U department hosts symposium on Latin American human rights

Ed Swaray

It is necessary to discuss human rights abuses to prevent them, Yale professor Rolena Adorno said in a symposium the University’s Spanish and Portuguese department sponsored.

The department attempted to raise awareness of the issue Thursday through Saturday when it hosted lectures, panel discussions and theatrical performances focusing on human rights abuses in Latin American countries and how people in the United States can help stop them.

The symposium was part of the Iberoamerican Studies Series, which the University’s Spanish and Portuguese department founded in 1995 to examine issues in Latin America and the Latino community in the United States.

Adorno said remembering history is essential to overcoming human rights abuses.

“The recovery of historic memory of violence is an essential dimension of human rights work,” Adorno said.

Beatriz Rizk, head of the Florida-based International Hispanic Theater Festival’s education component, said theatrical performances can also help address human rights issues.

Rizk, who is Colombian, said women in her country have faced violence for years, but no one talked about it because they considered it a women’s problem.

“Women have been raped, become widows and lost sons in the conflict, but yet they have not been able to talk about these problems,” she said. “It is time we talk about them.”

Gerardo Garza, a graduate student who attended the symposium, said even though Latin America is made up of many different cultures, the human rights issue bonds all cultures together.

Garza said most illegal immigrants from Latin America come to the United States from politically unstable societies that have many social problems. But he said this does not mean they should have limited human rights in the United States.

“We all have inalienable rights of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness no matter where we come from,” he said.

Luis Ramos-Garcia, the department’s chairman, said this year’s program was unique because it was the first time there was an interdisciplinary dialogue with English-speaking faculty, human rights activists, scholars and practitioners.

He said it was important that people begin to see human rights as a universal issue everyone needs to address.

In addition to the academic discussions, a series of theatrical performances were held at the University campus and at the College of St. Benedict. Groups featured included Cuatrotablas and Clavo y Canela, two of Peru’s well-known theatrical groups.

Cuatrotablas performed “The Ship of Memory,” a play about the Spanish Conquest. Clavo y Canela, performed “Gorillas Walking on the Balls of Their Feet,” which explores the testimonies of incarcerated and victimized refugees in Latin American countries.

Mas Caras, a U.S.-based theatrical group, also performed.

Ramos-Garcia said half the events’ cost came from the University’s Humanities Institute. Other organizations and University departments paid the rest of the cost for the symposium.