Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Visiting Faculty Spotlight: Irma Velasquez Nimatuj

Craig M. Cogut Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies, Fall 2018-Spring 2019

What is the focus of the course(s) you are teaching this semester in the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies?

The objective of the course is to achieve an in-depth appreciation of Indigenous resistance and knowledge through an analysis of various processes of community resistance and social movements. In class students read and analyzed path breaking documents that marked these histories. My course also looked at how globalization impacts indigenous lives in some countries of Latin America and how life experiences vary according to each country and circumstance.  Some of the issues we explored in class included indigenous epistemologies, tension between global ideologies versus indigenous world views, impacts of migration on women and indigenous people. I also worked with my students to help them develop critical perspectives on diverse academic approaches.


How did you first get started as an anthropologist and journalist?

I studied journalism in undergrad and worked as a journalist for ten years in Guatemala. Being a journalist allowed me to travel and discover different regions and new realities within my country. However, this also showed me the profound inequality between urban and rural areas. Very quickly I learned that as a K’iche’ woman I was very privileged in having access to an education and therefore I needed to contribute to the indigenous world. This led me to anthropology, which I saw as a discipline that could help me contribute to my people by using research as a tool to decolonize thoughts and actions.


How has your relationship with the fields of anthropology and journalism changed or expanded as you have taught and lectured at various universities?

In my case, I have managed to have both fields compliment each other. In my research, I use tools that journalism provided, and as a weekly columnist in the Guatemalan press I use tools from the social sciences that allow me to write solid arguments about racial, political economic or social issues. Both social anthropology and journalism have turned me into a professor who is committed to teaching and to the search for knowledge to build more just societies as well as fair and balanced lives, which is something that I try to pass on to all my students. Similarly, whenever I have been invited to lecture in other universities I seek to share and educate the audience about the struggles of indigenous people so that that they can understand that the issues for which indigenous communities are fighting for not only affect or benefit them but the entire planet.


What are some of the projects you are working on now outside of the University?

I have been working on two expert witness reports for the Guatemalan courts that will help in two cases related to sexual violence against indigenous women and another related to genocide and crimes against humanity. Due to the delicate nature of the cases I cannot elaborate more. However, these, as well as other expert witness reports I have worked on, carry great academic responsibility because they center on making a solid argument that shows judges in my country that the Guatemalan state committed crimes against its own citizens. 

However, I also try to cultivate a creative side to process the pain and anger from my work, so I recently published a poetry book called Lunas y Calendarios (Moon and Calendars), which helps me develop and enjoy a different aspect of my personal life.


What has been your favorite experience working with Brown students and faculty?

I can’t pinpoint one, my entire stay has been great. Being at Brown has been a beautiful experience in my life as an academic and an activist. This is a very dynamic university in terms of its diversity which is key because students here are the generations that will be responsible for spaces of power in the future. This world needs women and men who are critical and aware that the world they inhabit is diverse and thus, that the policies they create must take into consideration the profound exclusions based on race, class, gender, geography, gender, etcetera, that affect us as society so that we can achieve a better distribution of power and resources.  The faculty and colleagues at CLACS welcomed me from the beginning and have shared multiple spaces and experiences. Without a doubt a part of Brown will stay with me and I will always remember it.