Latin American conference to be held

It started out as a small get-together of UW-Eau Claire faculty, staff and students with a desire for a Latin American Studies Conference. Within a year, this dream became a reality.

The first annual Midwest Conference on Latin American Studies will be held April 19 to 21 at the Holiday Inn Campus Area, 2703 Craig Road, in Eau Claire.

The conference provides an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to share their research and partake in entertainment, said David Gregorio Fleitas-Velez, conference coordinator, English and history lecturer and the Hispanic and Latino program coordinator.

“It’s a unique opportunity,” he said. “(The conference) provides a forum to academically engage Latin America.”

There is a strong influence of Latin America in the United States, he said, adding this is an opportunity to explore exciting research being done in this area.

Fleitas, the founder of the event, said he came up with the idea from his desire to create a yearly regional conference at which students and professors can share their research. The conference includes Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa but not all of the states have presenters at this year’s conference.

“We hope to see it grow,” Fleitas said.

Senior Cristiana Oliveira is one of the many students invited to participate in the conference. She worked with Rose-Marie Avin, a professor of economics, who received a full ride grant to go to Brazil to study the status of women.

Oliveira said she got involved in the conference simply because she is Latin American.

“I have an interest in it because it is my culture,” she said.

She said the conference is a good way to increase the diversity here in Eau Claire.

“I found out things about my own country that I didn’t know before,” Oliveira said.

The coordinators chose Eau Claire as the location of the conference because it is central to the other states involved.

The theme of the conference is “Teaching Latin America.” The focus will be on the education of grades K-12.

Fleitas said there has been a growth of Hispanics in the Midwest. The conference will emphasize language and cultural instruction.

The papers and presentations selected are from different perspectives, he said. The coordinators picked papers representing a wide range of Latin America and disciplinary perspectives.

“We try to keep a broad focus,” Fleitas said.

Many Eau Claire faculty, staff and students are participating in the conference. Chancellor Donald Mash is scheduled to give the opening address from 7 to 8:30 p.m. April 19. Others include Avin and Spanish and journalism major Oliveira; assistant professor of philosophy and religious studies Brett Greider; senior Spanish majors Deborah Hamill, Rebecca Nelson and Nichole Weinfurtner; assistant professor of foreign languages Mary Iribarren; senior English and American Indian studies major Jason Wiegand and freshman Spanish and communications major Jessica Lopez.

Fleitas said the coordinators were frugal in planning, keeping the costs low.

“We didn’t want to create an academic burden to faculty,” he said.

The costs are $45 for the general public and professionals, $30 for full-time students, $10 for full-time students without the Friday dinner and only $15 for the banquet Thursday night. The costs include registration materials, the banquet dinner on Friday, which is catered by Green Mill, and refreshments at breaks. The registration deadline is Friday.

Fleitas stresses none of this would have been possible without the contributions and support of numerous faculty and staff members. Many offices, departments, faculty and staff also have made this conference possible.

The conference is a good opportunity to see how things are similar or different than the United States in these countries, Oliveira said.

“(The conference) could be an eye-opening experience for them.”