Joan M. Arias Biography

The Joan M. Arias Memorial Graduate Fund at the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese was created in 2018 to provide financial help to graduate students in the department to pursue studies abroad. The following is a brief biography of Dr. Arias, who throughout her adult life deeply believed in the many benefits of study abroad.

Joan M. Arias, 1941-2017

Joan Arias arrived at UCLA in 1965 as a doctoral student in the Spanish and Portuguese department, having just completed a year abroad studying Venezuelan theater on a Fulbright scholarship. With a bachelor’s degree from Douglass College in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and a master’s from the University of Illinois, she began her studies with an emphasis on Spain’s golden age literature. In early 1966, she met and married fellow UCLA student Ron Arias. Their marriage lasted 51 years and produced two sons, Michael Luis, now a filmmaker residing in Japan, and Jonathan Carlos, who at age 6 died in a freak auto accident.

Dr. Arias received her doctorate in Hispanic languages and literature in 1975. Her dissertation, titled Guzmán de Alfarache: The Unrepentant Narrator, appeared in 1977 with Tamesis Books. Among the schools at which she taught were Georgetown University, Cal State University, San Bernardino, and for 13 years, the University of La Verne, where she often directed the school’s summer Spanish program in Cuernavaca, Mexico. During her time at ULV she also taught several semesters of Spanish literature in the college program at Youth Training School in Chino.

Though she loved teaching, Dr. Arias wanted to broaden her interests beyond the classroom. To that end, she left academia in 1982 to work for two years as an education specialist for the Southern California Earthquake Preparedness Project, instructing schools, hospitals and businesses on quake readiness. The work included a study mission to Japan, which was commissioned by then Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and a USAID trip to Ecuador, where she lectured and consulted with local officials.

In 1983, she joined IBM as a liaison between the company and university humanities departments across the US, consulting on how computers could best be used in the liberal arts. Throughout her 26 years with IBM, Ms. Arias traveled the globe in various capacities. Invariably, the places dearest to her in her sales support and consulting visits were Brazil, Spain, and many countries in Latin America. By far her favorite city in the world was Buenos Aires. She and her family moved away from California several times, including stints in Caracas, Venezuela and Stamford, Connecticut, before settling in Hermosa Beach, California, in 1997.

After her retirement in 2008, she studied for a paralegal degree and became a volunteer at the self-help center of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles in Torrance, often speaking with litigants in Spanish, Portuguese, French and Japanese. “The main reason I feel so positive about my volunteer legal work is because I am able to articulate to desperate people what it is they need to do to get where they want to be,” Dr. Arias told The Beach Reporter in 2014. “I can simplify and break things into meaningful steps so that our legal system isn’t so overwhelming.”

She was also “stalwart” and secretary of the South Bay League of Women Voters, and was quite active and civically engaged in Hermosa Beach politics. Moreover, she kept close ties with UCLA faculty and alumni. She was an enthusiastic supporter of the fundraising efforts of Spanish and Portuguese department alumni and of the South Bay Bruins Association’s funding of scholarships for community college transfer students to UCLA.