Conference Participants Discuss Perception of Latinos in the United States

Julieta Gonzalez
Sept. 18, 2003

Borders-U.S. Latinos Becoming the Focus of the Hemisphere

More than 100 academics representing Europe, Latin America and the United States gathered in Mexico City recently for a conference that has become one of the most significant cultural studies dialogues in the hemisphere, according to participants.

The 10th anniversary of "Jornadas Metropolitanas de Estudios Culturales" this past summer brought up discussion over three days on issues related to border studies and to Latino Studies. "These themes are going to be very important for the future throughout Latin America and the United States," said Javier Durán, associate professor of Spanish and border studies in the University of Arizona's department of Spanish and Portuguese and member of the organizing committee. "The relationship between Latin America and the United States is going to become central to the conference as opposed to prior years where we discussed issues such as gender and cultural studies in a broad, general way."

Past conferences have included a variety of discussions from popular culture and cinematic studies to the literature and linguistics of Latin America and the U.S. and Mexico border.

This year, Durán said there was an increased focus on the perception of Latinos in the United States from the perspective of Latin America, especially within the country of Mexico. "There is a growing interest not only among academics but also from government on both sides of the border at all levels," says Durán.

Charles Tatum, dean of the College of Humanities, who delivered the opening remarks at the conference, emphasized that "the obvious fact is that the Hispanic population in the country is the country's largest minority population. Perhaps 80 percent of the Mexicano/Chicano population in this country has roots in Mexico," says Tatum.

"Looking at the potential impact of this population, the implications are huge politically, economically, culturally, linguistically and educationally for both Mexico and the United States," says Tatum. "It behooves both the American and Mexican governments and institutions of higher education on both sides of the border to collaborate around this dynamic population."

Tatum believes that educated readers and news watchers who live in large cities in central Mexico and other Latin American countries tend to be very insular about border issues. But, their interest in border issues is growing. Both Durán and Tatum say that one of the conference topics that received a lot of press interest and coverage is that of the "narco-corrido." A "corrido" is a popular story/ballad form in Mexican music and the "narco" refers to drug trafficking.

Recently, a Spanish author, Arturo Perez-Reverte wrote a best-selling novel titled "La Reina Del Sur." The novel is based in Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico, a hotbed of drug trafficking activity. When the novel was introduced in Spain, the author had the Grammy Award-winning Mexican group, "Los Tigres Del Norte" come to Spain and play their trademark "narco-corridos" at a concert. Durán says that some of the panel discussions centered on this topic and in turn, those presentations received significant press coverage during the "Jornadas" conference this past summer. "All of this cultural production is being taken seriously, says Durán. "People are getting into it and the issues are getting attention."

The conference helps bring thematic research for discussion across disciplines. Durán says it's not uncommon for researchers to conduct studies and not necessarily talk to each other. The conference serves the purpose of initiating and continuing dialogue between artists, writers, cultural observers, government representatives and the general public. The conference has published six books of selected papers in Spanish. The organizing committee is currently at work on the possibility of publishing some of these materials in English in the near future.

Durán hopes to bring this dialogue to the southwest and the U.S./Mexico border area. He hopes the conference in 2005 will be held in Tucson and at the UA.

Tatum observes that the economic, cultural and political dynamics of vast immigration that has occurred for almost 150 years has accelerated within the past 30 or 40 years. "This cross-over of populations and cultural and economic exchanges has international implications not only between the U.S. and Mexico, but also on our relationship to the world. We are rapidly becoming an Hispanic nation."

While "Jornadas Metropolitanas de Estudios Culturales" is the conduit for dialogue about these issues, Tatum concludes that "We can't talk about a geopolitical border anymore. "We have to talk about a border that extends from Canada to Chiapas," The UA was the major sponsor along with support from Michigan State University and Texas A & M University. Mexican institutions co-sponsoring the event were Universidad Aut