On a balmy summer day I received an email from Katie Schlechter. It was a proposition to apply for the IWMF Adelante fellowship with her. This was the first time she had ever emailed me. I had met her briefly the year before while I was leading an audio editing workshop at NYU.
Before I agreed to applying, Katie and I talked on the phone for a bit. Immediately I was struck with how much research she had done. She seemed to understand Latin America and the deeply complicated issues and political landscapes of the region so well. I found this a bit confusing but mostly impressive as I stared at her gmail thumbnail picture. Am I really talking to this woman?
Fast forward a few months and here I am doing the first leg of our fellowship. We are in San Miguel Ajusco, a small town in the mountains, 2 hours south of Mexico City. Lots of people ride horses here, even very young children.
When Katie was in middle school her family moved from rural Washington state, where her family lived in a geodesic dome made out of cedar, to Cincinnati, Ohio. Katie started attending a Catholic school in Cincinnati where she was heavily picked on. She was lanky and pale and everyone called her Michael Jackson. When she would come home from school she had two vices; reading Harry Potter (me too) or she would browse her parent’s huge leather bound atlas’. Looking at the atlas’ was the first time that Katie got a sense of a world bigger than the one that she knew. There was so much more out there. Cincinnati, Ohio, with all those mean ass bullies, was just a tiny dot on the map.
When Katie was 16 she took a trip with her parish to Managua, Nicaragua. Katie walked off the airplane and was greeted with a great wave of heat and humidity. Her school group was picked up in a yellow school bus and driven to small hotel. Katie sat in the back of the bus with her Discman on and stared out the window and took in the sights. She totally fell in love. Admittedly, a lot of her infatuation at the time was based on exoticization and the passion you feel for a place that isn’t your home, when you only see all the good parts of a place without understand the bad, when you’re relaxed and on vacation and your only job is to have a good time.
Katie returned to Managua 3 more times in the next 3 years. Later she expanded her sights to Europe and the middle east. But she always fondly remembered Central and South America. How nice everyone was about her Spanish, all the funny idioms (Se fue como una cabra sin mecate) and the amazing food. And of course, all the people that she met in the there. Her first trips to Nicaragua were so fundamental in providing a foundation for her world perspective. This was the first time in her life that all of her ideas about the world and where she came from were turned upside down. Prior to her visits to Nicaragua, her favorite holiday was the 4th of July. This was the first time that she began to understand the deeply complicated nature of the United States as a global presence. Today, Katie is based in Mexico City, making new connections and sharing her stories with the world.
– Mitra Kaboli