ON FRIDAY, MARCH 13, 2020, The University of Texas at Austin announced that it was canceling classes and closing the campus due to community spread of COVID-19. From that day forward, members of the LLILAS Benson community began to figure out how we would live, work, support our loved ones, shop for necessities, exercise, survive during the pandemic. We were not alone. You were doing the same. At this writing, many places in the world are worse off than Austin, Texas, and many people continue to face fear, uncertainty, loss, and illness, not to mention precarious social and political realities that only intensified during the ongoing global health crisis.
The months since March 2020 have been a balancing act for us all. Some have struggled with isolation; others have had no space of their own. All of us have faced disappointments large and small. In our best moments, the students, staff, and faculty at LLILAS Benson have been resilient, pulling together and improvising when needed.
Our scholarly programs adapted quickly to presenting events online, welcoming audiences whose attendance was unimpeded by geography. Teaching and attending classes also took place online. At the same time, archivists and other library staff adapted to part-time onsite work in order to serve Benson patrons and proceed with important operations. More often than not, special projects and grant-funded work continued as well, with adaptations. Forced to cancel a week of workshops with archival partners, LLILAS Benson’s digital initiatives team instead spent hours creating videos and training manuals in order to offer the workshops via Zoom, in two languages, over the course of five weeks.
COVID-19 arrived in time for the kickoff of the Benson’s centennial year, requiring us to reimagine ways to promote this milestone. Our attention has turned even more toward digital exhibits, online events, and virtual rare materials showings, all strategies that we will continue to employ post-pandemic, even as we look forward welcoming guests in person. We have been fortunate to count on the support of the Benson Centennial Committee, as well as the Advisory Councils of LLILAS Benson and UT Libraries, the members of which were determined to march forward with centennial fundraising, with auspicious results. In March, we concluded the most successful 40 Hours for the Forty Acres campaign in the history of LLILAS Benson, boosting the Benson Centennial Endowment. As we move into the Benson’s second century, we look forward to celebrating with our community in the newly renovated Ann Hartness Reading Room, slated to open in early spring 2022.
The LLILAS graduation ceremony was conducted via Zoom on May 19, yet felt strangely intimate. Together with families of some of the graduates, we celebrated students’ achievements amid adversity. Among the graduates were six new PhDs—Davi Pereira Jr., an Afro-descendant quilombola from Brazil; Ana Braconnier and Adriana Linares Palma from Guatemala; Rony Castillo Guity, an Afro-descendant Garífuna educator from Honduras; Yoalli Rodríguez Aguilera from Mexico; and Angela Tapia Arce, a Quechua scholar from Peru. Ricardo Velasco (PhD 2020) and Nohely Guzmán Narvaez were recognized, respectively, for outstanding dissertation and master’s thesis, and Héctor Domínguez Ruvalcaba (Spanish and Portuguese) was honored by students as outstanding professor.
This year’s Portal is our second pandemic issue, and it, too, is a reflection of the need to adapt and also to innovate. We are pleased to offer outstanding and thoughtful work by Latin Americanist faculty and students, as well as an interview with beloved alumnus Dr. Manuel Galaviz. We continue to focus on the Benson and its centennial with an article and a series of stunning archival images from LLILAS Benson online exhibitions. We are also excited to publish, for the first time, creative writing and poetry by students in Spanish, and to introduce some of the Indigenous scholars who will be working with the Indigenous Languages Initiative.
The beginning of the new academic year is always a time of great promise. We are anxious to return to campus together and especially thrilled to welcome the new LLILAS director, Dr. Adela Pineda Franco.
Our return is also bittersweet as we mourn three dear friends, benefactor and philanthropist Dr. Teresa Lozano Long, and librarian and Latin Americanist scholar Dr. David Block, each of whom had a profound impact on LLILAS Benson and far beyond. As this magazine went to press, we also learned of the passing of beloved friend and generous educator Manuel Tahay, aka Tat Wel, who taught K’iche’ Maya at UT Austin for several years.
As we celebrate our community’s enormous goodwill and efforts to adapt, we acknowledge that this has been a time of loss and loneliness. It has not been “normal,” and none of us will ever be the same. We collectively wish you, reader, a safe and healthy year ahead.
Nuestros afectuosos saludos,
Javier Auyero, Outgoing Director, LLILAS Benson
Melissa Guy, Director, Benson Latin American Collection
Susanna Sharpe, Editor