Play commissioned by Vanderbilt and Nashville Children’s Theatre

Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies and the Nashville Children’s Theatre co-commissioned a children’s play based on Julia Alvarez’s award winning book Return to Sender. The Nashville Children’s Theatre hosted the play’s world premiere in October.

Through the story of a young farm boy in Vermont, the play broaches timely topics such as patriotism, family separation, deportation and undocumented labor, as well as an exploration of Mexican culture. For Ted Fischer, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Latin American Studies, the play “beautifully captures the moral complexities of immigration and the nature of cultural and human exchanges in fraught circumstances. A powerful work, it speaks to young and old.”

Photo by Michael Scott Evans Photography

During its run, from Oct 10-27, Return to Sender was seen by over 3,000 students as well as 198 teachers and 900 community members. “I know my students read and watch the news about what is going on with undocumented families, but this play really put it into perspective,” said Anne Moctezuma-Baker, a Spanish teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School. “After the play, my students and I discussed immigration and many of them shared their own immigrant stories. It was great to see my students feel so comfortable talking about difficult topics,” she said.

To capitalize on the play’s ability to ignite discussion, CLAS and the Nashville Children’s Theatre led an educator workshop alongside the premiere. Teachers at the workshop learned skills to help them address these kinds of issues with their students. For Rose Shelor, a Spanish teacher at Mill Creek Middle School, the workshop was “a moving experience.”  A related Educator Guide has been made available online to teachers across the country.

In addition, CLAS and the Nashville Children’s Theater hosted a post-show panel with CLAS Executive Director Avery Dickins de Giron, former Metro Council member Fabian Bedne and Conexion Americas Executive Director Juliana Ospina Cano.

Shelor has enjoyed seeing how the momentum produced by Return to Sender has continued in the classroom. “It has been a powerful conversation to continue in how we can engage across cultures and how we can engage emotionally and viscerally when we compare our own culture to another one and choose to enter into cross-cultural life together,” she said.

Photo by Michael Scott Evans Photography

CLAS shares collegiate knowledge with K-12 educators nationwide

Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) has launched an interdisciplinary summer institute that is helping K-12 teachers enhance their skills in teaching students about environmental issues such as climate change. The training, which is tailored for teachers in the STEM fields, seeks to help teachers and students make the connection between environmental concerns in Latin America and their impact on the larger world.

CLAS partnered with sister centers at Tulane University and the University of Georgia to develop the four-year series of trainings, the first of which was held June 24-27 at Vanderbilt and focused on the impacts of deforestation, water access, environmental politics and sustainability in Latin America.

“Climate change is one of the most important issues facing our global society today. Younger generations are very interested in it and want to arm themselves with this information,” said Avery Dickins de Girón, executive director and senior lecturer for CLAS. However, it is also important that students understand these issues within the Latin American context.

“We are intimately connected to Latin America in so many ways, from trade and migration to the environment and our common histories,” said Ted Fischer, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Anthropology and director of CLAS. “In this context, it is more important than ever that our students learn about the larger world to which our shared futures are linked.”

In order to make this training experience widely available, CLAS offered a highly subsidized registration fee as well as travel scholarships. As a result, this year’s institute welcomed a diverse group of teachers from 13 different states, representing 12 disciplines.

Throughout the four-day event, teachers attended lectures led by specialists from Vanderbilt, University of Georgia, Texas State University and the University of Oregon, engaged in hands-on activities and discussed curriculum development strategies that will enable them to take what they learned back to their classrooms.

Jennifer Devine, an assistant professor of geography at Texas State University, taught about how drug trafficking contributes to deforestation. In addition, she pushed participants to think critically about factors driving migrant caravans from Central America. For example, many of the immigrants are leaving due to droughts caused by climate change.

CLAS Summer Institute garden tour (Susan Urmy).

Lectures such as these offer the added benefit of helping teachers better understand their student population.

Regarding  Devine’s class, Outreach Coordinator Colleen McCoy noted, “Many of our participants teach students from Central America and are very interested in understanding more about the history, culture, and current issues of their countries. Metro Nashville Public Schools, for example, has recently experienced a significant rise in students coming from Guatemala.”

Institute attendee, Kelli Bivins, teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Georgia, where the majority of her students are newly arrived from farms in Mexico and Central America. Bivins felt the information gained from these workshops better positioned her to “serve and advocate” for her students.

Beyond lectures, teachers got to tour Vanderbilt’s Latin American Garden where they learned about how plants affected the history and culture of Latin people. The Night Blooming Cestrum, for example, reduces inflammation and is effective as a pain reliever.  A tea made from the bark is also used as a sleep aid. “Time spent at the garden is always fun for teachers, passing leaves around to smell and chew,” said McCoy. “There are so many different ways to incorporate plants into the classroom.”

As a National Resource Center, the mission of CLAS is to help U.S. teachers incorporate Latin America into the classroom. So, the teachers were not only educated and inspired, but they left with concrete lesson plans and methods for teaching these principles themselves. Participants mapped the drivers of Central American migration and discussed strategies for using research from the Latin American Public Opinion Project to create group projects for their students.

CLAS Summer Institute garden tour (Susan Urmy).

“In our institute we try to hit the standards that the teachers have to teach, but provide the teachers with a unique way to reach those standards,” said Dickins de Girón. Teachers are excited to have new interdisciplinary ways to teach topics they have been covering for years.

“Outreach programs like this do the important work of taking the knowledge generated at Vanderbilt and make it accessible to the general public, and K-12 teachers in particular,” said Fischer.

For Bivins, “the best part [of the institute] is that the learning will not stop. One of the leaders is creating a virtual, professional development course we can attend throughout this coming year. Plus we have three more years of the institute!”

International strategy takes step forward with launch of Global VU

The Office of the Provost announced today the launch of Global VU, a new university website designed to showcase Vanderbilt’s positive global impact and elevate the university’s international profile.

The website provides a central hub for much of the work being done across campus to advance international research, scholarship and engagement, part of a larger action plan inspired by the International Strategy Working Group report. The site highlights Vanderbilt’s international footprint, including faculty research and student travel, and connects the campus community to resources that facilitate global work. The site is also designed to showcase the university’s international strategy to prospective students, staff and faculty, international peer institutions, and potential partners around the world.“Vanderbilt faculty are engaged in important work around the world and are advancing discoveries that will have a global impact. Our students are equally immersed in international endeavors from study abroad, to international research and service, to area studies,” said Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente. “This new portal helps demonstrate the depth and breadth of the university’s international reach and serves as evidence of our commitment to making connections around the world to advance our mission in service to humanity.”

The new web platform follows the launch of other key recommendations from the Provost’s action plan, including the Global Research and Engagement Micro-Grant Fund and the Chancellor’s Public Voices Fellowship. Additional components of the action plan – including the creation of a global/visiting fellows program – are currently in development.

Throughout the site, stories, profiles and images spotlight examples of Vanderbilt’s international engagement, and the site’s “By the Numbers” sections highlight a cross-section of data related to global scholarship.

Global VU also provides a number of resources for international students and scholars, as well as members of the Vanderbilt community working or traveling internationally. The site includes:

  • internationally-focused discovery and learning opportunities available to Vanderbilt students, including information on area studies, academic programs, foreign language studies, study abroad and Immersion Vanderbilt.
  • resources for international students and scholars, including spotlights of international students and links to campus services for students from outside of the United States.
  • connections for Vanderbilt’s international alumni, with links pointing to international alumni chapters as well as the Vanderbilt Travel Program.
  • global safety and security processes, protocols and resources that support students, faculty and staff traveling abroad.

Feedback on the new website is encouraged and may be submitted via this online form.

MacArthur Fellow Jason De León to discuss ‘Human Smuggling Across Mexico’ Feb. 8


Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies and the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries will host a public lunchtime lecture featuring Jason De León, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan and a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, on Friday, Feb. 8, at the Central Library Community Room.

The lecture, “Soldiers and Kings: Violence, Masculinity and Photoethnographic Practice in the Context of Human Smuggling Across Mexico,” will begin at 12:10 p.m. with De León’s presentation, followed by a question-and-answer session. Admission to the lecture is free, and lunch will be provided on a first- come, first-served basis.

Since 2015, De León has been involved in an analog photoethnographic project focused on documenting the daily lives of Honduran smugglers who profit from transporting undocumented migrants across Mexico.

In his talk, he will discuss the evolving relationship between transnational gangs and the human smuggling industry, as well as outline the complicated role that photography plays as a field method and data source in this violent, hyper-masculine and ethically challenging ethnographic context.

De León is author of the award-winning book, The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2017. He is the director of the Undocumented Migration Project, a long-term anthropological study of undocumented migration between Mexico and the United States that uses ethnography, archaeology and forensic science to better understand this social process.

For more information, contact the Center for Latin American Studies at

Visiting artist-in-residence Guillermo Galindo inspired by downtown Nashville for upcoming performance

The complex history of Nashville’s Public Square Park—including stories of Native and African Americans—has inspired a performance by Guillermo Galindo, visiting artist-in-residence at Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies and the Department of Art on Oct. 25.

“Sonic Re-Activation: Unearthing Public Square’s Forgotten Pasts” will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the Public Square Park.

Galindo’s interest in the history of the Americas drew him to the Public Square and its many roles in the founding of Nashville—as the former site of a slave market, its proximity to the toll bridge along the Trail of Tears, and as a site of political activism during the city’s civil rights history. Galindo’s performance at the Public Square, newly commissioned by Vanderbilt, culminates a three-week collaboration with students and faculty.

Galindo also will offer a solo performance, “Sonic Borders III,” Oct. 26 in the Steve and Judy Turner Recital Hall at the Blair School of Music. This process-oriented sound performance, which begins at 6 p.m., is a sonic ritual featuring some instruments built with materials found around the Mexican-U.S. border fence. “Sonic Borders III” has been performed in museums and concerts halls across the United States and Europe.

Galindo’s artistic practice emerges from the crossroads between sound, sight and performance and includes everything from orchestral compositions, instrumental works and opera to sculpture, visual arts, computer interaction, filmmaking, electro-acoustic music, instrument building, three-dimensional installation and live improvisation.
Galindo’s works have been shown at major museums and art biennials in America, Europe, Asia and around the world including “documenta14” (2017), “Pacific Standard Time” (2017) and “CTM Festival” (2017). The New York Times, National Public Radio, CBC and Reforma are among the print and broadcast media who have reported on his artistry.

His residency at Vanderbilt is a collaboration between the Center for Latin American Studies, the Department of Art, Blair School of Music and the Program in Comparative Media Analysis and Practice.

In honor of Galindo’s presence on campus, Vanderbilt will also hold a one-day symposium, “Border Elegies: Refugees, Migrants and Contemporary Art and Literature,” on Oct. 26. Presenters will explore different artistic responses to the issue of migration and discuss the human rights implications of today’s flows of refugees. Click here for more information.

Both performances and the symposium are free and open to the public.

Profesora de Northwestern U. explora geografías de la identidad colombiana en Vanderbilt

Con el objetivo de ampliar su trabajo sobre la primera bonaza del narcotráfico en Colombia durante los años 1970, la investigadora Lina Britto, visitó recientemente la Universidad de Vanderbilt, donde consultó por espacio de una semana los archivos de la Colección Etnográfica Manuel Zapata Olivella. Britto, quien es profesora asistente de Historia en la Universidad de Northwestern (Ill), vino en busca de testimonios orales en torno al incipiente tráfico illegal de marihuana que precedió la conformación de los grandes carteles de la droga en los años 1980s, para incluirlos en un libro de su autoría que está en proceso de publicación.

Durante su indagación, Britto consultó las tres principales subsecciones de la Colección Zapata Olivella: El Grupo Etnográfico (centrado en registro de las prácticas y costumbres colectivas en la Colombia rural), “La Voz de los Abuelos” (que recupera la historia popular colombiana a través de testimonios de adultos mayores) y el segmento “Wayu y Arijuna, 500 años de confrontación,” que explora las identidades étnicas y la diversidad cultural en la Guajira colombiana. En su conjunto, la colección – creada por el medico y etnógrafo Manuel Zapata Olivella (1920-2004) – constituye un registro único que reconstruye mediante grabaciones de audio, parte de la historia de Colombia y permite estudiar sus identidades, etnicidades, y regionalidades, a través del lenguaje oral y testimonios populares.

En un sentido más amplio, Britto se propuso familiarizarse con la colección Zapata Olivella con la mira puesta en proximas visitas a Vanderbilt. “Quería explorar su geografia, descubrir su paisaje, subir sus montañas y navegar sus rios”, afirma la historiadora, al resaltar el valor de los archivos sonoros (algunos de ellos aún en proceso de transcripción y catalogación) que rescatan procesos y dinámicas sociales condenadas al olvido por falta de registro escrito. La colección Zapata Olivella, agrega la investigadora, captura la etapa crucial de una Colombia en proceso de transición hacia la modernidad, cuando el estado aún no se había consolidado y la mayoría de la población era iletrada. “Muchos de esos saberes se iban a perder si no se consignaban y el gran mérito de Zapata Olivella, al frente del Grupo Etnográfico, fue recuperar gran parte de conocimiento sin establecer jerarquías de dominación,” sostiene Britto. En vez de utilizar categorías de letrados o analfabetos, Zapata (quien prefería usar la palabra anágrafo para significar el no uso de escritura), empoderó a la gente común como narradores y poseedores de un saber único que se transmite a través de formas alternativas de lenguaje.

-Alejandro Botia Botia

Celebrating 25 Years of the Américas Award

This year, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs celebrated 25 years of the Américas Award in Washington, D.C. during Hispanic Heritage month. On September 28, 2018, CLASP presented the 2018 Américas Award to Ibi Zoboi for her work, American Street, and to Duncan Tonatiuh for his work Danza!: Amalia Hernández and Mexico’s Folkloric Ballet. About 60 educators attended the ceremony, while more than 1,700 viewers to date have viewed the ceremony via the Library of Congress’ live-stream on Facebook and YouTube.

CLASP founded the Américas Award in 1993 to encourage and commend authors, illustrators and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States, and to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use. CLASP offers up to two annual book awards, together with a commended list of titles.

Zoboi’s book, American Street is a complex and multi-layered story anchored around relationships and questions of loyalty. Zoboi shared her experiences writing this book and provided context for teaching this book in a high school classroom.

The second 2018 award winner by Duncan Tonatiuh, Danza! is a magnificent celebration of Amalia Hernández, the dancer and choreographer who founded the famed Mexican dance company, el Ballet Folklórico de México. Tonatiuh shared with educators his unique illustrative style and engaged participants in an exploration of Amalia Hernández and her impact in the world of dance. This picture book is the perfect book for every library.

In honor of the 25 year anniversary of the book award, this year’s Américas Award K-12 educator workshop gave 25 educators an opportunity to learn more about the 2018 book winners, and provided guidance and resources for incorporating these award winning books into their classrooms. Participants brought home signed copies of both 2018 award-winning titles. The workshop was hosted by Howard University Center for African Studies, in partnership with Teaching for Change.

Pre and post surveys were conducted and report a high level of satisfaction with the workshop. All participants indicated that they were “likely” or “very likely” to use the ideas and materials from the workshop in their classrooms, and all participants “felt comfortable teaching about diversity” after the workshop. Participants represented a variety of education professions, including K-12 teachers, librarians, special education teachers, English as a Second Language teachers, and higher education professors. Several teachers attended the annual workshop for the first time (38%).

“This is SO needed, and was a great use of my Friday evening,” expressed one participant, while others reported additional feedback in the post survey, including “Excellent, as usual!” and “So, so good, I love this program! I recommend it to others every year!”

In line with this year’s workshop theme focused on diversity and the role of community, James Huck, the Assistant Director for Latin American Studies Graduate Programs at Tulane University, Denise Woltering-Vargas, the Senior Program Manager of the Stone Center for Latin American Studies Latin American Resource Center, and Colleen McCoy, the Outreach Coordinator at Vanderbilt’s Center for Latin American Studies kicked off the event in DC beginning on Wednesday, September 26, with an International Baccalaureate Educator Workshop organized by Julie Kline, Associate Director of University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee’s Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies, for 35 high school teachers from Fairfax County, Virginia.

The 2018 Américas Award ceremony also honored Georgette Dorn, who retired this year from her position as Chief of the Hispanic Division at the Library of Congress. With a historian’s dedication to shedding light on the past and acquiring and preserving current cultural and intellectual materials for future generations, she has led efforts to grow the Library’s Luso-Hispanic collections and make them accessible to all. We look forward to working soon with the recently appointed Chief of the Hispanic Division, Suzanne Schadl, an alum of the University of New Mexico.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and coordinated by both Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, The Ohio State University, UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Texas at Austin, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Photos of the event may be accessed through the flickr website.

Follow the Américas Award on Facebook or join the Américas listserv by sending an email to

The Call for Submissions for the 2019 Américas Award is circulating and the review committee members are already busy reading submissions for this year’s competition. Decisions will be made by April and the ceremony will be held during Hispanic Heritage Month Fall 2019 in Washington, D.C.

CLAS receives designation as National Resource Center; $1.6M grant

Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies will expand its trans-institutional collaborations and public engagement in Tennessee and across the country—thanks to a $1.64 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The four-year grant renews the center’s prestigious designation as a comprehensive National Resource Center for Latin America. The National Resource Center designation is the highest recognition an academic center can receive.

“The Center for Latin American Studies is one of the leading centers of its kind in the nation,” said John Geer, dean of Arts and Science. “I’m pleased by this renewed federal investment in our ‘One Vanderbilt in Latin America’ model of trans-institutional collaboration.”

The Center’s “One Vanderbilt in Latin America” model integrates teaching, research and public engagement, with a focus on particular places and themes. This federal funding will allow CLAS to expand its collaborations across colleges and schools, fund native language instruction and support summer research for students. It will also support secondary outreach programs and collaborations with historically black colleges and universities in the region. Working with Peabody faculty, CLAS will help prepare K-12 teachers to teach students from diverse backgrounds; in conjunction with the Library, it will digitize the Afro-Colombian collections, making those materials available online; and collaborating with the Nashville Children’s Theater, it will commission and produce a new play.

The new grant will strengthen the One Vanderbilt in Latin America model in a variety of ways, according to Edward F. Fischer, director of the Center for Latin American Studies and Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Anthropology. “We will be able to better integrate research and teaching and to increase language offerings by employing virtual classroom technologies,” he said. “In addition, the grant funds a Visiting Resource Professor program that integrates four-week visits by prominent scholars and political leaders into on-campus seminars.”

Fischer praised the accomplishments of faculty and students that have made the center’s leadership in Latin American studies possible. “We are blessed with an especially accomplished and engaged group of faculty and students, and Vanderbilt is the perfect size and environment to foster interdisciplinary collaboration,” he said. The center is home to the Vanderbilt Institute for Coffee Studies, the InterAmerican Health Alliance and other research and teaching initiatives.

In addition to the designation as a National Resource Center, the award includes Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowships that will support the study of K’iche’ Mayan, Brazilian Portuguese, Haitian Creole and Quechua at Vanderbilt and abroad. CLAS collaborates with Tulane University to offer the Mayan Language Institute each summer in Guatemala, and the Portuguese Language and Brazilian Culture program.

“Our long-standing collaborations with minority-serving institutions, and particularly those with Tuskegee University, are one of the key focuses of this grant,” said CLAS executive director Avery Dickins de Girón. “The funding will expand Portuguese and Spanish language instruction for students at Tuskegee and Meharry Medical College, and introduce new study-abroad opportunities for students at those institutions to study alongside Vanderbilt students, increasing diversity and inclusion.”

Founded in 1947 as the nation’s first Institute of Brazilian Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies has a long history of engagement with the region. Vanderbilt has a remarkable concentration of Latin Americanists, with particular strengths in Brazil, Central America, the Black Atlantic and the Andes. Since 2006, CLAS has been designated as a National Resource Center.

Over the last decade, the center has increased its engagement with faculty and students; currently, 16 percent of the College of Arts and Science faculty have an affiliation, as well as 42 faculty in the professional schools. “We are the only program at Vanderbilt to have substantive joint programs with every school and college on campus,” Fischer said. The center’s public outreach program has also grown over the last decade, reaching more than 190,000 individuals last year.

Eliane Bueno Winner of 2018 CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators

In 2018, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) continues the practice of bestowing the CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators to recognize excellence and innovation in the teaching of Latin America and the Caribbean among elementary, middle, and high school teachers. “Each year the award process highlights exceptional educators from across the country and brings to light inspiring teaching practices,” said Keira Philipp-Schnurer, who serves on the CLASP Outreach Committee and was a part of the review committee.

From among the outstanding teachers nominated in 2018, CLASP recognizes Eliane (Lili) Bueno as the winner of the CLASP Teaching Award for K-12 Educators. The award was publicly announced Friday, May 25, 2018, at the 52 International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association in Barcelona, Spain.

Lili serves as a Portuguese immersion teacher at Lakeview Elementary School in Provo City School District in Utah, and as a Portuguese immersion consultant for the Utah State Board of Education. In a letter of support for her, Jamie Leite, the Portuguese Director of the Utah Dual Language Immersion Program, wrote, “In her roles of teacher and teacher leader, I have seen Lili do more to impact the instruction of K-12 Portuguese than any other teacher in the U.S. Her teaching has changed the lives of hundreds of her own students while her curriculum work and leadership has impacted thousands more across the country.”

Among Jaime Leite’s litany of praise for Lili’s teaching, she added, “it is Lili’s daily commitment to her students that is her first priority and deepest passion. She sees her job as teacher as an opportunity to open the minds of her students and help them appreciate the contributions of Portuguese-speaking countries worldwide, particularly her native country of Brazil. Lili’s classroom is a little piece of Brazil in the middle of Provo, Utah and her students often comment that they forget they are in the United States when they are in her class.”

The sentiment that Lili goes above and beyond in helping her students understand not just the language, but the culture of Brazil, was further bolstered in a letter of support offered by Dr. Jaime Bateman of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Brigham Young University. As Jaime Bateman writes, “Beyond the regular curriculum, Lili finds myriad ways of incorporating Brazilian culture in her teaching. She meticulously follows the recommendation of the foreign language teaching profession that classrooms should be ‘cultural islands’ where, when students enter, they immediately feel they are in a different cultural space.”

Inasmuch as CLASP must rely on letters of support in order to understand how nominees have impacted their students, schools, and communities, so, too, does CLASP turn to the personal words of the nominee to learn more about their approach to work and their dedication to bringing Latin America to their students. In particular, the committee was moved by Lili’s depth of personal commitment. In describing her approach, Lili writes, “I am grateful for the opportunity to share my culture and language with my students as I teach the core curriculum. It is impossible to describe in words the feeling of love I feel every day watching my students communicating in Portuguese, learning my culture, gaining proficiency, and sounding exactly like a ‘Brazilian kid.’ This makes my everyday job in the classroom a real joy. Helping students become bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural; contributing to the world as global citizens or, as one would, multilingual and multicultural citizens of the world is one of my everyday missions as a teacher.”

In all, the CLASP Outreach Committee was profoundly moved by Lili’s commitment to teaching about Latin America through the lens of Brazil. In meeting the criteria for the award, she thoroughly demonstrated outstanding teaching effectiveness, innovation and creativity in the presentation of Latin American content, and involvement in professional development and community engagement.

CLASP member institutions nominate teachers for consideration. Lili was nominated by Dr. Claudio Holzner of the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) at the University of Utah.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and decided by the CLASP Outreach Committee, which was comprised of the following individuals in 2018: Lindsey Engelman, University of Texas at Austin (chair); Molly Aufdermauer, Stanford University; Karen Goldman, University of Pittsburgh; Luciano Marzulli, University of Utah; Colleen McCoy, Vanderbilt University; Keira Philipp-Schnurer, University of New Mexico; Diana Maria Shemenski, University of Pittsburgh; and Denise Woltering-Vargas, Tulane University.

CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities includes the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom.

2018 Américas Award Winners Announced

Barcelona, Spain–May 25, 2018–American Street written by Ibi Zoboi and DANZA!: Amalia Hernández and el Ballet Folklórico de México written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh win the 2018 Américas Award for Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The award links the Americas by reaching beyond geographic borders and multicultural-international boundaries, focusing upon cultural heritages within the hemisphere.

Up to two annual book awards are given in recognition of U.S. published works that authentically and engagingly portray Latin America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States. An additional two titles may be recognized as Honorable Mentions, along with a list of Commended Titles. Books are considered for their distinctive literary quality, cultural contextualization, integration of text and illustration, and potential for classroom use.

The announcement was made today by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) during the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) meeting held May 23-26, 2018, in Barcelona, Spain.  The award-winning authors will be recognized at a ceremony held September 28, 2018, during Hispanic Heritage Month at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Members of the 2018 Américas Award Selection Committee include David Campos of San Antonio, TX; Emily Chávez of Durham, NC; Paula Mason of Waukesha, WI (chairperson); Mariana Ricklefs of Dunlap, Illinois; and Connie Sharp of Nashville, TN.

The awards are administered by the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) and coordinated by both Tulane University’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies and Vanderbilt University’s Center for Latin American Studies. Generous support is also provided by Florida International University, Stanford University, University of Florida, University of New Mexico, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

CLASP’s mission is to promote all facets of Latin American Studies throughout the world. Its broad range of activities include the encouragement of research activities, funding for professional workshops, advancement of citizen outreach activities, and development of teaching aids for the classroom. For complete annotations of all titles recognized by the Américas Award, as well as curricular resources for previous winning titles, visit  Follow the Américas Award on Facebook at for current news and author highlights, and join the conversation using #AmericasAward18.

2018 Américas Award Winners

American Street written by Ibi Zoboi. HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. ISBN: 978-0062473042

Fabiola’s life in the U.S. begins with loss and yearning: her mother is detained on their way from Haiti. While adjusting to life in Detroit, a new school, new social codes, and a family she has known only through phone calls for most of her life, Fabiola struggles to free her mother from detainment—or find the people who will help her do so. She lives with her aunt and three cousins in a house that sits at the corner of American Street and Joy Road. Here in this new place Haitian faith meets Black American culture, and the memories of the past help Fabiola to make sense of the present. Fabiola calls on the Iwas to help her get her mom back, discovers desire, and unravels secrets. Readers will enjoy the dynamism of Fabiola’s cousins—the “Three Bees”—whose own motivations and inclinations propel the story forward, while appreciating the ever determined Fabiola. This complex and multi-layered story is anchored around relationships and questions of loyalty—how deep does our loyalty go, to whom do we give it, and what are we willing to sacrifice? (Grades 10-12)

Danza!: Amalia Hernández and el Ballet Folklórico de México written and illustrated by Duncan Tonatiuh. Abrams Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1419725326

Award-winning author and illustrator Duncan Tonatiuh brings us the first-ever children’s biography of Amalia Hernández, the dancer and choreographer who founded the famed Mexican dance company, el Ballet Folklórico de México. In this magnificent celebration of her life, Tonatiuh introduces readers to a young Amalia, or “Ami” whose love for dance and music is set into motion after witnessing a lively display of folk dancing in a town plaza. In that formative moment, Ami got hooked on dancing as an art form, and soon began her formal studies in the classic European ballet styles of the time. However, as we learn through Tonatiuh’s masterful Mixtec-inspired illustrations and text, Ami returned to her Mexican roots to thoroughly research and choreograph regional and pre-Colombian indigenous dances from across the country. Much like Ami, Tonatiuh shows deep respect for the art forms of Mexico’s past while blending well-written descriptions with carefully chosen artistic details in a way that is compelling and accessible to readers of all ages. He also provides a wealth of additional backmatter that easily lends itself for classroom use, such as an author’s note, glossary, and bibliography. In bringing Ami’s story to life, we learn that her legacy gloriously lives on, as dancers both in Mexico and beyond continue to perform Mexican folk dance and music for appreciative audiences worldwide. (Grades 2-5)

2018 Américas Award Honorable Mention Titles

All the Way to Havana written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Mike Curato. Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2017. ISBN: 978-1627796422

All the Way to Havana is the delightful story of a young boy traveling to the big city of Havana, Cuba in his family’s old blue car- Cara Cara.  This story tells of the adventure his family has while traveling to his Tia’s house to celebrate the zero-year birthday of his new baby cousin.  Along the way, they pick up friendly neighbors in need of a short ride, while never losing sight of the family celebration ahead.  As they enter the city, the bright and colorful cars attract their attention, yet despite their flashiness, the young boy still prefers his Cara Cara’s peaceful blue hue.  After a fulfilling day of celebration, the family begins their long journey through the cover of night back to their village.  The following day as the father is working under the hood of his car, he asks his son which city-trip car he liked the most. The young boy answered without hesitation, “our car, because it belonged to our family when Abuelo celebrated his zero-year birthday!” This engaging story celebrates the resourcefulness and spirit of the young boy’s family as well as that of the Cuban people they greet along the way.  Margarita Engle’s masterful use of onomatopoeia coupled with the brilliant illustrations of Mike Curato make this an engaging read aloud for the young reader. (Grades K-2)

Lucky Broken Girl written by Ruth Behar.  Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House LLC, 2017. ISBN: 978-0399546440

“These boots are made for walkin’…and that’s just what they’ll do. One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you!”  This is the song fifth-grader Ruthie Mizrahi, a Cuban-Jewish girl sings after receiving a pair of white go-go boots from her father.  Having recently immigrated to New York in the 1960s, we see the struggles her family faces with her mother missing Cuba, at the same time trying to forget it, all the while her father is working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  However, things start to look up for young Ruthie as she begins to adjust to her new life. She finds herself moving out of the “dumb” class at school and has become known as the neighborhood hop-scotch queen.  Then one night her family is involved in a tragic car accident and everything changes.  Ruthie is so badly injured that she is forced to lie in bed in a body cast immobilized for nearly a year.  Based on the life of author Ruth Behar, Lucky Broken Girl is an inspirational story that allows us to witness the struggles and successes that ultimately form the diverse friendships that bring hope and happiness into her life. (Grades 4-8)

2018 Américas Award Commended Titles

Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics written by Margarita Engle and illustrated by Rafael López.  Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, 2017.  ISBN:  978-0805098761

Young People’s Poet Laureate, Margarita Engle captivates us with her poetry in Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics.  Engle writes in the first person, detailing the past lives of a myriad of people from diverse countries.  Through her unique style of poetry, she shares chronologically the accomplishments of eighteen different Hispanic figures throughout history. There is Juan de Miralles, a successful Cuban merchant who helped defeat British Troops in Florida in the 1700s, Pura Belpre, author and New York Public Library system’s Spanish Children’s Specialist who is known as the first Puerto Rican ever hired in the system and for introducing bilingual story hours in the early 1900s, and of course the talented Tito Puente, a professional musician who became known as the King of Latin Jazz.  The vibrant illustrations of Rafael López complement each diverse character.  Additional biographical information called Notes About the Lives wraps up this beautiful book of poetry and offers a great introduction to many amazing Latinos! (Grades 2-6)

Disappeared written by Francisco X. Stork. Arthur A. Levine, 2017. ISBN: 978-0545944472

In this heart-racing thriller, Francisco X. Stork brings us the tale of two Mexican teenagers, Sara and Emiliano Zapata, who call the border town of Ciudad Juarez home. Stork expertly draws these two characters against a backdrop of challenging moral decisions that they face in their hometown. Sara, a budding newspaper journalist, is dedicated to exposing the stories of abducted teenage girls who have been disappearing from their city. Meanwhile, her brother Emiliano, is a star soccer player who is smitten with his girlfriend Perla Rubí, and dedicated to his small, entrepreneurial business in which he connects the work of local folk artists with buyers across the border. As we quickly learn, Sara and Emiliano’s ambitions, hopes, and goals begin to unavoidably pull them into a darker world rife with corruption and sometimes life-threatening decisions. Stork sensitively tackles serious topics such as drug trafficking, the persecution of journalists, violence and corruption in a multi-faceted way that is resonant with readers. While Disappeared is a fast-paced page-turner certain to have wide appeal, Stork does an outstanding job of portraying real-life challenges and the influence that deeply felt desires, such as ambition, greed, love, and hope, can have on one’s decision-making processes. Educators will find an array of rich, thought-provoking themes for discussion.  (Grades 10-12)

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora written by Pablo Cartaya. Penguin Random House, 2017. ISBN: 978-1101997239

In this humorous and tender novel, author Pablo Cartaya introduces middle grade readers to Arturo Zamora, a memorably drawn 8th grader living in Miami who kicks off his summer with a part-time job washing dishes at his Cuban-American family’s restaurant “La Cocina de la Isla”. Between hanging out with his friends, spending time at the restaurant, and developing a budding crush on an old childhood friend, Arturo’s summer gets off to a fairly typical start. However, that quickly changes once Wilfrido Pipo, a real estate developer, arrives in his neighborhood with an aggressive plan to build a new high-rise tower that would displace “La Cocina de la Isla”.  Together with his family, Arturo is drawn into a battle not only for their cherished restaurant, but also for his community’s identity and way of life. In telling this story, Cartaya artfully fuses meaningful family history imparted by Arturo’s grandparents, snippets of José Martí’s poetry, and themes of civic engagement and the importance of perseverance and self-confidence. The author also expertly sprinkles in Spanish in a way that is easily decipherable for readers who may or may not speak the language. As the tension ratchets up in The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora, readers will find themselves rooting for his epic win as he grapples with new challenges and learns more about himself and his community in the process. (Grades 4-7)

Forest World written by Margarita Engle. Atheneum, 2017. ISBN: 978-1481490573

In this timely novel written in verse, Cuban-American author Margarita Engle introducers readers to the story of two siblings, Edver and Luza, whose family has been split right down in the middle due to the political circumstances surrounding the United States and Cuba. Edver, age 10, has resided in Miami much of his life with his cryptobiologist mother. Meanwhile, his sister Luza, age 11, has remained on the Cuban island with her father, as she helps him work to protect the diverse species that live on a World Biosphere Reserve. In shifting between the alternate voices of Edver and Luza, we gain insight into the conflicting emotions that the two have felt after not having seen each other since they were very young. As relations between Cuba and the U.S. have thawed in recent years, they are then reunited to spend a summer together in Cuba, and have much to learn in the process about each other and the lives that they have separately lived. In a gentle yet incisive style, Engle adeptly explores issues such as protecting biodiversity while permitting tourism and the sharp differences between life in Cuba and the United States, and the feelings that can arise as a result. Her well-researched novel presents an abundance of topics to be discussed in educational settings while still being an exciting and easy-to-devour eco-adventure. (Grades 4-6)

Frida Kahlo and Her Animalitos written by Monica Brown and illustrated by John Parra. NorthSouth Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-0735842694

This biography of Frida Kahlo is presented from the unique perspective of her beloved – albeit unusual – pets. Readers will enjoy the story that reveals her “spirited and entertaining” menagerie of monkeys, parrot, dogs, turkeys, eagle, cat, and fawn, who largely inspired her colorful character. The author describes the pets, referred to as Frida’s “special friends,” and compares their endearing qualities to Frida’s own while showcasing how they helped Frida keep a resilient spirit despite the drastic setbacks in her life. Readers will be captivated by how the animals lived and played a role in her work. A bonus feature for teachers is the Author’s Note, which can used to provide students with additional details about Frida’s life, including titles of the paintings that encompassed her cherished pets. (Grades K – 3)

Lucía the Luchadora written by Cynthia Leonor Garza and illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez. Pow Kids Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1576878279

This picture book is about a young dark-haired girl who loves to wear a superhero red cape. She can flip, run, and jump off monkey bars in the park better than anybody. She is agile, brave, sharp, and fun. But boys playing near dart away when she tries to play with them. “Girls can’t be superheroes! Girls are just made of sugar and spice and everything nice!” the boys say. Lucía gets mad and with her Abu (short for abuela, or grandmother) scheme a plan. That night, Abu gives her a secret box. It has a silver mask and cape. These were Abu’s when she was a luchadora (female wrestler). Being a luchadora is more than having quick moves or a cool style. “A luchadora has moxie, and isn’t afraid to fight for what is right,” Abu explains. Lucía then takes on a new secret identity and starts wearing the silver mask in the playground. After a string of events in the park, Lucía saves a puppy yelping in fear stranded on the top of swirly slide. “Bravo!” everybody cheers, except a girl in a pink outfit who looks sad. Lucía wants to do what is right; she takes off her mask and smiles to encourage the girl in pink. Then, several others take off their masks. They are girls too. Indeed, you don’t need a mask to be a luchadora! This beautifully illustrated book offers a cultural view of “Mexican superheroes” and celebrates the courage, strength, wit, and determination of girls all over the world. (Grade K-3)

Martí’s Song for Freedom/Martí y sus Versos por la Libertad, written by Emma Otheguy and illustrated by Beatriz Vidal. Children’s Book Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-0892393756

This English-Spanish bilingual picture book is a short biography of José Martí (1853-1895), a famous Cuban political essayist and poet. The book is written as a long poem in free verse style, interspersed with stanzas of Martí’s “Versos Sencillos.” The story chronicles his political activism through his speeches, newspaper articles, and poetry. This book honors Martí and others like him who fought against slavery and the oppression of colonialism. Interestingly, unlike other children’s books about José Martí, a third of this book focuses on his yearning for Cuba. His homesickness is appeased by going for walks in the beautiful Catskill Mountains, which also provided renovated inspiration for his writing. In a way, he seemed to have embraced two homelands, two cultures, and two languages, like many Latina/o children growing up in the U.S. These connections would prove useful in classroom discussions, as well as for raising consciousness about issues of equality and democracy. The unique book illustrations resemble chalk pastel art, which add a blur effect to the drawings. (Grade 3-5)

Rubén Darío written by Georgina Lázaro and illustrated by Lonnie Ruiz. Lectorum Publications, 2017. ISBN: 978-1632456410

This picture book is the biography of Nicaraguan Rubén Darío (1867-1916). He was a journalist, essayist, poet, novelist, and diplomat. Darío was a clever innovator and is considered the father of the Modernism movement in Spanish literature. This book consists of a poem with 60 stanzas each composed of 4 verses, and each verse has 8 syllables with an A-B-A-B rhyming pattern. Verses don’t follow traditional sentence structure and also include picturesque words, intricate metaphors and symbolism, all emulating Dario’s style in his celebrated poem Margarita Esta Linda La Mar, or “Margarita the Sea is Beautiful.” This piece is learned in schools and recited by children in Central America. Writing and reciting complex poetry is highly regarded in Spanish speaking countries. Hence, the book highlights this cultural-linguistic tradition. Additionally, Rubén Darío like other literary celebrities is a role model for young authors. Puerto Rican Georgina Lázaro, writer of this book explains that it is part of a biographical series that “relates in a poetic and enjoyable manner the childhoods of people that left their mark in our world, and reminds us that tomorrow’s achievements depend on today’s children.” The text is supported by the distinctive drawings of Lonnie Ruiz, a talented Nicaraguan graphic designer. Due to its academic register, this book is suitable for use in a Spanish language arts class with students whose Spanish proficiency is intermediate-advanced or advanced. (Grade 3-5).

Sing, Don’t Cry written by Angela Dominguez. Henry Holt and Company, 2017. ISBN: 978-1627798396

The story, which is inspired by the Mexican ballad Cielito Lindo, is a loving tribute to the author’s grandfather. Readers of Mexican heritage will recognize the title translated from a verse in the song – rendered sweet lovely one – that is often sang to young children as a lullaby. Dominguez affectionately recounts how her grandfather, who was an accomplished singer and performer, would visit from Mexico and sing to her and her brother each night. He would warmly advise his grandchildren to keep an optimistic spirit whenever they were discouraged and sing rather than cry because singing “gladdens the heart.” The charming illustrations make it is easy for children to follow the storyline.  Teachers can use the story in lessons aimed to engage children in honoring their grandparents, sharing their own suggestions for staying motivated despite challenging setbacks, and comparing Cielito Lindo to lullabies from different cultures.

(Grades K – 2)

The First Rule of Punk written by Celia C. Pérez. Penguin Random House, 2017. ISBN: 978-0425290408

María Luisa, better known as Malú, is the daughter of a white U.S. American father who owns a record store and loves punk music and a second-generation Mexican-American mother who is a professor and strives to keep her daughter connected to her roots. Moving with her mother to a largely Chicano neighborhood in Chicago away from the home she’s always known in California, opinionated Malú must deal with the familiar challenges of being the new kid in town while making sure to express her punk identity. While she finds peers who challenge her Mexicanness and her ability to fit in, she also finds new friends and a new community. In discovering the history of Mexican-American punk music and creating some of her own, Malú brings together the parts of her own identity that previously seemed to clash. With endearing, complex characters, including a fierce Malú, this novel makes a compelling read for youth interested in issues of fitting in, self-expression through music, exploring one’s cultural roots, and biracial identity. One of the more colorful aspects of this novel is the inclusion of zines interspersed throughout which document Malú’s ever-evolving world. (Grades 5-8)

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life written by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Clarion Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-0544586505

In this story, main character Salvador, a seventeen-year old white boy adopted and raised by a gay Mexican father, is coming to reckon with an unknown part of himself as he approaches a new point of transition: senior year, applying for college, preparing to leave home. His best friend Sam has her own hardships and yearnings to endure, and through their respective journeys, they grow together. Along the way they befriend Fito, a young man on his own path toward brighter days. This is a story about what makes a family. It is a story of how culture is passed down and the values that go with it, including when the lines of family aren’t marked by blood. It is a story about the sacrifices of a parent, the sometimes silent questions of children, and what we need to know in order to survive. It is a story of resiliency. The novel drips with figurative language, poetic meditations, and the eager, hungry dialogue of people who love each other—even when they struggle to find the words. (Grades 9-12)

The Little Doctor/El Doctorcito written by Juan J. Guerra and illustrated by Victoria Castillo. Piñata Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1558858466

This English-Spanish bilingual picture book is the story of Salvador, a young boy who dreams of becoming medical doctor after helping his Spanish-speaking abuela navigate a crowded clinic and an uncaring doctor. The books’ vibrant cartoonlike illustrations enrich the text, and the fact that the story is based on the childhood experiences of the author, who is now a medical doctor, make the book delightful to read. The author and illustrator are indeed role models for growing artists. This book also makes us aware of the diversity among Latinas/os while highlighting their shared cultural values of familism, empathy, education, and hard work. In the candid manner of a child’s perspective, the book introduces hefty issues about healthcare policy, cultural expectations, and stereotypes. Analysis of these themes could lead to rich classroom discussions and opportunities for fostering cross-cultural understanding. (Grades K-5).

Little Skeletons Countdown to Midnight/Esqueletitos: Un Libro Para Contar En EL Día De Los Muertos written and illustrated by Susie Jaramillo. Canticos, 2017. 978945635069

This unique nursery rhyme and number board book charmingly captures the celebratory spirit of Dia de los Muertos. The endearing illustrations coupled with amusing rhymes invite children to engage in the lively chorus found at the end of each verse. While intended for toddlers and young children, the story can be read to children of all ages to honor the holiday, which is commemorated by many Latino cultures. An added feature of the book is its accordion design, which when flipped presents the story in Spanish. A clock with movable hand pieces allows young readers to manipulate it as well. (Grades PK – 1)