Scholar Stories: Dra. Blanca Caldas Chumbes

How do you use writing or art in your life?

Art had been central in my life and has been a life-saver for my introverted self. As a child, I remember creating scripts for the radionovelas that my sisters and I would record in an old cassette player. It helped me come out of my shelf in both on stage as a performer and in the classroom as a teacher. So, I approach writing the way I see playwriting: in-depth research on the topic I’ll write, a trustful portrayal of the characters, emotional investment on the plot in such a way that the spectator/reader feels that connection too, complex layers, political commitments, and willingness to have an open-ended finale that doesn’t need to be pretty but definitely honest. However, this process is not an easy one as everything that is worthwhile requires commitment, time, and patience. 

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship?

My mom was an expert knitter, a craft she passed down to my sisters and me as children. Her customers would call her arañita (little spider) because of the intricate patterns she created. Each stitch has to be executed with accuracy, so if you miss one, it will create a hole in the fabric. Each of them needed to be firmly connected by the carefully chosen yarn to be able to see the whole woven multicolored jacquard or the beautiful Celtic cable braids and knots. Although it was difficult and tiresome at first, I learned to enjoy it, and now I can even knit while watching TV! Learning my mom’s craft taught me to be patient and not to lose sight of the big picture, but most importantly, knitting helped me understand that no matter what, all the parts need to be well-connected for it to work. Another lesson is the one I learned from my grandma, who gave me the Quechuan nickname supaypawawa (from an Andean cosmovision; child of the devil) because she recognized my rebellious and out-of-the-box nature long before anyone else, probably because she saw herself reflected in me. Her nickname for me has resonated with me at a personal level and also in my professional journey in that I am not afraid to embrace my supaypawawa-ness in my teaching and scholarship.

What would you tell your younger self?

Listen and learn more from your female lineage of curanderas: your mom, tías, abuelas; the puzzle I had to put together would be easier to solve now. Also, learn Quechua, which I feel it’s like a subterranean river running deep through me. 

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers:

Look inward to ground yourself in your roots and look forward, not to the sides. There will be others that have more luck/privileges/talent/money/friends in higher places/cheerleaders than you. Each of us is on our own journey, so do your thing and be true to yourself. Trust your survival instincts even if others criticize your choices.

 Something else you want to share?

Take familia (blood or otherwise) seriously and help them unconditionally. There is no point in accumulating power if it’s not shared.  

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