Energizing Latino-Latin American Studies

schmitt shoots!!
College of Arts and Sciences professor Silvio Torres-Saillant is the new director of SU's Latino-Latin American Studies Program. He plans to establish a clear identity for the program and expand its offerings.

When Professor Silvio Torres-Saillant was appointed director of SU’s Latino-Latin American Studies Program last year, he was aware of the challenges awaiting him. But he also knew there was no better time to strengthen the program. "We are at a good moment in ethnic studies in the United States," he says. "We have reached a moment of self-awareness. Learning about Latin Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans is learning about us."

The development of the Latino-Latin American Studies Program has been a gradual process. A student committee was formed in 1994 to bring the program on par with SU’s African American Studies Program. The students reviewed curriculum outlines from universities across the country and created a proposal. Efforts to strengthen the curriculum and generate student interest continued for nearly three years. Last year, the University formed an advisory board to implement some of the committee’s suggestions. The work ultimately led to the selection of Torres-Saillant as director.

An interdisciplinary concentration offered through the College of Arts and Sciences, the program currently offers 11 courses that support the curriculum’s two components: a Latin American component emphasizing Latin American culture and society, and a Latino component focusing on ethnic studies of Hispanics in the United States.

Torres-Saillant, a native of the Dominican Republic, is optimistic that the growing public interest in and increased media attention to global relations and economic interdependence will encourage students of all ethnic backgrounds to consider the program. "It is extremely important that we have a diverse group of students," he says. "That is the only way this will become a valid field of study at SU. The program will not succeed if it relies on the interest of just those students with ethnic ties to Latin American countries."

Torres-Saillant views his own immigrant experience as just one part of his journey to adulthood. "I was brought here by my mother in 1973," he says. "But I had the adaptability typical of the age. I wasn’t much occupied with the full meaning of the change."

Among the most important things Torres-Saillant brought with him to the United States was a highly developed love of literature. "My father was a well-read man, and some of that was passed down," he says. "He was very proud of the fact that he knew things."

After earning a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Brooklyn College, Torres-Saillant studied comparative literature at New York University–earning master’s and doctoral degrees. Prior to coming to SU, Torres-Saillant held several appointments in the English department at City University of New York, where he also launched the university’s Dominican Studies Institute.

Torres-Saillant is a self-described activist on how Latin culture is interpreted in this country, and how Latin immigrants have integrated into American society. At SU, he wants to help the Latino-Latin American Studies Program establish a clear identity within the University community and beyond. His first priority is to expand the Latino component of the program and improve its offerings, he says.

Over the next year, Latino-Latin American studies students will have more choices than ever before–including a new course on Hispanic-Caribbean literature. This fall, a course on Hispanic-Jewish relations is planned. Eventually, Torres-Saillant would like to see the program occupy a designated space on campus that would include a reference library, a reading room, offices, and a conference room.

Miguel Rosero Alarcon, a student who served on the advisory board that approved Torres-Saillant’s appointment, says he is optimistic about the future of Latino-Latin American studies at SU. "Professor Torres-Saillant is excellent for the program and will enhance students’ past efforts," he says.

For Torres-Saillant, coming to SU to build upon the program was an enticing career move. "This program really is just beginning and beginnings are inherently utopian," he says. While he is aware of the idealism surrounding the program, he also is respectful of its tumultuous history. "This is the first time that a director has been hired specifically for this program," he says. "So, it is a major step."
                                                                                                                                                —TAMMY DIDOMENICO

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