Latina/o/x studies seminar brings expert scholars to the UI

The UI Latina/o Studies Program, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Obermann Center for Advanced Studies bring experts in Latina/o/x studies to campus for year-long seminar.


Katie Goodale

Darrel Wanzer-Serrano poses for a portrait in his office in the Becker Communication Studies building on Sept. 4, 2019. The UI Latino Studies Program received a grant in order to build up their Imagining Latinidades seminars.

Rachel Steil, News Reporter

A year-long seminar is coming to the University of Iowa to bring attention to Latina/o/x studies, specifically the cultural concept of Latinidad, a term that connects those who have Latin American roots.

The program, called Imagining Latinidades: Articulations of National Belonging, will commence at the UI Sept. 19. The UI Latina/o Studies Program, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Obermann Center for Advanced Studies are joining to put on the seminar.

The seminar will consist of six speaking events and films, according to Darrel Wanzer-Serrano, UI Director of the Latina/o Studies Program and co-director of Imagining Latinidades.  

“These events will have invited lecturers who will be speaking about cutting-edge research related to Latina/Latino/Latinx people in the United States,” Wanzer-Serrano said. 

The program received a $225,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, which will go toward bringing 24 speakers to campus, providing film screenings, and sponsoring three Mellon Fellows, Wanzer-Serrano said. 

UI Ph.D. candidate in Political Science Rachel Torres, one of the fellows sponsored by the grant and, said the fellowship will aid her as she works toward completing a dissertation on immigration in the United States and the decentralization of immigration enforcement.

“It is incredible to just be able to focus on my research for a year,” Torres said. “The program allows scholars to focus on their own work.” 

The directors of the seminar are also hosting a podcast focused on Latina/o/x studies. New episodes of the podcast are published every other week, Wanzer-Serrano said. 

“There are a number of great Latinx podcasts out there,” Wanzer-Serrano said. “There are few that are really focused on the scholarship of Latina/Latino/Latinx studies.” 

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Ariana Ruiz, UI Assistant Professor of Latino/a Literature and Culture and co-director of the seminar, said she sees the podcast as a way of opening up the conversation to people outside of the UI.

“We were thinking about ways in which we could take a lot of the material that we are working through and working on throughout the conferences and symposia and connecting beyond the [UI],” Ruiz said. 

The UI Latina/o Studies minor was established in 2014, so the program is still fairly new. Wanzer-Serrano said this seminar is expected to spur the program’s growth. 

“Our hope is that this increases people’s awareness of what Latina/Latino Studies is and can be and increases people’s awareness of the issues that are central to this academic field,” Wanzer-Serrano said. 

Ruiz added that she is excited to see attention brought to the UI in the field of Latina/o/x studies, because development of the latter is somewhat stuck on the coasts. However, she said, there is a strong Latina/o/x presence and history in the Midwest that needs to be emphasized.

“It is about being visible, about being recognized, about taking up space. [Members of the Latina/o/x community] deserve to be here just as much as anybody else,” Ruiz said.

The seminar will not only benefit the Latina/o Studies Program, but the campus community as a whole, Wanzer-Serrano said.

“[Imagining Latinidades] helps to demonstrate the issues that are central to the lives of what is approaching 10 percent of our student population,” Wanzer-Serrano said. “Latinx students and the experiences that have brought them here are experiences that can and ought to be central to the academic mission of the university.”

Torres agreed that the Imagining Latinidades program will likely have a positive impact on the community, and she finds the seminar very timely. 

“We live in a difficult climate, politically,” Torres said. “It is healing for everyone to see scholars of Latinx-representative backgrounds being brought in by the UI.” 

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