Latin American Studies Alumnus Chronicles Peace Corps Journey in ‘Different Latitudes’

image of bookAs graduation looms right around the corner, many soon-to-be UT alums will be traveling far and wide on missions to change the world. From the Peace Corps to Teach for America, our jet-setting Longhorns will be making an impact in high-need regions of the world. In a book titled “Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond” (Peace Corps Writers, April 2017), Latin American Institute alumnus Mark D. Walker chronicles his Peace Corps journey in various countries beset by poverty and political corruption.

Synapsis (from the publisher): Summer, 1971. A naive young man must decide his path upon graduation from a small university in Colorado. Amidst the turmoil of the counterculture years and the looming possibility of being sent to Vietnam, he concludes that he wants to travel, serve, and, if possible, save the world. As a Peace Corps volunteer Mark embarks on a vigorous cross-cultural experience in a Caribbean and two Central American countries, with a final stop in one of the more isolated areas of the highlands of Guatemala.

Though beset with a fear of the unknown and feelings of profound isolation due to being the only volunteer in a remote village, he eventually gets to know and appreciate the people of the rural communities he is privileged to live among. After a near-death experience takes him to another part of Guatemala and eventually to a horse town, Mark meets the love of his life, Ligia, who will bear him three children and be part of a lifelong commitment to and appreciation of this beautiful and unique country. Much of the courtship process will take place on a coffee plantation owned by Ligia’s family, where Mark experiences a different side of Guatemalan society.

While Ligia selflessly abandons her own career to focus on establishing a stable bi-cultural home for their three children during the violent Guatemalan Civil War, Mark’s “wanderlust” takes him on a four month solo trek through Latin America and then a country change based on threats from a guerrilla group. Mark’s 13-year career promoting rural development through various international NGOs begins when he sets up a local development agency in Guatemala to help the poorest of the poor, whose plight is at least partially due to the policies of his own government.

Eventually family circumstances force a radical career change and a return to the United States to begin a 30-year calling. Inspired by the “extreme do-gooders” he’d met along his journey, he takes some of the wealthiest American families in the world to meet some of the world’s poorest in some of the most isolated, unstable countries. This leads to many adventures, with both wealthy and poor growing from their shared experiences.

Mark’s career comes to a sudden and unexpected turn after he is let go as the CEO of one of these international NGOs, and this frees him up to focus on his three children and  six grandchildren. This twist in the road also provides a new opportunity to reflect on what he has accomplished, where he’s failed, and where the international NGO community has come up short. Different Latitudes is more than a travel memoir. It is a tale of physical and spiritual self-discovery through Latin American, African, European, and Asian topography, cuisine, politics and history.

Visit the author’s website to learn more about his good work in publishing and human rights advocacy.

History Professor Wins Prestigious Book Award for ‘In Search of the Amazon’

This post, authored by Susanna Sharpe, first appeared on the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) website.  

garfieldHistory Professor Seth Garfiel received the prestigious Bolton-Johnson Prize Honorable Mention Award for his book In Search of the Amazon: Brazil, the United States, and the Nature of a Region (Duke, 2013).

The award was announced earlier this month at the annual conference of the American Historical Association in New York City. According to the website of the Conference on Latin American History, the Bolton-Johnson Prize is given to the best book in English on Latin American history published in the previous year, with honorable mention given to “an additional distinguished work deemed worthy” by the prize committee.

Criteria for the award include “sound scholarship, grace of style, and importance of the 978-0-8223-5585-4_prscholarly contribution.” The citation read at the awards ceremony praises Garfield’s work on a complex and often misunderstood topic: “Seth Garfield brings the best methodologies of social and political history into dialogue with new debates over environmental and transnational history. Examining the impact of World War II and the United States’ need for rubber on Brazilian policy in the Amazon, Garfield underscores the role of labor migration from the drought-stricken Northeast and competing efforts by military, medical, religious, and industrial leaders to forge a rational male workforce. The book traces transformations in ideas about race, gender, and family as central components in capitalist exploitation as well as in conceptualizations of ‘nature’ and ‘national resources.’ If contemporary environmental movements portray the Amazon as a pristine forest inhabited by traditional people, Garfield’s book lays bare the heavy presence of people and policy that continually made the Tropics.”

In Search of the Amazon was also selected by Knowledge Unlatched for a pilot open-access program for scholarly books. According to the organization’s website, through this pilot project, Knowledge Unlatched is seeking “a financially sustainable route to Open Access for large numbers of scholarly books.”

Garfield is director of the Institute for Historical Studies in the Department of History, and the LLILAS undergraduate faculty adviser. This semester, he will teach the graduate seminar Postcolonial Brazil.

Celebrated Cookbook Author Serves Up Stories of Mexico’s Culinary Heritage

oaxaDiana Kennedy, known by many as the “Julia Child of Mexican Cuisine,” will discuss the history of Mexican cooking on Thursday, April, 29, 6 p.m., at the Blanton Museum of Art, as part of the Mexican Center’s “Foodways of Mexico” speaker series.

From recipes shared between mothers and daughters to village feasts in which the entire community prepares the meal, Mexico has a rich food tradition. With her profound knowledge of the culture, Kennedy will discuss the dishes and recipes of Mexico that are handed down from generation to generation.

With a zest for adventure and a passion for Mexican culture, foodKennedy spent more than 30 years traveling to the farthest reaches of her adopted homeland to track down authentic recipes.

Stories from her travels along with a wide assortment of recipes are documented in her classic cookbooks, which include “The Cuisines of Mexico” and “The Art of Mexican Cooking.” She received the highest honor given to foreigners by the Mexican government, the Order of the Aztec Eagle, as well as numerous awards from gastronomic institutions throughout the world. Her latest book, “Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy” will be published in September 2010 by the University of Texas Press.