Macalester’s Latinx-identifying cultural organization, Adelante!, is collaborating with The Mac Weekly to highlight members of the Hispanic Community at Macalester for Hispanic Heritage Month (HMM). This week, Adelante! interviewed Nathalia Yalile Gutiérrez Sacasa who is a nueroscience major.
Q: What is your full name?
A: Nathalia Yalile Gutiérrez Sacasa
Q: Why did you choose neuroscience?
A: I really like philosophy, particularly philosophy of the mind. I feel like all big questions about people and life are related to how people think and who we are. I think that a good compliment to understanding that is empirical research on how the mind works and how we can use the tools that we have now to understand people better. From that we can work towards answering the big questions that are important about people in terms of identity or in terms of morality and this kind of stuff.
Q: What is your Hispanic background?
A: I am from Costa Rica. I was born and raised there, and my grandfather’s father was from Nicaragua. Apart from that, I don’t know much. I’m probably super mixed, but I don’t know much, beyond my great grandfather being an immigrant in Costa Rica.
Q: What did you do this past summer, or if you took a gap year what did you do?
A: During my semester off, I did a program called Semester at Sea. The program basically wants to give the students a comparative approach to the world. So you take subjects like you would do in a normal campus, and then you use the disciplines that you are studying and you take examples from the places that you are going to. Also, on the ship I did an interesting project called Body Talks that I would want to bring to Macalester. I think that was the most significant thing I did in my trip. That was basically like having “Vagina Monologues,” which is like these series of performances that Eva Ensler wrote when interviewing a bunch of women from all over the United States they were talking about the experience of being a woman in terms of your gender and insecurities and other parts like taboo topics about being a woman. My friend and I took that idea and we decided to do a genderless version of that and we called it Body Talks. But it was a lot more about your own process about reflecting towards these insecurities. And so we did sharing circles and ideas about your own writing, like what you could be exploring and then we worked for a whole month on doing research on “what is it that I’m not comfortable about my gender experience” or “my body” and then we went through the process of – it was almost a cathartic process – of sharing these whole performances, all of these writings that people focused on for one or two months in front of the whole community. We created a space for these topics to not be taboo and to actually get more people to speak about them.
Q: What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you or your community?
A: I think it’s a nice space for people who belong to this heritage to have a place on campus. It is also a good opportunity to reflect on what this heritage means to you and to your community. I think it’s a way to bring all our people together. I also think it’s important that Macalester as an institution that strives to be diverse and include everybody emphasizes that there’s a space for people like us who identify as part of the Hispanic Heritage to feel comfortable, to feel in community and be proud of who we are and where we come from.
Q: What does it mean being Latinx/Hispanic in a higher education system or what is it like being Hispanic in a higher education setting?
A: For me, personally, as an international student it can be kind of confusing, because U.S. culture and U.S. cultural patterns are very different from what I’m used to. So it has been difficult to navigate that, particularly being able to feel completely at home. Especially regarding social interactions, not only in a friend-to-friend level, but also how you interact with your professors. For example, I’m really not used to this thing of calling professors with their first name. I find it very, very interesting. Also the relation, that it can be actually more horizontal in many senses and so I’m definitely not used to that and I had trouble with that at the beginning a little bit. Also, in interpersonal relationships it’s sometimes hard to understand references; many times senses of humor can be very different. Also closeness in what you consider a close friend and what close friendship means can also differ a lot. There’s a lot of aspects of it that can be difficult to understand. But also I feel like it is very fun to be able to share my culture and to be able to be proud of it and teach people about my background. People at Macalester are generally really understanding of these issues and really try to be open to you and to learning about your background and where you come from.
Q: How do you think your Costa Rican identity has shaped you as a person?
A: It’s everything from the food I like to eat, from my preferences on coffee, to how I interact with people. A big aspect of my personality is that I really like to feel close to people and to be in community. I think the way that I do it is very much in the Costa Rican way. I grew up surrounded by so much warmth, and my family’s such a big family. My house is in the middle of my grandparent’s house and my uncle’s house and my other uncle lives nearby, so there’s always a lot of people in my house. I cannot remember a single day I spent alone in my childhood. I could always see people surrounding me. The way I connect to people is very much shaped by that. Just the fact that there’s always people around me who are super caring and I’m expected to give back that too, so I think that is a big part of me that is shaped by my Costa Rican identity.
Q: What is one thing you hope for in the Hispanic/Latinx community?
A: When I came to Macalester I didn’t feel as much in communtiy with the Latino community. But I hope that this brings me together to more people within my community and that we get to be proud together. Also for the Macalester community to see that Hispanic heritage community a little bit more, and that hopefully the Macalester community learns a little bit more about what it means to be a Latin American on campus.
Q: Were you part of any Hispanic/Heritage clubs before you came to Macalester?
A: We had a Las Americas week in my international high school, and we organized a lot of really cool activities like a country fair, and we had stands from the different countries. You’d have food and national dress and facts about home. We also had a show and a special dinner that we organized. In the show people would perform anything from poetry to traditional dances and songs.