Rethinking culture


- Sarah Tarnopolsky

Receiving the Norma Mickelson Legacy Scholarship in recognition of his community leadership has augmented Hector Vazquez Cordoba’s feeling that he is “in the right place at UVic.” Photo: UVic Photo Services.

Gifts to UVic are supporting graduate research with worldwide impact

Hector Vazquez Cordoba, a PhD student in the Faculty of Education, came to UVic in response to a calling he felt to enhance music education in schools throughout Mexico. From the age of six, he travelled every day to Xalapa, Mexico to attend music classes, since there were no opportunities in his hometown, Naolinco.

Now an accomplished violinist and tenured member of the Orquesta Universitaria de Música Popular in Xalapa, Vazquez Cordoba wanted to bring classical music to young people in small communities.

However, shortly before he began his PhD, a chance encounter changed his entire perspective. At the pre-show talk for a classical concert in Mexico, an Indigenous musician was ridiculed by another audience member, despite asking an informed and thought-provoking question.

"This experience profoundly affected me," says Vazquez Cordoba. "It revealed to me that, despite the extensive musical knowledge in our varied Indigenous communities, that knowledge is still automatically considered as inferior in Mexico."

A feeling of being in the right place

Anita Prest and Hector Vazquez Cordoba holding guitars in an office
The reputation and research interests of Anita Prest inspired Vazquez Cordoba to come to UVic.

Since then, the idea of revitalizing and valuing Indigenous musical knowledge and traditions stayed with Vazquez Cordoba, and have been nurtured further with the guidance and support of his supervisor, Dr. Anita Prest.

I chose to come to UVic to work with a great expert in the field of music education with an emphasis on Indigenous music, Dr. Prest. During our very first meeting, I told her that I had a feeling that I was in the right place. Fourteen months later I can say that I was right. I am in the right place, and I'm really thankful for that.
—Hector Vazquez Cordoba, UVic PhD student

Vazquez Cordoba's graduate degree is supported in part by the Norma Mickelson Legacy Scholarship, awarded in recognition of his scholarship and community leadership.

He is the Executive Director of the Mateo Oliva non-profit organization, which works to increase access to different cultural expressions and revitalize cultural traditions. He also founded a music festival in Naolinco that has gained national recognition.

$21k Total awarded to students from Norma Mickelson Legacy Scholarship
205 donor-funded awards available for graduate students
$1.2m awarded to 368 graduate students in 2017/18

"By recognizing my service to community, this scholarship confirmed that I should continue to focus on creating spaces where people can tell their stories," says Vazquez Cordoba. "A key aspect of my research is collaboration—finding common grounds towards goals that are beneficial to the community."

He developed his research values and theories while working as a research assistant for Prest. His work involved visiting schools in rural British Columbia to observe how music educators are incorporating Indigenous world views and principles into their teaching, and how that fosters understanding of Indigenous cultures.

Encouraging pride in Mexico's Indigenous cultures and heritage

Musicians playing on a stage in Mexico with audience members watching
Vazquez Cordoba founded the Naolinco International Music Festival that involved more than 200 musicians from eight different countries in 2017. Photo courtesy of Naolinco International Music Festival.

Vazquez Cordoba's revised research focus is how Indigenous music can be promoted through Mexico's national curriculum. His goal is to create a curriculum proposal for elementary and secondary schools that incorporates music with Indigenous roots. He will pilot that curriculum in a secondary school in Naolinco and, if the results are favourable, it will provide a compelling rationale for the implementation in other school districts.

School by school, school district by school district, we can change the perception of what is valued in education. It's not just about fostering an understanding of Indigenous music, but about Indigenous people seeing how their traditions are embraced and respected in the mainstream system. In the end, it's about encouraging pride in our Indigenous cultures and heritage.
—Hector Vazquez Cordoba, UVic PhD student

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Keywords: philanthropy, student life, graduate research, international, music, education, community

People: Hector Vazquez Cordoba, Anita Prest

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