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Presenting border issues through diverse angles and disciplines; a conversation about bringing justice to the Mexican-American border.

Southwestern’s Latin American Studies Department is trying to help dissolve cultural as well as academic borders by collaborating with students and other academic departments to create the Borders and Perspectives Symposium. The symposium, held Nov. 13 and 14 on the Southwestern University campus, featured four speakers from distinct disciplines seeking to demystify the Mexican-American border.

“We didn’t want the symposium to focus on one issue; we wanted to incorporate several issues facing Latinos. We wanted to discuss these issues from a different perspective in order to challenge people’s ideas about Latinos and the border,” says junior Tori Vasquez, a member of the symposium’s student planning committee.

The symposium consisted of two two-hour sections. The first evening included an introduction by Associate Professor of Art History Patrick Hajovsky and presentations about ethnic marketing and Hispanic history curricula. Afterward, presenters addressed questions from the audience and joined attendees in a casual reception. The second evening showcased anthropological and interdisciplinary discussions on border identity and culminated in a panel discussion mediated by Professor of Political Science Eric Selbin.

The first speaker in the series was ethnic marketer and author of The ABCs and Ñ of America’s Cultural Evolution, Jim Estrada, who discredited misconceptions about the Latin American population as posing a threat to the U.S. economy. He also discussed ways to strengthen the economy by directing sales to the growing Latin American population. Following Estrada, Emilio Zamora, a professor in the History Department at The University of Texas at Austin, expounded upon his curriculum work in Texas history education. He detailed the reintroduction of Hispanic customs and indigenous history in a Spanish and English bilingual curriculum that he and his wife compiled.

The speaker series continued with Santiago Guerra, a 2004 Southwestern graduate and an assistant professor of Southwest studies at Colorado College, who shared his anthropological perspective on drug trafficking as perpetuated by all people throughout history. The series culminated in a presentation by Nicole M. Guidotti-Hernandez, associate professor of American studies at The University of Texas at Austin and Associate Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies. Guidotti-Hernandez discussed her interdisciplinary study of the obscure history of Petra Santa Cruz and her little-known identity’s social implications about the Tucson, Arizona border.

“The coherence of all the participants was interesting,” says Assistant Professor of Philosophy Omar Rivera, who initiated the creation of the symposium. “There were certain messages that were consistent [throughout all the speakers’ presentations]. One being that we can’t think of the U.S. in a way that excludes or does not seriously recognize the impact and relevance of the Latino population in the United States. Now, to be an American is decisively also defined by Latino heritage,” he says.

Following the individual presentations, the four speakers provided distinct insights about current border issues in a panel discussion driven by audience questions. According to Rivera, the panel discussion flourished primarily through the input of student attendees. “Jim Estrada’s talk (in particular was) very relevant to people who are … concerned with the future of Southwestern,” he says.

According to Rivera and Hajovsky, the symposium introduced the Latin American Studies Department’s shifted focus toward studying the Latino population as a part of, rather than as an exception to, the U.S. In addition, the symposium experimented with the use of a student committee in event planning.

The overarching purpose of the event was to reinforce Southwestern’s goal of fostering interdisciplinary connections. By presenting border issues through diverse angles and disciplines, the Borders and Perspectives Symposium provided access to the entire Southwestern community to examine and participate in the conversation of bringing justice to the Mexican-American border.

 

by Amy Gu, class of 2016

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