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Latin American and Latino Studies Center Launched

By Maralee Csellar

Ambassador Carmen Lomellin

Ambassador Carmen Lomellin, permanent representative of the United States to the Organization of American States (OAS) at the opening of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies. (photo: Jeff Watts)

Latinos surpassed African-Americans as the largest minority group in the United States in 2003, according to the Census Bureau, and by 2050, one out of four people in the United States will be Latino.  

Today more than 65 American University faculty members conduct research on some of the most pressing Latin American issues including, U.S. foreign policy and inter-American relations; inequality and poverty; democratic governance and justice; immigration; and Latin American history, arts, literature and music, among other areas.

Seeing the importance of Latin America to the United States combined with the university’s substantial interest in the study of this area, American University has formed the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies to provide cutting edge research on issues confronting Latino communities in the United States and Latin American societies from Mexico to Argentina.

"The Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University is a rare example of a regionally-based institute organized on a campus wide basis, rather than under the auspices of a single faculty," says director Eric Hershberg. "AU will be at the forefront of efforts to forge a truly interdisciplinary intellectual community devoted to issues in Latin American and Latino Studies."

Hershberg, the Center’s inaugural director, is the past president of the Latin American Studies Association and past chair of the Board of Directors of the North American Congress on Latin America.  He most recently served as director of the Latin American Studies Program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. His research focuses on the comparative politics of Latin America, and on the politics of development.

While several universities around the world have centers or programs dedicated to Latin American Studies of particular countries, no university in the D.C.  area has a center focused on Latino Studies of people and cultures. American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies will be one of only a few examples in the United States of campus wide centers that combine the two research areas.

AU’s Center will foster collaborative research and in doing so will engage stakeholders in the policy and advocacy communities as well as other academic institutions and both government and intergovernmental agencies.  Plans are underway to launch studies ranging from access of Latino communities to health care and social services to post-earthquake reconstruction in Haiti to the evolution of religious practices and institutions throughout the Americas and the role of theater in articulating the impact of human rights violations in the countries of Latin America's Southern Cone.

“We anticipate that the new Center for Latin American and Latino Studies will help position AU among the world’s leading research centers in the study of Latin America and Latino communities,” said American University Provost Scott Bass. “The Center and the strength of our current faculty will bring additional recognition to the importance of U.S.-Latin American economic and diplomatic relations that has taken a back seat to U.S. relations with China, Asia and the Middle East since the end of the Cold War.”  

The new center will also draw on American University’s strong community-based learning programs to provide an extensive resource base for Washington, D.C., metropolitan area community organizations concerned with the welfare of Latino populations. This is critical because D.C. Latino communities were often missed in earlier Latin American migration studies that focused on Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and Cubans since the D.C. community is predominantly of Central American heritage.