Symposium explores the culture, history, art, and struggles of the Latinos in the Midwest

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By Rana Moustafa, The Daily Iowan

Vicki Ruiz knows Latino culture.

“Latinos are the biggest minority group in the United States, but their contributions and legacies in the United States often remain invisible to the general public and contribute to the unfortunate notion that Latinos are peoples who arrived the day before yesterday,” said the professor of history and Chicano/Latino Studies.

Around 16 percent of the United States is made up of Latinos, and that demographic is only going to grow, according to the 2010 Census. Being the fastest growing minority group in the United States, it is estimated that this 16 percent will jump up to 30 percent by 2050.

Starting today, Iowa City community members and UI students will have the opportunity to participate in various events throughout the next two days to learn and explore the culture, history, art, and struggles of the Latinos in the Midwest Latino Symposium.

Tonight, Ruiz, who teaches at the University of California-Irvine, will give a keynote talk titled “ Poetics and Politics: The Border Journeys of Luisa Moreno.” The lecture will focus on labor and civil-rights activist Luisa Moreno, an immigrant from Guatemala, who became a major figure in U.S. labor circles.

Ruiz said she will present story of the relationship that developed between historian, Moreno and daughter Mytyl Glomboske in context of Moreno’s notable history as a Latino immigrant in the United States.

“I hope those who attend the lecture will gain a greater appreciation for the richness and excitement of Latino history through the life of one remarkable woman,” she said.

Ruiz said that though Moreno may be unknown outside of Latino studies, she “contributes to a national conversation about social justice during the 1930s and 1940s. She built coalitions within and beyond specific ethnic communities and her life, demonstrating why Latino history matters to U.S. history.”

Claire Fox, a University of Iowa associate professor of English and Spanish and Portuguese, said she and her colleagues Omar Valerio-Jamenez and Santiago Vaquera-Vasquez wanted to educate Iowa City about the long history of Latino presence in the Midwest region and the UI.

Latino enrollment at the UI has grown; fall enrollment jumped by 21.4 percent from 2010 to 2011.

“The UI is the only Big Ten institution that doesn’t have a Latinos Studies program on campus,” she said. “So we are interested in building a momentum of some sort of Latinos Studies in Iowa City through this symposium.”

In addition to Ruiz’s lecture, the symposium will feature a variety of different media to educate the public about the growing Latino population, including musical performances, poetry and fiction readings, and scholarly panels, workshops, and roundtable discussions.

Being its first year, the symposium is partnering with the UI School of Social Work’s 15th-Annual Latino Conference this year. Although the two programs share some speakers for their events, Fox said the symposium will be different, because it will focus on academic scholarly approaches to understanding Latino history and population in our region.

“We hope the community gains appreciation and understanding for the way the Latino population is changing the Midwest,” she said. “We also hope they learn about some of the dominant dynamics that accompany the Latino populations in our region like immigration, labor, civil rights, arts, and culture.”

Additionally, the symposium is sponsored by many UI departments and organizations including the International Writing Program.

IWP Director Christopher Merrill said the program has “a rich history of hosting Spanish-speaking writers, from the Old and New Worlds, whose interactions with the Latino community in Iowa are always fruitful.”

“We are very pleased to cosponsor this important symposium, which will explore an issue central to the IWP’s mission: that the world truly does come to Iowa,” he said. “What that means should be of immense interest to anyone interested in the world.”

Today:

• Keynote talk by Vicki Ruiz, “Of Poetics and Politics: The Border Journeys of Luisa Moreno,” 7 p.m., Main Library Shambaugh Auditorium

Friday:

• Reading by 2008 Pulitzer-Prize winning author Junot Diaz, 7:30 p.m., Englert, 221 E. Washington

Saturday:

• Performance by Mexico-based singer Lila Downs, 7:30 p.m., Englert

 

Note: The Latino Midwest symposium received significant funding from International Programs through a Major Projects Award and from the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.

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