UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Interview with LAIS former director Víctor Fuentes.

You were born in Madrid, Spain. You left Spain in 1954 and got your PhD from the University of New York in 1964. Then you came to UCSB in 1965. When you first joined UCSB were you involved with the Hispanic Civilizations Program? 

Not very much. The Spanish department had ties but I was not too involved. It was part of the broader picture. I was interested in the program though. I became more involved once I became the director.

What do you remember about the program? Who was the director, were the students any different from today? Do you know when the Hispanic Civilizations Program first started? 

The program mostly focused on  Iberia and Spain and the tradition and the influence in Latin America. The change to an emphasis in Latin America came later. Students were rarely hispanic/latino back then. Despite this, all kinds of students were interested in the program. The program changed to LAIS in the 1980’s, I was not too involved until then. It grew and became bigger, became more interdepartmental/interdisciplinary and diverse. Originally a few famous professors controlled it. After the chicano movement diversity in students grew on campus, which increased the demand for cultural studies.

You were involved with the Chicano Movement in the 60s and 70s, were Hispanic Civilizations students or faculty also involved? Were there any big events involving Hispanic Civilizations around these issues at the time?

There  were very few black and chicano students in the 60s and 70s. They were in my class and I eventually became an advisor to many of these students and promoted chicano studies and similar programs. At that time there were only 3-4 faculty on campus who specialized in Chicano Studies. I tried to mediate interrelations between the Spanish department, Chicano Studies and Hispanic Civilizations, I tried to make connections. Our department was a respected academic program more than a protest. We were able to improve and expand the Hispanic Civilizations program.  It was like an evolution;  given the time and the influx of  new students and new needs of university, we opened up and expanded the programs. 

LAIS was a small program but growing steadily and gaining more interest on campus.  Students were interested in the program, but not necessarily part of any movement.  The Chicano movement had more impact on the Chicano Studies Program and Spanish Department. LAIS grew and attracted more students as larger numbers of  diverse and underrepresented students came to campus. 

Did you notice any fluctuations in interest in LAIS classes and degrees based on these surrounding political and economic situations?. For example, today with the BLM movement, African American studies courses seem to be more popular.

The Chicano movement was sort of the turning point, especially due to the increase in the representation of minorities on campus

Were there any other big events with Hispanic Civilizations in the 60s or 70s that you can recall? For example, hosting notable speakers or conferences, important publications or student work, or anything else that made Hispanic Civilization stand out?

When I was director , the department organized the Festival del Cine Latinoamericano  where we invited directors Miguel Littín from Chile, Paul Leduc from México and Jorge Ali Triana from Colombia. The program hosted a lot of cultural activities and linked to faculty. I taught Latin American cinema in the 80s as it became more popular, at that time only a few universities offered such courses.  There was a famous professor from Portugal in the Spanish department who taught Brazilian cinema.

You became the Director in the 80s, this was when the name change to LAIS happened. What encouraged the name change to LAIS? Who led this initiative?  Was there a lot of debate about this among students or faculty? 

 The new faculty and myself thought the name change was a good decision. Latin American Iberian Studies suggests a stronger emphasis on Latin America and broadens the scope of the program.  Colleagues from the History department and many others worked on the name change. Students were also more interested in LAIS. It attracted more students, due to the fact that it didn’t necessarily have the name targeting one ethnicity group. 

Has changing the program’s name from “Hispanic Civilizations” to “LAIS” have a more positive impact? Do you think it is a more suiting name?

Yes, it broadened the aspect of the program inviting more students. 

Were there any other big or notable events in the 80s and 90s?

I recall that there was a LAIS student who studied popular music in Peru. 

When you were the director, one of your main goals was to diversify and strengthen the program. Can you talk a little bit about why you had this goal and how you achieved it? 

When I was the director, the program became more interdisciplinary, we were able to recruit professors who focused on Latin America in the Sociology, Political Science and History departments. These faculty members continued to strengthen the program after my term as director ended.  The goal was to make it more interdepartmental and pluralistic. Some faculty from the Spanish Department were also involved in LAIS, there was a famous portuguese professor, Jorge De Cena, a poet who was a finalist for the Nobel prize. 

Since you were the director would you say diversity continues to be represented in LAIS? And, is there anything more around diversity you would like to see? 

LAIS continues to be a diverse program, the future is very promising. With the pandemic and political uncertainties, we are currently living in a time of crisis. There is a growing number of Latin Americans in the US, so the destiny of the US and Latin America is linked. Latin America is home to many vibrant and thriving cultures, more and more young people are becoming interested and involved in LAIS. When life returns to normal, the young generations will have a great future, perhaps even embarking on a PhD. In the US, people think of “America” as a single country, but throughout the continent there are increasingly common goals and needs. America is a great continent that happens to be in a difficult moment at this time, but today’s issues will soon be surpassed. The future of the program and the continent is bright. 

Over the years,  have you noticed any trends or certain groups of students that tend to major in LAIS? And, have you noticed any trends and shifts in what majors or masters students do after graduation? Have there been trends in areas of the workfield that LAIS majors and masters students tend to aim for?

 I recall a particular MA student who continued his studies, eventually getting his PhD in Ecuador. There was another student who works in an NGO in Santa Barbara. Whether the MA graduates continue in academia or enter other fields, their interest in Latin America and LAIS continues throughout their careers. 

What do you think is  unique about the LAIS program?

The great thing is the program grew and expanded to many more departments, welcomed more diverse students, and offered more interdepartmental programs. LAIS does not have much influence on the departmental level, but the diversity of the students and faculty along with the interdisciplinary nature is a great advantage that is not matched by other departments. Students are exposed to the variety of different matters and topics that faculty cover, and gain knowledge on many different areas.  

What would you like to see be achieved by the program in the future?

I hope the program continues to be diverse. Perhaps more cultural activities will be offered, such as inviting authors and artists from different countries. Both undergraduate and graduate students should be encouraged to continue on with their studies, forging connections with other universities in the US that offer similar programs. This would help students who wish to pursue a PhD create connections amongst the UC’s and other universities.  

Lastly, do you have a favorite memory from when you were director of LAIS or your time working with LAIS students and faculty?  

I fondly recall a student who moved to Peru and went to SDCC. This student earned an MA and PhD in Spanish and Portuguese, very representative of the time. At that time, there was no email, and we exchanged letters while the student was in Peru. I was very moved to see what this student accomplished, and I enjoyed supporting them on their journey.