The Global Initiative: Why focus on Latin America?


Catherine Chew,

Vice President for Academic Affairs

Why study Latin America? To succeed and prosper in a global economy and interconnected world, SUNY Orange students need international knowledge, intercultural communication skills, and global perspectives. In light of what the past few years has shown us about the U.S. role oversees and post 9/11, the need for better understanding of the world outside our borders is imperative. The Global Initiative: Latin America is intended to connect all of us within this academic community, students and colleagues alike, and to enhance our understanding of the history, culture and promise of this rich mosaic of countries.

How do we define the countries of Latin America? In historical terms, Latin America could be defined as all of the Americas that were part of the Spanish and Portuguese (and arguably also French) Empires. In contemporary usage, Latin America is generally referred to as those territories where Spanish and Portuguese, Romance languages (i.e. languages derived from Latin), prevail including Mexico, most of Central and South America, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and the Caribbean. The scholarly field of Latin American studies increasingly takes in the French Caribbean islands. During this year-long study we will touch on many, but not all, of the countries mentioned and we will draw upon the expertise of our own faculty as well as the experiences and knowledge of Latinos living in Orange County and the region. We will touch on many topics ranging from education, business and politics to the environment, healthcare and the arts.


What about the people of Latin America? Latin America is our neighbor and according to the US Census data, in 2000 32.8 million Latinos resided within the United States representing 12.5% of the total population and the largest segment of population growth. Most Latinos living in the United States are of Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican decent. In Orange County, Latinos represent 14.9% of nearly 400,000 residents. Learning about the language, music, art and religion of the people can provide insights into cultural mores and values, political leanings, and views toward education and family. While the predominant language is Spanish and the predominant religion is Roman Catholicism, much diversity exists and it will be interesting in our studies throughout the year to see how the global nature of our society will influence change in Latin American countries.


Where is Latin America headed on the economic front? More than 400 business, government and civil society leaders gathered in Santiago, Chile in April 2007 for the World Economic Forum on Latin America. The leaders contend that Latin America is experiencing an unprecedented period of strong economic growth relative to the past 20 years and increasing political maturity, which offers Latin American countries the opportunity to pursue real reform at a time when the risks they face appear manageable. Economic growth has been bolstered by the region’s growing trade relationship with Asia, particularly China. The emergence of the Santiago Consensus indicates how perspectives and priorities are hopefully changing in Latin America: new priorities identified for the region are education, innovation and institutional reform. Education emerged as the top priority of the Santiago Consensus and the chief means to achieving equitable income distribution in Latin America.


All activities planned through the Global Initiative: Latin America is intended to provide opportunities for each of us to grow as individuals and as a college community.

Thomas Friedman in his book, The World is Flat, describes three distinct eras of globalization. He contends we are living in global society whose driving forces are the internet and e-commerce and he describes it as Globalization 3.0. According to Friedman the newfound power is for “individuals” rather than multinational companies, to collaborate and compete globally. Friedman says, “Globalization 3.0 makes it possible for so many more people to plug and play, and you are going to see every color of the human rainbow take part.”


We need to understand this human rainbow and to learn more about each other and each other’s culture. Collaboration across cultural borders and interdisciplinary exchange are enormously important and valuable as we navigate a global society in the 21 st century. It should be an engaging and enlightening academic year.


We’ll start with Latin America. Enjoy the journey.