Knowing Our Neighbors: UNC-Duke Consortium Brings Latino Community Together

Appreciation for Latin American culture peaks at UNC and Duke University, where the ancient Yucatec language Maya is taught.

The UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies facilitates collaboration between the two campuses and between disciplines.

“I think it’s important for citizens and residents of North Carolina to learn more about Latin America and its history, culture, politics, and economy because, increasingly, America Latin comes here,” Louis Pérez Jr., co-director of the consortium, said.

Peréz said learning about Latin American culture, experiences and heritage grows in importance every day.

In 2019, nearly 50% of foreign-born citizens in North Carolina were born in Latin America, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Pérez said that since so much of the NC population is from Latin America, education must be collaborative in order to expand knowledge about Latin America.

“It would be nice for the citizenry as a whole to come to some appreciation for the history and experiences of people moving into the state,” Pérez said.

The consortium is meant to accomplish precisely that. It offers assistance and resources to help fulfill the collaborative mission of Latin American and Caribbean Studies across the country.

Miguel Rojas-Sotelo, the consortium’s special events coordinator, said the program offers funds for faculty and student research, budgets to support travel, and classes in less commonly taught languages, such as Haitian Creole and Yucatec Maya.

According to the consortium’s Yucatec Maya Institute, the language is only spoken by about one million people.

“For more than 20 years we have been teaching students across the United States,” Rojas-Sotelosaid said. “It’s not just for students at both universities, but we’re opening this series across the United States to study Maya as part of our curriculum.”

Natalie Hartman, associate director of the Duke Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, said the consortium also provides training and education for teachers at K-12 schools, community colleges, and historically black colleges and universities.

Hartman said giving teachers knowledge about Latin America spreads the information further because it is then filtered down to the students.

The consortium also offers numerous events and programs to encourage communities to expand their knowledge of Latin America and the Caribbean.

For example, the Latino Migration Project helps foster understanding among community members, Pérez said.

“It’s about getting into the community and promoting better understanding in North Carolina cities between newly arrived immigrants, local citizen groups and local government,” he said.

Hartman said the consortium also hosts annual events and projects that help foster education and community.

Each year, the consortium partners with UNC-Charlotte to host the NC Conference on Latin American Studies, which brings together discussions across multiple disciplinary areas. The next meeting of scholars, students and specialists will take place in February 2023.

Additionally, the organization hosts the NC Latin American Film Festival, which celebrates the film and audio art of the Latinx community.

Hartman said a positive aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been that some filmmakers have been able to participate in discussions about filmmaking and storytelling from their home countries remotely. She said this year’s event — scheduled for Oct. 11 to Oct. 19 — will be mostly in-person.

Rojas-Sotelo said one of the biggest challenges the consortium faces in its work is preconceptions about Latin America.

“There are very strong ideas about what the region is and represents,” he said. “We try to break them down and bring the opportunities that the region offers.”

Rojas-Sotelo said the consortium is one of the long-standing bridges between the two universities, which are usually described as rivals.

He said that in reality, the campuses work well together in cross-disciplinary collaboration for Latin American and Caribbean studies.

“We are one of the long-standing collaborations between universities, highly respected and recognized on both sides of the aisle,” he said. “Blue is blue.”


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