Who We Are and Why We Are Here
The KU Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) and Kansas African Studies Center (KASC) have been funded by the U.S. Department of Education both to be a designated Title VI National Resource Center (NRC) in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and to provide Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships for students over the next four years. Our proposed initiatives for 2022-2026 focus on the theme of “strengthening communities” in KU and the Heartland to Latin American, Caribbean, and African communities and institutions, in part by leveraging our existing partnerships locally and abroad. Title VI National Resource Center funding creates some amazing opportunities for curriculum development, programming, community outreach, and language learning in the region.
What Does This Mean?
We are here to offer our resources in the training and professional development of integrating Latin American, Caribbean, and African content into the curriculum and across the disciplines. We also intend to leverage these technologies to continue to assist you and your colleagues in teaching the material throughout the years to come. You may contact us by email, phone, etc., and we’ll help in any way that we can. At every step of the process, we encourage your reactions, thoughts, feedback, and suggestions.
In your community, we are inviting Latin American/Latinx and African heritage families with a history of immigration to join us in a project that captures stories of different generations who migrated to Kansas and the Kansas City metro area. We believe that increasing the visibility of migration stories enriches the diverse communities where we live. If you agree, we would like to work with educators to share stories with the public to move beyond stereotypes of immigrant experiences and elevate overlooked lived experiences of Black, indigenous and people of color.
Our hope is that by sharing the older generation’s immigrant stories of arrival with the younger generation’s stories of growing up, they can document and preserve their family’s history. This might include archiving photos, letters, or pictures of important culture objects and prized possessions. Our team will work with members of the older generation to record stories via video or audio. To capture the storytelling experiences of the younger generation, we will turn to social media platforms such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram.
Why This Matters
This project broadly asks the question: “what do you think of when you hear the term “Heartland?” In popular imagination, it’s easy to think of the very largely rural center of the country with its farms of wheat and corn, open ranges of cattle and thunderstorms with destructive tornadoes. When people talk about the Heartland, they imagine Kansas-as-synecdoche, conjuring images of The Wizard of Oz and constituting the very center and image of “Americanness.” And yet, Kansas is generally regarded as “flyover country,” associated directly with the rural heart of the U.S. but assumed to be lacking in the type of diversity that has long characterized urban centers on either coast.
In reality: the state of Kansas has experienced demographic changes common throughout the U.S., and it is similarly struggling to meet the academic needs of students who identify as BIPOC (Black, indigenous, or a persons of color). Latinos, for example, are the least educated of all major ethnic groups, and the growth in college degrees for Black, indigenous and Latinx students is relatively stagnant. Average standardized scores in math and reading have increased for Latinx students, but the population continues to underperform, drop out more frequently, or is less likely to graduate high school on time relative to their peers. In other words, as educators we know what outsiders think of the Midwest, and we see how different the reality is from the imagination. That reductive but constant stereotype does more than erase a long history of immigration to and globalization in Kansas; it actually is potentially counter-productive to the incorporation of immigrants into our communities. Whether it is because of Kansas’s historical and current reliance on migrant labor or potentially advantageous economic and social conditions, there is today significant diversity among Latinx and African immigrant populations throughout the region.
The Coming to the Heartland team is committed to building knowledge about Latin American and African migration and serving immigrant communities in Kansas through education, the arts, and outreach. Drawing specifically on our unique positioning within an institute of higher learning that is also the flagship university of the state of Kansas, and aided by your direct connection to children and their families as educators, we aim to bring attention to the particular challenges endured by immigrants.
Coming to the Heartland will engage with a larger, nationwide conversation about shifting demographics and rapid cultural swings. In our present political climate, the demand for encouraging solidarity and the building of coalitions are necessary components of life for BIPOC. This project capitalizes on national and local student and community activism working towards building a better future; it is our intention that this project will raise awareness, inspire new, better support structures, encourage inclusivity through cultural competency and community building, and advocate for proactive measures to address these issues.