Meet Pomona’s 2023 Oldenborg International Research and Travel Grant recipients

Student speaks in front of crowd at Oldenborg
On Oct. 27, this year’s recipients of Pomona College’s Oldenborg International Research and Travel Grant presented their summer research at Oldenborg Center. (Andrew Yuan • The Student Life)

This summer, Maria Duran Gonzalez PO ’24 traveled to Ecuador to document the stories people, especially women, tell about the land.

One of the testimonies she heard from an abuela was, “Before, what was sown was reaped; the cassava, the coffee, the banana, the beans [and] all that was planted was harvested. But now, even the lands no longer want to produce because they’re not planted like before. Now there are no more of these parts here around us. No, it is not planted like before. It is all over.”

Duran Gonzales was able to do this research because she was one of the 2023 recipients of the Oldenborg International and Travel Grant. On Friday, Oct. 27, Duran Gonzales and Lucia Cappella PO ’23, the two 2023 recipients of the grant, presented their summer research experiences at a lunch colloquium in the Oldenborg Center.

The grant, sponsored by the Oldenborg Center, offers financial support to rising seniors at Pomona seeking to cover the expenses of their summer international research as they work on their senior thesis or senior exercise. Awards are made in varying amounts of up to $4,500.

Duran Gonzalez traveled to La Comuna Ancestral Las Tunas — or the Ancestral Commune of Las Tunas in Southern Manabí, Ecuador — to conduct ethnographic interviews and research documenting environmental storytelling.

Duran Gonzalez was inspired to conduct this research after a semester studying abroad in Ecuador during her junior year.

“In the fall of 2022, I was able to identify this strong lineage of environmental storytelling, and it reflected a strong connection to the environment,” she said at the presentation. “But underlying all these narratives is the thread of colonialism, of usurping land or having the intention to displace the people of these lands, and I was inspired to research more into this.”

Duran Gonzalez said she realized that her approach to inquiry reflected a masculine portrayal of stories, and that the men who were sharing these stories were entirely controlling the knowledge production. This meant that the voices of women were being excluded.

To fill in this gap of exclusion, Duran Gonzalez collected testimonies from women, who revealed a different connection to the land and explained that territories were being destroyed.

In analyzing these testimonies, Duran Gonzalez is proposing a feminist geography theory that builds off of indigenous scholars and Latin American feminist geographies.

As she conducted research, Duran Gonzalez said she had to be flexible with managing expectations.

“I came in wanting to talk to ten or fifteen women, but I had to account for my position as a foreigner,” she said. “Not everyone wanted to talk and engage, so my objective shifted from wanting to talk to 15 women to creating a stronger community.”

Duran Gonzalez said that the grant supported her financially, as it covered her flights and board. She also found a mentor in professor Eileen Cheng, the faculty director of the Oldenborg Center.

“Because this research is part of my senior thesis, I actually credit a lot of how I’m planning my thesis now [to] her and the way that she helped me organize my ideas,” Duran Gonzalez said. “I’m very grateful for the grant as Professor Cheng is now part of my support system and part of my thesis process.”

History major Lucia Cappella PO ’23, the other grant recipient, conducted archival research at the National Library of Spain to gain a comprehensive understanding of the cultural movement La Movida Madrileña and to understand its significance within the broader context of Spain’s transition to democracy.

Much like Duran Gonzalez, Cappella decided to research this topic after spending a semester abroad in Spain.

“I went to Madrid on the weekends and I got to walk down the streets and see the areas of the city where this movement took place, and sort of try to imagine what it was like to be in that space when Madrid went from such a repressed gray place to a one of such vibrancy, and I just wanted to learn more,” she said.

Cappella visited the library every day for a month, perusing newspapers, zines, movies and photographs, trying to understand the significance of the movement. In total, she collected materials from around 200 different sources. As she worked, she noticed themes of postmodernism and internationalism begin to emerge.

“Several articles were making parallels between other countercultural movements that had occurred earlier around the globe, 10 to 15 years prior, and internationalism came into play as it indicated that Spain was sort of behind the rest of the world culturally,” Capella said. “What new and distinct thing did La Movida have to offer?”

Cappella used a postmodern framework to analyze the movement, finding that the point of La Movida was not necessarily to advance Spanish culture, but instead to experiment and to play with gender non-conformity and queerness, both of which were previously repressed.

Capella asserts that her work would not have been possible without help from the grant. “I’m so grateful for this grant and it’s just completely transformed my thesis and life trajectory,” she said.

Updated information regarding the grant can be found on the Oldenborg Summer Funded Opportunities website. Students can also follow them on Instagram @OldenborgCenter to stay up to date on all things happening at Oldenborg.

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