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Latin American Studies

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Zenteno Hopp '17 publishes article from James Randall research

The Randall Fellowship gave me the opportunity to carry out an independent summer research project about the life and work of Adela Zamudio, one of Bolivia’s greatest 19th century poets. I chose to investigate about this poet because I have always been impressed by the power and beauty of her words, and because I had a strong urge to know more about the woman who had brought them to life. During the summer, I worked with Fundación Torrico Zamudio, an organization created by the descendants of the writer, and which holds an extensive archive with photographs, original documents of Zamudio’s poetry, letters, and a small library with literary critiques about her work. The final objective of my research was to write a short essay about what I had discovered during my time working with the foundation. At the beginning of the semester, I presented this essay to Los Tiempos newspaper, and I’ve been lucky to have it published on October 11, a date which is nationally celebrated in Bolivia as a commemoration of Zamudio’s birth. 

 

Yesenia Ayala ’18 honored by White House

The White House recently recognized Yesenia Ayala ’18 for her courage and contributions to the Latino community in Iowa. She and 10 other young women were selected from more than 1,000 nominees as Champions of Change for empowering and inspiring members of their communities.

Ayala said later that the experience helped her go beyond her comfort zone to advocate for the community she loves and that needs support.

“Through my personal experience,” she added, “I was able to bring awareness to not only the local, state, but national community of the importance of mentoring and supporting students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how we can all come together as one to make the movement work.”

As a service learning work-study student at Grinnell, Ayala works for Al Exito — a nonprofit group that empowers Latino youth in nine Iowa cities. She coordinates programming and mentoring for middle and high school Latino students, facilitates family programming and events, and engages other Grinnell students in encouraging Latino students to stay in school and plan for college.

Ayala also has designed and led workshops to inform Latino youth and their parents about the U.S. education system, financial aid, essay writing, and the college applications process. These activities promote more family involvement at school, greater civic engagement, and an increase in the likelihood that young Latinos will graduate from high school and pursue higher education.

A native of Los Angeles, Ayala is majoring in sociology and Spanish with a concentration in Latin American studies. She plans to pursue a law degree in civil rights upon graduation.

This fall, she continues to work with Al Exito to develop ways to incorporate teachers into the program, which Ayala hopes will expand statewide.  

Ayala’s Inspiration

Ayala talking with Auñón (who is in a NASA suit) at a gathering At a ceremony on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, Ayala joined other Champions of Change in a panel discussion moderated by MTV video blogger Francesca Ramsey. Ramsey noted that it’s often tough to get Latino students and their families comfortable with the college application process when it’s a completely new experience for them. Then she asked Ayala: “What have you done as a leader to overcome some of those fears from students and parents that you’ve been working with?”

Ayala said she was inspired to do the work she is doing because she is a first-generation Latina college student who had a difficult journey from high school to college. She often shares her story at Al Exito events to inspire others.

“I was working fulltime at McDonald’s as a manager while in high school, I was going to high school in a very low-income community, and I was striving to get A’s,” she said. “I was also taking the responsibility and the role of helping my parents raise my siblings.”

Thanks to the encouragement of a high school English teacher, Ayala applied for a Posse Foundation scholarship, as did more than 2,100 students in LA. She was one of 112 selected, winning admission to Grinnell, where she receives a full-tuition scholarship and additional financial aid.

“In most Latino families and communities,” Ayala said, “it’s very difficult for parents to let their children aspire for higher education, because they come from a community where they don’t know anything about the U.S. education system. … So every time we conduct a workshop, it’s our opportunity to let our parents know, our community know, our students know that it may be difficult sometimes to break those boundaries, those cultural oppositions, but it’s okay to do it.  If you don’t take a risk, you never know how far you can go.”

Causes with Effect

In a recent list of most liberal college campuses, Grinnell came in fourth, reflecting its long-standing, politically liberal reputation. Yet over time, both conservative and non-partisan, cause-related groups have also made their voices heard.

Rosenfield Professor of Political Science H. Wayne Moyer, Jr., who has observed Grinnell campus politics for more than 40 years, says that while “there’s a liberal tinge to most of the student organizations, the liberalism is not focused on politics but on causes. The central theme is helping people.”

Yes, There Are Conservatives

“Young Republicans have been active at times,” Moyer observes, “as have the Campus Democrats. We have conservative students but they tend to be moderate to liberal Republicans who identify less with the national Republican party than they might have 40 years ago.”

2014 graduate Sam Mulopulos is among those self-described conservatives who thrived on campus. “When I first came to Grinnell, I fell in love with the place and its people. In fact, because of my contrarian learning style, Grinnell probably made me more conservative or at least led me to more fully develop my conservative ideology.

“People often joke that the only people in the closet at Grinnell are the Republicans,” Mulopulos says. He started a chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) in fall 2013. “I believe a group like YAL has a tremendous role in promoting political diversity and social justice. The goal was to provide a forum for conservative students to ‘come out’ and cogently speak about their beliefs in limited government, individual liberty, and free markets.”

Don’t See What You Like? Start Your Own

A new club — the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network — like YAL, a chapter of a national organization, was co-founded in 2014–15 by Isaac Andino ’17 and Jenny Chi ’17. “Roosevelt is committed to progressive change, especially focusing on the local level since we feel that is where students can have the most direct change,” Andino explains.

“We are currently focusing our efforts on sustainability via socially responsible investing, investigating the college's endowment holdings in fossil fuel and defense companies and ways to possibly reduce our exposure/support to them,” Andino says. “We founded this organization because we felt it was a good fit with the values of Grinnell and was broad enough that it could be directed at any number of pressing issues. Other organizations on campus focus on one specific issue, while Roosevelt could be used as a general umbrella to address issues in the future.”

RISE Grinnell, led by Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, also addresses progressive issues. “The goal of RISE Grinnell is to organize and participate in activism across a broad spectrum of progressive issues,” Metz-Lerman says. “Although we shy away from the term social justice, that is exactly what we stand for — issues that threaten justice, peace, love, and equality.”

A Focus on Issues

For those interested in targeting more specific issues, the Grinnell in Latin America Solidarity Society (GLASS) organization may have appeal.

For Jason Camey ’16, the focus on Latin American issues through GLASS came after a trip to Guatemala, through a co-curricular grant, where he and other Grinnell students witnessed “how U.S. foreign policy affected people in the country.

“The goal we established for the GLASS was to start talking about issues and getting people connected with partner organizations in Latin America,” Camey says.

“Grinnell is a community filled with amazingly brilliant students who aren't just citizens of the U.S. but of the world, and I think more and more students are realizing worldwide issues are something we also have to look at. Many of my peers are unaware of how our foreign policy affects people directly. I think if more people knew then they'd raise questions, they'd think a little more critically, they'd approach foreign policy with more caution, pointing out how these policies affect people.”

From broad to specific, local to international, progressive to conservative, there is always room for more campus political organizations, asserts Mulopulos. “What a boring place the world would be if we all agreed on every issue all the time? Where is the intellectual challenge in that? The ultimate goal as humans is to make the world a better, safer, healthier, and more prosperous place for everyone.”

Isaac Andino ’17, a political science major, is from Miami Springs, Fla. Jenny Chi ’17 is majoring in political science and economics and is from West Hills, Calif. Jacob Metz-Lerman ’17, a political science major, is from Roslindale, Mass. Jason Camey ’16 is majoring in Spanish and political science.

Maria Tapias Selected for Leadership Academy

Maria TapiasMaria Tapias, associate dean of Grinnell College, is one of 28 mid-level administrators in higher education nationwide selected by the Council of Independent Colleges to participate in a year-long Senior Leadership Academy.

The program, which is for administrators in higher education who are nominated by their institutions, is designed to prepare prospective leaders to assume positions as the chief officers in higher education. As a program participant, Tapias will hone her campus leadership skills by developing a professional experience plan and attending two seminars held in the Washington, D.C., area.

Tapias, who holds degrees in cultural anthropology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, serves in several capacities at Grinnell. In the office of the dean, she serves as associate dean of the College and the president’s senior adviser for diversity.  She is also associate professor of anthropology, having taught in the anthropology department since 2001.

During her time at Grinnell, Tapias has served in numerous roles, including interim chair of the department of Spanish, chair of the department of anthropology, and chair of the Latin American studies concentration. She was a visiting scholar at the Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies at the University of California-San Diego in 2004. Her research interests include women’s and infants’ health, the anthropology of emotions, transnationalism, and Latin American studies.

Tapias was selected to participate in the program from a diverse pool of applicants. “Competition for the available places in the program was intense,” says Richard Ekman, president of the Council for Independent Colleges, “and the review committee and I believe that Ms. Tapias has the potential for highly effective leadership in a position of senior responsibility on campus.”

Latin American Studies (LAS)

In this multidisciplinary concentration, you explore Latin American and Latino cultures and societies, and take related humanities and social studies courses. You can study in a Latin American country, use your skills in internships, and cap your studies with senior research. The concentration provides the foundation for graduate school or an array of careers with Latin American connections, such as law, business, social justice, education, and translation.