Yanira Castro ’94E

"That kind of trust in your vision is a gift."

I feel like I have an army of female mentors. I come from a family of strong women, insane in their work ethic and seemingly boundless in their energy. I owe a lot to mythical stories of their mischief and brazenness.

But in the more direct meaning of mentor—a teacher—I think of two women especially: my Amherst theater and dance professors Wendy Woodson and Suzanne Palmer Dougan.

When I think of Wendy, I think of a long list of words divided by slashes that never quite define what you are doing—that can’t circumscribe the action—but that, by existing side by side, create other contexts. I think of multiplicity, and I think of structures. I think of having to keep choreography straight as 1A, 2B and 3D and then, in a split second, having to remember and do 3D, 1Bx2 and 2A. It was the first language I deeply understood.

When I think of Suzanne, I think of Euripides’ Trojan Women. And I think about seeing. I remember distinctly drawing lines of objects: hundreds of chattering teeth in straight lines and a ceiling of hanging meat in grids. I thought that everyone saw the world that way: in numbers and in repetition. She taught me that it was a distinct way of seeing and to cultivate it. It was the first time I understood that refined perception was crucial.

These women sent me into the world with confidence that I have, at times, lost and have had to fight to regain/resurface/rediscover (there is Wendy). But I am doing what I am doing entirely because they stepped in and taught me that I had a language to hone.

That kind of trust in your vision is a gift. Staying true is the singular and nearly impossible task.

Photograph by Tsar Fedorsky '82