Aug. 8, 2023

by Pablo Guarín Robledo

“By the end of my first year as graduate student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Princeton, I had fulfilled virtually all the requirements related to the Portuguese language. I took an intensive course, the first semester, which gave me a sufficient level to be able to follow a POR500 seminar, during the second semester. If I had wanted to, I could have put Portuguese aside at that point. The reading list for the Generals is almost completely translated. The Portuguese-speaking colleagues almost always speak Spanish and when they don't, they make themselves understood. The department's course offerings are rich enough that I would not need to take another seminar in Portuguese if I do not want to do so. It would have been very easy for me to just leave it there.

Spanish/Portuguese bilingualism offers advantages in the job market, of course; just as the Lusophone culture allows for a deeper and more complex understanding of some topics, like mine, that cry out for a joint review of Latin America (Brazil included) and the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and its former colonies included as well). This, however, I would not have noticed had it not been for my experience in the program “Princeton in Portugal”.

Pablo Guarin speaking to a cape verdean native

During the three weeks I spent in Lisbon and the other week I spent in Cape Verde, in addition to improving my Portuguese, I had the opportunity to think about my academic interests from another angle. In fact, my participation in the program considerably, and somewhat unexpectedly, enriched the research project I had planned for the rest of the summer, for which I had PIIRS, PLAS and SPO funding. In my project "Sites of Memory / Sites of Terror" I proposed to visit different sites of memory - among museums, memorials, monuments and former concentration camps and detention and torture centers - in Germany, Argentina and Chile. These three countries constituted, in my opinion, together with the United States, the most important referents of the architectures of memory and, therefore, the gateway to what will most probably become the main axis of one of my thesis chapters. The idea was that this project would occupy the second half of my summer, after perfecting my Portuguese at PiP. Things, however, happened very differently. 

I did not know that I was going to encounter places like the Museu do Aljube, located in the center of Lisbon, in the former operations center of PIDE, the secret police of the Salazarist regime. Nor did I expect to come across a place like the Tarrafal Concentration Camp, on the Cape Verdean island of Santiago, where several political prisoners from the then Portuguese colonies in Africa and Asia were detained, tortured and in some cases killed and disappeared. Having visited these places allowed me, as I said, to give an additional impulse to the research I had proposed for the summer and, at the same time, made me see the imperative need to include the Lusophone universe in my considerations. In a way, I consider that participation in PiP makes it possible to overcome the mere artifice of "Spanish and Portuguese" and encourages the exchange, discussion and debate of these two worlds that, in my opinion, are sometimes too far apart. This is especially true since the inclusion of Cape Verde in the program's itinerary. The archive there - as immensely rich as it is precarious, as accessible as it is vulnerable - may be of interest to researchers who, in principle, like me, have little to do with the Lusophone world: from people working on early Modernity in Asia to those studying contemporary Spain and Latin America. My visit to these two places of horror is just one example of this.

Cape verde military prison

The key is to enhance the program in Portugal and keep Cape Verde on the itinerary, with the aim of developing long-term collaborative projects with universities, cultural groups, artists' collectives and archives. The SPO graduate students who participate in the program, I am sure, will know how much the Lusophone world has to offer them. Thus, like me, they will be willing for their contact with Portuguese language to transcend that first year in which the formal requirements are concentrated. In this way, ultimately, we will be able to move towards a true Spanish AND Portuguese department, instead of seeming like two departments grouped together under the same label.” 


Traz d’horizonte: Impressions from Cabo Verde--An Exhibition of Photography is open for viewing from October 26th through November 13th, 2023 in the Lower Hyphen of East Pyne / Chancellor Green.