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Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program Goals and Objectives

The Latin American and Latino/a Studies Program provides a multidisciplinary approach to the study of Latin America and the Latino/a populations of the Americas.  The program allows students to explore the multiplicity of cultures and societies of Latin and Latino/a America in ways that acknowledge the permeability, or absence, of borders.  Participating faculty come from departments across the campus, including Anthropology, Economics, Geography, Hispanic Studies, History, Music, Political Science, and Sociology.Our courses emphasize critical thinking, comparative analysis, and historical, political, and social inquiry.  While we give primacy to Latin America and Latino/a America, we encourage students to use our courses to interpret global phenomena, a range of cultures and societies in countries and regions across the world.  

In the United States, area studies programs were an outgrowth of perceived Cold War imperatives. Since the early 1990s, however, Latin American and Latino/a area studies have increasingly conceived of the region in its globality, as well as the profound and prolific border crossings between north and south that interpenetrate polities, economies, and cultures.

Latinos are the fastest growing population of the United States.  According to recent US official census data, Latinos number roughly 25 million and will become the largest ethnic group in the US by 2009.  The diversity of the Latino population has also increased enormously.  In New York City, whose Latinos were roughly 80% Puerto Rican until a generation ago, Dominicans, Mexicans, and Central Americans from a range of countries have dramatically transformed that figure.  Latin Americans have contributed to a rich and growing racial as well as ethnic and national diversity in the US.  In addition, there is a clear fluidity across borders, in which, for example, remittances from Latinos and Latin Americans in the US has become a chief revenue source of many Latin American countries’ economies.  The historical and contemporary connections across the regions from south to north are deep and thickly enmeshed.  Our courses are geared toward students’ appreciation of these varied and complex phenomena.A reading knowledge of Spanish or Portuguese is required; deeper knowledge of the relevant language is recommended.  An introductory course in Latin American and Latino/a Studies and a senior seminar are required, and students are expected to elect work above the introductory level in at least three departments.  In the senior year, in order to be considered for honors in LALS, students must write a senior thesis of multidisciplinary nature under the guidance of two professors from different disciplines.  Students are encouraged to pursue a structured academic experience relevant to the student’s program beyond Vassar during the junior year, either in Latin America or in an appropriate domestic institution.