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Northwestern to Co-Sponsor Inaugural Latina/O Studies Conference

Event to launch new academic association to represent interests of U.S. Latina/o scholars

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July 7, 2014 | by Hilary Hurd Anyaso

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A group of Latina/o studies scholars met two years ago at an academic conference and discussed what they considered to be a long-standing need to create their own space where they could reflect on their teaching and scholarship and think across national and ethnic borders about the development of Latina/o studies.

The upcoming International Latina/o Studies Conference “Imagining the Past, Present and Future” in Chicago is the result of that vision and is expected to be the largest and most comprehensive Latina/o studies conference to date.

Northwestern University is one of the two major sponsoring universities of the event, along with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The conference has 13 other major sponsors and 16 co-sponsors as well.

Open to the public, the inaugural conference will be held July 17 to 19 at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe St., Chicago, and will bring together scholars, teachers and students who study the history, politics and culture of the many Latina/o communities in the United States. For more information, visit www.latinostudiesconference.com.

“Imagining the Past, Present and Future” will address the state of Latina/o studies in a welcome plenary July 17, moderated by Maria Hinojosa, renowned broadcast journalist and the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Chair in Latin American and Latino studies at DePaul University. She is also founder of NPR’s radio program “Latino USA.”

With more than 450 panelists, the conference also will include interdisciplinary panels on immigration, education, health, Latino Chicago, the concept of Latinidad, citizenship, performance and the arts, popular music and the gradual institutionalization of Latina/o studies.   

Organizers said one of the most important goals of the meeting is to establish the first Latino studies association whose purpose will be to promote research and affect policy change related to U.S. Latinas/os, who comprise 17 percent of the U.S. population and are now the largest minority group in the country. They make up more than 20 percent of the state populations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Mexico and Texas.

While conferences have been held that spotlight the largest Latina/o communities in the United States, namely Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Cuban and Central American, organizers said no conference has sought to bring together such a large, vastly interdisciplinary group of scholars.

“We need to come together and begin to ‘imagine’ our field in ways that go beyond the original, national-based studies of Chicano studies and Puerto Rican studies,” said Frances Aparicio, director, Latina/o studies, professor of Spanish and Portuguese in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern.

“In some ways, we are still segmented regionally, ethnically and in terms of disciplines,” Aparicio said. “We need to begin to address the issues that affect our communities from more comparative and interdisciplinary approaches.”

Organizers said Chicago serves as a symbolic setting for the conference. Located between the historically Mexican Southwest and the Caribbean East Coast, Chicago has long embraced its diverse Latina/o communities and is home to several universities with Latina/o studies programs.

“We know so much about the history and culture of Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans or Cubans, for example, but we know so little about the similarities and differences between these various communities,” said Raul Coronado, professor of Latina/o studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the conference organizers.

“Our goal is to produce more research and knowledge about U.S. Latinas/os as a whole,” Coronado said. “In the end, we hope our work will help transform school curriculums and make a larger impact in national politics and culture.”