The Columns

W&L Professor’s Chilean Relief Campaign Is Personal

— by on March 22nd, 2010

Monica Gonzalez, an assistant professor of Spanish at Washington and Lee University, is mounting her own campaign to raise money to assist earthquake victims in her native Chile.

The effort is personal. Gonzalez still has vivid memories of the 8.0 earthquake that hit her hometown of Santiago in 1985, causing the walls of her house to move “like jelly,” she said.

When the earthquake struck on Feb. 27, Gonzalez and her brother, Fernando, were visiting Washington. She had not yet heard the news when she began getting messages from friends asking how her mother was back in Santiago.

“I started to panic because my mother was living alone, and I couldn’t get in touch with her by telephone throughout the day,” said Gonzalez, who joined the W&L faculty last fall after completing her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

Gonzalez learned that her mother was safe by trading Facebook messages with friends in Santiago, and finally made telephone contact late that Saturday night. “It was very scary,” she said.

Gonzalez has watched as news of the Chilean quake has disappeared from the front pages in the United States. She hopes the “Help Us Rebuild Chile” campaign that she is mounting along with her brother will at least keep the situation in front of members of the W&L community.

“After I found out that my family was safe, I could not help but feel sad for the country,” she said. “One-third of Chile has felt the impact of the earthquake. Two million Chileans have been displaced. That is a huge proportion of the population without housing.”

The need, she added, is urgent since the rainy season will soon present even greater problems to those who are living in tents. “They really need help soon,” she said.

Gonzalez thinks that because Chile is “a second-world country” as opposed to Haiti, which is a third-world country, the rest of the world views the two situations somewhat differently.

In addition to receptacles for cash donations, she has collaborated with W&L’s Dining Services to stage a Chilean dinner in the Marketplace on April 7 to conclude the campaign with Dining Services donating a portion of the proceeds of each meal served to the effort. All of the money that Gonzalez raises will go to the Red Cross for Chilean earthquake relief.