Undergraduate Research in Latin American Studies

Below is recent research conducted by Latin American Studies students during funded summer research projects.


Argentine Gender Legislation Within Guiding Frameworks: The Invisible Legacies of Church-Executive Power Struggles and Argentina's Final Democratization

Allie Pitchon ’20; Advisor: Mieczyslaw Pawel Boduszynski

Many believe that Argentina emerged a brand-new democracy in 1983, having risen from the ashes of a collapsed military dictatorship. Yet, this was far from Argentina’s only period of dictatorship and transition, with six coups in the 1900’s alone. Rather, Argentina has a long history of deeply ingrained institutional legacies—formal and informal— that have remained intact throughout generations of tumultuous regime change. In the following research project, I formulate my own theory by positioning Argentine gender legislation as inescapably constrained and guided by a long-lasting, deeply institutionalized pattern of Church-executive power struggle since 1888. I argue that these combined forces have culminated in a system of legislative gender reform in which: Church-Executive Power struggles represent key opportunities for legislative gender reform and; within these power struggles, legislative gender reform is most likely to be successful when the Church is weaker than the executive. Finally, I explore the combined impact of this pattern with Argentina’s latest democratization process—a pivotal period due to the widespread delegitimization of the Church— on contemporary gender legislation in Argentina, and what this might mean for the country’s gender issues moving forward


José María Maytorena, the Mexican Elite, and the Transfer of Power during the Mexican Revolution

Aldo Urquiza ’18; Advisor: Miguel Tinker Salas

When the Mexican Revolution broke out in 1910, future Governor of Sonora, Jose Maria Maytorena, sided with the idealist Revolutionary, Francisco I. Madero. Like Madero, Maytorena belonged to a powerful landowning family. Unlike Madero, Maytorena did not join the Revolution purely out of idealistic reasons, but rather economic ones: recover the power and wealth his family lost during the Porfiriato. The role of Maytorena counters the popular narrative that claims the Mexican Revolution was ignited by poor peasants who overthrew a wealthy dictator to retake their country. Instead, the Maytorena narrative argues that an old elite overthrew the regime to reclaim power, pushing most Mexicans to the side. The goal of this research was to investigate whether the older, landowning elite of Sonora had different goals during the Revolution and took control over the struggle. Maytorena, as one of the leaders of the North, posed the perfect case study. By analyzing letters, telegrams, and other documents from the personal archive of Jose Maria Maytorena and cross-checking with published works on the Revolution, I attempted to write a new narrative. While the project is ongoing, preliminary data from the early period demonstrates that Maytorena joined the Revolution in hope to recover the land lost while fighting with the Yaqui Indians. Although he did share some ideas with the Revolutionaries, he primarily sought to reestablish his family’s power and influence.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Sex Work in the Dominican Republic

Aurea Kasberg ’18; Advisor: Miguel Tinker Salas

Two opposing feminist theories now dominate discussions of sex work. The first is sex workers are victims of the patriarchal and capitalist system, forced to exploit their bodies in order to survive. The second is sex work is simply work; sex workers reclaimed their sexuality and use it to subvert the patriarchy. The goal of my project was not to answer if either of these viewpoints is correct but rather to place a human face on the issue.  By addressing sex work purely theoretically, we lose sight of the complexity and contradictions that guide sex workers’ lives. This summer, I went to the Dominican Republic to study the lives of sex workers, their struggles, their hopes and how they view their place within society. The bulk of my time in the Dominican Republic was spent searching for sources. While I found little success searching in the National Public Library and bookstores around the city, I did find success working directly with sex workers. The Dominican Republic is home to MODEMU, an organization that was made for and by sex workers. This organization not only helped me connect with a former sex worker to interview, but also published a book with 13 other sex workers’ testimonies. The interview I conducted and the literature published by MODEMU will form an important foundation for my thesis. The ultimate goal of my project is to bring attention to their lives with the hopes that more openness around the subject will help destigmatize sex workers.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund

Un Estado Violento: How the Massacres of Protestors at Tlatelolco (1968) and Aguas Blancas (1995) Set Historical Precedent for the Future of Ayotzinapa (2014)

Silvia Martinez ’19; Advisor: Miguel Tinker Salas

In 2014, 43 students disappeared from Iguala, Guerrero. Four months later, the Mexican authorities claimed to have solved the case and concluded that the disappeared students had been killed by the Guerreros Unidos, a narco-trafficking gang. This “historic truth” was disproved after the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) found insufficient evidence to confirm the “official report.” A review of Mexican history revealed that the subsequent cover-up of Ayotzinapa paralleled Tlatelolco and Aguas Blancas, as all three cases involved the death or disappearance of protesters and human rights abuses by the military and police force. To further understand the connection between these three cases, it was necessary to look to at documents found in the Crest archives as well as look into human rights organizations reports. I also had to delve into the testimonials and videos of the victims affected by the massacres. After a thorough review of the resources available, I conclude that the massacres are a reflection of an authoritarian regime and are not isolated events in history. Rather, it is time to acknowledge that the Mexican government has often used violence to suppress protesters while at the same time maintaining a facade of democracy to distract its global audience. Moreover, in all three cases the Mexican government followed the same pattern: first, it refuses to accept accountability for the massacre and denies any involvement and second, it defames the protesters.
Funding Provided By: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund


The Law of Social Quotas: The Experience of Being an Affirmative Action Student in Minas Gerais, Brazil

Jamila Espinosa; Mentor: April Mayes

In 2012 Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff set forth a comprehensive affirmative action law known as the Law of Social Quotas which states that all public universities are required to reserve half of their admitted class to students coming from public high schools. Within that half the law also requires that fifty percent of those spots be reserved for Brazilians of African, mixed African, and Indigenous ancestry, in accordance with numbers reflecting the population of those identity groups within the state. I completed ethnographic research during classes, office hours, and social interactions. Through fifteen in-depth interviews I found that affirmative action student beneficiaries experienced: feeling academically under-prepared in the classroom, facing social stigma, having higher dropout rates and being more impacted by budget cuts to the school. Students also depend heavily on their residential communities for support during stressful times. These final research findings point towards a public education system in Brazil that favors students who are able to pay for private schooling, and thus go to college with preparation that exceeds the basic teaching provided in free public schooling. Most respondents acknowledged the possibilities for change in the Brazilian education system, and provided critical reflections of an educational system lacking priority on the national system.
Funding Provided By: Cion Estate


Hey You, You are Black Too: Afro-Mexican Marital and Identity Politics in the 16th and 17th Century

Gerardo Vargas (2015); Mentor(s): April Mayes

Abstract: Afro-Latinos are generalized to be only present in Spanish-speaking Caribbean nations or Brazil, locations where slavery reached a zenith never before seen, however, the generalization tend to not represent or acknowledge Spanish Colonial America as a slave society due to the common misperception that slavery did not take hold. The purpose of this study is to debunk the generalization and expand how Afro-Mexicans claimed ‘New World’ ethnicities through matrimony during the Inquisition. To better understand how and who peopled married, it was necessary to look at archival Inquisition documents where people claimed their ethnicity and their legitimacy to marriage. The overall results showed that if a man claimed to be “Negro de Angola” so did his spouse and his witness. However, the full results have yet to be answered since the goal is not only to list but also to plot where they lived in Mexico City and how they formed kinship networks among their family and witness. The plotting and the networks would show how the Afro-Mexican community claimed religious rights to create a new community 
Funding Provided by: Aubrey H. and Eileen J. Seed Student Research Fund


Migration for Education: Haitian University Students in the Dominican Republic

Jenny Miner (2013); Additional Collaborator(s): Katherina Hauber*; Mentor(s): April Mayes
*Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Abstract: Haitian migrants living and working in the Dominican Republic face widespread discrimination and prejudice as a result of their lower class status and the perception they are racially distinct and inferior to Dominicans. Historically, the majority of Haitian migrants to the Dominican Republic have been rural, lower class workers seeking agricultural or construction work. However, within the last twenty years there has been a surge of a new kind of immigrant - Haitian students studying at Dominican universities. My research aims to explore the university students’ lived experiences and the unique issues they face as foreign students. Twenty-five individual interviews and three focus group discussions were recorded with Haitian students at five different universities in Santo Domingo. I focused on their motives for coming to the Dominican Republic for higher education, their experiences with discrimination inside and outside the university, and their plans for after finishing their studies. Student associations also emerged as an important topic, as every university had at the very least an established informal network of support for Haitian students. Their experiences and feelings will provide a context for exploring and understanding larger issues of discrimination, migration, and the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 
Funding Provided by: Pomona College SURP; Latin American Studies Arango Grant

A study of the Sino-Chilean trade: its implications for China-Chile Relations and the United States

Ge Zhang (2013); Mentor(s): Miguel Tinker Salas

Abstract: Employing data issued by the Chilean National Customs Service and existing secondary literature on the subject, this research analyzes (1) the state of China-Chile trade (2) the development of Sino-Chilean relations through trade in recent years (3) its implications for the United States. Conclusions: China´s enormous demand for minerals has sustained elevated copper prices worldwide benefiting the Chilean economy over the past decade. In addition to copper, China has diversified its imports of Chilean products to include forestry, meat, and fish products. Despite the scale of Chinese-Chilean trade, language, and cultural barriers have hampered bilateral academic and cultural exchange programs. Increased trade with Chile has likewise no yet translated into political influence for China in Chile. Chilean elites have been unwilling to risk its traditionally strong tie with United States and fear provoking Washington. 
Funding Provided by: Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund