“We’re acknowledging that the Americas, from North to South, are territories invaded and plundered. Acknowledging that many of our elders were brought here in shackles and forced to work for this country. We are daughters and sons of colonialism and colonialism has not ended.”
These were the words included in Professor César Barros’ opening land acknowledgement at the Latin American, Caribbean and Latinx Studies, or LACLAS, reception. Professor Barros was cited by multiple students as their inspiration for following an education in the LACLAS program.Throughout the row of students that spoke, a thread of sentiment ran through: passion. They spoke of their own love for the program and the infectious devotion that their professors have as well.
In the LACLAS program, the material goes beyond the classroom. It is representative of a global society and rich history. Students aren’t only learning abstract concepts. For many they’re learning about their heritage and revolutionary movements that helped shape the landscape of Latin America today and reframe how we think of the Americas in their entirety.
The atmosphere of the reception exuded warmth. The students were familiar with one another. The Sojourner Truth Library lobby had been converted into a space teeming with the smells of local Dominican restaurant, New Nelly’s. Platters offered meat, rice, plantains and pao de queijo, a Brazilian cheese bread. The space overflowed with faculty and students alike and the line stretched across the entryway.
The event was only elevated by the subsequent performance by Impacto Sensual, a SUNY New Paltz based dance group. They stated: “We strive every day to bring Afro-Latino culture to our community through our passion for dancing.” The group, dressed in black, had a series of routines that elicited cheers and excitement from the audience that had moved to crowd around.
The LACLAS community is diverse and closely related to the Black Studies Department, an inevitability given their inseparable history in the region. Students majoring or minoring in the program will find that many Black Studies classes are included in the program and provide the opportunity to learn more in depth about race relations in the region and the history through a different lens. Classes in the LACLAS program are widely dispersed throughout departments such as Anthropology and Political Science.
LACLAS is a multidisciplinary program, it’s applicable across all fields and augments all career paths. Lukas Cortés, a second year LACLAS major was introduced to the field in a class for their English major. They said that the inciting moment for them was a guest lecture done by Professor Barros. “He gave this lecture about feminism and the resistance movement in Latin America. He showed us videos of resistance groups of feminism in Latin American countries. It was so moving to me. This is the most at home I’ve ever felt. So I decided that that was the route I needed to take,” Cortés said.
The LACLAS program encapsulates classes that interweave history, culture and politics. For many students, the contents of even the introductory classes force them to readjust their world view. Professor Barros is one of the LACLAS professors that flips the world map for his students, orienting it in such a way that North America is below South America.
“We all have a mental map that is also political. We think of the North being on top and the South being on the bottom. It’s also kind of a metaphor for how we see the world. Who’s on top? Who’s on the bottom?” he said. He elaborates that this is how we think of the world- the South being the engine and the ideas come from the North. “There is thinking, there are amazing political movements. There’s feminism in Latin America. It’s one of the most wonderful things. We don’t need to follow the North,” Barros said.
One of the student speakers, Erica Vidal-Garcia, spoke about the course Introduction to LACLAS. “It makes you really question the things you do or don’t know about what happens in society and who has access to that information,” she said. Vidal-Garcia was one of five students who spoke on behalf of their experience in the program with each student emphasizing their admiration for the peers in the program and the commitment that their professors teach with.
Opportunities in the LACLAS program are vast and it boasts unique learning experiences. Professor Luz Porras teaches a class in which students have the opportunity to teach Guatemalan students English and next semester Professor Jessica Pabón is teaching a course called Feminist Perspectives on Decolonization. Outside of academics, there are numerous associated clubs and organizations. The groups include, but are not limited to, the Latinx club, the Latin American Student Union and the Caribbean Latin Coalition.
The coalition was described as being a safe space for Latin American and Caribbean students and while members don’t have to have the skills, creative expression is encouraged along with political involvement.
“As of recently we’ve been really honing in on the social justice aspect of it and the advocacy and thinking about a lot of issues within our community that hold dear value to us,” said Adriana Reyes, vice president of the coalition, formerly known as El Museo. “We’re pushing for a lot more work to extend solidarity to the people of Palestine and I think that’s just really integral and really important on a campus that’s predominantly white, for us to extend that solidarity and have it be pervasive through all communities regardless of what your origin is.”
SUNY New Paltz is 21.4% Hispanic or Latino. Pride in the LACLAS program runs deep, yet it remains a program, not a department. This equates to less opportunities. The movement to change the program into a department is one that students must spearhead, as the program is driven by student interests. The more majors the program gets, the more visibility and funding. Consequently, this reception was more than just an opportunity for students and professors to reiterate their love for the program- it was a chance to truly emphasize that LACLAS is for everyone, both diasporic Latinos and inquisitive students as a whole.