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Professional storyteller educates audiences in Hispanic culture Featured

Written by Lurah Lowery
Carolina Hurtado uses gestures and facial expressions to draw in her audience. Carolina Hurtado uses gestures and facial expressions to draw in her audience. Lurah Lowery

She loves history, she loves to read, she loves listening to stories and she loves telling stories. Thirty-three-year-old Carolina Quiroga Hurtado found these passions as a child, and because of her mother's ability to tell humorous stories as a school teacher, she found her love of storytelling.

"It is very easy for me because I've been reading all my life and I've been retelling things all my life too," Quiroga said. "I've been interested in storytelling because I just love stories. It's not like I'm a gossip person but I do like to hear stories."

A native of Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia, where she spent the first 30 years of her life, she came to the United States to become a professional storyteller. She chose to move to America and pursue a career in storytelling despite her family and friends thinking she was crazy for not sticking with her practical job as a graphic designer, which she already knew would offer a promotion in the near future.

When Quiroga first became really interested in storytelling, it was by accident. Quiroga was attending a university in Colombia five years ago and stumbled upon a storytelling workshop. She attended the workshop hoping that it would prepare her to pursue a major in theatre. After the second class, she found that she was more interested in storytelling than she knew. She then began telling stories during her spare time.

By the age of 30, Quiroga had already worked as an industrial engineer, graphic designer and TV, radio and print journalist. Though she was successful, she was not happy.Carolina telling story

"I heard once that whenever a woman turns 30, your life changes completely," she said. "I thought it was a myth but it is true. I turned 30 and my life just went upside down and I started having these feelings that I needed to do something else with my life. I had accomplished everything that everybody wanted for a woman that was 30 years old.

"I had everything that you could wish for but I wasn't happy because all this time I had been working in very practical stuff. I wasn't really dealing with people the way I wanted. One day I just decided that I would save money and decide what to do later."

"Every time you face an audience you have to adapt and be flexible with your story because each audience is completely different."

                                                 – Carolina Quiroga

Quiroga talked to a friend about how she wanted to radically change her life and said that she had decided to do so through meditation in Nepal. He told her that just going to meditate was a crazy idea. Instead, he told her that since she is a storyteller during her free time that she should pursue it professionally. Quiroga was skeptical of the idea but decided to browse the Internet for storytelling programs.

She came across the master's in reading and storytelling program at East Tennessee State University and decided to apply. She arrived in January of 2012 to begin her master's and will graduate in December.

ETSU's storytelling program was founded by former reading professor Flora Joy in the 1980s and is the only program of its kind in the country. Classes cover articulation, dialect, voice, linguistics, physical communication, analysis and development of stories and also the history and psychology of storytelling. A primary focus of what students are taught is oral performance.

"I was really impressed with her storytelling ability and style," storytelling professor Delanna Reed said. "It soon became evident that she had her own unique way of telling and was very animated and energetic. She also likes to tell stories that make people aware of stereotypes, to overcome stereotypes, for social justice. When she's entertaining, she's also making a point."

Paul Herrin, a friend of Quiroga's and fellow storytelling student, believes that Quiroga has a way of bridging cultural gaps and educating her audiences at the same time about her culture and also about their own culture. She shows different perspectives of it, he said.

"She has a way of voicing and embodying different characters very naturally," Herrin said. "There is a good amount of people that are studying language in high school and college that aren't that enthused or excited about it. My impression is that she is able to instill some value in [students] of the language of, of speaking someone else's language in general. She is able to get people excited about other cultures."

Quiroga incorporates Latin American mythology, legends and history into the stories that she tells and acts out each story to engage her audiences. Quiroga loves when audiences get involved in the stories that she tells instead of sitting quietly and just listening. She likes a lively audience, although she has the occasional rude audience members who shout out they don't understand something or make the comment that something she said isn't true.

Carolina Hurtado at the Johnson City Public Library

"I think that every time you face an audience you have to adapt and be flexible with your story because each audience is completely different," Quiroga said. "The way they receive and filter the information is very, very different. The things that they are going through in their lives are different.

"Kids are always asking, 'why, why, why?' Teenagers think they know everything. Adults are more flexible to play with you, a teenager is not. Seniors know a lot, so they will say, 'No, that's not like that. I heard a story about that but it's completely different. Dealing with audiences is something tricky so it is good for a storyteller to know in advance who your audience is."

Quiroga also visits ETSU and Science Hill High School Spanish classes to tell stories that educate students in Latin American and South American subjects. She started doing so by asking ETSU professors if she could visit their classes with the hope of further educating the students on the subject that they were currently studying.

Those who agreed have asked her to visit their classes again. Katrina Heil, a Spanish professor at ETSU, met Quiroga during the fall semester of last year and invited her to tell stories several times in her classes.

"I was really blown away because it's a real talent," she said. "I guess I didn't realize how much it's like acting and she has a real talent for telling stories and taking on different voices. My students also really liked how she blends, very fluidly, Spanish and English."

Quiroga said that she decided to work with Latin American culture because she is more comfortable with it and it is what she knows. She believes that she can make connections to her audiences easier that way.

"I said to myself, if I really want to learn, I have to start with the things I have here," she said. "People sometimes tend to generalize and say, 'Colombians are Colombians and Peruvians are probably less like Colombians and Mexicans are probably like Colombians because they all speak Spanish.' That's a lie.

"If you try to jump into another culture you have to plunge completely into the waters of that whole culture. It would be really difficult for me because I spent 30 years surrounded by my Colombian traditions, my South American traditions, my Latin American traditions. Crossing that barrier will take some time."

Quiroga said that audiences can tell when a storyteller really doesn't know about a culture when they are telling a story because they start telling the story from their own perspective.

"When you are going to tell a story you have to research about the other culture, you have to understand it and you have to put yourself there," she said. "You have to tell the story being [yourself], being Colombian or American or whatever you are instead of being biased or having prejudice or start judging."

When Quiroga was 16 her father asked what she wanted to study and she said anthropology, sociology or communications. "He said that I couldn't study any of those and instead could only study engineering or medicine," she said.

"...[I]t took me six or seven years to be in control of my own life; to maneuver the wheel of my own ship. All my life I had to swim against the waters a little bit. Finally, I got what I wanted but it took me longer than anybody else."

"According to him there were no other lucrative professions and I was going to die of starvation if I decided to do something else," Quiroga said.

By the time Quiroga turned 20, she was studying engineering but she was so unhappy that she told her father that her unhappiness was his fault and that if he wanted to see her happy he had to support her with what she wanted to do. He said yes but under the condition that she finished studying engineering.

"I said that I wanted to be a journalist and do communications and this caused him great fear," Quiroga said. "So he suggested that since I had various artistic talents, I should do graphic design. I did it but after three years, I was unhappy again. So, this time I decided not to consult him and I switched to communications and journalism without telling him.

"In other words, it took me six or seven years to be in control of my own life; to maneuver the wheel of my own ship. All my life I had to swim against the waters a little bit. Finally, I got what I wanted but it took me longer than anybody else."
Quiroga worked as a journalist in Colombia for print, radio and television. Some of her videography can be viewed on her YouTube channel, culturajaveriana1.

Although she has not pursued journalism since coming to the United States, she hopes to at some point, most likely via radio, because she feels that it is just another way to tell stories, which is her passion in life.

"I certainly prefer being a storyteller because it encompasses a lot of journalism, some creativity and a little bit of structure," Quiroga said. "I love to know more. You not only learn about yourself but you learn about the whole world, the universe and how it works. I'm eager to know a lot of things."Carolina.close

Julia Ledesma de Rusiñol, a graduate assistant that worked at ETSU with Quiroga, said that Quiroga is a smart, down-to-earth person and is very enthusiastic about her projects.
"She gets students interested and gives them a broader background to understand the culture of a country," Rusiñol said. "She enriches their lives and their cultural perspectives by giving them information about other cultures."

Rusiñol said that when she has seen Quiroga perform, she noticed that Quiroga lives out each story that she tells and really enjoys them. "I think that's important because it makes the story more believable," she said.

Quiroga used her skills in graphic design while at ETSU by creating flyers and posters for the Language and Culture Resource Center where she worked as a graduate assistant.

Ardis Nelson, director of the center and a professor of Spanish, said that Quiroga "has a great potential for being a really famous storyteller if she decides to follow that route because she prepares her stories from her own personal experiences and things in her life that she is passionate about, such as her roots and her cultural identity. She is a very exceptional individual."

Although Quiroga is not sure where a degree in professional storytelling will take her, she is sure that she will find work.

"I think everything and everyone has a story to tell," she said. "As long as the people, companies, cities or cultures have stories there will be a market. Film, writing, marketing, ethnography and other sciences will always require someone to help them to tell their story."

She does have a couple of immediate goals in mind.

"I am not completely sure of what road to take, but I may try to stay in the U.S. for another year and see what happens," she said. "I would certainly try to look for jobs in the entertaining field, like Universal or Disney, and/or look for jobs at a university where Latin American stories and history are highly appreciated."

To hear some of Quiroga's stories visit

Read 3380 times Last modified on Friday, 23 October 2015 14:56