its many trendy locales are seen as the epitome of ingenuity and creativity. As a Miami native, I have spent years hearing the most entertaining anecdotes from those that have braved downtown traffic to pay this spot a visit; however, throughout our time there this week, it became evident to me that behind the trendy brunch spots and nightlife scene there is much more to the charm of this district. Getting to explore the many artworks housed in the  Margulies and de la Cruz (located in the very near Design District) private collections exposed me to a whole new world of analysis and appreciation.

While I had studied the principles of contemporary art back in high school, seeing photos of art in textbooks is never quite the same as viewing the pieces in person. Especially when it comes to such a multidimensional movement. From the alchemist inspired works of Anselm Kiefer to the professions of love by Félix González-Torres, I saw reflections of my own personal life in their art. These were not singled out occurrences, from Magdalena Abakanowicz, Kishio Suga, Wade Guyton, and the many other artists we were exposed to, no matter what medium their work was, I found myself identifying with various aspects of their messages and reflecting on the application of these ideas in my daily life. With the guidance of Martin Margulies and Daniel Clapp, I began to better understand just how impactful modern art can be, whether from local or international artists,  despite its dismissal of it by many. These works of art and their influence is something that should be recognized as one of the many beauties of Miami (aside from that mere week of Art Basel), and not seen as the “hidden Miami secret” my classmates and I originally assumed. Getting to see these contemporary work we found our stories heard, our struggles shared, and our ideas validated — something every individual should have the joy of experiencing.

HistoryMiami as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“It’s Not Just Us,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at HistoryMiami on November 20, 2019

Miami has its many secrets, leaving us to ponder the reality of what we have been told of its past and the modern-day implications of these “facts.” As I have discovered these past few months, its real history can be found in stories unwritten, photos unfound, buried scandals, and most important of all, the individuals whose existence was purposefully erased from its history. However, the sad reality is that this is only a microcosm of a much larger issue of neglect that plagues the majority of the world.

At HistoryMiami our educator, Maria Moreno, exposed us to the parts of Miami that go uncovered in our school curriculum — which is to say, a majority of it. From the good to the bad, the stories she told illustrated the harsh realities of settling into the problematic, tropical environment that Florida encompasses. While the topics we covered during our tour of the museum pertained to heavy subject matters, these are important conversations about our home that we do not have. Whether this be on purpose (most likely) or not, it would be a disservice to us and the thousands, possibly millions, that have suffered due to such disregard. These issues are of importance now more than ever because the imperial and racists attitudes of the individuals that established our state and country still have influence today, no matter how much people claim progress has been made. Even outside of the museum, the history behind the Gesu Catholic Church and Freedom Tower shows the need for more awareness of the plights of minorities and other marginalized groups. As a Cuban immigrant myself, I was exposed at a young age to implications of sociopolitical challenges so this a cause I am sympathetic for; however, what concerns me are the millions of others I have seen been exposed to in recent years that violently opposed to such an effort. Yet, people still want to claim America is the “leader of the free world.”

Miami Art as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Miami Art Week Marked by Banana Craze,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at Miami Art Week in December 2019

Since its founding, Miami Art Week has brought thousands of new, unique individuals to the city, and it is definitely an event no one in the city wants to miss. For me, I spent several years merely listening to the many stories of those that attended, always amazed at the increasing levels of absurdity and spectacle these events attracted. However, after my involvement with one of the fairs hosted this year I have a completely different perspective, and experience, with these infamous art shows.

By far, the most memorable occurrence of this year was the banana taped to the wall that sold for $120,000. Although my classmates did not attend the show in which this piece was exhibited, nor did I, it was all everyone talked about. From the most educated in modern fine art to the average citizen that heard about it from a news show highlight, this story swept the week and took everyone by interest. Yet, my own curiosity in it did not derive from the “artwork” itself, but rather its ability to get an entire community to intensely engage with the contemporary art world. Originally, I had assumed I was so informed on this situation because of the environment I had surrounded myself with for the week, but when I would discuss with my friends, peers, and family members the other events of the week this topic was always brought up. It was quite different to see so many people from my everyday life engage in discussions about the piece, whether they be good or bad, and talk about the implications of it. However, my hope is to see these same people engage with art throughout the year and not just during this season, especially when Miami is such a unique location whew there is always something to derive inspiration from.

Everglades as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“It’s Just Our Backyard (And Yet),” by Maria Cruz of FIU at Everglades National Park on January 22, 2020

Emerged in swampy water up to my knees, using a walking stick to navigate around treacherous roots, and keeping a wary eye out for crocodiles is not how I imagined spending a Wednesday morning. Much less when Miami was experiencing one of its coldest weeks in recent years. Yet, there I was surrounded by my equally as skeptical classmates and very enthusiastic professor as Park Ranger Dylann Turffs led us in our exploration of the Everglades. The first and last time I visited the national park was in elementary school when my class was invited to go on an airboat ride of the mangroves and a small tour of the park. A much less daunting experience than what we were currently doing, yes, but also much less memorable. 

Despite the less than ideal weather conditions and few slips in the slough, my time spent exploring made for an unforgettable afternoon. Wading through the depths of the cypress dome and getting to personally interact with the surrounding landscape gave me a newfound appreciation for Everglades — a sentiment I know I share with my peers. If it were not for this class trip, I do not think I would have taken the chance on an opportunity like this. Ever. In its entirety, the park spans 1.5 million acres all across South Florida, contains 9 different habitats, and is home to countless species of animals varying in sizes. Learning about the diversity and magnitude of the environment is intimidating on its own, facing the reality of it was on a different level. Especially for someone that has rarely interacted so closely with the wildlife of Florida and is trying to cope with the possibility of coming across a crocodile. Yet, I was able to quickly overcome these fears and enjoy the time I got to spend there. My day at the everglades was marked by moments of reflection, contentment, and, most importantly, a desire to complete my quest in discovering the other hidden adventures in Miami and redefine what my home means to me.

South Beach as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Under the Veil of Glamor,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at South Beach on February 19, 2020

The early 20th-century was a time for great developments and advancements in America, ushering in a new era of innovation in the country. As countries began to interact with one another and exchange ideas and beliefs between their citizens the first few decades of the century saw many important cultural changes. For Americans this included witnessing the rise of art nouveau and art deco buildings, being exposed to the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald and other authors of the Lost Generation, getting involved with newly booming agriculture and industrial markets, and immersing themselves in the drama and mystery that surrounds old Hollywood — all things that we still glorify to this day. Yet, there were other events that spoke to the shortcomings of the land of the free that we choose to overlook to maintain this idealized image of our past. While this veil of glamor and riches did not come to cover the streets of South Beach until later in the century, the tales of grandeur that surround the heart of the city echoes those of the rest of the country.

With society’s focus on the shining riches of new-age stars and opulent decor of high-rise buildings, many of the issues that plagued the poor and marginalized communities in America were neglected. The founding of Miami itself, from South Beach to the surrounding areas, can attest to such a fact. With society’s focus on the shining riches of new-age stars and opulent decor of high-rise buildings, many of the issues that plagued the poor and marginalized communities in America were neglected. The founding of Miami itself, from South Beach to the surrounding areas, can attest to such a fact. During a time of workers’ right violations, rising racial and ethnic tensions, and emerging conversation efforts, amongst many other important social movements, you have millionaires coming down to Florida and developing land for frivolous motives and taking advantage of the misfortunes of the local population. A pattern that we still see to this day. While our class is centered on discovering Miami, this particular day of exploration left me thinking about our relationship to this rest of America. As a local, it is quite easy to feel detached from anything past Ft. Lauderdale; however, our time in South Beach served as a reminder to me that we are not isolated from the historic and social frameworks that influenced the development of the country. With society’s focus on the shining riches of new-age stars and opulent decor of high-rise buildings, many of the issues that plagued the poor and marginalized communities in America were neglected. The founding of Miami itself, from South Beach to the surrounding areas, can attest to such a fact.

With society’s focus on the shining riches of new-age stars and opulent decor of high-rise buildings, many of the issues that plagued the poor and marginalized communities in America were neglected. The founding of Miami itself, from South Beach to the surrounding areas, can attest to such a fact. During a time of workers’ right violations, rising racial and ethnic tensions, and emerging conversation efforts, amongst many other important social movements, you have millionaires coming down to Florida and developing land for frivolous motives and taking advantage of the misfortunes of the local population. A pattern that we still see to this day. From Henry Flagler and Carl Fisher to even Julia Tuttle, we speak very grandly about these figures’ historical role in our city but fail to mention the negative impacts of their actions and the legacy they established.

While our class is centered on discovering Miami, this particular day of exploration left me thinking about our relationship to the rest of America. As a local, it is quite easy to feel disconnected from any place past Ft. Lauderdale; however, our time in South Beach served as a reminder to me that we are not isolated from the historic and social frameworks that influenced the development of the country, but a microcosm to a much larger matter that needs to be addressed.

Lotus as Text

“Help Others, Help Yourself,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at the Lotus House on March 11, 2020

Quite frankly, the day my classmates and I spent volunteering at the Lotus House was one of my favorite offsite excursions. In recent years, most of the volunteering work I had completed was organizing events or activities of that manner for organizations, which was rewarding at the time because it allowed me to raise further awareness for their work and the impacts of supporting their efforts. However, because of the indirect nature of my positions, it has been a while since I contributed my personal time and efforts to face these issues head-on. This is why I was so interested in volunteering at the Lotus House since I first heard of the opportunity, and despite just how unprepared I initially felt when we showed up for our shifts I now feel more motivated than ever to help those whose struggles are being widely ignored in our community. 

Despite the list of chores we had to complete and various hours of work, throughout our day at the Lotus House my classmates and I came to know many of its workers, the story of the women and children that seek their help, and the sanctuary’s mission. While this was a completely new experience for me, it is an opportunity I am truly grateful for having. Looking back on our time here, despite my own economic troubles and personal issues my time in this quarantine world has helped me realize that I am still a position of privilege. Our work at the Lotus House gave me a new perspective on what I, and our community, can do to support one another because no matter how small of a contribution you make, it can result in a grand difference in somebody else’s life. From clearing out the warehouse to sanitizing the common areas, we put maximum efforts in making sure everything was left squeaky clean. The shelter’s workers profusely thanked us for assisting them, expressing to us how despite their best efforts, the “village” (the rebranded name for this shelter) has become so large and there are so many daily operations they have to look over that sometimes menial tasks like these get pushed back.

While we only spent half a day here, I was really looking forward to going back and completing the remaining of my volunteer hours at the Lotus House — a sentiment I know I share with some of my classmates. After personally witnessing how they are making their mission a reality and the change this organization is making in Miami, I feel more empowered than ever to help combat the issues of homelessness and socioeconomic disparity in Miami.

Deering Estate as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“The Estate’s Past, Present, and Future,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at Deering Estate in March 2020 

With its cottage and stone houses, nature preserve, and unique topography the Deering Estate is one of the most exciting sites I have visited in Miami. From reading this description, one might think that this is some far-off hideaway when, in reality, the Deering Estate is an easily accessible public area. Not only is the Estate a place of major historical and cultural importance to our local community, but with its winding paths, roaming fauna, and flowing streams you easily get lost in the beauty of its scenic environment. That says a lot from someone who has hiked the Alps before. Throughout my many visits to the Deering Estate, I have been exposed to opportunities that have given me a new perspective on Miami, its unknown past, and the potential for its future. From walking along the paths of our “geographic ancestors” (as my professor so eloquently put it) to kayaking out to mangroves and seeing firsthand the effects of pollution on our land, I have been inspired to become a more active participant in our community. After living in Miami for so many years, I have slowly felt more disconnected from my home as my dreams of traveling have grown; however, I more now impassioned to connect with my fellow residents and make them aware of the important lessons I have learned during my various trips to the Estate. Whether this knowledge was the byproduct of my professor’s lectures, a guide’s expertise, or my own moments of reflection, I now recognize that no matter how powerless you may initially feel, if you make an effort you are guaranteed to make an impact in your community.

The Deering Estate is one of the few remaining environmental preserves located in Miami-Dade County, offering refuge to both animals and humans alike from the chaotic setting of city life. The first time I visited the site I was amazed by how well conserved this open and flourishing landscape is, and as we went through our day I felt increasingly disconnected from the urban world and reconnected with the natural one. This kind of reprieve is not common in a city like Miami that seems as if it will never stop developing and expanding. My first expedition of the site was just as lively as my final one, and as my classmates and I walked along the Rock Ridge, gazed at Biscayne Bay, and explored the Tequesta Midden I always found new things to appreciate — things I was not aware our city had to offer until a year ago. While I am thankful for Charles Deering’s personal efforts in preserving this land, my true appreciation goes to the Tesquesta’s who were the original settlers in the land, the Afro-Bahamians that endlessly worked on the Estate, and any other community that has contributed to the Estate’s historical legacy. While the Deering Estate’s current team has made it their mission to acknowledge those groups that our city has wrongfully ignored, we are still a long way from adequately honoring their memory. I hope that I, along with all my classmates that I have shared these experiences with, play a role in reviving these forgotten people’s legacy and make an actual change in the future of Miami.

Quarantine as Text

Photos and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“My Daily Life in a Quarantine World,” by Maria Cruz of FIU at in April 2020

I would love to say that my time in quarantine has been incredibly productive, but that is not the case. Or at least that is how my situation. While I have spent time focusing on “bettering myself” and “making the most of my time,” as everyone has advised, the past month and a half has still been incredibly taxing on me. So, while it is not like I have spent this entire time doing nothing, when I compare how I spend my days to what everyone posts on social media it is difficult to not feel as accomplished. While other people’s days are filled with leisurely walks, home-cooked meals, and indoor workouts, I have been stressing over my finals and completing remote courses for my job. I still find it difficult to express just how overwhelmed I feel to my closest friend so I will break it down like this: I am in my final semester of college and need to attain the highest scores in all my classes because when I graduate I have no idea what to expect next, I am struggling to find ways to support my family of 6 because once this semester finishes my student job ends and I am the last person in my household that is earning income at the moment, and I am endlessly frustrated at the political developments in this country. I do not think I have ever faced such trying times before, and my mental and emotional health has definitely been on a decline. I know to some it just seems like I am complaining over trivial manners, and in retrospect, I also know that there are people living through a lot worse; however, why must we be judging others on what they are feeling? Or how they are coping? We are currently living through a pandemic, facing the start of a major recession, and subjugated to a series of other issues our own government has repeatedly shown they were not prepared to handle. This leaves me with a lot of concerns for our future, and while I had some hope that change will come about in a post-quarantine world, now I am not so sure. It is this unknowing that unsettles me the most; with the inability to currently do anything my anxious thoughts about what will become of us plague me every day. 

Nonetheless, my friends and family remind me that I can not give in to the fear, for that never bodes anyone well. While this is more difficult some days more than others, I can recognize that there have been some good moments and how privileged I am to say that. These instances include: having more time to connect with my family, recreating recipes I saved from Pinterest months ago, finally getting to read for leisure, getting through my movies to watch list, and, on some occasions, going out on one of the infamous walks with my family. I wanted to end this reflection on a more positive note because I, along with many others, keep forgetting just how much there will be for us to do once this is all over.

la poesie est dans la rue (en couler pleine de vie)

This post is dedicated to Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez’s Paris Over Under Project she had to complete for her Honors study abroad program in the Summer of 2019.


At 22 kilometers long, ligne 7 of the Paris metro is one of the longest lines in the system. Additionally, it contains 38 stations along the entirety of its route, making it no wonder why it is one of the busiest networks in the metro. While it was inaugurated in 1910, its north-east to south-east set up demanded continuous additions as the city expanded, it was not until May of 1987 that the latest extension was opened at the north stop La Courneuve. As the line runs throughout the entirety of Paris, from its very center to the periphery, you get to see the full range of the city’s demographics and variety in geography as you go along the various stops. From the young and rich in the heart of the city and the suburbs, to the older and less fortunate in the rundown parts, all Parisians can find themselves visiting the different stations of ligne 7. Getting the opportunity to personally visits the various stops along its route I not only got to observe the current conditions of France’s modern culture, but also a chance to analyze how the influence from the country’s past are still visible today — beyond the name of the stations.

Porte de la Villette

Historical insight: This station derived its name from the former commune, Villette, that was a Gallo-Roman village and did not become a part of Paris until 1860. The original district was called Villette, and near the location of the station was its gate (Porte de la Villette), thus its name came to be. This stop is recognized by its proximity to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie whose current operations are based on an initiative started by former president Giscard d’Estaing. The Cité is open for public use, and although you have to pay a fee to get and visit the various exhibitions and interactive spaces, there are still plenty of other resources you can access for free, such as their public library and aquarium. Reminiscent of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum back in Miami, this is a space dedicated to promoting the importance of science and research and getting individuals to engage in the future of our technological world. However, unlike back home in Miami, this concept is not limited to certain locations. On our line, this is just one of the two science museums we explored. In addition, with the size and resources accommodated to these areas, it is evident the French government has invested far more in the sciences than we have back home.

Personal observations: Stepping out of the metro and walking up to the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie there was only one idea that plagued my observations: just how similar this museum, and its surrounding areas, resembled the Centre George Pompidou. Despite the Cité des Sciences being a science museum, and the largest one in all of Europe at that, the aesthetic and layout of the building was almost identical to that of the Pompiduo’s. The one key difference we saw was that positioned at the front of the museum was a fenced-off area were sheep were free to herd — something I definitely was not expecting to find in such a metropolitan area. However, we later learned that the climate and rural terrain of Paris is actually ideal for the Nuage and Odyseée ewes and thus the Cité des Sciences, as part of their effort to conserve the city’s biodiversity and spread scientific awareness, maintains its parkland as a “secondary urban reservoir.” This was definitely one of the most interesting starts to our explorations of the stops, especially considering how much this small space clashed with the modern architecture of its surrounding buildings. This place is one where the future of Paris meets its present. Inside the actual museum, there is everything from a planetarium and aquarium, to a library and cinema. As I previously noted, this sharing of space is something I had noticed in other areas of the city and really shows just how dedicated the government is to funding public spaces and getting their citizens more invested in the state.


Historical insight: The Rue d’Aubervilliers station saw its name change following the Battle of Stalingrad in 1946 during WWII. This battle is seen as one of the most decisive events of the war, turning it in favor of the Allied forces, and leaving no room to wonder of its importance in France’s history. Originally, the name Stalingrad was just associated with the city in southern Russia that was the target of German invasion forces for 7 months, and now recognized as one of the greatest events of confrontation throughout the entire war. With this being one of the many names on the public transportation system associated with WWII, it is quite evident just how much France has prioritized its remembrance and honoring of this tragedy.

Personal observations: With its vendor-lined streets and open layout, this area reminded us of Wynwood back home. You could find locals and tourists alike mingling with each other, going to explore the booths of food and merchandise sellers, all while getting to observe the world of France’s contemporary art. Moreover, with its close proximity to the fake beaches placed along the Seine, there was sure something to do for everybody that passed by. This is one of the few instances that we have been able to interact with the modern art scene of France, showing us that this traditional appreciation of it by the Parisienne culture has not been abandoned. One of the most interesting things we ended up discovering was the art installation “La Foret Escargot.” Much to my surprise, this is one of the three instances throughout our time working on this project that we have seen a major public installation. This is a traveling piece in the shape of a giant snail that is made up of reused and recycled materials. The artists’ intention with this work is to educate individuals on the looming danger of climate change and how issues such as major pollution and global warming exasperate these conditions, leaving millions to wonder what will be of our future. Ironically enough, the current location of the snail is right in front of the infamous Paris-Plages, also known as the artificial beaches. This development shows the two-sided nature of Parisienne values, but also how from war to climate change, France has had taken direct initiatives when confronting some of the biggest threats to its nation’s security. 


Historical insight: Located in the 10th arrondissement, near the edge of the city, is the Château-Landon station. This is one of the few stops along this line that has historical ties to some of France’s most important eras. More recent in history, is the story behind the station’s name. It is based on the property owned by a member of the Landon family that was developed during the reign of Louis XIV. However, it has ties to even further back in time. This station is close in proximity to a street that previously was utilized by the Romans as a road to travel from old Paris, Lutetia, to up north.

Personal observations: From our stop and exploration of the area, it quickly became apparent to us that this neighborhood is different from the ones we previously visited. With its residential buildings and peaceful streets, the nearby streets reminded me more of my home in the suburbs than the chaotic mess of Paris that I have grown accustomed to. Free from the commotion of constant traffic and pedestrians, this was a nice reminder that there is more to the city than the frenzied nature of its urban center. Being a residential area, there was not much to explore — no historic churches to study or museums to walk around — however, this does not mean it was any less interesting to observe. It was a reminder of how Paris and its many arrondissements have been forced to adapt their spaces to the ever-growing population and their changing needs.

Chaussée d’Antin La Fayette

Historical insight: This is one of the original stations of the line, it was first opened in November of 1910 and is located in the northern area of the route. Its original name, simply Chaussée d’Antin, was in reference to a nearby street of the same name that was self-declared by the first Duke of Antin. Moreover, the stop has deeper ties to France’s history because it used to be the site of a marsh that saw dramatic and rapid development as it was part of the route frequently taken by Louis XV on his way in and out of Paris. The second part of its name, however, came much later in time and alludes to the nearby Rue La Fayette, as well as the flagship store of Galeries Lafayette located along this street. This stop is particularly interesting to observe because it is one of the many sites that proves just how consumed by shopping the French are, just like the Champs Élysées. 

Personal observations: Walking up to the storefront of the Galeries Lafayette my friends and I had no idea what was hidden behind its grand entrances. Even just trying to get inside was a mission on its own, like trying to get through a maze. Much to our amazement, the store spanned across various streets wherein each division specialized in a different department. However, walking inside was an entire experience in its own. Similar to the Macy’s flagship in Herald Square, this place was straight out of a dream. Walking in you are immediately overwhelmed with the presence of designer names and luxurious brands. Still, if fashion is not your interest there is still more to be in awe of. Whether tourist or local, one can find themselves amazed by the pure beauty of its architecture and featured artworks. Even for me, a well-seasoned shopper, it was impossible not to get overwhelmed. Originally, I did not think the people of Paris would be so invested in the malady of the consumer culture that plagues the United States. For one, most European societies, especially in Western countries, are pushing towards more minimalistic and eco-friendly means of living. Moreover, given France’s violent persecution of its aristocracy and elite, you would think they would not concern themselves with such frivolities as designer items. However, it is evident now more than ever, that no matter where you travel to in the world you will not be able to escape the grasp of capitalism.


Historical insight: One of the original stops for this metro route, the history of this station and its surrounding areas highlights some of the most important components of France’s culture. Named after the nearby Palais Garnier, this station offers easy access to this lavish opera house that has become one of Paris’ many globally recognized landmarks. The architect of the Opéra, Charles Garnier, oversaw the building of it after construction began in 1861and lasted up until 1875 when it was finally open to the public. Its original purpose was to host the shows of the Académie Royale de Musique of Paris, which went on to include both opera and ballet shows as their popularity arose within the elite of France. This development is definitely one Louis the XIV would have been proud to know about. As part of his cultural arts mission, he founded the music academy to enhance his subjects awareness and appreciation of the arts, hoping to have a global impact — of which we know he was successful in. The beauty and magnificence of this location, even Gaston Leroux saw it as a source of inspiration for the book The Phantom of the Opera, that then went on to gain international praise in the musical and film adaptations.

Personal observations: One of the first things noticeable from this stop is that its exterior sign is one of the few that does not copy the standard art nouveau style. In contrast, it has a marble entrance that matches with the opulent aesthetic of the Opera Garnier. Getting out of the metro we quickly made our way to the opera house in the hopes that we could enter and see its equally stunning interior in person. Unfortunately, there was a performance going on at the time of our visit so we were unable to do so, but that did not stop us from enjoying its decorative and bold exterior and looking deeper into the location’s history. One of the most memorable learning points from my trip is the difference in seeing images of these locations and being able to study them in person. Despite the fact that I have spent years being taught their importance, being able to physically experience them allowed me to better understand their cultural and historical importance. Personally, it also helped me bridge the gap between the past and the present. Paris, being a city so rich in history, is somewhere you can constantly do this. For example, even centuries after being built the Opera Garnier still stands and Louis XIV’s influence over society still remains.

Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre

Historical insight: Originally named Palais Royal, this station was renamed in 1989 and since then has seen further changes, especially in relation to its appearance. Located between the Louvre Palace and Louvre Museum, this stop is frequently overwhelmed by visitors (tourists and locals alike). Its exit is by one of the main entrances to the famed museum, leading you right out to the iconic pyramid designed by architect I.M. Pei, that has become one of Paris’ most iconic landmarks. In fact, despite the recent addition of this pyramid, it is one of the many famous images synonymous with the museum itself. However, the station itself is famous for its very own artwork and not just its close proximity to it. In 2000 artist Jean-Michel Othoniel revealed Le kiosque des noctambules, his work that gave the entrance to the station a completely new look and set it apart from all the metro stops in Paris. Unlike the standard art nouveau designs of other entrances, the work by Othoniel included various aluminum spheres and colored pearls covering a bare iron structure. While this modern look contrasted with the traditional design of the Haussmanian buildings in the surrounding Place Colette, it added to the history and beauty of the area.

Personal observations: We originally came across this station as we were heading towards our class at the Musée du Louvre. As we passed by the piece done by Othoniel I was intrigued because of the juxtaposition between the work’s colors and shapes and the surrounding brick buildings. I was captivated by its appearance because it reminded me of something that belongs in Downtown Miami, and definitely not the center of Paris. Had it not been for our professor pointing it out to us I would have never guessed it was the entrance to a metro station. However, being so near to one of the internationally recognized museums I could not have envisioned their metro entrance design anywhere else in Paris. For decades the Louvre has been viewed as the epitome of art by millions across the world. They instantly recognize its name, can identify the most famous pieces displayed here, and spend weeks, months, years,  dreaming about going. After visiting, I can definitely say it was one of the most memorable days of this program for me. And if I ever get the chance, I would love to take on the challenge of spending whatever indefinite numbers of days it takes to walk through the entirety of it. This stop reminds me, as well as the millions of others that go by it every year, of just how easily accessible the height of French culture is thanks to the sacrifices of the Revolutionaries.


Historical insight: Out of all the metro stations in Paris, Châtalet is definitely the one to visit. Even for those that are not big fans of public transportation and prefer to either walk or drive, Châtalet is like no other stop. Words are not merely enough to describe the restless energy of this place, with everyone you pass by blurring into one large, moving figure as they frantically rush to their various destinations. Its first platform opened in 1900 just three weeks after the original metro route of Paris, ligne 1, was inaugurated and trains started running. However, its platform on ligne 7 would not open until 26 years later. Its name finds origins in the Place du Châtalet that used to be located along the Seine river before Napoleon had it destroyed. 

Personal observations: During our free times in Paris, Châtalet was where our journeys always began. In fact, a majority of our exploration of it was not during our times to work on the project, but rather when we were hanging out with our friends and looking for new things to discover. While we frequently visited this stop throughout our class times, getting to explore the surrounding area outside of academic purposes is a must for all those that come to visit Paris. It was beautiful to see how a place that once was delegated to the most marginalized groups in the city, where they faced the utmost oppression and disgraceful living conditions, has transformed into such a popular hub of activity.

Pont Marie Cité Internationale des Arts

Historical insight: This station was opened during one of the lines earlier expansions in 1926. Part of the southern route, it is located near the right bank of the Seine and derives its name from the nearby bridge. It is also recognized by its second name, which refers to the stop’s proximity to one of the Cité Internationale des Arts sites. Coming into fruition after World War II, this project offers public facilities to international artists of all crafts. This is the second location we visited throughout the completion of our project in which the arts have had a significant historical and cultural impact on the development of the area, once again proving where France’s sociocultural values lay. 

Personal observations: Walking along the river on a sunny afternoon this place proved to be the perfect place to be. As we made our trek to the Colonne de Juillet located at the center of the Place de Bastille we found ourselves distracted by all the individuals hanging out on the walkways bordering the river. This is one of the few stops along our line that had a more relaxed and social atmosphere. As opposed to the Île de la Cité, the areas along the Seine is more open and spacious, and allows individuals, especially its locals, build a sense of community urban city’s usually lack.

Place Monge

Historical insight: One of the later additions to ligne 7, the Place Monge station was inaugurated in February of 1930. Its name references French mathematician Gaspar Monge that was renowned for his work with descriptive geometry and role in re-establishing order following the French Revolution. Before it temporarily operated as a station for ligne 10; however, in April of 1931 it was officially integrated into ligne 7 when its connection to Pont de Sully was completed. 

Personal observations: The neighboring area of this stop was one of the places that best displayed the diversity of French culture and values. Acting as a meeting point between religion, love, and science, it is impossible for one to get bored exploring the surrounding locales. Our first surprise occurred when we came across the Grand Mosque of Paris. While we did not go into the place of worship, we walked towards the back and headed towards the cafe they run. Much to my amazement, a majority of the people we saw there appeared to be white and affluent French citizens — the complete opposite of the demographic we saw head instead to attend religious services. Then, less than a five minute walk away is the Muséum national d’Histoire Naturelle that contains various buildings for different subject matters. Even more fascinating are the large open jardins located right next to the museums. In such a small area, you get to see some of the most defining values of French culture interact with one another, and it truly is a fascinating thing to witness.


Historical insight: Located along the edge of the Latin Quarter, station Censier-Daubenton is home to one of the liveliest neighborhoods in Paris. One of the most notable features in the area is the Rue Mouffetard that goes uphill and leads to a pantheon. This street is actually one of the most important historical landmarks of the city as it used to link Lutetia (old Paris) right to Lyon, another city of importance to the Roman invaders. While the street has undergone many transformations since these medieval times, it still is one that holds a lot of energy and spirit, and truly I was not surprised to discover it was one of the various sources of inspiration for Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables.

Personal observations: Walking along the streets near the station there were two things that immediately caught our eyes: a small garden located in a roundabout in the middle of a pedestrian street and a church with a photo exhibition displayed along its fence. Moreover, for an area so near the Latin Quarter its peaceful and relaxed atmosphere was not what we were expecting (however, this may be due to the fact that we went on a Saturday afternoon and the hectic atmosphere of the city has considerably toned down to accommodate for its residents’ weekend plans). Entering the church that originally caught our attention we discovered its name, Eglise Saint-Médard, and that it is dedicated to one of France’s patron saints. St. Medard was originally associated with the weather, but he was also later invoked to protect winemakers, brewers, and farmers — can it get any more French than that? Moreover, the church was originally built in the 15th century to honor relics of St. Medard, but since then has gone through various stages of renovation that has incorporated different styles of art. From Gothic, to Renaissance, and even classical, this church, like much of the rest of Paris, has seen many changes and had to adapt to these new conditions. Stepping out of the holy site we traversed back to take a deeper look at the photographs located along the church’s fence. After further research, we discovered that the exhibition put on by Claire Garate and Patrice Leconte was actually relevant to our project: it’s subject matter focused on them portraying what the “real” Paris was to them. From photographs of graffiti to children observing national spectacles, they, like us, embarked on the journey to establish a different, more authentic relationship with Paris and its people. Still, even after exploring this we were amazed by the infamous Rue Mouffetard. Walking uphill, it was evident that the street’s tradition of craftsmanship and butcher stores was still going strong, even after it was considered to be an uncleanly part of the district because of its constant rodent infestations. But Paris, like many other urban cities, has fallen trap to the cyclical nature of the least desired areas becoming the most desired as people look for new things to obsess over.


The opportunity to explore Paris through such an authentic manner is something I have never gotten to experience in any other city before. Despite the fact that I was raised and have lived a majority of my life in one of America’s most known urban areas, Miami, I have little experience with public transportation. However, in Miami this is the norm — you either have a car or go nowhere. As a result, there is a sense of detachment between me and my home. Especially since I live in the suburbs and the real heart of the city, where all the cultures and societies of Miami meet, is approximately an hour from me. I always felt like there was something missing that did not make me a “true Miamian,” something that I found in Paris throughout the completion of this project. First off, the line is far removed from the ones we commonly used when traveling with our classmates and professor; therefore, when we first started our project it was like we had to get accustomed to the metro all over again. In order for us to access the stops at ligne 7 we had to switch over from various lines and sit through long commutes (sometimes up to an hour!). However, this entire process allowed us to have a more accurate understanding of local citizen’s everyday lives. With just one swipe of our Navigo cards, we got to see the reality of the Parisienne streets, looking behind the idealized views of the city and seeking the authentic beauty of the city. Whether you take the metro just to go one stop over or take the entire line down, there is this sense of community that you feel with your fellow travelers that I have never experienced in Miami. Much to my surprise, having such easy access to the entire city is one of the things I will miss the most about Paris. When I first came I was skeptical of the public transportation, especially since the stations along our line are visibly some of the most rundown we visited; however, the beauty of Paris is that everyone ignores that. The metro, and in fact the entire public transportation system, is a symbol of unlimited freedom and equality, and something the Revolutionaries of the 19th century would have proudly celebrated the inauguration of.

Maria Cruz: France As Texts 2019

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0)

Maria Karla Cruz Velazquez is a senior at the Honors College at Florida International University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Marketing. Currently, she is in the midst of completing her final year at FIU and is looking forward to graduating this upcoming Spring semester. Through her academic and future professional endeavors she aims to bring a holistic awareness between arts, politics, and cultural dynamics of the global arena. Below are her reflections of the trips she took during the Honors study abroad program she completed in France this past summer.

Over Under Project: la poesie est dans la rue

Declaration Project: Pauline Lèon

Paris as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“A Foreigner’s Haven” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Paris on July 2019

Paris is a mystery I have been attempting to solve since my adolescent years. I spent countless hours watching couples falling in love in front of the Eiffel Tower, reading about artists emerging themselves in the stimulating art scene, and just overall compelled by all the stories of those who were once lost and came to find themselves in one of the most enriching cities in the world. Hoping that I, too, could one day visit this wondrous world of art and culture and emerge from this glorious trip as a new person. However, no amount of fictitious images I conjured in my head could prepare me for the reality of Paris. 

Being completely honest, while this was not my first visit to Paris, it is my first time truly getting to experience all the wonders and magic held in these cobbled streets and stone buildings. Many wrongly think that Paris is just the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Notre Dame — a mistake that my young and naïve self once made. However, the “real” Paris is afternoons spent having a picnic along the banks of the Seine River, crowding around a map of public transportation routes to figure out how to get to our next destination, walking in the middle of the night to the crêpe place in front of the student dorms and make small talk with the chefs as you sip their homemade tea. These experiences, from just the first week of this trip, are a small portion of what has elevated this program and my enjoyment of it. In contrast to my hometown of Miami, Paris is a place where the past and the present intertwine, making it easy for you to get lost and find yourself again in the remnants of centuries-old locations.

Versailles as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Opulence in the Face of Destitute” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Versailles on July 7, 2019

In 1742, Louis XIV embarked on the one-man journey to bring France to the full glory of a leading power. In doing so, he made the once hunting lodge the height of French culture and the downfalls of the state. For many, Versailles has become the epitome of opulence. For others, it is a symbol of a violent and tyrannical line of rule.

Have you ever felt so regal and holy? Stood at the very place where centuries ago a god of his own making watched over the daily proceedings of his dominion? Strolled through the gardens whose designs were compiled from his very own dreams? Walked through a hall dripping in gold and seen your glittering reflection mirrored in its grand details? The ability to see such grandeur in person was nothing short of a religious experience for me. To my amazement, physically being in the presence of these visions of luxury was far more compelling than any recreations made for shows and films. However, upon further reflection, I could not help but be disappointed in my initial reaction.

The questions posed over the sociopolitical implications of the making of this site has challenged my very morals and values. As someone who has rigorously studied global affairs of the past and present, I am quick to denounce all rulers who retain such power and authority over their government and people as Louis XIV did. Moreover, his actions are perceived as the catalyst for the extremely violent and radical French Revolution. Thus, one would think I would be in complete opposition to Versailles and everything it stands for; yet, after my visit, I can not hold these sentiments. It is evident to me, and the millions of others that have made the journey to this location, that despite the transformation France has undergone since his rule, Louis XIV was successful in his original endeavor.

Lyon as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“France’s Past, Our Present,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Lyon on July 2019

With its golden houses and hillside views, Lyon represents the splendor of “deep France,” or as our professor referred to it, “what Paris once was.” From my first walk through the city, it became quite evident to me that the leisure lifestyle of its residents made for a very different environment than what I had been accustomed to in Paris. However, none of my original observations could have prepared me for our week of discovery in the city, wherein we got to explore some of its most important historical sites and analyze their relevance to France’s plight for freedom in World War II. The historical value of Lyon allowed me to have a deeper understanding of the city’s beauty, and made for one of the most impactful trips of my life.

Our journey to the past began the moment we settled in our hotel room. The story of Laurent Vernay, the owner of Hôtel de Célestins, and his family was the start of our lecture on the persecution of the Jewish and Freedom Fighters by the Vichy government (in collaboration with the Nazi’s). The anecdotes Laurent shared with us of his family were some of the harrowing accounts of the crimes perpetrated by the fascist governments of Europe. This sentiment is not merely based on the brutality of the treatment his family faced, but more so on the fact that he was the first person I ever met who has a direct connection to the Holocaust. No longer is my knowledge of the horrific events that unfolded during this era from history books and lectures, but after those mornings sitting in the plaza in front of the Célestins-Théaâtre de Lyon as we attentively listened to Laurent talk, I now hold the memories of his mother and her family. However, this was not the last time we were personally confronted with the reality of the Nazi’s ravaging of Lyon. 

It was only 2 days after we arrived that we visited the prison Montluc and its former prisoner, Claude Bloch. Objectively, hearing Bloch’s testimonial was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. As all 20 of us huddled in that hot and stuffy room for two hours our view of humanity was radically transformed. Coming out of that afternoon we spent with him, I knew we had an obligation to ourselves, Bloch, and the 6 million other innocent victims of the Holocaust to never let such a tragedy occur again. As history has taught us, actions committed by groups and individuals must be explicitly documented so that future generations remember and learn from the mistakes of the past. Still, the current sociopolitical conditions of the West, from America to Germany, seem to heed no attention to this advice. When the Nazi’s met their demise, the international community promised they would never allow for this level of rampant devastation to happen; however, they have greatly failed in their efforts. From Rwanda, Syria, Venezuela, and even the borders of America, millions have suffered due to the failures of governments to protect their citizens. No matter how physically detached a person may be from the locations of these events, it is the living legacy of people like Claude that reminds us to reach into the most humane parts of ourselves and find ways to be sympathetic and understanding of other’s pain.

Izieu as Text

Photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“The Greatest Tragedy of All: Lost Innocence,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Izieu on July 12, 2019

50 engraved names and an empty house are all that remains of the victims of one of the greatest unknown tragedies of World War II. The morning of April 6, 1944, was supposed to be like any other for the children and caretakers of the Maison D’Izieu. Since the building’s inauguration in 1943 by Miron and Sabrine Zlatin, it served as an orphanage for children of the Jewish families that faced prosecution by the Nazi government. Families and parents alike believed that here, hidden away in the French countryside and far from the direct sight of the Vichy government, their children would be safe. However, under the rule of Klaus Barbie no one, no matter their age, race, or gender, was safe. Thus, the inconspicuous site my class and I visited on an early morning came to be known as the location where the Vichy government of France committed one of its worse crimes against humanity.

It was with heavy hearts and teary eyes that we heard of what became of the 44 children that were apprehended and deported that April morning. They were innocent kids, full of life and love, with hopes for good futures and praying for the wellbeing of the families they were cruelly separated from — what “threat” did they pose to the government? Why were their brutal and vicious deaths at Auschwitz rationalized? Why was the memory of them concealed for decades until Barbie’s trial in 1987? These are just some of the questions that ran through my brain as we walked through the abandoned building that previously was a safe haven for kids that were victims of the war. However, now all that remains are the vestige of their second lives (letters, drawings, photographs) and an exhibition in their honor. Throughout all my history classes I have been told of the tragedies of WWII; yet, no lesson can ever be as impactful as getting to visit the actual sites of these events and standing in the place of those who were subjugated to the most inhumane conditions. They were only children, like Claude Bloch when he was 15 and was also deported to Auschwitz, why were they not spared?

Normandy as Text

Main photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0), second photo and edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“No Mail, Low Morale,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Normandy on July 23, 2019

Soldiers are not the only victims of war. War ravages rural farms, families, urban cities, and friendships… It is an illness that takes hold of a country and attempts to kill everything in its path. Innocent or not, soldier or not, war is one of the worst things a person can encounter in their lives. For me, I have never been as conscious of this concept before being faced with the 9,388 graves of the American Cemetery. 

Unit: Women’s Army Corps. Rank: Private First Class. Status: DNB (Died Non-battle). Location: Plot D, Row 23, Grave 47. A life passed and gone, and this is all the remains of the victim — some standard titles and a burial location. Yet, the legacy of Mary H. Bankston and her courageous actions survives despite the minimal information known about her. This is what a true hero is.

What Ms. Bankston’s life was like before her deployment is up to my imagination. I know she was a daring person, for when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and civil rights activist Dr. Mary Mclead Bethune were successful in their efforts to grant African-American women the right to join the WAC, she enlisted herself. I know she was noble, that despite the historical past of slavery in the United States still tainting her livelihood she prioritized her country above her individual experiences. I know she was strong beyond recognition, because not only did she attend basic training sessions before being sent out to Europe, but she was willing to take on the mental and emotional burden of being the mediator of information between soldiers and their loved ones. 

But Mary, what was your childhood like? How was your family life growing up? And school, were you one of the ones that loved going or dreaded every second of it? What did you do when you hung out with friends? What were your favorite books, songs, celebrities? Did you have a partner waiting for you to get back home? Or were you the one that was awaiting a return once? I would have loved to had the chance to know the real you, and not just the statistic you are portrayed as. What was it that inspired you to sacrifice so much of yourself for the sake of your country?

Ms. Bankston was 1 of the 850 women that compromised the 6888 Central Post Directory Battalion, or as it is more commonly referred to as, the “Six Triple Eight.” Famed for being the first and only unit in WWII that was composed solely of black women — a momentous occasion in history, for sure. While her unit was created to aid in the delivering of mail to servicemembers following a 6-month backup l, the women of the Six Triple Eight were quick to cement their worth to the war effort. After their initial arrival in February, they worked diligently, implementing the motto “No mail, low morale.” Despite the constant physical threat they were under, being near active battlegrounds and constantly evading units of the axis powers, they were resolute in maintaining their work ethic, no matter the consequence. Tragically, it was only 5 months after their arrival to Europe that Mary, alongside two companions, died in a jeep accident. Still so full of life and dreams, their stories came to an abrupt end. 

Mary, your story is one of the many that I have heard this past month and it has irrecoverably altered my life. I cannot empathize with you, for I have never been so close to direct combat nor dealt with the level of racial issues that dictated your life. However, I know what it is like to throw yourself into new and completely unknown experiences for the sake of your community and family. Being aware that no matter what difficulties lie ahead, you are not solely acting for your personal growth, but are rather motivated by giving others the opportunities you were denied. Hoping that no matter how insignificant you may think you are, your actions have a larger impact. The evidence lies in the fact that of all 9,388 graves, Ms. Bankston, you are one of four that are dedicated to women.      

So, Mary H. Bankston, this is my official farewell to you, with the promise that your story will live on with me and all those willing to listen. Your memory is in all of the young black and brown girls that have been granted the opportunities and freedom you were once denied, and for that, we thank you for your service. It lives in my mother, aunt, grandmother, and I who are getting a second chance at freedom. It lives in the millions of people in my home country who are not as fortunate as we are but have generations of survivors to fight for their rights on a daily basis. And it is in a group of 18 students from Miami who, despite having completely different backgrounds from one another, were given the chance to come and hear your story and of the millions of other silent victims of WWII.

Père Lachaise as Text

Photo by Alex Gutierrez (CC by 4.0), edit by Maria Cruz (CC by 4.0)

“Le monde, chère Agnès, est une étrange chose,” by Maria Cruz of FIU in Père Lachaise on July 26, 2019 

Born in 1622 as Jean-Baptiste Poquelin into two wealthy merchant families, Molière’s origins were far from the provocative character he was notorious for. The son of Jean Poquelin of and Marie Cressé had a carefree childhood, with his early life being free of societal pressures and economic burdens. The first time he encountered any form of hardship was at age 11 when his mother died and his father remarried. This event is the catalyst for Jean-Baptiste’s distancing from his family name and line of work. While it was not until several years later that this becomes official, his fragile relationship with his father left him seeking emotional fulfillment elsewhere. He found solace in the theatres his grandfather took him to, learning about the magic of plays and the written word at an early age. 

It was in Paris that he began his prestigious academic career. Attending schools such as the Jesuit Collège de Clermont, he was able to get the highest level of education and socialize with the most affluent of society; however, these schooling years were to be valuable to him for far different reasons. On these school stages, he refined his skills as both an actor and writer, honing in on his comedic abilities and forever elevating the standards of French plays. Yet, despite his early theatrical success, it was still a few years before he immersed himself in this world. In 1641, he inherited the title of “valet of the King’s chamber and keeper of carpets and upholstery” from his father. Jean Poquelin originally purchased this title during the reign of Louis XIII, cementing the family’s relationship with the monarchy — something Jean-Baptiste used to his advantage and redefined during the height of his career. The following year, in 1642, he goes to school to become a lawyer but does not finish his studies. It is during this time that he abandons his pre-destined career path and all the social norms that dictated his life. 

At just 21 years old Jean-Baptiste Poquelin ceases to exist, with Molière taking his place. He makes his debut in society in 1643 with the founding of the Illustre Théâtre alongside fellow actress Madeleine Béjart. While this was the start of his career in theater, these were certainly not his most successful years. Around two years later the company goes bankrupt and the troupe dissolves, with Molière being imprisoned for the debts he owns. However, this is just the beginning of his turbulent second life. After this short escapade, he joined a new company and spent the following 12 years as a traveling actor throughout the south of France. It was during this time that Molière became renowned for his comedic skills and style after failing in establishing himself as a “tragic” actor and being inspired by the Italian theater. This was to prove fruitful as he earned the patronage of several members of the aristocracy, including Philippe I, Duke of Normandy, also known as “Monsieur,” or the younger brother of Louis XIV. Unsurprisingly, this era was embroiled with a lot of personal drama; however, Molière’ claim to fame was cemented.

Paris, being the heart of the French culture and society, was a city Molière could not spend the rest of his life running from; thus, his return was inevitable. Making his debut at the Petit-Bourbon theater, Molière was to embark on a new and completely unknown path in life. Now in favor with the court, he got to enjoy privileges that no other actor or playwright during his time got to, especially since a majority of them were still denounced by society. Similar to Louis XIV, he was largely popular amongst the elite and privileged and loathed by the church — having such an animated character and openly contending societal norms it is no wonder he was so largely talked about. His works, whether it be a play, poem, or comédies-ballets, were largely satirical in nature and questioned the values the French deemed as “admirable;” however, being so supported by the king, the monarchy is the one subject he never denounced in his writings. Still, despite all the success and appraisal he was receiving Molière’s personal life came under fire following his marriage to Armande Béjart in 1662, who was rumored to be the daughter of his past lover. Yet, just a decade later Molière fell incurably ill. Being afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis, he met his ultimate demise in his place of worship: the stage (ironically enough, his death is one of the most iconic moments of his life). In the middle of his performance in Le Malade Imaginaire, he collapsed on stage in a coughing fit and hemorrhaged; however, he insisted on continuing with the show and performed until its ending. Tragically, following the play’s conclusion, he collapsed and was rushed home where he remained alive for a few short hours until he died. In true Moliére fashion, the two priests called for to grant him his last rites refused to go because of the untimely hour.

Still, Moliére’s afterlife is just as chaotic as his living. As a result of the prejudice held against actors at the time, their bodies were not allowed to be buried on “sacred ground,” so his widow, Armande, had to go petition Louis XIV to find a loophole around this law. With the King’s permission, Moliére was granted a funeral at night and a plot in the part of the cemetery at St. Joseph that was reserved for unbaptized children. Moreover, over a century after his death, the newly established government of the French Revolution recovered his bones and relocated them to the Museum of French Monuments. It was not until 1817 that they were recovered before being placed in their “alleged” final resting place — Père Lachaise.

I first learned about Moliére in my 10th grade French class when my teacher played a movie dedicated to his most productive years as a playwright and actor. Before starting, she merely introduced him as the “French Shakespeare,” and decided that such a statement was a sufficient summary of his character. Being a child of AP English Language and Literature, such a claim was inconceivable to me. Shakespeare is heralded as a god-like figure whose writings are untouchable and unique to all of human history, how can anybody compare? You see, this is common throughout my academic career as curriculums emphasize several key figures throughout history who have formed our understanding of the world based on biased perspectives. However, disregarding so many individuals who have held a status of substantial influence in their country, whether it be while they were alive or following their death, is not just a disservice to them, but to us as well. 

Moliére’s works were the culmination of the most polarizing topics and entertaining deliveries. His ability reconcile these opposing ideas were what gained him such fame, and in turn why he made such a grand impact in France’s history and culture. Being the writer and main actor for most of his plays, amongst completing several other theater jobs, he was a real Renaissance man of the play world. Forever changing the cultural landscape of his country, his impact is still present in the daily lives of citizens speaking “the language of Moliére.” Living in the height of the technological revolution, we have the entire history of the world at our fingertips — how is it that we are still stuck on only Shakespeare? How is it that despite his influence on the historical past and present of one of the leading countries in the world I have only ever heard of Moliére once before? One of the main ideas emphasized in our professor’s lectures was to seek a deeper, more holistic understanding of everything we studied, whether it be painting, architectural design, sculpture, or written words, because it is all this history and knowledge that will allow you to comprehend the importance of these works and their relation to the present day. After all we have experienced, how is it that millions still fail to grasp this concept (and still wonder about the fate of our futures)? The world, truly, est une étrange chose.