Latin America, a region that extends from the U.S.-Mexico border to the southern tip of South America is characterized by an extraordinarily rich past, stunning cultural wealth, and extensive natural resources. It is also a part of the world with extremely complex political, economic, and social trajectories. In the twentieth century alone, parts of Latin America were rocked by social revolutions, periods of dictatorship, and foreign interventions. This region as a whole represents the widest disparities in land, wealth, and income distribution in the world. The area also underwent dramatic transformations in the social and natural environment, including the shift to rapid urbanization, the emergence of new social movements, and the spread of democratic rule. Furthermore, in the past few decades Latin America's economic and cultural ties with the United States have been growing.
USC's Latin American Studies Initiative aims to promote understanding of the region's history and culture, political economy, and relationship with the United States and other parts of the world. Drawing on a distinguished faculty with a long history of research expertise in Latin America, the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences offers academic programs that approach the area from a variety of geographic and disciplinary perspectives. It has also developed a minor for undergraduates in any major who want to pursue a complementary concentration on the region.
Course offerings in different departments and schools allow students to learn about Latin America's history from pre-Columbian to recent times, its political economy and international relations, and its literary, artistic, architectural, cinematic, and musical contributions. These courses not only help them understand the region's past and present and the role it plays in the international arena and global economy; they also familiarize students with the novels, poetry, stories, films, paintings, and structures that express the emotions, visions, and thoughts of its artists and intellectuals.
Latin America, a term that was coined by a nineteenth-century geographer who used it to describe the nations that had once been part of "Latin Europe" (Spain, Portugal, and France), includes more than two dozen nations. The region, however, is not bound by a strict geography. The border between Mexico and the United States, for example, is a political boundary but a highly porous one. If the twentieth century witnessed the growth of U.S. political, economic, and cultural influence on its southern neighbor and the rest of Latin America, it also saw the expanding size and significance of communities of Latin American and Caribbean origins within North America.
These Latino communities, currently estimated at about forty million people, have turned the United States into one of the top five largest Spanish-speaking countries in the world. They exercise significant political power in states such as California, Florida, New York, and Texas, and as they become the largest minority in the United States their influence on both domestic and foreign policies will undoubtedly continue to grow. Recognizing the important historical and current ties between Latin America and the U.S. as well as the increasing "Latinization" of the United States, USC offers a number of cutting-edge courses that foster the study of the region from a transnational perspective, one that seeks to bridge Latin American and Latino Studies.