Claremont, Calif. (February 25, 2022)—Pitzer College Associate Professor of Chicano/a-Latino/a Transnational Studies Suyapa Portillo Villeda ’96 was a featured panelist in the inaugural event of “Evoke LA: The Heart and Soul of LA, reimagined,” a new series curated by scholar MacArthur Fellow and USC Annenberg Professor Josh Kun. Evoke LA is a collaboration between ALOUD, KPCC/LAist, and the Los Angeles Public Library.
The series puts contemporary LA artists into conversation with leading historians and journalists. Evoke LA aims to “make sense of LA’s history by sourcing archival material from the Los Angeles Public Library to inspire new artistic interpretations, reflections, and conversations,” according to the Evoke LA website.
Portillo Villeda appeared in Episode One: Central Americans, W. 7th Street, which was hosted by KPCC and LAist correspondent Leslie Berestein Rojas and made its video premiere on February 17. The audio version aired on KPCC. The episode can be viewed on evokela.com.
Responding to archival photos of Los Angeles in the 1980s, Portillo Villeda spoke about her own experience as a child migrating to Los Angeles from Honduras with her mother.
“We were alone—we were completely alone in the world. We crossed the border by ourselves. We didn’t have any family here, so Pico Union and MacArthur Park were sort of like that place that could be home for us.”
One archival photograph selected by Kun, titled “Central Americans on 7th Street,” showed a woman and child walking down Seventh Street in the Pico Union neighborhood. Portillo Villeda says the discussion of that photo raised questions on “the many silences of the Central American immigrant experience and on perseverance and willingness to survive as new immigrants.”
“At the time, during the Reagan era, asylum claims were denied, despite their legitimacy, and many were forced to live in the shadows as undocumented immigrants,” Portillo Villeda said. “We discussed the resilience of women immigrants who, despite strife and discrimination, built lives, raised children, and supported other family members with humble working-class jobs in housekeeping, house cleaning, and other service jobs.”
An expert on gender and labor history in the Americas, Suyapa Portillo Villeda ’96 is the author of Roots of Resistance: A Story of Gender, Race, and Labor on the North Coast of Honduras. She specializes in social movements in Honduras and throughout Central America. She has recently appeared on Democracy Now! and in many other media outlets to speak about the 2021 presidential election in Honduras, where the first woman was elected to office since that country’s independence 200 years ago. Portillo Villeda earned her BA at Pitzer and her PhD from Cornell University.