“The first thing I thought was that they might have made a mistake when they phoned me to tell me the news,” says U of A student Libe Garcia Zarranz about being awarded $180,000 as one of this year’s 15 Trudeau Foundation Scholarship winners.
The matter of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s legacy in Alberta is still — 26 years after he last held power and a decade since he passed away — likely to raise contentious debate in the province. This is largely due to his liberal government enacting the National Energy Program in 1980 which initiated, among other things, new taxes on the oil and gas industries that cost jobs and provincial revenue — some estimate anywhere from $50 to $100 billion while the program was in place.
But you won’t get any negative comments from Libe Garcia Zarranz about the powerhouse politician who once held most of the country in the palm of his hand. In May, the Spanish graduate student in the Department of English and Film Studies almost did one of Trudeau’s famous diving board back flips when she found out she’d been awarded $180,000 (over three years) as one of this year’s 15 Trudeau Foundation Scholarship winners.
“The first thing I thought was that they might have made a mistake when they phoned me to tell me the news,” says Garcia Zarranz. “It took me weeks to even begin to understand what was happening.”
The scholarships have been awarded annually since 2002 to support doctoral candidates pursuing research of compelling present-day concern and touching upon one or more of the foundation’s themes — human rights and dignity, responsible citizenship, Canada and the world, and people in their natural environment. It’s expected that the recipients of the scholarships will, according to the Foundation’s website, “become leading national and international figures.” This is the sixth time a U of A graduate student has been chosen by the Trudeau Foundation to receive a scholarship of this magnitude.
“It’s overwhelming,” says Garcia Zarranz about the scholarship. “I’m very happy, but somehow it doesn’t seem very real. This country is treating me very well.”
That’s putting it mildly.
Garcia Zarranz was also the first recipient of the $20,000 BMO Graduate Scholarship awarded in 2009. Now in her third year of study at the U of A, she moved to Edmonton from her hometown of Zaragoza, Spain, to pursue a PhD with research focusing on feminist writers, partly choosing Canada because of her interest in the works of Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue. This interest has since expanded to other feminist ex-pat writers who call Canada home, including Hiromi Goto (a recent U of A writer-in-residence), Shani Mootoo and Larissa Lai.
Garcia Zarranz is studying feminist writers and their border-crossing strategies, or works that cross geo-political boundaries, gender and sexuality or genres. Her thesis, she says, will explore border crossing as artistic creativity and as a sign of political struggle against patriarchy and hetero-normativity.
Right now she’s considering her options as to which door to walk through among the many that have suddenly opened for her. She’s already met with this year’s other 14 Trudeau Foundation scholars from across Canada, and there are two previous recipients in her department who she’s in talks with about collaborating on a project that would reflect on and credit the Foundation’s gift.
“I want to think big,” she says. “They’re giving me this chance to do things for the first time in my life. I want to make the most of it.”
(With files from Jamie Hanlon.)