Many universities request that their professors maintain a practicing career in their field. This can be for reasons of advancement in studies or just the added relevance of having those professors remain known entities in their given terrain.
Las Positas College certainly has its fair share of professors who continue in their field of study.
One such person is Spanish instructor Catherine Suarez.
Suarez has, for the past few years, been researching the history of escaped slaves who fled to Cuba in search of freedom. These escaped slaves are known in Spanish as “Cimarrones.”
While this research is not directly tied to Spanish language studies, having a history of research like this certainly adds to the ethos that makes the LPC faculty and staff a cut above most.
With Suarez’ plan to collect this research and present it on a wide scale, there could soon be national attention paid to the modest LPC campus.
“I’m really confident with the amount of information that I collect and its authenticity,” Suarez said. “I would love to be able to apply for the Endowment for the Humanities grant in the next two years.”
According to NEH.gov, “The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.”
The NEH typically awards grants to “cultural institutions,” like museums and libraries. However, occasionally the NEH funds private groups or individuals to aid in the creation of cultural and educational research. Past individuals awarded grants from the NEH include filmmaker Ken Burns, who used the funding to create his award-winning documentary “The Civil War.”
This lofty goal Suarez has set for herself is one that will not be met in a week, a month or even a year. In fact, Suarez’ trip to Cuba this summer is becoming something of standard protocol for her limited time off.
“My research on Cimarrones began approximately four years ago,” Suarez said. “During that time I’ve made around 10 trips to Cuba.”
In the four years and 10 trips Suarez has collected any and all literature available, written in English as well as Spanish, having to do with Cimarrones. With the difficulties of finding these works and the red tape of Cuban laws, Suarez is proud to have attained 11 of the rare and hard-to-find books.
Despite the joy Suarez takes in the search for rare books and documents pertaining to this significant segment of world history, she also realizes that interest will be hard to come by for a mere archive of writings. This is the reason Suarez has also solicited assistance from experts in many fields.
“I already have a group of people interested in working on the project,” Suarez said. “Some are from the U.S. and some are from Cuba. The group is made up of writers, poets, artists, filmmakers, historians and decedents of Cimarrones.”
One such interested person is professional photographer and LPC alumnus Ramona Peterson.
“I went with (Suarez) to Cuba for the first time in 2010,” Peterson said. “I had so much fun, and learned so much, that I go with her every time. We’re roommates on our trips now.”
Once Suarez and her team have collected enough for what she deems a finished product, the research will be compiled and prepared for presentation.
That is the point when things will get interesting. The reason Suarez has gained the support from so many people in so many fields is she plans to make a massive spectacle of it.
The research will not just be presented to the campus and its 10,000-member student body. The fruits of her labor will not just mark a page in a future textbook. Suarez plans to present her findings worldwide, in a multitude of ways.
“The final product will be a documentary,” Suarez said, “accompanied by a traveling exhibit, if all goes as planned.”
But it is not just research that drives her. In her trips to the island nation, Suarez noticed its many needs. With her love for the people and their culture, Suarez has taken action to bring aid to the poverty-stricken country.
One particular program she supports is “Con Amor y Esperanza,” an organization that uses art as therapy for children and young adults with Down syndrome.
While she often uses her research as a medium to connect with her students, this past summer Suarez was surprised that a pair of students were ready to assist her in this worthy endeavor.
While Suarez was getting ready for her trip to Cuba, her husband told her she had to read a letter she was given.
“I received several thank you letters from students, and I brought them home,” Suarez said. “I don’t read them right away because I get kind of shy about doing it, so they are there for a few days.”
Two of her students, Nahaya Muhayya and Julie Kim, had written a letter of appreciation for the work she did at the orphanage and with art therapy for young adults with Down syndrome. Inside, the letter was filled with crisp new bills. The students wanted to help out and pay for shoes for the children.
“I was floored,” said Suarez. “I just kept reading the letter. These are two single moms with children and bills, that don’t have a lot of support. It was even more meaningful to me because they are giving something when they barely have anything to give.”
Suarez rushed to Stoneridge Mall and headed for Stride Rite. She happened to be there at just the right time. Stride Rite was going out of business and everything in the store was 70 percent off.
“The prices were outrageous,” Suarez said. “$9 for a pair of Nike tennis shoes. $10.20 for a pair of Minnetonka moccasins. So I basically bought them out of all the sizes that I needed for the orphanage.”
Suarez chose to forgo the boxes as she was leaving for Cuba in a few days.
She instead packed as many shoes as she could into her reusable grocery bags. It took her two trips with each bag filled to the brim.
Whether it is for her research into Cimarrones or her work with needy children, Catherine Suarez has done much good with her time spent in Cuba.
And when her finished product is unveiled, it is sure to be something that the Suarez family, as well as the Las Positas community, will be very proud of.