By Press-Citizen Editorial Board
In recent years, the University of Iowa has responded to that demographic shift by expanding its outreach to prospective students of Latino heritage, hiring faculty members with expertise in Latino issues and supporting research on Latinos.
And the results of all those efforts will be on display this week in Iowa City as UI’s Obermann Center, International Programs and many other sponsors join forces to host a humanities symposium on “The Latino Midwest.”
The symposium is designed to examine the history, education, literature, art and politics of Latinos in the Midwest in light of this important demographic shift in Iowa and other Midwestern states. It also will focus on how international migration continues to transform and shape Latino Midwestern communities.
The keynote speakers include:
• José E. Limón, director of the Institute of Latino Studies and professor of American Literature at the University of Notre Dame.
• Vicki Ruiz, dean of humanities and professor of history at the University of California Irvine.
• Pulitzer Prize- and MacArthur genius grant-winning Dominican novelist Junot Díaz.
• And, in conjunction with Hancher, singer-songwriter Lila Downs will close the symposium with a concert.
The symposium also will coincide with the 14th annual Iowa Latino Conference, which includes the Latino Youth Leadership Development Summit and the Latino Institute for Professional Development. For more information, go to www.iowalatinoconference.org.
We’re glad to see UI and the Iowa City community focusing on its growing Latino population. But we also have to agree with Omar Valerio-Jiménez, UI associate professor of history, that it’s time UI follows the lead of its Big Ten peers and establishes a Latino Studies program.
As Valerio-Jiménez explained in a recent guest column,“We hope the symposium will lay the groundwork for a Latino Studies program, where our conversations about Latinos’ contributions to the heartland can continue.”
Such a program would build on UI’s many achievements — especially the relatively recent creation of an MFA for creative writing in Spanish.
Although this is a time in which the university is looking to close or consolidate centers and programs, this week’s activities demonstrate how a UI Latino Studies program would be an investment in the future of the university, the state and the nation.