Portrait of a Budding Revolutionary: Colleen Avila
This piece has been edited for Student Life. An unedited version will appear in Latinxepression’s next publication.
Exploring the path not taken is daunting, but junior and artist Colleen Avila has done it. Avila (she/they) is a Rodriguez and Ervin scholar double majoring in studio art and PNP with a minor in Latin American Studies. On campus, they’re heavily involved with Uncle Joe’s, Colour Magazine, and their dual scholar programs. Avila has taken on various roles at Uncle Joe’s, and in each one the importance of listening, mentoring and holding a safe space for others were emphasized. When asked about their own safe spaces on campus, Joe’s is quick to come up. Hearing from fellow Joes is important for Avila because they highly value the well-being of their peers. Being in Joe’s is particularly special to them because they are surrounded by like-minded, empathetic individuals.
For the past two years, Avila has also served as editor-in-chief of Colour Magazine, a student-run creative magazine for students of color. As somebody who grew up in the predominately white town of Frederick, Maryland, existing in spaces where ethnic identity is emphasized as sacred has been a welcomed transition, especially when that identity is intersected with queerness.
“Before Colour, there weren’t many spaces on campus for the voices of students of color to all come together and make something,” Avila said.
Avila’s passion to make people feel heard and accepted is demonstrated in their dedication to Colour. As a respected magazine on campus, the publication gives students of color a chance to be seen in media on campus. Pieces included in Colour can look like a photography project about a student’s home country, a poem of a student’s body image being affected by the culture they were raised in, or a commentary on a region’s political conflict. For those submitting, Colour can be an outlet of frustrations, creativity and love for their culture. As for Colour’s audience, reading about the lived experiences of others and appreciating the art that comes out of it can be incredibly insightful. Avila’s commitment to such a magazine has shown her incredible skills in artistry and her empathy for others, as it continues to be a source of expression for students of color.
In relation to both their involvements and ideologies, one concept that Avila emphasized was the idea of Marxist alienation. They said we’re estranged from the people around us—because we’re all in constant competition with one another, consequently estranging us from our own labor and its products. They cite this alienation and disconnect from what it means to be human as one of the reasons so many of us feel isolated and drained living in modern society. They identify with the idea of revolution to change this. “Revolution means community. It means reversing alienation,” they said.
As they’ve grown into their identity as a self-proclaimed anarcho-communist, prioritizing community has been at the forefront of their mind.
In talking about resistance to oppressive structures like capitalism, Avila emphasizes the importance of prioritizing pleasure and relaxation. This idea is particularly radical for people living in the United States, a country that stresses ideals like the American Dream — where working tirelessly is supposedly the key to success.
In a capitalist system, there are few moments of relaxation and pleasure that aren’t tied to economic reward. Avila tied this grander ideology to the smaller hub of WashU, where students often have so much work that they experience sleepless nights or they must stay inside on even the most beautiful of days to study for an exam.
Although Avila is not one to shy away from work, one thing they prioritize in life is taking time to bask in the sun, both literally and figuratively. When asked what one of their safe spaces on campus is, Avila answered, “being outdoors in public.” They love to romanticize their life and curate themselves, and one way they find happiness is by putting on a superb outfit and “look[ing] romantic on the lawn.” Connecting with the aesthetic self, both internally and externally, in a larger community is a form of self-care.
Academically, Avila finds revolution in their art major. Taking extensive classes, pouring hundreds of hours into their art and creating things for the sake of its process and pleasure challenges the norm for students at this school. It can be easy to fall into the path of seeking out education that only offers monetary success in the future and forgo integrating pleasure into pursuit of knowledge. For Avila, this path was not without pushback; their parents envisioned a more guaranteed career, like being a doctor. While Avila recognizes their wishes as valid and loves their parents for pushing them, they nevertheless chose to include art in their education because they enjoy it.
“[Studying art] is something that’s really special to me… I’m taking power away from [whoever that wants] to dictate what we have to study in order to get a job or [wants to say that] learning for the sake of learning is just as important as learning for the sake of labor.”
Avila loves to soak in knowledge, but they do not feel that all of their academic efforts at this school should be geared towards becoming wealthy and successful by capitalism’s standards.
In combating such a framework, Avila is a creator. They love working with the abstract to communicate ideas regarding revolution, and they disagree with the popular assumption that realism is the “epitome of talent.” They also call on Indigenous communities’ styles of art, a skill and form of beauty that is often unjustly ignored in the art world. Exploring their indigenous heritage through art is another way in which Avila reverses alienation, by taking inspiration from the art forms of their ancestors.
Avila recognizes how revolution may include war and violence, but that can be overwhelming to tackle in one painting. Instead, they create art that is “emblematic of what a community can be,” and the power that it holds to make change.
Listener. Artist. Revolutionary. What else does the future hold for Avila? When asked about where they see themselves in a few years, Avila has a vision: they dream of being a counselor and opening a practice with their long-time best friend from back home. In the back, there’s a garden where people can pick fresh fruits and vegetables for free. The walls would be plastered with art, and there’s a soft cat on the premises for people to pet. In this space, they would be able to provide holistic, accessible care to all who need it.