Meet the jefas of The SALSA Collective

¡Hola! We, Becky & Eilidh, are two American Studies PhD students from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. Together we serve as co-jefas of The SALSA Collective. Our blog and Twitter page has been up and running for a little over a week now and we thought it was about time that we shared a little bit more about ourselves, our particular field of interests and our reasons for starting the SALSA Collective.

IMG_0737Becky Says: My academic (and not so academic) journey has taken me, a Latina from Los Angeles, California, across the pond to study Latinos in the U.S. (It’s a long story). My research, Lost in Translation: Latino Identities and the Browning of America, addresses the ways in which race, ethnicity and language informs U.S. national identity and the impacts this has on U.S. born Latinos.

In the midst of a demographic shift where the racial and linguistic balance of the U.S. is experiencing unprecedented levels of change, U.S. Latinos—expected to exceed 130 million people by 2050—find themselves at the center of a very public debate over American national identity. The rise and influence of the Spanish language has pushed the issue of bilingual education and American bilingualism to the forefront of this debate over identity politics.

More than anyone, these debates largely impact the growing number of Spanish-English bilingual students within the public schools. For this reason, I spent three months observing how predominantly Latino schools in Los Angeles public schools cater to bilingual students and the role that bilingualism plays in the school environment overall.

As an American Latina studying American Latinos in the UK, I am aware of the relatively niche market that Latinidad or Latin American studies occupies throughout the UK, even under the banner of American Studies. You can only imagine then my complete surprise (and wonder) when I met Eilidh, a Scottish woman with a passion for Mexican American literature and culture and whose Spanish skills well surpass mine! Together we set up the SALSA Collective and act as co-jefas, to continue building the community of researchers in the UK interested in Latin American studies, both inside and outside the U.S. In the process, we hope to generate greater interest in what we consider to be a very valuable topic of research.

3954d40Eilidh says: I’ll forever be indebted to the amiga who gave me Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street. It’s from this collection of wonderful short stories that I became interested in Chicana literature and from there Mexican American and Latina/o culture more widely.

My PhD project is currently entitled: ‘El rebozo familiar (the family rebozo): intergenerational developments in the role of women in the Chicana family in the writings of Ana Castillo and Sandra Cisneros’. The rebozo, a type of Mexican shawl, is used in my project as representative of the weave of family life, historically, culturally, and in literature. It is familiar – both in the sense of being known and of the family – for many Chicanas and is often passed down through the generations as a symbol of the family’s roots and heritage. I will discuss the cultural, political, and social influences affecting their role in the family – from las abuelas, las madres, hasta las hijas.

As the population of Latinos/as in the U.S. increases, issues affecting their culture will no longer be restricted in their impact to members of the Latino/a community but will come to affect the entire American population. The works of Castillo and Cisneros engage with the current political and social situation of Mexican Americans and are profoundly influential not only for Latinos/as but also for American society more widely.

Eilidh's booksIn studying the fiction of Cisneros and Castillo, I’m hopeful that my project will shed light on the complex nuances of being a woman in the Chicano family and how these authors react to and, through the act of writing, influence and affect change in the gendered roles so commonly found in Mexican American, and American, society.

Being co-jefa of the SALSA collective with la Becky is a great opportunity to promote the study of Latina/o culture in the UK. I’m so glad to have a fellow alma Latina at UEA and we hope to grow our community of gente interested in latinidad through the SALSA collective.

We say: Though we emphasize Mexican American culture and politics within our own research, the purpose of the SALSA collective is to work collaboratively to inspire and promote the study of latinidad in the UK. In doing this, we hope to encourage, and develop a network of scholars connected by their interest in all things Latino.

We have noticed a gap in academia in the UK with regard to Latina/o culture more generally. And this is a gap that doesn’t reflect the political, cultural, and social reality of the Latina/o community; past and present.

It is for this reason that SALSA wants to bring together people with an interest in any aspect of Latin American culture and latinidad. We want to draw from collective voices to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about Latino/a identities across the Americas.

We invite you to be part of the conversation!

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