A Tradition of Cultural Awareness and Appreciation
Professor of Spanish Leona Martin is passionate about the annual Latino Symposium —passionate enough that she, along with the Department of Modern Languages, has organized the event for 17 years. The symposium has become foundational to the department’s Latino Initiative, a broader effort to engage the local Latino community that includes class trips, service projects and a Children’s Symposium that promotes cultural awareness.
The Latino Symposium got its start in 1995 when Associate Professor of Spanish Wanda Cordero-Ponce suggested that the department organize a symposium to further connections already being made with the Latino community. Martin was on board. That year they organized the first Latino Symposium around the theme “Caribbean Connections.”
Since its inception, the Latino Symposium has been a fusion of scholarly and cultural events. It brings together artists—such as the 2012 guest speaker, poet Willie Perdomo—with academics and members of the regional Latino community, particularly Latino high school students.
That initial symposium also started another tradition. “We always involve our students as participants,” says Martin.
Each year, the Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness (HOLA) , a student group, hosts the celebratory gala that concludes the symposium. Sometimes they organize other activities as well, such as dance workshops. Vice president of HOLA, Laura Walser ’14, says it is important for the organization to be involved because “a main component of HOLA’s mission is to spread awareness of Latino culture to the SU community.”
Often students contribute to the symposium through their courses. For example, a Spanish class this year created a Day of the Dead display on Degenstein Lawn. Classes from other disciplines also add to the symposium. In 2011, for instance, students from a History Methods course presented research.
“We’ve always reached out to other departments,” Martin explains.
For the 2012 symposium, Martin collaborated with the history department and Assistant Professor of History Maria Muñoz. Muñoz showed and led discussion on the film In the Time of Butterflies. In previous years, the music, sociology and communications departments, as well as the Arlin M. Adams Center for Law and Society, have contributed to the symposiums.
Martin looks back with satisfaction on each symposium. While their themes may change, the symposiums consistently fulfill the mission of “working to connect Susquehanna University to Latinos in the area and in the state.”
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