Albion’s own Dr. Elizabeth Barrios, who cites “Pride and Prejudice” as one of her favorite pieces of media, is an avid enjoyer of the novel and its mini-series, and she said she is a lover of literature at large.
“That’s my escape from all the depressing things that I study,” Barrios said.
Barrios’ focus in her teaching is Latin American studies, and ideally, she said she wishes she could focus solely on reading and analyzing literature.
“Deep down, if the world wasn’t so messed up, I would love to just teach great literature and read great literature and write about it,” Barrios said.
But at Albion, she does more than study literature; she is an assistant professor of Spanish. Barrios was born in Latin America, and she said she struggles with the way that Latinx people are viewed in the United States. She grew up in two places, living in Mérida, Venezuela from birth until age 12, when she moved to Aurora, Illinois. Barrios considers her move to the U.S. impactful towards how and what she teaches.
Barrios said that the concept of Latinx was invented in the U.S., and it was not until she moved that she felt that identity applied to her.
“Moving here, I had a category placed on me. Now this is a thing that I am, but I’m still exactly the same person,” she said. “Just one day I’m not that and then I cross a border into another society, and I am considered a different thing.”
Barrios uses her experiences moving from Venezuela to the U.S. in her pedagogy. She said that the way we speak about Latinx people in the U.S. has always felt very artificial to her.
“I’m always challenging the very simplistic way that the U.S. perceives Latinos as a group and a community,” she said. “As opposed to dozens of countries themselves that are racially, culturally and ethnically diverse.”
Growing up in Venezuela also influenced Barrios’ path of research at the University of Michigan, which focused on the environmental problems that are tied to oil extraction in the country. She said that a Venezuelan activist named Rafael Uzcategui inspired her research while she was in graduate school through his book, “Venezuela: Revolution as Spectacle.” She said that this book led her to a documentary called “Nuestro Petróleo y Otros Cuentos,” or “Our Oil and Other Stories.”
“It kind of changed my life in terms of what my priorities were and what kind of work I wanted to do. It showed the environmental problems tied to oil extraction in Venezuela,” Barrios said. “I found it so shocking and appalling.”
As Barrios researched oil extraction in Venezuela, she maintained her passion for literature and focused her studies on Latin American literature. Her passion has inspired an Albion student to do the same.
Jimena Perez, a senior from Chicago and Barrios’ FURSCA advisee, described Barrios as passionate and caring about her students and the Albion community.
“Something I feel like everyone should appreciate is the work that she puts into Albion overall – to the students and to the whole campus,” Perez said. “It’s definitely more than just, ‘I come to class, I teach my class and then I leave.’”
Perez said that last summer, Barrios visited her and another student while they were at the University of Michigan for a research program. The trio went out to eat, walked around, got to know one another better and “had a really nice time.” Perez said she values how dedicated Barrios is to her job and her students.
Perez also said that Barrios is someone who has been influential regarding her path of study at Albion, inspiring Perez to change her study path from nursing to a focus on Latin American studies, a subject she now plans on studying in graduate school. Perez said she feels that Barrios’ presence at Albion has been uplifting to her ever since she took a class with her during her second semester of college.
“Coming to a predominantly white institution as an immigrant Latina of color, you definitely don’t see yourself in these kinds of spaces,” Perez said. “Being able to see someone who you can relate to and that you can view yourself in is really helpful.
Barrios has been an influential voice in the lives of her students. To those who will listen, she has some wisdom to share.
“Find what things fulfill you and bring you joy that aren’t your job. We live in a culture that often gives you the message that fulfillment and identity is to be achieved through work, and I don’t think that’s healthy,” Barrios said. “What else is there to your life that isn’t about how you make your money, or about school or about career or goals? What else is there for you out there that fulfills you, that isn’t about work or accomplishments or status?”
Barrios said that her favorite part of her job is that she can read literature, watch films and discuss them. “That’s the part of the job that I would do on my own,” she said.
Editors Note: This story has been edited on March 30 at 4:30 pm to more accurately reflect Barrios’ relationship with her job and the novel, “Pride and Prejudice.”