Abner Aldarondo: Creating a Community of Love Through Culture

With an abundant amount of charisma, Abner Aldarondo invites love into his life constantly, whether it is in his academic, artistic, or community-based work.

Abner plans to pursue his creative and academic passions simultaneously as he attends the Amherst Humanities Folger Fellowship after graduation. Photo courtesy of Abner Aldarondo '22.

I first met Abner Aldarondo ’22 during Amherst’s Summer Bridge Program before the start of our first year. From day one, I knew there was something incredibly special about Abner. This was evident in his heart-warming smile, his contagious giggles, and his selflessness. Abner is a person that puts the people he loves before himself — he is deeply committed to helping others, and this is something that makes Abner an incredible friend, scholar, and human being. Eliza Brewer ’22 reflects on Abner’s commitment to others: “Abner is so hard-working, not only at school but also in the relationships and hobbies he maintains. He has this magical ability to fill up everyone’s spiritual cups.” Throughout my own time at Amherst, I have had the honor of being close friends with Abner, observing his kindness and brilliance in all of our interactions.

Self-Discovery in Academia

Abner was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and has been a Western Mass resident since birth. Holyoke is home to a thriving Puerto Rican community — 44 percent of the city’s population is Puerto Rican — and Abner has been committed to supporting and uplifting that community even before coming to Amherst College. On any given day, you may pass Abner on the way to Val sporting a graphic T-shirt adorned with one of Puerto Rico’s adorable native tree frogs and shining with pride.

Holyoke is just 30 minutes from Amherst, but despite being so close to home, Abner has been able to create a new home here. Abner and I are currently neighbors, and at the end of each incredibly busy — and productive — day he sends me a message saying “I’m on my way home!” or “I’ll be home soon!” It seems to me that Abner’s relationships to others is what defines home for him. Wherever he can share his love is a place he can call home.

At Amherst, Abner double majored in Latinx and Latin American studies (LLAS) and Spanish. Discussing his major selection process, Abner simply stated, “I’m Puerto Rican and that’s why I picked [them].” Abner’s majors are deeply rooted in his identities, and he has used his time here to explore not only Puerto Rican studies, but also his intersecting identities as a first-generation, low-income, Latinx student.

As often as possible, Abner has pursued independent research projects on Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. “I’m a firm believer that you should use your identity as a place of research because there’s a lot that you can learn from it. You don’t have to just make yourself an impartial observer of all these different phenomena. You can do that, but also center yourself,” he said. “I also do this because Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States. And for me, doing all these Puerto Rican studies projects in all of my courses, is to basically say ‘screw you’ to settler colonialism.”

Abner is also a proud Spanish heritage speaker who has used Amherst’s campus as a site for improvement. Both of Abner’s parents were born in Puerto Rico and raised their two children speaking Spanish. Most of his family communicates in Spanish, but when he started attending public school in Holyoke, his education began to be conducted completely in English. As is the case for many heritage speakers in Abner’s situation, his Spanish speaking ability started to decline. In high school he took a few Spanish courses, but knew that he wanted to continue studying and familiarizing himself with the language in college.

His decision to pursue the Spanish major at Amherst grew out of a desire to stay connected to his first language and expand his possibilities for interaction with different loved ones, scholarship, and communities. “I could continue speaking Spanish and so that my Spanish could get better when I am talking with my family on the phone.” With a bright smile on his face, he continued, “And lo and behold, my family, when I do talk to them, they say ‘Oh my gosh, your Spanish is so good!’”

Connecting With Others

Today, Abner uses his bilingual abilities to do translation work for different classes and organizations including the Holyoke Public Library, LOGRO, and Mead Art Museum. It is truly inspiring to see how dedicated Abner is to his community and culture; he has never compromised any part of himself during his time here. Instead, he has touched the lives of many students, professors, and community members at Amherst by being his true genuine self in every room he enters.

Diana Tiburcio ’22 said that their favorite thing about Abner is his “never-ending curiosity and bubbly energy.” Tiburcio and Abner have worked together in leadership roles for La Casa and Amherst’s QuestBridge First-Generation Low-Income Community, two different affinity groups on campus. During the summer of 2020, they conducted research side by side after Abner was selected as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow. The two young researchers even presented some of their co-conducted work at a first-generation low-income convention at Stanford University in the spring of 2020. Tiburcio noted how compatible Abner’s thought process is with their own: “There’s no one else I can theorize with like Abner.”

Abner is a creative theorist with a thirst for knowledge and community. Most notably, Abner was the event coordinator for Amherst’s QuestBridge First-Generation Low-Income Community — an affinity group that supports first-generation and low-income students at the college. This role allowed Abner to plan intentional events that built community among members and offered clear-cut support for disadvantaged students at Amherst. Additionally, Abner has been a member of La Causa, Amherst’s Latinx affinity group. He also spent two years living in La Casa, the Latinx culture theme house based in Newport House, and serving as the house relations officer for the community. In these two spaces, Abner was able to celebrate his culture and make important connections with other folks in the diaspora.

Abner is naturally a giving person. He gives valuable advice in formal and informal settings across campus. He gives music recommendations on his weekly WAMH show “Dreaming Histories.” Abner also gives comfort to his friends, family, and acquaintances. When he walks into a space, he wants to feel welcome and make sure that the others around him feel just as welcome. There is an unmatched beauty in the way Abner carries himself in his day-to-day interactions with other people. This is why I believe that Abner is destined to move mountains in this lifetime — I have never met someone so dedicated to the growth and comfort of others.

Abner has spent much of his time at Amherst building important connections with others, and I have been lucky enough to be one of the people he has chosen to build a friendship with. “Building” a relationship means something really special to Abner — as any of his friends could attest to, he goes out of his way to ensure that all of the people he loves are taken care of in every way. Abner is always quick to take a walk into town with me for a late night Insomnia or Antonio’s pick-me-up, and we have shared countless hugs and tears together in our time at Amherst.

During his time at Amherst, Abner has worked closely with the Mead Art Museum to curate exhibits such as the 2019 “Embodied Taste” exhibition. He can be spotted admiring the art in the museum in his free time. Photo courtesy of Abner Aldarondo '22.

Off to Change the World

In between curating exhibits for the Mead, doing library work in Holyoke, attending as many on-campus events as possible, and chit-chatting with all of his besties, Abner always seems to find a way to take care of himself. He will always have on a fresh coat of nail polish and dainty gold jewels glistening all up and down his ears. I have seen Abner’s self-care habits improve tremendously over his time at Amherst. Not only has this done so many good things for him, it has also allowed his friends such as myself to see a model for resiliency. This is not the only thing I have learned from being friends with Abner — I have also learned to think critically about art and culture as he has introduced me to his passions over the years.

Abner loves all things that are theoretical, beautiful, and abstract. He admits that if he hadn’t already been pursuing two majors at Amherst he would have considered majoring in art history. Instead, Abner decided to blend his interests in his senior thesis project: “Imaging and Imagining Environmental Justice: Puerto Rican Visual Culture in the Anthropocene.” The thesis considers the malleability of cultural identity and its entanglement with environmental justice in Puerto Rican artwork from the homeland and the diaspora.

Now that his thesis is complete and Abner has left his loving mark on Amherst’s community, he will be traveling to Washington D.C. to continue his professional development through the Amherst Folger Humanities Fellowship. Abner will be working closely with two world-class institutions during his year-long fellowship: the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

What Abner will miss the most about Amherst are the people and the beauty: “I think Amherst is just a really beautiful place. Especially on a warm sunny day … I just love walking and seeing all the green, people playing frisbee or soccer. I think [the beauty] really lightens up the campus in general, but I think that people especially are the most important thing about Amherst,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of good people here and a lot of really caring people who work hard.”

When I think about what I will miss the most about Amherst after graduation I also think of the people. I will miss waking up across the hallway or just down the stairs from Abner. I will miss our breakfasts, our long walks, and our adventures. What I think is the most beautiful thing about being friends with Abner is that I know he will be in my life forever because that is just who Abner is — a deeply dedicated friend and life partner who has invited me and so many others to be a part of his ever-growing community of love.