Anti-‘machismo' SDSU-IV professor awarded Fulbright for border project

May 28, 2001|By LAURA MACKENZIE, Staff Writer

CALEXICO — Daring to defy the Cuban government made her a political exile; now Madeline Camara Bustamante is speaking out against the "machismo" attitude in Latin American countries.

Camara, a professor at San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus in Calexico, has been awarded a Fulbright scholarship for the border project program.

The Fulbright is a federally funded international award granted to any "U.S. or international scholar," said Donna Castaneda, a psychology professor at SDSU-IV and a former Fulbright recipient.

Castaneda said the purpose of the Fulbright is to "promote international exchange of scholars, a cross-cultural understanding and to allow students to be exposed to international scholars."


She added, "For the person involved it usually extends their scholarly abilities and enhances their career."

Castaneda said the border project aspect of the Fulbright is "money awarded for people to teach or do research with universities that are along the border."

As part of her Fulbright, Camara will travel to Centro de Ensenanza Tecnica Y Superior, better known as CETYS, in Mexicali to teach a lecture course titled, "Nation and Women: Metaphors and Images in Four Cuban and Mexican Artists."

Castaneda noted Camara's course will "add an interesting dimension" for the students attending CETYS.

Camara knows what it is to be a woman faced with the "machismo" attitude often found in Latin America.

Camara was forced to come to the United States after she wrote an article in support of a poet friend, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, who was jailed in Cuba after writing a letter to Fidel Castro requesting him to step down as dictator. Camara was studying in Mexico at the time for her master's degree.

In 1992 she was granted a visa to the United States when the Cuban government ordered her back to Cuba after her article was published.

Camara said the Cuban and Mexican cultures have much in common.

"There are things in common in women in Mexico and Cuba. In view of the culture of the respective nations, women are a very important part of the country," said Camara.

Her lectures "focus on women. The impact is to make women realize how important they are and to empower them," she said.

She added, "Education is a weapon. It's a way to change the mentality. Education empowers individual people to change their role."

A strong feminist, Camara said her strong feminist views will benefit her students in Mexicali.

"It will be good for the students over there to have a new face … being a feminist will add something they can appreciate," she said.

She said a big misunderstanding about feminist views is that "women hate men and want to be alone. The reason for that is some women have taken it to the extreme.

"It's a way of living for me, a way of behaving to understand the world," said Camara.

"It's my way to fight unfairness in the world … not only to fight for women, but for the elderly and even the animals," she said.

She continued, "Discrimination against women is so deeply ingrained in history. When you protest against anything that is unfair, you are being a feminist."

She explained that she uses examples to change mindsets.

"I'm not saying, ‘You have to do that.' If I show them examples, they will react to my examples," said Camara.

She plans to use examples of strong Cuban and Mexican feminist women, including Frida Kahlo, Amelia Pelaez and Lydia Cabrera.

Her objective is to "show the important contributions that feminist figures have made to these countries … and how their work has been fundamental to the formation and developmental process of Cuba and Mexico into modern nations."

While women in Latin American countries face challenges of a patriarchal tradition, Camara thinks women close to the border have an advantage.

"The border situation is different than the country as a whole," said Camara.

"They know what they are entitled to. Following the examples of the Chicanas, Mexican women can fight more for the same laws," she added.

She said she thinks women in Mexico want to progress.

"I have women who want to have a career in my classes. The average age of my students is 40," explained Camara.

She said women in Mexicali can profit form living close to the border.

Roger Dunn, chairman of the arts and sciences department at SDSU-IV, described Camara as, "an excellent teacher and a scholar. She does very well-respected work in her field."

Castaneda had high praise for Camara.

"She is dynamic, intelligent, creative, fascinating … she has a really interesting personal history. She has a fascinating personal story of living there (Cuba) and then coming to the U.S.," said Castaneda.

Camara said she was pleased to receive the prestigious award.

She said the award is "an exchange between the U.S. and the border. It reinforces this exchange."

She appreciates the close relations between CETYS and SDSU-IV.

"It is something we want to encourage," she said, adding the Fulbright award will help both universities.

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