LASA Action Alert

Lázaro Lima

ACTION ALERT: Please forward Aldo Lauria Santiago’s email that he recently sent to the Latino Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) far and wide. Without consulting the section’s leadership or membership, LASA has eliminated our section.

It is profoundly disappointing that the section leadership was not consulted. As Aldo notes below, to collapse “Latinos” under the rubric of “migrations” and/or “diasporas” evacuates the very history that Latino studies in the U.S has so struggled to instantiate as a field and as a practice of democratic enfranchisement.

Please contact LASA and let them know how you feel about their regrettable decision (emails will have the most immediate impact):

Latin American Studies Association
416 Bellefield Hall
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
Tel: 412-648-7929
Fax: 412-624-7145
E-mail: lasa@pitt.edu

FROM ALDO LAURIA SANTIAGO:

Colegas,

I’m writing from Rio. Yesterday the new Call for Papers for LASA 2011 was distributed and it excludes the Latino Studies track. We have learned that it was a decision made by the new incoming Program Chair as part of some process of revision and consolidation of tracks. We have since discussed the issue with incoming Executive Director Milagros Pereyra who explained the origin of the decision and suggested we work within the new track designations (Transnationalism & Globalization; Migration and Latin American Diasporas; Migration and Borders). We also talked with LASA president John Coatsworth who promised to look into the question. We are looking to have a meeting with the new program chair and other LASA officers while still here to express our strong disagreement with the elimination of the track that is so closely linked to our section’s work and that we believe has a significant coherence and justification (fought over in the past in order to get into LASA) and that resembles the sort of intellectual dismissal that so often recurs within the US academy with Latino Studies content, program and departments. The current and past co-chairs of the section and others who signed on at last night’s reception are sending a formal note to LASA administrators requesting the re-inclusion of the track. We will post the note to this list as soon as it is completed.

Whatever the origin of the decision, we consider it a highly troubling step, especially considering the lack of consultation with members and Section leaders.

This is not the first time this question is posed by LASA leaders. Last year I was contacted by Evelyne Huber, Program Chair for LASA 2009, about reorganizing the track into “Latin American Diasporas or Migration.” I successfully convinced her that it was not appropriate to collapse the study of Latinos in the US into this sort of supposedly encompassing umbrella. As a result, this year we had a Latinos in North America designation and a Latin American Diasporas theme. I’ll post the memo I wrote to her later.

In the meantime you might want to write to the LASA leadership questioning this decision, although I suspect the matter will require a more concerted effort on behalf and with the participation of you, the nearly 300 members of this Section.

Saludos,

Aldo Lauria Santiago

Rutgers University

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LASA Action Alert

Students Pressure Princeton for Latino Studies Program

Hispanic Scholars, Students Pressure Princeton for Latino Studies Program

by Ibram Rogers

For more than 30 years, students have been urging the administration to bring Latino studies to Princeton University. Students have met with university officials over the years and staged a famous sit-in with Asian students in 1995, but those efforts didn’t bear much fruit.

“The university has had the opportunity since the ’70s to begin to increase the number of Latino faculty and to build Latino studies and they just haven’t,” says Dr. Raul A. Ramos, assistant professor of history at the University of Houston and 1989 Princeton graduate. “There is a huge student demand and it’s a demand that has been there a long time.”

It appears that Princeton may finally defer to the three decades of demands due to the latest efforts by Hispanic students, aided by a group of Latino alumni. A Center for Latino Studies with a certificate program modeled after Princeton’s nationally renowned Center for African American Studies could come on board as earlier as the fall of 2009, says Victoria C. Laws, who led the student movement for Latino studies and helped write the proposal for the center.

“We are dealing with a new administration, one that is open to change and a little more cognizant of the need for a Latino studies program, and also the changing demographics in this nation,” says Laws, who graduated from Princeton in the spring. “It is undeniable now that not having Latino studies would really leave Princeton students in a deficit in terms of their education.”

The adding of one or two Latino courses will not “cut it” this time, adds Dr. Aldo Lauria-Santiago, a 1981 graduate of Princeton.

“There is a pressing need to provide Latino students at Princeton with a sense of their own presence in the curriculum, which is something that was very hard to find when I was there,” says Lauria-Santiago, associate professor and chairperson of Rutgers University’s department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies.

The most recent efforts to initiate Latino studies began in the fall of 2006 when Latino students were discussing their frustration with Hispanic Heritage Month. That discussion mushroomed into in a series of meetings in which students talked about the lack of resources, lack of knowledge about how to access resources and not having a Latino studies program, among other issues.

“These meetings would go on for hours,” Laws says. “And people would come with their laptops and take notes. We had 70 pages of notes that came out of those meetings.”

Over the summer of 2007, the students took those notes and wrote a 16-page report on the state of Hispanics at Princeton, mentioning the lack of access to mentors and the meager 1.9 percent of Hispanic full-time faculty at Princeton, Laws says. They released it during the first week of school in September 2007.

“It was really a way of getting the administration’s attention, getting faculty members attention, so that they would be more supportive of it instead of just demanding something out of nowhere,” Laws says. “It wasn’t just complaining. There was a set of clear and structured recommendations as to how the university could address the problems that were raised.”

In November, students talked about the report in a campus wide forum, and the following month Laws and Princeton sociology professor Marta Tienda began working on a proposal for the center that the university is now reviewing. Tienda and Princeton administrators did not want to comment on the issue until the discussions progress further about the center.

While student pressure intensified from the inside over the last academic year, Bob Hernandez, a Boston-based civil rights employment litigator and Princeton alum, formed a group of alumni that is now putting pressure on the university from the outside.

The group of mostly academicians, which now exceeds 20, had a series of conference calls during the last few months, the product of which was a letter sent to Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman at the end of May. Eleven alumni, including Ramos, Lauria-Santiago, Hernandez, and professors at institutions like the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Texas at Austin, signed the letter.

“That was our effort to indicate to the university that at this time it is not appropriate to not have a Latino studies program,” Hernandez says. “That’s very important because most of the best schools in the country recognize the importance of having a defined Latinos studies program. They don’t define them all the same, but they have coherence, an identity and vision. And that’s plainly lacking at the university at this time.”

The group of alumni, many of which conduct research in Latino studies, has presented itself as a resource that Princeton officials can use as they develop the center. But that development must come in the next two or three years, Ramos says.

“Princeton just needs to get started,” he says. “You want to make thoughtful hires and you want to build programs and its going to take 10 years before you have anything established. So the longer they wait, the more difficult the task is going to be.”

Students Pressure Princeton for Latino Studies Program