From the Director: Academic Year 2017-2018 in Review

The end of Spring Semester provides a welcomed respite, an occasion to cast retrospective glances back over academic year 2017-2018, to take note and to make known some of the notable achievements of the past twelve months.


And a notable year it has been . . . . We are especially pleased to report that the Board of Governors has designated the Baccalaureate Program in Latin American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a state-wide “niche/high value” program.  We wish to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to Senior Associate Dean for Administration and Business Strategy Kate Henz for her efforts our behalf.


ISA has focused a great deal of its attention in the past several months on the completion of the 2018 Program Review and in the preparation of the Title VI Grant Proposal.  Both endeavors have of necessity accounted for a significant portion of ISA staff effort and energy; both endeavors are currently in progress even as this end-of-year review is being prepared.


The demands of the 2018 Program Review and Title VI notwithstanding, ISA has continued to maintain its long-standing commitment in curricular planning and program support in behalf undergraduate education, graduate training, and faculty development.  During  academic year 2017-2018 the Institute for the Study of the Americas has distributed  more than $200,000 in the behalf graduate-student recruitment and in support of graduate-student research, language training, and travel.  Support for faculty professional development, including research and travel, program initiatives, and curriculum development, approached $20,000.


Academic year 2017-2018 has been noteworthy for the inauguration of the William Wilson Brown, Jr. Distinguished Term Professorship in Latin American Studies.  We are pleased to announce that Professor Cecilia Martínez-Gallardo (Political Science) has been appointed as the first recipient of William Wilson Brown, Jr. Distinguished Term Professorship.   The three-year term of the Brown Professorship serves to recognize and support the research of a member of the College faculty at the rank of Associate Professor who has demonstrated sustained progress leading toward promotion to the rank of Full Professor.  The appointment is in recognition of a record of professional excellence as a result of scholarly accomplishments as demonstrated in publications in journals and/or presses of distinctions, and presentation of scholarly papers in important professional venues.

This past year the Institute has inaugurated a new Latin America speakers series: the ISA Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series.  Made possible by a generous gift from an anonymous donor to the Director’s Fund for Excellence in Latin American Studies, the ISA Distinguished Scholar Lecture Series is designed to invite annually to Carolina an outstanding scholar who has recently published a book recognized as an outstanding contribution to Latin American and  Latino/a studies scholarship.

Academic year 2017-2018 has been especially noteworthy for the achievements of the Latino Migration Project (LMP).  Celebrating its tenth anniversary, LMP continues to expand its research scope and public education initiatives to engage multiple University constituencies and public stakeholders on matters related to Latin American migration and integration in North Carolina.  LMP’s Building Integrated Communities initiative conducted a participatory research assessments in Siler City and Chapel Hill to enhance an understanding of the immigration experience.  The assessments will serve to inform local government  and community plans in the development of programs for the integration of immigrant and refugee residents.  Over the course of academic year 2017-2018, LMP organized 26 public events related to migration, integration, public policy, oral history, and Latino/a studies.

A warm welcome to Isa Godinez and Jorge Gutiérrez, the newest members of the ISA staff, who will be engaged in the important work associated with LMP.

The 2018 APPLES Global Course Guanajuato traveled to Mexico with 12 undergraduate and graduate students to study transnational migration.  An estimated total of 150 students have traveled to Mexico since the inauguration of the course in 2006.  The 2018 course program focused on a new theme of migration and climate change.  Students in the course contributed more than 300 hours of public service with organizations in Orange County that work with immigrants and refugees.

In collaboration with the University of North Carolina Press and the University Library, ISA  inaugurated a new open-access publication series, “Studies in Latin America.”  Taking advantage of the digital publishing environment, “Studies in Latin America” will published short works–ca. 20,000 to 35,000 words in length–dedicated to cutting-edge scholarship on Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing on the social sciences, and designed to draw attention to diverse methodological approaches and perspectives on vital issues concerning Latin America and the Caribbean, past and present.   Each monograph will be distributed on demand in paperback format by UNC Press as well as to be available as open-access digital editions hosted by the University Library.  We are pleased to announce the inaugural publication of the “Studies in Latin America” series: Tropical Tongues: Language Ideologies, Endangerment, and Minority Languages in Belize by Jennifer Carolina Gómez Menjívar and William Noel Salmon.  Tropical Tongues examines the precarious state of languages in coastal Belize in the years following independence in 1981, offering new perspectives on language shifts and loss as a result of large-scale politico-economic restructuring.

This past year ISA successfully collaborated with the Center for Global Initiatives, the Stone Center for Black Culture and History, and the University of Puerto Rico in support of the Global Take Off: Puerto Rico Program.  The open-access program offers first-year students a fully-funded opportunity to participate in a first-time travel educational experience.  Twelve students participated in this year’s study program organized around the theme of the environment.

We recognize with pride the success the 2017-2018 graduating class of LTAM majors that included Townsend Bennett Artman, Cristina Barbee Nieto, Mariana Castro Arroyo, Mary Alssya Chapin, Damaris Osorio, and Rachel Spoon.  All of us at ISA extends the warmest best wishes for their continued success.

We wish to congratulate LTAM major Gabriela Alemán (class of 2019) for her appointment as a Yudelman Intern at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).  The internship appointment spans early June through mid-August 2018 and will provide valuable hands-on experience and professional development opportunities within an non-government organization and its role in influencing U.S. foreign policy. The internship will focus on issues related to human rights, democracy, and social justice in Latin America.

All of us at ISA wish to convey our appreciation for the collaborative esprit of the programs, departments, and student organizations across the University with which we have had the pleasure to work this past academic year to advance knowledge of and familiarity with Latin America, Latin American migration, and Latino/a studies, including the Department of African African-American, and Diaspora Studies, the Department of History, Center for Global Initiatives, the Stone Center for Black Culture and History, UNC Libraries, the Schools of Journalism and Media Studies, Public Health, and Social Work, the Carolina Hispanic Association (CHispA), Students United for Immigrant Equality (SUIE), and of course our Consortium partner, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Duke University.

And lastly, to prospective visitors to the Global Education Center, please do visit the 3rd floor to take note of the up-and-running display case “Latin America at Carolina: UNC Authors,” exhibiting recently-published books by Carolina Latin Americanists.


Lou Pérez

June 2018


Students from APPLES Global Course Guanajuato visited migrant communities in Mexico in March 2018.


UNC undergraduates play futbol with students from Trancas Middle School in Guanajuato, Mexico in March 2018


UNC undergraduates play futbol with students from Trancas Middle School in Guanajuato, Mexico in March 2018


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From the Director: Academic Year 2016-2017 in Review

Louis A. Pérez is the J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History and the Director of the Institute for the Study of the Americas.

As the tempo of academic life at Carolina slows into “summer mode,” we pause to reflect upon the accomplishments of the past year with a rightful sense of satisfaction. We are especially pleased to announce that during the academic year 2016-2017, the Institute for the Study of the Americas has awarded more than $250,000 in the form of grants, fellowships, and stipends to support undergraduate education, graduate-student research, graduate-student recruitment, language training, travel, and faculty development projects. The study of Latin America is indeed flourishing in Chapel Hill and in the aggregate makes for a vibrant environment of innovative research and professional engagement.

Global Take Off: Puerto Rico program offers first-year students a fully-funded opportunity to participate in a first-time travel experience.

ISA initiatives have continued to increase in numbers and expand in scope. The breadth of interest in Latin America at Carolina has served as the basis for a number fruitful collaborative projects on the basis of shared goals and common purpose. These have involved multiple and multifaceted activities across the College and throughout the University, within the humanities and social sciences, and the development of wider collaborative networks with the professional schools. The success of the activities during academic year 2016-2017 serves to sustain the pursuit of best practices in undergraduate education, graduate training, faculty research, and outreach initiatives.

ISA joined with the Center for Global Initiatives, the Stone Center for Black Culture and History, and the University of Puerto Rico in support of the Global Take Off: Puerto Rico Program. The open-access program offers first-year students a fully-funded opportunity to participate in a first-time travel educational experience. Twelve students participated in this year’s study program organized around the theme of food security in Puerto Rico.

ISA has also joined with the Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine in Cuba to support the development of collaborative projects dealing with teaching, graduate student training, and faculty research.

Under the auspices of the Consortium, Duke and UNC hosted the very successful 64th annual meeting of the Southeastern Conference of Latin American Studies (SECOLAS) in March 2017. The 2017 Conference was one of the best attended SECOLAS programs in recent years, and included 265 registered participants from 22 states. A total of 66 panels addressed a diverse Latin American topics within the social sciences, humanities, and health sciences.

The City of Sanford awarded keys to Latino Migration Project Director Dr. Hannah Gill and Building Integrated Communities (BIC) Researcher and Coordinator Jessica White (pictured second from right) in recognition of the statewide BIC initiative.

In the course of the past year, ISA has continued to sponsor a variety of speaker programs designed to provide a venue for scholars from both within the University and beyond, including the Faculty Lecture Series, Latin America Speaker Series, and the Federico Gil Lecture Series. In this regard, we are especially gratified to announce the inauguration in 2017 of the George and Anne Platt Distinguished Lecture Series. The Series is designed to bring to Carolina annually a distinguished scholar of Latin American and/or Latino/a studies. This year’s inaugural scholar was Professor Vicki Ruiz, Distinguished Professor of History and Chicano/Latino Studies at the University of California at Irvine, who spoke on the subject of “Why Latino History Matters to U. S. History.”

In 2017, the Latino Migration Project (LMP) celebrated its tenth anniversary, providing research and public education about Latin American migration and integration in North Carolina. Some accomplishments this year include the expansion of staff capabilities with a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, new partnerships with Chapel Hill and Siler City to create municipal immigrant integration plans, and the tenth Guanajuato trip as part of APPLES Global Course Guanajuato. LMP was recipient of the National League of Cities’ City Cultural Diversity Award, and the Key to the City of Sanford. The NEH-Funded New Root Oral History initiative, a collaborative project with the University Libraries and the Southern Oral History Program, was recipient of the 2016 Elizabeth B. Mason Award from the Oral History Association.

Students (above) participated in the tenth APPLES Service-Learning Global Course Guanajuato taught by Hannah Gill

Important outside funding this past year has served to support important facets of ISA programs. An award from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation for $118,000 has provided the Latino Migration Project (LMP) vital support for the expansion the Building Integrated Communities (BIC) initiative. BIC assists municipal governments in North Carolina in working with foreign born residents to promote economic development, enhance multi-cultural communication, and improve community relationships.

ISA also acknowledges with appreciation the receipt this past year of a generous gift of $50,000 for the creation of the Director’s Fund for Excellence in Latin American Studies. The fund was formed to support the strategic priorities of the Curriculum of Latin American Studies, including but not limited to faculty and student support, public lectures, and program events.

It is with pleasure that we welcome Joanna Shuett to our corner of the Third Floor in the Global Education Center. Joanna has assumed the position of Department Manager and within just a few months has established a welcoming and efficient presence within ISA. We wish also to welcome Jessica White to Latino Migration Project to assume the new position of Research and Program Manager of Building Integrated Communities. We are delighted to have Jessica with us.

Beatriz Riefkohl Muñiz

Hannah Gill

Several notable accomplishments were registered within ISA in the course of the past year. The accomplishments of Beatriz Riefkohl Muñiz and Hannah Gill–long recognized within the community of Latin Americanists at Carolina–have been recognized by the University community at large. Beatriz received the University Award for the Advancement of Women, given by the office of Chancellor, in recognition of her contributions on behalf of women at Carolina, including mentorship of young professionals, years of leadership and advocacy of policies and cultures affecting women faculty, staff, and students. She has been an influential leader in collaborative efforts among area-study centers in the expansion of global education in North Carolina and Latin American Studies nationally.

Hannah was recognized for her years of engaged teaching and her commitment to the APPLES Service-Learning Global Course Guanajuato. Hannah was recipient of the 2017 Office of the Provost Public Service Award for Engaged Teaching. The annual spring semester course serves to train bilingual students to understand the contemporary and historical complexities of immigration through research, service-learning with immigrants in North Carolina and travel to communities of migrant origin in Guanajuato, Mexico.

2016-2017 graduating class of LTAM majors

We are delighted to congratulate the 2016-2017 graduating class of LTAM majors: Verónica Aguilar, Iris Chicas, Raina Enrique, Luis Daniel González Chávez, Lauren Groffsky, Jacqueline López, Michael Olson, Laura Ornelas, Damaris Osorio, Diego Suárez Salazar, and Jackson McKenna Wright. ISA extends its warmest best wishes for their continued success.

We end this review of academic year 2016-2017 to reflect on the personal and professional loss with the passing of Shelley Clarke. Shelley was vital a presence in all our endeavors for almost two decades. The lives of three generations of LTAM majors and two generations of graduate students were enhanced and their projects enabled through Shelley’s efforts. We will–and we do–miss Shelley–but the impact of her presence at ISA and the Latin Americanist community will endure for years to come. We celebrate her presence, the life she lived among us, and the ways she enriched the lives of almost everyone with whom she shared so much of herself.


Lou Pérez
June 2017

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LTAM Major Spotlight: Raina Enrique

The Latin American Studies Undergraduate major (LTAM) provides students with the opportunity to master multiple methodological skills and acquire the language competence through which to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the Latin American and Caribbean experience. In preparing students for public and private sector careers, LTAM alumni have gotten jobs in the U.S. State Department in a number of different Latin American countries, transnational companies that operate in the US and Latin America, and in non-profit organizations that work with migrants in the United States.


Raina Enrique, class of 2017

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Raina Enrique, class of 2017 LTAM and Psychology double major, who departs for Peru August 2017 to serve in the Peace Corps.

Originally from Orlando, Florida, Enrique entered UNC Chapel Hill as an undergraduate student in 2013 and took LTAM 101. She was quickly inspired to pursue the major.

“It was like a match lit within me,” Enrique said. “I learned things I had never been exposed to before.”

With personal ties and interests in Latin America, Enrique identified with the subject and wanted to pursue learning more about LTAM history, politics, and perspectives, which included not only how the United States saw Latin America, but also how Latin America saw the United States. She quickly developed a passion for the region, and sought out an international experience to study Yucatec Maya abroad.

“Going to Mexico was my first time leaving the country,” Enrique said. ” Once I was there, it clicked with me and the experience really tweaked my passion.”


Enrique received a FLAS award to study a second summer in the Yucatan.

Enrique liked the Yucatec Maya program so much, she went again as a FLAS recipient. Having had such a transformative experience learning an indigenous language and culture, Enrique applied to the Peace Corps with the intent on working with indigenous populations in Latin America.

“I loved the culture, the story, and the history,” Enrique said. “I still use my Maya today when I talk to my friends.”

In applying for the Peace Corps, Enrique requested to work with indigenous populations in Latin America. She will officially get that chance as she accepted an opportunity to serve in Peru as a Peace Corp youth development facilitator. In this position, Enrique will also add a fifth language of Quechua to her already existing skills in Portuguese, Spanish, Maya, and English.

Although she has not yet graduated, Enrique is looking ahead. She hopes to eventually earn a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology after taking this spring’s APPLES Global Course Guanajuato. Enrique said the LTAM major gave her the flexibility to tailor her interests in the Maya region and Mexico, and pull from many departments for a well-rounded perspective. Overall, Enrique said the LTAM major is enriching to learning.

“Not only is LTAM one of the majors that will change your perspective, it will also subsequently change your heart,” Enrique said.

Thank you for speaking with us, Raina! We look forward to the great things you will do!

FLAS fellowships fund the study of less commonly taught languages and area studies coursework. This program provides academic year and summer fellowships to assist graduate students and advanced undergraduates in foreign language and area studies. The goals of the fellowship program include: (1) to assist in the development of knowledge, resources and trained personnel for modern foreign language and area/international studies; (2) to stimulate the attainment of foreign language acquisition and fluency; and (3) to develop a pool of international experts to meet national needs.

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Taking the road less traveled: Spotlight on UNC alum and South American traveler Michelle Carreño

Through leadership development, experiential learning, and engaged service, UNC alumni have had an incredible impact through our programs, and continue to make their mark in their careers. One of these professionals we had the pleasure of connecting with is Michelle Carreño.


Carreño in Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

After graduating from UNC and participating in the APPLES Global Course Guanajuato, Carreño moved to Colombia to become a bilingual World History middle school teacher with plans to eventually travel around South America alone.

“Traveling solo has been something I have always wanted to do ever since I can remember,” Carreño said. “The idea of going to a foreign place: meeting new people, learning about a new culture, a new language, trying new types of food, dancing different types of music, visiting new places, making decisions on my own from the smallest to the biggest ones and all of this ‘solo’ sounded so fascinating to me, and especially in Latin America with an indefinite time.”

While a student at UNC, Carreño took LTAM classes and instantly connected to the material.

“I did not realize how passionate and interested I became with Latin American studies when I first took classes,” Carreño said. “It was something so natural to me… I truly believe I felt I was searching my identity and learning where I came from.”

Being the daughter of Colombian immigrants, Carreño wanted to explore that side of her identity and moved to Colombia after graduation with the intention of teaching for a couple of years and then traveling alone. After the first year ended and it was time to resign her contract, Carreño made the difficult decision to pursue her solo travel dreams sooner than she intended.


Carreño (above) is a Guanajuato alum

And it paid off.

“What many people do not realize is that traveling brings heaps of enriching perks to our lives and helps humans become stronger,” Carreño said. “Additionally, I soon realized in my travels, you never travel alone because you meet millions of people disposed to give you a hand and share with you your path if it’s for 5 minutes to a few hours to days to months to years.”

Seven countries later, Carreño has taken advantage of her time in South America. Whether camping, hiking, or meeting new people, Carreño explored places in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. She was even able to meet up with her brother to explore the Amazon and Brazil.

When it comes to traveling solo, Carreño encourages others to do the same.

“I decided to take this trip through Latin America because it has been one of my dreams and I also wanted to empower women, especially Latinas, that they can travel ‘sola’ through their own continent,” Carreño said. “You will grow in so many ways. Best of all, you will see how you’re not either from here nor there and that we are all world citizens/darte cuenta que no eres ni de aquí ni de allá y que todos somos ciudadanos del mundo.”

Whether she is in South America traveling solo or back in the States, you can find Carreño dancing, doing yoga, hiking, swimming, reading, and of course, traveling.

Thank you so much for sharing your adventure with us, Michelle! We can’t wait to hear more!

See more of Michelle’s adventure below:



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Cake Fights and Teaching Accomplishments

By Matt Austin

June 25, 2012

Everything is still going well here in Trancas!  Last night, we returned from a 1 ½ day trip to San Miguel.  Alejandro, a college student from Mexico City who is teaching math in Trancas, was kind enough to let us stay in his condo in San Miguel.

It was awesome to see the city, and on Sunday, we got to meet up with the El Gusano group.  We also went to a market and bought gifts for friends and family.  Since we had been deprived from greasy, American fast food for so long, one of the highlights of the trip for Tim and I was getting a McDonalds Big Mac, French fries, Coke, and a McFlurry.  It was delicious, but I don’t think McDonalds is quite as good as the tortas that my housemother makes.  Tortas are definitely one of my favorite foods now.

At the beginning of last week, Tim and I were invited to go to his housemother’s cousin’s birthday party.  The party was at a restaurant that is about thirty minutes away between Trancas and Guanajuato.  It is located off the side of a mountain road, and the restaurant owner told us that you can see the lights of Trancas from the back porch of the restaurant at night.  We got to meet Luis (the cousin who had just turned 20), and all of his friends who attend the university in Guanajuato.  It was great to hang out with all of them and they were extremely welcoming to Tim and I.  After, eating a delicious meal, they brought out a cake.  Everyone kept telling Luis to put his face in the cake and take a bite (I am pretty sure this is a Mexican tradition for birthdays).  He did it once, but I guess they didn’t think his face was covered enough with icing, so his girlfriend smashed cake in his face.  Everyone in the restaurant was cracking up and then a cake fight began with 4 or 5 people.  After the fight was over, everyone sat down to talk more, and then we headed back to Trancas.

Teaching is still going really well!  Michelle and I are still teaching the “intermediate” group in the Secundaria.  Many of the students in this group knew less than half of the answers on the initial English evaluations that we gave.  However, last week we tested our students, and no one scored less than a 7 out of 10.  A lot of the material on the test was the same as the material that was on the evaluation, so we were very happy to see improvement.  I have loved seeing the kids’ excitement about learning and all the improvements they have made.  For example, Daniel, one of my house brother’s friends, comes to take care of the sheep with us everyday.  There have been a few days that he has brought his Spanish/English dictionary and notebook with him to study.  I hope that we can encourage him and others to continue studying on their own even after we have returned to the United States.

One of my favorite classes to teach is the 1st and 2nd grade class.  They are always really excited to have us there, but sometimes it’s very hard to keep their attention.  We usually use the first half of the class to teach new material, and then the second part of the class for an activity to keep them interested.  For example, the day we taught colors, we played a game outside where we would say a color, and they had to run to something that was that color.  When we said blue, they all jumped on Michelle because she was wearing a blue shirt, which was hilarious.

I am still having a great experience here in Mexico.  I feel like my Spanish has improved greatly and I am much more confident with my speaking.  The other night, my house brother, Juan, and I were laughing about the first day I spent in Trancas and how I could hardly understand anything he said.  Now, he and I can converse with a few misunderstandings here and there.  I am looking forward to the last two weeks we have in Trancas, but I am already dreading saying goodbye to all the awesome people I have met here!

About the author:

Matt Austin is a senior Economics and Global Studies major at UNC Chapel Hill from Charlotte, NC. This summer he is working with Project Guanajuato, an internship program of the Latino Migration Project and the Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio in Guanajuato, Mexico. This is his first time in Guanajuato and he is looking forward to sharpening his Spanish skills, teaching English classes in local schools, and building relationships with the people of Trancas, a rural community near the city of Dolores Hidalgo.



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Teaching in El Gusano: Creative Approaches

By: Jennifer Ibarra

Last week Gilly wrote about some of the issues that have made it difficult to teach classes, such as not being able to teach in the primaria, various community events that interfere with our after-school classes, like the political party candidates who come to make speeches, or students simply not showing up to classes. Fortunately, we’re starting to make some progress. Not being able to teach in school was turning out to be quite difficult, so we had the idea to check out the secundaria in the nearby rancho. All of our youth who continue onto middle school (because going to or finishing middle school isn’t always a given here) attend the middle school in Capulín, the neighboring rancho, because El Gusano doesn’t have a middle school of its own. On Monday, we took the twenty minute walk down the road into El Gusano with Irma, one of the promotoras, to speak with the head teacher at Capulín to see if we could teach English classes there a few times a week. He spoke with other teachers, and five out of six of the teachers decided they wanted us to teach English. Originally, we were going to come in twice a week to teach each class once a week, but we soon added on more classes.

Now, we come in a total of four times a week. We teach one first grade, two second grade, and two third grade classes (there are two classes for each grade). I teach both of my classes, a second grade and third grade by myself, and Gilly and Elizabeth teach one class by themselves and one class together. It’s definitely been fun to be in front of the classroom with desks, a whiteboard, students who pay attention and take notes, and students who whisper or chat when they shouldn’t be chatting. I’ve had to bring down a “strong fist” and call students out for chatting or misbehaving. Teaching in the secundaria has been a great way to get to know the male youth (muchachos) better. They usually don’t come to our English or art classes in the Centro (and by “usually” I mean never), but we see them around a lot because they come to play soccer or hang out. Before teaching classes in Capulín, we would always make jokes at each other in passing, but at Capulín we get a little more time to talk to them. This is because they’re often coming or going somewhere at the Centro, whereas Gilly, Elizabeth and I are at the secundaria for a whole forty-five minutes before classes for break and lunch-time and we chat with them during another break after class while waiting for someone else to finish teaching. When we talk to the guys before or after class, it’s almost always joking, too, but this helps us grow friendships with them no matter how insignificant it sounds. Just showing face helps. Instead of being the funny gringos in the center every Monday through Saturday night that they see around, we’re teachers or even friends…okay, maybe we haven’t gotten to friendship level yet with any of these rowdy middle school boys, but simply seeing them more often has helped out a lot.

What I have noticed more than anything is that a lot of the students are very shy about being called on, or speaking in English. We had an English class for adults and adolescents this week in the Centro where everyone hid behind their notebooks at one point and giggled because I told them to speak up. I’ve had to learn how best to be the head of the classroom, how to work with kids. Of course, everyone has their own personality. It’s not like they all act the same, but there is this sort of unexpected shyness or timidity.As Elizabeth says, it’s like pulling teeth. Sometimes kids are more reluctant to participate because they don’t want to, but often kids are just shy.

You have to seek them out and be gentle, even with some of the rambunctious ones. I had to be firm but kind in order to encourage some o the energetic and sassy boys in primaria to participate in the photo project. I could see that they wanted to. If I just asked them, “Hey, want to take some photos?” they would think about it for a few seconds and decide not to. One boy was fine with taking photos but was uncomfortable saying that he wanted photos taken of himself. I had to ask him gently a couple of times, and both times he only responded with very slight nods. After the first time, he changed his mind. He was happy about getting to take the photos home with him a few days later.

All of the kids were happy about taking photos home with them. For the past few weeks, we have been having a lot of success with our art activities. Our first popular art event was Music Week. Gilly, Elizabeth and I had collected a variety of bottles and cardboard. Tuesday, we made musical instruments out of the bottles and cardboard, and throughout the week kids and I played on the centro’s guitarra and Gilly’s guitarrita, or mini-guitar.

On Saturday, we played the instruments while putting music on that the locals like over a speaker. It was a lot of fun to jam with the kids, and they really liked it.

This week, we had a photo project. We bought disposable cameras and let kids use our digital cameras. In total, the kids took about 200 photos! The photography project was a really good way to get girls who are shier or more distant to participate, and Music Week was a really good way to get rowdier boys to come out and participate. The art activities continue to be a hit, and our after-school English classes at the Centro are still going pretty well, too.

About the Author: Jenny Ibarra is a Spanish Major at UNC on the Hispanic Literature and Culture track. Born and raised outside of Washington, D.C., she has always been exposed to the migrant experience and is excited to see it from another perspective. This is her first time participating in Project Guanajuato. She is teaching English and Art classes in El Gusano.

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“¿Y qué hacen ustedes?”

 By: Jennifer Ibarra

This first week in El Gusano has been full of interesting and exciting experiences.


As you may know, our mission in these ranchos, or extremely small towns, is to promote education. We do this by teaching English classes and establishing relationships with students so that we have the opportunity to encourage them to further their studies. So, it came as a big surprise when we were told that we could no longer teach English classes like we had in past summers.


In our training and preparation meetings for the trip, we were told that we should be flexible. “Be ready to change your lesson plans…or completely scratch your lesson plans.” Last summer, the culprit was faulty computers which caused UNC students to re-write their lesson plans. This way they could better accommodate three kids on a machine instead of one. This year in El Gusano, it’s not faulty computers as much as a change in zona, or zone, supervisors, that has prevented us from going forward with what we originally prepared.


Friday was our first full day in the rancho. We met in the morning to start planning for the six to seven weeks we would be in the town. An evaluation was drawn up, and we happily took it to the head maestra, teacher, when we went to the school to set our hours. However, we never got to the evaluation in the meeting. Before we could mention it, the maestra began saying something that sounded like we couldn’t teach classes. “Did I hear her right, or did I just misunderstand because my Spanish isn’t fluent?” I thought.  “Wait, no she said it again!” Apparently, there was a new supervisor who no longer wanted us to teach because what would the hired teachers do in the meantime? “¿Y qué hacen ustedes mientras ellos enseñan?” Alas, lesson-planning and grading papers wasn’t a good enough response. Unless we received permission from the supervisor, we could no longer teach classes at the primaria.

Thus began our after-school lessons, our English classes for primaria, secundaria, and adults, and our art classes for primaria and secundaria. Initially we were thinking about scratching English classes and having other after-school activities where we could incorporate English. None of the kids would want to come to English classes after their already mandatory classes. It would just be prolonged school. But despite our concerns, Irma, a community member who works for the Fundación Comunitaria del Bajío, told us that there was enough interest in El Gusano that people would set aside a part of their day just to come out.


It’s been a bit of a struggle. Most students come late, which we expected, since we heard a lot of people come late to things in the community. Tardiness isn’t the main issue, though. Merely getting people to show up has been the brunt of the problem. We have classes with 8-13 students coming and classes where no one shows up. Despite our inconsistent attendance, we have been having a lot of fun with the kids. So far we’ve covered basic conversation, the alphabet, numbers, and family vocabulary. On Monday, none of the younger students showed up to English class, but because a lot came to Art on Tuesday, we made a sort of hybrid class and had the students draw a picture of their house and family. This way, we incorporated a lot of words like “father” and “sister” (trust me, we had a lot to work with—one girl is one of FIFTEEN children!). We also made a fortune teller in English, which the girls loved. They practiced counting numbers and vocabulary like “Yes,” “No,” and funnier responses to their queries like, “Never!” We wrote the colors in English, so they also had an opportunity to practice color vocabulary and spelling.


It has been a lot of fun getting to know the students. We have also started going around the community and formally introducing ourselves to the families, so we’ve also met a fair share of parents and community members (though we have a lot more to go! There are about 76 families living in El Gusano.). The best time we visited families was probably a week ago. El Gusano is mainly a one-road town surrounded by some decent-sized lomas, or hills. Earlier that day, Elizabeth and I were commenting how we wanted to hike up one of these lomas one day. We got our wish sooner than we expected when we hiked up some lomas to visit the houses on the outer-reaches of the town! Some of the families thought this was funny, but I would say it was one of parts of teaching and living in El Gusano that is the most unique and something that I liked the most.


Do you have any ideas or suggestions for art activities, particularly for pre-teens and young teenagers? We’re planning on collaging with them and doing some musical activities, but we can’t do that until 1) we go into town and buy magazines, and 2) we get a fully-functional guitar. Some of the girls saw my iTouch today and want to look at it tomorrow, so that’s a good way to get them to bring in their own music so we can all share. We’d love to hear your feedback! Feel free to post comments or questions.

Hasta luego,


Jennifer Ibarra

About the author:

Jenny Ibarra is a Spanish Major at UNC on the Hispanic Literature and Culture track. Born and raised outside of Washington, D.C., she has always been exposed to the migrant experience and is excited to see it from another perspective. This is her first time participating in Project Guanajuato. She is teaching English and Art classes in El Gusano.


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Our first week: Reflections on Mexico City and El Gusano

By Guile Contreras

Hey, my name is Guile Contreras and I’m the group leader for El Gusano this year. Last summer, I was in Trancas, so I’m more or less familiar with the area. My experience will be a little different from the rest of group since I have better idea what to expect. Less culture shock and other surprises. I would say that last year’s trip was amazing and enriching. Hopefully, I will have the same or even better experience here in El Gusano. Right now I find myself constantly comparing this current trip with the one from last summer, even including el DF.

One of the most interesting parts of the trip is arriving to Mexico City. Previously, my image of Mexico was that it was a giant rural country filled with cacti and livestock. I guess I based it on the stereotyped Mexican culture and as well my experience with Mexicans. Most Mexicans I knew, friends and migrant workers, were from small ranchos in rural parts of Mexico. They spoke of farm work, a slow-paced lifestyle, and cowboy boots and rancheras. Mexico City is the opposite of that image. It’s vibrant, urban, progressive, and diverse like any other big city. This year, like last year, I was awed at the size and vastness of Mexico City. From the plane, it looks like it goes on and on and there is no end. Once you travel through the city, it still feels the same way. Building after building, street and street, and the sea of cars that make up the excruciating traffic.  It’s not just the size of the city that makes this an interesting part of trip, rather the transition from a Latin metropolis filled with 25 million people to rural ranchito of only 70 families. There are parts in the US that are the same, but most people don’t experience such a drastic change of location in a small amount of time.  It’s not just a change of landscape and population size, but also of people and values.

From what I have seen so far, the people of El Gusano are not so different from Trancas. It’s definitely a slower pace lifestyle compared to what I’m used to at UNC. There is no rushing to lectures or juggling between meetings and intramural sports. People wake up, eat breakfast, either go to work, school, or stay and clean the house, then have lunch and later work some more and finally rest and socialize before heading to sleep. This is a regular day for most citizens, but for some that isn’t enough. They wanted more than just a simple life filled with financial struggle. I’ve never met them and only know them by name only. They are the ones that chose to migrate to the US. Most of the people I’ve spoken with so far have at least one family member in the US; a husband, son, daughter, brother, or sister. You mostly hear Tejas, Fort Worth, Austin, and Dallas. I don’t know too much about these people because it’s just been a week. They have similarities, but each individual case is different. Maybe like last year, by the end of my time here I will have a better understanding of why these people chose to leave their families behind and go to the US.

I’ve mostly been conversing with the adults and the not the kids and teenagers because they tend to be more shy at first. Hopefully once we begin working with the primaria next week, the kids will stop giggling and then running away from me and the rest of the group. Well, nos vemos al rato.

About the author:

Guile Contreras is a junior education major at UNC Chapel Hill from Siler City, NC. He is co-trip leader of Project Guanajuato, an internship program of the Latino Migration Project in collaboration with the Fundacion Comunitaria del Bajio in Guanajuato, Mexico.  He is returning for his second year to Guanajuato with a UNC team to teach classes in local middle schools.  El Gusano is a rural community located in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato with high out-migration to the United States.

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Feeling at Home in Trancas

By: Tim McEachran

It is crazy to think that we have been in Mexico for three weeks and in Trancas for a little over two! The time seems to have flown by, but it also feels like I know this place so well. This Monday we finally were able to start giving classes at both the Primaria and the Secundaria! After giving evaluations last week, we have split the groups up into advanced and non-advanced and are now teaching three times to each class per week. So far things have been going extremely well! Cora and I are teaching the advanced group in each grade level and have been working on simple phrases and conversational sayings. We’ve also been working on the sounds of vowels in English, something that can be very hard and unnatural for Spanish-speakers. On the last class of the week we even did a sort of mock “date” in English for the oldest students at the secundaria. It was really fun and they seemed to enjoy that a lot. It has been really enjoyable to teach classes at the primaria because the younger kids are so eager and excited to learn! They love it when we come in and we have been working on very basic things like numbers and the English alphabet with them.  There are certain days where a particular class is out of session for some reason so we have to work around that, but overall the teaching aspect of the project is going really well!


As well as just the everyday activities of going to take care of the borregas (sheep) with Juan and playing soccer almost every night, we have also been able to go on some pretty fun adventures! Last Sunday night Matt and I were hanging out with some of the men in town after their soccer game earlier in the day (which Trancas won), when they asked Matt if he would start playing the guitar for them. They loved hearing Matt play and would request different songs that they knew, many of by Creedence or Guns & Roses. After listening and singing along for about half an hour, one of the men, who actually lived in Dolores, asked if we could go with him to his apartment and serenade his wife with a few songs. Matt had never really had this request before but we decided that we may as well go; I mean not many people can say that they went on a special trip to serenade a Mexican woman with a little Guns and Roses! Seven of us (plus Matt’s guitar) then piled into a car and went off to serenade Raul’s wife. We ended up staying for about 3 hours, singing and playing together as well as listening to Mexican Banda music in between songs. It was certainly an adventure!


After being here for three weeks, I can say that the best part of the experience thus far is the homestay. I love the family that I am staying with and have started to become very close with them. My family consists of a ten year old boy, Luis, a two year old girl, Natalie, my mom Maria, and her parents.  They are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people and it never fails that every time I walk into the kitchen my host-grandmother greets me with the words “Quieres algo de comer?”—Would you like something to eat? They do everything that they can to make me comfortable and always, always make sure I have had enough to eat. Meal time is very important at my house and there are always relatives and friends coming in and out of the house to eat. This has also been nice because it has given me the opportunity to get to know more people in the community and gives me even more practice speaking in Spanish! The homestay experience and the relationships I formed from that is something I will never forget.


Things have been going very well and it is sad to think that we only have about four weeks left in Mexico!

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Second First Impressions

By Cora Lavin


Our first week in Mexico has involved a lot of traveling and has allowed us to see several different landscapes. I was an intern with Project Guanajuato last summer, so it was nice not to be overwhelmed by the “newness” of everything, but instead to be able to enjoy some of the little things I hadn’t noticed about Mexico City and Irapuato during my trips to the cities last summer…

In Mexico City, we went to an outdoor “food fair” that had over 30 booths from all over the world. Each booth represented a country and shared information about the country; some even had food, jewelry, clothes and other accessories typical of the country for sale. At the United States table they were selling BBQ, sweet tea, and hot dogs. I found this interesting because we thought that the other booths were very good representations of the other countries, but then when we saw the US table we realized it really only shows a very small part of the country. In order to get a feeling for what a place is really like, you have to spend time there. It made me realize how much my perception of Mexico has changed since last year, before I participated in Project Guanajuato. I now have a much better understanding of why people migrate to the US and why some people have to do it illegally, as well as the importance of building communities in Mexico.

We spent the night in the plaza of Irapuato, which is much smaller than Mexico City but significantly larger than Trancas and El Gusano. A highlight was enjoying pizza in the plaza while people-watching. There were these three boys playing drums in the plaza so we watched them for about an hour before they came over to us with their father and started talking. The triplets know how to play everything from cumbia to reggaeton, but their favorites are African rhythms. They have a teacher from Africa that comes every few months to teach them new music and that’s how they started learning. I was struck by their open-mindedness on some issues—they attributed this to their music, as it has allowed them to meet so many people and experience so many things!

On Thursday morning we separated into our two groups and headed off to the communities. It was hard to say goodbye because we had such a great time traveling together in Mexico City and Irapuato, but we’ve already set up two weekends to meet up! Matt and I are staying with Doña Celia’s family– they are the most generous family I know! Matt gets along great with the two youngest boys—they’ve been trying to learn to play guitar but they have no one to teach them and Matt plays really well. They ask him to play for them at least three times a day. Maybe he’ll teach them!

On Friday morning, we went to the secundaria and talked to the directora to set up times to teach. First, we will give evaluations and split each grade into a “regular” and an “advanced” group—that means we’ll be teaching six classes in total. Next week, we are unsure when we’ll actually be able to teach as people from Trancas are going to be here giving exams. We’re learning that it’s going to be incredibly important to be patient and flexible during our time in Trancas! We’ll also be starting at the primaria—three groups in total. We’ll start classes there on Wednesday, but, again, we’re unsure if we’ll be able to teach them next week.

We’ve also gotten a chance to play volleyball and basketball with the kids during class and soccer with the kids and older boys in Trancas in the evenings. It’s a great way to get to know the kids outside of the classroom and meet other members of the community who we otherwise wouldn’t have contact with. Tim and Matt have loved the sports and the kids love how tall they are! I’m hoping to play soccer again for the team this summer—I’ll be sure to keep you updated on that!

It’s been great being back in the community and getting to see everyone again. The people here are so friendly and have already invited us over for lunch or dinner whenever we’re able!  Most of the folks know why we’re here, but not for how long, and some don’t know how we’re associated with La Fundación. We’re doing our best to explain why we are here and what our jobs are. So far, we’re all having a great time with our families, just hanging out and getting to know each other. I can’t believe it’s already been a week since we left the US and it certainly doesn’t feel like a year has passed since the last time I was here.

About the Author:

            Cora Lavin is a recent graduate of UNC Chapel Hill in Communication Studies and Spanish from Durham, NC. She is co-trip leader of Project Guanajuato, an internship program of the Latino Migration Project in collaboration with the Fundación Comunitaria del Bajío in Guanajuato, Mexico. She is returning for her second year to Guanajuato with a UNC team to teach classes in a local middle and lower school. Trancas is a rural community located in central Mexico in the state of Guanajuato with high out-migration to the United States. After Project Guanajuato, Cora will stay in Trancas to continue her work with the Fundación.


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