International Studies professor leads global scholarly association of Latin American studies
For the first time since its foundation in 1966, the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) has elected a Canadian scholar as its president, SFU International Studies Professor Gerardo Otero.
Based in the United States, LASA connects nearly 14,000 experts on Latin America and the Caribbean, and enables knowledge exchange in topics ranging from the environment to politics to art.
Otero’s own research focuses on food and agriculture from a perspective of economics, politics and labour. He first travelled to Canada from Guadalajara, Mexico, in 1989 in anticipation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); he wanted to familiarize himself with Canada’s economic programs and agrarian structures. Within a year, he joined the faculty of Simon Fraser University. Otero has now been with SFU for 30 years.
“As president of LASA, I really want to encourage youth participation and promote the exchange of knowledge between young and ‘not-so-young’ members of the association,” he says. “The young scholars who will inherit LASA and its operations will ensure its longevity.
Otero acknowledges the importance of accessibility for scholars who want to take part in LASA congreses, and academia in general. He intends to examine barriers to participating in the association and provide fellowships and funding opportunities for conferences and research, particularly for youth.
While at SFU, Otero has conducted significant research into Metro Vancouver’s agricultural industry, whose labour force is largely comprised of migrant workers. This past spring, he returned to Mexico where, alongside his wife, he interviewed agricultural workers in rural areas of Torreón and Puebla. As many of these workers leave Mexico, the Mexican government seeks to stem the tide of migration, as the workers’ departure is causing the country to lose its food self-sufficiency. Otero’s current work measures the effectiveness of the government’s actions.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Otero’s research trip was cut short, and LASA’s 2020 Congress in Guadalajara was cancelled.
Otero remains optimistic, however, saying that the cancellation has only increased memberships’ excitement for 2021’s congress which will be held in Vancouver for the first time. The congress typically draws over 5,000 scholars and provides them with opportunities to engage with Latin American culture and communities in the host city. With Vancouver’s growing Latin American diaspora, Otero is looking forward to further field research experiences that the city can provide.
“I happen to like my city, and I trust that everybody will like Vancouver as well.”
Otero assumes his duties as Vice President and President-Elect of LASA on June 1, 2020.