Senior Capstone Project
The senior capstone course, LASC 458, is the final course requirement to complete the Latin American Studies Center Certificate. The course explores cutting edge trends in Latin American studies and the power of interdisciplinary perspectives in intellectual study and also in real life.
Every fall, the course is offered for a cohort of students, who work on independent research topics of their own choosing. The topic can be drawn from any part of Latin America and the Caribbean that is particularly exciting to each student. Students learn research techniques from various disciplines through visiting professors and professionals. They work closely with the LASC instructor and with each other. The course develops into a dynamic collective of shared ideas, and students often comment that this is the most meaningful part of their Certificate, sometimes also their undergraduate coursework overall.
As an outcome of the course, students produce an in-depth 25-page research paper that they may use to show focus, initiative, and expertise to potential employers. Learning the process of researching and how to organize and write a long paper are sought-after skills in many professions. If students wish to apply for graduate programs after their UMD graduation, this course provides crucial training and a final written product that facilitates academic success at the MA and PhD levels.
Every spring, the Latin American Studies Center organizes a student conference. Capstone students are invited to present their papers in a conference presentation (traditional paper, poster, performance, or digital form). All Capstone students are also automatically entered into an annual "Best Capstone Paper" contest, the winner of which receives a $300 award.
The Capstone's primary learning objectives include:
To draw on interdisciplinary concepts, terminology, and tools found in scholarly approaches to Latin America and the Caribbean.
To craft a research question and a research plan that builds on the methodologies of one or more disciplines within Latin American Studies.
To synthesize varied primary and secondary sources into a cohesive thesis and a well-argued paper that is in dialogue with scholars in more than academic discipline.
To engage with fellow students and support each other in mastering new research methods, analysis, writing, and argumentation.
Sample Capstone Papers
"Development, Beautification, and Gentrification: A Public Art Case Study in Langley Park, Maryland"
Langley Park is a vibrant Latino community, located in Prince George’s and Montgomery County, one mile from the Northeastern border of Washington D.C. The inner-suburb of D.C. is a vibrant, dynamic Latino community; however, the physical landscape and infrastructure of Langley Park is characterized by outdated mid-century suburban development. The proposed Purple Line light rail will run through Langley Park, and has the potential to bring better transportation, economic development, and jobs and opportunities to the underdeveloped area; however, it could also exacerbate gentrification and the already changing racial and economic demographics of the area due to the abundance of market-rate rental housing. Public art is touted as a way to beautify and redevelop areas while strengthening community identity; however, this research looks at two community mural projects in Langley Park, and examines how beautification and redevelopment without meaningful community input and participation could potentially undermine rather than strengthen community resiliency to displacement.
"'Land for Whoever Works It': Measuring the Success of Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua"
The Sandinista government that came to power post revolution in 1979 had the positive intentions of unifying its people, redistributing income and wealth to lower classes, and fostering economic growth. They truly wanted to build a society that functioned in the economic and political interests of the majority. However, accomplishing economic equality while still functioning in a capitalistic and foreign driven economy provided different results for the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas gained traction during a time when the country was experiencing the reign of a power-hungry dictator. Their fight was successful in bringing him down, but not in following through for the people. This paper takes a historical analysis of the events that lead up to and later follow through with agrarian reform in Nicaragua. A statistical analysis of the benefits and setbacks of reform provide an understanding of where reform failed and a literary analysis provides the sentiments of the Nicaraguan people. Agrarian reform was a well-intended system with a faulty implementation plan and this paper seeks to provide an explanation for its failure, but also possible success.
"NAFTA’s Detrimental Effects in Mexico’s Borderlands"
Mexico’s borderland region has been host to multiple wars on boundaries, resources and workers. This previously transparent border has become more solidified through economic development on behalf of the United States and through the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA was implemented in 1994 under U.S. President Bill Clinton, and was a proposed manner to lower trade tariffs and restrictions between the United States, Mexico and Canada. An in depth analysis of Mexico’s northern borderland region allows for the conclusion that the North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 has been a detrimental to the development of Mexico and should not be renewed in future policy. This is determined through analysis of labor, manufacturing, and quality of life prior to 1994, and after the development of NAFTA. Through analysis and research into the benefits and negative results from the North American Free Trade Agreement, a final recommendation that the agreement should be disbanded.. The change in economy from import substitution to an economy that focused on exports aided in lowered the international debt that Mexico had incurred from various international wars. Because of the evidence, it can be concluded that the North American Free Trade Agreement has failed in meeting its goals, and has created lasting negative environmental impacts.
"'We are nothing if we walk alone, we are everything when we walk together:' Zapatismo, Solidarity, and Public Art"
This paper situates Zapatista public art within the discourses of locality, nationalism, and globalization in relation to Zapatista identity and solidarity efforts. Public art facilitates identity formation and solidarity between groups by alluding to historical trends, deconstructing preconceptions, and establishing new modes of community. This paper will investigate how Zapatistas use public art to define the movement and call for solidarity within three spatial levels (local, national, and international). An in-depth look at Zapatismo history will help situate the role of public art within the movement. Through most of their history, the Zapatistas utilize public art and performances for various purposes. Subcomandante Marcos/Galeano exemplifies this rhetoric. Zapatistas constructed Marcos’ character, the movement’s spokesperson, to defy media misrepresentation of the movement. When applying their art or performativity to the different spatial level, the Zapatistas refer to various cultural and historical trends. In the local realm, Zapatistas use indigenous communal and resistance traditions to assert the movement’s indigenous identity. The public use of caracoles/conch shells and balaclavas work effectively towards this goal. Within the national sphere, the Zapatistas rely on Mexican icons and muralism to position their movement and identity within national citizenship. The imagery of Emiliano Zapata in murals throughout Zapatista territory connects the locality of Zapatismo with the Mexican nation. Finally, in the international scale, the Zapatistas utilize the Internet to break down barriers and encourage solidarity. The Zapatista website and collaborative work with digital activist, Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), fights for a new outlook on globalization where cooperation replaces exploitation.
"#OrgulhoCrespo: The Natural hair Movement in Urban Cities in Brazil"
“When you free your hair, you are saying that you are free” (Marcha do Orgulho Crespo Brasil, YouTube Video) was a comment shouted as inspiration to the thousands of Afro-Brazilians who participated in the Afro Pride March in Brazil. Black Brazilian women took to the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 26, 2015, to hold the very first Afro Pride March, or Marcha do Orgulho Crespo. This march was the awakening of a new wave of Afro-Brazilian social activism. The act of freeing your hair, in order to free yourself is political and controversial. Hair, although it may seem trivial, is political. Hair can be used as an identifier of race, class, and even gender. In this paper, I will explain how this process of identification works in the context of Brazil. With themes of liberation, resistance against beauty norms, and political organization, Marcha do Orgulho Crespo proves to be a great case study for understanding the significance of the history of race and racial identifiers in Brazil and in Black social movements.
"Nim-etembal Winaq: The Struggle the Indigenous Maya Face For a Fair and Just Education"
For centuries, indigenous groups in Guatemala have suffered at the hand of repression and inequality, dating back to the Spanish conquest of Latin America. The remaining Mayan indigenous descendants can only look back, and preserve what little they have left. Yet currently, this country is still healing and rebuilding after a 36-year civil war that left the country in shreds. Over 200,000 casualties were reported, a majority being of Mayan indigenous people. But this genocide case was not the first time the Mayan indigenous have suffered discrimination and injustice, and they still have a long and difficult battle ahead to achieve social and political equality. One of the biggest inequalities being suffered in Guatemala is the weak education system in the rural areas. After the signing of the Peace Accords and several educational reform agreements in 1996, the government has implemented bilingual education programs for the Maya indigenous population but only 4 of 22 groups have access to that elementary education. Many others do not even have access to a regular education further in the highlands. Previous educational reform movements in Latin America can provide a model for the next step the indigenous Maya must take to secure a fair education.