The Quechua Manuscripts of the Yanacona Indigenous Leader and Poet Fredy Chikangana

Mabel Orjuela-Bowser, Ph.D. Candidate, Interdisciplinary Humanities, UC Merced

Fredy Chikangana generously gave me his original manuscripts of nineteen poems written in Quechua, some of which were recently on display at the UC Merced Library, together with more that I share here, accompanied by their Spanish version and my own or other English translations. While some of the poems are about the 2021 social outbreak in Colombia, others are about different topics. I was glad to find among them a few of his iconic poems such as “Quechua es mi corazón” (Quechua is my Heart) and “Espíritu de pájaro” (Bird Spirit).

Figure 1: Photo of the manuscript of the poem “Chunkay chunkayta,” from the author’s personal file

Chikangana, Fredy. “Chunkay chunkayta.” Copyright © 2021 Fredy Chikangana. Photo by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

This is the original manuscript of the poem “Chunkay chunkayta” (Repeating Itself), written in Quechua Runa Shimi language. However, the words “(repitiéndose),” and “presidentes” are written in Spanish. In the first line, we can read “(repitiéndose),” in parentheses, which is the Spanish translation of the title “Chunkay chunkayta.” The use of the word “presidente” is probably because it does not have an equivalent in Quechua Runa Shimi language, as there is no such a figure in their culture. Some of the most common words to refer to a Quechua chief or chief communal authority are “kuraka” and “Pushak,” but they are not exactly equivalent to a Western president.

In “Chunkay chunkayta,” Chikangana establishes a genealogy of current power in Abya Yala (today known in Spanish as Las Américas) to show us that the invading civilization and its power have been repeating and adapting to the changes of the times, but without losing its true essence of domination in order to maintain its privileges.

The poem is unpublished, so there is no printed version in Spanish. With the author’s permission, I transcribe here the version that he read in Spanish at the Poesía en Resistencia event on May 28, 2021, followed by my own translation.

Figure 2: Photo of the poem “Repitiéndose”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Repitiéndose.” Copyright © 2021 Fredy Chikangana. All rights reserved. YouTube, uploaded by Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín, May 28, 2021,

Figure 3: Photo of the poem “Repeating Itself”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Repitiéndose/Repeating Itself.” Copyright © 2021 Fredy Chikangana. English translation by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

Figure 4: Photo of the manuscript of the poem “Chhusak,” from the author’s personal file

Chikangana, Fredy. “Chhusak.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. Photo by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

Chikangana initially writes his poems in Quechua or Spanish, to later translate them into the other languages (Spanish or Quechua). Other times, he writes and translates at the same time, or writes in both languages simultaneously, implying that each version of the poem is an original creation, rather than a translation. This manuscript suggests that the poet translates, line by line, the poem into Quechua after it was originally laid out and written in Spanish in 1990.

This calligram expresses the feeling of emptiness experienced by the lyrical voice, the original peoples of Abya Yala, and all colonized subjects. The poem symbolizes the rupture of a world’s harmony due to the colonial experience.

Figure 5: Photo of the poem “Del Vacío”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Del vacío.” Samay Pisccok/Espiritu de pajaro, pozo del sueño. Ministerio de Cultura, Colombia, 2010, p. 65.

Figure 6: Photo of the poem “About the Emptiness”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Del vacío/About the Emptiness.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. English translation by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

Figure 7: Photo of the manuscript of the poem “Samay Pisccok,” from the author’s personal file

Chikangana, Fredy. “Samay Pisccok.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. Photo by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

In this original manuscript, the poem appears written in Quechua. However, the title “Espíritu de pájaro” and the penultimate line, “en pozos del ensueño,” are written in Spanish. This suggests not just a blend of words and grammar from two languages but a writing produced in a space where one feels, thinks, and writes in a kind of Spanchua (following the idea of Spanglish). The last line, in parentheses, seems to be the translation to Quechua Runa Shimi of the verse “en pozos del ensueño.” The author, in his own voice and that of his ancestors, sings joyous songs to the Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). He aspires with them to move the human heart for his community to preserve its Quechua roots while moving in a border space, to preserve the Andean spirit of the condor, and together weave a new era, an intercultural era.

Figure 8: Photo of the poem “Espíritu de pájaro”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Espíritu del pájaro.” Samay Pisccok/Espíritu de pájaro,  pozo del sueño. Ministerio de Cultura, Colombia, 2010, p. 19.

Figure 9: Photo of the poem “Bird Spirit”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Espíritu de pájaro/Bird Spirit.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. English translation by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

Figure 10: Photo of the manuscript of the poem “Shimi machupay,” from the author’s personal file

Chikangana, Fredy. “Shimi machupay.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. Photo by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

On this original manuscript, the poem appears written simultaneously in Quechua and Spanish. Each verse in Quechua is followed by its equivalent in Spanish. This technique appears in several of the poems in this collection.

“Shimi machupay” evokes the proverbial voices of the elders and ancestors, the local knowledge that is based on the wisdom of nature and of physical and spiritual living beings. The lyrical voice embraces mystery, opens hearts to listen to what Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) has to teach us, her advice, and her guidance for life.

Figure 11: Photo of the poem “Palabra de abuelo”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Palabra de abuelo.” Samay Pisccok/Espiritu de pajaro, pozo del sueño. Ministerio de Cultura, Colombia, 2010, p. 51.

Figure 12: Photo of the poem “A Word from Grandfather”

Figure 13: Photo of the manuscript of the poem “Takina,” from the author’s personal file

Chikangana, Fredy. “Takina.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. Photo by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

This is the manuscript of a poem written in Quechua, without any translation. However, the Spanish version appears on the book Samay Pisccok  Pponccopi Mushcoypa / Espíritu de pájaro en pozos del ensueño (61). “Takina” is a poem built on a double staircase of images that descend from the left and from the right towards their center, to meet in “a poem.” Both staircases of images relate the woman to a poetic act. As a mother weaver of the community and as a woman in the private sphere.

Figure 14: Photo of the poem “Poema”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Poema.” Samay Pisccok/Espiritu de pajaro, pozo del sueño. Ministerio de Cultura, Colombia, 2010, p. 61.

Figure 15: Photo of the poem “Poem”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Poema/Poem.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. English translation by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

Figure 16: Photo of the manuscript of the poem “Wiñay,” from the author’s personal file

Chikangana, Fredy. “Wiñay.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. Photo by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

This poem gives us images of the Yanacona, a sensory people (“nose”, “mouth”, “eyes”, “ears”), who produce thought, knowledge, and wisdom in their communication with sacred nature (“tobacco and koka”). The harmony of their world was shaken by the invasion of Abya Yala and, in particular, by the invasion of the Andean worldview due to violence (“strangers”, “blood”, “death”) and the forced migration to the Western world. However, they retain their true roots.

Figure 17: Photo of the poem “Raíces”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Raíces.” Samay Pisccok/Espiritu de pajaro, pozo del sueño. Ministerio de Cultura, Colombia, 2010, p. 63.

Figure 18: Photo of the poem “Roots”

Chikangana, Fredy. “Raíces/Roots.” Copyright © 2010 Fredy Chikangana. English translation by Mabel Orjuela Bowser. Copyright © 2022 Mabel Orjuela Bowser. All rights reserved.

The Poetic Creation Process of the Oralitor Fredy Chikangana: To Feel, Think and Write in Quechua

by Mabel Orjuela-Bowser, Ph.D. Candidate in Interdisciplinary Humanities, UC Merced

Exhibit: To Feel, Think, and Write in Quechua

This past summer, I met with Fredy Chikangana, one of the most visible indigenous poets in Colombia. In an email exchange in 2021, Chikangana had promised to send me the original manuscripts of a series of poems written in Quechua, at the peak of the 2021 protests in Colombia. Our meeting allowed me to receive some of them personally. Once I had the manuscripts in my hands, I leafed through them trying to guess, from the cross-outs and notes, the process of creating these poems, wondering about the experience of writing them during the protests, and the reason why the author initially wrote them in Quechua.

For context, I want to explain more about who the poet in question is and what the protests in Colombia during 2021 were about. Then, in my next blog, with his permission, I will share several of his original manuscripts, some of which are currently on display at the UC Merced Library, through May 31, 2023. My exhibit The Poetic Creation Process of the Oralitor Fredy Chikangana: To Feel, Think and Write in Quechuahas two main goals:

1- To introduce the viewers to one of the most important contemporary indigenous poets from Colombia and Latin America. This is an invitation to learn about his trajectory as an indigenous leader and as an intellectual from the Yanakuna Mitmak community. Viewers also have the opportunity to learn about this culture from the Colombian Andes.            

2- To show viewers original manuscripts of poems written in Quechua Runa Shimi, a native language from the Colombian Andes, as well as printed copies of these poems in Spanish. The visual appearance of the printed version tells a story in a hegemonic language, while the Quechua manuscripts show us the author’s creative process and the importance of his mother language. This shows the viewers the process of feeling, thinking, and writing in his community’s mother tongue, as well as an idea of how the author crafted the bilingual final product.

The Indigenous Poet

Exhibit: To Feel, Think, and Write in Quechua

Fredy Chikangana is a poet and oralitor from the Quechua Yanakuna Mitmak culture. The poet defines himself as an oralitor to the extent that his writing is carried out alongside his sources: the orality of the elders. Yanakuna, from their own cosmovision (worldview), means “people who serve each other in times of darkness.” This community is located mainly in the southeast of Cauca, Colombia. His name in the Yanacuna community is Wiñay Mallki, which means “root that remains in time.” His poems have been published and translated into Italian, French, English, Romanian, and German in national and international magazines and newspapers, including Etnografist (Sweden), Kontakt (Denmark), Poetry Internacional (Holland), Casa de Poesía Silva (Colombia), and Antología de literatura indígena de América (Chile). His poems are part of the Biblioteca básica de los pueblos indígenas de Colombia (Basic Library of the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia), several anthologies of Colombian poetry, anthologies of indigenous poetry of the Americas, and are the subject of multiple literary reviews and postgraduate theses and dissertations. He has published several books, such as Kentipay llattantutamanta / El colibrí de la noche desnuda (The Hummingbird of the Naked Night) and Samay Pisccok pponccopi muschcoypa/ Espíritu de pájaro en pozos del ensueño (Bird Spirit in Dream Wells). Chikangana is also co-author of Herederos del canto circular (Heirs of the Circular Song) and Voces de Abya Yala (Voices of Abya Yala). Currently, he is working on a book about sacred medicine. Chikangana has been recognized and awarded nationally and internationally with prizes such as the “Humanidad y palabra” (Humanity and Word) poetry award from Universidad Nacional de Colombia (1993) and the Nosside Prize for Multilingual Global Poetry held in Italy (2019).

The Social Outbreak in Colombia

The protests of April 2021 against tax reform, with which the government of Iván Duque sought to raise taxes on the middle class during the COVID-19 pandemic, became an unprecedented mobilization in recent decades in Colombia. It was a true social outbreak where different demands repressed for decades, which go beyond economic demands, came together. In addition to demanding a more supportive state to deal with the economic damage caused by the pandemic and a reform of the police, the mothers of the disappeared, the indigenous, Afro-descendants, people of different sexualities, women, youth, the poor, peasants, and the unions were fighting for a different country, for an organic democracy. This would be a country built from below by the citizens, one that responds to a new political ethics, which includes, among many others, the defense of the environment and the development of peace. The indigenous communities in Colombia, including the Yanacona people, participated and protected the popular marches with their minga[1] methodology (an Inca tradition of community work) and the Guardia Indígena[2] (non-armed indigenous guard).

 As a result of this social uprising, there was an explosion of cultural expressions demonstrating social discontent about repression, as well as proposals for the construction of a country where we all could belong, where there is social justice and basic rights. Music, humor, caricatures, banners, literature, and many other manifestations flourished, capturing the facts and supporting the resistance. In this context, Chikangana accompanied the processes of resistance through the word, with which he illuminates another future for the protesters of the First Line[3] and all the racialized nations that co-exist in Colombia. As part of a border subjectivity, Chikangana writes these poems in Quechua and Spanish, two of the languages spoken in this territory of cultural diversity, to establish bridges of horizontal communication and reject the superiority of Spanish, the hegemonic language. With them, he reconstructs the origin and course of the current violence, which daily kills the hope of a country full of biological, cultural, and epistemic diversity. He expresses the hope of the peoples who resist and invites the construction of an organic, participatory democracy, built from below, which communalizes power.

The author is a poet, witness, and chronicler of the facts. Narrating from a situation of danger, he joins the marches and visits the different sites of resistance. Chikangana writes to the rebels in the heat of a historical rupture, of a social explosion that involves a new methodology (minga methodology). His poems represent an act of ownership of the protests, solidarity, fraternity, and accompaniment to the protesters. There is no waiting time for balsamic post-conflict poems.

Why Does the Author Write in Quechua?

On May 28, 2021, Chikangana presented some of these poems at the Poesía en Resistencia,[4] an event organized by Revista Prometeo. There, he explains that he begins his reading in Quechua to “remember the memory of our language present in our America, our Abya Yala.”[5] He needs to have the mother tongue of his ancestors present in order to keep the memory of their culture alive. Chikangana writes in Quechua Runa Shimi, the ancestral language of his community, because his poetry, although cosmopolitan and transnational, is rooted in his Yanakuna Mitmak culture. Keeping in mind the memory of his mother tongue is at the heart of his creative process.            

According to the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, in the country “70 languages are spoken: Spanish and 69 mother tongues. Among them, 65 are indigenous languages, 2 Creole languages (Palenquero of San Basilio and that of the islands of San Andrés and Providencia – Creole), the Romaní or Romaníes of the Roma people – Gypsy and the Colombian sign language.”[6] The Colombian law 1381 of 2010, in its second article, recognizes that native languages “constitute an integral part of the intangible cultural heritage of the peoples who speak them, […] The plurality and variety of languages is an outstanding expression of the cultural and ethnic diversity of Colombia…”[7] However, the reality is that in Colombia, like in most of the countries of Latin America, the official history has been written from the position of an ethnocentric power, with a Eurocentric vision that excludes other ways of being within our nation. The discourse and social practice of exclusion, as Foucault would say, leaves the original peoples out of the national project, and the official history relegates them to a category inferior to “civilized” Colombia. Therefore, speaking and writing in Quechua or any other indigenous language is a political act, an act of resistance against the disappearance of a culture. It is an attempt to preserve its memory inside and outside the local indigenous community. Keeping the ancestral language alive preserves the world it names and describes. In the creative process of the author, the language linked to the territory guides the writing and it gives the Pachamama[8] a voice. The possession of a pre-Columbian language from the Andes gives authority to the Yanakona peoples as an original culture of Abya Yala. Quechua, as their mother tongue, provides cohesion and authority by connecting them with the Inca Empire. The use of Quechua avoids epistemic privileges and brings together the diversities that inhabit Colombia to establish a horizontal dialogue between them.

[1] Minga comes from the Quechua word minka, which means collective work. The minga is a process open to intercultural dialogue.

[2] The Indigenous Guard is conceived as its own ancestral body and as an instrument of resistance, unity, and autonomy in defense of the territory and the life plan of the indigenous communities. It is not a police structure, but a humanitarian and civil resistance mechanism.  

[3] The First Line is a protesters’ defense group created two years ago in the anti-government protests in Colombia, against the government of Iván Duque. The main objective of the First Line was to repel the attacks and violence by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Esmad).


[5] Since 1977, the World Council of Indigenous Peoples agreed to use the pre-Columbian term “Abya Yala”, with which the Kuna culture refers to the territory that we know today as America. Abya Yala, in Kuna language, means “land in its full maturity” or “land of vital blood”.  



[8] Pachamama refers to the Mother Earth. “Pacha” in Aymara and Quechua means earth, world, universe. According to ancestral beliefs, Mother Earth takes the energy of the cosmos, the universe, time, and space.  

LADAMA Virtual Concert

Nicolette Lecy, Graduate Student Researcher

UC Merced UpstART and the Center for Humanities hosted LADAMA as the last free virtual concert of the year. UpstART director Dr. David Kaminsky kicked off the concert by introducing the band: LADAMA was formed by a group of four Latina musicians: Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, Mafer Bandola, and Sara Lucas, after they had met while being part of a U.S. – based music residency program in 2014. Since then, LADAMA has composed and performed songs in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, drawing their musical inspiration from their home countries of Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States. Combining traditional and contemporary music genres, LADAMA has shared its unique Latin Alternative sound at venues and festivals worldwide. The one-hour  performance was shot in a private recording studio. Between songs, they incorporated “listening breaks” to give the educational context of things like the origins of the musical instruments they used. 

photo by Sea Robin Studios

The concert was immediately followed by a live-streamed Q&A hosted by UC Merced’s Assistant Professor of Music, Dr. Patricia Vergara. Vergara moderated audience questions with the band members, focusing on their musical and regional influences, creative processes, experiences touring, and the unique aspects of being Latina women musicians and educators. They also described how they use oral traditions and storytelling to educate young listeners on the instruments, sounds, and culture of the countries from which the band draws their inspiration. The band ended by sharing videos and lesson plans they had created in collaboration with Teach Rock as a resource for elementary school music educators wanting to teach about traditional forms of South American music and dance. 

photo by Yanina May + Style and direction by Stephanie Peña

This concert will be shared on our “Critically Human” channel on UCTV in the near future. For more information about the band and a list of their upcoming tour dates, check out their Instagram @Ladamaproject and website link:

Donald Barclay on His Book Disinformation: The Nature of Facts and Lies in the Post-Truth Era

Nicolette Lecy, Graduate Student Researcher

Deputy University Librarian Donald Barclay gave our first and only in-person seminar talk of the spring 2022 semester on the 4th chapter of his most recent book, Disinformation: The Nature of Facts and Lies in the Post-Truth Era. This book followed his earlier book Fake News, Propaganda, and Plain Old Lies: How to Find Trustworthy Information in the Digital Age (2018), which looked at how to deal with and evaluate credible vs. non-credible information. 

Disinformation focuses on why things like fake news exist and how we got to our current place in the information world. Mr. Barclay began by looking at how various scholars viewed advancements in technology as mixed blessings with economic, social, and political complications. Opinions were also divided on whether technology determines how society operates if culture determines the creation of technology itself, and how much people can resist these technological advancements in their daily lives.

Barclay’s talk then shifted to discussing the importance and impact of the invention of moveable type on European literacy and cognition because of printing accessibility. Citing communications scholars such as Marshall McLuhan, Barclay outlined historical stages of oral, scribal, print, and electronic communication and how printing changed how knowledge from being communicated orally to the listener to become an act of reading in private. From there, printing and later electronic communication influenced nationalism, individualism, consumerism, and more.

Barclay then described how communication through popular social media platforms (i.e., Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitch) fit into Sauerberg’s Gutenberg Parenthesis: “oral culture (written/print culture) secondary orality.” The Gutenberg Parenthesis is a chronological representation of the dominant mode of receiving information. Societal communication was first mainly oral then later people recieved much of their information through written and printed forms (books, newspapers, etc.). Now we are moving away from printed information into “secondary orality” where literate people gain much of their information from hearing others speak on the radio, television, and internet. Using the U.S.’s 45th President, Donald Trump, as an example, Barclay showed how Trump gained fame through forms of secondary orality, like his television show “The Apprentice” and later political momentum through Twitter.

Barclay also addressed the performativity of individuals of influence on these platforms, present-day political polarization, and the denial of science. In this era of secondary orality, Barclay described the focus is not on which is “right,” but instead, the individual decides on the facts they like best that appeal to their biases. He ended his talk by summarizing how we must stay aware of technology’s unique control and potentially divisive effect on us. 

Anzaldúing It Podcast Creators Dr. Angélica Becerra and Dr. Jack Cáraves on Creating Digital Sonic Spaces

Nicolette Lecy, Graduate Student Researcher

Anzaldúing It podcast hosts and creators Dr. Angélica Becerra (she/her/hers/ella) and Dr. Jack Cáraves (he/him/they/them/el) joined us virtually to share their thoughts on creating digital sonic spaces. Dr. Becerra is a queer, 1st generation Mexican American, and L.A. public school system alum. Aside from being a queer immigrant artist and activist, she is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Technology & Culture at Washington State University in Pullman. The podcast co-host and producer, Dr. Cáraves, is a 2nd generation Mexican American who identifies as a trans-masculine and queer Chicanx/Latinx. He is currently an Assistant Professor at San Jose State University who conducts qualitative research focusing on experiences of transgender Latinxs in the U.S. and is doing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign this year. Dr. Becerra and Dr. Cáraves met in 2012 during their Ph.D. program in Chicana/o and Central American Studies at UCLA and began Anzaldúing It in 2016. 

original artwork by Angélica Becerra

Anzaldúing It is a Queer Latinx podcast that frequently touches on issues like navigating academia, relationships and mental health, and astrology and healing. The podcast’s name was inspired by the creators’ early exposure and personal and academic admiration for queer Chicana writer and scholar Gloria Anzaldúa. “Anzaldúing It” became a reference for code-switching and unapologetically moving between spaces, languages, and identities as queer Chicanxs.

As of April 2022, Anzaldúing It has 70 total episodes with almost 510, 000 plays from the U.S., Latin America, and even Europe, appealing to those seeking a sonic space for often stigmatized conversations about mental health and survival in relation to issues like racism, sexism, homophobia, and the ivory tower of academia. Dr. Becerra and Dr. Cáraves continued by describing various Chicana feminist influences, theorizing the need for the creation of a sonic counterspace, and using pláticas (talks/conversations) as a method of knowledge production and exchange. They ended their talk by addressing why the Anzaldúing It sonic archive must be free to combat elitist practices by maintaining the accessibility of this specific form of knowledge production.

The talk was followed by a Q&A where the speakers addressed questions about technical difficulties with podcast production and scheduling conflicts. They also discussed their worries about perfectionism and imposter syndrome when starting the podcast, dealing with public-ness and hypervisibility, and the need to take breaks from podcasting during significant life shifts/events (graduating with a Ph.D., starting tenure track jobs, and living and surviving in the pandemic).

Collaborative Insights from Faunal and Human Remains from a Shellmound Site in Alameda, CA

Nicolette Lecy, Graduate Student Researcher

Sixth-year Interdisciplinary Humanities Ph.D. Candidate Alyson Caine led one of our spring 2022 humanities seminars discussing her archaeological work on fauna and human remains found at a shellmound site, which is a mound of earth and organic materials made by Indigenous people over hundreds or thousands of years, in Alameda, California. This project was made possible through funding from the UC Humanities Consortium Collaborative Research Grant and Caine worked under the supervision of UC Merced Professor of Anthropology, Dr. Christina Torres-Rouff. The pair collaborated with UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz scholars and the Confederated Villages of Lisjan.

Caine described the process of working with an archaeological firm, Archaeological/Historical Consultants Inc., and within the Native American Heritage Commission’s burial regulations when performing a rescue excavation at the Alameda Marina. She also emphasized the importance of the wishes of the Indigenous community, which had opposed the planned construction at the site and worked with the archaeological firm toward the goals of identifying the most likely descendants and the protection, proper storage, and reburial of material culture as well as the 187 individuals’ skeletal remains recovered.

Caine ended by discussing the value of this research opportunity in collaborating with other faculty across the UC to gain experience in various archaeological methodologies and discussed some of the struggles of working during the pandemic. Methodologies used included osteological, isotopic, and aDNA analyses, which can assess sex, familial relationships, diet, migration patterns, disease pathogens, and cultural practices of an individual. Beyond the individuals’ health profiles, the team was also able to gain insight into burial practices, material culture, and wealth distribution through the excavation with various scholars still conducting research on cultural patterns at this site.

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars Virtual Concert

Nicolette Lecy, Graduate Student Researcher

This spring, UC Merced UpstART and the Center for the Humanities hosted a free virtual concert showcasing Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. Attendees tuned in that afternoon from Minnesota to Vermont, and the concert was kicked off with a band introduction by UpstART director Dr. David Kaminsky.

image source:

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars was formed by a small group of Sierra Leoneans displaced in Guinean refugee camps during the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991–2002). Since returning to Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown in 2004, they have toured internationally, produced several albums, and were the subject of a 2005 documentary. 

The one-hour performance was shot primarily in an intimate outdoor setting in Freetown. The concert was immediately followed by a live-streamed Q&A hosted by the University of Florida’s Dr. Sarah Politz, an Assistant Professor of Ethnomusicology focusing on creative practice in African and Afro-Diasporic Music. Politz moderated audience questions with guitarist, keyboardist, singer, and composer Jahson Bull and discussed the band’s influence from West-African baskeda rhythms to their ability to raise awareness about humanitarian causes through their lyrics. Bull ended by letting the audience know that Spotify was the best place to find their music. The recorded concert will also be shared on our “Critically Human” UCTV channel in the near future. For more information about the band, check out their website.


Shiraz Noorani, Graduate Student Researcher
Center for the Humanities, UC Merced

For the second year in a row, a two-day Summer Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship was hosted by the University of California Merced, with the support of the Center for the Humanities and with funding from the Henry Luce Foundation. The aim of both the Summer Institute and ongoing Luce funding is to develop an innovative graduate education initiative that fosters humanities research through community engagement. The program supports summer fellowships that allow graduate students to work in teams led by faculty with community partners.

Summer Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship Participants

Participating in this summer’s Institute were two teams of graduate students led by UC Merced professors. The team led by Yehuda Sharim is titled, “Talking Freedom: How State and For-Profit Prisons Impact Central Valley Communities,” and involves a full feature film and collaborative research project reflecting on facets of everyday life in Coalinga, Merced, and McFarland, California.  The other team led by Dalia Magaña is working on a project with Healthy House related to breast cancer narratives. Healthy House is a cultural and linguistic non-profit organization with a mission to promote the well-being and health of all people in a multi-ethnic community with a focus on Merced County. Regarding the impact of the Institute, Dalia said, “Our team…appreciated the space the institute provided to learn together and interact with each other. During our interactions, we shared personal stories about each other that gave us a glimpse of what drives our commitment to community-engaged scholarship.”

Yehuda Sharim’s team

The opening remarks for the program were delivered by Robin Delugan, associate professor, and Anne Zanzucchi, Associate Dean for Student Services and Academics in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities, and Arts, who are both leading the overarching Luce grant project over the coming years, which supports different faculty and graduate student teams each year. In their remarks, they mentioned the activities and achievements of the project since it started adding that each year’s summer institute creates training opportunities, space for teams, and networking across fields and communities. Workshops on the first day included:  “Community Engaged Scholarship Foundations,” “Telling Your Story,” and “Beyond The Archives.” The second day featured the remarks by Sean Buffington, Vice President at the Henry Luce Foundation. He talked about the beginning of UC Merced’s cooperation with the Luce Foundation and the Foundation’s commitment to continue working with UC Merced. The second day of the program featured workshops on Informed Consent and the Ethics of Community Research. 

In conclusion, during the Summer Institute, a total of six workshops were held for two teams of graduate students, faculty, and a community partner. Ekta Kandhway, a doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Humanities, shared her experience participating in the Summer Institute: “The workshops helped me situate our Luce summer project within the larger vision of UC Merced that is aspiring to become an R1 university through its special focus on community engaged scholarship.”  

Dalia Magaña and Healthy House team

Graphic History: COVID-19, Speculative Fiction, and Illustrating the Archive

By Ivan Gonzalez-Soto, Doctoral Student, UC Merced

Prior to COVID-19, I used critical race and ethnic studies, history, and environmental studies to frame my research on water, racialized labor, and agrarian capitalism in the 20th-century US west. Recently, I’ve added another lens through which to understand my research questions: the graphic novel. Allow me to illustrate.

During the Spring 2020 semester, I enrolled in a graduate seminar titled “Race, State, and Power” and met once a week with peers to discuss books on global insurgencies, racial capitalism, and the nation state. Unbeknownst to me then, our course readings—which paired critical history with speculative fiction—would set two creative projects in motion which helped me cope with the state of the world while pushing the limits of what I thought reflected a good/traditional dissertation project.

Over the past months, I’ve used art and speculative fiction to cope with declension narratives and doom and gloom statistics that envelope the present moment. Fiction by Octavia E. Butler, Kiik Araki-Kawaguchi, and Fernando Flores have shown me how to interpret the past, present, and future in ways I had never imagined. Their stories, albeit odd, offered respite when I needed it most. Most importantly, their novels helped me hang on to a future in which things eventually do get better. I imagined I could be, as the non-profit online magazine Grist eloquently writes, “working toward a planet that doesn’t burn, a future that doesn’t suck.” 

The closure of archives during the pandemic resulted in unexpected changes that challenged me to brainstorm other research methods for my work. All the while, I searched for opportunities to broaden the scope of my work through creative perspectives. This has manifested as a creative outlet wherein I illustrate scenes from the archive. Examples, like my illustrations below, merged mid-twentieth century black and white archival photographs in the public domain with colorful renditions that brought the archive to life. The sample illustrations below are creative drafts in which I incorporated storyboards, dialogue, and historical references to emphasize key elements in the histories I’m exploring for my dissertation. 

I will still write my dissertation in the academic prose expected of doctoral research. However, the graphic novel component I’ve envisioned has the potential to reach an entirely new audience that may not have an interest in reading standard, double-spaced, 12-point, Times New Roman, linear text. Together, the traditional dissertation and artistic renditions offer an innovative form of storytelling. 

In line with the creative aspect of this work, I’m using graphic history to share my work while imagining alternatives for a better future through speculative fiction. That is, I’m blending history with imaginative fiction to think of how problems of the past can be addressed and abolished in the future. In this way, I am able to explain past issues while imagining alternative futures in which things get better. Themes such as labor exploitation in agricultural fields, environmental degradation due to toxic pesticides, and the expansion of prisons and militarized border walls can be written out in the speculative futures I’m writing about. This helps me find hope through abolitionist alternatives to get to the world I want to be a part of. And while it may seem idealist, the pandemic has reminded me that I must imagine alternatives with a better future to stay hopeful.

By Ivan, spring 2021. Digital drawing over an online Library of Congress photograph.

Unlike the archival photographs that captured Imperial Valley farmworkers as nameless and faceless subjects (see original photograph here), my illustrations help breathe new life to the workers’ struggle by centering their lives in local history. This approach speaks against dominant discourse and regional histories which alienate and render workers invisible to the land. This erasure is a trend in mainstream history, but I believe the workers’ stories in the Imperial Valley are out there—even if their stories aren’t necessarily preserved in the traditional archive. As a creative project, I’m formulating the past through speculative historical fiction to center the agency of Imperial Valley’s working class alongside a brighter future. Indeed, the workers have a story to tell; they’re there—even though the archive suggests otherwise.

Other illustrations, like the special collections box below, have the potential to communicate the research behind my work. While I couldn’t take my readers to the archive reading rooms, I can illustrate what and how I saw the archive in ways that a footnote simply could not. There’s hope in the dissertation-research-turned-graphic-novel approach because it helps the public visualize the past to shape a better and more just future. In the process, the speculative approaches in this work might help speak more just futures into existence.

By Ivan, fall 2020. Digital drawing over personal photograph taken at UCLA archives in 2019.

Because many archives closed temporarily or were shuttered completely, I was forced to adapt my research into something more accessible. And to cope with declension narratives that enveloped this last year, I’ve turned to art and speculative fiction to make sense of my research through new angles. I’ve since collaborated on a reader-friendly environmental justice comic book on the right to clean drinking water based on a fictional town in California’s Central Valley. It explores my research through fictional characters in ways that bar graphs, charts, and conference presentations could not. That little comic book is now a resource for rural communities of color in the San Joaquin Valley and it’s publicly available through eScholarship.   Projects like these are the result of finding ways to cope with the pandemic while getting creative in the process, and I hope to connect with others out there interested in similar work.

By Ivan, 2020. Early draft of a storyline I was crafting for a comic book based on a segment of my research.
By Ivan. Graphic rendition of my dissertation: “Water is King—Here is its Kingdom: Race, Labor, and the Environment in the Making of California’s Imperial Valley, 1900-2000.”
By Ivan. Graphic rendition of my dissertation: “Water is King—Here is its Kingdom: Race, Labor, and the Environment in the Making of California’s Imperial Valley, 1900-2000.”

Plan B: Recruiting Latino Immigrants for a Qualitative Study… From Home

by Fabiola Perez-Lua, Public Health Doctoral Student, UC Merced

I joined the COVID-19 and Latino Immigrants in Rural California (CLIMA) Study in the summer of 2020 and I was ready to leverage my background as a young, Latina student, born and raised in the Central Valley, to recruit Latino immigrants living in Tulare and Merced Counties for this important study. I had been away from the community for seven years, but people knew me, and I knew where to go to find them. I imagined myself posting CLIMA Study flyers in laundromats as children ran around behind me, or being greeted by the sweet smell of pan as I entered the panadería with a recruitment flyer for the señora in the apron behind the glass counter that housed colorful arrays of pan dulce. I made lists of the places I would go – Orosi, Lindsey, Exeter, Selma – the places where I had spent my weekends as a teenager working with my dad, sipping a warm cup of coffee, and conversing with the vendor next door. My dad, excited to have me back in town, would offer to visit farmworker friends and tell them about our study. Nostalgia and excitement filled me as I imagined the conversations in my head:

“Haven’t seen you around?”

“Just moved back… working on this study…”

Solo dame el número para llamar, mija. Nosotros te ayudamos con tus entrevistas...” (“Just give me the number to call, sweetheart. We will help you with your interviews…”)

Then, Governor Newsom announced the stay-at-home order. Flea markets closed. Grocery stores flooded with panicked people. Breaking news headlined every channel on TV. Schools closed, one after another, like falling dominos. In-person contact suddenly became a near-death experience.

“Novel virus!”

“Six feet apart!”

“Wear a mask!”

“Work from home if you can!”

Work from home. Suddenly I had to work from my small apartment in Merced, where the only social interaction I was allowed to participate in was through a screen. It was in this virtual space where our CLIMA research team began to design a “Plan B Recruitment Plan.” It was a recruitment plan that did not involve posting flyers in laundromats, going to the panadería to advertise the study, stopping by vineyards, or recruiting old vendor-friends at the flea market. Plan B was outlined as follows:

  • Step 1: Identify local and national organizations that serve your study population

Google search local and national immigrant-serving organizations. Create an Excel sheet that lists the names and information of these immigrant-serving organizations and any others you know of or have worked with in the past.

  • Step 2: Contact organizations

Decorate your excel sheets with bright colors that keep track of who needs to be contacted (red), who has been contacted but hasn’t responded (yellow), and who has provided numbers of individuals who are interested in becoming participants (green). Make a total of three attempts to reach each organization: the first attempt should introduce the study and ask for their assistance with the recruitment process. The two follow-up emails (or calls) should be sent a few days apart as reminders. Don’t worry if organizations don’t get back to you – it’s a pandemic!

  • Step 3: Contact individuals

Compile a second excel sheet that includes the names and numbers of individuals who are referred to you by the organizations who are assisting with the remote recruitment process. Decorate this sheet with colors indicating who needs to be contacted (red), who has been contacted but hasn’t responded (yellow), and who is scheduled for an interview (green).

  • Step 4: Snowball sampling

Before the interview ends, ask the participant to refer you to other individuals they may know who may also be interested in participating in the study. They may distribute your name and number to friends and family.

The plan was simple enough. But the execution? That was a whole different story. Immigrant-serving organizations were busy functioning above capacity to support their communities during these difficult times. Reaching Latino immigrants by phone was challenging; folks worked long hours, many were taking care of children at home, and phone numbers changed often. On top of that, voicemails weren’t always set up and calls dropped in the middle of conversations. These were just a few of the issues we were experiencing with “remote recruitment.” I so badly wanted to drive down to Lindsay and stand outside of the Mercado Sol del Valle and talk to people. I wanted them to see my face, to trust that I was a young student, an aspiring researcher, born-and-raised in the community and interested in supporting Latino immigrant health. But instead, I was a “researcher at the university who will give you a call with information about the study.”

So, how did we adapt? With patience, outreach, and trust. We made peace with the fact that the recruitment process was going to be slower than expected. Rather than occupy our minds with worries about the project timeline, we used the time to reach out to community leaders in our region and develop trusting relationships. These new relationships led to the creation of a Community Advisory Board that brought diverse perspectives about the various issues that faced immigrants in the community as we conducted interviews and gathered qualitative data. Together, we produced a policy brief with our findings and disseminated it to a far wider audience than we could have reached alone. The need to adapt to a new research environment under COVID-19 highlighted the importance of community engagement and collaborative approaches to research that acknowledge and employ the expertise of community leaders. We are continuing to stay connected with, and expand, our new network of advocates to support Latino immigrant health. While it was unfortunate that my first year as a graduate student researcher experience did not unfold as I had imagined it, I have learned to adapt quickly, build community in the face of disaster, and reach rural Latino immigrants in innovative ways that will only enhance my ability to conduct Latino immigrant health research in the future.