Latin American Conference on Canadian Studies (Seminario Interuniversitario de Estudios Canadienses en América Latina)

by Benjamin Bryce, York University.

On April 12 and 13, I attended the annual meeting of the Latin American Association of Canadian Studies in Havana, Cuba. There were attendees from Cuba, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina. This was the tenth annual meeting, and it appears that the SEMINECAL and the national associations that support it are thriving. An interesting feature of the SEMINECAL, and one which represents the regional variation within this umbrella organization, is the variety of disciplines. There were papers on economics, literature, geopolitics, water, tourism, health, education, and migration. The Mexican association is the largest association in Latin America, and many of its members research North American trade relations. The Cuban association also has a stronger interest in economics and geopolitics. According to the co-organizer, Delia Montero, the Argentine and Brazilian associations have a stronger focus on literature. Nevertheless, the papers from the five Brazilian and Argentine students demonstrated that Canadian Studies plays a role in several disciplines in those countries.

I found the international perspective on Canada to be quite rewarding. A central theme in many of the students' papers was the greater degree of federalism in Canada compared to countries such as Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. These too are federal states, but those central governments play a greater role in provincial spheres such as health, education, and resource extraction. Most presenters had spent between three and six months carrying out research in Canada, and they all appeared to have been supported by the ICCS or other Canadian scholarships.

I had quite a productive week in Cuba. I learned a great deal about several topics, received feedback on my own comparative paper about language policy in the schools of Ontario and Buenos Aires before the First World War, and forged important networks with students and professors in many countries. I met privately with both of the organizers of the conference, and I think that this will lead to future collaboration. I was invited to participate in the annual conference of the Mexican association in October. I also took advantage of my time in Cuba to help two North American historians in their archival odysseys in Cuba. A Canadian historian has hoped to access the archive of the Cuban foreign ministry in order to uncover more about Cuban interactions with the Canadian Left in the 1960s. I also tried to help an American historian secure the rights to a poem for his forthcoming book. My trip to the Nicolás Guillén Cultural Centre was unsuccessful, but it was an interesting adventure that led to some informative encounters with Cubans.

I was the first Canadian student to participate in this conference, and all the participants and the organizers were quite warm to me. They seemed to appreciate the broad range that a Canadian could offer to most of the subjects discussed, and I also had several conversations with fellow students during the breaks about their research and their interest in enrolling in a Canadian university or applying for a Canadian scholarship to carry out research. The organizers said they would like that a Canadian student attend future conferences as well. I would like to encourage the Canadian Studies Network and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to continue to send a Canadian student to the annual SEMINCAL, and if possible, I think it would be advantageous if the CSN could also support a Latin American to come to our annual meeting. The overwhelmingly dominant language of the conference was Spanish, and I would strongly recommend that that be a key criterion in selecting a Canadian student. Two Brazilian students gave their papers in English, but all others were in Spanish. In the personal conversations during and after the conference, one could do well with English. Nevertheless, Spanish was an asset.

Overall, the growing interest in Canadian Studies in Latin America, which seems to benefit from the federal government's growing interest in economic relations with the region, is quite refreshing. Students and professors offer an interesting angle on Canadian Studies, often with a comparative approach that uses Canada as a model or counterexample for a key issue in the researcher's own country. I would like to thank the Canadian Studies Network and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade for giving me the opportunity to attend this interesting conference. I hope that this is the beginning of stronger ties between the Canadian and Latin American networks.