New faculty: Maria Abello Hurtado

Mount Holyoke College’s new faculty member Maria Abello Hurtado’s research is centered on uncovering the slave narratives of Black girls in South America.

Maria Abello-Hurtado comes from a long line of Black activists in the struggle for liberation in her homeland of Colombia. Her interest in and study of Africana and critical race has helped to advance her research on slave narratives in South America.

“The way most Latin American societies operate, including Colombia, is based on the idea of a racial democracy or racial blindness,” Hurtado said. “The people of African descent and Indigenous people know that is not true. There is plenty anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.”

A large part of Hurtado’s research on anti-Blackness and the aftermath of slavery in Colombia is centered around the continued exploitation of Black girls’ bodies. She is interested in exposing how the practice of pushing Black girls into maturity started with colonialism and is still repeating itself in modern society, and in highlighting why conversations about Black girls are important.

“We know a little bit about the conditions of enslaved girls who arrived in Colombia. We know slave owners were waiting for them just to have their first menstruation so they could start producing more people,” Hurtado said. “Today in Colombia we have a problem with teenage pregnancy. And most of those girls are sexually initiated or raped by elderly peers.”

Hurtado believes that although slavery no longer exists officially, the racial capitalism it created is still upheld by pushing these girls into womanhood and their children into a system that allows them to fall victim to limited labor options due to a lack of education.

Her research on uncovering the slave narratives of Black girls in South America has been published in The Black Scholar and the Ministry of Culture in Colombia. She has also co-authored a book with Dr. Carmen Cosme titled “Demando mi libertad: Mujeres negras y sus estrategias de resistencia en la Nueva Granada, Venezuela y Cuba, 1700–1800,” which was edited by Cosme and Aurora Vergara Figueroa, Colombia’s current minister of education.

“A series of authors, including me, were called to study the early history of Black women in the countries that are now Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela,” Hurtado said. “We studied the strategies and the social movements that Black enslaved women had in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I also studied the early writing production of Black women, though very few of them had access to letters, and how they used that for defending and for asking for their freedom and the freedom of their offspring.”

Hurtado’s love of liberal arts colleges was a major deciding factor in choosing Mount Holyoke. The College’s proximity to University of Massachusetts-Amherst also allows her to continue advancing her doctoral research. This fall Hurtado will be teaching Black Feminist Thought and Intro to Africana Studies and is excited to have the opportunity to foster the brilliant minds that attend Mount Holyoke.

“We have so many problems in the world. We have a climate crisis. Misogyny and anti-Black racism are still very alive. We have a class problem,” Hurtado said. “But watching the students devour the material and make connections between what happened in the past and what is currently happening makes me feel that everything is not lost. It refreshes my political commitment to education and social transformation. It makes me know I’m on the right track.”

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