April 21, 2000

Major grant boosts Chicano/Latino Research Center and Latin American and Latino studies

By Jennifer McNulty

Who would guess that pop music superstar Ricky Martin embodies a phenomenon that is shaking up the intellectual roots of Latin American studies. But the fact that Martin is a hit with audiences in his native Puerto Rico, across Latin America, and in the United States is a shining example of the way in which traditional social and cultural borders are becoming blurred. That phenomenon has necessitated a "rethinking" of Latin American and Latino studies, and UCSC is at the forefront of a growing movement that is spreading throughout academia.

UCSC's leadership role in broadening the scope of Latin American and Latino studies got a major endorsement recently from the Ford Foundation, which has awarded a $235,000 three-year grant to the Chicano/Latino Research Center and the Latin American and Latino studies program.

Patricia Zavella

The grant will fund a project designed to bring a greater "trans-border" focus to Latin American and Latino studies. Greater emphasis on cross-border issues is now essential as migration, globalization, and technology contribute to unprecedented social, cultural, economic, and political interaction between populations in the United States, Mexico, and all of Latin America, said Patricia Zavella, professor of community studies and one of the principal investigators on the new project.

"We need to build bridges between Latin Americans and Latinos in the United States," said Zavella. "As an academic, if you're doing Latin American studies, you can't ignore what's happening here, and the same is true of Latino studies. You can't ignore what's happening across the border."

Examples of intercon-nectedness are everywhere, said Zavella, who pointed to economic ties such as those forged by migrants from agricultural areas of Mexico who take farm jobs in the United States. When they send a portion of their earnings home, they are supporting the development of small-scale farms in Mexico and are contributing significantly to the economic development of their regions, said Zavella.

Similar ties are evident in politics, where a proposal to extend voting rights to Mexicans living in the United States indicates the potential power to Mexican society represented by immigrants.

Culturally, there is a vital exchange of popular culture between the United States and Latin America, including television shows, movies, and music, and Martin's success is indicative of the breakdown of traditional borders, said Zavella.

The project, "Hemispheric Dialogues 2: Bridging Latin American and Latino/a Studies Through Curricular Innovation and Action-Research Partnerships," will strengthen alliances between community activists and scholars by supporting collaborations. It will also encourage the "rethinking" of courses by faculty and support the development of new courses by graduate students, said Zavella.

"Bringing activists to campus enriches everyone," said Zavella, who has been working with San Francisco-based Xóchitl Castañeda, an activist who is working to increase the availability of medical services to Guatemalan migrants in the Bay Area.

"Our work on the vulnerability of migrant farmworker women to sexually transmitted infections has taught her a lot about how different Mexicans are from Guatemalans, and I've learned a lot about how different U.S.-born Chicanos are from Mexican migrants," said Zavella. "Working together has really enriched our analysis, and it has helped me to make my scholarship more useful to people working in these communities."

On the curriculum front, Zavella, whose area of expertise is in Chicana/o studies, said she has to "rethink" the content of her courses to reflect changes in Latino communities in the U.S. "For example, it's not just Mexicans who live in the Mission district in San Francisco anymore," she said. "It's Mexicans, indigenous Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, and more. As a result of these new relations, Chicanos are changing their identities and culture."

By supporting curriculum changes, the project will encourage advanced graduate students to contribute to innovations in the field of Latin American and Latina/o studies, said Zavella. Faculty mentors will help students develop materials and will advise them as they teach new courses for the first time. Such experiences provide valuable professional opportunities and will ultimately spread the innovative thinking that's at the heart of the project as graduates go on to get jobs at other colleges and universities, said Zavella.
"This is a challenge, but it's very exciting," added Zavella. "On most campuses, Latin American studies is totally separate from Chicano studies, which is totally separate from Native American studies. It's very unusual that we have all of these subjects in one program here, and this funding is a prestigious endorsement of the value of our approach."

Other UCSC faculty members participating in the project are associate professor of politics Sonia Alvarez, LALS associate professor and chair Jonathan Fox, LALS professor Manuel Pastor, and assistant professor of literature Juan Poblete.

A campus-based visiting fellows program for activists will encourage intellectual collaboration with scholars. Faculty coordinators plan to wrap up the project by hosting a conference that will focus on the major lessons of both the activist-researcher partnerships and the curriculum development results. Key findings will be disseminated through an edited volume and a dedicated Web site, said Zavella.

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