The Learned Ones: Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico

Kelly McDonough

The Learned Ones: Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico (2014), challenges two profoundly colonial and ahistorical myths of Latin American indigenous peoples since European contact: the myth of indigenous intellectual degeneration, and that of limited participation in the written sphere of cultural expression. As counter-narrative, I identified and analyzed a series of Nahua intellectuals and their texts—grammars and dictionaries, local histories, political speeches, laws, short stories, personal testimonies, and drama—drawn from a nearly five-hundred year period. Whereas my book responds to a nascent global interest in the nature of indigenous knowledge production and writing, it is one of the few to treat the Latin American context, and it is the first of its kind to systematically address Nahua engagement with the written word from the early Colonial period through the present day.

The indigenous intellectuals whose writings and life experiences I discuss offer examples of how Nahuas took up the pen as agents of their own discourses and agendas. They include Antonio del Rincón, one of the few indigenous men to be ordained as a Jesuit priest during the early colonial period and the first indigenous person in the Americas to write a grammar of his native language; don Juan Buenaventura Zapata y Mendoza, a seventeenth-century elite Nahua statesman who wrote the history of his altepetl (city/state), Tlaxcala; Faustino Galicia Chimalpopoca, the Nahua polymath, who left his mark on the nineteenth century as a staunch defender of indigenous land rights and as a scholar of Nahua texts; doña Luz Jiménez, the only published female Nahua prose writer to date, whose short stories and testimonio provide a window into assimilative education for Indian children at the turn of the twentieth century; Ildefonso Maya Hernández, the prolific playwright and cultural promoter whose open-air theater and painted books outline a project of language and cultural recovery/revitalization; and Sabina Cruz de la Cruz, Victoriano de la Cruz Cruz, and Refugio Nava Nava, all present-day Nahua intellectuals who contributed Nahuatl-language statements or think-pieces specifically for this book. These individuals and their work alert us to fact that, contrary to popular belief, Nahuas have continued to think, produce, transmit, and interpret knowledges beyond European contact and conquest. They also demonstrate that along with oral, embodied, musical, and painted modes of expression, Nahuas appropriated and adapted alphabetic writing in order to assess and influence the world around them.

As a practice of decolonial methodologies, I workshopped the texts in my study with Nahua researchers and students, some of whom were encountering Nahua intellectuals and their writing for the very first time. The majority of the texts I have worked with have also been contributed to a curriculum development project for native and non-native speakers of Nahuatl in Mexico. In this way, this project has been aligned with the cultural and linguistic recovery/revitalization projects of Nahua people, and suggests methods of collaborative research related to indigenous thought and writing with an emphasis on what I call “the four ‘Rs’”:

  1. recovering examples of the dynamic trajectory of Nahua intellectualism and writing since conquest;
  2. “restorying” Mexican and Nahua history: repopulating the history of Mexico with indigenous perspectives; including alphabetic writing in the history of Nahua knowledge practices (along with other oral, embodied, and material practices)
  3. repatriating: returning cultural heritage sources to Nahua communities today through collaborative work with Nahua researchers and students
  4. revitalizing: providing sources and space for Nahua intellectual work today

Learn more about the book The Learned Ones. Nahua Intellectuals in Postconquest Mexico here 

Kelly S. McDonoughKelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Spanish & Portuguese


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Posted in Central America & Mexico, Cultural Agency, Home

Migration of Unaccompanied Migrant Youth

Photo: Eric Gay, AP

Néstor Rodríguez
The University of Texas at Austin

In recent days, the news media has increased the reporting on the large-scale arrival of unaccompanied migrant youth (younger than 18) from Central America at the Texas-Mexico border.  This influx of unaccompanied children and mothers with young children has caught the Border Patrol unprepared, and now the federal government is scrambling to find places to detain the new arrivals.

The enclosed tables based on apprehension figures given by the Border Patrol indicate several features of the migration of unaccompanied Central American children to the United States.

The migration of unaccompanied Central American youth has accelerated especially since 2012, when the percent increase surpassed 100 percent for the three major groups of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans.

The growth rate of unaccompanied migration is greatest for Honduran youth.

The numbers of apprehended unaccompanied youth nationalities from Central America reached the number of apprehended unaccompanied youth from Mexico in fiscal year[1] 2014.

Poor economic conditions in Central America and social violence by maras and criminal organizations are seen as underlying causes of the migration, or as causes for the fragmentation of communities and families, which puts youth at risk of migration.  Causes for surges in the migrant flow can include the circulation of rumors that the United States is permitting passage into the country for youth, and the work of smuggling networks in promoting this misinformation (the immigration service is placing some youth with their families in the United States but only until their cases are heard).

A study in 1990 found unaccompanied Central American youth experience several harmful, traumatic events during the migration (Rodriguez & Urrutia-Rojas 1990)[2].  Among 60 unaccompanied youth interviewed, 18 percent met criterion for PTSD, but a greater percentage manifested psychiatric disorders (flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbness, depression, etc.).  On average, the unaccompanied youth experienced 3.7 different potentially traumatic events during the migration, which was about the same number (3.8) of different events they experienced in war zones in their countries during civil wars.  For unaccompanied youth the migration experience is similar to being in a war zone.

The desire to reunite with families is a principal cause of unaccompanied migration by minors.  Hence, as millions of migrants, including parents, remain in the United with undocumented status due to the lack of a comprehensive immigration bill to address the new realities of US immigration, we can expect the large-scale migration of children to continue.

[1] October 1 – September 20

Data 1 Nestor Rodriguez

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NestorNéstor P. Rodríguez
Professor, Dept. of Sociology.

Néstor Rodríguez has conducted international research in Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. His present research focuses on Guatemalan migration, U.S. deportations to Mexico and Central America, the unauthorized migration of unaccompanied minors, evolving relations between Latinos and African Americans/Asian Americans, and ethical and human rights issues of border enforcement. Professor Rodríguez and Susanne Jonas’ upcoming publication, Guatemala-U.S. Migration: Transforming Regions, will be available in January 2015.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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Posted in Central America & Mexico, Home, Latinos in the U.S., Social Inequalities

Violence, Indigeneities and Human Rights

Arturo Arias
The University of Texas at Austin


     Picture Courtesy of James Rodríguez

      Juan de León Tuyuc Velasquez (Kaqchikel Maya), was killed on January 15, 2014 in Sololá by unknown gunmen. Velasquez was the brother of Rosalinda Tuyuc, founder of the National Association of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA), a leading human rights organization representing Indigenous women whose husbands were killed in the Guatemalan civil war (1960—1996). In June 1982, the Guatemalan Army kidnapped and murdered their father, Francisco Tuyuc. In 1985, Rosalinda Tuyuc’s husband suffered the same fate. In 1994, she founded the National Coordination of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA for its Spanish acronym). Rosalinda Tuyuc was elected as to Congress in 1995, one of only a handful of Maya representatives ever to serve. In 1994 she was decorated by the French National Order of the Legion of Honor for her humanitarian activities. Her brother Juan de León, in turn, worked tirelessly for the transformation of social inequality and injustice that greatly affects Maya communities.

Tuyuc Velasquez’s murder is emblematic of the multiple assassinations of Maya leaders taking place in Guatemala at present, despite the fact that, in theory, the country ended its 36-year old civil war in 1996 and technically is now a democracy, if by this we understand exclusively free and fair elections to choose a new president every four years. Yet the never-ending continuum of murderous practices over political negotiation evidences that, structural racism, militarism and impunity are by no means problems of the past. Indeed, evidence indicates that the killing of historical and contemporary leaders has increased in this century, instead of waning after the signing of peace accords.

Let me add a further example of structural violence. On April 9, 2013, Maya K’iche’ scholar Francisca Gómez Grijalva, one of only two Maya columnists in Guatemalan newspapers and a holder of a Ph.D. in Political Sciences from the University of Granada (Spain), described in her weekly column Ukemik Na’oj (“our” knowledge; that is, Maya knowledge) how on August 23, 2012, a security guard of Hidroeléctrica Santa Rita, S.A., a hydroelectric power station imposed on a Maya Q’eqchi’ community against its will and despite their continuous protestations, suddenly appeared at the house of community leader David Chen. When he could not find him, he intimidated the father and brother of Chen, prior to shooting two Q’eqchi’ children, Isaac Güitz and David Estuardo Pacay, aged thirteen and eleven years old respectively. They died on August 26th the first, and on the 27th, the second.

As Gómez Grijalva adds, this hydroelectric power station is owned by Inver Energy, a partner of U.S. owned Duke Energy, to which, in 2008, The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines gave authorization to build over the Dolores River, near the town of Cobán. The Ministry’s authorization was secretive. Needless to say, there was no consultation with Maya Q´eqchi´, Poqomchi´, or Achi families, despite the fact that they depended on this river for survival, as well as for the preservation of the local ecosystem. Amanda Fulmer, Angelina Snodgrass Godoy and Philip Neff has written a similar critique of the Marlin mine in San Marcos, which she argues, typifies “the newly emerging kinds of encounters between global corporations and local communities that will define the twenty-first century” (112—113).

Numberless indigenous accounts of this nature articulate political and cultural critiques of the never-ending junctures of racism, violence and overall abjection in which their communities have been submerged. The racialization process that took place shortly after the 16th century Spanish invasion recurs grotesquely to this day, a “macabre experience of genocide and ecocide” as Adam Lifshey names it (2), questioning the legitimacy of Eurocentric attempts to inscribe human rights within their phantasmatic representations of nation-building in the Americas. Indigenous textualities formulate contestatory heterogeneous critiques that, inevitably, fall within the purview of decolonial perspectives signaling new directions for the future and providing a critical framework on decolonial processes.

In the Latin American context, it is impossible to separate indigenous decolonial maneuvers from the violence and the violation of human rights suffered by these populations in most countries with sizable native communities. We are still witnessing these deplorable conditions in nations otherwise heterogeneous among themselves, such as Guatemala, Peru, and Chile, to just cite a few, where violence, including rape, femicide, assassinations, or torture, still take place on a daily basis against an array of indigenous groups, including Mayas, Quechuas, or Mapuches, to name but the larger and better known ethnicities.

In April 2013, when an array of Maya Ixil women testified in the trial against General Efraín Ríos Montt, the de facto Guatemalan head of state in 1982 and 1983. Ríos Montt was accused of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the massacres, forced displacement, rape and torture of Guatemala’s Maya Ixil population. During the trial, one Ixil woman after another described military incursions on their villages, indiscriminate massacres, rape, torture, and forced dislocation into the mountains where victims faced starvation and military bombing campaigns. Multiple witnesses described being treated “like animals.” Judging a Dictator recounts some of the horrific testimonies. I cite only one in this short article:

Elena Caba limped to the witness stand to tell the court of the April 3, 1982 massacre in which soldiers killed 96 people. Caba, then eight or nine years old, nearly died: soldiers stripped her naked and threw her from a bridge into a river. When she landed in a pool in the river, and injured herself but did not die, the soldiers above threw rocks and shot at her, hitting her foot with a bullet. She saw many dead bodies in the river, but was able to swim to the riverbank and hide, and eventually flee. Her family was not so lucky; soldiers fatally shot her younger siblings, aged four, three, and one; hacked her father to death with a machete after shooting him; and killed her mother. (4)

These aggrieved indigenous women, however, did not intend to send the aged and ailing general to jail. All they wanted was that the general apologize to them.

For most of the last 500 years, the non-recognition of indigenous subjectivity has remained nearly constant. Perhaps because of this, no agreement on the rights of Indigenous peoples has been adopted by the UN General Assembly. Their impotence reminds us that indigeneities remain outside of a cultural re-centering that enables most global subjects to learn from and share with the their cultures’ experience and see them in contrast to other disciplines of knowledge, especially Western forms of knowledge.

Violence from a decolonial perspective would indeed point in this direction, one that makes the indigenous subject unsettled in its daily life along the terms of Saskia Sassen (2009, 228), pointing in the direction of worthless subjects, those considered by global capitalism “without value,” even if mapped, embodied, and performed. In this logic, indigenous subjectivities are not only subject to violence, but also deprived of basic human rights, as are all discardable beings. Nevertheless, the analytic foundations of these modes of thinking produce a place-based epistemology that inevitably articulates a new theoretical and political logic. It confirms, to summon Peruvian anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena (2007) that heightening social conflict, new citizens’ protagonism, and abandonment of traditional political party practices can lead to the ontological-political de-centering of modern politics.

Arturo Arias
Tomás Rivera Professor of Spanish Language and Literature
Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese
UT Austin.

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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Posted in Central America & Mexico, Home, Social Inequalities

Making Waves

By Kurt Weyland

Often, events in one country inspire people in other countries; just this year, the downfall of Ukraine’s corrupt, authoritarian regime encouraged protesters in Venezuela to challenge their own corrupt and increasingly authoritarian government. These demonstration and contagion effects can give rise to impressive waves of contention, as it happened during the “Arab Spring” of 2011.

Observers commonly assume that these dramatic diffusion processes are recent phenomena: products of globalization with its 24/7 news coverage and modern forms of instantaneous communication. But surprisingly, the 19th century saw similar riptides of rebellion. The unexpected success of Parisian crowds in overthrowing their king in February 1848 set in motion a veritable tsunami: Immediately, discontented people along the Rhine challenged their princes as well, and from there, contention rippled across the European continent, literally day by day. This upsurge in protest advanced faster than the Arab Spring – long before Twitter and Facebook!

While the rebellions of 1848 rarely achieved their goals, they were momentous events for citizens of all stripes. For instance, the very defeat of political liberalism stunted Germany’s democratic development for decades to come. Therefore, these failed revolutions are important events to study. And because these protests and their eventual repression affected people’s lives so deeply, many participants and observers, ranging from radical students to stodgy military commanders, left behind extensive diaries, letters or memoirs. These fascinating documents allow scholars to reconstruct the thinking and feelings, the calculations and passions of the different groupings fighting each other.

Of course, Latin America has also experienced waves of regime change, especially during the region-wide move to democratization starting in the mid-1970s: Military dictatorships fell or withdrew in many countries, ranging from Ecuador in 1979 to Chile in 1990. But as transitions advanced year by year, this “third wave of democratization” progressed much more slowly than the revolutions of 1848 and the Arab Spring, which spread day by day. Why this low speed?

Yet at the same time, democratization efforts in Latin America were much more successful. While both ‘1848’ and the Arab Spring ended up bringing little political progress, all Latin American dictatorships (except Communist Cuba) fell sooner or later. In a similar vein, the Russian Revolution of 1917 inspired a wave of protests and regime changes, which spread much more slowly than the revolutions of 1848, but prompted successful democratization in a number of countries, such as Austria, Germany, and Sweden.

These striking contrasts pose a real puzzle: Why is speed associated with failure, and slow diffusion with success? My new book, Making Waves: Democratic Contention in Europe and Latin America since the Revolutions of 1848 (Cambridge 2014), draws on cognitive psychology and organization theory to design an explanation.

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Researchers have shown that dramatic, vivid events make a disproportionate impression on people; observers overrate their importance, while neglecting more “normal” occurrences. Accordingly, 9/11 had a huge impact: Many Americans switched from planes to cars, although driving is much more dangerous. The psychological “availability” of unusual occurrences distorts people’s judgments, sometimes at considerable cost.

Moreover, people draw improperly firm inferences from superficial similarities. Therefore, they see what happens elsewhere as “representative” of their own country; consequently, Venezuelans followed the turmoil in Ukraine this year, and Austrians and Prussians took inspiration from France in 1848.

These cognitive shortcuts (what psychologists call the availability and representativeness heuristics) explain the quick spread of protests in 1848 in Europe and in 2011 in the Arab World. When people saw a dramatic precedent—the ouster of the French king or the Tunisian dictator—they jumped to the conclusion that their rulers were equally weak and that challenging them held good prospects of success. These rash inferences fueled wildfires of protest.

But political conditions across Europe in 1848 and across the Arab world in 2011 were highly diverse. Whereas France and Tunisia were relatively advanced, many other nations were backward, with powerful rulers and small opposition forces. Therefore, many attempts to emulate the precedents failed. Heavy reliance on cognitive shortcuts unleashed tsunamis of protest, but brought little success.

Why, then, did contentious waves unfold more slowly, yet with great success in Europe after 1917 and in Latin America during the 1970s/80s? My book points to the organizational leadership that had arisen by those times. Political parties accumulate experience and process information more thoroughly than common citizens do. Therefore, party leaders evaluate foreign precedents more carefully and emulate them with prudence. Standing on a firmer base of knowledge, they are less easily swayed by cognitive shortcuts.

European and Latin American party politicians closely followed political developments and had good access to reliable information. As a result, these organizational leaders had a pretty good grasp of the constellation of power. They could estimate how strong opposition forces were and whether they could sustain protests.

Therefore, when a foreign ruler suffered a dramatic overthrow, organizational leaders did not rush into contention. Instead, they waited for a good opportunity – and then marshaled their supporters effectively. They weighed their chances and acted strategically. As a result, waves of protests spread more slowly, but they achieved greater success.

By contrast, there were few if any effective mass organizations in 1848 in Europe and in 2011 in the Middle East. Without political leaders to guide them, common people had to decide how to respond to striking foreign events and whether to participate in protests. Having lived under stifling authoritarian rule, citizens had little political experience and limited knowledge. Therefore, they were highly susceptible to the problematic inferences suggested by cognitive shortcuts. Many got carried away by protesters’ success in Paris and Tunis and inferred that they could achieved the same feat in their own countries. Unfortunately, this hope often proved to be an illusion…

By advancing these arguments, my book develops an explanation that weaves together insights from cognitive psychology and organizational theory – quite a novel approach for political science. And by examining several waves of contention, the study sheds light on major watersheds in the history of European and Latin America democratization.

Learn here about the book Making Waves: Democratic Contention in Europe and Latin America since the Revolutions of 1848




Kurt Weyland
Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Politics
Department of Government






DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.



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Posted in Home, Sustainable Democracies, The Americas

Violence at the Urban Margins: A Workshop and Now a Book

Violence at the Urban Margins, a new book edited by Javier Auyero, Philippe Bourgois, and Nancy Scheper-Hughes, to be published by Oxford University Press.

The 2013 workshop titled “Violence at the Urban Margins,” held at The University of Texas at Austin, brought together scholars conducting cutting-edge ethnographic research on the role of violence in the lives of the urban poor in South, Central, and North America. For two days, conference participants discussed violence and its impacts in their respective field sites—as diverse as Philadelphia, Medellín, and Managua—and compared and contrasted their own findings with those of co-participants working across national and/or continental borders. Although each of the participants brought a unique perspective to the study of violence, they shared a commitment to shedding light on the suffering that violence produces and perpetuates, as well as the individual and collective responses that violence generates among those living at the urban margins of the Americas. Participants’ joint concern for the people at the bottom of the socioeconomic order, whose lives they have each labored so carefully to document, helped facilitate a productive dialogue even where disagreements about field techniques or interpretation of data emerged.

The volume that resulted from the workshop, also titled Violence at the Urban Margins, presents the papers that were workshopped in Austin together in printed form. Our hope is that when put side by side they will spark the same level and depth of dialogue across fields (disciplinary and sites of study) as when the authors themselves sat side by side around a table in the center of the LLILAS Benson conference room, passionately discussing their research together in front of (and sometimes with) graduate student and faculty observers.

Like those who attended the two-day workshop, the readers of this book are invited to see theory in action­­—­­­the creative use of a diverse set of theoretical and analytical tools to illuminate particular aspects of the sources, experiences, uses, and effects of violence. There is no single, overarching theoretical framework shared by the contributors, just as there is no single, unified definition of violence employed in this volume. Reflecting the existing variation in social scientific studies of violence, some contributors draw on a more normative—and narrower—definition of violence, focusing mainly on the deployment of physical force and the intentional infliction of damage, while others rely on a more expansive understanding of violence, broadening their investigation to include symbolic and structural forms. Rather than asking authors to conform the research they presented at the workshop to achieve coherence across this volume, we encouraged them to maintain their distinctive approaches to the analysis of violence in the lives of the poor. This not only allows us to showcase the diversity of ways in which scholars have attempted to understand violence but also provides readers with the opportunity to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each theoretical and conceptual approach through engagement with actual empirical work.

In the United States, as well as in Latin America, debates around issues of citizens’ public safety (from debates that erupt after highly publicized events, such as the shootings of Jordan Davis and Trevon Martin, to those that recurrently dominate the airwaves in Latin America) are dominated by members of the middle and upper-middle classes. However, a cursory count of the victims of urban violence in the Americas reveals that the people suffering the most from violence live (and die) at the bottom of the socio-symbolic order. However, the inhabitants of the urban margins are hardly ever heard in discussions about public safety. They live in danger, but the discourse about violence and risk belongs to, is manufactured and manipulated by, others—others who are prone to view violence at the urban margins as evidence of a cultural (or racial) defect, rather than question its relationship to economic and political marginalization. As a result, the experience of interpersonal violence among the urban poor becomes something unspeakable, and the everyday fear and trauma lived in relegated territories is constantly muted and denied. At a very basic level, this book seeks to counteract this pernicious tendency by putting under the ethnographic microscope (and making public) the way in which violence is “lived” and “acted upon” in the urban peripheries.

Violence at the Urban Margins
This volume is the outcome of a workshop held at LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections at The University of Texas at Austin in the spring of 2013.
Contributors:   Javier Auyero, Adam Baird, Philippe Bourgois, Randol Contreras, Benjamin Fogarty-Valenzuela, Alice Goffman, Mo Hume, Kristine Kilanski, Manuel Llorens, Kevin Lewis O’Neill, Dennis Rodgers, Nancy Scheper-Hughes, John Souto, Ana Villarreal, Polly Wilding, and Verónica Zubillaga


Javier Auyero
Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Sociology.
Department of Sociology
University of Texas, Austin

Learn more about the workshop “Violence at the Urban Margins” here

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More pictures here.  (Pictures courtesy of Mari Correa).

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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The Need to Reach Broader Audiences: Scholars Working with Journalists and the Success of Beca Anfibia

How can scholars tell appealing stories about the research we do? How can we translate the language of our theoretical interpretations into a discourse that is easier to understand? The idea behind these questions is not to give up academia, but to challenge our scope of discussion and make ourselves available to a public that might be interested, if not persuaded by the things we study.

One of the challenges that many humanities and social science scholars face is how to communicate in a more effective way about the products of our research. In times of budget cuts and constant suspicions on the “usefulness” of what we do, it has become indispensable for us to learn how to talk about the importance of our work, and to do it in effective and simple terms.

We train our students to be successful academics, but we should also provide them with the means to become public intellectuals, engaged with the realities they study and qualified to share the findings of their research with larger groups in society.

Two years ago LLILAS invited Visiting Resource Professor Cristian Alarcón, a journalist and writer based in Buenos Aires, to conduct a writing workshop on campus. Over thirty students from different colleges attended, and in less than a week, nine of them came up with an abstract of a story they wanted to tell. In spring 2013, LLILAS offered a summer fellowship, the Beca Anfibia, to one of those students, Jorge Derpic (sociology). The story he wrote and produced with Alex Ayala (his “amphibian” partner and a journalist based in La Paz) was about the lynching in El Alto, one of the biggest and most violent cities in Bolivia. (See story here)

This fellowship owes its name to the place where the story was published. Revista Anfibia is one of the most important online publications in Latin America, with over 40,000 views monthly. What characterizes the stories published in Anfibia is that they are produced by a scholar and a journalist. Both contributors put in practice their expertise, working together, conducting research together, and writing together. The journalist paves the way to research in the field while the scholar helps the journalist make connections that he or she is not trained to make. The result is a well-written story—a crónica—rich in depth and yet told in uncomplicated language.

Not only did Jorge gain experience during his amphibious project, he also won two prestigious dissertation awards after the publication of his crónica. While we cannot claim that all his success is solely due to the Beca Anfibia, there is something about having your essay edited by a group of three highly prestigious journalists based in Argentina that sharpens your writing skills. 

This year we owe the possibility of granting a second Beca Anfibia to the generous support of LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, the Department of Sociology, the Department of Anthropology, and Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Professor of Latin American Sociology Javier Auyero. We offered our second successful writing workshop in March 2014, conducted by Argentinian author Sebastián Hacher, and eleven students from four different colleges sent us their abstracts.  The spring 2014 fellowship was awarded to Daniel Perera, PhD student, Dept. of Anthropology . His crónica is about the violent legacy of a fratricidal war among neighbors of a small Guatemalan town.

Our goal is to make this a stable program. We want to have workshops that last more than one session and we want to invite journalists to write on relevant topics in Latin America. We want to foster this necessary dialogue and invite faculty to take an active part in it. Having journalists around is a good way to make them understand that academics do not live in ivory towers. At the same time, we need to incorporate their experience and expertise to better help our community be heard and read in the world outside the academy.

Gabriela Polit
Associate Professor
Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese




Picture courtesy of Mari Correa






DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.

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Posted in Cultural Agency, Home

Honoring Professor Bryan Roberts

Bryan Roberts, the C.B. Smith Chair in U.S.-Mexico Relations, has been a mainstay of our Latin American studies program for nearly three decades. Since his arrival here in 1986, he has supervised 53 dissertations, taught countless courses, published numerous articles and books, founded the Mexican Center, the Center for Latin American Social Policy, and served as Director of the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.

Bryan is retiring in December and to honor his long years of service,  LLILAS Benson jointly with the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) organized an International Colloquium on Social Citizenship. This conference, which took place from April 17-19 at the beautiful Hacienda El Carmen, in Ahualulco de Mercado, Mexico, was sponsored by the College of Liberal Arts and the C.B. Smith Chair as well as by CIESAS and LLILAS Benson.

The conference brought almost 30 of Bryan’s former students and long-term collaborators from all over the world to discuss the topics that have been the focus of Bryan’s research for almost five decades: migration, urbanization, inequality, ethnicity, gender, and social policy.  The discussion was lively, the camaraderie was remarkable, and the setting was magnificent. I cannot imagine a more fitting way to honor Bryan and to thank him for all that he has done.

Raúl Madrid
Co-organizer, “International Colloquium on Social Citizenship in honor of Professor Bryan R. Roberts”
Professor, Department of Government
UT Austin.

Honoring Bryan Roberts

Bryan’s Closing Remarks (Saturday, April 19, 2014)

 Colloquium attendees 


Remarks from Sociology Department Faculty, University of Texas at Austin (April 2014)

 Bryan’s intellectual breadth, his natural curiosity, his international background and education, in combination with his extremely easy manner, infused the Department’s Latin American area with vitality and humanism for over thirty years.  He contributed to far more than one area, though.  He is a Sociologist in the best European and American traditions and his work combines deep theoretical insights and solid empirical work.  He deeply touched the lives of hundreds of students and colleagues and he leaves a legacy that will animate the department and Latin American studies at UT Austin for years.
Ron Angel, Professor of Sociology

First-hand witness to momentous transformations in Latin America, Bryan Roberts was able to make sense of them by deftly combining on-the-ground observations with high level theorization. Anybody studying urbanization, citizenship, or development in the continent is now standing on this sociological giant’s shoulders.
Javier Auyero, Professor of Sociology

Bryan Roberts is an exemplary scholar who has had a crucial influence in the sociology of Latin America and in making UT a leader in the field. In addition to his own scholarly contributions to research on urbanization, migration, inequality, development, employment and informality in the region, Bryan has been a champion of bringing scholars from the English-speaking and Spanish-speaking worlds together. He has published extensively in both languages and, most importantly, he has led a number of collaborative research projects with Latin American scholars. The comparative nature of these projects has been crucial for the understanding of long term changes in Latin American cities. He has always tied detailed micro analysis of community change to the macro transformations experienced by the region. Bryan regularly returned to the communities in Guatemala were he conducted his early fieldwork in the late 1960s and 1970s to observe first-hand the changes brought by neoliberalism to those communities. As LLILAS director from 2006 to 2009, he expanded his commitment to collaborative research with Latin America and brought universities and research institutes in the region closer to UT. This also explains the huge number of friends he has made and the respect he commands in the world of Latin American social sciences.
Daniel Fridman, Assistant Professor of Sociology

 For those of us who have studied migration related topics he is definitely ‘maestro de maestros’ — he has mentored some of the most influential maestras and maestros in immigration studies in the social sciences. He is a kind spirit and will be missed.
Gloria Gonzalez Lopez, Associate Professor of Sociology

Bryan has made enormous contributions to the Department of Sociology for nearly three decades and perhaps especially so in the graduate program. He has directed dozens of dissertations and served on many masters and dissertation committees. Over the years, he has given great attention to helping his students write high-quality dissertations and placing them into productive academic and non-academic positions following graduation. Perhaps most important, Bryan has been a model colleague and mentor. He is incredibly productive and smart, yet humble. He takes his work very seriously, but also has a great sense of humor and does not allow the seriousness of his work to override the joy with which he lives his life. He’s an academic superstar, yet he always pitches in to do his share of the grunt work that departments need to get done. And he gets along with everyone; he’s a genuinely nice, fair, and kind person who is as well liked and respected as it gets. Thank you Bryan…for all of your contributions, for one, but more than that, for being the humble, humorous, fun, hard-working, down-to-earth, fair, and kind person that you are. You will be missed.
Bob Hummer, Professor of Sociology

Bryan has done an outstanding job opening roads for research in Latin America. In towns that I have visited in Mexico, Central America, and South America, people told me that Bryan had been there earlier.  It is a privilege to follow in his footsteps.
Nestor Rodriguez, Professor of Sociology

For almost thirty years, Bryan Roberts has anchored the program in Latin American Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.  Less well-known to outsiders, he has also been a mainstay of our programs in Sociological Theory and Ethnographic Research Methods.  Bryan taught generations of qualitative researchers at UT.  He is a multi-faceted scholar who communicates across scholarly divisions of geography, theory, and methodology.  His geniality and collegiality have made the Sociology Department an exceptional place to work.
Christine Williams, Professor and Chair of Sociology

Feel free to add below in the comments section your retirement wishes for Professor Roberts.

Por favor siéntase en libertad the agregar en la sección de comentarios sus buenos deseos (ya sea en español o en ingl

és) para el retiro del Dr. Roberts.



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Posted in Home, Social Inequalities, Sustainable Democracies, The Americas



 Mi nombre es hebreo, mi apellido es polaco, mi familia emigró a Argentina desde Ucrania y vivo en los Estados Unidos. Hablo castellano con acento italiano, e inglés con acento ruso. No como tacos ni bailo salsa, ni tengo la tez mestiza pero me identifico como latino o mejor dicho latinoamericano. La multiplicidad de elementos que me definen me dan una identidad única que hace de cada parte un elemento esencial de quien soy.

¿Qué tiene que ver todo esto con un informe sobre derechos humanos, con la justicia transicional o con la memoria?. Pues mucho. La memoria, lo que se recuerda, cómo se recuerda, por qué se recuerda impacta en el resto de las herramientas de la justicia transicional y define no solo a la justicia transicional en su conjunto sino también el tipo de sociedad que somos y que queremos ser, es decir nuestra identidad como sociedad y como país. Tres décadas de justicia transicional nos dan una perspectiva integral de lo conseguido y de los desafíos pendientes. De seguro sabemos que la justicia transicional no es ni puede ser sinónimo de justicia blanda ni excusa para que un manto de olvido sea el sustituto a la memoria individual y colectiva.

Los cuatro tradicionales componentes de la justicia transicional, verdad, justicia, reparación y garantías de no repetición, constituyen áreas de acción interrelacionadas que pueden y deben reforzarse mutuamente. La experiencia que hemos adquirido demuestra que las iniciativas aisladas y fragmentarias de enjuiciamiento no acallan la demanda de mayores formas de justicia. Si se desarrollan de manera aislada, ni siquiera los procesos más rigurosos de búsqueda  de la verdad son equiparables a justicia como el propio caso chileno demuestra. Es que no es suficiente con conocer los hechos sino que también se requiere actuar sobre la verdad descubierta. Del mismo modo, las reparaciones sin enjuiciamiento, búsqueda real de la verdad o reforma institucional son fácil y comúnmente interpretados como intentos de comprar la aquiescencia de las víctimas.

¿Dónde se inserta la memoria en este abanico? Hasta hoy, las iniciativas de memoria no son consideradas como uno de los cuatro pilares de la justicia transicional. Las iniciativas de memoria, con frecuencia, son entendidas como elementos ajenos al proceso político, al estar relegadas a la esfera cultural “suave” —como objetos de arte para ser alojadas en un museo o un simple monumento—, al ámbito privado como duelo personal, o como simple actividad histórica, casi arqueológica. Como resultado, las iniciativas de memoria rara vez se integran a estrategias más amplias de construcción de la democracia y se diluyen o invisibilizan en los procesos de justicia transicional. Mientras que las medidas de verdad, justicia, reparación y garantías de no repetición son objeto de intensos debates políticos y están sujetas al escrutinio público, no sucede lo mismo en materia de memoria. Aun así, millones de personas visitan memoriales, participan en actividades de memoria, leen documentos, libros, testimonios, miran programas documentales de televisión. Frecuentemente lo hacen con inmenso ardor.

La memoria de las víctimas y los abusos del pasado, como concepto y como dinámica, y como mi propia identidad, tiene múltiples componentes. Incluye elementos sociales, políticos, antropológicos, filosóficos, culturales, psicológicos, urbanísticos y arqueológicos entre otros. La  memoria se expresa a través de una enorme cantidad de medios distintos como los sitios, los monumentos, las marcas urbanas, los testimonios, los actos, las recordaciones, los textos, los medios audiovisuales. Las violaciones que se recuerdan no son algo que les sucedió sólo a las víctimas sobrevivientes, a los familiares o incluso a los antepasados (como las iniciativas de  memoria del genocidio armenio, del Holocausto o de la Guerra Civil Española testimonian) sino que de la misma manera pueden manifestarse en el presente u ocurrir en el futuro. La memoria de la  forma en que los derechos humanos fueron violados en el pasado permite identificar 3  problemas actuales como pueden ser el maltrato policial, el hacinamiento carcelario, la marginalización, la exclusión, la discriminación o el ejercicio abusivo del poder. Así concebidas, las iniciativas de memoria son parte integral de cualquier estrategia por promover y garantizar los derechos humanos y profundizar la democracia.

Utilicemos “El Ojo que Llora” que, como muchos saben, es un monumento erigido en Lima, dedicado a las víctimas de la represión y violencia políticas que azotaron Perú entre 1980 y 2000 mediante la inclusión de una piedra con un nombre por cada persona ejecutada o desaparecida para analizar algunas de las aristas de la memoria. El registrar públicamente los nombres de quienes fueron víctimas de la violencia autoritaria, como es el caso del “Ojo que Llora”, produce diversas preguntas y debates. Por ejemplo ¿debe acentuarse el carácter de víctimas de la represión ilegal o el de militantes políticos que luchaban por la transformación estructural del país? Aquí en Santiago, Londres 38 opta por identificar la afiliación ideológica de cada víctima. Monumentos como el “Ojo que Llora” también nos obligan a preguntarnos cómo se relatan los hechos ocurridos y a quiénes se incluye en ellos. Creemos que no existe una respuesta única a lo que se recuerda o cómo se recuerda, sino que existe un espacio para una memoria heterogénea y divergente.

Cuando la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos ordenó la inclusión de los nombres de 41 ex guerrilleros de Sendero Luminoso asesinados en 1994 en la  masacre de Castro Castro en el “El Ojo que Llora”, esto indignó a muchos sectores de la sociedad peruana debido a los atentados y masacres cometidos por este grupo terrorista. El debate entonces era, y es, si pueden convivir en un memorial las víctimas inocentes de la  violencia junto a personas acusadas o condenadas por actos de terrorismo también ejecutadas o desaparecidas por el Estado Nuestra respuesta es que si el memorial es para las víctimas de la violencia estatal, sí.

No puede haber una distinción de las víctimas de la violencia del Estado en función de la ideología o acciones previas de las mismas. Por supuesto, que ello no significa que un memorial no pueda listar los nombres a la par que, también, contenga una descripción de hechos, circunstancias y que explique clara y explícitamente los diferentes contextos en que las víctimas fueron ejecutadas y/o desaparecida En memoriales como “El Ojo que Llora”, se busca recuperar la individualidad de quienes perdieron su vida. Por eso, las fotografías, los nombres, la acción de nombrar a cada uno como individuo único y distinto. Esto es, una concepción individual de la memoria como forma de reparación a las víctimas, para “recuperar” su memoria, para “reconocer su dignidad” y para “consolar a sus deudos” como ha dicho la Corte Interamericana.

Pero además, este tipo de memoriales, tiene un efecto contundente en su cantidad, que refleja el número y la dimensión de las violaciones cometidas. En casos como la desaparición forzada, frente a la metodología del terror, el secreto de la detención y ejecución y ocultamiento de los cuerpos, un memorial que simplemente haga público el nombre de la víctima es al mismo tiempo una dignificación de víctima como un cuestionamiento de la práctica misma del terror ejercida secretamente y mediante la supresión de la identidad y personalidad jurídica de la víctima. En otras palabras, la memoria cumple objetivos deslegitimadores de las violaciones perpetradas.

De todas maneras, las iniciativas de memoria persiguen mucho más. Son espacios públicos para la reflexión privada y colectiva. Las iniciativas de memoria invitan, pasiva o activamente, a todos y todas, incluidas aquellas personas que ni siquiera saben sobre los hechos que se recuerdan (como pueden ser las generaciones actuales que nacieron luego de que se cometieran las violaciones) o incluso que pueden disentir con los mensajes transmitidos, a reflexionar sobre los mismos. Es que las iniciativas de memoria nos exigen no solo recordar a las víctimas, sino pensar de manera crítica acerca de nuestra historia y en cuáles fueron las fuerzas que desencadenaron la guerra (como en los Balcanes), el racismo y apartheid (como en Suráfrica), la guerra civil (como en Guatemala o El Salvador) la dictadura o la opresión política (como aquí en el cono Sur). Una política de memoria debe impulsar el debate sobre los procesos ideológicos, políticos, económicos y sociales que preanunciaron la violencia estatal y que posibilitaron, facilitaron, sustentaron y/o se beneficiaron del terrorismo de Estado y/o la violación masiva y sistemática de los derechos humanos.

Las medidas de justicia transicional, incluida la memoria, aunque no pueden por sí solas  establecer ni sostener la democracia, refuerzan los procesos de consolidación democráticas en cuanto reconocen a las personas, en particular a las víctimas, como titulares de derechos que fueron violados y que pueden ser reivindicados ante el Estado. Como ha dicho el Relator de Naciones Unidas sobre Verdad, Justicia, Reparación y Garantías de no repetición: “no es suficiente reconocer el sufrimiento y la fortaleza de las víctimas. Estos son rasgos que pueden compartir con las víctimas de los desastres naturales”. Lo que se requiere es recordar y actuar en función del sujeto como titular de derechos.

La responsabilidad estatal en asegurar el deber de justicia, verdad, reparación y no repetición coloca al Estado en un rol central y fundamental en la justicia transicional. Pero en memoria, a diferencia de las otras áreas, el Estado no tiene el control sobre el proceso. Múltiples actividades de memoria son promovidas por los familiares o iniciativas privadas, como el proceso chileno ejemplifica. Una política estatal de memoria debe revalorizar y alentar esta diversidad de propuestas que se han gestado, multiplicado y diversificado en cuanto a sectores y generaciones, tipo de expresiones y manifestaciones así como en cuanto a su contenido.

Además, el Estado  debe lograr una eficaz interrelación entre las distintas iniciativas de justicia transicional y los procesos de memoria. Los eventos claves en términos de búsqueda de justicia y verdad contribuyen a la construcción de la memoria o viceversa. En Argentina, por ejemplo, es indudable que el Nunca Más de la CONADEP de 1984 y el Juicio a las Juntas en 1985 y contribuyeron a la construcción de la memoria sobre la dictadura y su repudio. Pero al mismo tiempo, hechos de memoria como la publicación de El vuelo, con la confesión de Scilingo sobre los vuelos arrojando al rio y mar a las personas desaparecidas, favorece no solo a la multiplicación de nuevas iniciativas de memoria, sino que dan impulso a la búsqueda de justicia y verdad actualmente desarrollándose en Argentina. Es que el combate a la impunidad aparece como un eje ordenador de los esfuerzos en materia de verdad, justicia y memoria.

Las determinaciones judiciales como los procesos de verdad sobre los hechos constitutivos de graves violaciones a los derechos humanos, cumplen un rol fundamental en la preservación y construcción (en este caso judicial o través de una Comisión de la Verdad) de la memoria. En primer lugar, las sentencias o informes de las Comisiones de la Verdad, son relatos oficiales estatales sobre las violaciones cometidas en el pasado. También la respuesta judicial sea condenando o contribuyendo a la impunidad de las violaciones del pasado o los resultados de los procesos de verdad, pasan a ser en sí mismas un componente de la memoria. Para las generaciones futuras (y también las presentes) la actitud del Poder Judicial investigando o no, del Poder Legislativo aprobando o derogando leyes de amnistía, del Poder Ejecutivo facilitando o bloqueando investigaciones judiciales o procesos de verdad, serán parte de la memoria sobre cómo se desarrolló la justicia transicional.

Finalmente, sentencias judiciales e informes de Comisiones de la Verdad limitan criterios revisionistas o minimalistas de las violaciones cometidas. Cuando iniciativas supuestamente de memoria histórica buscan relativizar o negar las violaciones cometidas, un proceso judicial serio, imparcial que concluya con una sentencia condenatoria o un informe de una Comisión de la Verdad socialmente aceptada y respetada, cuestionan, en sí mismos, la legitimidad de las posiciones relativistas o negacionistas. Ello no significa que no pueda haber voces disidentes, contradictorias o divergentes que expliquen o describan los hechos violentos de diferentes maneras. Esto es absolutamente necesario y bienvenido en una sociedad democrática. Pero entre la explicación y negación de los hechos hay un abismo. Una determinación judicial o un informe de una Comisión de la Verdad, en este sentido, deslegitima aún más estas posiciones negacionistas.

De todas maneras, tanto las iniciativas de justicia como las de verdad como aspecto de la memoria tienen sus limitaciones. Por un lado, la reconstrucción judicial de la memoria, está encorsetada por las formas judiciales. Es decir, en un caso judicial se admiten solo ciertas pruebas, las mismas se valoran de acuerdo a criterios jurídicos y judiciales y el Tribunal las describe con tecnicismos y vocabulario legal o judicial. Ello significa que muchos elementos cruciales de la memoria, quedarán fuera de esta reconstrucción histórica judicializada de las  violaciones.

Las comisiones de la verdad u otras iniciativas son proyectos estatales que reconstruyen un aspecto del pasado histórico. Por ejemplo, la Comisión de la Verdad de Argentina solo se limitaba a las desapariciones forzadas pero no a otras violaciones ocurridas. En Chile, las comisiones de la verdad se refirieron a las desapariciones, ejecuciones y torturas pero no a otras múltiples violaciones a los derechos humanos perpetradas. Además, las iniciativas oficiales en materia de verdad, conviven con iniciativas privadas, relatos, versiones, que pueden coincidir, total o parcialmente con la verdad oficial o de hecho pueden divergir.

Muchas iniciativas de memoria son categorizadas como “reparaciones simbólicas” como lo hace, por ejemplo, la Corte Interamericana. No obstante, aunque este vínculo con reparaciones morales o colectivas es importante, es un error visualizar a las iniciativas de memoria solo como reparaciones simbólicas. En particular, tal clasificación no refleja adecuadamente el potencial que poseen los memoriales y otras iniciativas de memoria para transformarse en espacios de participación y discusión pública, como he explicado.  Ciertos estándares respecto al rol del Estado para desarrollar actividades de memoria están comenzando a emerger. Algunos, como el ex Juez de la Corte Interamericana Antonio Cançado, han hablado de un “deber y un derecho de recordar o conmemorar”. El mismo no calza con exactitud en ninguna de las categorías de verdad, justicia, reparación y no-repetición, aunque está implícito y se relaciona, como hemos, dicho en todas ellas. Una norma emergente del derecho internacional insta a tomar como una obligación el recuerdo y compromiso respecto de las atrocidades pasadas. Ciertos estándares de Naciones Unidas y del sistema  interamericano de derechos humanos, insisten en el deber de recordar, educar sobre el pasado, y rechazar las negaciones de las atrocidades. También resaltan el rol que cumplen los archivos en la búsqueda de verdad y justicia, a la vez que son centrales en la recuperación y construcción de la memoria. Por ello, el Estado tiene el deber de protegerlos, sistematizarlos y facilitar su acceso público, siendo impermisible que se mantengan en secreto.

Una política estatal coherente en materia de memoria debe concebirla como parte de la educación en derechos humanos. Las actividades que aquí en Chile desarrollan el Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos o el Parque por la Paz Villa Grimaldi son ejemplos muy positivos de concebir las distintas iniciativas de memoria, no solamente procesos de conmemoración y dignificación sino como espacios educativos sobre lo sucedido y de reflexión sobre como actuamos como sociedad en el pasado y como lo hacemos en el presente frente a los desafíos actuales y futuros en función de la memoria del pasado. De hecho, un creciente número de lugares de conmemoración en todo el mundo, incluido Chile se asumen hoy en día como “Sitios de Conciencia”.

Una política estatal de memoria requiere también revisar la manera como se enseña historia en nuestras escuelas primarias y secundarias. Requiere también revisar cómo se enseña esta etapa represiva y autoritaria en los cursos de historia militar y policial. La educación sea de los y las estudiantes primarios o secundarios como de las fuerzas de seguridad, deben claramente transmitir la idea que las graves violaciones a los derechos humanos ocurrieron y no fueron un simple exceso, sino una política planificada y ejecutada por el Estado en flagrante violación de principios elementales de humanidad, de normas legales, de principios éticos y morales y de concepciones democráticas.

Permítanme desarrollar dos ideas antes de concluir. Debemos distinguir entre una política de Estado de memoria y la política de un gobierno concreto. Un gobierno democrático, puede ser más o menos proclive al tema de derechos humanos. En materia de memoria, un gobierno puede ser contrario a supuestamente “reabrir heridas del pasado” o tener una actitud pasiva, o incluso activa pero discrecional y poco participativa. Pero, como contracara, existe también un riesgo que la memoria sea apropiada por un gobierno en cuanto a lo que se memorializa, como se memorializa, persiguiendo exclusivamente un objetivo político partidario en la memoria. Una última idea. Los espacios de memoria, los memoriales y monumentos se han focalizado frecuentemente en las vidas de hombres y en experiencias masculinas. A pesar de eso, en la actualidad y de manera creciente se comienza a dar visibilidad a las víctimas mujeres, cómo  fueron víctimas de violaciones especificas por su género o como fueron afectadas de manera diferenciada. También se ha comenzado a reconocer las múltiples historias de mujeres como  activistas muchas veces al frente de la resistencia, tales como las iniciativas de memoria que reconocen el rol de las Madres o Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo en mi país. Pero todavía falta un largo camino por recorrer para que las políticas de memoria tenga una clara perspectiva de género. Por ejemplo, hoy en día sigue invisibilizada la contribución de las mujeres, como madres, como abuelas, como hijas, como hermanas, actuando como prestadoras de cuidados que hicieron posible la supervivencia en periodos autoritarios.

A meses de la muerte de Nelson Mandela, a 40 años del golpe en Chile, a 30 años del retorno a la democracia en Argentina, tenemos el desafío de fortalecer los trabajos por la memoria.

Sabemos que el Nunca Más, es una afirmación de la memoria del pasado y su rechazo categórico así como un compromiso y aspiración hacia el futuro. Las iniciativas de verdad, justicia y memoria, evidencian el horror y magnitud de los abusos cometidos, con lo cual el Nunca Más mantiene toda su fuerza y vigencia. Pero el Nunca Más no es suficiente frente a muchos de los desafíos presentes. Es que la memoria, el Nunca Más, no deben solo recordar y tratar de evitar las formas más graves de violaciones a los derechos humanos, sino que deben ser un rechazo a las nuevas formas de ejercicio abusivo del poder y deben permitir visibilizar otras violaciones generalmente silenciadas – como el acceso a la educación, a la salud, al trabajo, a la igualdad.

La memoria, no ya de las violaciones, sino de los proyectos de cambio que tuvieron como respuestas estas masivas violaciones, nos invitan a vincular esos hechos del pasado con los problemas actuales de nuestras sociedades. Porque en definitiva, el desafío de una política de memoria no es construir memoriales ni instalar estatuas adormecidas, sino crear sociedades más justas, igualitarias y democráticas.

Ariel Dulitzky
Experto del Grupo de Trabajo de las Naciones Unidas sobre Desapariciones Forzadas
Director del Consultorio de Derechos Humanos y Co -Director del Centro de Derecho Latinoamericano KBH

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.


El Ojo que Llora
Monumento a la Memoria
Lima, Peru
Fotos cortesía de Christian Reynoso (Noticias SER)


El Ojo que Llora
Monumento a la Memoria
Lima, Peru
Fotos cortesía de Christian Reynoso (Noticias SER)

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Posted in Home, Social Inequalities, Sustainable Democracies, The Americas

Border Fence has Disparate Impact on Minorities

Denise Gilman, Clinical Professor
Co-Director, Immigration Clinic
University of Texas School of Law

In this video, Professor Denise Gilman discusses the human rights impact of the fence along the Texas–Mexico border. According to the DallasNews Watchdog blog, “Late last week, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. sided with Gilman in ruling that the names and addresses of property owners whose land was affected by the border wall project should be disclosed, as the Courthouse News Service reported.”  This information may shed light on the disparate impact that the fence has on minorities and especially on indigenous communities. 

Videographer: Dylan Baddour

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.



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Posted in Central America & Mexico, Home, Latinos in the U.S., Social Inequalities

On Design Studio Projects and Their Implementation

Gabriel 2


By Gabriel Díaz Montemayor

I studied architecture in a private school affiliated to a state public university in northern Mexico. In a 5 year program, since 3rd year most of our design studios had to do with some form of collaboration with a public entity, helping these develop projects that otherwise they would be unable to conceive or pay for. All of the work was done in state, in Chihuahua. It was during those years when I got to know the Sierra Madre Occidental, then and now home of Native Americans, mining and logging industries, small scale subsistence agriculture and large scale poppy and marijuana growing. The municipalities in these mountains lack technical expertise, then and now, for the development of public projects such as parks, community centers, plazas, and other public services.

Since then, in the early 90’s, the political will to design and build these project typologies was uncertain in the best case, if not in-existent. As a student I got involved in projects of various kinds, a park around a water reserve in Guadalupe y Calvo (well inside the Golden Triangle region infamous for the presence of drug traffickers), tourism cottages in Uruachic, a Revolution Museum renovation in Guerrero (as my social service project right after graduation), soccer fields in Chihuahua City, a parish in a subsidized housing / low income area of Chihuahua, and more. None of these were built, at least, as proposed by our student projects coordinated by our professors. The projects were really used to check the box by these mayors and local politicians, but eventually vanished into the short term political timing or the mason’s will on construction sites, taking –I am sure- better informed decisions than our often naïve and underdeveloped projects.

Then I grew up, graduated, became an architect, a professor, immigrated to the US, studied Landscape Architecture, became a full time faculty member (in Landscape Architecture) and I continue to see the issues of technical expertise and the question of the origin and implementation of ALL kinds of projects (not just the student projects). The difference is that I see the same situation going on in places where I would not necessarily expect for it to happen. It became clear to me that it was not just an issue of small scale towns, but of, pretty much every city. There are places that have a local culture better suited for the success of these collaborative projects between architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture students and cities, committees, and other public institutions. There are also places where the political class and local society (if participating) are better informed, have a more technical approach, or practice decision taking not just based on political calculations (although every public project is one). But here and there, I also continue to confirm that the rate of success is low. By success I mean how much of the ideas developed -pretty much for free- for these institutions actually made it to the executed project, or to the hired designers desk, or to the mayor’s desk, influencing decision making.

This kind of projects, for us -faculty and students- in the design studio continue to be a great stimuli. The idea that what we do in studio can have a real impact on people is very attractive and challenging. It goes beyond typical preoccupations proper to the designer’s mindset, for example, narcissistic interests, and the “I want to” or “my idea” are more often vanquished by grounded realities. It is also an opportunity to embrace complexity, the real kind, while operating in a working environment more similar to an office where everybody’s got responsibilities.

In discussions with colleagues that are doing similar things -many of us do at the School of Architecture at UT as well as in most Schools of Architecture- we share disappointments and varying degrees of success (aka implementation). From my own experience and that of others there a number of things that seem to work right, or better.

In the case of the working relationship there are some basic things. Often, the projects are done at a distance, located in other countries –in my case, so far, Mexico and the US- offering the added incentive of international/national travel for students. This is good for engagement, group experience, and the relationship with the client (the city institution, the organization, and etc).

Travelling to visit is always a good gesture and it helps to the seriousness of the work being developed. Finding a way to have the client collaborate with funding is important. Normally, most of these institutions lack the funds, that is why we are working together in the first place, but, having some monetary investment in the project ensures follow up and, at least, a future plan (which might include inaction) for the collaborative project. If the client can visit the school and participate during the process: even better. And, finally, finding a way to continue collaborations beyond the ephemeral condition of leadership -your contact person- that pervades many places and institutions. I am just off a phone call with an urban planning official in Mexico regarding a future public-academic project currently on the planning phase. He wanted to let me know that he has now effectively left the institution (before his term was due, politics), but, that he will have our planned project be on the to-do list for his successor. Fundamental thing: embrace and try to manage instability and have a plan B.

In the case of the project or product there’s another set of complexity. First, raise your hand and say I’ll do it if the project is the mind of the potential client but he/she/it are still hesitant or don’t have money for it. Second, try to find a way to insert innovative ideas, educate the client and target population towards a goal, learn from them in the process, and communicate in a legible, therefore implementable, manner. And third, finding a way to design a project that provides a lifeline of communication after the semester is done. This is probably a most complicated thing to do, as I already mentioned how working relationships might not last or change very quickly.

This is never an exhaustive reflection on this subject, I feel I could go on; this is more of an opportunity for distension. I am yet to see how some projects done in the recent past evolve in time, and then, be able to measure how much of our work is left in the form of ideas, designs, modes of operation, and fundraising. My belief in this teaching, learning, research, and creative practice mechanism continues.

Gabriel Díaz Montemayor
Assistant Professor
School of Architecture

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position and views of LLILAS BENSON Latin American Studies and Collections.


“Students from the School of Architecture at UT Austin and Urban Planning officials of Los Cabos, Mexico, during a workshop held last February in San Jose del Cabo. Photo by Gabriel Diaz Montemayor.

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