Paola Calahorrano

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Please explain a little bit about yourself and what you do for living.

I’m a visiting lecturer in the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh. I came to the United States in 2009 to study an M.A. and a PhD in Hispanic Literature, and I’ve lived in 3 different cities: Tucson, Boston, and now Pittsburgh. I’ve been teaching Spanish language, literature and culture the whole time.

How important in your identity is being Latina?

It’s very important. It’s part of me. I am Ecuadorian, so I have this identity in Latin America, where there is a lot of diversity. However, in the U.S. I can identify with people from other Latin American countries. There we can be considered very, very different but here in the U.S. we share a sense of belonging to the Latino community so we don’t feel so different. Additionally, the fact that I am Latina is important for my interactions with my students because they can get to know Spanish, my language, and my culture directly from me. I believe that they enjoy this aspect.

Is there something that you particularly value of your nationality or being Latina?

Yes, the sense of community is essential to me. The sense of community is very different here. I struggle to find a community as I did in Ecuador because it is so different here. You have to work a lot in this country to reach out to a community, to construct relationships, to have real close friends, etc., since people have other priorities.

Have you been treated differently because of being Latina (in the workplace, in public settings…etc.)? If so, can you describe a situation?

Not really in the workplace, not with my students either. But in public spaces, sure. In Tucson I was usually treated as an equal by most people because there is a large Hispanic population there. Boston is also a very multicultural city, so they are used to it. But here in Pennsylvania, in Pittsburgh, sure, I have been treated differently. Especially in public transportation

For example, once I tried to ask a bus driver about a location in the city, and—I think my English is okay. I have an accent, of course, but you can still understand me—he told me “I don’t understand you, your accent is hard to understand.” So I was like, oh, okay. I guess that’s in part because of racism, and it happens because sometimes people are not used to diversity and Pittsburgh is not that diverse. However, I try to understand their experience without judging.