Sunday, July 24, 2011

Wanderer in the city/viajera en la ciudad

Now that I've been relieved of any real responsibility at the university that was my official "host" for the Fulbright, I've decided to make my own networks and create my own intellectual community here. Since my research project has changed substantially since I arrived, I've had to figure out who has been working in related areas and how and where to find them. Although I don't have to travel to Guatemala on a weekly basis for teaching, many of the research centers, universities and scholars are in the capital city, and I also need a mental health break from the altiplano from time to time. 

This week I decided to explore some contacts at the Universidad de San Carlos (USAC), the public university that has had a reputation for political commitment/engagement by both faculty and students (the day before I visited a student organization had blockaded one of the avenues leading to the university to protest the general conditions of insecurity in the country).  I had met one of the vice-rectors of USAC at the Guatemala Scholars Network conference - he is affiliated with the Center for Urban and Regional Studies, and that seemed like not a bad place to start. So we set up a meeting. I also decided to try and track down one of the country's leading feminist scholars, a woman named Walda Barrios-Klee. Several people had mentioned her but no one had given me her contact information. So one morning I just went online and googled her and found her webpage and, without much hope, wrote to the email address that appeared at the bottom. To my pleasant surprise, within 5 minutes she responded and agreed to meet the following day (which was the day I was going to USAC).

 So I set off on Thursday morning, having arrived in Antigua the previous night. I successfully navigated my way around the Anilo Periférico (the "peripheral ring") that intersects the main entrance road to the city (the Panamericana/Interamericana/CA-1 that turns into Boulevard Roosevelt) and leads to USAC at one end and the Centro Histórico at the other end. 

With a little help via cell phone (where Guatemala would be without cell phones, I don't like to think) I found the right parking lot and building. Oscar, the vice-rector whom I'd met, was busy but his secretary was helpful and also introduced me to some other faculty there, and then gave me contacts for two other research institutes, the Institute for Inter-ethnic Studies and the Institute for the Study of Women. 

I had intended to visit the Facultad de Ciencias de Comunicación to see if anyone had done research on radios comunitarias (community radio stations) and was able, with Oscar's help, to get a meeting on the spot with the director, who kindly lent me a copy of a recent undergraduate thesis on community radio.

I was not as successful in gaining admission to the library of the Facultad de Comunicación; apparently the entire staff was at a meeting that ended later than it was supposed to. But I spent an agreeable half-hour wandering around the campus looking at, and photographing, political graffiti and checking out the various vendors who had spread their wares out on the pathways.  This felt, in some ways, like my ideal of a university -- a place where students spray-painted slogans on the walls, organized protests, and the faculty were engaged and welcoming.

Then off to the Feria de Libros (FILGUA) to meet Walda. Again, cell phones were crucial in helping us locate each other and I was pleased at the warmth of her reception. We talked for a bit and then walked around to check out the fair. I could easily have spent days and several thousand quetzales there. I only had time to visit a few booths as I'd made plans to meet a friend around 5, but we went to a few booths, including one that was giving out for free a lot of material on the armed conflict, the police, the massacres. I visited the booth of Cholsamaj, one of the Maya publishing houses, and maybe one or two others before heading off.  I purchased some poetry, books on race and gender, and wished I could have spent more time. Unfortunately, I realized, I wasn't going to be able to make it back before the book fair closed.

 Facultad de Ciencias de Comunicación

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