Alumni Spotlight: Adriana Paramo

April 2, 2013

20130402-IAMUAA-Adriana-ParamoB.A. Anthropology ’96
Hometown: Bogotá, Colombia
Fun Fact: Met her husband on a squash court in Kuwait.

Adriana Paramo’s life exemplifies a long journey of followed dreams and unflinching determination. The nonfiction author has spent most of her life traveling the world and powering her way toward her next life mission.

Born-and-raised in Colombia, Adriana grew up in a household of women headed by her single mother who she describes as “the ultimate matriarch.”

“My mother had a no-nonsense attitude that made it impossible for us to get away with anything,” she said.

Perhaps her mother’s firmness contributed to her tenacity, which might explain Adriana’s long list of credits. To date, Adriana has authored two nonfiction books, including “Looking for Esperanza,” the 2011 winner of the Social Justice and Equality Award in Creative Nonfiction. She’s also written many essays and dissertations that have been featured in magazines and journals across the globe.

Though she’s claimed literary success, Adriana is not a one-track woman. Believe it or not, she also holds a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering and worked as a geophysicist for an oil company for several years.

Even as a child Adriana’s ambitions ebbed and flowed, changing with time. She dreamt of being a dancer, an actress, a missionary and a world traveler. “The only constant, the only dream that was always present throughout the years was to write. I’ve always written,” she said.

Adriana took an aptitude test in high school that only confirmed what she already knew—to stay away from numbers and focus on social science. That was all Adriana needed to hear. Proving her career counselor wrong, she applied and was accepted to the petroleum engineering program at Medellín National University. “It took me seven years to graduate, but I did it.”

Ten years later, Adriana realized engineering wasn’t her calling. “I needed a radical change and Alaska represented by far the most radical geographical change. So, I packed my books and my little girl’s toys and we made our way to the Last Frontier in 1992.”

Adriana finally put the advice her career counselor gave her years before to use. Connecting her two major passions in life—social science and traveling—Adriana enrolled in UAA’s anthropology program. “The decision was easy,” she said. “I was looking for two elements: cognitive understanding of cultures and a desire to explore the world beyond my immediate geographical boundaries. It was the best decision I have ever made career-wise.”

Adriana said the instruction from UAA faculty Kerry Feldman, Ph.D., David Yesner, Ph.D., and Christine Hanson, Ph.D., was invaluable.  “I had the privilege of learning from the best.” In 1996 Adriana earned a B.A. in anthropology.

Soon after graduating, Adriana pounced on an offer to teach in Kuwait. “I taught wealthy Muslim girls; some of them members of the royal family. My students allowed me full immersion into the women’s realms in Kuwait, one of which was the subculture of Indian maids.”

It was her discovery of Indian servants’ quality of life while living in Kuwaiti work camps that led Adriana to become a social activist and an advocate for immigrant women’s rights. She even designed a tool assessing their quality of life, which became the creative nonfiction manuscript “Desert Butterflies.”

Her move to Kuwait brought more than the realities of social inequality, it’s also where she met her husband, a Scottish soldier serving in the British Royal Air Force.

In 2000, Adriana and her family moved back to the U.S. where her daughter attended high school and college before joining the U.S. Navy. While living in Florida as a college humanities and anthropology professor, Adriana was reading a local paper and discovered a story that led her on her most unforgettable journey yet—to track down a Mexican woman named Esperanza.

Esperanza crossed the border to the U.S. on foot with her four children in a desperate attempt to create a better life. Her young daughter died of dehydration halfway through their desert journey. Esperanza, whose name means “hope,” strapped her child’s body to her own and continued on. Adriana said, “All I knew was I had to find her and learn more about her story.”

Her book “Looking for Esperanza” tells the story of her journey to locate the mother and chronicles her fieldwork with undocumented farm workers and the anonymous voices of the women she encountered.

Intrigued by reality, Adriana said it’s the stories she hears in day-to-day life and past events that inspire her to write.

“Anything that I read, hear or know about is a story. Some of the stories have a voice of their own and all you have to do as a writer is transcribe the story, to put it into written words. Some other stories are a little bit more elusive, trickier to discern. Those are stories that challenge you, stories that scream, ‘write me, I dare you,’ and you accept the dare and work at it until you commit the story to the paper.”

Adriana currently lives in Qatar and is revisiting her doctoral dissertation about Indian women in Kuwait. She is transforming it into a creative nonfiction work with a social bent. In August, Cavankerry Press will release her second book, “My Mother’s Funeral,” half memoir and half ethnography set in Colombia.

To learn more about Adriana, visit http://www.paramoadriana.com/.

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