Hoping to create a greater understanding of El Salvador’s culture, California State University, Northridge Central American studies faculty have spent the past two years working with Salvadoran counterparts to provide Salvadoran cultural educators with the critical, theoretical and methodological tools to understand that nation’s unique culture.
The pilot cohort of newly trained directors of Houses of Culture in El Salvador completed the program this month. CSUN professor Beatriz Cortez joined with representatives of the Secretary of Culture of the Office of the President of El Salvador, through the National Direction of Spaces for Cultural Development, the National Direction of Research in Culture and Art, as well as Central American University “José Simeón Cañas” to celebrate their culmination in El Salvador on July 8.
Cortez said she worked on the design and development of this project “because this transnational dialogue will enrich everyone involved and will allow us to be part of a new understanding of Salvadoran culture.”
“Salvadoran culture is marked by its diversity, its multiple identities, its transnational dimension and the emergent construction of memory of the war and the traumatic events that separated this population starting in the 1980s,” she said. “This program allows for these three institutions to collaborate in a project that has as its foundation ideas about global citizenship and the principles of justice and participatory democracy that are part of the mission of the Central American studies program and of the College of Humanities at CSUN.”
Development of the Salvadoran Cultures Program began two years ago when Cortez and CSUN Central American studies professor Douglas Carranza traveled to El Salvador to meet with officials from the Secretariat of Culture to discuss curriculum and establish a platform that allowed Carranza and Cortez to regularly take part in virtual discussions, answer questions and exchange ideas with colleagues and participants several thousand miles away.
The pilot cohort—approximately 30 individuals working directly with their communities with the national network of Houses of Culture set up by El Salvador’s Secretariat of Culture—began taking classes in January 2012.
Carranza and Cortez worked with officials from the National Direction of Research on Culture and Arts in El Salvador, a division of the country’s Secretariat of Culture, and faculty from the Central American University “José Simeón Cañas” to develop a program that provided participants the tools that would allow the directors of Houses of Culture throughout El Salvador to reflect, discuss and collaborate on a working project about four fundamental aspects of Salvadoran culture: the nation, identities, culture and historic memory.
The program included faculty from CSUN and the Central American University in San Salvador, as well as faculty from other universities in El Salvador and in the United States, including the University of El Salvador, Carleton College in Minnesota and the University of Maryland, College Park, among others.
Carranza noted that culture is “always moving. It is not static.”
“That we can provide an insight into the spaces that we move in culturally speaking—politics, history, arts, religion, social issues—is revolutionary,” he said. “We are looking at a diverse notion of Salvadoran culture, especially when you realize that approximately one third of the Salvadoran population lives here in the United States. The Salvadoran culture is not necessarily homogeneous, but very diverse.”
“We presented the participants with a very different view of how they see themselves and their role in their community,” Carranza continued. “When you change how your view yourself, it changes your frame of thinking on issues. El Salvador is going through a complex process of democratization, and this project was well received by the Salvadoran authorities and also by the participants, who were looking outside of the traditional culture box and were able to tie the theoretical frame that we presented to them with the realities of the Salvadoran culture.”
California State University, Northridge is the only university in the United States to offer a bachelor of arts degree in Central American studies. The program, housed in CSUN’s College of Humanities, has a tri-fold mission: to empower the large and growing Central American community in the United States by promoting academic excellence, community involvement and cultural diversity; to open spaces of global citizenship and dialogue between academia and society at large that contributes to the construction of a Central American transnational identity; and to promote understanding and appreciation for the diverse Central American cultures, ethnicities, experiences and worldviews from an interdisciplinary global perspective.