BY JANE BUSSEY
Born of the shock of the Cuban Revolution, Latin American studies
has come of
age in the ensuing 40 years, moving into examining the barrio, the boardroom and
the box office.
Even the bedroom is not off-limits for the 5,000 academics and
Miami for the 22nd International Congress of the Latin American Studies
Association. Panels on gender and sexuality numbered three times those on law,
jurisprudence and crime.
There are only a few hints of the ivory tower -- you can still
attend a panel on
``Popular Sectors and Elites in Colonial Ecuador'' -- but there is an increasing
emphasis on current events and popular culture.
``Latin American studies as a field has become much more pluralistic,
more diverse culturally and in other aspects, and has broadened its field to
include people who are very engaged politically,'' said Jonathan Fox, a professor
of Latin American and Latino Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz.
``People who study Latin America today come to study it in Miami,'' Fox said.
In contrast to U.S.-based Latin Americanists of the 1960s, the
field today is
increasingly filled with people from Latin America, who numbered 2,200 of the
5,000 scholars in attendance.
``LASA was overwhelmingly a U.S. organization when it began in
1960s,'' said Thomas Skidmore, a professor of Brazilian history at Brown
University who has been a member of the Latin American Studies Association
since its beginning. ``Today, if I look around this lobby, at least half of the people
are from Latin America. That is a revolution.''
Another revolution is the presence of Cuban scholars, who would
barred by the State Department several years ago, Skidmore said. More than 120
Cuban scholars and researchers attended the Miami conference.
COLD WAR GENESIS
When Latin American studies first appeared as a multidisciplinary
academic interest four decades ago, the emphasis was on the Cold War.
Government funding stemmed from the Defense and State departments' concerns
about national security and the threat of spreading leftist insurgencies.
``We're a product of the Cuban Revolution,'' said Ivan Jaksic,
history professor at the University of Notre Dame.
But other forces are at work today. Students studying Spanish
branch out into
Latin American studies, and Latin American immigration has spurred interest in
learning about the region, Jaksic said.
Business schools push the idea of international studies as training
business executives in a global world.
``At our university, our business department is promoting international
said Christina B. Turner of Virginia Commonwealth University. ``They realize they
need people who can relate to foreign nationals.''
But academics are drawn in by the excitement of the field and
are trying to
answer the question: How can such a vibrant region filled with such exceptional
talent be constantly buffeted by economic and social unrest?
In this sense, U.S. scholars make a difference. ``That makes it
an exciting field.
You feel that you are part of the intellectual community interpreting the country,''
Participants acknowledge that there are contrasts between those
the region from the serene campuses of the United States and those in Latin
America who live in a laboratory of strife, but they insist there is considerable
collaboration between them.
Chilean psychologist Elizabeth Lira lives the country's day-to-day
complete the transition to democracy, while Brian Loveman, a historian at San
Diego University, studies the history of conflict and amnesty in Chile -- going back
to the 19th Century. Together they have written two books on dictatorship and civil
conflict and reconciliation, and they are finishing the third one, which leads up to
Lira said she needed Loveman's less emotional approach to understand
clearly how Chile deals with deep ideological differences in such a close-knit
society -- an issue that is even more pressing after the return of former military
ruler Augusto Pinochet from detention in Britain.
``What you gain by combining the points of view is a better balance
side,'' Lira said.
Added Jaksic, who grew up in Chile: ``Academics and people who
are in the real
world need each other.''
Sharp ideological differences of the 1970s and 1980s with Latin
academics who were mainly left-leaning have ended with the close of the Cold
``But we do have one leftover,'' Skidmore said. ``Most of the
sympathetic with the left and are sympathetic to new ideas such as popular
culture: music, dance, folklore.''
So no one was surprised by the title of one panel on the media
and cultural myths
in Mexico: ``Stars, Bars, Supermen, Sex and the Silver Screen: Social Actors
and the City in 20th Century Mexico.''
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald