Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Why the Latin American Region Matters to the U.S.

July 11, 2012

Latin America is a source of cultural, economic, and environmental opportunity for the U.S. Its proximity to the U.S. makes it a natural tourist destination, trade partner, and source of investment. Foreign direct investment to the region averaged $23.5 billion annually in 2010 and 2011. The U.S. accounts for approximately 18% of the FDI flows to the Latin American region. Total trade (imports and exports) between the U.S. and Latin America amounted to over $600 billion in 2010 and has grown consistently since at least 2005. Aside from being a destination for U.S. products Latin America is a source of prized raw materials for the U.S., especially oil. The total number of U.S. citizens that traveled to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2010 and 2011 reached 30 million, which means that the region accounted for half of all citizens travelling abroad.

More importantly, the region shares the same foundational values that are important to the U.S.: political liberty, economic freedom and democratic government. These can be traced back to the independence period when a majority of the emerging nations modeled their constitutions on that of the U.S., and more recently to the return to democracy and free markets of all Latin American countries (save one) during the 1980s. The cultural linkages between the region and the U.S. have deepened in the aftermath of the Cold War as the stream of Hispanic migrants seeking opportunities in the U.S. has skyrocketed. As a consequence, Spanish has become a dominant secondary language in the U.S. and Hispanics are now the largest ethnic minority in the country. Also as a consequence, money remittances from migrants to their relatives in the region have grown to exceed the flows of foreign aid and in many countries have become the primary source of foreign currency. These migrants, which tend to be younger on average than the U.S. population, have become an important source of labor that has helped maintain the dynamism of the U.S. economy. Their economic consolidation has also turned them into a substantial consumption force, and a source of entrepreneurship and employment through ownership of medium and small businesses. Their high birth rates and their concentration in urban centers are also transforming these communities into a significant political force.

But the relevance of the region is not only highlighted by positive factors. Latin America and the U.S. face common threats. In the globalized world in which we are living challenges to national security are eminently transnational and consequently cannot be addressed by single countries acting in isolation. Here are a few examples:

  • Drug trafficking: the Andean region in Latin America is a main source of drug production and multiple countries throughout the hemisphere have become important trafficking and distribution centers. But the main source of demand driving this industry is in the U.S.. The drug trade, estimated to be over $300 billion globally, is a source of domestic corruption and is linked to violence and other forms of criminality at its source and final destination.
  • Gangs: these highly complex and violent groups encompass multiple facets of criminal activity and through their highly effective networking span regionally and even globally. Their origins are traced to the deportation of illegal migrants who were schooled in the rituals and practices of violent U.S. street gangs through their mutual incarceration, particularly in the city of Los Angeles.
  • International crime: clearly related to the drug trade and gang activity but not limited to them, international crime involves human trafficking, arms smuggling, money laundering and other insidious threats that put human lives at risk and are terribly costly to control. It is estimated that the fight against crime can absorb up to 15% of a poor country‘€™s GDP, resources that could otherwise be devoted to more productive purposes.
  • Migration: people migrate primarily in search of opportunities they cannot find in their home countries. For this reason, the underlying poverty and inequality that still characterize most of Latin America are a permanent incentive for migration. But so is the lure of employment opportunities in the prosperous communities to the north of the Rio Grande. If there is a growing population of undocumented migrants in the U.S. it is at least partly due to the chasm between the actual demand for Latin American laborers and the ability of the existent regulatory framework to accommodate them. Among other implications, this situation raises delicate issues in the areas of human rights and the criminal justice systems.
  • Environment: the effects of environmental degradation do not respect international boundaries. Largely because of this, polluters can impose part of their costs on others. Those in a position to provide solutions have little incentive to do so as long as they bear all of the costs without capturing the benefits. Latin America is in a position to improve carbon sequestration and storage through reforestation and the preservation of tropical forests, but it needs the support of the U.S. and other developed countries to do so.

Historically, Latin America has been within the U.S. sphere of interest, not always in the most felicitous of ways, but always at a high level of relevance. Most recently, however, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 and the global financial crisis, the U.S. has shifted its attention to other world regions. In the meantime, Latin America has undergone a transformation of its own. No longer seen merely as a testing ground for American policies, it has gained recognition for innovation in the areas of social policy, political participation, biofuels, and others. While poverty and inequality remain high they have fallen significantly. Together with sound economic management and growing investment this is swelling the ranks of the middle class across the region. To enhance its regional and even global standing, the U.S. must rediscover the relevance of Latin America and embrace it as a full partner.

Why the Latin American Region Matters to the U.S.

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Zale-Kimmerling Writer in Residence Valeria Luiselli

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Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. An acclaimed writer of both fiction and nonfiction, she is the author of the essay collection Sidewalks; the novels Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth; Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions and Lost Children Archive. She is the recipient of a 2019 MacArthur Fellowship and the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, The Carnegie Medal, an American Book Award, and has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Kirkus Prize, and the Booker Prize. She has been a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and the recipient of a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Granta, and McSweeney’s, among other publications, and has been translated into more than twenty languages. She is a Writer in Residence at Bard College and lives in New York City.

The Zale-Kimmerling Writer-in-Residence Program brings renowned woman writers to the Tulane campus. Coordinated through the Newcomb Institute, the Zale-Kimmerling Writer-in-Residence program was established by Dana Zale Gerard, NC ‘€˜85, and made possible by an annual gift from the M.B. and Edna Zale Foundation of Dallas, Texas. Since 2006, the program has been generously supported by Barnes & Noble College Booksellers. In 2010, the program became fully endowed through a gift from Martha McCarty Kimmerling, NC‘€™63, and known as the Zale-Kimmerling Writer-in-Residence program.

Laura Anderson Barbata: Transcommunality Exhibit K-12 Educator Orientation

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Join us for an evening with Tom Friel, Coordinator for Interpretation and Public Engagement as he walks through an innovative tool developed to share the Newcomb Art Museum’s latest exhibit, Laura Anderson Barbata: Transcommunality. The program is designed to introduce K-12 educators to Laura Anderson Barbata’s work and focus on specific elements of the exhibit that connect deeply to the K-12 classroom. While the exhibit is open to limited public access, it plans to open to the public and school visits by Fall 2021. Educators from across the country will find this online introduction to Barbata’s work a valuable resource as the virtual exhibit serves as a unique tool for online learning.

Read more about this exhibit from the Newcomb Gallery of Art About the Exhibit page below:

“The process-driven conceptual practices of artist Laura Anderson Barbata (b. 1958, Mexico City, Mexico) engage a wide variety of platforms and geographies. Centered on issues of cultural diversity, ethnography, and sustainability, her work blends political activism, street theater, traditional techniques, and arts education. Since the early 1990s, she has initiated projects with people living in the Amazon of Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Norway, and New York. The results from these collaborations range from public processional performances, artist books and handmade paper, textiles, countless garments, and the repatriation of an exploited 19thcentury Mexican woman ‘€” each designed to bring public attention to issues of civil, indigenous, and environmental rights.

In Transcommunality, work from five of Barbata‘€™s previous collaborations across the Americas are presented together for the first time. Though varying in process, tradition, and message, each of these projects emphasize Barbata‘€™s understanding of art as a system of shared practical actions that has the capacity to increase connection. The majority of the works presented are costumed sculptures typically worn by stilt-dancing communities. Through the design and presentation of these sculptures, Barbata fosters a social exchange that activates stilt-dancing‘€™s improvisational magic and world history. At the core of this creative practice is the concept of reciprocity: the balanced exchange of ideas and knowledge.

The events of this past year ‘€” from the uprisings across the country in response to fatal police shootings to the disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 among Black and brown communities to the bitter divisiveness of the 2020 presidential election ‘€” have renewed the urgency for Barbata‘€™s multifaceted practice. In featured projects such as Intervention: Indigo, participants from various backgrounds reckon with the past to address systemic violence and human rights abuses, calling attention to specific instances of social justice. In The Repatriation of Julia Pastrana, Barbata‘€™s efforts critically shift the narratives of human worth and cultural memory. The paper and mask works presented in the show demonstrate the impact of individual and community reciprocity, both intentional and organic. Through her performance partnerships in Trinidad and Tobago, New York, and Oaxaca, represented throughout the museum, onlookers are invited to connect to the traditions of West Africa, the Amazon, Mexico, and the Caribbean and the narratives these costume sculptures reflect on the environment, indigenous cultures, folklore, and religious cosmologies.

By encouraging diverse collaborators to resist homogenization and deploy the creative skills inherent to authentic local expressions and their survival, Barbata promotes the revival of intangible cultural heritage. Transcommunality horizontally values the systems of oral history and folklore, spirituality, and interdisciplinary academic thought that shape Barbata‘€™s engaging creations, celebrating the dignity, creativity, and vibrancy of the human spirit.”

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An Evening with Multi-Award Winning Author Elizabeth Acevedo

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Join us for an evening with Elizabeth Acevedo. Acevedo presents her third book, Clap When You Land, and discusses her writing process and performance background. The discussion will be followed by a reading.

Poet, novelist, and National Poetry Slam Champion, Elizabeth Acevedo was born and raised in New York City, the only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She is the author of Clap When You Land, (Quill Tree Books, 2020); With the Fire On High, (Harper, 2019); the New York Times best-selling and award-winning novel, The Poet X. (HarperCollins, 2018), winner of the 2018 National Book Award for Young Adult Fiction, the 2019 Michael L. Printz Award, and the Carnegie Medal; and the poetry chapbook Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths. (YesYes Books, 2016), a collection of folkloric poems centered on the historical, mythological, gendered and geographic experiences of a first-generation American woman. From the border in the Dominican Republic, to the bustling streets of New York City, Acevedo’s writing celebrates a rich cultural heritage from the island, inherited and adapted by its diaspora, while at the same time rages against its colonial legacies of oppression and exploitation. The beauty and power of much of her work lies at the tensioned crossroads of these competing, yet complementary, desires.

This online program is free and open to the public. It is part of our ongoing series of public engagement programs with Latinx writers that explore Latin America, race, and identity. Read more about Acevedo’s work in this recent article from The Atlantic.

Sponsored by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies and the Newcomb Institute.

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Other Supported Events

  • March 16, 2021 – An Evening with Dominican Musician and Poet, Fermín Ceballos. Sponsored by the Center for the Gulf South
  • March 25, 2021 – Open Mic Night In Celebration of Elizabeth Acevedo. Sponsored by the Tulane Black Student Union (tBSU) and the Office of Multicultural Affairs

Please help us to support local bookstores by purchasing any copies of Acevedo’s books at Tubby & Coo’s.

For more information, please email crcrts@tulane.edu or call 504.865.5164.

Kaqchikel/K'iche' Language Table: Sociolinguistic Language Variation

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Join fellow students, teachers, and native speakers to practice your Kaqchikel language skills and deepen your understanding of Kaqchikel culture. This event is held on the last Thursday of each month for the duration of the Spring 2021 semester.

The March 25th session will focus on sociolinguistic variations within the Kaqchikel language. It will be facilitated by Rebecca Moore.

Kaqchikel/K'iche' Language Table: K'iche' Language Learning

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Join fellow students, teachers, and native speakers to practice your Kaqchikel language skills and deepen your understanding of Kaqchikel culture. This event is held on the last Thursday of each month for the duration of the Spring 2021 semester.

The April 29th session will focus on K’iche’ language learning with guest speaker Nela Petronila Tahay Tzay. It will be facilitated by Ignacio Carvajal.

Global Read Webinar Series Spring 2021

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The Stone Center for Latin American Studies coordinates the annual CLASP Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature and is excited to collaborate with other world area book awards on this exciting online program. Join us this spring 2021 as we invite award winning authors to join us in an online conversation about social justice, the writing process and an exploration of culture and identity across world regions. This annual Global Read Webinar series invites readers of all ages to join us as we explore books for the K-12 classroom recognized by world area book awards such as the Africana Book Award, the Américas Award, the Freeman Book Award, the Middle East Outreach Council Book Award, and the South Asia Book Award.

Each webinar features a presentation by an award-winning author with discussion on how to incorporate multicultural literature into the classroom. Be sure to join the conversation with our webinar hashtag #2021ReadingAcrossCultures.

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SPRING 2021 SCHEDULE – Read more about the program here.
All webinars are at 7:00 PM EST.

  • January 12 – The Américas Award highlights the 2020 Honor Book, The Moon Within by Aida Salazar
  • February 3 – The Children’s Africana Book Award highlights the 2020 book award winning, Hector by Adrienne Wright
  • March 11 – The Middle East Outreach Award presents 2020 Picture Book award winner, Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron
  • April – Freeman Book Award, a project of the National Consortium for Teaching Asia will present a book TBD.
  • May 13 – South Asia Book Award presents The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani

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All sessions are free and open to the public. All times listed refer to Eastern Standard Time (EST). Sponsored by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, the South Asia National Outreach Consortium, the Middle East Outreach Council, and African Studies Outreach Council, The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia.