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A Sense of Place


Jennifer went on to express her love of Aromas Day. "Since we lived in the blue house next to the post office for five years, we had the best seats for the Aromas Day parades from our porch.


Portrait by A. Dennis Gaxiola

  Who would ever guess that the path would lead a little girl born in a tiny community of Somis in Ventura County in the beautiful Southern California coastal land to a very similar tiny community of Aromas in Central California in the equally beautiful northern California coastal land. This path took a detour for several college year summers to Argentina and Nicaragua where she worked with the women's center leadership project. Although Jennifer was not born to the Latin-American culture, she became assimilated into it by being raised in a mostly agricultural environment with a high population of Mexican-American community. She felt at ease learning Spanish and melding with the communities she later lived in. Perhaps this was the beginning of her learning about her own "sense of place."

While attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she studied Art and Biology, Jennifer was very active in student movements. This is what opened the path for her work in Argentina and Nicaragua with support from the campus ministry. Although drawn to her scientific studies enjoying doing biological illustrations and especially marine biology, her focus changed when she had the opportunity to visit art museums in Europe. She started using her art to express her political views. This was now the 1980's with movements of solidarity in Central America, activists for nuclear freeze and ecological movements. Jennifer's focus began to change. These movements brought all types of people from all types of occupations together. There were lawyers, students, teachers, church leaders, scientists and Latin-American groups to name several. It was during this time she met her husband, Mark.

After Jennifer graduated from UCSC she commenced her graduate studies at Fresno State in Studio Art. During this time, while maintaining an "A" average, she had her work shown in several art shows and was the first to earn the Graduate Dean's Medal in Art in 1985. With this Master's Degree in hand, Jennifer still had a desire to fulfill a furthering of her religious studies. She wanted to focus religion and theology through art. She earned her Master's in Theology, Religion and the Arts. This second Master's Degree was from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley in 1987. She was now expecting her first child, Sarah

In 1988, Jennifer and her family moved to Aromas, at which time Jennifer was offered the position of curating a museum in Berkeley Pacific School of Religion. She commuted for several years. Jennifer's second daughter, Rebekah was born in 1989. Jennifer says about her time in Aromas during the 1989 earthquake, "The Saturday before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake I had lots of people visit my barn studio down town during Santa Cruz County open studios. Then it felt like chaos for months with two babies in the earthquake and aftershocks. But good neighbors of Aromas helped out. What a great place to raise kids. We had great neighbors. We could pass the kids over the fence. There was a little mother's group, we all had things in common and sought each others company rotating yards with sand boxes. Jennifer went on to express her love of Aromas Day. "Since we lived in the blue house next to the post office for five years, we had the best seats for the Aromas Day parades from our porch.

As Jennifer's daughters were growing up, Jennifer had the opportunity to work part time at Aromas school as the Parent Education Specialist. "As a parent myself, with two daughters there, Sarah and Rebekah Newman, I felt connected to the school." expressed Jennifer. She continued, "My work focused on empowering the Spanish speaking parents to understand the school system and get more involved with their children's education. We encouraged reading to their children and developing parenting skills. The school offers English classes and computer classes at night. It is a great honor to know these families, many of whom work in or manage the nearby greenhouses. This dynamic community of families organizes the September and March festivals at the school and are well remembered by their music and tamales. Aromas school serves their children with a bilingual program that is outstanding. My own children were in the bilingual classes. They published a book and a local bilingual magazine "Kids Around the “World.” Jennifer went on enthusiastically, "It is important to reach out across cultures right here in Aromas. Our children are the future. I hope they all can celebrate their home culture and understand other cultures as well."

You can tell from her commitment to cultural diversity and cultural understanding, why it led her to her latest position of teaching Cross Cultural Competency at California State University, Monterey Bay. We can be very proud to say, Aromas now has a new Ph.D. in our midst. Jennifer, or rather Dr. Jennifer Colby just earned her Ph.D. in Humanities at the California Institute for Integral Studies, San Francisco, May 2001.

It is amazing how this young woman, wife, mother of two teenage daughters, artist and teacher is also the owner/artist of the Galeria Tonantzin in San Juan Bautista. She has just recently opened up Studio Two in San Juan also. She plans to teach classes for children and adults in the near future. Her Gallery and why she started it with other artists is a continuing story and will be found on AromasCAOnline.com. To end this segment, I again use Jennifer's words. "What I really love about Aromas is the sense of history. I joined the original Aromas Artist group and met Viola Herlich and other painters who are no longer with us. My children are becoming teenagers now, but I know they will always treasure their early years in Aromas." END

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