Paola Cruz ’23 already knew that her year as Wofford College’s Presidential International Scholar was going to involve personal and emotional research. Then, four days before she was to leave Honduras and return home, another twist occurred.
Her father, Dennis Cruz, had a stroke. Cruz’s research stems from a commitment to him, and she traveled to Argentina and Honduras to study how storytelling has impacted trajectories of trauma, activism and family.
“I know this obstacle that my family is experiencing will just be another part of our story,” says Cruz, a double major in Spanish and sociology and anthropology from Charlotte, North Carolina. “I call it the story of resilience.”
Cruz will discuss her research this Saturday, May 20, during the annual presentation by the college’s Presidential International Scholar during Commencement Weekend. Her presentation will be at 11 a.m. in Room 115 of the Rosalind Sallenger Richardson Center for the Arts.
Cruz will play the piano and sing songs that she’s written as part of her research. She has been accepted to New York University’s songwriting and music composition master’s program, and she recently released the song “Taxicab” on streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Music.
“Expect a raw, live performance of my perception of these stories and the heartfelt story of resilience and family,” says Cruz about her upcoming presentation.
Her dad is making progress since the stroke and now walks without assistance. He will be in the audience, along with her older sister from Honduras. An uncle who came from Honduras in February to help her family and support their small business will attend as well as other family friends, including her mom’s best friend. Cruz’s mom died when she was 14, and writing helped her grieve.
Cruz spent the spring semester going home every couple of days to assist her family and to take her father to appointments for physical and occupational therapy.
Her dad immigrated to the United States from Honduras, and her mom immigrated from El Salvador. She spent four hours interviewing her father for a high school project and learned about his immigration journey. It inspired her to become an ethnographer, and she promised her dad that she would tell his immigration story.
Honduras has been plagued by gang violence, organized crime, political corruption and military conflicts. She spent six weeks there interviewing Hondurans, including members of her family, about socio-political trauma and how it’s impacted them and their families.
Before that, she spent four months in Argentina studying with the School for International Training (SIT) Human Rights and Social Movements cohort and Memoria Abierta, an alliance of human rights organizations, to learn about activist efforts and transitional justice through storytelling. She worked with a producer on a couple of songs while in Argentina and performed at a cultural center in front of an audience of more than 100 people.
“I want to express my gratitude to President (Nayef) Samhat for the opportunity, to Dr. (Alysa) Handelsman for her guidance and, of course, to my dad for showing me resilience