Teaching a course with as broad a scope as “Latin America: An Institutional and Cultural Survey” means covering a lot of ground. From the pre-Columbian era to the 21st-Century, from Mexico to South America to Central America and the Caribbean and even into the US. There are pros and cons to taking this approach to an introductory course, but one of the greatest pros that I have seen come out of it, is the diversity in topics that students choose to research for their final projects.
It always fascinates me to see which topics appeal to different students. Do they gravitate toward a particular country or region? Are they interested in politics? Economics? History? Journalism? The arts? Every semester, I receive projects that cover myriad topics. This is great for me as I don’t have to grade the same project over and over, and it’s beneficial for the students because it allows them to focus on a subject that truly interests them within the scope of Latin American history and culture.
As with LTS 3012, I give my LTS 1003 students the option to write a paper, create a video, or record a podcast for their final project. One third of the students chose something other than a paper. While the number of videos was relatively low (4), they were very well thought out and designed. One in particular that stood out to me was about the guano industry in Peru during the 19th-century. Podcasts were a bit more popular with 19 total audio projects and those covered a wide variety of subjects.
When I asked students if they would be interested in sharing their work on this blog, I had seven respond, granting me their permission. Below are the podcast projects of Kaisha Gaynor, Alejandra Guzman, Yousef Ahmad, Matthew De La Cruz, Alex Lin, Rachel Ramirez, and Julian Vilaca. Unfortunately none of the video projects are included. Due to file size, many of these are in two parts, but they all range from 10-15 minutes in length.
Kaisha and Yousef both focus on Afro-Latinos. Kaisha’s project explores the correlation between Kombilesa Mi’s music and humanitarian efforts in Colombian and the social reforms that are taking place for Afro-Colombians. In Yousef’s podcast, he asks “Are Dominicans Black?” and considers the displacement of Africans and the impact the relationship with Haiti has on race and blackness in the Dominican Republic.
Many of the student projects – whether audio, video, or written – were political in nature. Alejandra, for example, discusses governmental mismanagement of the economy in Venezuela and how it led to a surge in emigration from the country in the late 20th century. Julian, in his podcast, studies the long rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico and the ways in which this particular political party shaped the country throughout the 20th century. Both Matthew and Alex speak about Cuba. Matthew’s research focuses on Cuba’s role as a US base during the first half of the 20th century and the relationship between the two nations at that time. Alex, on the other hand, investigates the response of the United States to Fidel Castro’s rise to power in the second half of the 20th century, in particular focusing on the attempts to oust Castro from power. He recognizes that while Castro was far from perfect, the US also had its faults in the changing dynamic of the relationship between the two countries.
The final project I am sharing here today is on representation. Rachel’s project covers the concept of authentic and accessible Latinx representation in media. They focus on how visual media such as television and film depict the Latinx community and ask whether this representation reflects Latinx people in the real world. They question shows such as Elena of Avalor, On My Block, Gentefied, and the newly adapted In the Heights, and make suggestions as to what is working and what is not in terms of Latinx representation.
I want to thank the students who offered to share their work. I really appreciate the hard work they put into this assignment and in all things throughout the semester. I’m really proud of them for stepping outside of the box with this project, as many of them had never done a podcast before. Kudos to you all!