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“Cultural Crosscurrents: Women in Spain and the Americas” Conference Comes to CSULB Oct. 2-4

A conference featuring more than 70 speakers from the United States, Latin America and Europe titled “Cultural Crosscurrents: Women in Spain and the Americas” will be held at CSULB Thursday through Saturday, Oct. 2-4.

The conference focus is on women's cultural and literary history in Iberia and Latin America up to 1800. The meeting represents the biannual assembly of the Grupo de Estudios Sobre la Mujer en España y las Américas Pre-1800 (GEMELA), whose scholarship focuses on women in Spain and the Americas in the medieval, colonial and early modern periods.

Participants are expected from all over the world, says conference organizer Lisa Vollendorf, chair of Romance, German, and Russian Languages and Literatures (RGRLL) and a member of the university since 2005. “My colleague Bonnie Gasior and I are both on the executive board of Grupo de Estudios Sobre la Mujer en España y las Américas,” she explained. “The happy coincidence of two CSULB faculty members acting as board members led to our hosting GEMELA’s biannual conference.”

The meeting begins on Thursday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m. with a performance in the Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall of "Sephardic Songs/Cantos Sefarditas" by singer Vanessa Paloma (more on Paloma). 

Keynote speaker Asunción Lavrin from the University of Arizona will address "The Model Nun in the Religious Literature of Colonial Mexico" at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 3, in the Karl Anatol Center. Lavrin is a scholar of women's history and literature in Latin America whose 2008 book Brides of Christ: Conventual Life in Colonial Mexico from Stanford University Press will be available for purchase after her talk. Admission is free.

From Thursday, Oct. 2, at 1 p.m. to Saturday, Oct. 4, at 4 p.m., there will be approximately 70 presentations by faculty from across North America, Europe and the rest of the Americas who are members of GEMELA. For example, Paloma speaks on Friday, Oct. 3, in the Karl Anatol Center at 9 a.m. as part of a session on women and authority in the early modern and colonial eras.

The conference is sponsored by GEMELA with the support of the College of Liberal Arts and the Office of the Provost at CSULB, as well as the RGRLL Department and the Jewish Studies Program. External support has been provided by the Consulate General of Spain in Los Angeles and the Program for Cultural Cooperation between Spain's Ministry of Culture and United States' Universities.

“We have received an embracing expression of support from CSULB and the community,” said Vollendorf, “and we are proud to bring this conference to our students and to the community.”

Vollendorf commented that the research on display is changing the way the 21st century thinks about women’s history. “Whereas before we used to think that women only occasionally played a role in the Iberian empires or in the local economies of cities and towns in Latin America, GEMELA’s scholarship has revolutionized our understanding of women’s very active roles in early modern Iberia and colonial Latin America,” she said..

She also believes the event offers a wonderful opportunity for students, faculty, staff and the community to be exposed to cutting-edge research on women’s history in the Hispanic world. “Moreover, since GEMELA is committed to interdisciplinary approaches to women’s literary and cultural history, the conference represents a great opportunity for students to be exposed to presentations that draw on methodologies used by various disciplines in the humanities,” she added.

The conference reflects the growing role for research on campus. “We have a truly outstanding lineup of faculty researchers in RGRLL,” said Vollendorf. “The depth and breadth of faculty’s engagement with the profession is impressive indeed. To note, GEMELA is one of two conferences being hosted by the department in 2008-09. In spring 2009, Claire Martin will host a graduate student conference with an M.A. student in Spanish, Nelly Goswitz, who received the College of Liberal Arts research award for her proposal for the conference, titled “A Hundred Years Later: Latin American Women’s Literature: The legacy of Mercedes Cabello de Carbonera y Clorinda Matto de Turner.”

For most attendees, Long Beach is indeed remote but perhaps not as exotic a place as one might think.

“GEMELA has held conferences since 1996, each at a different host institution,” said Vollendorf. “This is the first time we have brought GEMELA to Long Beach, which is a natural choice given our status as a Hispanic-serving institution and our location in a geographic region formerly inhabited by Native Americans, Spaniards and Mexicans.”