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Eugenia Julio-Bishop: Painting her life with a broad paintbrush

Eugenia Julio-Bishop views her life as a blank canvas, one she continues to wash with color illustrating each new experience, each challenge, each relationship, and each opportunity she encounters along her way.

Eugenia was born in Santiago, Chile, the younger of two sisters in her family. Her parents were high school sweethearts, university educated, who instilled in their daughters a strong sense of cultural connection to their Chilean heritage from early childhood. Eugenia spent the first few years of her life in Chile, but moved to Paraguay at age six when her father accepted an appointment with the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), a global humanitarian organization that provides emergency food assistance and works to improve nutrition, world hunger and poverty.

“My dad made a career out of working for the WFP and we traveled around the world with him wherever he was stationed.” As a result, Eugenia led a life on the move, every few years packing up her belongings and departing with her family for a new destination. Chile has always felt like home, though, and even today she and her husband consider returning there to retire one day.

Disaster calls family to Nicaragua

After living in Paraguay, Eugenia’s family moved to the Dominican Republic for several years, then on to Nicaragua in 1972 when her father was reassigned there after a devastating earthquake struck the capital city of Managua. According to the New York Times, tens of thousands of people were killed or injured in the quake and fires that ensued, and as much as 70% of Managua was destroyed.

The family remained in Nicaragua until 1978. Civil unrest was intensifying between the Sandinistas and the Somoza government at the time, and the situation turned to terror when Eugenia’s father and the rest of his office were taken hostage by the Sandinistas. “All of a sudden, things got really hot and it was time to leave Managua,” Eugenia recalled. “It was a ‘pack your bags—we are leaving tomorrow’ situation.” Eugenia, her mother and her sister were immediately extracted to El Salvador. Her father was detained for about a month.

“From the frying pan into the fire”

After her father’s release, her mother and sister returned home to Chile while Eugenia and her father went on to WFP headquarters in Rome where he was debriefed. “Since he had been in a hostage situation, it was protocol for the WFP to move my dad to a different region,” Eugenia explained. He was reassigned to Pakistan, “where we went from the frying pan into the fire.” In 1979 protestors burned the U.S. embassy in Pakistan to the ground.

“The school was ransacked and I was there at the time,” Eugenia remembered. “I have memories of being hunkered down in the gym behind locked doors with the personnel trying to make sure that we were safe. After the attack, all of the U.S. contingency was evacuated within a day. Since we were not a part of the U.S. diplomatic community, we stayed behind. It was like a ghost town.”

“It became a skeleton type situation where they decided to take the top kids that were supposed to graduate in June and graduate them early, in January.” Eugenia graduated high school six months earlier than planned, then had to figure out what to do with so much free time on her hands. Her father suggested that she visit the U.S. colleges that she had applied to, so Eugenia set off to visit schools, spent some time at home in Chile, and visited friends in Europe before returning to the U.S. to begin college at Tufts University in the fall.

Education is the greatest gift

“Besides giving us a loving and stable home, the biggest gift my parents gave us was our education,” Eugenia said. “I grew up with my parents always telling us ‘we don’t want to leave you any money, we want to leave you an education because no one can take that away from you. You can do with it what you want.’”

As youngsters in Chile, the sisters attended an all-girls private kindergarten in Santiago. In other countries, the girls attended American diplomatic schools. “When we went on mission with my dad, the most stable scholastic curriculum was through the US Department of State because they have schools all over the world. Most diplomats put their children in American schools.” As a result, Eugenia said she learned to read and write in English before she did in Spanish.

Eugenia savors the fact that she had the opportunity to meet students from all over the world. “Turkey, Arab Emirates, you name it, I know people there,” she laughed. “I even know the Prince from the Swat region in Pakistan. He was a classmate of mine and I still keep in touch with him.”

College brings choices and opportunities

Eugenia earned a degree in psychology from Tufts University. Her original plan was to marry her love of art and psychology into a degree in art therapy. “I had done a paper about art therapy for children and that became my focus, a way to reach kids that are autistic.”

“Dr. Dewald’s chemistry class at Tufts absolutely killed me, though,” Eugenia recalled. “He did everything possible to help me assimilate into the scientific field, but it just didn’t take.”

Eugenia said she finished the core curriculum early so only had electives left to fulfill by senior year. Since she did not take a junior year abroad like her peers, Eugenia proposed spending her senior year in Hawaii, joining her sister who was living there with her new husband.

“I marched myself in to see the Dean of Students at Tufts, and luckily she was Hawaiian,” Eugenia laughed. “I said to her, ‘I didn’t take my year abroad last year but my sister is in Hawaii now. Since I only have electives left, I could do a year abroad, transfer my credits then come back and graduate with my class in June. I’d be learning a new aspect of American culture.’ She looked at me with a very sly smile on her face and said, ‘I’m going to approve this just because of the creativity of your request. That’s a new one for me.’”

Eugenia went to Chaminade University for her senior year where she took all art classes. “I took a couple of classes in art therapy and psychology, but most of my class work was done in a studio with the art teacher there. I’ve always been artistic and done art on my own, but every time I have taken a studio art class, I’ve proved to myself that art is truly my passion.”

“I like to look back at my whole Tufts experience as an experiment in finding myself, who I thought I was versus who I really am. Had I stayed in Chile, I would have funneled into a track at a very young age and been trapped into becoming a veterinarian. The biggest strength of the American system is that kids are given a broad education and get to choose what they are passionate about.”

Marriage, citizenship, family, and more moves

Eugenia met her husband, John, while she was a junior at Tufts. “I ended up living in German House during junior year because I didn’t have any other options. I was actually taking a German class at the time, so I asked the department head and she offered me a spot in a double room. Turns out that John had the single next door to us. We met, became romantically involved, and we are still together!”

John graduated from Tufts one year before Eugenia, then went on to Berkeley for graduate school. After her senior year in Hawaii, Eugenia decided to move to California to be closer to John. She went back to school and earned an art degree from the Academy of Art University in graphic design and fashion illustration, then worked as a freelance designer in California. The couple married a few years later.

After John graduated from Berkeley, he went into the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to fulfill his ROTC commitment. John was on active duty when Operation Desert Storm was launched in Iraq, and was called up as a chemical officer to head overseas. Eugenia was eight months pregnant with their first child at the time, and they were both relieved when the cease-fire was declared just one day before John was to be deployed. After he left the Army, John accepted his first job as a civilian in Arlington, Texas. A few years later, he was offered a job with Dupont-Merck in Billerica, so Eugenia and her family packed their bags once again and moved to Groton.

Balancing work and family

As a young parent and professional, Eugenia struggled with balancing two full-time careers. “I decided that doing art and taking care of my daughter was too much emotional energy for me. I get lost in my artwork and can go for hours without eating or drinking. You can’t do that when you have a young child. I felt that there was a real pull between my two roles so I had to make a choice—I put all my art stuff away and decided to be a stay-at-home mom.”

Eugenia and John were able to rework their finances so she could stay home and raise their children. “My career was a stay-at-home mom to three fabulous human beings who are bilingual and all of them are happy and thriving, so I feel that I have had a successful career!”

Coming to Carlisle

After 20 years in Groton, Eugenia and John decided to look for a home closer to Cambridge to reduce John’s commute. Their youngest son was enrolled at Middlesex School at the time, so they searched for property in Concord but couldn’t find anything suitable. Eugenia learned about Carlisle from Dale Ryder as the two became close friends while their sons were classmates at Lawrence Academy. “I always tell Dale that she’s the reason we came to Carlisle.” John, however, was skeptical at first. “John’s first reaction was that Carlisle was so ‘country,’ like Groton. I said, ‘yes, but Concord is right next door.’ When I walked in the front door of this house and saw the kitchen, I knew this was it. We will be here seven years in August.”

On citizenship and culture

Eugenia said deciding to become a U.S. citizen was a natural decision, but still a difficult one for her. “My parents made sure that my sister and I harnessed a strong link to Chile, heart strings if you will,” so she was grateful to discover that Chile allows dual citizenship. She has been able to extend that link to her children by maintaining close connections with their Chilean cousins, traveling to Chile in the summers and inviting their cousins to the U.S. for visits and to attend school.

“Food has also been a big way of maintaining my culture,” Eugenia added. “I always made empanadas and just recently made a torta milojas for my son’s birthday.” Torta milojas is a dense 26-layer cake with layers of pastry alternating with layers of dulce de leche. While she enjoyed granting his birthday request, Eugenia said the cake is delicious but very labor-intensive to create.

“I’ve always told my kids, Chilean cuisine is meant to keep the woman busy in the kitchen all day so she doesn’t have a chance to do anything but tend to her husband. Up until a few years ago, if a woman wanted to leave the country, she needed her husband’s permission. If she wanted to sell a piece of property, she needed permission. There was very little autonomy for females in a legal sense. It has changed in the last few years, luckily. I very much am a feminist and very much rebel about that. I’ve always had an issue with it, that when I would go home, I would need my daddy or my husband’s permission to do anything I wanted to do.”

Living in the COVID bubble

Eugenia said she feels thankful to have had this extra time living with her adult children. “All of my kids came home to roost during the height of the pandemic. I often just sat and listened to these wonderful conversations around the dinner table during our meals and thought what a blessing it is to have this time together in this bubble.” She added that, “being the social animal that I am, I do miss seeing my friends. I miss going to Mahjong, to bridge, going to Ferns, having tea with my friends.”

COVID has also given Eugenia a chance to slow down a bit and be more introspective. “I’ve only had a few cabin fever moments, but when I did, they hit me hard. I think a lot of the angst that went along with it was politically driven because I was witnessing how badly things were being botched and the unnecessary life loss that it caused. I’ve gotten angrier and angrier about what is happening and how it could have been different if it was handled correctly.”

Finding her voice

Eugenia has found ways to use her social media as constructive tools to promote social justice and political interests. “I like to think of it as part of my creativity. I just like to have my voice heard.” She mentioned that she felt “a bit of PTSD on January 6. It was sort of like a Banana Republic moment for me.”

Getting back to her art has been a rocky road for Eugenia, however. “I suppressed my artistic impulses for so long that it is hard to let go now. It’s been like a writer’s block experience for me. I look at the paper and worry that I will make a mistake.” Eugenia loves watercolors, but her go-to medium is pen and ink. “I can do black and white doodle-type Zentangle drawings without even thinking about it—it’s a very organic medium for me.”

Eugenia cherishes the fact that her life “has been an adventure in finding ways to expand my knowledge of culture and life. I’ve enjoyed having such a broad paint brush for life. I want to be a lot more brave about my art going forward. It has become a matter of courage for me to allow myself to feel art again.”

Published in The Carlisle Mosquito, January 28, 2021.

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