Category Archives: latin america

Myths and stereotypes undone through literature : Brazilian Bilingual Book Club promotes invaluable cultural exchange

The ACLAIIR blog is delighted to welcome Nadia Kerecuk as our guest writer for this piece about the Brazilian Bilingual Book Club, convened by Nadia herself and hosted by the Embassy of Brazil in London. Discussing José Pereira da Graça Aranha’s work ‘Canaã’, (English Title: Canaan), the group found many topical points on issues of migration – particularly pertinent given current events in Europe. For an introduction to the book, including a biography of the author and details of available editions and translations, take a look at Nadia’s excellent article here

Our summer meeting, the eighth in this year of our book club, proved to be a very engaging session. We were also delighted to welcome another three new members to our book club.

The members offered a fabulous selection of their favourite quotes from the novel, which kick-started a fine discussion on the quality of the novel and its relevance. The very topical subject of migration in the novel opened up an opportunity to look back at part of the history of the migrations into Brazil from the first decades of the 19th century.

The discussions also brought to light the fact that there had already been various government initiatives to colonize the vast territory of Brazil by bringing European immigrants (from western to eastern Europe) by mid-19th century and also forward planning aimed at replacing the African slave labour force eventually when the abolition of slavery would be finalized. Inevitably, the emergence of unregulated agents accelerated the number of immigrants that were brought to work on the coffee plantations, railway building, logging of the Araucaria forests in the south and various other activities could be described as a consequence of those earlier policies. More often than not, people that wanted to emigrate from Europe and elsewhere were seduced by the promise of an El Dorado in Brazil and came to be entrapped by such agents, often having to cope with multiple challenges with very little official support.  After WWII, Brazil was one of the four countries in the world that accepted displaced people from the forced labour camps in Nazi Germany. 

Canaan, albeit fictional, will certainly remain a valid source for the history of settlements (‘colonies’) of immigrants in various places in Brazil. Various book club members had not realized that Germans had gone far northward in Brazil, including the state of Espírito Santo.

Our book club members also commented on the exhuberant nature of that part of Brazil along with the realization that it is located in the Atlantic Forest and the Serra do Mar (vast mountain ranges that extend along the coast of Brazil from the state of Rio Grande do Norte to Rio Grande do Sul). The obfuscating glare of the sun, the beauty of sunrise and twilight and in the evenings the glorious lights of glow-worms are some of the lasting images stayed with the readers.

Another common aspect of the life within communities of immigrant settlers is a degree of ghettoization – akin to any other such communities universally. The fact that families bring their own traditions, languages, cultures and manners of approaching life along with memories from their own birthplaces to their new country, triggers off a concomitant process of preserving them for future generations and safe-guarding them from external local influences and the local law.  G. Aranha demonstrated a significant degree of understanding of this phenomenon obviously benefitting from his own experience of being a ‘domestic migrant’ as he was born in the state of Maranhão, studied in Recife, Pernambuco and travelled to work as a judge to Espírito Santo and elsewhere. Inevitably, the legacy of immigrant traditions would get diluted and blended in massive melting pots of the Americas, the new world yet to be built. The author also provided an insightful critique of such communities and of the way that the governments failed to deal with some of their challenges and concerns.

graca

Image credit: Embassy of Brazil http://culturalbrazil.org/

Our meeting has benefitted from the insights and experience one of our members, a descendant of such immigrants in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in referring to German immigrations into Brazil and the various communities that they set up there.

A relevant aspect was also discussed regarding some Brazilians that had become either enthusiasts or shared some of the values of the 19th century German culture. At that time, those German ideas were perceived as a means of curbing the excessive influence of French ideas in Brazil. For instance, this was the case of Tobias Barreto (de Meneses – 1839- 89), that influenced G. Aranha as his teacher. Tobias Barreto was a philosopher, legal scholar, poet and literary critic that taught law at university.  In his memoirs, G. Aranha extols T. Barreto’s virtues and offers an account of his intellectual contribution to various key Brazilian institutions.

The matter of views on races, which prevailed in the last quarter of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th centuries was also discussed – Lentz and Milkau illustrate them but there is a broader network of internal dialogue within the narrative. Some of the views expressed by the characters were as repugnant and unethical as they can be and quite common at the time. Discussions on race and ethnicity continue to be most contentious and controversial causing much misunderstanding. Equally, one is also reminded that there is a return to discussions on race and ethnicity in academic circles currently re-enlivened by recent scientific advances in the study and analysis of the human genome.

However, in the fictional universe of the utopia in Graça Aranha’s Canaan, a solution of sorts to this moot point seems to be put forward, which could only be found in the new world, the new ‘promised’ land in the Americas. Apropos, it is worth mentioning that when The New York Times reviewed the novel in 1920 in a long article, immediately after the publication of its translation, the reviewer stated that Canaan ‘views humanity through the telescope of cosmic philosophy, as a baby taking its first uncertain steps toward Utopia.’ [An Epic of Today in Brazil, 11 Apr 1920]. 

Canaan brings various references to thinkers and events in the world at the time it is set. We discussed several references. A young nation seems to require a heroic history based on the local ancient tales and legends. This theme is adroitly introduced with an analogy in the covert reference that the narrator makes to the Ring Cycle (The Ring of the Nibelung) by Richard Wagner (1813-1883) that includes ancient Norse sagas.

This novel gained another accolade from one of the leading French authors at the time, Anatole France (1844-1924), that hailed Canaan as ‘The Great American Novel’. Yet, despite all of the positive reviews, claims that it was a first Brazilian international best-seller, with rather excessive hype, the novel fell into oblivion so much so that it was only recently that it was reprinted.

Our book club members agreed that it is a fine novel. In fact, it is a significant classic considering what other authors in various cultural and intellectual centres were writing at the time. It is a very ‘modern’ novel in the way that it approaches its main themes. Therefore, no surprise that this author and diplomat would subsequently become a leading cultural activist in the 1922 Week of Modern Art in São Paulo.

——————————————–

Nadia Kerecuk, Convenor, Brazilian Bilingual Book Club

The book club has featured in a recent article in The Linguist: http://thelinguist.uberflip.com/h/i/119188544-the-linguist-54-4 Pages 12-13 and further details including upcoming books for discussion can be found on the Embassy’s website http://culturalbrazil.org/category/books/bookclub/.

The book club meets once a month. If this article has whet your appetite and you are interested in joining, please e-mail Nadia: nadia.kerecuk@itamaraty.gov.br

 

 

 

Launch of The Cambridge Companion to Jorge Luis Borges

On Wednesday 14 May, a large audience of specialists and non-specialists gathered at the Residence of the Argentine Ambassador in London for a round-table discussion to greet the launch of this recent volume on Jorge Luis Borges. The editor, Edwin Williamson (Oxford) and three of the contributors, Evelyn Fishburn (London), Robin Fiddian (Oxford) and Philip Swanson (Sheffield) were welcomed by the Ambassador, Her Excellency Sra. Alicia Castro.

Borges launch 2

Ambassador Castro opened proceedings with a very personal recollection of Borges and his comments on the fate of the military junta in the wake of the end of the dictatorship in the 1980s. Professor Williamson then introduced the Companion, a work that aims to bring together an international group of Borges scholars to discuss all aspects of the writer’s oeuvre, including stories, poetry and essays, in their historical and biographical context.

The other panellists then spoke about their own contributions to the volume. Evelyn Fishburn assessed religious themes in Borges’ work, including his interest in kabbalah and mysticism. Robin Fiddian presented his recent work on the relationship between post-colonial theory and the Argentine’s cuentos and poems.

Borges launch 3

Philip Swanson continued this insight into the Companion with a presentation on the presence of popular culture in Borges’s writing. Although widely regarded as an erudite writer divorced from the masses and contemporary forms of entertainment, one cannot overlook the importance of film, detective fiction, and tango in the Argentine’s work.

Edwin Williamson then gave a summary of his own chapter in the volume, a periodization of Borges’ literary career with reference to his socio-political engagements. A lively round of questions and answers followed, linking the biographical to the literary, and these exchanges overflowed into informal discussions during the drinks reception.

Borges launch 4

Details of the Companion can be found on the Cambridge University Press website.

………………………………………………………………………………………………

Ben Bollig, St Catherine’s College, Oxford.

All photographs kindly provided by the Argentine Embassy Press Office. 

21st Century Fiction from Latin America : the report

The seminar 21st Century Fiction from Latin America, which took place on Wednesday 12th February 2014 at Senate House, was organized by ACLAIIR (Advisory Council on Latin American and Iberian Resources), the Institute of Modern Languages Research, the Institute of Latin American Studies, and the Instituto Cervantes in London. It discussed current trends in Latin American literature, translating Latin American fiction, the contemporary Cuban novel, digital media and new literary genres, alternative literary formats such as the graphic novel, and the landscape of the UK market for Latin America. 

Some of the contributions aimed to challenge the literary canon, presenting new approaches to literary tradition with a wider range of authors and new literary genres.

Dr. Joanna Page, Lecturer in Latin American Studies at CLAS, Cambridge, centered her talk around Argentina and Chile. She talked about a growing body of 21st century literary works depicting the following themes:

  • degeneration of society, chaos, crisis and its aftermath (Damiela Eltit, Mano de obra; Pedro Mairal, El año del desierto)
  • memory and the coming of age of new generations moving away from testimonial approaches, where the past becomes a reinvented fiction and autobiography is mixed with fantasy (Argentinan film Los topos; Alejandro Zambra, Formas de volver a casa)
  • writings about militant experiences during the 21st century (Carlos Gamero, Un yuppie en la columna de Che Guevara; Federico Lorenz, Montoneros o la ballena blanca; Arturo Fontaine, Vida doble)
  • rewriting of the myths and heroes of history (Washington Cucurto, La revolución vivida por los negros and Eduardo Galeano, Espejos)
  • violence and philosophy in the 21st century (Roberto Bolaño, Nocturno de Chile and Pola Oloixarac, Teorías salvajes)
  • new technologies and new subjectivities, showing characters between the real and the cyber worlds, strange worlds that are familiar to us in some way (Jorge Baradit, Trinidad; César Aira, El juego de los mundos; and Marcelo Cohen, Casa de Ottro).
Click on the image for Joanna Page's full presentation.

Click on the image for Joanna Page’s full presentation.

Cherie R. Elston talked about her collaborative online project Palabras errantes. The project grew from the current lack of Latin American literature in English and the realisation that the internet could play a part in making it more accessible. Although English translations of Latin American literature have been steadily proliferating in the UK publishing market, there seems to be a lack of information regarding what has been published in Latin America.

The Palabras Errantes project was launched by Cambridge students in 2011 with the aim of publishing contemporary Latin American literature in translation, trying to keep away from celebrated authors and topics. The project aims to explore how Latin American literature has been introduced across the world (e.g. in New York). Writers are asked for original work which is then selected for translation. The site is bilingual: it presents the original texts in Spanish with parallel English translation. The internet has allowed the network of translators and writers to expand. So far, the project has 87 writers from across the continent represented, and 47 translators.

Dr. Maria E López explained how homosexuality still exists in Cuban literature as a destabilizing weapon against the regime. The authorities see homosexuality as a social problem, a pathology that needs fixing. Homosexuals are marginalised and accused of being extravagant and strange. Some representative works include El rey de La Habana, by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, a good example of “dirty realism” reflecting a culture with no sense of belonging, without voice. Secondly, Látigo, an example of the literature of disenchantment; and finally, Máscara, illustrating the isolation and stigma suffered by homosexuals.

Dr. Claire Taylor presented her project Literary Heritage and Digital Media, which aims to speak back to the rich Hispanic literary tradition by exploring new hybrid forms such as Twitter poetry, electronic ballads and blog aphorisms. She stressed the possibilities and also limitations of the media, the need for a continuing dialogue between print and digital formats, and the role of the user in activating works.

She indicated that Twitter poetry is growing and becoming popular. This type of poetry uses the formal aspects of Twitter (e.g. message restricted to 140 characters). An example is Eduardo Navas’ Poemita.

She then moved on to talk about electronic ballads, a new genre exemplified by the work of Belén Gache, a Spanish/Argentinian novelist and experimental writer. Her work Radikal Karaoke  re-mixes voice, sound, images and special effects drawing on Hispanic heritage.

Finally, in the category of blog aphorisms she showed Eduardo Nava’s Minima Moralia (2011-), a selective remix of Theodor Adorno’s Minima Moralia collection of aphorisms.

Other new genres include hypertext short fictions, exemplified by Belén Gache’s WordToys (2006).

Click on the image for the full presentation from Claire Taylor.

Click on the image for the full presentation from Claire Taylor.

 Dr. Edward King, affiliated lecturer at the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Cambridge, presented a syllabus for an imaginary course of graphic fiction, mostly drawing on examples from Brazil. He arranged the syllabus in four broad topics:

  1. Word and image : characterized by an interplay between text and image, where literary texts carry the image as the image helps frame the text. Two examples: Mário de Andrade’s Turista fotógrafo aprendiz (1993) and Julio Cortázar’s Fantomas contra los vampiros multinacionales (1975).
  1. Space and time: shows how visual and textual strategies are employed in the narrative. The construction of space and time was exemplified by O catador de batatas.
  1. City comics: the great structure of comics mimics the great structure of the city. Techniques of collage may be used to present the city. Examples: André Diniz’s O morro da favela (2011); Operación Bolivar (2010)
  1. Comic book culture in network society: exemplified by Turma da Mônica Jovem

The final panel of the day was chaired by Rory O’Bryen and discussed issues of translation, publishing and marketing.

The literary agent (Laurence Laluyaux). The aim of the agent is to get authors translated in as many languages as possible. The network of contacts is essential for the agent. The publisher develops trust with the reader or translator, and the agent involves publishers, readers and translators.  Translators tend to be actively involved, but the question is how to create an actively involved readership. The problem is finding a readership and raising its expectations. UK publishers have tended to follow other European publishers regarding what they translate. This is gradually changing.

The translator (Nick Caistor). The chain a translation follows before entering the UK market starts with the author, followed by the agent, and then the foreign publisher (translations rights from foreign publishers are bought by UK publishers). France and Italy have helped the dissemination of Latin American literature in the UK. Unfortunately, there is a lack of communication between all intellectuals of the trade, and some degrees in UK universities don’t necessarily require reading literature.

The publisher (Bill Swainson, Bloomsbury). Literature is international and interesting authors can be found anywhere in the world. Bloomsbury tends to focus on authors who are alive and relatively young, with more than one book published and with an established reputation. The sense of a network of contacts as a source of writers is essential. For the publisher, the sense of being able to create a reputation for a writer is also a major drive. The selection process aims to cast the net wide, but always having a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve.

………………………………………………………………..

Sonia Morcillo is the Hispanic Specialist at Cambridge University Library and a member of the ACLAIIR committee.

Finding Venezuelan literature online

When I tell people I research Venezuelan literature, the most common response is ‘I don’t know any Venezuelan literature, is it actually any good?’ Unfortunately, potential readers just don’t know where to get access to Venezuelan literature, especially as very few books make it into the UK market. Thankfully, the Internet is making literature much more widely available across borders, giving some great writing the chance to find the audience it deserves. I wanted to share with you some of the best places online to discover Venezuelan literature.

Ficción Breve Venezolana is the ultimate resource for anyone interested in Venezuelan literature. Founded in 1999 by writer Hector Torres, whose Caracas Muerde was one of the biggest successes of 2012, and currently run by Lennis Rojas, the site hosts not only the short stories from which it takes its name, but extracts from novels old and new, non-fiction and opinion pieces, news, interviews and useful links. The site is updated with new stories almost every day, and is so respected by Venezuelan authors that some even chose to publish sneak peeks of their upcoming works there, as Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles did with his latest novel Jezabel.

Another great introduction to contemporary fiction from Venezuela is the Voices from the Venezuelan City project by Palabras Errantes. Created by Cambridge University students, lead by Cherilyn Elston, Palabras Errantes aims to raise awareness of contemporary Latin American literature in the UK by publishing collections of short stories and book extracts in both English translation and the original Spanish. The Venezuelan edition, edited by Rebecca Jarman, brings together established and emerging voices, and looks beyond the political divisions that plague the country to focus on very human relationships, frailty and failings. One of the translators involved in the project, Guillermo Parra, is also one of the most restless, determined promoters of Venezuelan literature abroad. He has run his blog Venepoetics for over ten years now, providing translations (particularly of poet José Antonio Ramos Sucre), book synopses and interviews in English.

If all that whets your appetite for whole books, you should visit Monte Ávila for a diverse range of eBooks to download for free. Among non-fiction texts about 21st century socialism, the State publishing house offers a literary cross-section of the last century, from classics like Teresa de la Parra’s Las memorias de Mamá Blanca (1929) to Raymond Nedeljkovic’s brilliant 2010 short story collection Los impresentables.

If you have slightly more of a budget, I can’t recommend Sudaquía Editores enough. The New York based company began a few years ago, but their catalogue is increasing exponentially and they have ambitious plans for 2014. Their recognition of contemporary Venezuelan writers (as the predominance of Venezuelans among a collection that also includes Chileans, Colombians, Argentineans, Mexicans and even a writer from Panama) is an absolute miracle, as for the first time UK readers are finally able to get hold of Venezuelan books easily and cheaply. Sudaquia sell via Amazon UK, who print the books for them, meaning extortionate delivery costs and endless waits are a thing of the past. They have already published some of the most critically acclaimed contemporary authors – Slavko Zupcic, Gisela Kozak-Rovero, Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles, Israel Centeno, to name but a few – and are constantly finding new gems. Among 2014’s output will be one of my favourite books, not just by a Venezuelan but in general, Liliana Lara’s Los jardines de Salomón.

Selection of titles from Sudaquía Editores

Selection of titles from Sudaquía Editores

Finally, I hope you’ll forgive some shameless self-promotion. In an attempt to help the writers I love find an audience in the UK, I started Venezuelan Literature. The site – which is still very much in the early stages of development and needs a lot more work than my full-time PhD allows – features news, interviews, profiles of authors, and book summaries. I also believe translation is fundamental in building up an international audience, so, as well as posting my own translations, I’m trying to create a list of all published translations, with links to where to buy them.

I hope you find some enjoyable and inspiring reading through these sources. There is some really captivating, beautiful, funny, daring and provocative literature out there just waiting for readers.

Katie Brown is studying for a PhD in Contemporary Venezuelan Fiction at King’s College, London. She blogs about literature, languages, and all things cultural at katiebrownonculture.blogspot.com.

REDIAL : creating European networks for Latin American research information

As summer is fading away and the new academic year takes off, I’d like to share with ACLAIIR some notes from REDIAL’s annual meeting in June. This year we celebrated our 24th annual conference in connection with CEISAL’s 7th Congress at Universidade Fernando Pessoa in Porto, June 12th-15th. REDIAL co-organized with Elda González, researcher at Centro de Ciencias Humanas y Sociales, CSIC in Madrid, a symposium on migration at the Congress:  “Los que van, los que vienen y los que regresan. Los movimientos migratorios transoceánicos en el siglo XX y XXI: fondos documentales e investigaciones” – a joint venture between researchers, librarians and archivists with participants from Argentina, Brazil, United States, Norway, Germany, Italy and Spain. Papers from the Congress will be published Open Access later this year. In relation with the Congress, the Universidade Fernando Pessoa’s center for Latin American studies,  Núcleo de Estudo Latino-Americanos, inaugurated their new Latin Americanist collections space “Espaço Carlos Fuentes”. Being members of REDIAL, their librarian Carla Azevedo was our local organizer.

Carla Azevedo, librarian at the Universidade Fernando Pessoa, presents to REDIAL on Portuguese Latin American Studies.

Carla Azevedo, librarian at the Universidade Fernando Pessoa, presents to REDIAL on Portuguese Latin American Studies.

CEISAL (Consejo Europeo de Investigaciones Sociales de América Latina) elected a new board with Carlos Quenan at the Institut des Amérique in France as the new President. CEISAL partners REDIAL in running the website on European Latinamericanism, America Latina: Portal Europeo and the journal Anuario Americanista Europeo.

The central theme for this year’s volume of the journal is “Gender and Migration”. October 1st is the deadline for articles in the peer review sections, including the one REDIAL is managing, “Documentación y comunicación americanista: análisis e investigaciones”. For the other REDIAL section “Fondos, recursos y publicaciones“, that welcomes shorter and more descriptive contributions, we can receive articles until December. We welcome articles in Spanish, Portuguese or English. The 2014 volume will have “Digital Latin Americanism” as the central theme, with Aquiles Alencar Brayner and Luis Rodríguez Yunta as editors for both the CEISAL and REDIAL sections. The idea is to explore how the concepts of Digital Humanities and Digital Social Sciences are handled in European research on Latin America.  From the 2014 volume Frank Egerton will be a member of the Editorial Board.

Other good news related to the UK and REDIAL is that the Institute of Latin American Studies has rejoined as members. Do not hesitate to contact us if you’re considering joining us as well!

REDIALeros with Fernando Pessoa!

REDIALeros with Fernando Pessoa!

During REDIAL’s working sessions a lot of our discussions circled around the Portal and the development of its different databases. The main UK Latin Americanist journals are indexed by the editorial team, but if you find that there are journals or articles missing, your participation is always welcomed.  In our thematic sub-portal “Migraciones” we’re building a resource on migration between Latin America and Europe from Independence to present times with publications published from 1990 onwards. In this sub-portal we also register articles on the theme from non-Latin Americanist journals and also books. One database where there used to be UK participation is the dissertation database that contains 1778 thesis from the UK from 1980-2002, would that be a database that would interest you to keep updated from a UK point of view? For the database on researchers it’s always a big help if the persons closest to home could help in updating. We also of course welcome any academic news and information on new publications.  Any news entered in our Portal is disseminated every fortnight in our electronic bulletin Puentes  that reaches over 3700 subscribers. There’s a special page for cooperation or otherwise just mail us. Our blog IguAnalista is another option open for your contributions.

During this autumn we hope to finally finish the translation of the portal’s interface into English and Portuguese. One of our new areas of interest that we plan to explore during the coming year is how our portal could be a resource for finding digitalized Latin Americanist collections at a European level. This will probably be one of the themes when our Spanish members meet for their annual reunion in Madrid in November, and certainly when we meet for our 2014 conference and 25th anniversary in Bordeaux and Saint-Émilion in late May or early June next year!

Anna Svensson
President of REDIAL 2012-2014
Gothenburg University Library, Sweden

Women and Independence in Latin America: Databases, Debate and Dissemination

Between 2001 and 2006, researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Manchester constructed an online database of women involved in the processes of independence in Latin America.  The database was created as part of a five-year AHRC funded project entitled ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’. The digital resource contains over 2500 biographical entries and provides details of women’s and men’s political and social participation between 1790 and 1850. The overarching aim of the project was to rethink Latin American Independence in terms of gender.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Latin American guerilla military leader, Juana Azurduy (1780-1862), on horseback.

Dr Claire Brewster, who is now a senior lecturer in Latin American history at the University of Newcastle, spent five years inputting references to women whose names were registered during this period. Focusing especially on Spanish South America, she input data from 266 publications and consulted 28 archives. The database is searchable not only by name, place and date, but also by groups of women. For example, users can search for women who belonged to specific tertulias, women who were executed by those who opposed Independence, women who were patriot spies or women who supported the royalists.  There are around 500 groups or links of this kind. From a researcher’s point of view, this is the most valuable aspect of the database as it shows the complex relationships between individuals and between their families. Loyalties were usually to families and loved ones, rather than to political ideology, but there is no doubt that the social upheaval created opportunities for women to operate more independently than in the ‘ancien regime’.

In May 2012, Professor Catherine Davies and her team at the universities of Nottingham and Edinburgh embarked upon on a new phase of the project entitled ‘Women and Independence in Latin America’. This new stage, which lasted for a year, was funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council, as well as contributions from the Centre of Advanced Studies and the Horizon Hub at the University of Nottingham. The team transformed the ‘Gendering Latin American Independence’ website and its database into an interactive, community-driven resource, which will allow academic and non-academic audiences alike to exchange ideas and information about the Independence struggles and their contemporary relevance. This database can be consulted at www.genderlatam.org.uk.

One of the key goals of this stage of the project, which finished in July 2013, was to involve Latin American women in the UK and in Latin American countries in the recovery of their shared history, cultural heritage and identity, increasing their awareness and understanding of the contemporary relevance of women’s protagonism during Independence. For this reason, the team worked on several community knowledge exchange programmes and cultural initiatives. In August and September 2012, Catherine travelled to Buenos Aires with Dr Iona MacIntyre from the University of Edinburgh (the project’s Co-Investigator) and Dr Maria Thomas from the University of Nottingham (the project’s research assistant) to collaborate with the Museo de la Mujer, a women’s history museum, on the ‘Libertadoras’ programme. This month-long series of cultural events featured plays, discussion groups, workshops, exhibitions and guided tours on the theme of the contemporary relevance of women’s contribution to Independence in Latin America.

Southwark exhibition

Southwark exhibition of Empowerment through Art.

Through the London-based Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), a charity which supports Latin American female migrants in the UK, the team worked extensively with a group of teenage girls from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador. They participated in a series of drama workshops on the theme of the nineteenth-century ‘Libertadoras’ and in a photography project which explored the girls’ identification with Latin America community in London and asked them to address concepts of freedom, liberation and independence.

The ‘Empowerment through Art’ photographic exhibition, which was presented at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham in March and April 2013 and at the premises of Southwark Council in London in May 2013, featured the girls’ own photographs alongside portraits of the participants taken of each participant by Mexican-British photographer Pablo Allison. The girls from LAWRS also presented a play which emerged from their drama workshops, entitled ‘Razones por las que luchar’ (Reasons for Fighting) at UCL’s Institute of the Americas on May 15 2013.

thomas 3

Drama workshops with teenagers from Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador.

These events were exciting and timely because they provided a snapshot of how young, female Latin Americans see their adoptive country at a time the UK Latin American community is growing steadily. In 2008 there were around 186, 500 Latin Americans living in the UK and the numbers are rising. Although the community is now a large, dynamic and important presence in London, its experiences are often overlooked.  As representatives of this community, these girls presented themselves as empowered young women in the play and the photography exhibition. As Carolina Gottardo, the director of LAWRS, comments: ‘they are not victims; these are young women who can stand with their heads held high, looking toward the future. They are young women with ideals and potential, even though their situation as Latin American migrants in an unfamiliar country with little knowledge of the language and the customs is not easy;  even when they have to face up to stereotypes about young women immigrants from an ethnic minority.’


Dr Maria Thomas was the research assistant on the project Women and Independence in Latin America, and is now a lecturer in Hispanic Studies at the University of Exeter.