Hometown: Salinas, California
Major: History and Latin American Studies with a minor in Spanish
Why did you come to Bowdoin?
I've got some family in New Hampshire so I would go there in the summers. Then I got to the point where I was actually looking at colleges, and my mom said, "Oh, Maine is great!" And I said, "Oh, Maine, huh?" I had never been to Maine. So, one day, she said "All right, let's get in the car. We're gonna go." So we jumped in the car and drove across the border. I saw the sign that said "Maine: The Way Life Should Be," and I said, "Oh, this wouldn't be too bad." When I got to Bowdoin, I liked it. It was summertime, so it was great weather. At first, it wasn't my top choice because I didn't know if I wanted to be out East, but when I was choosing, I said, "I really want to go to a smaller place."
How did you decide on your major?
Growing up in Salinas, it's 60 to 65 percent Hispanic, so I had always had this vague awareness [of Latin American culture]. I didn't know there was an official study of it, but I grew up living in a really multicultural community, and so to come here and find out that I could actually study [Latin American culture] and get a degree in it was pretty awesome.
And then, I liked history a lot in high school. When I found out that I could take history classes and get a Latin American Studies major at the same time, I said, "I'll do it. I can do that."
The class that got me into Latin American Studies was Latin American Cultures, a Spanish class with Enrique Yepes. I had always known about what was going on in contemporary Mexico, California, and Texas, but I had never known anything beyond that, so I got to this class, and this whole world just opened up. Every country [in Latin America] is so distinct and there's so much happening there. Latin America, in my mind, is really the next big place where a lot of the world decisions are going to be made.
What has been your favorite class at Bowdoin?
Last fall I took a class called The Caribbeans. Allen Wells [of the History Department] and Enrique Yepes team-taught it. All the Latin American Studies teachers and almost all the Latin American Studies majors were together in the same room, bringing all our collective knowledge together in learning about the Caribbean. Joanna Bosse from the Music Department taught some classes, and Krista Van Vleet taught some classes in anthropology and women's studies, and a couple of French teachers came in and talked about Franco-Caribbean culture. We had an economics professor, Stephen Meardon, come in to talk about how the World Trade Organization and the World Bank have influenced Caribbean economics. It was this whole survey of what's been going on in the Caribbean for the last 500 years.
At the end of the semester, we got to do a daylong symposium. Everyone in the class presented their [independent projects]. Allen and Enrique rented out Moulton Union for the day, so we had those two conference rooms, and we had two panel discussions going on every hour and a half for the entire day. There were 19 or 20 people in the class, and the fact that everyone had a totally different subject and totally different interests really brought it home that the people here don't all think the same.
Have you done any independent studies?
I'm doing an honors project with Allen Wells in Latin American history. It's about the Cuban security state and how the Soviet KGB [intelligence agency] came into Cuba and institutionalized the security apparatus of Cuba from 1959 through 1964. I was down in Miami [over winter break] interviewing ex-political prisoners. Two of them had been in jail from 1961, right after the Bay of Pigs invasion, until 1970, and [another was in jail] until 1976. So I was getting their take on what the security apparatus was like during that period. A big part of my paper is seeing what happened to them within the prison systems. I compared the Siberian Gulags to the Cuban prison system during the sixties to see how much the KGB had influenced the Cuban prisons and repression apparatus.
It's been a good project because I got to interview really cool people, and I've gotten to talk with teachers who I wouldn't have thought I'd ever come in contact with because their specialty is 20th-century Russian politics or 20th-century social history of Russia, and [I think], "God, there are so many gems on this campus to glean information off of." You can be a little leach and it's totally legit.
What extracurriculars do you participate in? Do you have an on-campus job?
I just did Waiting for Godot. I like theater. I haven't done as much as I've wanted to, but I've done a lot of one-acts. I'm an officer at the Outing Club, too. I'm the treasurer. I've worked at the Art Library since my sophomore year. And I played baseball for a year.
I've also been trying to start up an environmental co-op on campus, which was going really well until a couple of weeks ago. I think in the future, it'll be on campus. Hopefully next year.
Did you study abroad?
I did. I studied in Cuba, actually, the fall semester of my junior year, at the University of Havana. I had a really awesome time. That's how I got interested in doing the honor's project. I lived in an apartment because Americans can't live with Cubans, so we lived in a "residential hostel." I was in a neighborhood [though], so I had a sort of extended, block-long host family. I became close friends with a couple of folks, and I'd go over to their place and have dinner. We'd do a trade, so I'd go over and have dinner one night and then the next night [I'd make dinner]. I definitely didn't want to take their rationed food, but I wanted to be with them, so I'd bring my own food. It was definitely a fun four months and I learned a lot in general.
What is your best Bowdoin memory?
I guess there are some big instances, but for the most part, it's the little things that I see on campus. Maybe I'm just turning into an old, nostalgic man, but I'll be walking across campus on a fall day and seeing the colors - that kind of defines Bowdoin for me. And the people who I've been friends with the past four years. If you don't have people, what's college really about?
And even though I ended up not doing baseball after freshman year, [I'm grateful to have met] everyone I did freshman year because of it.
There's also a place called the Giant Steps, on Bailey's Island. Just to go out there and sit and listen to the waves crashing on the shore, it's just really peaceful. It's the mix of being on the Maine coast and hearing buoy gongs going in the background and seagulls screaming and the waves crashing and foghorns blowing and people talking quietly about lobster traps - that's the kind of stuff that sticks out.
What are your plans after graduation?
I'm waiting to hear back from a couple folks about doing either environmental law or environmental justice. I might go to Mexico to work with local groups as well as national groups to foster a sense of environmental justice for everyone. Basically, international environmental law is what I really want to do because it's such a new field. I'd like to get in on the ground level and try to make legislation that is sustainable and feasible and has the staying power to move beyond our lifetime.
What advice would you give to a prospective student?
Don't limit yourself and be so focused on a goal you think you want that you miss out on things that you wouldn't try out normally. This is the place and time to do it. When you get out of college, you're not going to be able to take a dance class or take the afternoon off and play a game of Wiffle Ball with your friends. For example, I'm not an Art History major and I have nothing to do with art, but I worked in the Art Library for three years. That's something where [I said], "I'd like to do it; I know nothing about it, but I think it would be fun." And it turned out to be one of my best times, being up there and working and having that second home. It wasn't comfortable at first because it was something new, but new things get comfortable after a while. If you try to stay comfortable for your whole life, you put blinders on and you forget that there's a big world out there.
Oh, and get out into the Brunswick community, because it's awesome.