UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Interview with LAIS Alumna, Christine Khrlobian

Christine Khrlobian is an LAIS M.A. Alumna (2019), we recently caught up with her to learn more about what led her to pursue a LAIS M.A, and how that experience has influenced her career trajectory. 

What spurred your interest in Latin America and/or Iberia?

When I was four or five years old, I would dance and attempt to sing-along to my dad’s records of classic Brazilian music from the 1960s and ’70s; artists such as Gilberto Gil, Os Tincoãs, Caetono Veloso, Jorge Ben and others. I have very fond memories of our home being filled with these beautiful rhythms and melodies, long car rides with the windows down singing, “Gosto muito de te ver, leãozinho” which really sounded more like, “Gusto muto te te te, limozino”. We had no idea what we were singing, but it was just beautiful and captivating and brought my father and I closer. From that age, I just became fascinated with music and dances that came from Latin America which later prompted me in my undergraduate career to take a Latin American Survey History class at Cal State Northridge with Dr. Patricia Juarez-Dappe.  That class revolutionized my academic path and led me on a journey to UCSB and the Latin American and Iberian Studies Program.

  Please tell us a little bit about your MA thesis project? What was its title and what was it about? Has it had any influence in your post graduate life?

My MA thesis project acts as a snapshot which shows my perspective of the ways in which racism, classism, and patriarchy in 1970s Colombia were reflected in the press.  I focused on the stigmatization of Blackness within the third-largest city in Colombia, Cali, and the general Pacific Region by investigating images, articles, cartoons, advertisements, and literature printed in the region’s popular newspaper, El País, as well as from the capital, Bogotá, in El Tiempo.  The thesis titled, “El Negro Permitido: Representations of Black Bodies and Beings the Colombian Press, 1970-1980”, analyzed the multi-faceted and generally implicit forms of Black stigmatization which operated in two distinct forms within Cali and Bogotá.  The Cali newspaper, El País,  reflected a generally more obvious subjugation of the city’s Black population, revealing a deliberate attempt for White and light-skinned elites to maintain a social hierarchy where they remained on top while Black and Indigenous citizens remained on the bottom.  It is important to mention that Cali in the 1970s (and still today) remains one of the cities which has a large population of individuals who identify as “Black” or “Afro-Colombian”.  Whereas in the Bogotá newspaper, El Tiempo,  there was a deliberate disregard to any mention of race or color, reflecting a general attitude of “racial blindness” which acted as a facade of racial harmony among its citizens, scapegoating racial tensions as a problem of the United States and South Africa for example, but not of Colombia.  I detail these specific attitudes in the Cali and Bogotá cases to reveal just a few threads in a complex weaving of centuries of Black and Indigenous subjugation, stigmatization, cultural appropriation, spiritual upheaval, and humiliation. The first part of my title, “El Negro Permitido” illuminates this idea; what the Black man or woman is permitted to do or permitted to be in various Colombian society’s, which then reflects itself in the press and vice versa.  The era I chose to investigate was not random.  The 1970s were a time of anthems of Black Power, revival, and revolution on a global scale, and Colombia was no stranger to that flow. Therefore, as these congresses, talks, presentations, protests, musical and dance performances highlighting the African root in Colombian heritage and Blackness as a celebratory identity multiplied within the country, its coverage in the newspapers was limited at best or demonized as unpatriotic and foolish.  All of this was occurring in a time where the central government was promoting national and international campaigns of social harmony and equality through mestizaje.  My thesis hasn’t had a direct influence in my post graduate life as far as translating my work into a career just yet, but the dedication and discipline it took to research, write, and finish it has.  My experiences speaking and preparing academic presentations and written work along with other skills I have acquired in these past couple of years in the program has significantly had an impact on the way I see the world, interact with others, and the effort I put into anything I do. 

How has LAIS influenced your career trajectory?

LAIS has influenced my career trajectory by exposing me to different kinds of research and people, which in a way has kept me on a path of open-mindedness when it comes to looking for work.  My research focus led me to a seasonal job in the Santa Monica College non-profit, The Broad Stage, in the education department, which needed an individual who understood the historical and present consequences of racial stigmatization in order to present accurate and culturally significant programming to serve their growing Latinx population.  I am still looking for full-time work in a job which will have some relation to my studies in the LAIS program, but unfortunately, due to the global outbreak of COVID-19, that search has been at a halt for some months.

What advice do you have for current LAIS MA students?

My advice for current LAIS MA students is to make the most of your experience and deliberately engage with as many professors, students, and colleagues around you.  Find your support group within those individuals. Their input is invaluable not only to your research but to your personal growth. This journey is difficult, but you are not alone. If you feel overwhelmed, seek counsel, and never underestimate your abilities or your position in the program. Press on, and give it your absolute best until you reach your goal. 

Any other exciting news you would like to share with us?

As far as personal news, I just became an aunt to a beautiful baby girl!  Welcome to the world Leia!