ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Opening Albuquerque to the world stage through exposure to art, literature, cuisine and stimulating discussion has been Marina Oborotova’s mission for the past 10 years.
The president of Albuquerque International Association is Russian by birth but her life’s work has been focused on the wider world.
Oborotova’s multiple careers span periods as a researcher with a leading Russian think tank, teaching at the University of New Mexico, work with nuclear nonproliferation-related companies and her current nonprofit.
Oborotova founded the Albuquerque International Association in 2007 as a division of the Center for International Studies, a nonprofit she and the late tech transfer consultant H. William Nordyke started in 2003.
She has gradually expanded it into 12 programs through funding from grants, membership fees, individual donors and corporate sponsorships. She is particularly keen to help give young Albuquerque residents access to a world perspective.
“Albuquerque is a dynamic city in the 21st century and we need to integrate with the world better,” Oborotova said in a recent interview in her office in the Journal complex.
AIA’s mission is to promote better understanding of global, cultural, economic and political trends and how they affect the world where the U.S. plays a leading role. The organization holds monthly public lectures by high-profile speakers on themes like global trends in health care, and immigration trends worldwide. This year’s theme, “The Ring of Fire,” focuses on the Middle East and Europe.
New this year is an art, architecture and culture-themed series of monthly talks at the Albuquerque Museum. The March presentation by UNM Honors College Associate Professor Dr. Celia Lopez-Chavez was on Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.
AIA has clubs for book discussions, international cuisine demonstrations, watching foreign movies and travel. This year’s trip destinations are northern Italy/southern Switzerland in June and Guatemala in November. AIA also holds regular dinners with moderated discussions on topics of global importance.
Oborotova came to Albuquerque in 1992 at the invitation of University of New Mexico faculty members whom she met at a conference in Cuba. Despite nearly 25 years here, she still retains her Russian accent. Her corgi, whom she recently lost, was called Ruhzik, which means red in Russian. She loves cooking international cuisine, including Russian, and painting. Several of her pastels depicting European landscapes hang in her office.
International travel has been a constant theme in her life. Oborotova grew up being exposed to many cultural influences. Born in Moscow, she spent part of her childhood in Prague, then Czechoslovakia, where her father was working with the International Union of Students. Czech was her first foreign language. She learned English at school in Moscow where students were introduced to Shakespeare in the fifth grade.
She remembers having to learn the “To be, or not to be” soliloquy from “Hamlet” by heart. “I think if I woke up in the middle of the night now I could still recite it,” she said, laughing.
She developed an enduring love of Latin America while listening to close friends of her parents talk about their work on that continent.
“It just seemed like a fantastic, fabulous part of the world – bright, sunny, exciting, dynamic,” she said.
Oborotova became fluent in Spanish while at Moscow State University where she earned a master’s degree in international relations. She aspired to a diplomatic career, but under the former Soviet system, women were not allowed into the diplomatic service, she said.
Instead, Oborotova worked as a researcher for the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, a think tank, and earned a Ph.D. in history. Her son Philip, 28, is following that lead. Now living in Phoenix, he is working toward a Ph.D in history.
Oborotova’s interest in Latin America led her to travel extensively throughout the continent, spending time in Central America, Mexico and Cuba.
At UNM, Oborotova taught courses on the Soviet Union, Russian-U.S. relations and more in the Departments of History and Political Science, the Anderson School of Management and the Honors Program.
Her third career was in international business, working with the U.S. Industry Coalition and Technology Commercialization International, a company founded by Nordyke in 1994.
Oborotova said she never planned to stay long in Albuquerque but at some point she decided she wanted to do something for the city that had been her home for many years.
“In Albuquerque, I missed high-quality international exposure and information. I think we deserve it here,” she said.