As the 2017–2018 academic year comes to an end, the halls are quieter without our students, many of whom are now off in Latin America working on their research and further cultivating their love for our favorite region of the world. But the busy pace at LLILAS Benson barely slows down over Austin’s long, hot summers. In fact, traffic at the Benson Collection picks up during our summer months, when scholars come from all over the world to use our unparalleled special collections.
We are already starting to plan for the Benson Centennial in 2021, a celebration of 100 years since the first books and documents from the Genaro García Collection arrived in Austin on 21 train cars, in the midst of Mexico’s revolution. We will be talking much more about the Centennial in future editions of Portal, but let’s now focus on the present, where the LLILAS Benson partnership continues to thrive.
There were many highlights this past academic year, as we continue to focus our scholarly and public programming on research that matters, and to conceptualize our mission as one in which scholarship meets community. You can see this illustrated very clearly on the cover of this issue, which features a photo of the longstanding “portal” between Mexico and the United States that is now being closed off by the border wall.
As Latin America returns to the news cycle, we’ve increased our timely foros urgentes; these are rapid-response public roundtables on contemporary issues, usually featuring UT faculty, students, and other “local talent.” We have recently held foros on the current crisis in Nicaragua, violence against journalists in Mexico, Brazil’s murdered activist Marielle Franco, and the effects on Puerto Rico and the Caribbean of Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Our annual Austin Lecture on Contemporary Mexico was delivered by Father Alejandro Solalinde, the founder of Hermanos en el Camino, a shelter in Mexico for migrants from Central America, who spoke with compassion and authority on migration.
The Benson has recently acquired some key new collections that continue to advance our primacy as a repository for Latin American and US Latina/o scholarship. José Montelongo offers a literary essay on the diaries of María Luisa Puga, the noted Mexican novelist whose papers we added this past year. We also acquired the papers of Nicaraguan poet and public intellectual Pablo Antonio Cuadra. The Cuadra papers are an excellent complement to those of Ernesto Cardenal. In order to promote research opportunities, we have established the Cátedra Ernesto Cardenal, a lecture and scholarship program designed to highlight and encourage the use of our Central American holdings.
Beyond this, our digital initiatives are among the most vigorous of LLILAS Benson activities. We continue to expand the horizons of post-custodial archiving of rare and endangered collections in Latin America, to advance the preservation of endangered indigenous languages, and to pioneer the new frontiers of digital scholarship, with generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
This issue highlights the many dimensions of LLILAS Benson’s work. The celebrated Puerto Rican writer and intellectual Eduardo Lalo has contributed an essay on Puerto Rico in the “hurricane” of colonialism as well as Hurricane Maria, accompanied by some amazing photos from his exhibit Deudos / Death Debt. We offer a feature on the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Collection, a unique collection of Spanish American colonial art newly on display at the Blanton Museum of Art. Last winter, LLILAS Benson partnered with the Blanton to sponsor our annual Lozano Long Conference (the first ever built around visual art), which attracted an international audience to discuss the creation and consumption of colonial material culture.
You will find an all-too-timely article by LLILAS affiliate Molly H. Polk of the Department of Geography and Environment, on climate change tourism in the Andes, along with a photo essay on colonias in the Rio Grande Valley by Lynda Gonzalez, a dual-degree master’s student in LLILAS and journalism, who also contributed the photo that appears on our cover. Moravia de la O, a dual master’s student in LLILAS and social work, provides a sobering account of her work with mothers of disappeared persons in Mexico.
To underscore our ever-present focus on student programs and teaching, alumnus Joseph Pierce, now a professor of Hispanic Languages and Literatures at SUNY Stony Brook, offers a fascinating piece about the challenges of teaching area studies/humanities in the era of a market-driven, neoliberal university. We are also pleased to include three faculty and staff profiles, as well as contributions by 2017–2018 Tinker Visiting Professors Felipe González Morales of Chile and Alessandro de Oliveira dos Santos of Brazil.
We hope you enjoy this thirteenth edition of Portal.
Virginia Garrard, Director
LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections