Kimberly Sumano Ortega

Mexico City

Degree program:
PhD in Borderlands History

The University of Texas at El Paso

Dr. Ignacio Martínez

How did you first learn about the ConTex fellowship program?

I learned about the Contex program through an email from the director of my PhD program, Dr. Jeffrey Shepherd, during the student selection process for the class of 2017. Dr. Shepherd learned about ConTex from a talk by the Graduate School at UTEP. This gives me great pleasure, because it means that the intra-institutional channels of communication allow the adequate circulation and dissemination of information about programs that are beneficial to all of us who participate in them.

Tell us about your research and the reasons it is important to you

My research project is about the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro in its northernmost section, from Zacatecas to Santa Fe (New Mexico), during the early colonial period (16th and 17th centuries). The importance of this project lies on four central points. First, on its bi-national nature, which helps us remember that the Camino Real was a single route that was not divided by an international border, as it is today. Second, my research about the Camino Real brings to light untold stories and unheard voices, such as those of the indigenous people, women, animals, and the environment, which together comprise the Camino. In addition, this research is multidisciplinary, using research methods from the fields of history, anthropology, and archaeology. Finally, it is a subject that I really love because it is about the experience of those who walked this Camino, ordinary people like you and me, who were the ones who really made and lived the Camino.

What have been the biggest challenges and the greatest satisfactions of studying in El Paso and living in the United States?

It is paradoxical. The biggest challenge of living in El Paso has been adjusting to the new environment, especially for my family, because my husband and my two children are accompanying me in this adventure. The greatest satisfaction is having them here, sharing this experience as a family and learning every day about the unique border culture. In addition, particularly at UTEP, the social environment is very pleasant and there are many Mexican compatriots. The entire border has a strong Mexican presence, making studying here and day-to-day life very enjoyable. In addition, it is wonderful to literally be at a point of confluence for my area of study, with access to archives, places, and people specialized in the subject.

Tell us about how your other experiences abroad have helped you during this stage of your academic journey in Texas.

Other experiences that I had had abroad, along with previous contact with researchers who were trained outside of Mexico, were a good prelude for what it is to study in a foreign country. Starting with the language, either written or spoken; the rigor of the research process and ethics guidelines; the presentation of results at conferences or in U.S. publications. All of this has been key to understanding the American academia, but also the importance of our role as Mexican students. Many people get to know our country, personally or professionally, through us, and this is a source of great responsibility and a pride.

In what ways do you expect your research to contribute to improving the relationship between the United States and Mexico and the well-being of people in both countries?

I believe that more projects like this are needed to make clear that borders and the experiences we have there are defined by history. To help us remember that a historical space of such importance to both countries, as is the Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, evokes a common past that has become divergent over time, yet it shows that we are all human beings, that we live, feel, eat, and share with each other, independently of bi-national policy. In other words, it is an investigation that focuses on everyday men and women from before and from today.

What advice would you give to other Mexican students who are considering studying in Texas?

I would urge them to pursue it, if that is their goal. Traveling and getting to know the world expands your horizons. Experiencing other ways of life, of work, of facing problems and solving them, allows us to return to Mexico and share those experiences with people who have not had the opportunity to live it for themselves.