Q&A with Eugenio Matibag

CATEGORIES: November 2013
In Osaka, Japan

Surely, many of our alumni (especially those who majored in Spanish) remember Professor Eugenio Matibag. Dr. Matibag is a Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies, who regularly teaches courses in Spanish language, Latin American civilization, and Hispanic literary studies. Dr. Matibag’s research focuses on Filipino culture, politics, and identity. In addition to numerous articles, encyclopedia entries, and conference presentations, he is the author of two books: Afro-Cuban Religious Experience: Cultural Reflections in Narrative (U P of Florida, 1996); and Haitian-Dominican Counterpoint: Nation, State and Race on Hispaniola (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). We asked Dr. Matibag a few questions about his experiences as a Spanish professor at ISU.

How did you decide to become a professor at a University?
In college I discovered that I enjoyed studying literature, that I was fascinated by languages and the idea of language, and that I knew that I wanted to work professionally in a field that I could feel passionate about.  So the “profession of professor” seemed a natural choice.  Also, I had this fanciful notion that as a professor I would be living the life of the mind, serenely, not having to worry over the common headaches of everyday life, inhabiting a place in the world where everyone looks up to you and respects your opinion.  Did I mention how naïve I was at the time?

Dr. Matibag in Paris, Journée d’Etudes Hispaniques, Sorbonne VII, Summer 2009

What do you consider to be your most notable professional achievement?
I like to think that my scholarship, teaching and service have contributed to creating cross-cultural and inter-ethnic understanding; these are important, I think, in a world in need of social justice and conflict resolution.  Over the years I have worked on developing ethnic studies at Iowa State in one form or another, recently in Asian American Studies, and I continue to teach and research in Spanish with special interest in the meaning of ethnic identity in Latin America.

What has been your most memorable international experience?
I have had the good fortune to enjoy a number of extraordinary international experiences, both abroad and in the United States.  What stand out are perhaps the visits I made to the Philippines since the 1990s, when my research turned to investigating the Hispanic roots of Philippine nationhood.  The visits reconnected me with my native land and the traditions and language of my family.  In the Philippines I traveled to the monuments of such patriots as José Rizal and Apolinario Mabini, and I visited as well the neighborhoods in Batangas and Cavite, where my family lived prior to our immigrating to the United States.

In Osaka, Japan

What is the last foreign country you visited? Is there a place in that country that you recommend anyone to visit?
The last foreign country I visited was Japan in summer of 2013, when I accepted an invitation to give an informal talk at Kyoto University on the nineteenth-century Filipino nationalists: these were the “Ilustrados” who, in Spain and in the Philippines, defended the rights of the Filipinos to representation and self-determination.  For anyone who has a chance to travel to Japan, I would recommend a stay in Kyoto, a thousand-year-old city that features Zen gardens and Shinto temples, among other fascinating sites.

What has been the most interesting course you taught at ISU?
All the courses I’ve taught at ISU have been interesting for me, and I hope interesting for my students too, and every course offers its unique set of challenges.  From among these courses I remember one in literature at the upper level in which students read Gabriel García Márquez’s famous magical-realist novel of Latin America, One Hundred Years of Solitude.  That assignment stands out not only because of the lively discussions that sprang from it, but because it gave me a secret thrill to know  my students were reading a book that had inspired me to pursue literary studies in Spanish some years before, when I was their age.