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CERLAC: A Treasure Trove in the Kaneff Tower

CERLAC: A Treasure Trove in the Kaneff Tower

CERLAC Mural by Quijano 1994. Somos la frescura de la tierra. Toronto-Mexico.

We don’t think of university buildings as “treasure troves” or “gold mines”, but that is what CERLAC’s Resource Centre (on the 6th floor of the Kaneff Tower) has become for researchers and seekers of roots. Doctoral dissertations, master’s theses, journalistic publications, and even exhibits have been based on the very extensive collections of documents on Latin American and Caribbean history and society that the Resource Center houses, especially for the period extending from the mid-1960s to the early 2000s. Meanwhile, Latino/a students and cultural workers have found information there on the Latin American roots and Canadian settlement patterns of their families  (see “Resources” in the CERLAC Web site).

For Sebastián Oreamuno, doctoral student in Dance Studies at the School of Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), the Latin American Working Group (LAWG) collections on Chilean exiles, which form an important part of the holdings of the CERLAC Resource Centre, has provided data for his dissertation on the performance spaces of cueca, the Chilean national dance, in Canada. As important as Sebastian’s dissertation research has been the meaningful personal experience that delving into the collections has provided for a Chilean whose family settled in Squamish (BC) when he was a child.

            Similarly, in 2022, Alonso Melgar, in the Communications and Media Studies undergraduate program at York University was able to map the presence of Latin Americans in Toronto during the 1970s and 1980s, for a City of Toronto site. He did this by using information available in the LAWG Collection Exile and Solidarity files. Meanwhile, Amanda Alciquiez-Alfaro, a student in the “Public History” program at York, has been probing her Dominican and Salvadoran roots during the Winter Semester of 2023.

            However, it is not only York students who have benefited from the CERLAC Resource Center’s unique collections. Former and current students of the Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) have researched the Latino presence in Toronto while some University of Toronto students have sought documentary material from their parents’ countries of origin, in addition to data for their term papers, theses, and dissertations.

Among the university professors, Simon Granovsky-Larsen, who completed his doctorate in Politics at York and is now an Associate Professor at the University of Regina, described the collections as “an absolute gold mine” for his research on peasant organizations in Guatemala. He found “material that [he] had never seen before” during his many years of field work in Guatemala, as he stated in a letter he wrote to CERLAC in 2016. Meanwhile, Zoë Heyn-Jones based much of her 2018 doctoral dissertation in Visual Arts at York’s AMPD, “’Al Lado, Afuera’”: Solidarity in Guatemala and Canada”, on documents in the LAWG Country Files.

More recently, Margie Rauen, an artist and visiting professor during 2022 from Unicentro in Paraná, Brazil, found a Brazilian Christian Church-linked journal from the time of the military dictatorship (1964-1985), Revista Tempo & Presença, that she had never seen or heard about. There she discovered articles related to her research on the uses of performance in feminist activism. The journal’s inclusion in the Resource Center collection dates from the presence of exiled Brazilians who pursued their graduate studies and organized a resource library at York University in the 1970s and 1980s. Margie also found a previously unknown eulogy for an indigenous leader of the Kaingang people who was assassinated in 1980, which she photographed and shared with the Sao Paulo editor of Amazém Memória, a database of documents on human rights violations.

            The LAWG and Brazilian-exiles collections (along with the LAWG Archives in the York University Archives) were also critical sources of data for Fabricio Tello, from Kwantlen Polytechnic University (BC), during his July 2022 visit. His research focuses on the links between Canadian corporations and the military dictatorship, a project that is part of the work of Brazil’s “Peasant Truth Commission”. It has been engaged in research on multinational corporations since 2020, after Volkswagen acknowledged its own responsibility in human rights violations and the repression of the labor movement during those dark years and accepted to pay reparations that included funding for university-based research about the complicity of foreign investors.

            Journalists and artists have also found resources for their stories and exhibits. Most recently, York Arts MA and CERLAC Diploma holder Ingrid Mayrhofer found the “collection of posters, photographs, information bulletins, urgent action appeals” for an exhibit on the work of a group – the Committee for the Detained/Disappeared in Guatemala (CDGUA) -- that supported their families in 1980s, during Guatemala’s civil war. The exhibit will be displayed at the Workers’ Art and Heritage Center in Hamilton during May 10-August 5, 2023.

Photographers Nathalie Cortes and Joaquín Varela conducted research in the  LAWG collections for posters and announcements that they could incorporate into their “Aqui Estamos” (“We are Here”) project for Scotiabank’s May 2023 CONTACT Photography event in Toronto. In Montréal, the Fondation Salvador Allende commssioned Professor Geneviève Dorais of the History Department of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and artistic director Carolina Echeverria to mount an exhibit on Canadian Solidarity with Chile at the Écomusée du fier monde during Fall 2023. Professor Dorais also wants to point out that parts of the LAWG collection enabled her “to study inter-union solidarity networks between Québec and the Latin American and Caribbean region” (letter, March 2023).

            These are but a small sampling of the dozens of projects that have been enriched by the CERLAC Resource Centre collections. The plural is in order because the Centre contains documents from various sources: the materials collected by exiled graduate students from Latin America who created a research centre, the Latin American Research Unit/LARU and a journal, LARU Studies that published from 1976 to 1982; the Latin American Working Group (LAWG) that functioned from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, the only research centre in this country that focused on Canadian-Latin American relations at the time of its foundation; the documents of a civic organization, the International Commission for Coordination Among Sugar Workers (ICCSASW), that monitored the global sugar industry; and the document donations of dozens of York University based academics and graduate students who conducted research in a large number of Latin American and Caribbean countries.

Liisa North, CERLAC – Emerita Fellow