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NYU scholar will discuss Central American refugee crisis

Thursday, April 05, 2018

LAWRENCE — Challenges to U.S. liberalism posed by the refugee crisis from Central America will be the topic of the 2018 George and Eleanor Woodyard Lecture at the University of Kansas. 

María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, professor with the Department of Social & Cultural Analysis and the Center for Latin American & Caribbean Studies at New York University, will present new scholarship that considers how security for U.S. citizens depends upon placing Central Americans, and particularly women and children, in conditions of extreme insecurity. The refugee crisis from Central America challenges aspects of U.S. liberalism as well as ideas of citizenship more broadly conceived. She will also contextualize the ongoing crisis in the history of relations between the United States and Central American countries to examine the transnational nature of national citizenship.

The lecture will take place at 3 p.m. April 20 in the Forum and Flex Space of Marvin Hall. The event is free and open to the public, with a reception to follow.

Saldaña-Portillo is the author of "Indian Given: Racial Geographies Across Mexico and the United States" and "The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas and the Age of Development," both published by Duke University Press in 2016 and 2003, respectively. Currently, Saldaña-Portillo is a visiting professor of English at the University of California-Berkeley.

"'Indian Given' is a first-rate comparative analysis that reveals traces left by the Spanish and British colonial machines in contemporary Mexican and U.S. views of their indigenous groups and of each other. It is a fine example of a transamerican approach, which she also applied in her first book," said Luciano Tosta, associate professor of Brazilian literature & culture in the KU Department of Spanish & Portuguese. "'The Revolutionary Imagination in the Americas in the Age of Development' investigates the revolutionary attitude and political thought in figures such as Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Malcolm X, Nicaragua's Sandinista government and Guatemala's guerrilla resistance from the perspective of development discourse. The book does a great job in outlining the intricacies of the revolutionary vision in the Americas.” 

Saldaña-Portillo 's recent scholarship is based on volunteer work with Central American mothers and their children at the Dilley, Texas, family detention center. She has observed how their gender and sexuality place them in particular danger, forcing them to flee and seek refugee status from a position not recognized by the United Nations Refugee Agency.

The lecture series is named for George Woodyard, the first dean of international studies, and his wife, Eleanor. 

“Through the generosity of George and Eleanor Woodyard, the Department of Spanish & Portuguese has been able to bring many prominent scholars to Lawrence, greatly enriching the intellectual lives of our faculty and graduate students. The diversity of topics addressed in these lectures in recent years has been dazzling, ranging from the reception of Langston Hughes in Latin America, the etchings of Francisco de Goya and the emigration of Spaniards to the U.S.,” said Jonathan Mayhew, professor of Spanish and director of graduate studies in the Spanish & Portuguese department.    

For more information, please contact Aron Muci at 785-864-3851 or aron.muci@ku.edu.