Meet UVA/FAAM intern Frances Montevilla

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By Cady de la Cruz (Andean-American)

Frances Montevilla

Frances Montevilla, Bolivian-American student at the University of Virginia and FAAM intern.

A 19-year-old from Alexandria, Virginia, Frances Montevilla is a second-year student at the University of Virginia (UVA). She is planning on majoring in American studies with a minor in Indigenous studies. This summer, she is interning for First American Art Magazine through UVA’s Mellon Indigenous Arts Program. Frances is a bright mind with many perspectives to contribute to UVA, FAAM, and the many other spaces she will take part in in the professional future that stretches before her.

CDLC: What kind of work do you feel called to be doing, both currently and in the dreams that you are working toward?

FM: I feel most attracted to activism and social justice. That can be interpreted in different ways, for example, how you define activism or how you envision doing social justice work. Sometimes it can be misinterpreted as well. It can be wrongly assumed as something to do just for a résumé or job application. I have heard stories of hirers asking, why are you participating in social justice work? For some people, it is more than just wanting to do it but it is because it is a necessary part of their life. It is not an additional effort. It is something that they just have to deal with because it is part of their life.

CDLC: I think you are right, that our experiences guide what we want to work toward, politically and otherwise. Our experiences and our identity, become who we are. I think people try to separate those things, saying that there is a bias in that, but I think they are very inseparable. The personal is political, right? Which of your experiences and identities guide you most today?

FM: In Northern Virginia, I live within the Bolivian diaspora community. I have not felt like I have been an active part of this until I entered high school and my mom coerced me into dancing with her. She also forced my dad and my siblings to dance Morenada, which is a Bolivian folklore dance. I feel obligated to live up to my mom’s expectations and do what she likes to do. For the most part, that was my entrance into learning more about the Bolivian community.

BOLIVIAN DANCE & CULTURE

FM: Although I love Morenada, I knew that it was not something that truly came out of my heart, until after we participated in the first Bolivian festival in Manassas, Virginia. After a performance, we sat down and watched other performances from other groups. It finally clicked, when I listened and saw performers from a specific group dancing Salay. I think it was that moment where I could already feel my toes tapping and my head shaking to the beat of the charango [an Andrean stringed instrument], that I knew I wanted to dance Salay.

Frances Montevilla

Dressed to dance, Frances at left.

It did take a lot of convincing from me to my mom for her to allow me to dance in the group. It took me a year to convince her and until then it was just listening to music and practicing small steps. When I finally joined, it felt like me. I truly did feel happy. Even though the first practice was very rough, it was one step towards pursuing my dream of dancing Salay, something that had come out of my own heart. Later, my parents and both sisters joined along because they saw how passionate I was. I am very happy to say that to this day I am still in love with Salay.

Other important experiences: being able to perform in different communities at different events, learning more about the Bolivian religion and spirituality. Being able to visit Bolivia is also something that formed me. Seeing different people interact with one another in La Paz and Cochabamba was definitely an important experience for me. Attend different cooking events we call kermesses allowed me to hear the Indigenous language of Quechua spoken among older men and women or those around my parent’s age, but less commonly with younger generations.

I grew up in a household with two grandparents who speak Aymara, another one of the Indigenous languages in Bolivia. My siblings and I speak English, and my grandparents have no idea what we are saying, while my grandparents have this secret language that they communicate with each other and between their own relatives that we can’t understand either. Besides maybe a few cuss words or maybe numbers, we do not really know how to speak Aymara. But I have been hearing it for almost 20 years now since they have also raised me. I began realizing, those who are speaking Aymara are never your peers [in age]. That shocked me when I realized.

Moving to UVA, a predominantly white institution, I missed the Bolivian community that has been a really huge part of my whole high school career. It was harder to interact with, or even find people who identified as Bolivian. I have been trying to learn Quechua to show other kids that even though you might be studying economics, biology, or politics, you can still use your identity to guide your own college experience. Being Bolivian also interacts with other people’s identities, for example, Cady (Peruvian), and someone else who also comes from the same area, like Ecuador. We are all Andean cultures. Beyond just being Bolivian, I have begun to explore what it means to be Andean, sharing that culture with others. These national borders are constructed by conquistadors. I am grateful for the cultural diversity among Latinx students at UVA. In my dreams, I hope that I can complete college and come out as the first generation in my household to do that. Hopefully, coming back with knowledge of how to better help my community, because the community is everything to me.

LATINE INDIGENOUS INDENTITY

CDLC: I love that last part. Bringing something back that enriches your community the way it enriched you. Next, I saw you speak on the Indigenous Latinx student panels at the University of Pennsylvania this winter, before we worked together on furthering Indigenous issues at UVA, and within the UVA Latine community. I want to know what your thoughts are on Latine people stepping away from Latinidad and claiming their Native ancestry?

FM: On this panel with UPenn, we discussed within the panel what it means to be Latinx and Indigenous. For some people being both is important to them, not only being Latinx but exploring your indigeneity. For me, this was within this past year. I have started trying to understand what it means for me, coming from a family where I have two grandparents who speak an Indigenous language and have many Indigenous ancestors. There is a difference between being culturally Indigenous versus racially Indigenous. For me, it is more being culturally Indigenous than racially. Then again, race itself is absolutely a social construct.

Frances Montevilla

UVA’s Political Latinxs United for Movement and Action Society (PLUMAS) meet online. Frances at right.

Those who identify as Native American or Indigenous have every right to not identify with Latinx. Latin American countries are founded by colonizers and conquistadors. For those who have ancestry in Latin America, to call themselves Latinx when their people have been slaughtered and subjected to Latin colonization, they do not believe that being Latinx should be something that they are proud of identifying with.

I follow this professor, her handle is @mexican__excellence on Instagram. Her name is Citlalli Citlalmina Anahuac. She is leading a course on decolonization on YouTube for free. I have followed her for some time now. And she talks about the fact that she does not identify as Latinx at all. She is from Mexico, but she does not believe in identifying as Latinx because she sees it as a colonized construct that she doesn’t align with. She would rather be identified as Indigenous. You could have someone else who identifies as both Latinx and Indigenous. It depends on the person and being mindful of them.

VISUAL & PERFORMING ARTS

CDLC: As a young person not in the art world before coming to FAAM, what are your current feelings about art? How do you interact with art? Has working in FAAM changed your perspective at all?

FM: Before starting this internship with First American Art Magazine, I did not believe that art was any part of my life. Being with art, just meant being talented. I have learned there is a difference between being able to create a whole portrait of someone versus just making a line and calling that art or finding something discarded and labeling it as an exhibit. There is a lot that could be interpreted within “art.” Something that did introduce me more into our appreciation is my involvement with the Political Latinx United for Movement and Action Society (PLUMAS) at UVA. PLUMAS defines their activism through a system of pillars, which include political education, direct action, community, and art. I did not know why art was included within their pillars until I was introduced to these student leaders who defined art as a way for people to express themselves. Also, it is important to build community with different individuals who might resonate with the artwork. One of PLUMAS’s best works is their open mike night. A bunch of students come out and share their poetry or do a performance. I attended my first open mike in February of this year. Titled “Adios Amor,” the theme was types of love individuals wanted to share. This is considered art. You can use words as a tool to empower a movement or to inspire others. That is essentially what art is: a form of expression and inspiration for others. I have now come to love art in all different formats.

CDLC: Extending on that, I am wondering, how does work at First American Art Magazine fit into your life at this moment in your life and in time? Is there anything that you have interacted with in this work that has stood out to you, moved you, or taught you?

Frances Montevilla

Frances and her extended family, parents at far right and left, grandparents in front

FM: I have been able to look at different reviews and articles. In FAAM No. 5, Winter 2014/15. America Meredith (Cherokee Nation) wrote a report on the Intercontinental Biennial of Indigenous Art, which in that year took place in Quito, Ecuador. This resonated with me because I am a dancer, who loves performing in front of different audiences and being able to connect to people with dances. I am excited and looking forward to attending this year’s biennial. This event brings together Andean and Amazonian artists, which is something that I have not been as exposed to. In the past, when I think about Native art, I think about those who reside in North America. This whole idea of borders dividing us brings my attention. This internship has been able to provide me a way to explore Andean and Amazonian artists and even look into individuals who identify as Afro-Indigenous, expanding this idea of who we consider Indigenous. It allows me to observe and appreciate different art by Andean and Amazonian artists. I love being able to see different artists who have similar cultural upbringings and cultural experiences as I do.

All the artists that I have been able to read about in FAAM are individuals who have kept alive the cultures and customs of their communities. I admire these individuals and hope to also do similar work. Hopefully, I will be able to explore my identity as an artist, which is a new identity I’m cultivating.

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