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USF graduate accepted into world’s top-ranked Latin American Studies program

TAMPA, Fla. –- University of South Florida graduate student Prisca Suárez was accepted into the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (ILLILAS) at the University of Texas in Austin, a Ph.D. program that is the top-ranked Latin American Studies program in the world.

Suárez described the Ph.D. program as being tailor-made just for her. It was her No.1 choice.

“They combined the study of cultural politics, social inequality and civic engagement,” Suárez said. “And that’s what I want to look at in terms of Afro Argentines.”

Suárez graduated August 2013 with a Master of Arts in Latin American, Caribbean and Latino studies, with a focus in government and national affairs. Although she studied citizenship and democracy, Suárez said her main focus is in Afro descendents.

Suárez’s interest in Afro descendants began during her study abroad trip to Cuba. Suárez entered the country thinking that racism wasn’t an issue, based on José Martí's statement, "neither white, nor black, but Cuban." However, after talking to the Afro-Cubans themselves, Suárez discovered that that was not the case. The University of Havana, although it provides free education, is predominately white. Students felt on many levels that racism is a problem in Cuba, she said.

Being African American, Suárez was continuously stopped by Cuban policemen and asked why she was hanging around so many Americans. She showed her ID to prove she was American, too. The situation was explained to her by her residence hall employee. Suárez said she was told that because tourism is so important to the Cuban economy, policemen want to discourage Cubans from pestering tourists and offering them services in exchange for money, so that tourists would want to return.

“This experience was not so much about racism due to skin color, but a sort of self-loathing inward turned xenophobia,” Suárez said. “The whole experience opened my eyes to something bigger.”

The Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean at USF has been like a family to Suárez, she said. Academically and emotionally, she gives credit to her ISLAC family for pushing her forward, especially associate professor for the Department of Government and International Affairs Bernd Reiter, who constantly challenged Suárez to be better.

“He would always say, ‘This is not good enough,’” Suárez said. “If he thought it was good he would say, ‘This is good, this is why it’s good, this is what you should keep doing.’”

After the Ph.D. program, Suárez wants to continue her research out through Afro Latin America and become a professor.

“I know I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t come to USF,” Suárez said. “The University of Texas was impressed with the work I had done. USF played a pivotal role in that.”


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Government and International Affairs Institute for the Study of Latin American and the Caribbean (ISLAC) Student Success  
Author: Melissa Moreno