Universities unite on Latino research

| News Editor

While Washington University offers numerous classes about different cultures and ethnicities, one area that has been lacking in the past is Latino studies.

The University, along with Saint Louis University (SLU), University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) and other local universities, is working to form the St. Louis Coalition for Latino Research. This coalition combines each school’s research and services to better enhance the overall research and provide increased services to the community.

Professor Luis Zayas, in Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work, is the director of the coalition. He started discussing it about a year ago with Joel Jennings, an assistant professor at SLU. Last semester, the coalition had its first meeting with more than 10 participants. Another meeting occurred this semester, and the membership has doubled.

A third meeting will likely occur later this year in which participants will actually share their research with one another to see how they should proceed.

The St. Louis Coalition for Latino Research combines members of many different disciplines, including anthropologists, demographers, sociologists, historians and biologists. According to Ana Baumann, a postdoctoral fellow in the Brown School and member of the coalition, this is a “win-win situation,” helping both their own research and the greater community.

Zayas discussed how the combination of research really would strengthen the different studies. He emphasized how a historian can help a sociologist by looking at similar infrastructure and its functions in historical cases.

Baumann further mentioned that this sort of study is exactly what the community has been asking for.

“We have organizations now, but we have pockets of people that are separate that are working with the community,” Baumann said. “The goal, then, is to get these people together. We don’t have only Washington University, SLU and UMSL, but also representatives from all three communities with us so we can hear from the community, what they need and what they want from us.”

Currently, Zayas, along with Jennings and other members, is assisting with La Casa de Salud. La Casa de Salud has reopened after La Clínica closed. La Clínica provided services to Latino immigrants, regardless of their legal status, but had to close due to a lack of funding.

The St. Louis Coalition for Latino Research is currently being hosted by Washington University’s Center for Latino Research and can be found through its Web site. The coalition is planning on expanding in the future and welcome any master’s, doctoral or postdoctoral students to join its forces.

“They are more than welcome to join us and help us develop grants and studies and workshops and strengthen the forces to help the Latino community,” Baumann said.

Baumann also emphasized how the coalition is only in its early stages and that there are future plans in the works. One such proposal is to develop workshops for the community that focus on parenting, mental health and Latino values.

Zayas is very pleased that Washington University is part of this coalition. While there are programs on Latin American languages and literatures and on Latin American studies in certain departments like anthropology, there really has not been a study on Latino population yet at Washington University, according to Zayas. He believes that Latin American Studies is a very important area that should be focused on, and that the University does not do nearly as much as it should to provide services to the Latino community in St. Louis.

Baumann believes that the reason that the University does not do as much as it should is a lack of available resources.

“The Latino community is increasing, and it’s increasing fast in St. Louis and in Missouri,” Baumann said. “We are very few…We are not enough to provide services for the community.”

This study coincides with an increase in the Latino population in St. Louis.

Estimates range from 58,000 people in the 2007 U.S. Census to 90,000 people in other counts that believe the census under-reports the Latino population.

The Pew Hispanic Center calculated that there were 170,000 Hispanics in Missouri in 2007. According to Zayas, the Latino population recently has been increasing in many places where it has not historically or traditionally been expected, in states like Missouri, Iowa, North Carolina and Georgia. In Missouri specifically, the economic status of Latinos is lower than that of non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks, based on a calculation of a lower median income.