The Women of Chiapas
After an intensive five-week course in political science, Gaviota Del Mar Hernández Quiñones ’21 headed to Mexico to continue her studies on women as agents for social change.
Gaviota Del Mar Hernández Quiñones ’21 exhibits a laser-like focus on the coursework and experiences that are moving her toward her long-term goals—doctoral studies in political science, research related to gender and race, and a career in international politics.
Last spring alone, she took five political science courses that broadened her understanding of the roles of gender in conflict, economic development, human rights, religion, and social justice. Earlier this summer she participated in the American Political Science Association’s highly selective program at Duke University, where she was one of 15 undergraduates from around the country selected to pursue intensive coursework in political science as a Ralph Bunche Summer Institute Scholar. The program, named for the first person of color to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, is considered a graduate pipeline program for members of underrepresented groups interested in pursuing doctoral studies in political science.
Hernández immigrated from Puerto Rico to the United States for that very purpose, drawn to topics such as U.S.-Latin American relations, democracy, and the establishment of neo-liberalism across the American continent. She found a home at Washington College, where she established the first Latin American Students’ Association and took on leadership roles in the Black History Month and Latinx History Month committees. She also became involved in the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, landing an Explore America Summer Internship at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History and participating in the National Home Front Project, collecting oral histories from civilians who lived through World War II.
During her time at Duke, Hernández aced two classes in politics (Race and Politics in the U.S., and Empirical Research in Political Science), attended weekly lectures presented by visiting scholars, participated in workshops, and attended a recruiting fair where universities from all over the country offered information about their graduate school programs. She also developed a research paper on gender and domestic violence in Mexico—a subject she’ll continue to explore through her Senior Capstone Experience.
With funding from the College’s Douglass Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Hernández traveled to Mexico where she was part of a nine-day-long Reality Tour organized by the human rights group, Global Exchange. She also spent several days meeting with local human rights organizations, grassroots groups, and women entrepreneurs, activitists, and artists. Among them were several feminist groups—lesbo-feminists, anti-capitalist feminists, capitalist feminists, Catholic feminist, atheist feminists, pro-life feminists, pro-choice feminists, Afro-Mexican feminists, feminists who work on environmental issues, and feminists who combat social injustices and torture within prisons.
“I was able to connect with a huge variety of women who are all seeking socioeconomic and political equality, but the labels they use to self-identify are not the same,” says Hernández. “In fact, I even met with a group of women whom I would call feminists but they don’t describe themselves as such. Throughout my time in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, my main goal was to collect public opinion on women’s resistance against neoliberalism and other types of violence that directly and indirectly threaten their livelihoods.”
Hernández says the goal of her Cater research and her SCE is to provide evidence of “unconventional” political participation of women in Chiapas.
“As most of these groups are not NGOs, they often disregarded in research,” Hernández notes. “Moreover, if their ideological system goes against the status quo and is sometimes even anarchist, then they are not considered to be “politically participating” in traditional ways (i.e., voting, calling a representative, running for office). So I suggest that there are other strategies employed to achieve social and political change from a gender and feminist perspective in México.”