Latin American and Mexican Studies at
The University of Texas at Austin
For the last eighty years The University of Texas at Austin http://www.utexas.edu/ has steadily built the foremost center of excellence in the United States for the study of Latin America. This journey to excellence began in 1920 when two UT Regents and a history professor visited Mexico City and discovered that the exceptionally fine private library collection of Genaro García was for sale.
The purchase of this collection was the serendipitous beginning that allowed us to build the premier Latin America university library in the world. The architects of that collection were the historians and librarians Carlos Castañeda and Nettie Lee Benson, for whom the library is now named. Through assiduous further collections during her multiple visits throughout Latin America, she single handedly built the collection into what it is today. In recognition for her efforts, she became the first woman to be awarded the Aguila Azteca medal, the highest honor granted by the Mexican government.
Once in train, the University enhanced its resources in Latin American studies by appointing faculty, attracting endowments, and generally proceeding strategically to extend its profile. Today more than 150 faculty members across all colleges teach and work on research related to Latin America. In addition, numerous centers of excellence have been created over the years, specifically the Institute of Latin American Studies http://www.utexas.edu/cola/llilas/ in 1940, along with its Centers for Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Such positioning has also attracted several major endowments to the University including the C.B. Smith and Knight Endowed Chairs, and most recently the Lozano Long endowment.
While the origins of our excellence may have been fortuitous, there is nothing serendipitous in The University of Texas at Austin's contemporary links to Latin America. Geographically, Texas' extensive border with Mexico has fostered close cultural and economic ties with that country, particularly since the largest minority population in the state is now of Mexican origin. From the beginning, Texas' culture has been interwoven with that of Latin America. Indeed, part of that culture was documented by one of the most distinguished scholars of this University-the late Américo Paredes (our second Aguila Azteca honoree), whose archives are now one of the newest acquisitions of the Benson Library.
Politically, in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the ratio of individuals living in a democracy has risen from one-third to two-thirds worldwide. Many of those people lived under authoritarian regimes in Latin America, but the winds of change and democratization have subsequently blown across the continent. The shift from Cold War politics to a greater interest in globalization and free trade has placed the study of Latin American democratization and institutional reform at center stage.
Scholars at the University have been at the forefront by analyzing this process of political change and creatively providing their expertise to policy makers throughout the region. One example is the legislative strengthening and modernization projects between the University and several countries in Central America, including Guatemala and El Salvador. Another significant example has been the influence of the University in the liberalization and reform of the mass media.
In the social arena, too, for many years scholars at the University have taken the lead in analyzing a wide variety of issues-including migration, poverty alleviation, health and reproductive issues, education, indigenous peoples and rights, and social work-and they continue to make major contributions by bringing their expertise to bear upon the formulation of public policy. Such is the caliber of this research that over the years it has continuously attracted funding from all the major public and private foundations and funding agencies.
Economically, Texas is one of the primary gateways of the United States to Latin America. In an earlier time the governments of Mexico and of the United States may have subscribed to the saying that "good fences make good neighbors," but as the barriers that divide one country from another have opened, these governments have had to rethink the significance of the lines on a map in terms of the new realities of the modern world. One of these realities, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has brought both countries together economically, politically, and culturally and has effectively strengthened these ties.
The state of Texas and Mexico enjoy an important strategic relationship. Not only do they share 1,248 miles of border, but also Texas has maintained its position as the nation's largest exporting state to Mexico. NAFTA served as a foundation for this economic success, providing a basis for open lines of communication and free, fair trade.
For more than a decade state leaders have worked hard to foster alliances between Texas and Mexico. In addition, the creation and strengthening of Mercosur and the possible extension of NAFTA in the future to embrace that trading bloc and other Latin American countries, makes the relationship of Texas with Latin America even more important.
The economic and geopolitical arenas are areas where a flagship university like The University of Texas at Austin plays a key role. The range and depth of its existing strengths, its connectedness with so many public and private institutions throughout the region, and the renown that the University enjoys, make it an unparalleled resource to serve both Texas and Mexico alike.
Users of this CD Rom are encouraged to connect to the Latin American Initiative website at http://www.utexas.edu/lai/ —where they will also find a special issue of the University's research magazine DISCOVERY—to learn more about the depth and breadth of the University's strengths and resources connected to Latin America. While much of our reputation as the leading place for scholarship stems from the disciplines within the College of Liberal Arts-anthropology, sociology, history, government, geography—that is only one of our many areas of excellence. We excel equally in the arts and humanities, in science and engineering, in law, in business, and in public policy. Our academic programs and resources create an environment of scholarship and learning that attracts both students and scholars from all over the world. In fact, we frequently hear that Latin Americanists tend to have two dreams: to come to the University to do research in the Benson Library, and to have his or her work published by the University of Texas Press.
We hope that this CD Rom will encourage you to explore further the inter- and multi-disciplinary Latin American studies at the University of Texas at Austin and that you will want to be a part of our future. Although our Latin America-related resources constitute one of the brightest jewels in the crown of the University of Texas, this does not imply that we are resting on our laurels. On the contrary: we have clear goals through which we expect to continue growing and consolidating our strength in Latin American studies and our relationship with the region and with Mexico in particular. One mechanism for achieving this is through collaborative exchanges such as those that currently attract Mexican students and scholars to the University to study and conduct research at the Benson Collection and which we hope to expand through the dissemination of this CD Rom.
Victoria E. Rodríguez Ph.D, Vice Provost
and Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs