Fabiola Torres: ‘I Love What I Do’

olga-ramaz
el-vaquero-arts-and-entertainment-edit/" class="creditline">OLGA RAMAZ
El Vaquero Arts and Entertainment Edit

Growing up in the city of Pacoima,
Fabiola Torres was not exposed to
options, much less opportunity.
“I don’t know if I can even say that I
was going to be a teacher,” said Torres. “I
grew up expecting to get married and have
kids.”

The city of Pacoima, located in the San
Fernando Valley, is home to a large,
underprivileged Latino population. High
school dropout rates for Latino youths
rank in the 50th percentile. At some point,
Torres found herself questioning her
chances of attending a university.
“I thought universities were for rich,
white people with English accents,” said
Torres.

For Torres, a higher education was
something that seemed inaccessible. A
self- proclaimed product of Future
Scholars, Torres credits different outreach
programs for facilitating admission to Cal
State Northridge.

“In junior high I was taken to CSUN
and I was like, ‘wow, this is cool,’ ”
said Torres. “I thought, ‘I could be
here, really?'”

Torres calls CSUN her home. She
recalls her alma mater with great joy and
pride, stating that it was the place where
she found her voice and learned how to
shout. She earned both her bachelor’s and
master’s degrees from Northridge in
Chicana/Chicano Studies and since 1996
has been a lecturer in the department.
Here at GCC, Torres is a full-time professor
teaching several ethnic studies
courses. Recently, Torres has stepped in as
adviser for the Association of Latin
American Students (ALAS.). By no
means is Torres taking over for founder of
ALAS, Carlos Ugalde, because
as Torres said, no one ever takes over
for Ugalde.

“He [Ugalde] is currently on sabbatical,
doing great work in Latin America,”
said Torres. “I am basically taking on the
responsibility of the organization so that
when he comes back it almost feels as if
though he didn’t leave.”

Torres divides her time between work
and activities outside of campus. She is
involved with Smokin’ Mirrors, a production
company based in Hollywood which
looks to get Chicano productions off the
ground through moral support and
fund-aising. The company hopes to get
distribution for a film they just finished.
It’s a coming-of-age story by film maker
Diana Perez, which focuses on college
life and a young woman who finds her
voice through activism.

Among other things, Torres is also
involved with the Los Angeles Latino
International Film Festival (LALIFF),
a festival which is dedicated to present the
best Latino films made in the United
States, Spain, the Caribbean, and Latin
America. Torres was recruited to work in
the youth program and has been key in
developing the Community College
Program.

“I’ve always had that persona of, ‘if I
can go, why can’t someone else go’,” said
Torres. “I have worked really hard to
make this happen, and through the help of
LALIFF. the community that I am
working for, which is GCC, can go and
see these films.”

This special event is being held on Oct.
28, at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.
Students will be admitted for free with a
valid school I.D. Attendees will be treated
to four short films, one feature film, and a
free lunch.

“Hopefully the GCC community can
go and see these films and be inspired to
maybe want to make a film, or just be
inspired to be a better person,” said
Torres.

With Torres’s involvement in
LALIFF, it is no surprise that she loves
to watch films in her spare time. She has
cable and claims to have every single
channel that exists, which can have its
positives and negatives, for Torres has
seen both good and bad movies.

Movies play a role in her classroom as
well. On several occasions, Fabi, as she more often than not likes to be referred to
as, finds herself using selected scenes
from films in order to enhance lessons and
generate discussion among her students.
Her trusty Macintosh also plays an
important role in the development of
her lessons.

About three years ago, Torres was a
part of a Mac campaign which focused on
people who went from PC to Mac. Mac
caught wind of Torres’s success story and
asked her to be in one of their commercials.
The commercial shows the side of
Torres that students and colleagues like
Mako Tsuyuki, professor of History and
Social Science, have already seen.

“She is very energetic, enthusiastic
and motivated in working with students,”
said Tsuyuki. “She is also very visual and
media oriented which students seem to
enjoy.”

Both enthusiastic and passionate,
Torres is in love not only with her Mac,
but with her job as well.

“I love what I do,” said Torres. “I wake
up every morning, I drink my coffee as I
sit and watch the news and see all the horrible
things that are happening, and I realize
that I am the luckiest person on earth
’cause I get paid to do what I love.”

The drive to succeed and continue to
do what she loves comes from her influences,
one of them being artist Frida
Kahlo.

“She is part of my fuel that keeps my
fire going,” said Torres.

Torres has been known for wearing her
hair up in delicately fashioned trenzas,
pigtails, similar to those of the revolutionary
Mexican artist. Her affection
for Kahlo dates back several years, as she
once said, long before the movie
came out.

“To have her [Kahlo] in my heart is an
honor,” said Torres. “I don’t think she
would want me to emulate her, I think she
would want me to fight for the same ideals
she had.”

Kahlo is not the only iconic figure that
can be found in Torres’s office. A picture
of Ernesto “Che” Guevara can also be
found leaning against the sole window in
her office. Acollection of books with titles
consisting of Chicano and minorities
among others, sit on shelves next to pictures
of such important Chicano figures as
Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez’s partner in
the fight for migrant worker’s rights. And
to help her keep up with important dates,
a calendar by political cartoonist Lalo
Alcaraz, one of Torres’s many acquaintances
whom she feels privileged to be
friends with.

Like Alcaraz, Torres shares similar
political sentiments. And as far as the
future of Latinos in the U.S. is concerned,
Torres has her own prognosis.

“Two things can happen with Latinos, a bad thing and a good thing,” said Torres.
“We can become tokens or become makers
of change.”

And in regards to the so-called 15 percent,
Torres begs to differ. She claims that
Latinos still do not make up 15 percent on
T.V., film, and politics.

For Torres, percentages like these are
not important. What she does believe to be
important is teaching her students about
the real issues that concern ethnic minorities
day in and day out in this country and
in other parts of the world.

Torres also believes that there is still a lot of work ahead and the lack of voting
and mobilization by the Latino community
only gets in the way of advancement as a
collective group.

“Slaves out numbered their masters and
only when they organized were they able
to rebel,” said Torres. “But if they were
fearful and divided they stayed slaves forever.
That is what I think about the 15 percent.”
In 10 years Torres hopes to still be
working at GCC, hopefully tenured, and
having seen her work flourish through her
students.

“I want that person [student] to call me
up and say, ‘Fabi I just got my Ph.d., come to my party.’ That is what I want,” said
Torres.

At the end of her long day, Torres does
not look for a perfect picture of what it
means to be a woman, she looks for that
perfect picture of what it means to be a
human. She stresses the importance of
finding ideals and connecting them to education,
according to her, lack of ideals
result in the lack of vision and dreams. And
for Torres, mistakes do not exist, only
learning experiences.

Growing up in Pacoima shaped the person
Torres is today and she cannot help but
to incorporate her life experiences into her
lectures. “I teach Ethnic Studies, and yet I lived
that experience that we read in our books,”
said Torres. “I was that kid who wasn’t
given the opportunity.”

And now that she has the opportunity,
she defines herself as being non-stop, living
and breathing a dream of justice for all.

“If I am a true American and I am saying
‘and justice for all,’ I mean justice for
all,” said Torres. “For women, people of
color, for gay, transgender, confused, for
all. We cannot have freedom if someone is
left behind, and that is my love. I have an
affair with justice, and that is my goal.”