With the increase in populist and nativist rhetoric in the U.S. in recent years, Latinx communities continue to be affected by institutionalized racism and a misrepresentation of immigrants.
Hoping to shed new light on this and broaden her students’ perspectives, Assistant Professor of Spanish Désirée Díaz recently invited renowned Latinx journalists Daniel Alarcón and Paola Ramos to speak in her Politics of Latinx Artivism course.
“It gives the students a more real sense of the work on the ground, the difficulties but also the joy and rewards,” says Díaz.
Alarcón is the founder of Radio Ambulante, an award-winning Spanish website and podcast distributed by NPR that publishes migration stories and issues in the U.S and Latin America. Ramos is the author of Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity; before her career as a journalist, she worked in the Obama administration and served as the deputy director of Hispanic media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The course, which is supported by Swarthmore’s President’s Fund for Racial Justice, scrutinizes the sociopolitical contexts of Latino studies, attempting to find meaningful ways for artistic projects, investigative journalism, and literature to engage with social activism, and the marginalization and oppression they face. Students will also complete a practicum for which they will observe the borders that divide local communities, and use artistic creation as a means to build dialogue and unity.
“Journalism has a tremendous advantage in terms of reaching out to much more broader audiences and creating a new and renovated sense of community,” says Díaz. “It is for that reason that [political scientist] Benedict Anderson highlighted the role of the media in creating ‘imagined communities,’ and that is exactly what these new Latinx journalists are doing: They are updating, renovating, amplifying the imagined community of Latinx in the United States today and the problems they face.”
Ramos introduced students to her work and discussed the complex, evolving definition of the Latinx identity.
“It is a mental exercise to remind us who we are,” she said, “a practice that goes beyond the identity and breaks down the stereotypes of using the phrase in politics.”'
The word “Latinx'' is a geographically bound term within the U.S. that centers around the narrative of immigration, yet little attention was given to the Latinx children who grew up in the U.S. and the ways in which they could meaningfully engage in political discourse. Ramos emphasizes the importance of “thinking outside the system” — using arts, media, and journalism to mobilize people and reevaluate the marginalized role of the Latinx community in politics, society, and our everyday lives.
“It was a great opportunity for the students to talk directly with [Alarcón and Ramos] and learn more about their experiences, how they do it, and the challenges they also encounter in telling these stories, in trying to push these stories, many times against the interests of mainstream media,” says Díaz. “It gives the students a more real sense of the work on the ground, the difficulties but also the joy and rewards.”
“I felt like I really was able to meet an idol when [Alarcón] came to our class,” says Natalie Balbuena ’21, an engineering major and Latin America and Latino studies minor from Woodbridge, Va. “I've been a huge fan of his for years now, and to hear him talk in person felt so surreal.
“I'm also grateful I got to meet [Ramos],” Balbeuna adds. “The entire time, I felt quite seen and recognized in terms of my identity.”