Contributed by Bronwyn Stewart
For many students, education becomes a daunting financial burden. These fiscal challenges add to the many other stressors found on every college campus. Raul Buenfil, this year’s recipient of the Ronald C. and Elizabeth-ann Purcell International Guitar Research Archives Fellowship, has worked with dedication, persistence, and creativity to meet these challenges and achieve success.
In 2002, Raul and his family made their second journey from Mexico City to the United States; this time, intending a more permanent stay. “We really liked the lifestyle here,” says Raul. “I remember living in Mexico, watching cartoons in English because I didn’t enjoy the Spanish translations; this helped develop my English and made the entire transition smooth.” Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, Raul developed a keen interest in music. Inspired by rock classics like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, he dedicated himself to the guitar and eventually joined a band in high school. Music was not merely a hobby for Raul, however, and after high school he knew that he wanted to continue to pursue this passion. When he heard about the Music Industry Program at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), he became immediately interested. Raul knew that the program at CSUN would offer him an ideal opportunity to blend his business aspirations with his creativity and his craving to learn more about music. With a love for music that traverses genres, including funk, soul, and rock, Raul’s musical interests eventually led him to the International Guitar Research Archives (IGRA) in the Oviatt library. IGRA was founded in 1980 by Professor Ronald C. Purcell, and currently holds one of the world’s largest collections of resources documenting the music and careers of guitarists and composers associated with the guitar and professional associations. IGRA also houses one of the world’s largest collections of guitar sheet music and other guitar information resources.
Drawn to the Oviatt’s resources and atmosphere, Raul set about the challenge of obtaining the necessary permits required to apply for employment in the Library. Raul is studying at CSUN under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. DACA is a US immigration policy established in 2012 by the Obama administration, and affords undergraduate students exemption from deportation and allows them to apply for permits to work and study. “Once I got my work permit, I would consistently ask for applications, fill them out, and submit them,” says Raul. “The process was long and arduous, but a job meant that I could help support my family and myself.” Sharing a car with his mother and sister, however, made transportation unreliable and put some restrictions on where he could seek employment. Raul knew that a job on campus would be the ideal situation, and after a year his persistence paid off. He secured a job in the Oviatt Library that offered him accessible employment in an environment where he could flourish. “Once I got to know people in the library,” says Raul, “it paved my way.”
Working in the Oviatt Library allowed Raul to apply for the Ronald C. and Elizabeth-ann Purcell International Guitar Research Archives Fellowship. The fellowship is available to fulltime CSUN undergraduate or graduate students who are classical guitar performers. “It is not stated in the application, but we encourage anyone interested in the Fellowship to come to the Special Collections and Archives to view the material themselves,” says Julieta Garcia, IGRA Project Archivist. “Some materials are open for research, which helps the applicant with an understanding of the archive and what they could, potentially, be working on.” Raul was a natural fit for the fellowship and so began a process that included gathering transcripts and letters of recommendation, preparing a resume, and writing an essay. It turned out that Raul was not chosen for the fellowship until he completed the application process for a second time. “I am always looking for scholarship opportunities,” says Raul. “I don’t let myself get discouraged, I just try again.” Once again, Raul’s persistence paid off as he was awarded the Ronald C. and Elizabeth-ann Purcell International Guitar Research Archives Fellowship, which includes a stipend and student assistant position in IGRA. Garcia says that Raul is dedicated and enthusiastic, and that she is continually impressed by the quality and volume of his work. “Raul has a strong work ethic,” says Garcia.
Raul plans to use the experience he has acquired during his time at CSUN and knows that the combination of his education in the Music Industry Program and the invaluable experience he gained in the Oviatt Library will provide him a successful edge. And Raul has big plans for the future. “Ideally I want to write and record my own songs, and songs for other people,” says Raul with a charming and confident smile. “I want to get into production and discover new ways of recording music. First, though, I plan to fund my creative career by getting into either music publishing, or working for a performance rights organization.”
Regardless of the specific composition of Raul’s eventual career in music, we have no doubt that he will always rise to every challenge and one day land on the high note of his dreams.