October 23, 2018 was a special day for Mexico and Boston. It was the day that UNAM held their opening ceremony, signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the University of Massachusetts Boston. After rigorous searching in the Boston area this Center for Mexican Studies would become a part of the UMass Boston family now housed on the eighth floor of the Healey Library.
Who or what is UNAM? According to Héctor Zavala, Deputy Director for Strategy and Management for the center, UNAM is the National Autonomous University of Mexico. It is “the largest university of Latin America and the most important cultural project in the country.” It is also considered a world heritage site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization based in Paris which is a specialized agency of the United Nations. Héctor is from Mexico City and began earning his bachelor’s degree at UNAM in 2009. He is honored to be on the same team as Benjamín Juárez Echenique, Director of UNAM.
Benjamín described the University that was founded in 1551 in glowing terms: “Imagine the U.S. had a free, main university in DC with over 300,000 students, the best ranking and largest research programs in the country and that everyone wanted to go study there.” He originally studied law then switched to music at UNAM. He was given a “generous” scholarship by the university which allowed him to study in Paris. Benjamín went on to teach at UNAM and become the head of the Music and Dance Department which ran performance activities in all the schools and colleges of the university as well as, at the time, in the brand new 2,300 seat concert hall “Sala Netzahualcoyotl” which was considered one of the best in Latin America.
Héctor and Benjamín have an important job and have been fortunate to bring on three wonderful interns for a few months. I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Mariana De Lucio, Adrián Muñoz Galván, and Marilu Hernández who will all spend four months in Boston. Mariana graduated from UNAM with a law degree. She focuses on human rights with immigration and feels UNAM is a great way for Mexicans to connect with nonprofit organizations in New England. Mariana translates in interviews and emails especially legal jargon. She told me that “Boston is like serendipity.” The city surprised her with its academic environment. She will also be volunteering to help the UMass Boston exchange students this summer in Mexico City as they attend her home university.
Adrián is a Business and Marketing Major at UNAM and his duties while here entail working with promotion, accounting and financial reports. He told me he really likes the diversity in Boston as well as the science, art and design. He likes the contact with people from all over the world and the fact that UMass is open to awarding immigrants with scholarships because it gives people an opportunity for education. I asked him one thing about Boston that he likes, and he said, “Lobster rolls and chowder.”
Marilu is shy and smiling any time I see her. She studies Graphic Design at UNAM and brings those skills with her to UMass Boston by making fliers, banners, and social networking. She noted how the environment and the air is clean in Boston and people seemed relaxed and polite. She has also noticed the diversity here and likes meeting people from other countries. Marilu told me about the Bellas Artes Museum and that Mexico City is one of the most important capitals of design in Latin America.
Chatting with Mariana, Adrián, and Marilu was a highlight of my day. They really enjoy what they are doing and are having a good time in Boston. I asked them about their recent visit to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston to see the Frida Kahlo visit. Benjamín, Héctor, the interns and about sixty students were invited by the curator for a guided tour of the exhibit. Benjamín is not only very knowledgeable in the art of Frida Kahlo, but also the Mexican photographer, Graciela Iturbide whose work is also on exhibition. He appreciated witnessing how engaged UMass Boston students were with the exhibit. Mariana noted that it was “nice watching our culture in her art.”
Adrián lit up when he told me he “saw how many people were interested in my culture. People not from my country know about my culture.” He told me that Frida Kahlo was the first famous woman for painting in his country. In addition to telling me that Kahlo was the first woman artist in Mexico, Marilu expressed to me that “there are other great women artists and Mexico needs to promote more women artists.”
I hope that you take the opportunity to stop by the Healey Library and say hello to these amazing people. I am excited to have the opportunity to get know them more in the future. Two hours later, which I had not even realized had gone by, I left with a warm heart and a feeling of new friends. I will be sad to see them return to Mexico, but it just means I will need to visit them and have Marilu take me to the Bellas Artes Museum!