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Blugolds from all majors can pursue new Latin American Studies certificate

| Judy Berthiaume

UW-Eau Claire is making it easier for Blugolds from all majors to better understand the histories and cultures of Hispanic and Latino/a Americans, a growing ethnic group that now make up the largest minority population in the U.S.

The newly created Latin American Studies certificate program — open to students from all academic areas — will help Blugolds expand their understanding of Latin America and Latinos/as in the U.S. without requiring them to study a language or to travel to another country for an immersion experience, as is required of LAS majors or minors.

“Whether you’re going into education, nursing, social work or economics, there is a lot of value in having some knowledge of Latin America,” says Dr. Manuel Fernández, associate professor of Spanish and director of the Latin American studies program. “Regardless of your field, chances are you are going to interact with people who are either from or have heritage from Latin America so having some basic knowledge can open the door to better understanding and communication.”

Hispanic or Latino/a Americans are people in the U.S. who are descendants of the Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking countries of Latin America. An estimated 17 percent of the U.S. population are of Hispanic or Latino/a origin.

For years, UW-Eau Claire has offered a Latin American Studies major and minor yet the language and immersion requirements kept some interested students away, Fernández says.

“We have a number of students who are interested in Latin America but, for a variety of reasons, don’t want to study a language or be part of an immersion in Latin America,” Fernández says. “We also have some students who are fluent in a language but don’t want to pursue degrees in LAS or study a language in college. This certificate program gives these and other students with an interest in Latin America a program option they haven’t had before.”

Given that Latin America includes 20 different countries with 20 different histories and populations, anyone entering any professional field that will require them to interact with the public would benefit from understanding more about a population they are likely to meet through their work, Fernández says.

“Name your field and this is going to help because our graduates are going to know more about the people they interact with in their jobs and communities,” Fernández says. “For example, if a nurse has some information that helps them better understand a person’s life circumstances, they may think differently about something the patient mentions to them. It globalizes their perspective, which helps everyone.”

UW-Eau Claire’s 12-credit certificate program requires students to earn six credits in two core classes, one an introduction to Latin American Studies and the other an introduction to U.S. Latino/a history and culture.

Students can then earn their remaining six credits from 15 interdisciplinary classes, which touch on a range of topics including art, music, geography, economic development, women’s studies and mathematics.

Fernández is bringing attention to the new certificate program during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which continues through Oct. 15. The annual monthlong celebration is a time to bring attention to the many contributions made by Hispanic and Latino/a Americans to the U.S., and a time to celebrate their heritage and culture.

UW-Eau Claire also hosts an annual Latin American Studies Week to bring attention to the people, histories and cultures of Latin America and Latinos/as in the U.S.

This year’s Latin American Studies Week events will take place between Oct. 23 and Oct. 31.

Among the highlights of the week will be a keynote talk by Miguel Coyula, a Cuban filmmaker and writer whose work has won multiple awards in Cuba and was honored at the Sundance Film Festival. He will speak during the LAS Week keynote dinner on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

For more information about the Latin American Studies certificate or other LAS programs, contact Dr. Manuel Fernández, director of LAS, at 715-836-2390 or

Photo caption: Dr. Manuel Fernández, director of the Latin American Studies program, says a new LAS certificate program will make it easier for students from all majors to learn about the history, culture and people of Latin America.