Thalia Giraldo – Peru
The Latin American Studies Walker grant offered me the opportunity to volunteer in Peru last summer. Working with Building Dignity or el Centro Para Desarrollo con Dignidad (CEDED) was an enlightening and humbling experience. CEDED is located in the district of Villa el Salvador in Lima. La Encantada, a small neighberhood in Villa el Salvador, was established in 1996 by two of the organizations leaders. Working together, the organizations’ Peruvian leaders along with two American educators created the three core programs that make the CEDED: community education, a leadership academy, and a leadership grant. During my summer in Peru I planned and lead the Voices of Youth leadership program . The goal of this program is for the individuals to become more comfortable with themselves as leaders, but also for them to learn how to use others for support. I developed team building activities that tested their leadership skills and encouraged participation with other members of the group. I also helped organize a leadership retreat for the Voices of Youth. My workshops involved theater, art, and creative writing.
Chloe Gilroy – El Paso, TX
This past JanPlan, I spent four weeks researching in El Paso, TX for my senior honors thesis. My research was centered on determining the nature of cartel involvement in human smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border. Words cannot describe how incredible my experience in El Paso was and how grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to came back to the city for a second time. While there, I interviewed a wide range of people both working and advocating at the border. At one point I even got to ride in a border patrol car! The Walker Grant brought me into contact with some truly inspiring journalists, authors, and professors dedicated to critically assessing and reporting on U.S. border policy. Most of my work was done in El Paso, TX, but I also had the opportunity to travel to Las Cruces, NM for one of my interviews.
This past January I had the opportunity to spend a week in Miami and four weeks in Havana, Cuba conducting interviews for my advanced independent study. I have been working on a film about the relationship that Cubans and Cuban Americans have and how that relationship has evolved over time, but most importantly, focusing on how these changing relationships have impacted the Cuban family. I have to say that these five weeks were some of the most important of my life.
This trip was an incredible experience. I have always focused my studies on Cuba and the Caribbean and to be able to connect the things I had learned in the classes with the actual sights, smells, and stories that the Cubans told me was a very surreal experience in itself. It was also a time of serious academic growth and exploration, I had never attempted to make a film before, so it was an adventure learning how to see Miami and Havana not just with my own eyes but also through the eyes of my future audience.
However, the most significant part of this trip was my own personal growth. My mother was born in Havana and left when she was just three years old. She has never been back since. All of her father’s family stayed behind in Cuba and most of them were complete strangers to us. Through this trip, I was the first to reconnect with my family and my roots in Cuba. Therefore, as I spoke with Cuban-Americans about their stories of family separation, reconciliation, and re-connection, I was living my very own story at the same time.
This January, I spent two weeks conducting research for my senior honors thesis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. My research centered on the representation of women in Brazilian media. Specifically, I interviewed Brazilian women and men about their knowledge of Xuxa, a white, blond children’s television show host who gained unprecedented fame and international attention during the early 1190s. However, aside from obtaining information about Xuxa and the mass-marketing of race and beauty in Brazil, I also learned a great deal about what it means to be a Carioca. The people that I met in Rio were more happy to tell me about their diverse interests and experiences , and I have honestly never met a more lively and hospitable collection of individuals than I did during this trip, a trip that I would not have been able to take if it hadn’t been for the generosity of the Latin American Studies Department. The Walker Grant provided me with the unique opportunity to explore a new city, conduct research with a passionate group of individuals.