CHASIcast: Esther Jiménez Atochero on making a difference in a messy world

On our latest episode of the CHASIcast, we have the pleasure of speaking with a critical member of the CHASI team: our very own Esther Jiménez Atochero. Esther is CHASI’s senior research assistant, a role that sees her heavily involved in everything from the day-to-day operation of the Hub to our biggest research projects. In the Fall, Esther will be leaving CHASI to begin her master’s program as Carlton University.

Throughout the podcast, Esther shares her insights on UFV and her experience as an international student finding her academic passion, her feedback for UFV on what we can do to create a better learning environment, and her drive to make real changes in our communities.

To hear more from Esther, follow her on Twitter at @estheratochero.

Hosted by CHASI’s director Dr. Martha Dow and recorded in CIVL Radio’s studio at the University of the Fraser Valley, the CHASIcast is available to stream below, or on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music/Audible, and other platforms!

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Esther Jiménez Atochero: You have to be aware of what is going on in your community — particularly in your community — because sometimes we get lost in the international “oh, we are gonna fix the world.” And it’s, *laughs* just, let me tell you that may be a little bit difficult. So focusing in what is going on in your community, integrating that in everything that I do. And for that, you need to be listening all the time. You have to be listening to those voices that get in between sometimes, that we miss.

Intro: Based out of the University of the Fraser Valley on unceded, traditional lands of the Sto:lo people we are the Community Health and Social Innovation Hub, or CHASI for short. We support the social, mental, emotional, physical, and economic health of those living in our communities by bringing together experts from across disciplines. Those experts have some incredible stories and insights. To share those with the communities we serve, we bring you the CHASIcast, a monthly program where we drill down on a current topic and chat about how it impacts our lives.

Dr. Dow: Good morning and welcome to CHASIcast. It’s my absolute pleasure this morning to have a conversation with Esther Jiménez Atochero who’s a colleague of mine and a friend and a former student. And so really thrilled to have you here today. So, welcome.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure. I mean, what a pleasure to be here sitting in the same place that we had so many great scholars before. So I’m very pleased.

Dr. Dow: Great. I wonder if we can start just… I mean, one of the reasons that I wanted to use this time today to chat with you is you’re opening a new chapter in your life, so excited to learn more and have other people hear about what that is. But I wonder, can you just tell the audience a little bit about you and your journey?

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Yeah, well, I came here to… well, I’m a, obviously, a UFV alumni. I graduated in 2020 — what a great year to graduate. I missed just that walk over the stage. But I am proud. Proud that I could find this spot at CHASI and become what I imagined when I was a student, which is a researcher. Right? I came here because the crisis in Spain forced me to migrate to Canada and I wanted to explore a different — back at home, I was a sound engineer, right? So this was a new chapter in all ways. So I could explore a new discipline. And then I remember going to this class, it was sociology and deviance. And it’s this woman, this Dr. Dow and she’s talking so fast and she’s so exciting about everything.

And then I was, “holy smokes. This is the spot, right? This is where I want to be.” And from there, I stick to sociology and graduated and I stick to the department in many ways to the Dean of College (of Arts) Dr. Nolte, at that time, I became a peer supporter for international students too, I was involved at SUS, too. So yeah, pretty much I was spending all the time at UFV.

Dr. Dow: And I think that’s interesting, you know, one of the things that we wrestle with and I think through COVID, it will be even more of a question, is engagement of students. Can you talk a bit about like, did that just sort of naturally come from other things you’ve done in your life? That that was just… you were gonna be 110% into this as well? Was there something about the student life that really drew you or being an international?

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Well, I think being an international was a big part. And also that I was a little bit of an older student, like I wasn’t just coming straight out of high school. So that gives you different perspective too. I feel like UFV allowed—and the department, again, allowed that possibility of becoming involved in many ways. I very quickly realized how divided the university was in the different departments. And that took me to be part of the Senate. And, and then when I got to the Senate, I realized how little of a voice a student had at that time. It sounds like a critique, but it’s not. I feel like it’s a place where we can improve a little bit more, like as a student. For those that are today at the senate, I encourage to really speak out.

Probably I didn’t make many friends at the senate, but you know, it was a spot, the university offered me a spot. Now that to be said, not everybody felt the same, right? Like I also encounter many international students that they were feeling that they couldn’t find that spot for themselves.

Dr. Dow: If you had to talk about that for just a bit, what are, what are some of those challenges that you heard about, that you experienced?

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Well, there is still a need of integration, much more representation, in the international department for sure. In our faculty, right? So students still feel that they don’t have a place for that voice. Because they feel they may not be backed by anybody. So I think we need to do a little bit better, if not much better in making our students feel that they can speak up.

And the university, this is the space for that, right? This is where you come and then where you make mistakes and where you critique your, your faculty members, where you critique your institution, where you critique, right? And it should be not only for a student, but for all the members, faculty, staff. I think, and we had this conversation before, I feel like we just became so polite. And everything we want to be so careful and so caring about not hurting anybody. And that’s important, but there is a lot that needs to be dismantled.

And sometimes that means to have hard conversations and to be painful. Painful conversations, right? So I think that particularly sector, like white individual, we became so comfortable in our little spots. I’m sometimes fearful too. So yeah, and the university is the place where we should speak up and, and be, and feel that we are not gonna be…. yeah, that this space is gonna respect us speaking up, too.

Dr. Dow: It’s interesting because as I listen to that — and we’ve chatted about this — it’s that edge where if these polarized ideas of we’ve gotten, we’ve become so polite that we’re not unpacking all of this, you know, political correctness and woke cul— all of that stuff that we’re hearing.

And then as you just expressed, we’re too polite. So we’re so focused on answers instead of, you know, being comfortable in the muck of questions to some extent. So isn’t it an interesting time where if you’ll, let me just kind of create two sides for the moment they’re both using some of the same rhetoric to say particularly within the university. Yeah, I wonder how you think about, about that tension, where the the same tools, the same arguments are being used by what I would argue are, are quite destructive and potentially really harmful elements.

I wish everybody could see your face right now. For those of you who can’t, I can explain that one of the things that I will miss an awful lot, and maybe we can let that one bounce around—

Esther Jiménez Atochero: My eyes, right?

Dr. Dow: Are the eyes yeah. And kind of can say a lot over the computer monitor as we talk about in CHASI. But maybe that’s a nice way to go. Where are you off to next? And can you talk a little bit about that and why?

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Yeah, I’m going out to Carlton University and that’s in Ottawa, which is such interesting time. Probably I’m gonna encounter some of the freedom convoys which is kind of exciting because one of the thing that I want to see is now that the COVID 19 restrictions have like eased a little bit I want to see if there is any, like, how is the counter culture happening there?

I want to see, again, if we are gonna encounter that politeness that we are saying, because that’s the thing, how we keep thinking, we are allowing so much, we are allowing these individuals to be there, you know? And with that permissivity that they think that they have. And, and then we are just kind of like, oh, well, you know, these are just a bunch of crazy people just there, but the reality is that the message it’s just going through, it’s getting embedded in our children is getting embedded in our students potentially it really gets me crazy to see that these flags like Canadian flags in cars, in our parking lot, just, you know, because there is a message there.

So it’s transporting everywhere. Potentially even internationally too. Like we saw that the freedom convoy impacted France. And Spain too, where were particularly also truck drivers, they felt that they had that argument of dismantling the government and democracy, obviously.

Dr. Dow: I love that in typical Esther fashion, I was asking about you and your educational journey and very quickly as we all do, we’re like,” yes, but the world, I have to fix…” But it’s a nice little connection to what you’re doing.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Yes, yes. Yeah. I’m going to study my masters. It’s an MA in Migration and Diaspora Studies. Which I’m so excited like this, this didn’t come to me easily and this is something that I also want to tell many students, some people tell me, like, how did you figure it out, the masters? And I say, like, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t, I wasn’t sure until one day… and this is, I have to tell you, this happens to me so many times, like in the shower, and then ideas come to me. And I was there — at that time I was — I’m still working for a CIHR project with Dr. Cindy Jardine that is running through CHASI in temporary foreign workers. And then I thought, well, you know, wouldn’t it be so amazing just to look, diving a little bit more in policies and, and what the government is doing and how much migration is gonna impact when we see the impact of environmental disasters, right.

Obviously economic crisis. We are gonna have that, that wave of migrant workers and refugees, right. Coming to Canada, particularly because also Canada needs these individuals, right? To maintain the GDP that we have. Like migrant workers really do an impact in the Canadian economy.

So I felt like, well, you know policy is my thing. I love to read policies. It’s so boring. People think that it’s really boring, but I really encourage students to understand that importance that policies have, how that change our institutions, right? Like everywhere, where you go, you should check, what is this institution doing around sexual violence about, you know, the LGBTQ group, right?

Like what are they doing? And find a place where they can, again, write to whoever they have to write to change that policy. Or to just question, why is this policy still here? Can we update policies? So because I have that interest, I thought, oh I really want to explore that. Now, my research question is still in the air. I have some ideas, but no clear yet. The supervisory is okay, they say this is okay. Not to have it, get it done before I enter into the masters.

Dr. Dow: But isn’t that interesting too, right? The idea that, of just being okay in the space, like it’s just, I think it’s an interesting… you know, I try so hard with students when they’re coming in and oh, I don’t know what I wanna do, and I’m saying that’s okay. And they’re saying, well, can you come for dinner at our house and tell my parents that and just, and so it’s really important to hear you say it’s okay. Not to know yet.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Yes. And, actually, I made notes for this interview, you know, how nervous I get. I always do so quietly, but I made notes. And one of them was that like, can we please just stop asking our student and kids what they want to be. In a world that is so messy. And where they themselves don’t find a clear future, right? Like where maybe water is gonna be lacking.

And you know how can they know. When, we are living in this messy world. Right. I would encourage the students just to be okay with that. Do that, not knowing. And also, you know, to think that whatever field they study to be reflective. And whatever they do, I feel like we just, in these times we reflect so little. We need to be busy all the time. We are not given to, you know, just sit down and say, okay, why is this impacting me? Why is this important to me? Why is this important to you? Why we need to sit down and have that conversation, why we need to sit down and not have conversation at all. Right?

Because sometimes that is about sitting there and not talking. So, you know, that reflection I know we have a lot of busy life and I know that sometimes reflecting means to sit down with uncomfortable truths and uncomfortable thoughts. But to me, it’s the way of progress, right? The way that we progress too. So those students to be okay, to need three years or four years to know what you really want to be. And in the meantime, be involved and be, doing your things and have a have a goal. But don’t forget that sometimes in the sides you can find where you really want to be.

You know, sometimes you have a goal and then suddenly something on your side. But you were so focused on something that you missed it. So just be aware that sometimes things come on the side of, of our eyes.

Dr. Dow: I agree with you that it’s so important. How could we do better, particularly thinking about the university? You know, we get people marched into declaring majors and pretty invested with often not loads of flexibility to move once you do. And then the other thing I throw into that is sometimes I hear people say, well, you saying to students that they don’t need to know yet, and you’d rather, they didn’t know, comes from a place of privilege. Which it absolutely does in many ways, but also, I also think we wanna be careful about deciding that certain segments of our population don’t deserve to sit. And we should find ways for them to be able to travel and journey and shift with the flow as well. So what could maybe the university do differently?

Well, I,

Esther Jiménez Atochero: I think allowing a little bit of extra time, you know, like everybody learns in such different ways, right? Like if we could figure it out, and this is a little bit utopic, right. Because that is then reality, right? You have to go out to the market. You have to have an income. Obviously I feel like allowing this space, I think sometimes many students, and I have heard this like, oh, Esther, you know what? It’s just, I cannot have an idea right away. I get asked this or that, and he said, I don’t know. And he says, yeah, you know, it’s just you need to just go somewhere, where other ones, there are some people that just jump and brainstorm. But some others is like, okay, just gimme a moment, go for a walk, and I come back with some great ideas. So allow that for the people to say, okay, go and brainstorm and then you come back and there is a space for you still. So, yeah, I think allowing that time we are, again, it’s coming back to that business, right?

Dr. Dow: So as the world feels like it’s sort of crumbling burning down around everybody. Certainly our students are feeling it. How do you navigate some of that? I mean, I certainly, CHASI’s a space where we get to come in and sort of vent a little bit sometimes, et cetera, there’s an incredible privilege in that. And I’m so appreciative for that. Where are you at in navigating?

We’ve had Roe V. Wade. We obviously have, you know, sustained resistance around Black Lives Matter, continuing very definitely, you know, Indigenous rights and, and some of what’s gone on most recently over the last sort of 12 months around those issues. How do you navigate that?

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Well, sometimes I must say it’s difficult for me, you know sometimes I don’t know the best way of navigating things and sometimes I have to withdraw, but what I try to do is everything that I do, you know, if we prepare a survey, if we do a writing, you know, just to integrate all that, that is happening, right?

Like around me, you have to be aware of what is going on in your community, particularly in your community, because sometimes we get lost in that international, oh, we are gonna fix the world. And I says, well, just, let me tell you that that maybe gonna be a little bit difficult.

So focusing in what is going on in your community, integrating that in everything that I do. And for that, you need to be, like listening all the time. You have to be, you know, listening to those voices that get in between sometimes that we miss. Right. I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes I have difficulty to navigate.

Dr. Dow: I think doesn’t that go back a bit to what you’ve talked about with respect to sitting in it a little bit, right? Allowing to, we do feel compelled to fix and we’re doing that, but I think if we could all be better at what you’ve described, and you do that. You’re a bit of a push on that for, I think everybody in CHASI that just says slow it down, turn things off, like do that kind of thing. That’s been a real gift for me, getting to know you so I think that’s something that would help all of us. A little bit is just being okay. Not to know the answer. Sitting in silence.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Yeah. I think that’s the key, right? We cannot know everything. We can’t, because then just one of us would be enough. So I think it is a combination of everybody’s. It’s a combination of what I was mentioning before of all those that also go somewhere and, or may work in a different speed, right? Like it’s the one that needs three extra hours to do something. But it’s gonna produce such in-depth material. So, yeah, I think that’s the key.

Dr. Dow: We’re winding down a little bit in time. I’d love you to talk just a little bit about going off to do your masters. I think you’ll take care of the convoy. And what do you see as what you have, those gifts and where you would like to, sort of do the work that’s so important to you? What do you see that journey look like for you?

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Well, you know, for me, what I would like to, I have that thing about honesty, right? So I have that. I am not very comfortable when we put so many things in between, so then the message gets a little bit complicated and it’s okay. Get to the point. So I think that’s, that’s what I want to do. In the work that I do, I just want to like take away all those things and then get to the point.

I don’t know if I’m gonna do it right. And I don’t know if I’m gonna get you know, lost in the process. But yeah, I think my goal which may change is to finish my masters. So then, then I can incorporate part of myself to the work. With my reflections, you know, my awareness and, and my honesty in the work that I do. that’s that’s my dream now. Am I gonna achieve that? I don’t know. Let me tell you in a couple of years,

Dr. Dow: I was kind of hoping you didn’t add the end part. Cause I thought that we can just cut that out or something I’m hoping, but, you know, I thought it was the, I think I have no doubt that you will do all of that. And I think why I know that and you know, the, the amazing part of what I get to do for a living that I love is meeting thousands of students over the 30 years that I’ve taught.

And you nailed so many important aspects and I think most importantly making sure that who we are is part of our work and that doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer or a professor, or whatever, it’s making sure that we’re giving a part, an important and honest part of ourselves every day in what we do. So, yeah. I have no doubt that — I’m hoping you’ll hire me someday. That’s my real hope.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: That would be pretty amazing.

Dr. Dow: That would be awesome. Yeah. That would be great.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: To have you as a you know advisory, like kind of like a mentor, advisory…

Dr. Dow: I hope we’ll continue to work together. So thank you so much for doing this really appreciate it. And we’re obviously going back to do some, some good work, so, thanks.

Esther Jiménez Atochero: Thank you, Martha.