Belkis Suarez | Associate Professor of Spanish

Belkis Suarez, associate professor of Spanish

Q&A with Belkis Suarez, associate professor of Spanish.

MMU: I understand you presented at the Conferência Internacional de Ciências Sociais e Humanas and for the Latin American Studies Association (LASA,) how did you become involved with these conferences?

BS: I was invited to present at the Conferência Internacional de Ciências Sociais e Humanas in Leiria, Portugal, by a colleague who was also presenting and the coordinator of the Conference.

I am an active member of LASA. I started participating in LASA in 2010 as a panel organizer and presenter. I have attended and participated very consistently since then. Last year I presented at LASA in Barcelona, Spain. The process to present in LASA is very rigorous and starts a year before the conference takes place. I had been lucky to have been able to present and to be the organizer of several panels at the largest Latin American conference in the world.

MMU: Can you give a quick synopsis of your presentation? What were you hoping conference attendees would walk away with?

BS: In both presentations, I connected the Venezuelan film Pelo Malo with the cultural policies of the current Venezuelan government. Attendees were able to see these connections that may not be apparent for the common audience.

MMU: How did you become interested in these topics? Where does your passion for these subjects come from?

BS: I wrote a paper that was published as a book chapter in 2008 in which I connected public policies and Venezuelan film. I really liked writing that paper, even though the majority of my research until then had been focused on the study of literary work. When I was developing my dissertation topic, I included film as part of my research. My committee advised me to work only with literature and I removed film analysis from my research. After graduation in 2011, I began including the study of films in my research, and I have been studying film in connection with cities and violence since 2012. I believe literary works and films can reflect on elements or events in the real world that may be difficult to portray but become easier as they are shown as fiction. Studying these unique interpretations of reality is fulfilling because there are many perspectives that can form a better understanding of a particular topic or topics. Sometimes they even hide what cannot be said openly under certain political regimes, as it has been the case in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Cuba and Venezuela. My research tries to find patterns in this direction. What fascinates me is that Latin American films historically have intersected with politics and in the Venezuelan case, it has been the government that has made an effort to use film to enhance political projects.

MMU: How does your research or work outside of MMU inform what you teach in the classroom? In what ways do students benefit?

BS: My students at MMU benefit tremendously from my research projects. I read novels and watch films from the countries I study on a regular basis, and therefore I am up to date on cultural productions in the region. I use parts of the books I read and the films I watch in the classrooms to develop particular topics, to teach about culture in context, as well as to provide instructions on pronunciation, intonation, or simply how a specific topic is being represented. In addition to my Spanish language acquisition classes, I also teach film and literature courses.

MMU: Was there an idea or bit of research you learned during the conference and found especially interesting? What did you walk away with?

BS: Many things. As I am the only faculty at MMU who studies what I do. Going to conferences is crucial for me because it is thanks to these conferences that I get feedback on my research and I learn from what others are doing.

At LASA 2018, I met and talked to a colleague from Canada who has been researching dissidence in Cuba. His presentation impacted my work tremendously—I even changed the presentation I was going to give in Portugal after hearing his talk. LASA is the biggest and most attended conference on Latin America in the world. There are so many panels and presenters that it is truly overwhelming. I take advantage to go to as many presentations as possible, but I also use the opportunity to talk to colleagues and to collaborate with them in many ways. For example, it was at LASA Puerto Rico where I formed a reading group with colleagues from three different universities to collaborate and read each other’s research. That group is still active.

Also, knowing scholars with similar research and pedagogical interests has given me the possibility to collaborate and participate in other conferences and to write reviews.

Attending these conferences is what actually keeps me up to date and it is one of the richest aspects of my academic experience given that I am the only professor who teaches language and Latin American literature at Mount Mercy. 

 

MMU: You recently published a piece of work titled “Micro-espacios disidentes: Venezuela en el film Pelo malo.” Will you give us a brief synopsis?

BS: In the article I study Mariana Rondón’s film Pelo malo (2013) as a cultural product that serves as an instrument for social reflection and criticism.  I argue that in the film, the director uses micro-spaces, the body, and gender to develop a dissent argument about social despair, the lack of mutual respect, and exclusion in contemporary Venzeualan society.  The film undermines official government rhetorical regarding inclusion and equality by showing their limited extent and practice in the day-to-day life of a young boy and his family.  Through the successful connection of gender, class, race, and political policy through micro-spaces, Rondón reveals the persistent precariousness and vulnerability that shape and define the lives of minority groups in Venezuela under the Bolivarian Revolution.

MMU: How did you become interested in the topic, and why did you decide to focus your work on the topic?

BS: I have been doing research connecting films and literary works with politics in Latin America and especially Venezuela since 2008. The cultural production in the region is usually tied with cultural policies, which is clearly evident in the case of film. My research focuses on that connection given the increased focus on and production of films during the current political process in Venezuela.

MMU: Will you give us a glimpse into your research, writing, and publishing processes? Did you face obstacles? If so, how did you overcome the obstacles?

BS: This article started as a conference paper that I presented in Cartagena, Colombia.  I continued to work on the same paper, and I presented it in Leira, Portugal in the summer of 2018. The conference was a success: students were very excited to have international scholars visiting their university, and they decided to publish the papers presented. As of right now they are in the process of reviewing the final versions of the extended papers. Some presenters have not finished their final versions, making the publication process longer. 

The research obstacles I have encountered digging into the analysis I developed in this paper is that, in contrast with other cases in Latin America, the Venezuelan political case is a hybrid one: for some it is authoritarian, conservative and right wing, and for others it is open, populist and left wing.  This creates an important space for controversy and debate. Since the political scenario is as it is, it has been difficult to find other scholars doing research with this perspective, as many deal with countries that were under a dictatorship or revolution but not within a democratic framework, which is the case in Venezuela. The political tension has extended to academia, and it is difficult to publish having a position that tends to lean towards one or the other side because of the radical views that tend to define debate about Venezuela.

MMU: What impact do you hope this publication has? If people take one thing from your work, what should it be?

BS: That even though it may seem that a Latin American country is creating cultural policies as part of the cultural project, these cultural projects can be created to support a political agenda. 

MMU: What’s next in your work?

BS: To continue studying film and literature in connection with the cultural policies and the use of cultural resources to teach Spanish. I am working on a paper to publish in another publication hopefully in 2020 for a US journal.