Victoria Cóndor-Williams [C], Latina activist, was interviewed by Nathalia Ochoa [O] in June, 2013.
This is the 59th in a series of transcript excerpts from the UF Samuel Proctor Oral History Program collection.
Transcript edited by Pierce Butler.
C: I am president of the Latina Women’s League here in Gainesville, Florida. I am an activist in the community for many years.
I’m from Lima, Peru. I came here to United State more than twenty-four years. I arrive in LA, after my trip from Germany. From there, we moved to Missouri, and I got married, and then came with my husband to Florida.
I am mechanic engineer. I work in Peru; I have a degree in this area. I went to Germany to pursue a degree. I was most of all impressed about technology, but, was a wake-up for me in trying to find a support of women.
I took some courses here at UF, related with solar energy. In Peru, I wanted to do something related, but in the poorest areas. Unfortunately, I never find a person to fund this kind of project. As a woman in that area, it was really hard. In Germany, the same thing.
When I came to the United State, a little different, but the same thing, too: there is a lot of competition in the university. When I have my daughter, that gave me the big opportunity to learn more about the place that I was going to live. You try to find a place for your own. That is difficult when you leave your country, your family; you never know where you’re going to find that dream.
For me it was going different places until I find Gainesville, and I found what I wanted, what I need, and because of that, I work really hard.
O: How does a mechanical engineer become a community activist? [Laughter]
C: That is what I love, because life give you all these opportunity. I’m so grateful about my family, because they give me every single thing: music, art, social issues. I like to paint; I learned to play piano. I like to explore. I don’t see it that I put aside one thing that was in my heart, because being an activist in the community, you put everything.
As a mother, or as a father, you are psychologist, a doctor, a nurse, a teacher. In that kind of way, is the same thing an activist, but a little more. [Laughter]
To be an activist, is to see, when you look behind you, the seed that you put there, and you start watering every single day. You don’t see that it’s growing, until one day you turn back and you see all these beautiful flowers, all these beautiful trees, that was growing in the time that you were working. It’s hard, but it’s rewarding.
O: What do you know about La Casita? How have you been involved with them?
C: I remember here at the university, first of all, my connection with professors who were involved with Latin America. In Missouri, I didn’t have much information about Latin America — beside my husband and friends, no? Television and news, nothing there.
When I came here, it was incredible talking with people. A lot of students from different organization were part of La Casita, too. That give me the incredible opportunity to learn more about how these student from different countries, or from different states here, come to the university, and face a lot of challenge. I like to help, because I have the experience of going to other countries, and I knew what you have to face. At that time, I was organizing other thing. There was many issues at that time, too.
Most at all was domestic violence. Students didn’t know how to find support. Sometimes, in Latin America, and those times, it was part of the culture; the husband do everything, and you have to follow whatever. Not always, but sometime, depending, how you was raised. You feel uncomfortable telling it other persons. It was happening with UF students. I start helping. I learned a lot about your rights here, and resources that this community have.
I was in different community organizations, and I knew a lot of resources. I start giving this information to friends. People was saying that I was the ambassador, or was a minister, or —. Sometimes my husband say, “Every time the telephone ring, it for you.” [Laughter]
One student called me, I think, at 11 at night. Of course, I go to sleep at that time, but students, I know that you don’t! [Laughter]
This student, I don’t know if she was from Venezuela, or Colombia. She said she felt lonely. She was missing her family. She was crying. We spoke for more than two hours, I start feeling that there is a big need here.
We have to engage, in some way, the community with the Casita. Many other members of the community were supporting La Casita, too, in their way. For example, there was a big group of Nicaraguans here supporting the Nicaraguan students. And were really wonderful.
I saw that, and I tried to do, not only with the Nicaraguans, but in general. That was incredible experience, enriching my life, no? A person who are activist in the community, we need these kind of leaders in the university. Sometime, they work really hard through couple of year, then suddenly, they leave.
The community here has been growing really fast, so there are more needs. The student population have other needs, too.
The new director, Eric Castillo, he gave incredible support, enhancing, I think, the institute more than any other one. Natalia Leal, the director, was incredible person who worked so hard, and she put a lot of things here in the community. Unfortunately, she left. The same with Leticia Martínez. She was trying to find other roles for the institute. It was not easy, but she was trying to work with others, and I was really happy about what she was doing.
The Institute of Hispanic and Latino Culture is an incredible part of the community, and has been since 1994. They are engaged in issues that right now we are facing. I remember as a student— “I need to finish this career!” Being involved in other things sometime is really difficult. But then, you need to be, because this is the most important part of your life, no?
I am President of the Latina Women’s League in Florida, in county of Alachua. We provide resources like English program, citizen program; for families, we do bilingual storytime. We do the Gainesville Latino Film Festival. We tried to engage in all the areas of community needs.
In the classes, we start focusing on the Latino community. Two years ago, we opened to everyone. That gave the opportunity to Latinos to be more involved and look that they are not alone, there are others. So, they start supporting each other. That was really important. The citizenship program, because we have to learn from others, and the others have to learn from us.
La Casita, and the Institute, has been supporting us for many years, too. The other thing missing now here is the organization that was founded twenty years ago, more than twenty, the UF Hispanic Professors. That involved all professor who has background with the Hispanic community — Hispanic or Latino — here. They were a very big support. Unfortunately, this group disappear, I think, five, ten years ago? As an organization we have been trying to work about issues that we are facing, not only in literacy, but health, too.
Many students, when they come here, they try to find a friend, or a space that they are missing — like home. Or just to speak Spanish. To have something in common, for example, the ones who live in Miami, whether they miss these Cuban restaurants, or kind of meal that they like. Or music, or things. That is important, to have a space — or to just relax and try to find yourself, no? Or to find something that you need to fight for. Perhaps you find this person who can support you. Or can hear you, no?
The institute here present a lot of programs about different issues, and invite professors, invite members of the community to do presentations. La Casita needs to give more space to expose the art of the Latinos.
O: What would you say you are most passionate about in life?
C: Oh wow, that is a big question! [Laughter]
“Passion,” that is a beautiful word. I think my passion is to engage people to work together for issues: that can be art, that can be rights, the important issues, that we can make a difference. I know that women can do a lot! [Laughter]
If we concentrate, we can make a lot of changes. In everything: the rights of women, the rights of any other person, no? Violence against women. We are in the twentieth century, and we still do it. Our rights, too: the right to vote, no? I can’t believe we still have these kind of problems!
That is my hope for this new community of Latinos and Hispanic in the United State: that we don’t go back anymore. We go forward, and make a difference. Work with everyone because all of us are human beings: we’re here for our family, we’re here to support all other cultures, to understand each other, because we have to survive.
That is why we need the Institute of Hispanic and Latino Culture here. With the support of all the faculty, can do a lot of things. But now? Well, I don’t want to say anything. [Laughter]
But if we don’t have this institute, I don’t think that we can work. I’m not saying that we can’t, but more difficult to do everything, and we don’t have that time sometimes.
The students have an incredible role these couple of year, and the next couple of year, too. When you come to the university, try to open more your point of view, to what is going on in the community, because your experience can enhance whatever career you’re learning, if you balance what you are doing and what you can do. You can be the voice, and don’t be afraid to expose yourself or what you are, what you believe. Respect the other ones. The most important thing that I learn is you disagree, but at least you can hear the other person. When there are different groups, it’s really important to learn how to put everything together. That is the incredible experience to be an activist, and put together everything, and do the next step. Not to go back, not anymore.
O: Any further thoughts that you would like to share?
C: Try to open and explore every single issue that this country give you, but don’t forget about issues in your heart from your culture. In some way, you can put together trying to work in issues that you always wanted. That is the important thing here in the United States, no? That you can do some things that sometimes you couldn’t, and sometimes you feel more comfortable doing here.
For example, I am member of the League of Women Voters. One time, one person told me, “How easy it was for you to be a citizen here?” I said, “It was not easy.” For me, it was not easy, in the sense of leaving Peru. But it was an important thing that I did, for my new family, who I was start here in the United States.
Anywhere that you go, the experiences that you have here, the experiences you brought from your country, don’t lose it! Don’t lose those kind of things, because those are going to give you a path that you are trying to achieve.
A full transcript of this interview can be found by entering “Victoria Cóndor-Williams” at https://ufdc.ufl.edu/oral.
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