Class Name: HUM 3647 — Latinx Cultural Expressions
Instructors: Lecturer of Humanities and Cultural Studies Stacey DiLiberto and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Karina Cespedes co-founded the course
When the course is offered: Spring semesters
How many students in the class: There were 35 in the inaugural Spring 2022 class; as many as 45 are expected from a variety of majors.
Prerequisites: One general humanities course (HUM 2210, HUM 2230 or an equivalent).
From the Professor
Stacey DiLiberto, College of Arts and Humanities
How would you describe this course?
Latinx cultural expressions … students might wonder what it means. Once they’re in the class, though, I hear them saying, “Why didn’t we learn about this a long time ago?”
Latinos are Latin Americans or someone of Latin American descent born, raised or living in the U.S. Latinx is a gender-neutral identifier for this same group.
This course is a new and long overdue way of looking at humanities, through the Latin American lens. This doesn’t diminish the importance of the traditional Greco-Roman or European connections, but we see that Latin American influences have been in this country since before its founding. Music. Foods. Word formations. They’re all around us, living and breathing. Although they aren’t new, digging into them is considered a niche topic.
Who is the class designed for?
Literally anyone. About 75% of the students in our first class were of Latin American heritage. The other 25% were from a variety of backgrounds — Italian descent, Irish descent, a mix of regions. One student grew up in Texas. She had no Latin American ancestry, but her neighbors were mostly Mexican American. She’d been surrounded by the culture her entire life and saw the class as a way to finally understand more about it. Whatever we discuss centers back to the cross-cultural immigrant experience, which literally applies to all of us. When you think of it that way, you get the true meaning of diversity.
Would you describe the class as historical or philosophical?
It’s a blend. You need to understand historical facts if you’re going to grasp anything philosophical. The philosophical elements are often more contemporary than in a typical humanities class. Students can easily connect the dots because although the culture we investigate goes back centuries, it’s also being shaped as we speak.
Why was it important to launch the class?
Karina is Cuban American. I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in the U.S. I’m a product of both places — my name is a very American “Stacey,” but my umbilical cord is buried somewhere in Puerto Rico. There are a lot of people, including students, whose biographies are similar to ours. In fact, we’re learning alongside the students.
Give us a glimpse of the coursework.
One of the first assignments is to look at maps of the United States and recognize Latin American influences. Why is California called California? Why is Colorado called Colorado? Nevada? Florida? They’re all linguistically Spanish. The entire U.S. is full of Latin American affects. We look at New York, the Bronx in particular, which is heavily populated with Latin Americans. Same with Chicago. There are interesting lessons about migratory patterns.
How about outside assignments?
This is an online course, so we want students to get out and immerse themselves. Go to a Latin American restaurant. Travel to the Caribbean, South America or cities like Miami and San Antonio. Watch a concert or a film screening. Walk down the road and visit with your nearby abuela (grandmother). That’s the point of this class. Look around and listen. Latino expressions are woven into the fabric of our lives.
What are the key takeaways you want for students?
- One, that they grow an appreciation for the fact the U.S. has always been a blend of cultures. Latinos have been here for hundreds of years. The cultural elements we see every day have been incredibly resilient.
- Two, that they know how people for centuries have creatively responded to life in unfamiliar places.
- And three, the importance of empathy. When you have empathy, your fear of certain groups changes into a more accurate perspective. Everyone becomes better for that.
From the Student
Kizahira Hernandez, majoring in humanities and cultural studies, took the class as a junior.
Why did you take this course?
I enjoyed my other humanities classes and thought with my background as a Latina I could connect personally to learning about art, cuisine, and social movements. There’s so much Latin American influence in the U.S. that I hadn’t thought about prior to taking the class even though I grew up bilingual and bicultural.
What else surprised you?
The big surprise is how deep the Latin American culture and history go in the U.S. These things haven’t been told to us in the media or in textbooks. For example, Latinos had a movement that coincided with the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. We’re typically taught about those years as Black and white history. But concurrently with Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, there was a Mexican American, Cesar Chavez, who led an effort to bring awareness to farmworkers rights and socio economic issues like housing and education. It’s a reminder of a bigger struggle to balance two identities — one from living in the U.S. and one from a heritage that’s always a part of you — and to be accepted. That’s humanities at work.
Overall, what did you enjoy the most?
The atmosphere is friendly. The material is approachable. The teaching isn’t too philosophical or sophisticated. It’s never contentious. We had the freedom to dig deeper into whatever piqued our interest. For me it’s recognizing deeper meaning in art and movies like West Side Story.
What are your three key takeaways?
- One, realizing how Latin American influences are not well-known to us.
- Two, the fact that cultural identities run deep.
- Three, I now have a better foundation to balance my life as American and Latina.