Our efforts are sustained and bolstered by UNM's community of scholars of Mexico, Central America, South America, the Spanish speaking Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal. Over one hundred and twenty faculty members at UNM conduct research or teach on these regions, representing a wide range of disciplines, interests, and approaches. The Institute facilitates this scholarship, provides a focal point for interdisciplinary discussions, and distributes resources to seed new work by faculty and their students. Drawing on university resources, and in partnership with outside funders including the US Department of Education Title VI program and the Tinker Foundation, LAII distributed some $675,000 last year to support students across UNM studying and conducting field research in Latin America. These resources help departments recruit highly qualified students and enable students to acquire new languages, conduct field research, and complete their degrees efficiently.
The origins of the LAII date back to 1941 with the establishment of the School of Inter-American Affairs under the leadership of Professor Joaquin Ortega. From the outset, UNM’s Latin America initiatives have stressed community engagement within New Mexico. Today, this takes the form of helping K-12 teachers in the state bring Latin American cultural, language, and social studies content to their classrooms across grade levels. In 2015-2016 alone, LAII held 52 K-12 events reaching 738 teachers and impacting 23,490 students. LAII also produces curriculum materials that build upon books, films, and art exhibits. Our programs place particular emphasis on promoting literacy, through the Vamos a Leer book group and blog that has created and maintained a community of teachers who exchange ideas regarding both adult and youth books and how best to incorporate these in teaching. Community engagement also stands out in the work of many affiliated faculty and students, who work on vital issues ranging from migration to food production to language preservation.
As is the case at many universities, UNM faculty sometimes face incentives to publish primarily within their disciplines. Faculty and students in the social sciences are often encouraged by their disciplines to produce generalizable findings, a priority that can devalue contextual knowledge. LAII supports area specialists regardless of field, facilitating ties to Latin American institutions, and providing an extra-departmental community of scholars with shared regional interests, skills, and commitments. Faculty field research grants seed new research; new programs for 2017-2018 will provide funding for interdisciplinary project development; “Lightning Lounge” events will allow faculty to share their research in an informal setting; and faculty working group meetings will focus on substantive issues such as food production or changing social class structure. Each year an interdisciplinary conference endowed by the late Professor Richard Greenleaf highlights a different Latin American theme, with participation by outside and UNM scholars.
LAII houses and funds the interdisciplinary Latin American Studies program, which offers BA, MA, and PhD degrees based on multiple concentrations involving 23 humanities, social science, and professional departments across 9 colleges of the university. LAS alumni hold a variety of positions in business, government, education, and non-profit work, using the languages skills, regional knowledge, and analytical tools they learned through the program. UNM hosts 5 dual degree programs through which students obtain professional degrees in law, population health, education, business administration, or planning alongside the LAS degree.
LAII is above all a community, and I urge you to visit the institute, attend events, and participate in the discussions that result from an eclectic, interdisciplinary group of people with shared interests.
Director, Latin American & Iberian Institute
Professor of Political Science
The University of New Mexico