Author Archives: Santy Barrera

Julieta Paredes Carvjaval: Communitarian Feminism

Julieta Paredes Carvajal is an Aymara woman, communitarian lesbian feminist, co-founder of Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) and the Community of women creating community as well as the Communitarian Feminist Assembly. She lives in La Paz, Bolivia, land where a political change process is underway. She is anti-patriarchal feminist activist, writer, singer, author and poet, and has been involved in feminist training with indigenous and working class women throughout Bolivia and in other parts of Latin America.


I went to her lecture last night. I felt like my grandmothers and my aunts and my very own mami was speaking to me about their struggle as indigenous women under Western patriarchy for many generations. Throughout the lecture, I felt moved by Julieta’s thorough theoretical talk about Communitarian feminism and how it differs from other feminisms. In a nutshell, she summarized how feminism in Bolivia has changed before and after 1492. Before Christopher Columbus’ arrival, most indigenous women used to have full autonomy and power in traditional societies. Women used to control the land, hold political roles, and determined the well-being of the community. But that does not exclude the fact that indigenous patriarchal societies also existed in Latin America. However, in 1492, European colonists brought an oppressive institution that determined the tragic fate of indigenous women in Latin America: machismo. Indigenous women were negatively impacted by two forms of patriarchy: Western and Indigenous.


Her talk consisted on how women AND men should work together to fight all forms of oppressive institution. She used a metaphor: the human body. She said that the left side of the body is male and the right side is female. And if they don’t work together, one side of the body will suffer. The other side of the body will carry the weight of the burden. That is to say, as a community, we should care for each other even if we do not know the person. If a person is sick, we should help them. If a person is in trouble, we should give a hand. We are a community of people who should love each other. That was the best part of the talk.

Writing Stories

This year, I am working on a creative writing thesis titled “To Die in a Dream.” It’s a collection of short stories of the Rodriguez family facing several challenges as a Latino-American family, such as machismo, sexuality, and immigration,  in a New York City neighborhood called Washington Heights. The title, translated from Spanish as “Morir Sonando,” is a popular beverage of the Dominican Republic, usually made of orange juice,milk, cane sugar, and chopped ice. However, when combined, the verbs “morir” (to die) and “soñar” (to dream) can have a different meaning that may well describe the stagnant lives that the Rodriguez Family deals with as they struggle to keep their American dreams alive in their mundane routine.

That said, my creative writing thesis challenge me in so many ways as a writer. From the very start of my writing career (freshman year), I was exposed to a variety of writing techniques, such as writing prose, poetry, short stories, non-fiction, fiction, novels, blogs, etc. Every experience was, in fact, a challenge for a non-native English speaker, and I thanked all my professors for giving me the opportunity to develop my writings skills in all areas. This was useful for my creative writing thesis. A character rhyming a sonnet while he’s trying to get over his drug addiction. E-mail exchanging among the main characters. Twin sisters struggling to trust each other as they grow older and apart from each other at some point.

The best part of being a writer is letting your characters develop their own personalities, voices, and actions. They come to life before your eyes. Originally, this story was supposed to focus on bigger themes like immigration and machismo in Latino culture, but my two main characters, Felipa and Fanny, are the crux of the story. These twin sisters constantly fight each other and try to find a common ground with their differences. Felipa Rodriguez, daughter of undocumented parents, faces a personal struggle of whether or not she should pursue her bachelor’s degree in law at Boston University or settle with an abusive lover, who impregnates her, in order to save her reputation as a woman in a Latino society. Fanny wants what’s the best for her sisters, and she pushes Felipa in the right direction to pursue her bachelor’s degree  and have the child without tying herself to an abusive lover. But in all this chaos, the Rodriguez Family deals with other issues such a drug addict trying to conquer his vice and a soccer player trying to hide his homosexual tendencies. I can’t wait to get this done and read it to my friends and professors.

Organic Garden Adventure

The other night,  sometime between 7 p.m.-9 p.m., I decided to take a short trip to the organic garden with a bunch of friends. Maybe I needed some time out. Probably I needed a study break from reading assignments and essays.  One thing I knew for sure was that I needed to get out of Middlebury and take a nice walk under a sea of shiny stars. That night, Midd kids were working hard on their last minute assignments, probably cornered somewhere obscured in the library basement. For those of us still learning the ropes around here, last minute assignments tend to be the most challenging task when it comes to completing them in such a short amount of time. (In fact, most of us are aware of that. We need to work on our time management and organization skills!) That said, I had finished all my assignments for the next day, and I thought it was a great idea to take a study break with friends who had also finished their assignments that night.

We met in Adirondack Circle and walked to the organic garden, huddled side by side, and talked about our years at Middlebury College. A friend said, “Remember the time when we went square dancing in our freshman year?” We nodded with smiles. “Remember the time we watched Across the Universe in a friend’s suite and forgot the popcorn was in the microwave- and it burned?” We laughed. “Remember the time we woke up at two in the morning to see the meteor shower?” Memories here and there, carried away by winter winds, and shiny stars in the purple sky sparkled in our very own eyes as we reminisced those forgotten times.

“Let’s create a new memory,” one of my friends suggested. “We should run like children in the fields.” That night, we made believe we entered into a magical kingdom, two gazebos looked like whales sitting in the open fields. The main entrance seemed like an enchanted door to a world of fairies, unicorns, and elves. We put some music on, and danced with each other, humming to the song. Then, we ran in the fields, holding hands like kindergarten children, laughing and screaming, and one of them fell, taking the rest of us in the mud. As soon as we made it back home, covered in mud and grass, socks wet and dry throats, we hugged each other and said “Can’t believe we have less than eighty days till graduation.”

These adventures are worth the time and experience.

Preparing for the Alianza Cultural Show

Let me just say: I love performing on stage! I am not a talented actor, singer, or dancer, but I have been an active participant in multiple shows at Middlebury College. Every year, Alianza holds a Cultural Show that celebrates Latino identity on campus. This gives me an opportunity to express my artistic talents with stunning choreographies, singing,  and skits.

In the past three years, I have choreographed many dances representing different regions of Latin America. My personal favorite is El San Juan or El Sanjuanito, which is a traditional indigenous folk dance celebrated during the winter solstice in Ecuadorian Andean communities. Since I was a child, my maternal family taught my cousins and I to learn this  dance as a way of preserving our indigenous roots. I will never forget that summer day of 98, when my mother cleared the furniture in the living room, played El Sanjuanito on the stereo, and taught my brother and I  how to move our feet with swift rhythm and stretch our arms like a condor flying above the Andes Mountains. She also told us a story about why it was important for us to learn this dance: “Even though we can’t claim a particular tribe in Ecuador, our ancestors wanted us to remember them through El Sanjuanito.”  Since then, I have made a personal commitment to teach others the steps to El Sanjuanito as a way to celebrate my indigenous identity.

Another exciting dance piece is Guyanese Chutney. In a nutshell, I came across with this dance when I went to a wedding party a few years ago. First, I was impressed by the dance. My friends moved their hips in circles, shrugged their shoulders, and stretched their arms in creative shapes. I thought my friends were Indians because of the familiar movements. But they told me that they were from Guyana, a small country in the northern tip of South America. In Guyana, 45% of the population have Indian roots, which explains their Hindi influence in the dance. Chutney music is a form indigenous to the southern Caribbean, originating in Trinidad and Guyana. It derives elements from traditional Indian music and popular Trinidadian Soca music. Their music is also a fusion with traditional African music. I also made a commitment to learn this dance on my own and with the help of my best friend. With this new dance skill, I taught many people how to dance Guyanese Chutney and they all LOVE it! This year, I am doing a chutney dance.

We have singers. Dancers. Poets. Alianza will have an amazing cultural show, and it will be my last one. So I am making every minute count.  I will keep you posted next time with videos and pictures of the Alianza Cultural Show next month!

First Last Day

Early Sunday morning, as soon as Megabus dropped me off in Burlington, a friend of mine picked me up and drove me to Middlebury. It was a good hour commute, but we spent all that time updating each other on school, work, and family news.  I was surprised to tell her that this was going to be my last semester in Middlebury College. That starting on Monday, it was going to be my first and last day on campus, and every day that followed will also count as my first and last days in Vermont.  I was surprised because I did not feel  the time fly by, and I wondered…what have I done all these years to become the person I am today? I also asked myself if I honestly felt like I have grown as a person in MIddlebury College and if  I made the right choice by coming to Vermont. “After all these years,” I started and my friend listened quietly as she drove up and down the green hills on the way.

When I was a high school senior in 2008, I remember applying to eight colleges, but none of them was Middlebury College. I did not even know Middlebury College existed until my guidance counselor brought it up one day. For some reason, he strongly believed that Middlebury College was the right place for me. At the time, I was clueless about my future, career, and choices.  Also, I had no idea what major in! All I wanted to do was to submit my applications and get over the stressful college application process.

However, my guidance counselor had other plans. He had set an appointment with me to review my applications, personal statements, essays, SAT scores, etc. He said that I was set to go, but he wanted to make a suggestion. I thought the suggestion was related to editing my personal statements or retaking the SAT II exams. But he suggested something completely different: apply to MIddlebury College!  All I said was, “Middle-what?” but he went on and on about the green hills in Vermont, the diversity on campus, and strong language program. 

I applied because he asked me to. A few months later, I was accepted to all nine colleges, and I had to make a life changing decision. I crossed out six colleges off my list, and Middlebury was not one of them. For Preview Weekend, I visited the campus, and I fell in love with the green hills in the background, the white snow that trickled and delicately sat and sparkled on the ground, and the small-sized town that grew silent in dark hours. I was lured by Vermont’s uinque lifestyle and the fact that Middlebury College provided that lifestyle as well. I wanted to get away from New York City because it was too loud, too distracting, and too much for me. I know some people will disagree with my statement, but as a New Yorker, I needed a break from the stressed environment.  I took a huge risk on basing my decision on my gut feeling instead of on academics, facilities, and community life, but it was one I don’t regret.

Luckily, I fell in love with the English department and took classes on Creative Writing. I learned two languages  (Italian and German), took several political science, sociology/anthropology, and women and gender studies classes, and became a part of several cultural organizations. The best part of my college experience was my creative writing workshop classes because that was when I truly grew as a writer and a person. I sharpened my writing skills and learned to discipline myself into writing hours on end every other day while I managed to do super well on my four classes, commit to volunteer work, and run an organization. In my freshman year, I wrote 234 pages on a novel I am still working on today, seven poems, twenty five short stories, and a few blurbs on my notepad. But I know for a fact that I could have not done it with the help of my professors who, like my guidance counselor, also believed in the power and talent of my writing.

“After all these years, I honestly feel like I learned a lot. I gained enough experience to feel ready to go and about in the real world,” I told my friend. She said that was a cheesy comment, but I knew for a fact that it was one I truly meant and felt since the day I stepped on campus as a prospective student.

A Normal Day in Middlebury

Early morning, I wake up to the sound of my annoying alarm clock to start another busy day in Middlebury College. Usually, after I get ready in the morning, I have an extra twenty five minutes to play my guitar before I go to Proctor Dining Hall to get breakfast. I am productive in the morning, which is the reason I start studying and finishing my homework as early as eight o’ clock. My classes are scheduled in the afternoon, which works for me because I have had the time to review my assignments and prepared questions to class. My favorite classes are my English and Spanish seminars. In my English seminar, we are discussing about the play The Roaring Girl, which is my favorite play so far- right after Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew and Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi. Moll, the main protagonist, is a character who challenges society’s conventional norms of gender and politics. For instance, in the 1600s, just like today, society defines two gender roles: male and female. Anything that does not conform to these specific gender roles creates a source of anxiety, conflict, and, at times, laughter. Moll represents neither male nor female. She embodies both sexes through her apparel (sword, jacket, hat, skirt),  through her defiant actions (smoking tobacco, participating in the male public sphere, carrying a sword) and through her voice (speaks and defends female roles in society). My final paper revolves on this topic with the plays: The Taming of the Shrew and The Roaring Girl. In my Spanish seminar, we are reading Cervantes’ Don Quixote, which happens to be my favorite class in my four years in Middlebury College. I never thought this one class would change my life around, starting with the fact that I am learning about Cervantes’ writing and the medieval/renaissance cultures in this book. Because of this seminar, I figured out what academic field I would like to study if I decide to pursue a PhD or Master’s degree in English Literature: Medieval Literature. After my classes, I take a good forty minute nap and then grab a snack in the dining hall. Afterwards, I go to my favorite spot on campus, a lounge in Ross, where I can get all my readings and work done for the next day. Depending on the day, sometimes, I am responsible to run the meetings/discussions of the Voices of Indigenous People club or Alianza club. During the evenings, I hang out with my friends and skype with my relatives, especially my mother with whom I made a promise to keep in touch with everyday I am at Middlebury. As it gets dark, I head back to my room, and with the remaining half an hour I have left, I read a book and/or write a part of a story. Then, I fall asleep to continue my routine the next day.

“V.I.P” stands for Voices of Indigenous People

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.

Voices Along the Way (First Year Seminar)

In the summer of 2008, before I entered Middlebury College as a first-year student, I remember receiving an e-mail from Middlebury College asking me to sign up for a first year seminar. I perused through the catalog, wondering if a Lord of the Ring’s seminar would interest me as much as Ecological History of Vermont. As I am reaching towards the end of the catalog, I came across with this fascinating title: Voices Along the Way. The first impression was storytelling, creative writing, and academic research.  The seminar designed for international students is an introduction to contemporary American culture via literature and film. I decided this was the perfect class for me to learn about American literature and culture.

Three months later, the first day of Voices Along the Way, I sat on a comfy red couch surrounded by fourteen other first-year students in Coltrane Lounge, Adirondack House. After a brief introduction from Professor Skubikowski, we were asked to introduce ourselves by using a map in the room and pinpointing our journey across the world, starting from where we were born all the way to our present location at Middlebury, Vermont. All of the sudden, I froze with my heart beating fast in my throat and I asked myself, “Is this a seminar designed for international students? How distracted were you to NOT read that specific detail in the course catalog? Now what excuse will I come up with and say that I am not an international student?”

One ny one, my peers stood up in front of the class and elaborated on their international journey from across the world to Middlebury, Vermont. Some came from Europe and traveled to Asia. Others had rigorous journeys, like coming from Africa, studying Europe, and traveling to South America to come to Middlebury, Vermont. I had no story. I was born and bred in New York City. End of story.

Professor Skubikowski looked at me with a smile on her face and asked me introduce myself to the class. I decided to tell them the truth. I started by saying that I was born in New York City and grew up there ALL my life, but I would like to start my journey  in a small country in South America, Ecuador. I told them about my ancestors, how they had founded a village named Datas and had lived there till my Great-grandparents moved to the nearest city, Guayaquil in the 1950s. I told them that my ancestors have a rich history because storytelling was an important element in my family. We have passed down stories from generation to generation, learning that we were part of the nowaday “Inca Empire”, that our male ancestors came from Cordoba, Spain, that our African great (x6) grandmother was a runaway slave from La Sierra, that my mother’s paternal great grandparents came from Japan in the 1900s, and that I should be proud I come from the four courners of the world.

And at that instant, I remember why I signed up for this class: Because I also wanted to learn about my American culture and what does it mean to be an American citizen from the international and domestic perspective. To this day, I never regretted the decision. This was a great start in my college career as a storyteller and writer.