Aviva Chomsky, one of the country's leading historians of Latin America and a prize-winning author, is Pomona College's Ena H. Thompson Visiting Professor of History this semester. Chomsky, who is a professor of history at Salem State University in Massachusetts, focuses her research on Latin American immigrant workers in the U.S. and migrant workers in Latin America.
Working for the United Farm Workers of America union in 1976-77 and living in Spain heavily impacted her scholarly focus. Chomsky, who considers herself a labor historian, says, "I credit [working with UFWA] with sparking my interest in the Spanish language, in migrant workers and immigration, in labor history, in social movements and labor organizing, in multinationals and their workers, in how global economic forces affect individuals, and how people collectively organize for social change."
She began to study Latin America in earnest in the 1980s during the Nicaraguan revolution and the wars in El Salvador and Guatemala. "As I learned more about it, [I was] appalled by what the United States was doing, and by the fact that I had previously had no idea about the long history of U.S. involvement in the region. It was to remedy my embarrassing ignorance that I decided to go to graduate school in history."
Chomsky has been working for the past 10 years with communities affected by coal mining in Colombia. In February she will travel to the Afro-Colombian village of Roche in Bogota as an international observer in negotiations between the Cerrejón multinational coal mining company and the community that the company is trying to relocate, members of which are asking for more just compensation before leaving.
Chomsky is teaching two courses this semester, Latin America Since Independence and Mexico-United States Border, and says she is eager to work with Pomona students. "I expect to find a very different kind of diversity at Pomona from where I teach at Salem State. At Salem State, I have a wide range of ages and a wide range of motivation and abilities. At Pomona, I expect I'll have mostly traditional-age college students, and I expect they will be consistently motivated and prepared for college. But perhaps surprisingly, Pomona has much more racial and ethnic diversity than Salem State does. I am looking forward very much to working with more Latino students."
Pomona College Professor of History Victor Silverman says of Chomsky: "Her combination of cutting-edge scholarship and social engagement will help students, faculty, and the wider community grapple with some of the most important issues in our society today—particularly, migration, environment, labor, and cross-cultural interactions. Her classes and public talks promise to further the important discussions taking place on campus about these issues."
Chomsky will deliver two talks as part of the College's Oldenborg Lunch Colloquium noon lecture series: "Undocumented: The Theory and Practice of Illegality" on Feb. 28 and "The People Behind Colombian Coal: Social Impacts of Mining and ‘Development' in Latin America" on April 4.
Chomsky's recent books include: A History of the Cuban Revolution (2011); Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class (2008); The People Behind Colombian Coal: Mining, Multinationals and Human Rights (2007); and "They Take Our Jobs!" And Twenty Other Myths about Immigration (2007).
Currently, Chomsky is working on two forthcoming books, What Part of Illegal Do You Understand? and a book on the history of international solidarity in the Americas. The Cuban edition of They Take Our Jobs! will be released in February and she will travel to the Havana Book Fair for its launch.