Ever since I arrived here in the fall of 2007, the main focus of Yale’s international projects has been Asia, and it probably had been for years before. Yale boasts about its joint program with Peking University in China, it brings government workers from China and India every year to New Haven, and now we plan to open a campus in Singapore. Yale’s obsession with Asia is understandable, given the rising economic power and influence of the region, but it presents an unfortunate trade-off, one that subtracts attention from other regions of the world.
In particular, Latin America has received the short end of the straw. Despite its geographic proximity and the significant cultural and economic influence it has on the U.S. through immigration, Yale pays little attention to the region. For Latin American students and scholars, this is a frustrating state of affairs. It is it harder to learn about the region and to dispel many of the incorrect preconceptions people hold about it. There has been some progress in recent years: more classes have been added to the Blue Book and Yale has recently partnered with a European bank to fund programs in Ibero-American and Arabic countries. Yet, the resources that go toward strengthening Yale’s relationship with Latin American countries constitute a small fraction of the time, effort and money that goes toward its plans in Asia. It is telling that Chinese and Indian civil servants are invited to Yale every year for workshops and training programs, but it took a lawsuit before Peruvian officials could get an invitation from Woodbridge Hall.
But if ever there has been a time to feel the vibrancy of Latin America on Yale’s campus, it is during this first week of April. This past weekend, Yale students involved with PorColombia organized the “V Colombian Student Conference,” which brought together Colombians from all over the Northeast to discuss Colombian politics, economics, and arts and to celebrate its culture. At the same time, the Venezuelan Student Organization at Yale (VSOY) organized the “Plan País” conference which sought to develop an innovative plan for the future of Venezuela and to promote healthy dialogue and debate among Venezuelans. Next weekend, the Dominican Students Association (DSA) will host the “5th National Dominican Student Conference” to address similar issues. These student-planned events all featured — or will feature — important guests, ranging from renowned professors to former governmental ministers and heads of state to journalists and artists.
These conferences are a testament to the student interest in Latin America. They reflect a desire to learn about the region and to celebrate its culture, history, languages and music. Yale should help bring a different side of Latin America to light, to prove that we have more to offer than drug trafficking, high homicide rates, and corrupt governments. Yale should take special note of this student interest and provide more resources for its students to learn about the region.
In the end, however, we Latin Americans cannot expect Yale and the world to start caring for our countries all of a sudden — especially when Asia can play the money card. Thus, we should strive to serve as cultural ambassadors of our countries and promote interest in them. We can do this through student groups, the subjects we study, or the causes we fight for. We live in a time when the voices of many Latin Americans go unheard — either they are undocumented in the United States or suffering from violence and poverty at home. It is up to us to speak up and represent Latin America’s richness. Only then can we put the region on the agenda, and keep it there.
Oscar Pocasangre is a senior in Berkeley College and is from El Salvador.