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April 21, 2006

Susana Pelayo-Woodward

Martancik / Pelayo -Woodward

Her Mexican heritage hangs on the walls in pictures of Frida Kahlo, rests on her bookshelves in books about strong Latino women, and sits on her desk in the pictures of her family.
There are stacks and stacks of papers and packets and important-looking things scattered all over the place – indicative of the many roles she takes on in her life. On top being a mother of two boys, Susana Pelayo-Woodward is the director of Latino Chicano Student Services at UMD, she coordinates the UMD Multicultural Center, and oversees WRAC, a women’s organization, also at UMD.

Adding to the heap, Pelayo-Woodward is involved with Witness for Peace, Amnesty International – as an advisor and a member, National Chicano Studies, the Diversity Commission, and the Commission of Women.
“I think the FBI has a file on me now,? said Pelayo-Woodward, laughing and shaking her head.
Witness for Peace is a non-profit organization which works to bring people of all ages on educational trips to Mexico. Pelayo-Woodward is on the Midwest board of the D.C. based organization. Similar to this project, she has recently helped put together a January term course in which students go to Mexico. This kind of course she calls experimental education. Instead of being in the classroom with books and lectures the students are actually going out and interacting with organizations, listening to their goals and their struggles and what they are striving for.
“We have a family stay in a small indigenous community that has tremendously been affected by the immigration of many people migrating to the U.S. to work,? said Pelayo-Woodward.
“I think that is the best way to teach people about the reason that so many people are leaving their home countries,? she said, “It puts a human face to the issues.?
Pelayo-Woodward empathizes with the people of these communities. When she was 18 she immigrated to the United States from Mexico. She knows how it feels to be away from your loved ones and to be in a country that is not your own.
It’s unfortunate for the people who are left at home as well, waiting for the money to come from the U.S. What you find back in the home countries is mostly older women and children because all of the men and many of the women are immigrating to work and send money home.
“The language has been lost, that sense of family has been torn and broken,? said Pelayo-Woodward.
She recognizes the struggle between the many cultures that are thrown together. The struggles for the outsiders coming in, and the lack of knowledge that creates a struggle for the people who were born here.
“Who in the world would one day wake up and say ‘I think I’m going to go to a country where everyone hates me, they don’t speak my language, I do all this shit work that nobody wants, and I get treated like I was an animal’ I mean who will do that?? she asked rhetorically.
Pelayo-Woodward enjoys teaching because she gets to present information to her students; information that they can take and wrap their mind around, and form opinions about.
“I am not an expert on anything,? she said, “I believe that I will learn a lot from you, as much as you will learn from me.?
Students don’t often hear this kind of modesty from their professors. Pelayo-Woodward recognizes that this may be hard for students to grasp at first. She observes that most students are used to simply receiving the information and data, like they want it downloaded into their brain.
“Its always interesting to see the reactions of students when new information is presented, and I see that little light, they’re realizing that they are the ones that need to continue searching for the information,? she said, “Otherwise you get a very narrow perspective of what the world is all about.?