Artists, academics, authors celebrate Latino culture in the Midwest

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 16, 2012 6:30 AM

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According to the U.S. census of 2010, 16 percent of the total US population identify themselves as Hispanics/Latinos, constituting  the largest ethnic minority in the United States. That number is expected to rise in the U.S., and both Presidential candidates are looking to connect with Hispanic voters.

But, what does that all mean for this geographical place that we call the Midwest? What does it mean for that place nicknamed “the heartland”? How does the interaction between the part of the American culture with claims to the language of Shakespeare and the part of American culture also with claims to la lengua de Cervantes, in the Literary City of Iowa City look like?

This past weekend, Iowa City had the chance to enjoy the presence of two artists — Junot Díaz and Lila Downs — who represent not only what it means at a national and international level to have a higher presence of Latinos in the American demographic landscape, but also what their contribution means for the cultural landscape of the United States.

Junot Díaz, a Dominican born American-writer did that with his very first novel about a Latino nerd in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. He became, not only the first foreign-born winner of a Pulitzer prize in fiction, but the only writer to win the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize, the Dayton Peace Prize in Fiction, and the National Book Critics Circle Award in the same year. He read his new compilation of short stories, This is How You Lose Her, to a delighted audience that filled the Englert Theater on Oct. 12.

Lila Downs, a Grammy award winner and Chicana singer-songwriter — who incorporates indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Mayan and Nahuatl along with English and Spanish — performed to a packed audience at the Englert Theater on Oct. 13. Downs, daughter of a Mixtec cabaret singer and a professor of art and cinematographer from Minnesota, has sold more than 1 million albums and her current work,“Pecados y Milagros,” has been No. 1 in the Billboard Top Latin Albums Chart for more than eight weeks.

Professors from the most prestigious academic programs dedicated to Hispanic/Latino culture in the nation gathered for The Latino Midwest Symposium, a three-day academic event in Iowa City from Oct. 11-1.  The symposium examined the history, education, literature, art, and politics of Latinos in the Midwest, particularly Iowa. Downs and Díaz, as participants of the symposium, made the City of Literature glow with their literature and music, with their humor and their critical thinking, with their culture. En Español and in English.

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