LACS recently launched a highly anticipated “Central American Contexts” lecture series at U-M. With the media and public fascinated by debates over walls and national security, migrant caravans and US asylum law, families separated in detention centers, and the future of US immigration policy, our series takes a unique look at the debate beyond the US/Mexico border. This series serves as an effort to more deeply contextualize the lived experience of diverse Central Americans and the geographic, social, and political relationship between Central America and southern Mexico. 

LACS kicked off the series on Thursday, October 3, 2019 with the visit of Dr. Casey Lurtz, Assistant Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Lurtz, a historian of Modern Latin America, gave the first lecture of the series titled A Fixed but Porous Border: Nineteenth Century Negotiations over the Guatemala-Mexico Frontier.

Dr. Lurtz’s presentation on the history of Mexico's other border, the southern border with Guatemala, was especially timely as the US turns attention to security forces along Mexico’s southern borders in order to curb migration from Central America. Her lecture expanded on the research for her recent book, “From the Grounds Up: Building an Export Economy in Southern Mexico” (Stanford University Press, 2019), as well as her recent piece on the Stanford University Press blog, What we talk about when we talk about borders: How the Soconusco became a space for migrants, political organizers, and economic opportunity.

Another characteristic that makes the series unique is that five of six speakers are early-career scholars, an intentional choice made to feature the innovative work of recent Ph.D.s, doctoral candidates, and new tenure-track professors whose work has increasingly shifted towards this, until quite recently, understudied region. These voices complement the visit of our featured speaker, Dr. Victoria Gonzalez-Rivera, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University and the first woman of Nicaraguan ancestry to obtain a Ph.D. in Latin American History from a U.S. university. Gonzalez-Rivera is a pioneer in the fields of Nicaraguan women’s and LGBTQ history and will participate in class visits and graduate student seminars in addition to her public lecture.

Next Lectures ▿

Coming up next in our series is the homecoming visit of recent U-M graduate Dr. Paige Andersson, who defended her dissertation “The Only Way: Congregación and the Construction of Race and Land in Mexico, 1521-2017” in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures earlier this year. Dr. Andersson is currently a postdoctoral scholar and assistant professor of Hispanic Studies at DePauw University in Indiana. She will present “Crises of Care: Narrating Central American and Mexican Migration through Children and Families” on Wednesday, October 16. Dr. Andersson’s talk will peer beyond the headlines to discuss how changes in labor markets have pushed many Central American and Mexican workers to new levels of precarity, forcing them to create new relations within the family and altering the structures of migration. These stories reveal the "crises of care" and other forms of "slow violence" manifesting alongside those of politics, economics, and ecology in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The following day (Oct. 17) Dr. Tony Andersson, part-time assistant professor of world history at DePauw University, will speak about “Climate, Caravans, and Historical Violence in Central America.” Dr. Andersson’s lecture will connect early twentieth-century U.S. scientists’ fascination with the theory of the “Mayan Collapse” to more contemporary narratives about climate change that render Central Americans passive victims of the Anthropocene.

Dr. Victoria Gonzalez-Rivera’s presentation “Writing Western Nicaragua’s Colonial and Post-Colonial LGBTQ Histories” discusses her research on the pre-1979 history of transgender indigenous women in Nicaragua and takes place on October 22. Her visit to campus was coordinated in partnership with Ph.D. student in Women’s Studies and History Eimeel Castillo, who invited Dr. Gonzalez-Rivera to speak in her graduate seminar HIST 691: Gender and Family in Latin America taught by Professor Sueann Caulfield.

The second homecoming event of this series brings Dr. John Doering-White back to campus. Dr. Doering-White completed his Ph.D. in Anthropology and Social Work from U-M in 2019 with his dissertation "In the Shadow of the Beast: Violence and Dignity along the Central American Migrant Trail." Currently Assistant Professor of Social Work and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina, Dr. Doering-White is an ethnographer of migration and community organizing. Since 2014, he has conducted ethnographic fieldwork alongside humanitarian migrant shelters that aid Central Americans migrating undocumented through Mexico. His talk on November 14 is titled “Violence, Impunity, and Hospitality along the Central Migration Trail.”

The series closes on December 3 with our final event featuring Eric Sippert, LACS visiting scholar and Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Mr. Sippert’s talk “From Coffee to Tourism: Grassroots Organizations and Returned Migrants Navigating Economic Shifts in Guatemala” will discuss his recent doctoral fieldwork.

The semester will culminate with a professional development workshop designed for Ann Arbor Public Schools teachers themed “Central American Migration and the U.S.-Mexico Border.” This training opportunity will offer school teachers formal professional development credits (SCECH) from the state of Michigan and bring together a panel of scholars and community members representing area and international non-profits. This event will take place on November 14. If you or someone you know is a public or private school teacher and interested in attending, please email the LACS office at for more details.

Full event schedule ▿

Casey Lurtz, Johns Hopkins University
“A Fixed but Porous Border: Nineteenth Century Negotiations over the Guatemala-Mexico Frontier”

Paige Andersson, DePauw University
“Crises of Care: Narrating Central American and Mexican Migration through Children and Families”

Tony Andersson, DePauw University
“Climate, Caravans, and Historical Violence in Central America”

Victoria González-Rivera, San Diego State University
“Writing Western Nicaragua’s Colonial and PostColonial LGBTQ Histories”
4:00-5:15 PM, TISCH HALL 1014

John Doering-White, University of South Carolina
“Violence, Impunity, and Hospitality along the Central American Migrant Trail”

Eric Sippert, University of Massachusetts-Amherst
“From Coffee to Tourism: Grassroots Organizations and Returned Migrants Navigating Economic Shifts in Guatemala”

Join the conversation. All events are free and open to the public.

This event series was made possible with support from a Title VI National Resource Center grant from the US Department of Education as well as with generous contributions from the following University of Michigan units: Department of History, Women’s Studies Department, Institute for Research on Women and Gender: Colonialism, Race, and Sexualities Initiative, Institute for the Humanities, Rackham Graduate School Dean’s Strategic Initiatives Fund, Latina/o Studies Program, and the Department of American Culture.