Coordinator, Researcher and Professor | University Of Buenos Aires
As an Argentine, how did you decide to enter the academic world to study and research about Paraguay? How did you choose your career path?
I have to say it was rather randomly. I come from a working class family - neither of my parents nor my grandparents even went to college. In fact, my mother finished high school as an adult, and she always encouraged us to study, but the academic world per se was completely foreign to me. I didn't even know that there was such a thing as dedicating myself to study. Back then, when I was near at the end of my bachelor's degree in Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires, none of my university professors spoke much about Paraguay. So, for my final dissertation, I dedicated myself to study about that country. It was then that I fell in love about it and I said “Well, I want to dedicate myself to it” - I was 23 years old. As I wanted to investigate the political and economic structure in Paraguay, I had an idea of it as a career path as a researcher.
Do you have any recommendation for other women who wish to have an academic career, such as yours?
Yes: in the first instance, I would encourage them to devote a lot of energy to get classmates and to do study groups. For those people who want to dedicate themselves to research and don’t have financing, I strongly suggest to do it anyway. Of course, they will do it more slowly, but it can be done.
If there is a topic that you are very interested in, you have to go to research little by little. And that can be done with a good working group.
Research work is a collective work; it always relies on the work of other colleagues, of people who have been investigating this before.
The next thing I wanted to say is: always remember that the goal is that our work is rigorous and respectful. Because many times things are published that are very wrong or even harmful, without ethics. So I, who study Paraguay, a country so ignored, there is a marked prejudice that we should try not to reproduce. Remember that we can do things based on collective support, and that if someone has the intention to investigate, that they can do it even if they don’t necessarily have all the resources.
Sometimes the academy is very classistic, almost elitist, I would say, and that drives out people who have a lot to contribute and who, because of their individual trajectories, know a lot about a topic, and these people have to be doing, collaborating, doing, researching, what interests them. We in our group see it, because there are people who are not funded, they are doing their PhD, their individual research trajectories are so rich and they contribute a lot of work to everyone.
During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the academia?
As I belong to the CONICET - which is the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina - recently we saw some data that most of the researchers of the highest hierarchies are men, while most of the researchers of the lowest hierarchies are women. This means that while women ascend, they dedicate ourselves to maternity work and unpaid reproductive work; so they deviate a little from achieving certain professional competence and not because women are less apt, but because the system is structured so that women always have to take care of reproductive care or children or adults...
Also, I have to say that there are two things that the academic world, in general, ignores: it’s harder for people with fewer resources - because they do not come from families with academic background, and they don’t know much how the academy world works (sometimes they don’t even know that the academy exists); also another difficulty has to do with gender. At the university, we talk about this a lot: those two issues combined, class and gender, and the difficulties that come with them.
When did you notice the challenges of being a woman as an academic?
Back when I was doing my bachelor degree, I realized that the majority of the people in charge of the educational programs were male. However, most of the teachers were women. So it was there that I noticed that there was a hierarchy in which classes were given to me by women who were highly skilled and trained, but the heads of those educational pedagogical structures were male. I.e.: it was like the women were putting the work and the men putting the order, right? It seemed strange to me. I continued to see more inequality, especially when I realized that women who dedicate themselves to research have to make a very fundamental decision, which is whether we want to have children or not - because that is going to change a lot of our capacity to remain or to ascend in the structure of the investigation sector. And as I always had clear that I do not want to be a mother, for me it was a very simple decision. But I saw my female friends and co-workers, also doing their doctorates, who were very pressured by this decision, and I also noticed my fellow doctorate men, who did not express that pressure. So that was for me the corollary of understanding certain inequalities.
How is your routine? What does a normal work day looks like for you?
I am a night owl - this means that in general I work a lot at night. However, during the day, I always have something with the group I coordinate about social studies on Paraguay - for example, currently we are writing for our magazine and preparing for the annual international congress, therefore all our communications meetings revolve around these topics. Afterwards, I usually have to give some class in a university or some conference.
Do you have a favourite class or topic to discuss with your students?
Yes: it’s a class that I give once per semester to a university that invites students from the United States and other countries. During the lecture, I review and demystify all the myths revolving Paraguay, such as how that it is extremely poor, that it is an absolutely marginal country, that it is an irrelevant country or how some people say it is an absolutely irrelevant country because it is dominated by drug trafficking (which it is a bit the image that sometimes people have of the region) and I like that class a lot. Unfortunately I give it twice a year, but I love it.
So, specifically talking about your study area, what are the challenges you face when you research about Paraguay?
Well, one of the main challenges has to do with not being Paraguayan myself, which is, at the same time, a benefit and also a complication. A benefit because it allows you a certain distance from the subject. For example, I do not vote in Paraguay. So, I do not have that problem to be covering an electoral process at the same time that I also have to vote. Then I also have a certain right to speak, and I am not accused of defending one candidate or the other - something I know happens to Paraguayan colleagues. They make a paper or an article about a Paraguayan sociopolitical process and quickly are accused of supporting a politician. To me, in general, this doesn’t happen.
On the other hand, not being Paraguayan can also be a disadvantage because it means that there are certain things that have to do with the way of being raised in Paraguayan families. As an Argentinean, I need to dig a lot more to understand the depth of a cultural process than a Paraguayan colleague. In addition, there is another problem that is nationalism. It has happened to me many times that they have told me "curepa" (which is what Argentines are called in Paraguay): "Curepa, ah, you don’t know anything! What can a curepa know from Paraguay?"
On this note, it’s very important to remind how the Argentine academy has been treating Paraguayan issues in the past, so I totally understand their reaction. There is such a degree of ignorance and misinformation about the Paraguayan processes in the region that I understand the reaction.
During your undergraduate degree, was there any class or lecture that helped or prepared you for your current job?
No, not during undergraduate level. I could only start focusing more about it on my doctorate.
It’s as if Paraguay was a country denied to the Argentine academy, and we have a huge shared history. In fact, the Paraguayans in Argentina are the majority immigrant community in the country, with 550 thousand people. However, in Argentina, we know almost nothing about that country. We know much more about Brazil, for example, or Chile, than Paraguay. There is a "ninguneo", as it is said in Spanish, of ningunear: to treat the other as no one, as nobody.