Dr. Sirena Pellarolo sat in her office chair one afternoon perusing a book by Chicana poet and radical feminist Gloria Anzaldua called ‘La Frontera: The New Mestiza.’ Her fourth-floor office is typical of an intellectual, swamped with stacks of documents and books on the shelves or her desk.
As a scholar, her choice of reading material gives her an air of universal educator because most of the times scattered throughout the office are translations in both English and Spanish.
But Pellarolo’s book-infested office isn’t the only type of learning she enjoys.
‘I like authors who write about new social movements in Latin America and alternative ways of living in the world,’ said Pellarolo, also an activist, poet and a playwright. Currently, she is teaching a Central American studies seminar on culture and lectures on Gloria Mu’ntilde;oz Ramirez’s journalistic book about the Zapatistas, an autonomous indigenous group in Chiapas, Mexico.
‘Reading books for me is like looking into a mirror, I can engage in dialogue,’ she said.
Pellarolo, an associate professor in the modern and classical languages and literatures department at CSUN, comes across as a dedicated woman whose drive surpasses what her occupation would typically entail.
Pellarolo was born in 1955 in Argentina, where she received a master’s degree in Latin American literature. As an activist and feminist, she said that oppressed groups worldwide should strive to overcome discrimination and exploitation.
Motivated by Argentina’s social and political turmoil, Pellarolo decided to come to California in 1988. The movement she witnessed in the U.S. signaled a lifelong commitment of educating fellow Latinos in the fight against discrimination. She particularly feels a kinship to Chicana/os.
‘I was feeling very identified as an immigrant myself,’ said Pellarolo of her experience leaving her country. Upon witnessing the inequality and racism Latinos faced in this country, Pellarolo began to get involved in Latino-based studies.
‘I believe, like the Zapatistas, that another world is possible,’ Pellarolo said. ‘Each breathing second of my life is dedicated to creating this new world. It is important to be educated, we need to know our roots.’
Johnny Ramirez, a third- year graduate student in CSUN’s Chicana/o studies master’s program, can attest to Pellarolo’s ability to inspire and inform outside of the educational atmosphere.
‘Her enthusiasm is part of the thing that gravitated me towards her,’ said Ramirez. ‘She’s a mentor, and is passionate and driven.’
‘Her energy rubs off and really inspires or helps motivate,’ he added. ‘It’s a love for all humanity and also a love for the possibility of revolutionary change.’
An example of Pellarolo’s activism was evident last fall when U.S. Army recruiters were on campus to attract students. Some students against military recruitment formed an impromptu demonstration and Pellarolo was among them. When the military showed no signs of relenting their aggressive attitude, she walked with the students to University Hall in order to speak with President Jolene Koester.
‘CSUN has a prominent Latino/a and African-American student population,’ said Pellarolo. ‘These individuals were targeted, there was such heavy recruitment. There was a huge hummer and big rig, and they were trying to lure students.’
Rosa Furumoto, associate professor of Chicana/o Studies, witnessed the incident first hand. ‘Here was an example of her passion,’ said Furumoto. ‘At a certain point, when she was confronting recruiters, she was right in their faces.’
‘Her enthusiasm is infectious,’ Furumoto said and added that Pellarolo’s close work with her students is inspiring and engaging. ‘She is very apt to go with students to demonstrations and she’s very honest in her style of engaging with students and others.’
Perhaps part of Pellarolo’s fervor and zest to advocate human respect and equality may stem from her cultural background. She feels that her roots have played a crucial role in her passion.
‘In Argentina, people are more open, very direct,’ Pellarolo said. ‘They are very clear and not polite. They don’t need to be second-guessing.’
‘It’s a diplomatic game here,’ she added. ‘I think that we are living in very momentous times. Old paradigms are falling apart and new ones are emerging.’
Ramirez, her former student, believes that Pellarolo’s prolific career continues to look promising. He believes she could be an entrepreneur in expanding worldly justice through education.
‘I see her like being a part of the new educator’s movement,’ said Ramirez. ‘She’s going to connect with social justice globally from the U.S. to Argentina, to Europe to Mexico. She will teach social justice.’