The Latin Americanist Community Celebrates the Life and Career of Dr. Anita Herzfeld 

On November 4, 2022, from 4-7:00 p.m., many KU faculty, graduate students, and staff, colleagues from around the globe, and Lawrence community members celebrated the life and achievements of our late, beloved Anita.  Anita was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1932 soon after her Jewish parents had wisely left Germany.  She was a stellar STEM student and language learner and won a Fulbright to study American literature at KU in 1961.  By coincidence, she met Dean George Waggoner, the namesake of our event, at the KU Med Center while visiting a sick diplomat.  Waggoner, a tireless promoter of KU internationalization, offered her a job as a translator and then Associate Director for the State Department project, “Seminar on Higher Education of the Americas.”  She was Waggoner’s right-hand woman for Latin American affairs until she successfully completed her master’s degree in English. 

Back in Buenos Aires in the mid 1960s she became Director of Modern Languages at the University of Buenos Aires.  When political unrest exploded in the late 1960s, Waggoner invited her back to KU to direct KU’s Junior Year Abroad program at the University of Costa Rica from 1968-1970. She also taught linguistics there, leading to her integration in the Costa Rican linguistic community.  She became the pillar for the UCR & KU partnership.  Dean Waggoner then invited her back to KU to earn an MA in Linguistics in 1974 and a PhD in 1978.  All the while, Anita regularly published, including 9 edited volumes on higher education in Latin America.  She also continued working in various capacities at KU, serving as advisor in Foreign Study Office and becoming the Director of the Office of Study Abroad from 1976-85, where she established more than 40 KU exchange programs and turned a budget deficit into a $300,000 surplus.  In 1979 she was appointed Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies.  From 1985-89, Anita was on the move once again, serving as Executive Director of Central American Peace Scholarships at Georgetown University, where she acclimated Central American students for attendance at U.S. technical and community colleges. She interviewed 1,000s of Central American applicants for the scholarships.  She returned to KU for an Intra-University Visiting Professorship Grant to attend courses in Latin American Studies and Anthropology.  When another giant of KU Latin American & Caribbean Studies, Elizabeth “Betsy” Kuznesof, became director in 1992, she made Anita resident professor in the center and Undergraduate Director.  Anita’s passion, charisma, and popular courses on Latin American sociolinguistics pulled hundreds of students into the Latin American Studies major, with the annual average climbing from 10 in 1995 to 65 in 2005.  At the graduate level, Anita served on many MA and PhD committees in Linguistics, Anthropology, and Latin American Studies.  She won several teaching and advising awards. 

Meanwhile, Anita maintained her research productivity, conducting grant-funded research in many Latin American countries, especially on Limonese Creole in Costa Rica and Guaraní in Paraguay.  She was particularly interested in creole languages and identity, the influence of bi- and trilingualism on language abandonment, and gender. She published more than 50 articles, 2 chapters and 2 books of her own.  Her Limonese Creole grammar, a classic in Latin American linguistics, definitively laid to rest the popular argument that it is a “degraded” dialect of English.  It is a fully developed language.  She officially retired in 2012 at the age of 80 but kept teaching nonetheless for the KU Honor's Program.  Anita passed away on December 9, 2021. 

Anita made friends and colleagues around the world at conferences and in international residencies, including in Germany, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, China and Paraguay. Several of these virtually attended the 2022 Waggoner to pay homage to her, including René Zúñiga-Argüello (Purdue University, UCR), Haralambos Symeonidis (U. Kentucky), Maria Eugenia Bozzoli (UCR), Franklin Perry (UCR), Angelita Martínez (Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina), and Paul Chandler (University of Hawaii).  Betsy Kuznesof, now Professor Emerita in History, and former student Dr. Marshall Eakin (History, Vanderbilt) also shared their fond memories. 

The legacy of Anita lives on in the center not only by its very existence but also by the Herzfeld Study Abroad Award.  Sending students abroad was a passion for Anita, and many of her friends have donated generously to the Herzfeld fund.  The fund now has enough to provide four students $600 apiece annually to study abroad in Latin America.