Dr. Paoloa Canova: Exploring indigenous groups in Paraguay
Dr. Paola Canova, assistant professor, Department of Anthropology and Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Arizona.
She is focused on the study of indigenous groups in Paraguay and the intersection of sexuality, socio-economics, and political ecology. She is very thankful to be contributing through her teaching and research to the UT Austin academic community.
We spoke with Dr. Canova to learn more about her interests in indigenous studies.
Exposure to indigenous groups while a student in Paraguay… Conova visited a Guarani indigenous group living in the northern Chaco region of Paraguay, part of the ecoregion known as the Gran Chaco Americano, which is considered the largest forested area in South America after the Amazon. “Culturally, it is a very diverse region,” she said. “Members of 14-out-of-19 indigenous groups currently living in Paraguay are there, in addition to local Paraguayans, Brazilians, and Mennonite immigrants.”
Researching the indigenous Ayoreo people…The Ayoreo are a group of about 6,000 people currently living in Paraguay and Bolivia that were contacted by Florida Anabaptist missionaries in the 1960s. Since then, the Ayoreo have been living in close proximity to a group of Russian immigrants that settled and built Mennonite colonies in the mid-1920s. Today, the Ayoreo mostly work as wage laborers, but some women have chosen to monetize their sexuality in the colonies. “Their practices are controversial, as it is perceived as sex work. However, the Ayoreo do not see these practices as morally fraught, despite self-identifying as Christians, as these practices are embedded in long-standing customary systems of exchange.”
Understanding intimacy and sexuality… Through her course, Sexuality in Global Perspectives, Canova covers sexuality from a global perspective, particularly how it is shaped by ever changing socio-economic realities. “Students have responded with great sensitivity to these complex topics and have been able to make connections between local practices and larger processes, such as economic globalization and migration,” she said.
Engaging with students… “There is an atmosphere of respect in which opinions, despite being opposing at times, are shared and discussed to enrich our knowledge and understanding of the realities that make up people’s lives.”