Laney student leader Andrea Calfuquier talks literature and liberation
One classmate describes her as “a force of nature.” This is her third semester, and Andrea Calfuquir has already emerged as one of Laney’s prominent student leaders.
Dr. Kimberly King, Professor of Psychology, is one of Calfuquir’s mentors at the Teach-in planning group.
King said that as a new student at Laney she was “already involved in trying to make it a better place for students.
She understands the importance of focusing on people at the bottom of society, with a passion to fight for the future and find hope for them and all of us.”
Calfuquir was born in 1976 in a remote mountain village in southern Argentina, San Carlos de Bariloche. It was the beginning of the Dirty War, the military junta’s seven year campaign that stripped away human rights.
Suspected opponents were taken to remote locations like her own hometown, often in the middle of the night, where they were tortured. Most of them became los Desaparecidos, “the Disappeared.”
In her quiet house, no one but her father knew what was going on.
There were signs on the walls around town, Silencia es Salud: Silence is Health. Andrea reflected that “silence is so New Age, but as a child, the reality of silence was frightening.”
The children of her village played in a small abandoned concrete school house, cold and wet. It was a ghostly and mysterious place.
Later in her life she wondered if this was where war crimes took place, and asked townspeople about those dark years.
Everyone’s answer: “Nothing happened here.”
Her best friend’s family was engaged in the victorious celebrations of freedom.
She educated Andrea about Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, the women who never gave up fighting for justice and freedom, and demanded to know what happened to their children and grandchildren.
Their mantra was “Nunca mas”—Never again!
Las Madres were models for freedom fighters around the world. They inspired Calfuquir, and helped shape the woman she would become.
Calfuquir worked for a while, and at age 20 she set off with her friend to learn more about other cultures. They traveled to countries in South and Central America, and “became committed to joining non-profits that empower Latina women who produce their own food through sustainable farming.”
In Nicaragua, she met Americans working in non-profits rebuilding the country through water projects and farming.
She joined some American friends on a cooperative farm in Minnesota. There she improved her English by picking up the Minneapolis Star Tribune or City Pages, “attracted by a newspaper and a cup of hot coffee.” Her passion for reading grew.
Reading was like meeting someone from another place and never having the chance to get to know them,” she said.
Sustainable agriculture was still a passion when she decided to follow the journey of food, from farm to table.
She was drawn to the Bay Area, where chefs use fresh ingredients from small gardens to create sparkling innovative dishes.
She got an entry-level job at Boulevard in San Francisco where she worked her way up over five years, gleaning as much information as possible along the way.
She loved her job, but when she was struck with a chronic illness and had to stop working for a year. She studied for her GED.
The day she received her certificate, she enrolled at Laney, and became an active student leader almost immediately.
English instructor Chris Weidenbach first met Calfuquir at a planning meeting for the Fall 2016 Teach-ins and was immediately struck by her “vibrant force of contagious energy.”
Shadowing Calfuquir for a day is no easy task. After staying up all night working at a second job, she had time to do homework before classes.
From she raced to an event that celebrated fellow artists and writers whose work appears in Laney’s 2016 publication of Good News.
Weidenbach says, “When I heard her read her non-fiction piece [“Books on the Way”] I was again blown away by this brilliant woman!”
“Books On the Way” is a haunting story about her quiet and bookless childhood during the Dirty War, as told through the eyes of a child. Calfuquir seemed taken aback by the audience’s enthusiastic reception.
After that, she ran to the Tower building to moderate the weekly meeting of Laney’s Community Engagement Leadership cohort.
She is one of 10 paid student interns who defend students, and trying to make Laney a sanctuary campus.
“She is one of the most dynamic and organic student organizers I’ve had the privilege of working with,” says mentor Alicia Caballero-Christenson.
“Andrea has relentless passion and drive to transform the community in which she lives and to touch the lives of the people around her.”
Afterward Calfuquir slid into the Forum to introduce the movie sponsored by another commitment, the People’s Club.
That night the movie she chose was “The Heist,” about how corporations have taken control of law and politics, and stolen the American Dream. Calfuquir finds time to meet with the group, selects movies, designs and produces the compelling posters for events, and puts together prizes for raffles that she announces during intermission.
King met Calfuquir a year ago when she was a new student at Laney.
Calfuquir was “already getting involved in trying to make it a better place for students,” she said.
“Andrea has played an important role in the teach-in planning group, and understands the importance of focusing on the conditions of the people at the bottom of society, people being thrown out of the current economy.”
The Teach-In Planning committee is special for Calfuquir. Following the teach-ins, students are becoming more aware and politically active.
At the Flint, Mich., event last year approximately 600 people attended.
Merritt College’s Dean of Special Programs and Grants, Dr. Lilia Chavez, recruited Andrea for the newly created Academic Success Providing Incentives Resources Actions, or ASPIRA.
ASPIRA’s vision is to empower undocumented immigrants and DACA students through education, so that they can one day fulfill their dreams and transform their lives. ASPIRA provides advisory teams that listen to their needs and helps them navigate the system, so that their voices can be heard.
Student leaders like Andrea become mentors for undocumented students, helping teach them about available resources as well as providing academic support and incentives.
A changing Oakland hasn’t always been kind to Calfuquir.
She has survived the loss of a job due to illness and the break-up of family that left her homeless.
But Calfuquir is a survivor.
As she follows the historical path of Las Madres she is committed to fight for the rights of others.
And she never gives up.