BY NAYOMI SANTOS, STAFF WRITER; PETER NJOROGE, CULTURE EDITOR
FACULTY: Rei Berroa, Chair of the Department of Modern and Classical Languages
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR PASSION FOR POETRY AND THE WRITTEN WORD?
I was sent to the seminary when I was a little boy [in the Dominican Republic], which was wonderful for the family. [When] you have five children, you don’t have enough food. Suddenly the priest comes to the house and tells the parents, ‘That boy is very smart and very quiet. That means that the Lord has separated him for the service. You should send him to the seminary.’ And so [my parents] were very glad, they decided to send me to the seminary. I was 11 years old. What does a boy or a girl at 11 know? You know the world that you have in front of you. So it was not until I was a little older that I realized that that was not what I wanted to do in the world. I was questioning everything.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR MOST RECENT WORK OF RESEARCH OR CREATIVE WORK.
Well, the two of them have not materialized yet. Every year, I organize a poetry festival and it is something that when I became chair of the department, I told the dean, ‘I cannot abandon that because it is my soul.’ I cannot be chair because I am a poet, and a poet relies on chaos to create a different kind of order that is connected to the heart and the mind.
I organize this poetry festival every year in which I invite poets to come to the Washington area and spend a weekend reading poetry.
The first day at the Library of Congress and [the second day] at the Teatro de la Luna, [where] I have been the Literary Adviser since its beginning in 1991 … I began to conceive [a book] in 2008 at the University of Virginia …
They invited me and some other people and they wanted to know if we wanted to talk about something that was related to poetry … So I decided to write about Frida Kahlo because I was always fascinated by this wonderful individual and at the same time I had a great respect for Diego Rivera … I read my work and then the other professors read their work. They all were related to poetry and motherhood.
WHAT DO YOU WANT STUDENTS IN YOUR CLASSES TO TAKE FROM YOUR TEACHINGS?As chair of the department, I teach one class … During the year, I teach a class on the introduction of literary and cultural analysis, which is a class about reading. The whole idea is ‘Let’s read texts and discover everything that is in the texts so that nobody, after this class, will deceive you.’ Because the whole thing about poetry is that you say one thing and you mean another. If the student — or the teacher — is able to discover that as a game of understanding the reality, it can save us a lot of headaches … There is a power that the student has that also has to be exercised with common sense, the same manner where the professor — — who has a lot of power — has to use it with a great sense of humanity, common sense.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO FOR FUN?
I take care of the yard. There shouldn’t be any place in the world without plants … It is a wonderful form of life. They celebrate the human condition by giving the humans the capability of enjoying beauty with the eyes, the touch, the smell — some of them you can even eat.
ORGANIZATION: Mariposas Mentoring Program
CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE MENTORSHIP PROGRAM?
So, we’re basically a mentoring program, and we put mentors and mentees together based on their year. So, if they’re a transfer, or they’re freshmen or they’re sophomores, they’ll be the mentee and we pair them up with seniors and juniors. And with that, it’s basically a partnership where they can network, get advice, become friends. We just want to let them have somebody they can rely on because a lot of Hispanics usually don’t have background knowledge on college. Basically, we’re providing that background for them so they don’t come here to campus and feel stressed out like, ‘Oh my god. What are we going to do?’ We provide that background and [a] sense of confidence so they don’t feel lost.
CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THIS EVENT?
This event, which is Bienvenida Latina, [is] basically to get all the Hispanic students on campus to get together and find out what orgs are out there for them. What orgs help them out with school, what orgs are going to help them get involved on campus. There’s a bunch of people on campus that look like them even though they don’t see them. It helps them to know that there’s more of them out here and that you can get involved and let people know about our culture, to explain to them what we’re about, where we come from. Just so they know, I guess, our background and that we have culture as a group where we consider ourselves family. Not just ‘Oh you’re on campus, we’re not going to talk.’ We want to be a huge family on campus.
DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING ELSE PLANNED FOR HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH?
We do have two events coming up. It’s going to be tomorrow at the Hub room 1 and 2 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. And that’s going to be our meet and greet basically, and we’re going to be introducing the eboard. We’re going to introduce more about what the organization is about for those who haven’t been able to come out to events. And we also are going to get all the members to participate in activities so they can get along, make new friends and meet new people. And then we also have a dinner date on Sunday. At Señor Tequila from 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., and for that you will have to RSVP. That’s basically a more social event. We want everybody to feel comfortable in our organization and want them to know that they always have somebody out there to talk to.