Fresh Faculty: Christine Peralta
Christine Peralta is an assistant professor of history and sexuality, women and gender studies. She received a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s University, San Antonio, a master’s degree from the University of British Columbia and a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Q: How did you become interested in history?
A: It's kind of funny. A lot of people who talk about history say they hated their history classes, but I was a total nerd when it came to my history classes. I would like to read the textbook and go eat pho by myself while reading the textbook. I knew that the stories didn't really reflect anything about me, but I liked the creative imagination that has to go in creating stories about people in the past. I think that's when I first got excited about history, [realizing] its possibilities of being a storyteller, [while] being grounded in evidence that you can find out in the real world.
Q: Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say the stories did not reflect anything about you?
A: The stories were about, you know, Andrew Jackson and giving rights to people without property ownership, so it just didn't seem very relevant to my own family's history. What I liked about that was I kind of played informal historian for my own family, because my mom would talk a lot about my family's migration story, and I used the principles that I was learning in those classes to ask deeper questions that I didn't understand, and that my mom didn't understand herself. I think that's why I started being interested in history, is [because] the method can be empowering, regardless of if [the texts are] kind of limited or focusing on stories of dominant U.S. culture. You can still look at that method and apply it to other stories.
Q: And is that something you seek to do in your own work?
A: Yeah, so for instance, my family has a complicated migration story. My mom, I remember, was telling me that her great-grandfather migrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, and she didn't understand why he didn't bring his family with him. I was just like, well, probably because he couldn’t afford to, and [because] those passages usually were for single bachelor Filipino men. I like the way that you can take history to answer questions about things that people don't like to talk about, or things that are old scars or wounds that families hold for a long time. I try to do that within my own work, and particularly, I think that's why I'm interested in Asian American history. I don't directly write about my family, but I look at ways that we can complicate how we see Asian Americans — in particular, stories that we tell.
Q: What are your current research interests?
A: Currently, I’m writing a book called “Insurgent Care.” It looks at Filipino women and the different ways that they have advocated for better community health resources. It starts in 1870 with a group of women who were critical of the Spanish Empire, of the limited resources in terms of health. And then it ends in the 1940s, post-World War II, with Filipino nurses who were also trying to establish more resources for health. The central shift of my research is, instead of thinking about how Filipinos have come to particular places like the U.S. or the U.K. and have then become nurses exported for care, I'm really looking at, what is the history of women actually advocating to care for other Filipinos?
Q: How did you end up at Amherst?
A: I ended up at Amherst in a really interesting way, because I interviewed during the pandemic. It was really funny coming here [because] it was a very virtual space. I was offered two other jobs, and I [chose] to come here. I mostly [chose] to come here, because when I talked to the students, they just seemed really amazing and they seemed very bright. Even though I wasn't meeting them face-to-face, certain questions that they were asking were just really smart and very perceptive. I think that was one of the major reasons why I came here. I also did my undergraduate training at a liberal arts college, and I would definitely say that I wouldn't have had the opportunities to learn the type of skills that made [me] successful in history training without having those opportunities to think really closely about research with your professor on a smaller scale. Also, having conversations more readily that are interdisciplinary really folded into the research that I do, which isn't just history-oriented, but influenced by women and gender studies and ethnic studies.
Q: How have your first few weeks here been?
A: They've been really great so far. The first time I was on campus, I saw a falcon — I looked it up, and that's apparently a good omen, so I took it as a good sign. I've really liked it so far. I'm teaching two classes, and the students are not disappointing me at all. I've been having really amazing rigorous questions that are great. The enthusiasm is really good. It's been really great so far.
Q: Have you encountered any challenges that you didn't foresee?
A: I don't know, I think it's too early to say any particular challenges. I didn't have to teach in person during my postdoc[toral fellowship] [because of] the pandemic. I think navigating the pandemic has been interesting, especially because teaching with the mask and all of those kinds of things is difficult, [even though] I know that it's important to wear it. So I guess those are kind of the main challenges that I didn't really anticipate.
Q: What classes are you teaching this semester?
A: I'm teaching “Introduction to Asian American History” and “Asian American Women's History: Labor and Migration.”
Q: What are some things you hope students take away from your classes?
A: The big takeaway, especially for the “Intro to Asian American History” class, is that Asian Americans are not limited to just being the model minority, and they've never just been the model minority, that there's different ways that Asian Americans have led their lives and existed and found happiness, historically. I think that would be the big takeaway. And then I think for the Asian American women's class, it’s pretty simple. It's just love the women around you who care and who care for you, and try to see the invisible labor that they actually do to sustain life for communities and the people around them.
Q: What do you like to do in your free time when you're not teaching or researching?
A: I have three dogs and a cat that keep me pretty busy. I like hiking with them. I do a lot of refereeing in terms of getting them away from fighting each other. I've been happy because there's actually a pretty good live music scene [around], so when it gets safer, I'm definitely going to be going to a lot more shows. I've noticed that there's a lot of good comic book stores here. There's one in Easthampton called Comics N’More that I like a lot. I really like to collect comic books.
Q: To close out the interview, what is something you're looking forward to this year?
A: I think I'm looking forward to just getting to know more of my students and my colleagues. Also, I'm looking forward to the summer, just so I can relax and maybe we won't be in the pandemic and I can actually travel and go do research.