Folklore and film studies for local tour guide and filmmaker

Photo courtesy of Annie Alvarez

Daughter of So Latino Soul boutique owners and UofO student offers bilingual tours at Natural and Cultural History Museum

February 10 - Kat Sincur Alvarez is in her fourth year at the University of Oregon, set to graduate in June with a major in Cinema Studies, and a triple minor in Cultural Anthropology, Folklore, and Latinx Studies. Sincur Alvarez has a strong focus to work hard toward all of life’s rewards, a philosophy and ethic she adopted from her parents, Edgar Sincur and Annie Alvarez, owners of So Latino Soul on Main Street.

The Sincur-Alvarez family's journey to Oregon from Miami, Fla. is a migratory fairytale all on its own. Kat Sincur Alvarez documented their touching story in an engaging short film titled, “Y el amor triunfo (...and love triumphed)” posted on the University of Oregon’s website. Watching Sincur’s film, the narrative is told in Spanish, through the eyes of her parents, her brother Joey, and Sincur Alvarez herself.

She directed and narrated the film, about her parent's journey first from Guatemala to Miami where Sincur Alvarez remembers their time in Florida as feeling akin to “living in a microwave”. Later, a pivotal driving tour across the country with her father from Miami to Oregon to reunite with her mother and brother, and the beginning of their new life in the Pacific Northwest.

They all fell in love with the natural landscape of Oregon, and they felt a sense of peacefulness they could not find in Florida, she says, “Oh, my goodness. It's like even the change in oxygen level was insane.”

By September 2017, the Sincur-Alvarez family purchased a house in Harrisburg, two years later Kat had graduated from Marist High School, and in 2020, they purchased a home in Springfield. Then, the family started So Latino Soul, a clothing and merchandise boutique, with many items from Guatemala and Latin America. Sincur Alvarez works at the store part time while attending the University.

“Cottage Grove was the place that really gave us an opportunity to open up the business. We've always wanted to share our culture,” Sincur-Alvarez told The Sentinel, “And just [share] everything, like the beauty of Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, and Mexico.” The diversity in different Latin American cultures and textiles are specific to individual towns and villages, whose unique fashion changes regularly, the store carrying the latest trends.

“We prioritize showing the beauty of Guatemala [her parents' place of birth], but we also show the beauty of places like Honduras, El Salvador, even things from Nicaragua. And Cottage Grove was simply more friendly in the new entrepreneurship.”

In the summer of 2021, Karen Rainsong, director of Singing Creek Educational Center approached Sincur Alvarez to begin a pioneer camp for children from Guatemalan families in Cottage Grove, a job Kat decided to take on, but transportation issues and the kids educational curriculum required some changes. "My goal was really in this camp to teach these children to understand more about their roots.”

With Kat’s assisted modifications to the curriculum Rainsong proposed, Singing Creek put on Pueblos Camp, where Sincur Alvarez could talk about the importance of textiles and storytelling. The summer program was a good fit for her educational background, “I mean, I am a triple minor currently in Latinx Studies, Folklore and Cultural Anthropology. So, this was literally up my alley.”

Although there were a few initial challenges, Sincur figured out a way to make the program work. “And so, I created this entire curriculum with activities and with goals, to talk about just the folklore of Guatemala stories and Mexican stories and Latin American stories and even like textiles and instruments and animals and all that beauty.”

When the COVID pandemic mandates allowed the Participatory Learning Experience (PLE) program to continue at the University, Sincur Alvarez reached out to the director of the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, wanting to be an intern there. The PLE is a “bilingual internship program that allows students to use their French or Spanish language skills as volunteers in our community during the fall, winter and/or spring term.” according to the University of Oregon’s website.

She said, “going to the museum and learning about the history of Oregon and its various regions, the technology and use of resources, and bringing back the humanization to these [native] tribes, which are still active today; that was just inspiring and amazing. And those are the types of stories I want to keep on exalting.”

In the museum’s website, it's noted as “a center of interdisciplinary research and education, serving the State of Oregon, the University of Oregon, Native American Tribes, the research community, K-12 students and teachers, and the wider public in Oregon and beyond.”

The immersive and visual experiences at the museum allow visitors a reflective look at archaeological findings through guided tours. “In each exhibit, it's just about storytelling. Going back to that idea of telling a story and taking them on a journey, you know, we start at the Paisley caves where I show them this little coprolite.” Coprolites are the fossilized feces of animals, which can be traced back hundreds of millions of years.

“And it's so exciting because that tells us through radiocarbon dating technology, that people were actually here 14,000 years ago, way before we even thought that people were here. And then, we go on to show them the world's oldest shoe [Fort Rock sandals], that is three times older than the pyramids of Egypt. That's crazy to think about.” she said, mystified.

The museum is home to thousands of ethnographic and archaeological objects, fossils, and biological specimens from Oregon and around the world.

“We go through each section of Oregon. And it's just wonderful, again, to see the technology, to see the use of resources, and yet again, even things that are still practiced today like using dip nets in the Falls is pretty cool.” Kat noted, finding a lot of interest in the Anthropological Collections division of the museum, “That's what I like to focus on.” 

Sincur Alvarez is hoping that word gets out that she is available as a Spanish bilingual guide and invites people from all diverse backgrounds to come to the museum for a tour. The Museum of Natural and Cultural History hosts a day of free admission on the first Friday of every month and is open Wednesdays through Sundays 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursdays until 8:00 p.m. at 1680 E 15th Ave, Eugene.

For events, exhibits, collections and more, visit the museums website at: