Symposium takes a look at the history, education, literature, art, and civil rights struggles of Latinos in the Midwest
Wednesday, September 19, 2012

While food, culture, and music are the most visible manifestations of Latinos’ presence in the Midwest, their influence in the region is more widespread but less known. Latino workers have harvested the region’s crops, manufactured its industrial goods, and processed its livestock. Moreover, Latino business owners have rejuvenated abandoned downtowns, while students have increased enrollments and diversified schools.

The contributions of Latinos to the nation’s heartland are the focus of The Latino Midwest, the 2012-13 University of Iowa Obermann-International Programs Humanities symposium. This interdisciplinary conference will examine the history, education, literature, art, and civil rights struggles of Latinos in light of the demographic changes experienced by Midwestern states with growing Latino populations.

“People often think of Latinos as recent immigrants to the Midwest,” says Omar Valerio-Jiménez, associate professor of history and symposium co-director, “but Latinos have been in the region since the late nineteenth century. The symposium will showcase Latinos’ long history in the Midwest and highlight their dramatic population growth, increasing political clout, and crucial economic contributions.”

The main symposium takes place Oct. 11-13 and will include panels, lectures, performances, and literary readings. The Latino Midwest is organized by three faculty members in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: Claire Fox, associate professor of English and Spanish and Portuguese, whose teaching and research interests include the literature and arts of the Americas; Valerio-Jiménez, who is currently working on a study of Latinos in early 20th-century Iowa that explores acculturation, labor, and gender relations; and Santiago Vaquera-Vásquez, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, a Chicano writer, and member of the creative writing section in Spanish whose current research focuses on literature and art from the U.S./Mexico borderlands.

Related events extend beyond the main symposium. All of the events, with the exception of the Lila Downs concert, are free and open to the public. Highlights of the schedule follow. For fuller details on the symposium, visit:

  • “Pathways to Iowa: Migration Stories from the Iowa Women’s Archives” – Exhibit open Wednesday, Sept. 12 through Friday, Nov. 30, North Exhibit Hall, Main Library
  • International Programs’ WorldCanvass on The Latino Midwest – 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 5, 2780 UCC
  • Vicki Ruiz, UC-Irvine, Keynote talk: “Of Poetics and Politics: The Border Journeys of Luisa Moreno” – 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 11, Shambaugh Auditorium, reception to follow in the North Lobby
  • Ana Celia Zentella, UC-San Diego, “Battling Linguistic Intolerance in an English Only Era” – 9:15 to 10:15 a.m., Friday, Oct. 12, 2ndfloor, Iowa Memorial Union (in conjunction with the Iowa Latino Conference, hosted by the School of Social Work)
  • “Migration Letters” – one-day installation on the Englert’s stage exploring misconceptions and political incorrectness around immigration via the alphabet, featuring visiting artist Alejandro García-Lemos – artist’s talk, 3:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 12, Englert Theatre
  • Junot Díaz – A reading and talk by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, sponsored by the UI Lecture Committee – 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12, Englert Theatre
  • José E.Limón – Keynote talk, “Al Norte Toward Home: Texas, the Mid-West, and Mexican-American Critical Regionalism” – 4:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, Old Capitol Senate Chambers, with a reception following at The Times Club, Prairie Lights
  • Lila Downs concert, sponsored by Hancher – 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, Englert Theatre
  • Conversations & Controversies, a public book discussion about A Journey Around Our America: A Memoir on Cycling, Immigration, and the Latinoization of the U.S. by Louis Mendoza – 4 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 19, The Times Club, Prairie Lights

The events are sponsored by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies Annual Humanities Symposium, an International Programs Major Projects Award, and the Ida Cordelia Beam Distinguished Professorships Program. Additional sponsors can be found at

During the same dates as The Latino Midwest, the School of Social Work will host its annual Iowa Latino Conference. Although the two conferences are separate, they are sharing some speakers and cross-promoting their events. To read about the Iowa Latino Conference, visit