Dr. Ariana Vigil
This past fall, I had the pleasure of meeting with the esteemed, Dr. Ariana Vigil, a well-known professor in the UNC Latinx community. For the past seven years, Dr. Vigil has been at Carolina’s Women’s and Gender Studies Department, while also working with the Latina/o Studies Program. Her PhD is in Literature and she conducts research in the fields of Latinx literature, militarization, and gender and sexuality studies. In the short time that we spoke, she covered a variety of topics ranging from her latest book, War Echoes (which encompasses themes of war and gender), to representations in media journalism, Latinx literature, and teaching at UNC.
“One of the reasons that I really wanted to come here was that there is a Latino studies program and there’s a demand for Latino Studies courses and content and I have never felt the need to separate those [teaching Latina/o Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies] things,” she said. “,-I’ve never felt the need to [say], ‘Okay, well now I’m going to teach Gender and Sexuality Studies and now I’m going to teach Latinx studies.’”
There are other aspects of the Latina/I Studies program that also intrigue Vigil. “I really appreciate the ways that the other faculty and the students and the staff are all really interested in that intersectionality, as well,” she said. “Even in the time that I’ve been here I’ve seen the Latinx student population grow and that’s been really exciting and again sort of reaffirms the reasons that I came here and that I want to be here.”
In 2014, Vigil published War Echoes, a book that focused on the impact of war and militarization alongside issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality as they relate to Latina/o culture and identity in the U.S. Vigil explained that she had been working on her PhD in Latina/o literature and was interested in looking at issues of transnationalism and gender.
“Originally, [my] dissertation focused only on U.S. literary engagements with Central America during the Dirty Wars of the 1980s,” she recalled, “[But] then I ended up expanding to include U.S. military intervention in [the Middle East] and in that sense I sort of did follow U.S. foreign policy.” She explained that she was influenced by the changing patterns of U.S. military intervention itself, namely the 2003 invasion of Iraq which began while she was in graduate school.
She wanted to look at a site where she could see solidarity between the work of U.S. Latina/o authors, activists, and cultural workers with transnational people and movements. It was important to Vigil to recognize and pinpoint this body of work that she used in her research, “I don’t think it’s been sufficiently appreciated and talked about,” She noted, “so, on the one level, the book was a recognition, an appreciation for the kinds of transnational Latino activists and activism that had been happening in the past 20-30 years so that people [would] not think that the sort of things that are happening today are totally new or don’t have precedent.” In many ways, the book was also meant to grapple with the role of Central Americans, to appreciate their contributions to U.S. Latino literature because they are often left out of conversations surrounding U.S. Latinidad.
While writing War Echoes, Vigil noticed that she ended up relying on the accounts of journalists/journalism because of the prevalence of war correspondence. “I started to also notice this sort of overlap between journalists and novelists –which there’s always been, you know– lots of novelists got their start as journalists.”
In Central America, this is especially true. Two of the biggest Central American-American writers today are two Guatemalan-American authors- Francisco Goldman and Hector Tobar- both of whom got their start as war journalists. Vigil decided to follow this interest and the effort resulted in a book about representations in media journalism and contemporary Latina/o literature, her current project. While conducting research for this book, she made some important discoveries about the topic, namely that there isn’t one set perspective. She wrestles with this, noting that, “When we talk about let’s say Latinx communities, one of the things we say in common conversations is that Latinx communities are not well-represented in the mainstream media and, of course, that’s true. That also sort of assumes, where does better representation get us?” In other literary work, she’s also had to grapple with this question and the relationship between political and media power.
“We’re sort of assuming that, one of the reasons Latinx communities don’t have greater political power is because they don’t have better media representation. That assumes that if we have better media representation then that will lead to greater political power. So I question that relationship, maybe that’s not the case right? Maybe it’s not that more media representation is going to somehow translate into more political power, but we assume that those two things are linked in a bigger way.”
These are important and difficult questions that our readers will, hopefully, be inspired to address, through conversation and discourse. Vigil, a great inspiration to her students, will continue to contribute to the Carolina community with her new course, “Introductions to Latina Feminisms: Literature Theory and Activisms,” which she will teach this fall. In this new course, she and her class will delve into the works of 21st century Latina feminist writers, leaders and thinkers and discuss their impact on feminist issues. It exactly this sort of implementation of field study into the classroom dialogue that makes college interesting