Student Stories

Justin Perez

Future anthropologist hopes to advocate for Quechua speakers

Fall 2008

Little did Justin Perez know, when he traveled to Peru in high school, that he was taking the first step on a journey in which Quechua, a native language of the region, would play a major role. “I thought [Peru] was amazing,” the junior said. “So when I got to Notre Dame I wanted to keep doing things like that.”

And indeed he has. Today Perez, an anthropology major and Latin American studies minor, is on his third trip to Peru. His is an exceptional story of how Kellogg Institute student programs can make a profound impact on young people eager to learn about the world and themselves. As he considers his future, Perez envisions an academic career in anthropology connecting speakers of Quechua to the global world of business, government, and development.

“My experiences will help me understand what my study can do to help everyone else,” said Perez. “I would want people to read my work so that when business people and others go to Latin America, they will have a better understanding of the people.”

Perez made his second trip to Peru in summer 2007, after his freshman year, with the Kellogg Summer Internship Program. As an intern with the organization Coprodeli, he taught music in the community of Callao outside Lima.

“They do lots of projects that promote both the technical and holistic growth of each student,” says Perez, who has a background in choir. Coprodeli, which takes its name from the words “community,” “promotion,” “development,” and “liberation,” serves Peruvians in need with programs from drug prevention to education to fair trade.

During their eight weeks in Peru, he and another Notre Dame student taught music to second through tenth graders, providing extracurricular opportunities in the fine arts for underserved children. They helped the students put on a huge concert at the end of their stay featuring two hundred singing kids, some playing the pan pipes, recorder, or guitar or dancing.

“Justin revitalized the internship and built a wonderful relationship with Coprodeli,” observed Kellogg Assistant Director Holly Rivers. “He was able to connect with the organization and with the kids, reinvigorating the program.”

Perez said that working in Peru was more than just a one-summer experience—it is a formative experience that will always be a part of him.

“Although I didn’t drastically change the lives of Peruvian families,” he said, “I learned from, worked alongside, and befriended people who do.”

“It was in that summer that I saw real poverty,” he remembered. “A lot of the kids had parents who were Quechua speakers who had migrated to the city. [The language] is not isolated to the highlands. So I thought I would learn Quechua.”

Unlike most American universities, Notre Dame offers Quechua courses, and when he returned to campus, Perez enrolled as a sophomore in instructor Margarita Huayhua’s class. Perez, like others interested in the language of the Incas, understands that Quechua is key for students wishing to deepen their understanding of the region.

Huayhua, a native of Cusco, is an anthropologist, and Perez remembers a point that really hit home for him from her class: Spanish knowledge is not a prerequisite for Quechua study, and indeed, speaking Spanish does not make learning Quechua any easier.

“We may conceive of Quechua as an Incan relic found in Spanish-speaking countries. But it is not, it is a language in its own right, and learning Quechua from Professor Huayhua led me to see that,” he remembered. “This class will definitely help me as I continue with my academic journey.”

In the spring, Perez was awarded Kellogg’s Quechua Language Fellowship and headed back to Peru for summer language study.

Settling in with his Quechua-speaking homestay family, Justin wrote, “I love the challenge of learning, speaking and living in three different languages—it really keeps my mind sharp!” He attended classes at the Centro Tinku in Cusco, participating in seven weeks of language and culture study.

After finishing the summer program, Perez didn’t return home to Notre Dame as he did last fall. Instead, he is back in Lima, studying at La Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) on a prestigious Boren Undergraduate Scholarship, presented by the National Security Education Program. The Boren grant is a highly competitive program: only 20 percent of applicants receive scholarships, and of those less than 5% go to Latin America—just seven students this year. The scholarships support students pursuing the study of languages and cultures underrepresented in study abroad programs and critical to national security. While at PUCP, Perez is continuing to study Latin America and anthropology.

“I chose that school through Kellogg contacts there,” he says. “They were so helpful. I was able to connect with people and get to know their program.”

A Boren scholarship comes with a one-year service requirement, which Perez plans to fulfill after graduation. He hopes to join the Department of State, which will no doubt benefit considerably from his unique skills.

“So many people in government speak Spanish, but I’ll be including so many others with my Quechua,” he says. “I’m excited to include more people. I think it’s important that people representing the US government be familiar with the ten million people who speak Quechua. Someone needs to know that, and that someone will be me.”

Perez said he intends to draw on the many connections he has made in Peru through Kellogg as he continues his Peruvian journey. In fact, he already has. Soon after his arrival in Peru in June, he revisited a school where he had worked last summer.

“There were a lot of children who remembered him,” wrote another student on a Coprodeli internship. “Some of them literally kidnapped him into their classrooms to talk with him.”

Perez sees his passion for anthropology going hand in hand with his enthusiasm for Quechua and Andean culture. After his year of government service, he intends to enroll in a graduate program in anthropology.

“I’m so driven to be an anthropologist. I read it for fun; I love learning and talking about these topics that aren’t talked about all the time. I hope these experiences will make me a dynamic candidate for graduate school.”

In Justin’s case, the availability of student programs at Kellogg has clearly played a major role in his career direction.

“Obviously I could not have done what I have done without Kellogg,” he says. “I’m so lucky. There’s so much to get out of it. I wouldn’t have these experiences to draw upon without them.

“My experiences this far makes me think I’m going to spend the rest of my life learning. I’m so much more aware. If I have learned this much now, how much more can I discover? I can’t wait for what’s in store.”

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