Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Yessica Hernandez, a Fulbright Fellow conducting research on Afro-Peruvian music in Peru.
Afro-Peruvian Rythms: Writing Non-Fiction Abroad
Writing about a culture that isn’t your own, much less travelling to another country, immersing yourself in said culture, and then writing about it, isn’t easy. Things become even more complicated if your interest in that culture goes beyond the ink on a paper (or text on a screen) and into the visual exploration and diffusion of said culture’s music. This was one of my initial worries when I first started my research as a “Fulbright-mtvU grantee” in Peru.
As a Fulbright Fellow, the goal of my time in Peru is to visually capture and relate the power of Afro-Peruvian music and the role it has had in helping integrate Peru’s Afro-Peruvian population. Seems simple enough right? No! Most definitely not. Before arriving in Peru to analyze the role Afro-Peruvian music has had on the country’s racial dynamics, I had never travelled outside of the U.S. Sure I had written about issues impacting international communities while I was in college, but this to me was on a whole different level. As a Fulbright Fellow, I wasn’t only going to be reading about Afro-Peruvian music, I was getting the opportunity to witness its creation and impact first-hand. This aspect of being a Fulbright Fellow fascinated me, yet at the same time it made me worried about the responsibility it bestowed upon me as a writer.
When I started my Fulbright Fellowship I realized that whenever I wrote about Afro-Peruvian music it wouldn’t just be my professors and peers reading what I wrote. Now my observations would be open to a much wider audience. I immediately began to experience that dreaded uncertainty which makes you question your ability to actually pen out and do justice to the very people you write about. The uncertainty lingered within me as I wrote my first blog as a Fulbright Fellow. What if one of the musicians I wrote about wasn’t satisfied with my descriptions? What if my words failed to accurately capture the brilliance of the night’s performance? How could I capture the beauty and importance of the music on paper? Before I went into full-on panic mode I chose to squash the “What if” monster and just type. Soon afterwards I realized (once again) what a wonderful opportunity I had been given.
I am no longer writing about Afro-Peruvian music based on the research and accounts of other scholars. The experiences I live and write about are my own. Experiences that shape not only my reality, but allow Afro-Peruvian music to be seen and read about from another perspective. Yes, my perspective may not be that of a member of the Afro-Peruvian or Peruvian community, but as I write from month to month about the complexities of race relations and the construction of identity in this part of the world, the more I realize that I too can write about, and do justice to, a culture not my own. The more I write the more I realize that regardless of whether or not I constitute part of that culture, my writing can express my admiration of Afro-Peruvian music and this community’s dedication to keeping its cultural heritage alive.
Let’s face it, writing is already hard enough, but when you add real people and real problems to the mix the task can become a lot more complicated. Even though I’ve been in Peru for eight months, writing about my experience and the music is still a constant challenge; but it’s a good challenge. So I keep on writing.
What’s A Fulbright Fellow?
So what exactly is the Fulbright Program and how and who can apply?
The Fulbright program was established in 1946 as a way to promote understanding between the United States and other countries around the world. The goal is to send U.S. students around the world to carry out independent research in their country of choice (currently there are about 155 countries to choose from). The program consists of various different grants for students, professors, professionals, and artists. For the Fulbright Student program anyone with at least a bachelor’s degree can apply (there are exceptions to this requirement). The same bachelor degree requirement applies for the Fulbright-mtvU program although with this program your project must focus on music and the power of music.
Fulbright is a great opportunity for writers and artists who have an amazing project they would like to carry out abroad.
Applying to Become A Fulbright Fellow
To apply for a Fulbright grant you should:
1. Have a good, solid proposal of a project you would like to carry out in another country. Make sure you can specifically state, in two pages (single-spaced), why your project is relevant and important to the country you propose to study in. Also be able to explain how you intend to carry out the awesomeness penned out in your proposal.
2. If you’re going to a country where English isn’t the main language make sure you can speak the language (you have to submit a language evaluation).
3. Visit fulbright.state.gov to figure out which Fulbright grant you prefer and apply!
4. Stay positive! As long as you have a good, solid proposal then you can never go wrong.
How do you work through concerns that might arise when writing about real life experiences? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
Yesica Hernandez is a current Fulbright-mtvU grantee. In her blog she details her experience filming a documentary about Afro-Peruvian music throughout Peru. Follow her blog by going here.
To follow the Courage 2 Create and find out what happens to Ollin and his novel, you can subscribe by inserting your e-mail into the subscription box in the top right corner of the sidebar! Subscription is completely free! Thank you for subscribing!