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For his senior capstone, Max Ludwig researched the queer experience in Latin America, which is influenced by dictatorships, machismo culture and colonization.   

Ludwig, a Spanish major with a music minor from Ballwin, Missouri, said the senior capstone project requires reading a whole book in Spanish before the semester starts, then writing a research analysis paper over it throughout the course of the semester and giving an oral presentation. Ludwig said he wanted to pick a book related to LGBTQ+ themes, such as alienation in Latin American culture, as Latin America deals with strong homophobia and patriarchy in what’s referred to as a machismo culture.  

"It's just so rooted in the culture, and it can go all the way back to the conquest of the Spanish explorers and how that just literally drove in the idea of dominance and rape and just violation and destruction,” Ludwig said. “That idea persists throughout the history and can be traced back to any areas of poverty and crime and violence.”  

Ludwig’s book, “El Revuelo de los Insectos,” follows two gay soldiers enlisted in a regime similar to Venezuela, and their tragic story of fleeing and facing traumas such as their families being taken away. The title translates to “The Flight of the Insects,” as homosexuals in the book are labeled as insects. 

Ludwig said as a queer person, he was able to empathize with gay characters and the beautiful moments they had, as well as the horrible things they had to face.  

“In a different time or in a different country this could easily have been my story,” Ludwig said. “Also, it was just so powerful knowing that these people are like me and that these people go through horrible things like this and there are so many more that don’t have stories written about them.”  

Ludwig said one thing that stood out to him in his research was that the same topics represented in art and literature hundreds of years ago are still relevant today. He said, for example, the Mexican poet Octavio Paz wrote about the identity of the woman in Latin America as the submissive and dominated person.  

"Even within homosexual relationships, there's the dichotomy of, ‘Is there a dominant and submissive person?’” Ludwig said. “And how the idea of submission and the submissive one has persisted through history and it finds itself in culture, and unfortunately women and even within relationships with men.” 

Ludwig said music and Spanish are his artistic passions that he cannot live without. He said while English is very assertive and blunt, with sentences tending to be short and to the point, Spanish is more emotional with long, beautiful, artistic sentences.  

“In English, we might say, ‘I broke my arm’ … In Spanish, the blame isn’t on the self. It’s like, ‘My arm became broken,’” Ludwig said.  

Olga Bezhanova, chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature and Spanish professor, has taught Ludwig for four years. She said when he began learning about literary translation, he started inhabiting the Spanish language as a creative space.  

"Max is an artist,” Bezhanova said. “He's a musician, and so for him, seeing the music of the language and seeing that language can also be a space of artistic creation was such a profound experience, and observing him understand that was a profound experience for me.”  

Gage Peek, a senior Spanish major from Collinsville, Illinois, said he helped Ludwig with things like time management, accessing information and analyzing text since he’d taken the class before.  

"Max actually took something that was taboo in Spanish-speaking culture, and he really just brought it to the forefront,” Peek said. “It’s something that hasn’t really been talked about, people don’t really discuss it.”  

Peek is also the president of Sigma Delta Pi, a Spanish honor society of which Ludwig is a member. He said Ludwig goes above and beyond just being an active member.  

“If there’s any extra work that needs to be picked up, he’s there, and he also very much loves to help with service hours and service volunteering,” Peek said. “He likes to get into the community and actually speak with people.”  

Ludwig will complete a computer science degree in Spring 2023. He said he might work in tech to support his creative passions, but is open to options that could take him in different directions. He also said he needs to visit a Spanish-speaking country.  

“The Spanish culture is so beautiful and with the literature and art and poetry and the people and the history, it's all so captivating,” Ludwig said. “And it's so fun to learn about that, and that's really where I think I've enjoyed my time the most.”

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