Reprinted with permission of the News-Register. Find more News-Register stories about Linfield College here.
By KELSEY SUTTON of the News-Register
Linfield sociology major Flora Maciel Garibay is currently studying in the Ecuadoran capital of Quito on a Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship. And she’s enjoying the experience so much, with the mighty Andes mountain chain virtually at her back door, that she’s considering extension of her stay from one semester to a full year.
But she isn’t letting the change of scenery hamper her penchant for the kind of community activism that kept her engaged in McMinnville.
In addition to studying archeology, ethnohistory, Buddhist philosophy and Ecuadoran social issues at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, she is looking for an opportunity to work with victims of domestic violence as an intern or volunteer during her stay. Meanwhile, she is making plans, upon her return, for a program encouraging other Latino youths to seize opportunities to study abroad as well.
She is also committed to another tour abroad herself. Next Jan Term, she hopes to take advantage of Linfield’s study-abroad program via a month-long stay in Spain and Morocco.
On the surface, Maciel Garibay appears quiet, polite, even somewhat reserved. But there is much more to her than meets the idea.
Passion burns beneath that gentle exterior — passion to help people, especially her own Latino people. Her professors and mentors describe her as gutsy and confident, but wholly selfless.
In addition to immersing herself in studies, causes and outside activities at Linfield, she holds down a paid job in the financial aid office, working for Director Keri Burke. And Burke has become one of her strongest advocates.
“She’s always thinking of others,” Burke said. “She is very giving of her time and energy. There is nobody quite like her.”
Maciel Garibay has channeled her campus activism largely through two campus organizations — Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) and Student Advocates for Gender Equity (SAGE) — and an off-campus organization that she helped found before leaving for Ecuador — Latinos Organizando Comunidades con Obras y Servicios (LOCOS), which reaches out to Latino youth in the community and tries to give them leadership experiences.
“LOCOS says so much about Flora,” Burke said. “She found a way to do what she loves. It all ties in with her passions.”
Maciel Garibay said she helped launch LOCOS as a community organization partly because she felt the campus Latino organization wasn’t ambitious enough in its reach and also because she chafed at restraints coming with formal campus affiliation.
“We didn’t see eye to eye with the other club,” she said. And she said there wasn’t enough support for some of the activities students like her wanted to engage in.
“LOCOS isn’t affiliated with Linfield anymore,” she said. “We just happen to be Linfield students.”
Some students felt uneasy about the group’s lack of formal college affiliation, but she said it hasn’t proven to be a problem. She said it is partnering with McMinnville High School on a mentoring program designed to foster leadership skills among older Latino student and empower them to pass those skills to younger counterparts.
“The best part of LOCOS is having autonomy and leadership as individuals,” she said, “and not having someone hold us back from everything we want to get accomplished.”
That has earned her the admiration of another mentor and teacher of hers, Sociology Professor Jeff Peterson. “She goes in and gets it done, and she does a great job being part of a team,” he said.
Peterson particularly applauded research she conducted in compiling an oral history on the San Martin de Porres Mission, the Catholic church serving a primarily Latino population in Dayton.
“Flora looks shy, but she’s made of stern stuff,” he said. “She stands up to people when she needs to.”
Maciel Garibay’s passion for empowering fellow Latinos is what led her to land a prestigious Gilman scholarship to study abroad. The program is specifically designed for students interested in studying abroad but facing financial limitations threatening to put it out of reach.
Seeing posters for the program at Linfield, she decided to apply and hoped to establish a path for others in the process. She learned in November that she had been accepted.
Applicants are required to plan a subsequent community service project around the experience, and hers will be an outreach program for other Latino youth.
“Many Latino students were raised here in a certain way, in sort of the cocoon of family,” Peterson said, so are reluctant to venture into other parts of the world.
But he said, “It’s not bad for them to experience something different, from the other side. We don’t often think of Latino students as needing that, but I think Flora has found it to be important.”
Maciel Garibay began her career at Linfield in a pre-med program. But she soon realized it wasn’t for her.
“The thought of being in contact with blood and injecting people freaked me out,” she said. “I realized I wanted to go into the medical field more for the social aspect than the medical.
“Now I’ve realized that I don’t want to cure people physically, but more mentally and spiritually. I want to cure their hearts.”
Switching her major to sociology, with a double minor in Spanish and gender studies, both of which figure to prove complementary, opened up a new realm of possibilities for her.
“With sociology, I can potentially do anything I want,” she said. “Right now I’m considering going to grad school and studying social policymaking,” though she also remains open to other possibilities.
And she excels in her new field. At a recent conference of the Association of Applied and Clinical Sociology, she teamed with fellow Linfield students Gina Castillo and Inez Pena in winning the Judith Little Student Problem-Solving Award.
It was awarded for their work in developing a proposal to solve a community issue. Theirs was judged the best of the various student submissions.
“She really knows her stuff,” said Sociology Professor Rob Gardner. “It was great to see her getting up there and knocking the socks off an entire audience of professional sociologists.”
And she is confident her experiences studying and living in Ecuador will help her continue to grow.
Maciel Garibay arrived in Quito on Jan. 5 and settled in with a host family of six — a set of parents with three sons and a daughter.
“I’ve made this my home,” she said. “I don’t feel like a guest in this house. I feel part of this family.”
In addition to pursuing studies and community engagement, she’s been trying to make the most of the amazing natural setting.
“Ecuador is extremely bio-diverse, with lots of volcanoes and mountains,” she said. “If you travel two hours south, you’ll get to the volcano Cotopaxi, and there’s snow there.”
In contrast, she said, “My university, which is half an hour away from my house, has really hot temperatures.”
During Ecuador’s Carnival festival, she visited a beach town where people celebrated by throwing water, eggs, flour and silly string. She’s also gotten a chance to escape the pollution and crowding of Quito by hiking into some national parks.
“Something that has stuck with me is to always expect the unexpected, and to be ready for anything,” Maciel Garibay said. “I was a person who wouldn’t take many risks, and since I’ve been here, I’ve done a lot of things that I never would’ve done — or been capable of doing.”
If that’s the case, look out when she comes back.