Empowering Latino communities in Chicago and beyond

"DePaul University is present in the Latino community - our door is open." That's the essence of the Center for Latino Research, according to Felix Masud-Piloto, professor, Department of History, and former director of the center.

"The center creates a dynamic relationship between the Latino community and the university," he explains. "We're advancing an understanding of the Latino experience in the United States and abroad, and we're empowering Latino communities in Chicago, the Midwest and the nation."

The center's research has many sides. For example, its aptly named magazine, Diálogo, publishes articles of interest to Latinos around the world; it's distributed to high school libraries, during conferences and at community events. The center invites scholars, artists and activists to speak on issues important to Latino communities. And the center hosts international conferences attended by researchers from all over the country who are using its deep and rich archives.

The center's mission to work with the underserved in the community was fully expressed in one project that started 15 years ago. Masud-Piloto tells the story.
"Lincoln Park used to be a working-class Latino neighborhood. In the late '60s a street gang, the Young Lords, became political and took over the administration building, demanding that DePaul stop expanding in the area and that the university provide programs reflecting the local history of Latinos," he begins.

"Fifteen years ago, the Young Lords - of course, they're really not young anymore, but they're still active - asked the center to tell their story," Masud-Piloto continues. "We told them, 'It's your history; you can tell it, and we can help.' And we did."

The oral history project illustrates the center's creativity and commitment.
Diálogo published "The Young Lords and the Social and Structural Roots: Sixties Urban Radicalism," while a filmmaker from New York created hours of interview footage, now available in the Latino archives in the Richardson Library. During a conference showcasing the research, a photographic history was exhibited in the library, while a DVD, "The Lincoln Park Project," provided an overview of the multiple-year research effort. Four years ago, Jacqueline Lazu, assistant professor, Department of Modern Languages, wrote a play about the Young Lords, then staged it at DePaul. All this, funded by the center.

During the 2007-'08 academic year, the center hosted and co- sponsored a series of public programs at DePaul and in the community with the Illinois Migrant Council, Casa Aztlan, Revista Contratiempo, Pilsen Alliance, Chicago Cuba Coalition and Casa Michoacan. A conference in October brought together editors of bilingual publications to discuss tactics, problems and challenges in the field.

A different kind of project is the center's sponsorship of an annual Latino graduation banquet, now a DePaul tradition. At last year's banquet, the 250 guests included graduating students, their families and DePaul faculty, administrators and staff. As usual, it was an emotional event.

"Most of our students come from a working-class background," says Masud-Piloto. "Their parents may have come to campus only once - the day they dropped off their child. This celebration of graduation is a big deal to our families."

"Our hearts are in our work," he concludes.