By Joe Howell
Fabiola Astrid Cruz Li, a Victoria College student graduating this June, has been awarded this year’s John H. Moss Scholarship for her academic work studying the criminalization of protest in Latin America and for her strong leadership assisting migrants both inside and outside the University. She and her family came to Canada seeking asylum when she was 14. Having spent years in limbo, uncertain if they’d be able to remain, Cruz Li knows first-hand the difficulties experienced by refugees, and she is determined to make a difference through her studies and extracurriculars.
“As a refugee, I’m not able to return to Peru, which is why I decided to major in Latin American studies,” says Cruz Li. “It was a way for me to stay in touch with my roots without being physically in Peru.” Supplementing that major with a double minor in history and political science, she is the third Vic student to receive the honour in the past four years. Awarded to only one student at U of T annually, the Moss Scholarship is the oldest of the prestigious Awards of Excellence, and is presented by the University of Toronto Alumni Association in collaboration with the university since 1921.
Cruz Li highlights the support and encouragement she received at Victoria College in applying for the award. “Kathy Vi Mac, Renu Kanga Fonseca and Jillian Yee-Chang in the Registrar’s Office have been amazing, as has Principal Angela Esterhammer—they even set up a mock interview for me after I was selected as a finalist for the Moss Scholarship!”
As a student, Cruz Li has worked with Luis van Isschot, associate professor of history and associate chair of the Latin American Studies program, on a database of laws that curtail human rights. “My job is to look through the constitutions of South American countries to find legislation relating to the state of siege, the criminalization of dissent or any law that could push people to flee the region,” she says.
On campus, Cruz Li has served as president of RefugeAid U of T, a student group working to raise awareness about issues affecting refugees and refugee claimants. “We’ve had a mentorship program in which we connect incoming refugee students with current ones, so that the new students learn more about the Canadian post-secondary school system and the resources available to them.”
Cruz Li has been a head TA with the Department of Mathematics, a co-director with a U of T branch of the World University Service of Canada (WUSC), and a volunteer English teacher with the FCJ Refugee Centre. She also interned with Al Otro Lado, an organization that works on the U.S.-Mexico border, advocating for migrants’ rights and providing legal and humanitarian support. Coupled with her family’s experiences, her work with the migrant community has inspired her to become a lawyer, in order to provide legal representation for refugee claimants.
But first? “I’ve been accepted into a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies at Stanford University!” Cruz Li says with excitement. “None of this would have been possible without my mentors. I want to thank Dr. Luis van Isschot, Dr. Martha Balaguera, Dr. Donald Kingsbury, Dr. Juan Carlos Mezo-González and Dr. Bernardo Galvão-Sousa for their unconditional support in academics, work and beyond.”