This piece was edited for Student Life. An unedited version will appear in the next release of Latinxepression.
It’s daunting to explore the path you didn’t take, but junior artist Colleen Avila made it happen. Avila (she/she) is a Rodriguez and Ervin Fellow with a dual major in Studio Art and PNP with a minor in Latin American Studies. On campus, they are heavily involved with Uncle Joe’s, Color Magazine and their dual scholarship programs. Avila has held a variety of roles at Uncle Joe, and each has emphasized the importance of listening, mentoring, and ensuring a safe space for others. When asked about their own safe rooms on campus, Joe is quick to come up with it. Hearing from other Joes is important to Avila as they value the well-being of their peers. Being at Joe’s is very special to them because they are surrounded by like-minded, empathetic people.
For the past two years, Avila has also been the Editor-in-Chief of Color Magazine, a student-run creative magazine for color students. As someone who grew up in the predominantly white city of Frederick, Maryland, living in spaces where ethnic identity is emphasized as sacred, especially when that identity is infused with queerness, was a welcome transition.
“Before Color, there weren’t many places on campus for the voices of colored students to come together and do something,” said Avila.
Avila’s passion for making people feel heard and accepted is evident in her commitment to colour. As a respected magazine on campus, the publication gives colored students the opportunity to be seen in the media on campus. The pieces included in Color can look like a photo project about a student’s home country, a poem about a student’s body image influenced by the culture they grew up in, or a commentary on a political conflict in a region. For those who submit, Color can be an outlet for frustration, creativity, and love for their culture. It can be incredibly enlightening for Color audiences to read about the lived experiences of others and appreciate the art that comes out of it. Avila’s involvement with such a magazine has shown her incredible artistic skills and empathy for others as it continues to be a source of expression for students of color.
A concept that Avila emphasized in relation to her involvements and ideologies was the idea of Marxist alienation. They said that we have become alienated from the people around us – because we are all in constant competition with each other and consequently alienated from our own work and its products. They cite this alienation and disconnection from what it means to be human as one of the reasons why so many of us feel isolated and drained in modern society. They identify with the idea of revolution to change that. “Revolution means community. It means reversing the alienation,” they said.
As they grew into their identity as a self-proclaimed anarcho-communist, their priority was community.
Speaking about resistance to oppressive structures like capitalism, Avila emphasizes the importance of prioritizing pleasure and relaxation. This idea is particularly radical for people living in the United States, a country that emphasizes ideals like the American Dream — where tireless work is said to be the key to success.
In a capitalist system there are few moments of relaxation and pleasure that are not linked to an economic reward. Avila merged this larger ideology with the smaller center of WashU, where students often have so much work to do that they experience sleepless nights or have to stay indoors to study for an exam on even the best of days.
While Avila doesn’t shy away from work, one thing they prioritize in life is making time to bask in the sun, both literally and figuratively. When asked what one of her safe places on campus was, Avila replied, “being outdoors in public.” They love to romanticize their lives and curate themselves, and one way to be happy is to put on a stellar outfit and “look.”[ing] romantic on the lawn.” Connecting with the aesthetic self, both internal and external, in a larger community is a form of self-care.
Academically, Avila finds Revolution in her major in art. Taking extensive classes, putting hundreds of hours into their art, and creating things for their process and enjoyment challenges the norm for students in this school. It can be easy to get in the way of seeking an education that will offer only monetary success in the future and fail to incorporate joy into the pursuit of knowledge. For Avila, this path was not without resistance; Her parents envisioned a more guaranteed career, like that of a doctor. While Avila recognizes her desires as valid and loves her parents for pushing her forward, they still chose to include art in their education because they enjoy it.
“[Studying art] is something very special for me… I take his strength [whoever that wants] to dictate what we need to study to get a job or [wants to say that] Learning for the sake of learning is just as important as learning for the sake of work.”
Avila loves to soak up knowledge, but they don’t think that all of their academic endeavors at this school should be aimed at becoming rich and successful by the standards of capitalism.
In combating such a framework, Avila is a creator. They love to work with the abstract to convey ideas about revolution, defying the widespread assumption that realism is the “quintessence of talent”. They also invoke the artistic styles of indigenous communities, a skill and form of beauty that is often wrongly ignored in the art world. Exploring her indigenous heritage through art is another way Avila reverses alienation by drawing inspiration from the art forms of her ancestors.
Avila recognizes how revolution can involve war and violence, but that can be overwhelming to handle in one image. Instead, they create art that is “emblematic of what a community can be” and the power it possesses to create change.
listener. Artists. Revolutionary. What does the future hold for Avila? When asked where they see themselves in a few years, Avila has a vision: they dream of becoming a counselor and opening a practice with their longtime best friend from home. There is a garden at the back where people can pick fresh fruit and veg for free. The walls would be plastered with art, and there’s a soft cat on the grounds for people to pet. In that space, they could provide holistic, accessible care to all who need it.