The first Annual Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta Latino Studies Lecture took place on Tuesday Oct. 13. The event featured Assistant Professor of Hispanic Studies Emily Davidson, who spoke on the impact of activists such as Cesar Chaves and Dolores Huerta on the United States.
The event also addressed the issue of dehumanization of Latino Americans. Derogatory terms such as “illegals” and “job stealers” were specifically highlighted as examples of such dehumanizing language. Davidson used these terms as a call to arms.
“This grim and – frankly – infuriating state of affairs makes it more urgent than ever to promote Latino Studies in the United States,” Davidson said.
The Latino Studies Lecture addressed these social issues at the close of Hispanic Heritage Month, a time dedicated to celebrating the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic Americans.
Hispanic Heritage month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. The celebratory month was established because in 1821 a multitude of Spanish-speaking countries gained independence. These countries included: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.
During the lecture, Davidson presented “The New Latinos (1946-1965),” a comprehensive documentary detailing the history of Latino peoples in America.
“We’d like to challenge you not to be passive spectators of history, but rather critical viewers who are attentive to the ways that this documentary gives shape to an emerging official Latin History,” Davidson said to the room of attendees.
The film featured personal stories and histories like that of Rita Moreno, a Puerto Rican actress who immigrated to the United States. Moreno, who is best known for her work in West Side Story, spoke about her life growing up in the United States as a Latina.
Her many accomplishments include receiving an Emmy, a Tony, an Oscar and multiple Grammy awards. But hers is only one of the many accounts of Latino American life from 1946 to 1965 in this film.
After viewing the documentary, many attendees questioned the treatment of Latino Americans in the past as well as the present.
Hispanic immigrants arriving between 1946 and 1965 faced conflict with Jewish, Irish and Italian Americans, peoples who were also fighting for their place in American society. Investigating struggles such as these raised interesting and complex questions during the lecture.
“History is a selective narrative and we must be vigilant in questioning and giving shape to the stories that construct our understanding of the past and present,” Davidson said.
A common comment among attendees was that they did not have much knowledge of Latino American history prior to watching “The New Latinos.”
One thing that stood out to audience members was the role media played in the portrayal of Latino Americans, and the connections that can be drawn between the 1946-1965 episode and life today.
“The one thing I liked about [the film] was that it really tied into the Hispanic and Latino culture, and it really embraced what the troubles were within America,” First year Eduardo Torres said.
First year Joanna Morales said she walked away from the event with a desire to better understand her Latino American roots, a feeling likely shared by much of the audience.