College Launches New Institute for Latino and Latin American Studies

More than a decade ago, Professors Alvaro Ramirez, Myrna Santiago, and Maria Luisa Ruiz (left to right) dreamed of establishing an institute dedicated to Latino studies at Saint Mary’s. This fall, that dream will blossom into being, with the official opening of the Institute for Latino and Latin American Studies.

“We started imagining an intellectual space that showcases our work and interests in Latino and Latin American history, culture, literature, politics—years ago,” Ruiz said. “The center is as relevant now as it was then.” Added Ramirez, “There's a growing need for these type of institutes because of the close ties that have developed between the U.S. and Latin America, especially now in our globalized world.”

The opening of the institute follows closely on the heels of the College receiving a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education and an official designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution last year. While the grant does not directly fund the institute, it points to more recognition and support for Latino topics on campus, where more than a quarter of students identify as Latino. The institute will continue to enhance the scholarly dialogue the three professors have already fostered about Latino and Latin American topics at Saint Mary’s, in subjects such as history, sociology, anthropology, language, literature, and politics.

“Latino students and faculty have been integral to the health and vibrancy of the SMC culture. Sometimes, however, the presence and voices have not necessarily been front and center,” Ruiz said. “There are many faculty on campus who have worked tirelessly over the years to support and sponsor activities, research and events for and about the Latino population, but it’s often been ad hoc and thus, not really led to deep institutional change. Thus, the institute contributes to raising the level of cultural competency across the community and positions Saint Mary’s among a select group of campuses committed to scholarly attention to these populations.”

Plans for the institute include hosting community conversations, debates, film festivals, a speaker series, and a web page and blog to share faculty research. Also, the institute will collaborate with the library to archive historic documents of SMC’s Latino organizations and build the College’s Latino archives.