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Updated 10:00 AM October 12, 2009

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Latina/o Studies Program to commemorate 25 years at U-M

25th anniversary video of Maria Cotera >
25th anniversary video of Anthony Mora >
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Latina/o Studies Program >

To commemorate 25 years of the Latina/o Studies Program, it has organized a three-day symposium focusing on many topics including future challenges for Latina/o scholars in the new demographic reality of the nation.

With the participation of leading national Latina/o researchers, graduate and undergraduate students, and alumni — some of them authors of classics in the field — the symposium will begin Oct. 29.

The program, propelled by faculty members' dreams and activism, now is a multifaceted academic project. It has nine budgeted faculty members teaching and researching media, arts, culture, literature, history and religious studies with a growing number of concentrations and minors, and, soon, a graduate certificate program.

Even if it may seem like a purely scholarly pursuit, the program has important implications for the ways in which both Latina/os and non-Latinos understand their shared history and their current situation, says María Cotera, the program's director. "At the center of this issue is the question of 'belonging.' Too often, Latina/os are viewed as unassimilable others, immigrants and aliens."

For Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, emphasis on the Latino Studies program "shows how this university is adapting to the changing demographic realities of the country and specially in the Midwest." The rigorous multidisciplinary nature of U-M Latina/o studies "offers a wide vision to students, to understand, support and work with Latino Communities on campus, the state and beyond," he says.

Cotera says, "Teaching students about the long history of Latinos in the U.S., as well as their contributions to our shared culture and their role in shaping American identity, is absolutely key to instilling within our students a respect for differences and an appreciation for the complexity of American history."

The program has a tight community connection with Washtenaw County and Detroit, including graduate and undergraduate students working in fields from public health to community organizing. Program officials now are working with public historians and community arts advocates in Southwest Detroit to develop the proposal for a Museum and cultural center dedicated to Latina/o history.

Professor Anthony Mora, the symposium coordinator, says he wishes that the gathering will guide Latino studies to be a "key sight of exploration, debate and policy making for years to come." He also hopes "the significant amount of work ahead of us in the next decade can be used like a tool for creating a more just society through public policy changes."

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