Students whose families hail from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American countries will be able to delve deeper into the history and culture of their heritage through what is being hailed as the premier study program in Central American College in California, which will begin in the spring. of 2023 at East Los Angeles College.
Currently, ELAC is the only community college in California to offer selected Central American Studies courses. Now, it’s poised to become the first to allow students to earn an associate’s degree in the field.
“We are pioneers in this program,” said Alberto Román, president of ELAC, which has been teaching Central American studies courses since 2015. “We hope that we will be the first among many, that others schools will be inspired and follow in our footsteps.”
With the implementation of the program, which was announced on August 19, ELAC will increase its number of Central American Studies classes to five from the current three. (These courses will be “Introduction to Central American Studies”, “The Central American Experience”, “Central American Literature”, “Central American Film”, and “Central American Art”.)
Students will be able to earn an AA and then can transfer to a four-year college or university to complete two more years and earn a bachelor’s degree.
Los Angeles County is home to the largest concentration of Central Americans in the United States, a total of at least 800,000 people, including Salvadorans (421,573), Guatemalans (265,916), Hondurans (50,853), Nicaraguans (36,917) and Costa Ricans (9,844). About 5.3 million people of Central American descent live in the United States.
Approximately 35,000 students attend ELAC each year, 75% of whom are Latinos; 20% of Latino students are of Central American origin.
“This program is a great opportunity. It opens many doors for students of Central American descent who want to learn more about their culture,” said Lana Leos, daughter of a Guatemalan father and a Salvadoran mother who is studying nursing at ELAC.
The new ELAC initiative builds on the precedent set by Cal State Northridge when it launched the first Central American undergraduate degree program in the United States in 2000. In 2015, CSUN created its Department of Central American and Cross-Border Studies and currently offers more than 25 courses in disciplines such as sociology, anthropology, history, art, migration and political science, among others.
Jocelyn Duarte, who earned a BA in Central American Studies at CSUN, began teaching at ELAC in 2016 and, using her experience, helped establish ELAC’s new curriculum and the development of his program.
“We want to get students to enroll in classes, but the idea is to see further,” said Duarte, who is of Salvadoran origin. “By creating the program and having a full-time [professor] position, resources are put in place and we make sure that it will be institutionalized.
Nancy Ramírez, an English teacher at ELAC, welcomes ELAC taking this step because it will help students understand the sacrifices many of their immigrant parents have made in coming to the United States. The vast majority of these immigrants were fleeing economic hardship, natural disasters, or the violence and trauma of war.
“The importance of learning from our history is that it will add to our identity as Central Americans,” Ramírez said, stressing that it will help “students learn from the experiences of war, but also from our beautiful culture and of our art”.
The parents of another ELAC faculty member, Nora Zepeda, arrived from El Salvador in 1963, long before the civil war that devastated the country. Zepeda, a Spanish teacher, said that when she first started studying her parents’ language with non-Latino instructors, her classes lacked the rich context needed to learn more about her inherited culture.
“My students will have the opportunity to study in a different environment. They will be able to identify with the teachers, with the culture, with the Spanish and have experiences that I have not had,” she said.
Kelly Velásquez, professor of political science at ELAC, said the new program could also help non-Latin American communities learn more about the history of Central American nations, including the role that financial interventions Americans and military adventurism played in driving migration to the United States.
“People from different cultures are going to be able to learn more about our history and why we’re here,” said Velásquez, whose parents left El Salvador in the 1980s. Central America has been very big, and the migration is the result of all of that.”
Many children of immigrants are unaware of this environment. Jesenia Yánez, the daughter of a Mexican mother and a Guatemalan father, started her third semester at ELAC this week. Her goal is to transfer to UC Berkeley, where she wants to earn a bachelor’s degree in media studies.
The 18-year-old said her father, who is of Mayan descent and speaks K’iche’, has been very tight-lipped about her culture and history. First under Spanish colonial rule and then under military dictatorship, the Maya population endured centuries of discrimination, economic oppression and genocidal warfare – a brutal legacy that has often been masked by fear and silence. Yet Maya society retained its distinctive creative vitality.
Now, Yánez knows she can study this history and culture as part of her school’s expanded Central American offerings.
“It’s a great opportunity. I can finally explore this part of my culture that was never addressed at home,” she said.
The new program is also exciting 19-year-old Edwin Sandoval, who left his hometown of Santa Ana, El Salvador in 2010 and is taking classes that will allow him to continue his studies in electrical engineering.
Sandoval understands that her community struggles with negative stigma. He thinks that most of the time we talk about Central Americans in reference to wars, migrations and violence. With programs like ELAC’s, he thinks, those perceptions can change.
“Finally, we have representation here,” he said. “Now that we have the Central American Studies program, we will learn more about culture and history. And others will learn more about us.
Administrators hope ELAC’s program will become a model for the other eight institutions that make up the Los Angeles Community College District, and then be implemented statewide.
“We want to amplify this program in our district of nine community colleges,” said Francisco Rodríguez, chancellor of the university district, who said that of the district’s 200,000 students enrolled for the upcoming semester, 62 percent are Latino and 24 percent are from Central America. .
Being in a progressive state with the largest Latino population in the country makes ELAC the perfect place to “start academic programs to amplify the importance of America’s culture, history, and diaspora. central,” Rodríguez said.
“We think we can launch a model for the rest of California and maybe the country. Why not?”
Los Angeles Times