E&H Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies Oleski Miranda Navarro Uses Literature to Study the History and People’s Narratives of His Hometown in Venezuela

by Billy Chandler

Dr. Oleski Miranda Navarro, Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies at Emory & Henry College, provides an anthropological view of how the oil industry in rural Venezuela has destroyed his hometown.

“Oil marked everything in that town, and it destroyed communities,” he says, noting his focus on “extractivism,” the process of removing natural resources for export. “It is very similar to the small coal towns in Southwest Virginia, where companies benefit from the wealth and the communities don’t get a share.”

Dr. Navarro in the oil town of Cabimas Dr. Navarro in the oil town of CabimasNavarro’s research, funded by a grant from the University of Wyoming, explores the history of Venezuela and “the narratives that came with oil” through the close reading of two novels written in the 1930s. He says the country did not have wealth in colonial times, but in the early 20th century, the farmers and fishermen of western Venezuela towns found oil destroying the land and water sources.

But it wasn’t just the environment in Venezuela that suffered. “When American companies came to my town, they reproduced a Jim Crow system,” Navarro says. “You can see the class system—workers, corporations, and people—who begin to shift.”

“Narratives like this will give you good insight as to what was happening to certain people,” Navarro says of the racism he sees in Venezuela during the period. “There is not much written about the Black immigrants who came to my hometown. What is their story?”

Navarro, in his second year at Emory & Henry, teaches advanced Spanish courses in the history, society, and culture of Hispanic groups—with a specialty focus on film and literature.

Dr. Oleski Miranda Navarro teaching in Venezuela Dr. Oleski Miranda Navarro teaching in VenezuelaWhile his research is personal, he says it also informs his teaching. “I share my research with my students to help explain important issues,” he says, noting that he assigns literature in his courses to better understand the history of Hispanic groups.

“We will always be able to hear the stories of these different people who came from different places,” he says. “I study the human side of these people, not just corporate reports.”

“Narratives like this will give you good insight as to what was happening to certain people,” Navarro says of the racism he sees in Venezuela during the period. “There is not much written about the Black immigrants who came to my hometown. What is their story?”

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