CLAIS World Fellow Affiliate Spotlight: Sylvia Aguilera García
The following interview is the first in a series of Spotlight of Scholars in Latin American and Iberian Studies.
Sylvia Aguilera García is a peacebuilder with extensive experience in human rights and conflict resolution. Sylvia earned a degree in social psychology at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, as well as a master’s degree in Peace Studies from the University of Bradford (UK) with a concentration in Working with Conflict. She has worked with multiple civil society and human rights organizations in Mexico, including the Centro de Colaboración Cívica, of which she was the executive director from 2012 to 2018. Sylvia has also served on the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and has worked with the Movement of Relatives of Disappeared Persons in Mexico, and she is part of the roster of experts for the Independent Consultation and Investigation Mechanism of the Inter-American Development Bank.
What is your professional background, and how did you become active in your specific field?
I studied social psychology and received a master’s in peace studies. My main work is with civil society organizations. I worked with a human rights organization in Mexico on the development and facilitation of dialogue processes. I also do consulting work.
What drew you to become a World Fellow at Yale?
In my last organization, I worked for twelve years. I was the director of the organization for seven years. I felt the need to move on because I felt my cycle was finished. It is always needed to grow new leadership; it is not healthy for an organization to have the same leader for a long time. The organization was well established, so I felt it was time to move on. I decided to invest time and energy in the new transition of leadership, then I heard about the World Fellows program. It was an opportunity to do something different, because I was leaving the organization without any other projects. Three of my friends had come to Yale before, and it seemed like a good option for a transition that would give me time and space to think about the future.
Is there any specific project or goal that you hope to accomplish as a World Fellow at the Jackson Institute?
I wanted space outside of my previous organization and physically out of Mexico. Here, I have the opportunity to think broadly; it is not always easy to see the broad picture when working with complex processes. I attend colleagues’ talks as well as lectures and workshops about human rights and leadership. I also attend the activities of the program and work on preparing talks.
What current events, personal experiences, and academic interests inform your current project?
The opportunity to look at Mexico from a different space. I am interested in how to improve civic participation in complex political environments, such as that in Mexico, as well as changes in the relationship between civil society and the new government.
So far, what have you learned at Yale, and how would you apply this to your everyday work?
I’m not sure yet how to apply what I have learned in practical ways, but I have learned a lot about myself. You don’t need to be Superwoman or the most famous person to change a situation. I am learning to appreciate my own work. I would also say that the group is diverse; we represent different countries and different topics, but in the end we are working on similar things. The glue of the group is the same commitment to invest our best to make a change. Despite different specialties and perspectives, we can do something together. I have also begun to understand the logic of spaces like Yale – places of privilege, power, and access to resources. I have learned what it is like to be part of this community. Being here has destroyed several prejudices about people at this type of institution. There is a sense of community and so much diversity (class, ethnicity, etc.). I am proud to be part of this university because of its investment in a respectful and progressive environment.
How would scholars and other researchers benefit from the work that you are doing at MacMillan?
You have to ask them! I think I bring expertise from the field. Scholars and professors do research on these things, but do not have the time to be fully involved in the field. My perspective and first-hand information can sometimes challenge scholars’ assumptions.
What sort of dialogues or subjects have come up in your interaction with other World Fellows?
We work a lot – without planning to – on gender issues. We raise gender questions everywhere – climate change, the army, etc. We also discuss how to build a strong network (especially a stronger women’s network), because part of the objective of the program is to enable new networks. My colleagues, especially my female colleagues, are honest and supportive, and we have established a sense of professional trust in one another.
Any additional thoughts on the program?
This is a very generous program. It is a gift – a way to recharge my energy and keep working. I want to take advantage of my time here and pay back what I am getting here to my colleagues in Mexico.
Interviewed by Katherine Brown, GSAS 2019 (Spanish & Portuguese)