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Latin American Women Through Music and Poetry: Freedom Fighters

Photo Courtesy of Gina Olson
Photo Courtesy of Gina Olson

By Gina Olson


People have different interests. Some enjoy attending poetry readings, others enjoy listening to music, and others enjoy studying and speaking in a second language. On March 26, students and faculty had the opportunity to see all three interests—poetry, music, and Latin American culture—infused in an event called “Latin American Women Through Music and Poetry: Freedom Fighters”. As part of the Woman’s Month Forum this event was sponsored by the Roanoke College Modern Languages Department, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Concentration, and the Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Development. Held in Olin Recital Hall, the event was free to the public and had a great turnout.

The program opened with a welcome by Dr. José Bañuelos-Montes, Associate Professor of Modern Languages. Dr. Bañuelos-Montes thanked the sponsors, as well as expressed his appreciation for the work that his colleague Dr. Manuel Gómez-Navarro, visiting Assistant Professor of Modern Languages, put in to publicize the event and make the detailed program. The program informed the audience on historical and cultural backgrounds to the poems and songs.

Dr. Bañuelos-Montes described the show as “a combination of a music poetry recital”, and of the women’s month, said, “Honoring the women’s month for us is very important.”

The show itself alternated between singing by Ada Lis Jimena, an Argentinian mezzo-soprano, and poetry recitations by students majoring and minoring in Spanish.

“It hasn’t been an easy thing to do, but they’ve done an excellent job,” said Dr. Bañuelos-Montes of the students’ memorization work.

Their work became evident as the readings began. Students had deliberate floor arrangements as they read, and for one poem, the presenters stood along the aisles of the recital hall, holding lanterns.

In the background, a projector displayed historical women who were important at this event. The projector wasn’t the primary provider of emotion, though. From the moment Jimena stepped to the center of the stage in an elegant red dress and starting singing “Dolor” (Pain), a poem by Alfonsina Storni (an Argentine poet), the audience could connect to the singer’s passion. Though she only sang the last verses of this poem, Jimena had clear emotion, particularly evident as she sung about “sangre” (blood).

Even if audience members couldn’t translate the whole poem, the presentation was accessible. Gómez-Navarro’s program notes explain that the poet, Storni, learned she had an advanced stage of cancer and committed suicide shortly. The projector screen displayed waves, because of the tight connection to water in her poetry. As for the emotion, Jimena captured it.

In another notable piece, “Oración a la maestra” (Pray for the Schoolteacher), students dressed in black looked upward in prayer. This poem, written by Gabriela Mistral, asks for God’s help with teaching. The eye contact of the presenters gave this poem its power.

As the show progressed, Jimena’s artistic diversity became visible. Not only did Jimena sing the poetry, but she also danced and acted out the pieces’ emotions. In “Cartas de Guadalupe” (Guadalupe’s Letters), a woman named María Guadalupe wrote letters to her husband Mariano Moreno. Even after Moreno died somewhere at sea, Guadalupe continued to write letters to her husband. For this performance, Jimena approached a student standing with his eyes closed. She circled around him, but he backed up slowly. The audience is left to feel a contrast between separation and connection.

Overall, this performance showed a great diversity of culture and talent. Those who attended were rewarded by both an educational experience and an artistic recital.