Watson Fellowship Sends Mayra Tenorio '15 on "Inherently Personal" Journey

Mayra Tenorio '15

"For my Watson year, I will be transformed by listening to women’s stories of survival," says Mayra Tenorio ’15. "I will explore in depth how women in different social, political, economic, and social contexts ensure their survival each and every day [and] hope to learn what are their survival strategies for overcoming hardship."

Facing what she feared were long odds for receiving a Watson Fellowship, Mayra Tenorio ’15 suppressed her emotional investment. So the sight of her name on the list of winners this week drew disbelief, chased by catharsis.

“I finally let all the hope and excitement that I had tucked away for months consume me,” says the sociology & anthropology major from Beach Park, Ill. “I am absolutely elated and feel extremely fortunate for the opportunity.”

Tenorio’s successful proposal, “Daughter of Women: Chronicling Our Survival,” will take her across the world to listen to stories of survival in various contexts that resonate for and inspire her.

“While many might see the topic of 'survival' as imbued with hopelessness, for me survival is embedded with possibility,” she says. “Women’s survival stories propel me forward and remind me of the incredible potential that lies within all of us.”

Tenorio will live among migrant women trying to create new homes for their families in Spain, Dominican women who survived domestic and intimate partner violence, self-employed Peruvian women who work in Lima’s outdoor markets, Argentinian women using feminism on the ground to resist paternalistic politics, and indigenous women leading environmental justice and human rights movements in Canada.

“All of these struggles are also mine,” says Tenorio, “and I want to survive them with the other women.”

She deems the project “inherently personal,” stemming from her experiences at home.

“My success and my spirit have flourished out of the battleground that has been my mother’s life,” says Tenorio. “I have been woven together by the smiles, tears, strength, laughs, wounds, and tenacious hope my mother and all of the women who have touched my life have shared with me.”

Tenorio credits Swarthmore with offering opportunities to engage her interest in women’s lives and gender equality. In particular, her minor in Gender & Sexuality Studies helped her to develop “a keen understanding and the language necessary to frame my feminist politics, which I have had the opportunity to mobilize during my undergraduate career.”

On Sunday, The Watson Foundation announced its 2015 Fellows, providing one-year, $28,000 grants to “graduates of unusual promise.” The foundation fans fellows across the globe to “enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership, and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.”

It's an incredible opportunity, one for which Tenorio didn't get her hopes up. But now that it's here, she's intent on seizing it.

“I am ready to learn and be humbled, to cherish every aspect of my journey, and to celebrate all of the amazing women I meet,” she says. “This is a year of transformation, and I am ready to undergo exactly that."