By Ashley Peccerelli
Scholars and professors gathered for The Latino Diaspora and the Great Central American Migration in recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month Sept. 30 to address some of the issues that immigrants within the Latinx community face regularly.
The Diaspora Conference was hosted by Prince George’s County Council Member Deni Taveras, who helped assemble a group of activists, students, community members, elected officials, scholars and practitioners at the University of Maryland for the event.
The conference featured presentation and panel discussions that explored Latino and Central American immigration to the United States – ranging from community, racial and ethnic identity and policy – in order to point out the importance of true involvement and awareness.
The first panelist to speak was Chanel Compton, the director of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture and the Banneker Douglass Museum. Compton introduced the topic of informing young students with art through Culture Keepers, an after school program that interprets Prince George’s African American history, art and culture.
“We use art to amplify social justice, self identity, [and] culture – and try to relate Afro-Latinos who do not fit in African American groups who are not ‘black’ enough, and [do] not feel Latino enough for Latinx groups and white sumpremacist groups,” said Compton.
Jessica Peña, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland, discussed racial classification of Afro-Latin Americans among Metropolitan areas in the United States. She mentioned the increase of immigration work and related research as becoming a growing community in what is currently a developmental stage.
“Compared to schools in [New York] that have their own separate department for Latino research, it’s this kind of stuff that is absent on this campus,” Peña said. “We need a research center where scholars can talk about ideas, organize courses, and especially, for undergraduates to bump up that growing group that is underrepresented.”
Other presentations discussed immigration and life outcomes, indigenous identity, multiracial idenities, and a perspective of local and global migration.
Ana Patricia Rodríguez, an associate professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and U.S. Latina/o Studies at the University of Maryland, created “Home Stories,” a project aimed to bring undergraduate students together with recent immigrant youth to reflect upon and produce digital stories of home.
“What is home? What does ‘home’ and ‘sanctuary’ mean to you?” Rodriguez asked the audience. “If we developed a program in communities where we do workshops to build generations that value their culture, we could start something bigger.”
Senior criminology and criminal justice and government and politics double major Paul Wesnofske of was disappointed with the student turnout of the event, but said he found it eye-opening nonetheless.
“There are so many things I wasn’t really aware of, like colonial history of Central American countries, and how it affects communities today,” Wesnofske said.