Flavia de Avila is a Brazilian professor and researcher spending a year at UW Tacoma. From teaching classes, to working on her dissertation, to getting involved in activism right here in Tacoma, de Avila has been busy during her time here so far. De Avila has an educational background in law, with a graduate in law from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná. She also earned a masters in law at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, as well as her doctorate in law from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais. She has also spent time researching in Germany at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg.
Originally, de Avila intended to be a lawyer, with specializations in labor law and international negotiations.
“I was a labor law, and I really like the theory applied to law, but in fact, things are much much harder than you can imagine,” de Avila said. “So, there was a lot of times where my clients, they had the right, but they could not get what they were owed, and it started to frustrate me… ”
Growing up, de Avila did not want to be a professor. She explained that while she loved doing research and going through records, her father was a professor and she was hesitant about going down the same path.
“My father is a professor and I had a kind of resistance,” she said. “I don’t want to be a professor; my father is a professor. But I really like to research, to discover why things are like this, and to try to understand the ways. It was really hard while being a lawyer to try and research as well. It was almost impossible.”
Here at UWT, de Avila is continuing her research on violence against women, as well as sorts of resistances against this violence that arise in society.
“I want to compare to the things that I can see here that I can study in the United States, especially in this political moment, of the countries,” she said. “They are very different countries, but similar in some ways. So, this specific political moment, it is good to compare what is going on in the countries and what kind of resistance movements start to happen or already exist, and now have some sort of new strength.”
“Human rights is the umbrella that I work under,” she explained. “What is different, is being from law, to associate with anthropologists or sociologists, I think that the research gets deeper and gains more in the sense of humanity, to give face to the problems — not only based on treaties or laws. No, you start to talk about the problems that people have to struggle with day to day.”
Beyond her work here at the university, de Avila is involving herself in grassroots human rights work in her free time as well. Since arriving at UWT, she has joined Latinos Unidos for South Sound, a group that works to build a stronger community for Latinx peoples, while also working to improve their participation in the wider community. She has also started to participate with La Resistencia, an undocumented-led grassroots movement which works to support those that are facing deportation and detention while also seeking to end these practices altogether.
She also discussed the shifting nature of identities that one experiences while living abroad.
“One very interesting thing: in Brazil, I am a white woman,” de Avila said. “And here, I am Latina. And I like it. I can identify myself with no problem. I think in my first week I was like ‘Okay, I have no doubt. I know who I am here.’ Location is important, and other things are important, but here I know. I feel a part of this, I was in Mexico for holidays, and I was like, ‘oh wow, this is so familiar.’ I had this impression, you know a lot of things there are different, but I could still relate within these differences.”
De Avila has around six months left here at UWT. Reflecting on that and thinking ahead, she had this final note about her travel and experience so far:
“This experience can be very interesting because of the whole spectrum of personal and professional life. The whole spectrum, and even if you have to talk in a different language and try to find the words and try to not make big mistakes. And think, ‘Please try to understand me.’ Normally here people are really really patient and really kind and generous. So I don’t have problems. Sometimes I have, and sometimes they’re really funny.”