Meet Cecilia Del Cid: Landing in Pittsfield was an international coincidence
Cecilia Del Cid experienced Berkshire Community College as a version of the United Nations, not least because Pittsfield offered her a smorgasbord of international cooking.
Twenty years ago, a scholarship brought her from Guatemala to BCC’s Pittsfield campus. Her roommate here in Pittsfield was Bulgarian; classmates were from Finland, Germany and Japan.
“I had to get out of Latin America to get to know other people from Latin America, people from Colombia and Ecuador and other countries,” she says. “The first time I ate arepas was here in Pittsfield.”
The first time she had Vietnamese food and many other foreign dishes was here as well.
“Not so much in restaurants, but in people’s homes,” Del Cid explains. “Because I was in the ESL class” – English as a second language – “everybody was from a different country. At the end of the year, they would all contribute something to a potluck from their home countries.
“There was so much to learn, there was so much to experience. It was a very exciting time of my life.”
She ended up in the Berkshires quite accidentally. Her scholarship program let students from Central America and the Caribbean choose what they wanted to study in the United States, but not where.
Del Cid’s childhood education came from nuns in Catholic schools in Guatemala City. The Catholic church had been quite active socially in the country’s brutal guerilla war of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. As a high school student, after the war, she participated in literacy and other social programs run by her nuns in poor, war-ravaged Mayan communities in Guatemala’s isolated highlands.
That’s where the big-city girl became passionate about environmental issues. She chose environmental studies as her major, got the scholarship and got assigned to BCC.
“I had no idea where it was,” she says. “They had this huge map of the United States with Post-It notes with the names of the schools people were going to. And I’m looking at Florida and California and Kentucky and then the highest up, farthest north Post-It was mine.
“And I kept thinking,” she concludes with a flourish: “‘Where am I going to go live?’”
She considers Pittsfield her second home now. Her husband, Shawn Liccardi, is local. They met as undergraduates in an ecology lab at BCC, “and we’ve been together 19 years.”
Ceci Del Cid continued her education at Smith College (in biology), commuting with two others to Northampton.
“We had classes Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so we each drove one day a week,” she says.
She then got accepted in the master's program at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where tropical forestry was her focus. She lived in New Haven, Conn., for several years and her studies brought her to Brazil, Bolivia and the Peruvian Amazon.
She learned Portuguese, though says that what she speaks is “Portuñol,” a language with a lot of her native Spanish thrown in.
She has an ear for language, she says. She credits her father, Modesto, for that. With an oldest daughter’s mix of love and exasperation – “he is the opposite of his name!” – she describes her father’s drilling of the rules of Spanish grammar into her and her sister.
“That is why I feel that I learned English quickly," she says.
Del Cid, 39, recently returned to work at Berkshire Community College. She is interim coordinator at the Multicultural Center. Before that, she worked with immigrant victims of domestic and sexual abuse at the Elizabeth Freeman Center.
When talking about her work as a high school student with the indigenous Mayan people in her home country and about the people she counseled at the Freeman Center, she chokes up.
“I always felt that what they gave back to me was more of a gift than what I gave to them,” she says. “I have been very fortunate.”
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