Latin American Week at the University of Westminster

Report by Ailsa Peate and Liz Harvey-Kattou

In light of the recent closure of ILAS, and considering the research and teaching interests of staff who form part of the research group Latin American Studies at Westminster, we applied to UCML for a total of £750 to run a series of events to promote conversations on heritage, identity, and human rights in Latin America during the University’s Student Engagement Week. 

Our rationale was to deepen our students’ understanding of the areas they study by introducing them to new ideas and contexts linked to the focus of the syllabus at Westminster, and to involve the public, ensuring that all events were accessible in both Spanish, English, and introduced the indigenous Guatemalan Ixil language.

The three sessions were as follows:

A Museum for Me, an activity created by the University of Liverpool and the Museo Nacional de Colombia, 30thOctober. The session began with a bilingual introduction by Martha Elsseser, member of Colombian diaspora group Mujer Diáspora (Diaspora Woman) who had previously undertaken the workshop, and Dr Peate who explained the importance of representation and questions of human rights in museum spaces. Attendees created their own miniature museums using Museum for Me kits, expressing their lived experiences, and presented them to the group in both English and Spanish at the end of the session. 

The second session, José Sherwood González’s Graphic Fiction and Mexican Family Myths on Day of the Dead was held on 2nd November, the day of Mexican Day of the Dead. The activity was an opportunity to learn about the celebration and the significance of heritage in relation to national celebrations. Invited speaker José Sherwood González introduced the Day of the Dead and his own graphic novel on family, myths, and Mexican identity, followed by the decoration of an altar to the dead with audience contributions, traditional food and beverages, and a Q&A with the artist.

The final activity was a screening of Guatemalan film La Llorona (2019) by Jayro Bustamante. This took place on the evening of 4 November and began with a brief introduction to the history of Guatemala’s civil war and indigenous genocide, the trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt, and the various Central American myths around the figure of la llorona by Dr Liz Harvey-Kattou. An understanding of this context is essential to grasp the multifaceted nature of the film, and all attendees were therefore able to engage in a deeper way with Guatemalan culture and history through this screening.

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