I was a first-year student when I heard about the V.I.P club. My friends and I laughed at the acronym, which was a clever way to recruit members with a spark of curiosity to figure out what the club was about. The representatives informed us that V.I.P. stood for Voices of Indigenous People. They told us that their mission is to educate and enlighten the Middlebury community about the rich culture of indigenous people around the world. Personally, I was extremely happy that I found this club because I have always wanted to learn more about my indigenous roots. Before my grandmother migrated to New York City in the early sixties, she lived with her extended family in Ecuador’s largest city, Santiago de Guayaquil. But the story does not start with her.
It started with our first pioneer, her mother, Carmen. She was the first woman in the family to move to Santiago de Guayaquil from a rural village near the Andes Mountains. Her village was populated with less than four hundred people. It has been said, through oral tradition, that my family founded the village in the early 1900s, right after they traveled hundreds of miles from the Andes Mountains to escape the severe demands and unfair treatment of the hacienda owners. “They were indigenous people,” my mother told me, “and not only did they lose their lands to the Spanish people, little by little, they started to lose their culture as they traveled further away from their native land.” In other words, my family exchanged their native language for Spanish, their ponchos for pants and shirts, their indigenous culture for the Western one, their spiritual beliefs for Catholicism, etc. As time passed, my family realized that they were losing touch with their indigenous background. They decided to preserve their identity through storytelling and dancing and appointed a matriarchal figure (grandmother) to remind the children that they came from an indigenous family and that they should be proud of their indigenous identity. I remember feeling confused about my identity because we were not living the culture and speaking the language. Since then, I’ve been extremely committed in learning about my indigenous roots. My intellectual curiosity evolved into a greater interest in learning about the rich culture of the indigenous community around the world.
I joined the club in a blink of an eye. For three and a half years, I’ve been an active member and part of a larger community committed to educating the student body through symposiums, screenings, powwows, panel discussions, and cultural dances, about the indigenous community. My favorite activity in the club is to choreograph the dances for the International Student Organization’s cultural show in the fall and Alianza’s cultural show in the spring. Through these dances, I celebrate and preserve my indigenous identity the only way I know how to- dancing. I teach my colleagues the steps in dancing El sanjuanito- a traditional Ecuadorian indigenous dance usually celebrated during the Inti Raymi festivity. This music genre has expanded in the south of Colombia, in Ecuador, and in the north of Peru. This year, the Voices of Indigenous People club is aiming to learn about the indigenous communities in Oceania and South America, hopefully we will visit nearby indigenous sites in New England, go to the Ivy Native American Conference in New York, and have a powwow in our campus.