Tawanna St. Lewis, 2013

What was your favorite Latino/a Studies course?
My favorite Latino/a studies course was the Capstone course I took with Antonio Viego. This was actually the first class I attended in Latino Studies. In this course I read books that really opened my eyes to the controversy being faced by the Latino/a community. Before this class, I was forced to view and understand the Latino/a community solely through the lens of the media but when I began reading more academic sources and participating in class discussions I was able to gain a more profound understanding of the issues as well as the ability to think independent of media stereotypes when discussing the Latino/a community.

How did you become interested in the Program in Latino/a Studies?
I grew up in a neighborhood that was approximately 70% Latino/a. In my high school just about every country in Latin America and the Caribbean was represented. Growing up in this diverse atmosphere, with friends from numerous nationalities, I always wanted to understand what made one of my friends whose parents were from one Latin American country different from another. Often times I’d listen to family members and friends of family members discuss the Latino community as if everyone was the same but growing up where I did, I knew otherwise. However, I was never quite able to articulate the differences that existed because although I knew those differences exist I didn’t quite know what they were and thus I was often forced to accept (or at least subdue to) the “well they all speak Spanish” discourse. When I learned of the Latino/a Studies program at Duke I was very excited because I had finally found a class that I thought would not only teach me about and give me the opportunity to learn about the people, culture, and history of Latin America but of the very Latino/a citizens of the United States that I had grew up with, what they or their predecessors went through, what they are going through today to gain recognition/respect from their government and fellow non-Hispanic citizen, and more importantly how they choose to self-identify.

What is some advice your would give other students pursuing a certificate in Latino/a Studies?
Have an open mind! This is so important for just about any class you take at Duke but so much more important for classes where you are learning about culture, identity, and politics. You have to be willing to set aside any preconceived notions you may have of the Latino community from your family, the media, or the one Latino/a you know from school and be ready to listen and learn from a more diverse group. In that group may be your professors but more often than not you need to be willing to learn from your peers who bring to class their own interpretations of readings/lessons and at times their firsthand knowledge of being a member of the Latino/a community themselves. Finally, be willing to experience the Latino/a community from different vantage points, you may be from an area that has a large Latino community but your understanding of the Latino community may be different from another classmate who experiences the Latino community in N.Y., or say Maryland; this goes for the academic works you are studying as well where each author attempts to explain the Latino/a community differently or in a new way from those before them.