What can pineapples tell us about identity?


Follow a group of NYU students as they journey through the Puerto Rican food chain, as part of the study abroad course “Global Food Cultures Puerto Rico” led by CLACS affiliated faculty Melissa Fuster and Gustavo Setrini.

Originally posted on NYU Food Studies Puerto Rico:

In today’s visits to Atenas Pineapple, the commercial-scale pineapple farm, and Hacienda La Esperanza, the slavery-based sugar plantation turned nature preserve, the question of Puerto Rican identity and its relationship to the Commonwealth’s agricultural and economic goals stood out to me – how are they intertwined? How much does each contribute on its own to a brighter future for Puerto Rico? Would a more deliberate approach to considering these facets of society simultaneously yield more successful outcomes for the Commonwealth?

Building on Duany’s thesis that Puerto Rico has a notably strong cultural identity alongside an amorphous and ambiguous national political identity, and Ortíz Cuadra’s notion that “authentic Puerto Rican-ness” cannot be expressed without an acknowledgement of the multiple global forces that have shaped Puerto Rican cultural and culinary identity, I found myself wondering what the driving vision for agriculture in Puerto Rico could or should be to best establish Puerto…

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Chile: From an Unlikely to a Necessary Reform

The Center for Latin American Studies (CLACS) recently hosted a series of events focused on the current Chilean context. On February 24th, Marco Enríquez-Ominami –presidential candidate in the 2009 and 2013 elections–, was invited to a Q&A session. On the following event, held on March 4th, Fernando Atria, a constitutional lawyer and Professor of Law at the University of Chile, and Chilean Sociologist Miguel Crispi, discussed their ideas on educational reform. This event also featured a perspective on educational reforms in the U.S. by Bloomberg Professor of Business Journalism at Baruch College, Andrea Gabor.

What was most striking about their expositions is that neither of them questioned the need for reform in Chile. The discussion rather focused on the necessary changes that country must implement in order to achieve development. Such a debate was perceived as inconceivable barely a few years ago. The idea of talking about viable and foundational transformations took place in hypothetical settings, and was far from being politically possible.

Neoliberalism was implemented in Chile by Augusto Pinochet’s military regime (1973-1990) and developed by the Concertación governments (1990-2010). It led to greater economic growth, macroeconomic stability and an overall reduction of poverty. Nevertheless, the same market-oriented policies resulted in a greater concentration of wealth, growing inequality, social stratification, a precarious social safety net, and an overall disenchantment with the political-economic system.

The Chilean model has undergone a crisis of legitimacy in recent years. The student protests of 2011 and high abstention rates in the municipal elections of 2012 were symptoms of a much greater problem. Nonetheless, they provided a unique opportunity for the political elite to engage in a serious debate that emphasized the need for change.

However, reform in Chile has been difficult to achieve. This is mainly due to the institutional framework inherited by the dictatorship, which consists of high legislative quorums and an electoral system that fixes the distribution of seats in Congress. Hence, generally speaking, the Chilean political system has numerous veto players –commonly overrepresented in their functions– that are more intent on amending or blocking reforms, than actually approving them.

The Constitution of 1980 provides a good example. 25 years have passed since the democratic transition, and Chileans are still ruled by an authoritarian constitution that was approved in a fraudulent plebiscite.

Moreover, the ongoing transformations have taken on a “bottom-up” approach, leaving behind the “top-down” style commonly used in post-authoritarian politics. Thus, it’s been grassroots organizations –such as student federations– that have promoted change and gained social backing. In other words, they have been the leaders in setting the current political agenda.

In 2013 Michelle Bachelet was re-elected as president of Chile with 62.2% of the national vote. Her electoral platform was built upon social demands and stressed the need for reform. Hence, a vote for Bachelet translated into a vote for modifying the status quo. The president began delivering on her campaign promises as soon as she returned to office. In 2014 her government was successful in passing a series of strategic policies, which included a tax and electoral reform, and the first bills of her educational law.

Nonetheless, the lesson learned so far is that reform isn’t easily accomplished – even if your coalition holds a majority of seats in Congress.

Seven political parties form part of the Nueva Mayoría (former Concertación), each of them with at least one –necessary– vote in the House of Representatives or Senate. It is a heterogeneous coalition that groups conservative Christian Democrats and radical-leaning Communists. As a result, there have been different –and at times contradicting– viewpoints when discussing structural reforms.

Furthermore, the current setting also includes a highly critical civil society and an even more (than usual) reactionary political opposition.

This was one of the underlying messages seen in the presentations made by Enríquez-Ominami, Atria and Crispi. Today, Chileans share a common diagnosis, no matter what their political sector may be. However, when defining a convergent cure, consensus is yet to be met.

Post by Lucas Perelló C., Applied Quantitative Research M.A. student at NYU

Iyarina to remember and in remembering, to reflect

I ended up in Iyarina, Ecuador this last summer thanks to an invitation by Dr. Tod Swanson, Associate Professor at Arizona State University, after my dear friend Dr. Osvaldo Sala connected us. At the time, I was auditing a Quechua class at NYU and became very interested in the indigenous struggle related to the preservation of their lands. We talked about climate change, ecology, indigenous identity and language. He sent me the link for the Field School  that he directs near Tena, capital of the province of Napo, one of the entrances to the Ecuadorian Amazon.

While working on my graduate studies in Arizona State, I was an assistant for different study abroad programs, one in Spain for a couple of trips, as well as one in Mexico. It was through these experiences that I recognized the key role of immersion in any field the student is taking on. Since I teach Spanish as a second language, I am an advocate for these kinds of programs that help improve and solidify one’s previous knowledge.

When I took my plane from New York to Ecuador, I was not really thinking much about the program. Argentina, my home country, was playing the first soccer match for the 2014 World Cup and I was also very busy finalizing my teaching semester at New York University. I got to Iyarina one evening a week after the program started, and what I saw left me speechless. There were more than 30 students, both undergraduate and graduate, from different fields: Anthropology, Linguistics, Philosophy, Law, Psychology, Literature, Geology; 3 professors: Dr. Tod Swanson, Dr. John Frechione and Dr. Samuel St. Clair; and a whole family making the program run as smooth as you can imagine.

I was assigned to one room with a graduate student in linguistic anthropology from the University of Michigan. In the room next door was Dr. John Frechione, Associate Director of CLAS at the University of Pittsburgh. It was a nerd heaven: after a delicious traditional breakfast, we had anthropology classes with Dr. Frechione every morning and. Then, depending on the rain, we would head to the jungle with two Napo Kichwa women to hear them teach us about ecology from their traditional knowledge with Dr. Swanson’s ethnobotany class. After that, we would have lunch, and head to the last class of the day on the Napo Kichwa language. Dr. Samuel St. Clair from BYU was also teaching biology at the same time as Dr. Frechione’s class. I would have loved to take this course, but it was impossible to take all the classes. I would also see his class walk to the jungle and conduct the classes right there, in situ, explaining the beautiful world of nature to his students.

When the first session was over, we had a week off, of which I took full advantage and traveled to Otavalo, in the Andes, and then to Mompiche, a beautiful small beach near the Colombian border. When I came back to Iyarina, some students had left but I met new students that were joining us for the second term of the summer together with other professors: Alana DeLoge, who taught health in the Napo Region, and Dr. Tim Savisky who taught sustainability. Dr. Swanson was also teaching the continuation of his ethnobotany course.

During the entire 8-week program, we made traditional style ceramics, learned how to prepare chicha (a drink made of fermented yuca), we learned how to cultivate and harvest lumu (yuca), we tasted amazing traditional food, and we lived as a “minga” (a collective of people working together) with the family that ran the accommodations for all of us. Some of the highlights of this program were studying together, talking about readings, walking through the jungle with members of the community learning about medicinal plants and, by the end of the 8 weeks program, being able to speak some Kichwa! I am planning on traveling there again this upcoming summer since it is, pretty much, heaven on earth for intellectual nerds. Chita rikangauranchi!

By Marcela Naciff, Visiting Lecturer at NYU

Chile’s Educational Reform

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President Bachelet’s government has taken the first steps to implement a much-needed reform in Chile. Nevertheless, its outcome is still unclear. This year will be crucial to determine the future of the policy, as the government enters the second stage of its Educational Reform. On Wednesday, March 4th those interested in the subject are invited to join the presentation “Confronting Inequality: A Critical Dialogue on Educational Reform in Chile” at NYU, sponsored by the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Embassy of Chile.

On September 11th, 1973 Chile suffered the breakdown of its democratic system. President Salvador Allende and the government of the Popular Unity (Unidad Popular) were overthrown in a coup d’état that brought the rise of the military to power. The Military Junta was presided by General Augusto Pinochet and ruled the country in a highly repressive manner between 1973 and 1990.

The dictatorship pursued a radical break with the past by implementing neoliberal policies, which led to the overall transformation of Chilean society. Education is usually seen as a prime example of the process. The military oversaw an educational reform between 1981 and 1990 that replaced a state-centered educational model with a market-oriented system. This new arrangement would lead in time to the weakening of public education and the reproduction of the country’s existing socioeconomic inequalities.

Pinochet made sure that his policies wouldn’t be easily changed if he were to step down from Executive office. He did so by establishing high legislative quorums and introducing a unique electoral system (sistema electoral binominal) that gave a more or less even number of seats to the two most important political coalitions: the center-left Concertación de Partidos por la Democracia and the center-right Alianza por Chile. He embedded these rules deep inside the new Constitution of 1980, which was approved in a controversial plebiscite.

This was the institutional framework that Pinochet inherited to the Concertación governments (1990-2010). The setting clearly favored the political right by over representing their votes in the National Congress, turning them into key veto players that blocked –or converted to their liking– any possibility of reform. Thus, the Concertación was forced to play by the dictatorship’s rules, having to seek gradual reforms with an opposition that favored the status quo.

However, there was a growing discomfort with education in Chile. A series of protests began taking place in 2006 with thousands of secondary school students demanding the modification of Pinochet’s Organic Constitutional Law of Education (Ley Orgánica Constitucional de Enseñanza, LOCE). The protests proved to be effective. Socialist president Michelle Bachelet (2006-2010) ordered the formation of an executive committee –that included the most important actors concerned with education in the country–, whose objective was to draft a new educational law. The result was the General Law of Education (Ley General de Educación, LGE).

Many considered the Educational Reform of 2009 as being insufficient. Education was still highly stratified, while public schools continued displaying poor results in national and international tests. Meanwhile, higher education remained untouched, since the LGE had mainly focused on reforming the primary and secondary school levels.

In 2011 a new wave of student protests –this time at the university level– took over the country. They were the most massive protests to take place since the country’s transition from authoritarian rule. Students were demanding access to free, universal and high-quality education. They were also protesting for an end of profit-making in the educational system as a whole.

The government was reluctant to satisfy their demands. The center-right president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014) granted some policies, but altogether missed the opportunity to find a solution for a problem that had dragged on for too long. At the same time, the student protests held a negative effect on Piñera’s government; his approval ratings fell to a historical low, while his coalition was shortly voted out of office.

The need of educational reform was one of the main issues present in the general election of 2013/2014. Michelle Bachelet made a series of campaign promises that fell in line with what students had been protesting for, such as free and universal coverage of higher education. Ms. Bachelet was voted back into office with strong electoral support and her coalition currently holds a majority of seats in both Houses of Congress, an important feature considering the high quorums needed for amending constitutional laws in Chile.

In 2014 Bachelet was successful in approving a Tax Reform. In 2015, the Senate approved the government’s electoral reform bill and after months of debate, approved the first part of the long awaited Educational Reform. This initiative put an end to profit in state-subsidized schools and to selective acceptance policies.

However, change has come at a high cost. The president has suffered from a fall in her approval ratings, while there has been an increase in political polarization (some opposition officials have even threatened to dismantle her reform as soon as possible). Many voices –from within and outside her coalition– have questioned if there is enough money to fund the Educational Reform or whether the setting is appropriate considering the current economic downturn stirring the country. It is expected that the Tax Reform will provide the funds for the second phase of the Educational Reform, which should focus on salary conditions, bringing public schools under national jurisdictions –as opposed to the current financing through municipalities–, and the much awaited free education for university students.

Posted by Lucas Perelló C., Applied Quantitative Research M.A. student at NYU

When ‘the New’ Conquered Latin America: Newness and Value in the Era of Independence

foto VíctorOn Monday, March 2nd, our Spring 2015 Colloquium Lecture Series continues in exploring the topic of Latin American independence through an interdisciplinary lens that includes political history, political theory, and cultural studies. For this second lecture titled “When ‘the New’ Conquered Latin America: Newness and Value in the Era of Independence,” we will be hosting Victor Goldgel-Carballo of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

In what promises to be a fascinating talk, Professor Goldgel-Carballo will explore the value of newness as an increasingly contested criterion throughout Latin America in the early 19th century. Focusing on problems of temporality in Havana, Buenos Aires, and Santiago de Chile, Goldgel-Carballo talk will analyze, among other things, the power to mark the emergence of a new time attributed to media and the development of new forms of discursive authority, such as the ability to be “up-to-date.” This lecture and the reception to follow will be held at the Deutsches Haus starting at 6pm.

Victor Goldgel-Carballo is Assistant Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His research and teaching focuses on 19th-century Latin American literature, media history, visual culture, and racial categories. His book Cuando lo nuevo conquistó América. Prensa, moda y literatura en el siglo XIX (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2013), was awarded the Premio Iberoamericano by the Latin American Studies Association. Cuando lo nuevo conquistó América reconstructs the emergence of the new as a modern criterion of value in Latin America. He has also published on the figure of the impostor in the Cuban novel, the Latin American origins of snobbery, and the aesthetic articulations of the art of “making do” in contemporary Argentina. A recipient of fellowships and grants from the Social Science Research Council, the Mellon Foundation, the John W. Kluge Center, the University of Warwick, and the UW-Madison Institute for Research in the Humanities, he is currently at work on a book project entitled Passing as Open Secret: Race and Fictions of Identity in Nineteenth-Century Cuba.

The March 2nd talk will be followed by a lecture titled “Race and the Transatlantic Print Culture of the Haitian Revolution, 1789-1865,” April 13th at the KJCC Auditorium by Marlene Daut, Assistant Professor of English and Cultural Studies Claremont Graduate University. Two weeks later, on April 27th, novelist and professor at Goucher University, Madison Smartt Bell will give a lecture titled “Desalines Disembodied.” On May 11th, our closing lecture of the series will be “Bolívar as Slaveholder, the Image of 1815, and the Myth of Abolition,” by Michael Zeuske of Universität zu Köln, Iberische und Lateinamerikanische Abt./ Historisches Institut.

To register for the March 2nd lecture please click here. For more information about the Colloquium series, and other upcoming events please click here or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

CineCLACS Sponsored Film Events


Campo de jogo

Today, we kick off a week of four film events with Campo de jogo (Sunday Ball). The film covers an annual favela soccer championship held just steps away from Rio de Janeiro’s famous Maracanã Stadium. The film will be shown today, Wednesday February 25th at 12 pm, in Room 223 of 13-19 University Place. Following the screening will be a conversation with the film’s director, Eryk Rocha.

More information and map here.


CineCLACS is proud to present the  first in our Indocumentales/Undocumentaries Film Series, Cesar’s Last Fast. Featuring never before seen footage, Cesar’s Last Fast brings to light the sacrifice and humanity of Cesar Chavez’s 1988 “Fast for Life” made to honor the plight of migrant farm workers.

CineCLACS and Cinema Tropical will screen Cesar’s Last Fast today, Wednesday February 25th at 6:30 pm in the King Juan Carlos Center Auditorium. Click here for directions and to RSVP.

Find out more about the film here.


Encrucijadas/Encruzilhadas Corpos Corpus Corpses Symposium

On Friday, February 27th and Saturday the 28th, NYU Tisch begins their Encrucijadas/Encruzhilhadas Dialgoues for Latin American Cinemas 2015 -Corpos/Corpus/Corpses Symposium. The two-day symposium gathers scholars, curators, filmmakers and graduate students to discuss the connections between materiality, canonicty and corporeality in Latin American film. The symposium will feature screenings, curatorships, academic panels, and roundtables with programmers and filmmakers over the two days.

View the Symposium Schedule here.

Through a Lens Darkly_Feb 28 2015 (1)-page-001

Saturday evening there will be a screening of Through a Lens Darkly followed by a Q+A with Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris led by CLACS Faculty Aisha Khan. The documentary explores the role that photography has played in shaping the identity, aspirations and social emergence of African Americans from slavery to the present.

This event will be held at 4 pm at 80 Lafayette in the Laft Lounge.

Please join CLACS at what are sure to be eye opening film events this week.

To stay up to date on all CLACS events click here and join our mailing list!

Indocumentales Spring 2015



The popular Indocumentales/Undocumentaries film series returns for the Spring semester with three documentary films, each followed by a panel discussion with special guests.

Cesar’s Last Fast

Wednesday, February 25, 2015, 6:30 p.m. Location: KJCC Auditorium, 53 Washington Square South, New York, NY, 10012. RSVP

MV5BMTU3NjA1ODMwN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTM4OTI2MTE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_(Richard Ray Perez and Lorena Parlee, US, 2014, 100 min.)

Cesar’s Last Fast will kick off the series. The film traces labor and civil right leader, Cesar Chavez’s 1988 “Fast For Life,” meant to highlight the dangerous working conditions faced by agricultural workers. Screening followed by a discussion with organizers of the Rural & Migrant Ministry.


Useful Resources

Rural & Migrant Ministry: Since 1981 Rural & Migrant Ministry, a statewide, non-profit organization, has served the rural and migrant communities throughout New York.

America on the Move: Latino Stories: Site created by the National Museum of American History which has links to the Smithsonian’s collection and features photos and information relating to Mexican Identity, Caribbean Rafters and the Bracero program.

Teaching Mexican American Studies: resources from the North American Center for Transborder Studies.

Mexican Immigration to the United States 1900-1999: National Center for History in the Schools, lesson by Kelly Lytle Hernandez (7-12).

Pew Hispanic Center: non-partisan research about Latinos in the U.S.

Maria in Nobody’s Land

Monday, March 23, 2015, 6:30 p.m. Location: KJCC Auditorium, 53 Washington Square South, New York, NY, 10012. RSVP

Maria in Nobody's Land(Maria en tierra de nadie, Marcela Zamora Chamorro, 2010, 86 min., In Spanish with English subtitles.)

The film is an intimate look at the dangerous journey  of three Salvadoran women as they face the slave trade, kidnapping and death as they migrate to the US. The discussion after the screening will be led by Professor Pamela Calla as part of the Feminist Constellations Working Group.


Useful Resources

Migration Policy: History of migration from El Salvador after the civil war in the 1980s through present day.

Immigration Impact: Human rights abuses along the U.S. Mexico Border.

Learning about Immigration Through Oral History: Federal Resources for Educational Excellence (Middle School).

Immigration: The Changing Face of America: Resources from the Library of Congress.

Immigration teaching resources: Facing History and Ourselves teaching resources.

Of Kites and Borders

 Friday, April 10, 2015, 6:30 p.m. Location: KJCC Auditorium, 53 Washington Square South, New York, NY, 10012. RSVP

Of Kites and Borders(De cometas y fronteras, Yolanda Pividal, Mexico/US, 2013, 60 min.)

The film shows the struggles of four children living on the US/Mexico border. Director Yolanda Pividal will be in attendance for a post-screening discussion.


Useful Resources

Center for Migration Studies of New York (CMS): a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to support and undertake research, and to provide a forum for debate on international migration.

Borderlands Encyclopedia: multimedia instructional resource on contemporary issues of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Center for Comparative Immigration Studies: an academic center whose research agenda focuses on Mexican migration to California and comparative, cross-national and cross-regional research on international migratory movements, immigration policy, and citizenship policy.

Border Studies Curriculum: New Mexico State University’s Center for Latin American and Border Studies: 20 Lesson plans on the Border.

Indocumentales/Undocumentaries is a US/Mexico Interdependent Film Series founded by three organizations located in New York City:  what moves you?Cinema Tropical, and the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at New York University.