“A symbiosis of having fun and getting the work done”
“It’s so empowering to know someone is telling your story. That’s one way I see myself using my education: getting the people I know published or giving them the self-authorship to get their own stories published, and get these stories into the curriculum.”
The story of Rebeca Villatoro-Alvarez begins in a small Salvadoran village, hours from the capital.
Born and raised in the aftermath of El Salvador’s civil war, Villatoro-Alvarez grew up not entirely aware of the scourge of war her mother, aunts and uncles had just lived through.
Daniel Czitrom’s Recent American History course at Mount Holyoke College this past year changed that. Assigned to tell a “kitchen-table history” of her family, Villatoro-Alvarez had a mandate to explore her family’s history, interview extended family and share the story with classmates.
“It was such a beautiful experience to interview my family,” she recalls. “It was an honor for me to hear their story. What they had to struggle through. And getting them to share that was very special and meaningful. I got to learn my family’s history and El Salvador’s history.”
Her own story and those of others will continue to be vital to Villatoro-Alvarez’s studies and career, she says. With her degree she hopes to start a publishing or production company that funds youth projects in storytelling.
Over the summer of 2021, Villatoro-Alvarez was partnering with a health center in East Boston to focus on addressing the mental health crisis facing under-resourced youth in the Latinx community there.
“It’s so empowering to know someone is telling your story,” she says. “That’s one way I see myself using my education: getting the people I know published or giving them the self-authorship to get their own stories published, and get these stories into the curriculum.”
That personal yet community-empowering approach has made Villatoro-Alvarez’s two years at Mount Holyoke to date incredibly meaningful. She cites her advisor, Mary Renda, as providing a particularly meaningful forum on Zoom in the past year for students to share their stories and personalities in as animated a way as is possible in a virtual environment.
“[Prof. Renda] would always pick a song that students liked and play it and we would have a dance party. For the last class, she picked my favorite song, “Good Job” by Alicia Keys, and she got up with us and danced around the room. It was so uniquely pandemic and so uniquely Mount Holyoke. Somehow faculty here find a way of prioritizing both education and relationships, a symbiosis of having fun and getting the work done.”