SFU should revive their Latin American courses

Their complete silence sends a message

The flags of Argentina and Brazil painted on a wall
PHOTO: Roberto Huczek / Unsplash

By: Michelle Young, Opinions Editor

In 2020, SFU suspended their Latin American studies program. There was little explanation for this, and since it’s been three years, I can only assume they aren’t prioritizing its return. As someone who had been hoping to further understand my own heritage through these courses, to say I’m disappointed is an understatement. 

Growing up, I was given a history education that was centred on colonial Canada and Europe. Sure, learning about World War II is important world history. However, our classes were lacking. Beyond little recognition of Indigenous perspectives, I knew little about where I came from. I only knew what my parents and family told me. Venezuela was once a rich country until an economic collapse. 

The things I knew about Venezuela are what I heard about on the phone from my family who still lived there: there is less food, less electricity, and crime is rising. But there were so many things I didn’t know or understand about Latin America. As a child, I didn’t know how deeply white supremacy had influenced Venezuela. I didn’t know how Brazil’s bossa nova was influenced by samba. I didn’t know some Columbians didn’t want Venezuelans migrating to their country. There is so much I still don’t know about Latin America

SFU has some very specific history courses. They have one on “Imperial Japan,” “Japan from 1603 to 1867,” “History of Greek Civilization,” “The Ottoman Empire and Turkey,” “Victorian Britain,” and much more from many parts of the world. However, in their entire catalogue of history courses, there is only one course that even touches any part of Latin America. You might say that’s because there are Latin American studies courses you can take individually, outside the program. There are two. They are both upper division and require you to take the lower division prerequisites, which no longer seem to exist. I only know because I have been checking for years to see if I could enroll in them. 

The program likely needs to be revisited anyways, since the curriculum is generalized at best. The courses in the program seem far off from what it’s supposed to focus on. Lower division courses include subjects like “Introduction to Business” and “Introduction to Communication Studies.” I’ve only taken the latter, and while it may be helpful to the general program, it had nothing to do with Latin America. There are only three courses in this entire program listed as having a “primary Latin American focus” — two of which are those upper divisions locked behind a non-existent prerequisite. The other one is “Archeology of The New World,” which examines “prehistoric cultures of North and South America.” That’s a lot of cultures to cram into one course. 

In comparison, the Global Asia program is much more tailored and specific to, well, Asia. It includes courses like “The Nikkei Experience in North America,” “Women in Japanese History,” and “Nationalism, Democracy and Development in Modern India.” The program should be specific to the plethora of cultures and countries in the continent. 

While not as prominent as the US, there are still Latin American communities here, in Vancouver. I would love to learn more about the Mexican Revolution, the Pinochet government, the history of Indigenous peoples in these places, and more. I’m very lucky to live with the privileges I do because my parents immigrated. However, I would love to explore Latin American culture and literature in an academic setting without trying to dig out whatever I can find through the internet. I’ve tried to make a specific effort to engage in these things to appreciate all the diversity of the area. As much as I’ve enjoyed indulging in films and books I’ve found on my own, I would revel in a professor who could just tell me, “Hey, you know this? It was really important to this time period in this country, I recommend reading up on it.” 

Latin American history is important. Through studying it, we further understand issues like immigration and colonialism. While most people are likely aware that Latin America isn’t all about spicy food (plus not all of our food is spicy, and can vary by region), I’ve noticed a large disconnect in how well others are generally informed. Sometimes this manifests as a preconceived notion of Latinas, or other times it’s thinking all of Latin America is made of rural villages. While there are definitely cultural similarities, there is especially a lack of understanding about how diverse these countries really are. 

At some point, I took a Japanese history course and learned so much — not only about Japan, but also about how their position relates to other countries globally. It helps put things into context, and even just one course that’s more accessible to students can be a step in the right direction. There are still lots of places I want to learn about, but in these cases, the academic option is actually there. 

The complete discardment of the program has made it feel like SFU frankly doesn’t care about Latin American history or our communities. The silence from SFU sinks a hole into my stomach. While they rightfully commemorated Asian Heritage and Islamic Heritage Month, there is nothing on Latinx Heritage Month. Does SFU think we don’t exist? Sure, a statement from a university who isn’t properly compensating their research assistants might not mean much on the front of commitment. But I’d like to at least be acknowledged, because we are present. We are here.

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