Latin American Student Movements

Cross-listed with RMST 280


“We are the 90 percent!”

“Starving is cringe!”

“Education is not for sale!”

What if the classmate sitting next to you today were one of the leaders for change toward a better tomorrow at UBC, in Vancouver, or even around the world?  The slogans that open this course description were voiced by student leaders that strove to revolutionize the face of university life and society as a whole in Mexico, Chile, Colombia… and even right here in Vancouver, Canada!

Since the start of the 20th century (and even long before!), student activists from across Latin America have used the university as a space to breed social and political change.  Beginning with José Enrique Rodó’s Ariel (1900), which establishes youth as a form of power to be employed toward change, and ending with more recent protests against neo-liberal education practices, this course traverses countries (Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela), spaces (the university, the mountain, the city square, the border, the internet), and genres (diary, testimonial, (graphic) novel, documentary, film, music, new and social media) to evaluate the major concepts, practices, urgencies, and voices that frame student movements in Latin America throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

We will read some of the most impactful works-in-translation on student-driven pathways to change: Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries (2003), Iverna Lockpez’s graphic novel, Cuba: My Revolution (2010), Elena Poniatowska’s collection of testimonies on the 1968 Mexican Student Movement and ensuing massacre, Massacre in Mexico (1971), Omar Cabezas’s account of his time as a student-revolutionary in Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution, Fire from the Mountain (1983), and Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s depiction of the bogotazo and other violent events in Colombia’s recent history, The Shape of the Ruins (2015), among othersWe will also examine manifestos, (new) media, documentaries, and films from and on student voices from Venezuela’s caracazo (1989), the Chilean Winter (2011), and more recent protests in Mexico, Nicaragua, and Colombia, which show why and how issues that impact university life—equal access to education, tuition raises, food insecurity, and safety—are also connected to broader social and political issues and questions of democracy across Latin America and beyond.

Accessibility—in terms of topics addressed and types of works studied, affordability and easy access to materials, and student interests and levels—is a major priority for the instructor.

Required texts

Required texts and supplementary materials will be provided in digital format when possible, and made available to students on Canvas.

  • Ariel (1900), José Enrique Rodó (selections)
  • Cuba: Students, Yankees, and Soldiers (1933) , Justo Carrillo (selections)
  • Motorcycle Diaries (1952, 2003), Ernesto “Che” Guevara (selections) [Translator: Ann Wright]
  • Cuba: My Revolution (2010), Iverna Lockpez
  • Massacre in Mexico (1971, 1991), Elena Poniatowska (selections) [Translator: Helen R. Lane]
  • Amulet (1999, 2006), Roberto Bolaño [Translator: Chris Andrews]
  • Fire from the Mountain (1983), Omar Cabezas (selections) [Translator: Kathleen Weaver]
  • The Shape of Ruins (2015), Juan Gabriel Vásquez [Translator: Anne McLean]

Select films and documentaries:

  • Motorcycle Diaries (2004), Walter Salles (Director)
  • El Grito, Mexico 1968 (1968), Leobardo López Arreteche (Director)
  • Chile’s Student Uprising (2014), Roberto Navarrete (Director)

Prerequisite: None

Language of Instruction: English