IUP Alumnus Shares His Latin American Experience Through Comedy and Poetry | New


On Tuesday, October 18, the Multicultural Center for Student Leadership and Engagement (MCSLE) brought Dr. Javier Ávila and his comedy show “The Trouble with My Name” to campus.

In “The Trouble with My Name”, Dr. Ávila uses comedy and poetry to explain as a Latin American.

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Dr. Ávila began his career teaching English at the University of Puerto Rico. Upon learning that he would not be tenured unless he obtained a doctorate, Ávila decided to attend a summer doctoral program only at the IUP. During the program, Ávila taught in Puerto Rico during the school year and came to Pennsylvania for three summers to complete her degree.

Ávila says the IUP has a special place in his heart because it was where he met his wife.

“I never skipped class until I came to IUP for my PhD program,” Ávila said. “The first and only time I skipped a class, I ended up meeting my wife who was also a student here.”

After working at the University of Puerto Rico for eight years, Ávila moved permanently to Pennsylvania to teach at Northampton Community College. During his work there, he received the 2015 Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Award, sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. education.

During the show, Ávila recounted three “bubbles” he burst after moving permanently to the continental United States.

The first bubble was race. Despite her dark-skinned father, Ávila was considered white in Puerto Rico. Since almost everyone living in Puerto Rico is Latino, race is defined by differences in skin color among the Latinos who live there. Light-skinned Puerto Ricans are considered white, while those with dark skin are considered black. In the United States, however, there is a greater variety of skin colors and therefore definitions of race are different.

After moving to the continent, he realized that Americans did not consider him white. Ávila recounted his first interaction with his new neighbor when he moved to Pennsylvania.

“I was fixing the big bushes in the yard when the neighbor came and I was excited because according to the movies, every time a new person moves to a new neighborhood in mainland America, they get an apple pie,” Avila said. “So naturally I thought the neighbor had come by to bring me an apple pie and welcome to the neighborhood.”

Ávila was not given apple pie, but was instead asked what his race was. The neighbor thought he was the gardener because “obviously Latinos are not landlords”.

The second bubble of normality. For him, it was always normal for his parents to sleep in separate rooms. It wasn’t until someone called it weird that they noticed they didn’t know of any other married couple who did this.

After asking her mother why, she said it was because her father was a “heavy sleeper”. Ávila only learned later that her father had served in the Korean War and was traumatized by watching his best friend die in his arms. This caused Ávila’s father nightmares which made it difficult for his wife to share a bed with him.

“The big lesson I took from that was not to judge something as weird or different,” Ávila said. “Usually there’s a reason people do things outside of the norm.”

The last bubble was that of language.

Although Puerto Rico is a United States territory, most people on the island speak Spanish. Ávila did not realize that knowing Spanish meant that some people would consider him a foreigner, even though he was an American citizen by birth.

“I remember being in a restaurant with my friend and this waitress told us to ‘go back to our country,'” Ávila said. “I wish I had an answer in the moment like, [to] tell him my dad served in the military to defend his right to say that stupidity, but I didn’t.

“Instead, I did what I hope you do when you are hurt or insulted. I wrote a poem to express my feelings,” Ávila said.

Ávila also joked that before moving to Pennsylvania he didn’t know there were many ways to mispronounce his name and shared a poem about it.

Although annoyed by people botching his name, Ávila shared that during his years of teaching he had learned that some people with Spanish-sounding names don’t like it when their names are pronounced with the Spanish accent.

“I remember this student once who, upon hearing me pronounce his name correctly, got defensive and said, ‘I don’t speak Spanish yo.’ And that’s the sad side of assimilation, it makes some people feel like they should be embarrassed about who they are,” Ávila said.

At the end of the semester, the student completely changed his vision of being Latino. Ávila thinks the student just needed to see someone like him in a position of prestige, as opposed to harmful stereotypes about what it is to be Latino.

Representation was indeed the show’s strongest factor. The students thought the show was funny and relevant.

“I could see myself in the situations he was describing, so for me it was really funny,” said Juan Gonzales-Zarate (senior, accounting). “That was the best part of the show.”

Students who missed the show might have another chance to see it another time, as Ávila has expressed interest in returning to IUP to show his son the place where he and his wife met. It is not known when such a return would take place.

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