Celebrating a Quarter-Century of LACLaS

By Tom Porter

Twenty-five years ago, Bowdoin established a minor in Latin American studies, observed President Safa Zaki. The fact that it has now expanded “to a program as rich and deep and varied as the one we have today is a testament to the remarkable faculty who led the way.”

She was speaking at a luncheon on March 2, capping three days of celebrations marking twenty-five years of continued growth and success for Bowdoin’s Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies (LACLaS) Program.

The evolution of this program, she continued, “also demonstrates how very important this interdisciplinary scholarship and research is to the College and our students.”

Covering a geographical area that is home to almost a billion people speaking over 450 indigenous and European languages, the LACLaS program examines the diverse cultures and complex historical and contemporary relationships of Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Latinas and Latinos in the United States, while paying close attention as well to the complex material realities of people’s lives.

“As questions about migration, labor, equality, and the environment take center stage in scholarship and in national and global debates about the world we want to live in,” said Zaki, “learning deeply about this region’s history, culture, people, arts, and languages —a project that has always been central to a full understanding of the world—is perhaps more urgent than ever.”

Safa Zaki at LACLaS celebrations
President Safa Zaki celebrates a "rich, deep, varied" program. Photo: Michele Stapleton.

Celebrations began Thursday, February 29 onstage in Wish Theater, with a performance of Valor, Outrage, and Woman, a reimagining of the Spanish seventeenth-century comedia classic and Bowdoin’s first main season bilingual production. Key to the visual impact of the production was the scenic design work of Assistant Professor of Theater Germán Cárdenas Alaminos, who helped create the look of a Baroque-era Spanish theater.

The play, which ran for three nights, included live music from the internationally acclaimed early music ensemble La Chimera, who also gave a concert on campus as part of the celebrations on March 1.

Both the dramatic production and the concert were followed by conversations featuring visiting scholars and Bowdoin faculty, including Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Margaret Boyle, who also directs the LACLaS program, and Assistant Professor of Music Ireri Chávez-Bárcenas, whose scholarship includes sacred song in the Hispanic world.

On Friday, March 1, an exhibit called LACLaS Past and Futures opened on the first floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. It is cocurated by Paulina Morales ’24 and Alexandra Camargo ’25 and runs until June 1.

Current and former faculty gathered in Daggett Lounge on the morning of March 2 to discuss the state of the interdisciplinary program, innovations in curriculum, and ongoing research. Featured speakers included Boyle, who talked about multilingualism, and Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and LACLaS Nadia Celis, who spoke about the role of love and violence in the novels of Gabriel García Marquez, a topic she explored in her recent book.

Also taking part were Assistant Professor of LACLaS Irina Popescu, who gave an introduction to the program, and music scholar Chávez-Barcenas, as well as the program’s latest hire, E. Frederic Morrow Associate Professor of LACLaS and Africana Studies Michele Reid-Vazquez. One of four endowed chairs in race, racism, and racial justice,  Reid-Vazquez also directs the Afrolatinidad Studies Institute.

Then came the celebratory luncheon, where attendees were treated to some Latin American cuisine, courtesy of Bowdoin Dining. An honored guest was Roger Howell Jr. Professor of History Emeritus Allen Wells, a noted historian of Latin America and one of the founders of the LACLaS Program, in whose name a student travel and research award fund was established back in 2000.

In her address to the luncheon gathering, program director Boyle expressed excitement for the future of the program. “It is a tremendous honor for me to listen to the stories we are sharing today, and to think more about what we are building. In my last ten years at Bowdoin,” she continued, “I’ve been able to watch this program transform from a shared labor of love towards fully and jointly appointed faculty and our eighteen contributing faculty members across the program, investing in our commitment to interdisciplinarity study of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinidad.”

“As questions about migration, labor, equality, and the environment take center stage in scholarship and in national and global debates about the world we want to live in, learning deeply about this region’s history, culture, people, arts, and languages is perhaps more urgent than ever.” President Safa Zaki.

Also delivering remarks at the luncheon was literary scholar Nadia Celis, whose address was titled “An Intellectual Home.”

“The last decade has brought [to the program] a significant number of new colleagues who study Latin America, the Caribbean, and Latinx communities, as well as faculty with direct ties to the histories, societies, and cultures of these communities in departments and programs ranging from Sociology to Government, from Music to Neuroscience, and from Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies to Africana Studies,” said Celis. “We have embraced this opportunity in various ways, including a shift to joint appointments and LACLaS-housed lines which have solidified our program offerings while maintaining the spirit of collaboration and joy in working together that binds all our affiliated faculty,” she added.

Celis also enthused about the formation last year of ABLA (the Association of Bowdoin Latinx Alumni), created to celebrate alumni achievements, connect alumni with one another, and support students. “Your involvement,” she said to alumni, “is crucial in providing the necessary support network for our students to uncover and refine their talents here at Bowdoin and to succeed thereafter.”

Celebrations concluded later that day with an open house at Copeland House—where the LACLaS program has been based since fall 2022—and an alumni reception at Torrey Barn in Cram Alumni House.
Click here for a full program events.