The LALS Designated Emphasis Experience

Below are statements from our graduate students participating in the Latin American and Latino Studies Designated Emphasis. They have found the program helpful and encouraging for their research goals, and wanted to share their experiences with you.
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    Xochitl Chavez

    My dissertation, Migrating Performative Traditions: La Guelaguetza Festival in Oaxacalifornia, documents the lived and performative movements of Oaxacan migrant communities as they cross cultural and political boundaries between the United States and Mexico. Through a case study of Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California, it explores how this diasporic community reproduces the annual La Guelaguetza festival, an indigenous celebration of communal dances and musical forms. This study offers a window into how indigenous migrant communities with limited resources navigate new bureaucratic structures, cultural norms, and public spaces to maintain and assert their cultural identities in a transnational context. The Designated Emphasis in Latin American and Latino Studies (LALS) offers the ideal intellectual community for graduate students doing research in Latin American and on Latinos in the United States. The LALS Department is comprised of a preeminent group of core faculty and participating faculty that provide students with a great breadth of courses and resources.  As a graduate student affiliated with LALS I have had the opportunity to be part of engaging seminars and independent studies that bolstered my research on Indigenous migrants in California by taking into consideration the gendered, political, and economic factors in a transnational cultural production.  Working as a Teaching Assistance in the LALS department has been another rewarding experience during my tenure at UCSC. The pedagogical approaches utilized by faculty serve as excellent examples for aspiring young professors.  There is a real commitment to community, collaboration and to the advancement of students in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department.

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    J. Brent Crosson

    My dissertation project is based on over two years of ethnographic research in a region of Trinidad known as the island’s capital of Obeah and magic.  Defined as “any assumption of supernatural power,” Obeah was initially outlawed as the motivating force behind Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion in the eighteenth century.  Obeah is still illegal in much of the region today.  Despite an association with “African tradition,” Hindu, Muslim, Orisha and Afro-Christian practitioners in Trinidad were arrested for Obeah, which generally accomplished the work of healing and protecting a diverse array of clients from psycho-physical ailments and spiritual harm.  Through the ethnography of a contemporary protest movement, I examine the ways that Obeah continues to empower, expanding Western notions of political economy and law.  This project also constructs a counter-history of current race relations, religion and nation in Trinidad through the perspective of the religious healing practices labelled Obeah. The LALS Designated Emphasis has helped me to establish the essential scholarly connections focused on Latin America and the Caribbean.  By bridging a variety of departments, this emphasis provides a rich and interdisciplinary approach to Latin America, the Caribbean and their diasporas.

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    Jesica Siham Fernández

    My personal experience as a first-generation immigrant from México, and first in my family to graduate from an institution of higher education, has influenced my interests in Latinos, specifically youth, education, immigration, citizenship and civic engagement. I am a Ph.D. Candidate in Social Psychology with a Designated Emphasis is Latin American & Latino Studies (LALS). My research centers on examining how institutions, like schools and communities, facilitate and support opportunities for Latino youth to move from a place of invisibility to a place of visibility, via civic engagement, despite the education and citizenship challenges that Latino youth experience, particularly in schools. The Designated Emphasis in Latin American & Latino Studies has provided me with resources, intellectual and academic, as well as social support to pursue my research interests more holistically. Understanding the experiences of Latino youth in the United States, as individuals and as a community, cannot be devoid of an understanding of the social, political and historical experiences of Latinos in Latin America, and of U.S. involvement.

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    Claudia Lopez

    My research examines the effects of forced migration on the experience of internally displaced persons as they begin reconstructing their lives in Medellín.  The issues of forced migration and displacement is a complex process in Colombia as it involves the militarization of the countryside due to the armed conflict between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and military forces.  The issues are also influenced by foreign policy and relationships between the United States and Colombia, specifically the regional security pact known as Plan Colombia. Men and women experience displacement differently, thus I use the lens of gender to better understand two key processes: displacement and resettlement. I focus on how migrants experience displacement and resettlement as it provides an intimate glimpse into the displaced’s strategies of adaptation and forms of resistance. A focus on the displaced also gives perspective into the workings of the state and its involvement and response to displacement.  I am a PhD. student in Sociology with designated empahses in Feminist studies and Latin American and Latino Studies.  Working with the LALS department has given me an interdisciplinary approach for completing my research, while also providing me the academic and professional spaces for me to share my work with other graduate students and faculty. 

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    Christian Palmer

    I research how tourism has transformed the small fishing town of Itacare in Northeastern Brazil. Through historical and ethnographic analysis I have pieced together a history of Itacare and its development through different economic cycles and how this history has shaped urban growth, architectural styles, and the expansion of new neighborhoods. Through this research I can observe how social division and inequality is materially constructed into the urban landscape. My research also tracks conflicts over public space including roads, beaches, parks, conservation areas, and public land. Through these conflicts over public space I can observe how the different stakeholders interact to shape the urban landscape. Working within the Latin American and Latino Studies Department has helped me to solidly ground my research in the specific historical particularities of Brazil, and keep in mind the larger political and economic processes which shape the directions of the local development in Northeastern Brazil. Brazil's rising political and economic position in the world makes it an important place to understand how to reconcile the challenges of economic growth and development with coastal conservation and social justice.