The study and exploration of ancient cultures thrives at Cal State L.A. in the investigation of Maya languages, in the discussion of the political and cultural perspectives of a Nobel laureate, and the study of a Colonial Mexico era poet and playwright’s musings.
Each May, hundreds of students, community members, and educators from around the world converge for a conference that not only pays homage to the past, but also reinforces history’s relevance and uncovers lessons for the future. The series has drawn a diverse group of leading scholars from as far as Japan—and expectations are that interest will blossom and flourish well into the future.
“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Chicano Studies and English Professor Roberto Cantú, the series director. “The role of a university, the role of CSULA, is to prepare students to be part of a larger world, to know where they have come from and understand how we are all connected. And we are doing that; we are exposing our students to what Los Angeles represents—a city tied to the rest of the world.”
This deeper understanding of cultures has been made possible, in part, through the Morales Family Lecture Series Endowment. Crafted by Emeritus Professor of Spanish Alfredo Morales, the endowment helped create the Gigi Gaucher-Morales Memorial Lecture Series in memory of Morales’ wife, the late Gaucher-Morales. She was a French and Spanish professor at Cal State L.A. from 1965 to 2005, who taught the literature and culture of France, of the Anglophone world, and of Latin America, including the Caribbean. With her husband, Gaucher-Morales also co-founded, directed and served as the advisor of Cal State L.A.’s Teatro Universitario en EspaÃ±ol for more than 20 years.
“Gigi loved—so much—her students and Teatro,” said Morales, who sought to create a tribute that would also serve the University and its students. “And now, Gigi belongs to the University. …In doing this, the Morales family shares Gigi and her dreams for students for years to come. I feel like I’m in heaven.”
The Gaucher-Morales lecture series began at a 2009 conference that explored Mesoamerica through music, literature, language, landmarks and cultural references. Cantú and his colleagues organized the conference in an effort to promote a newly established minor in Mesoamerican Studies and to draw critical discussion about ancient codes, cultures and clashes.
“It was one of the most exciting things that I’ve had the pleasure to work on,” said Assistant Professor of English Aaron Sonnenschein. “Graduate and undergraduate students were able to meet some of the most important scholars in Mesoamerican Studies, and faculty had the opportunity to network.
“It made a lot of people who don’t know what’s going on at Cal State L.A. aware,” Sonnenschein added. “It was an incredible way of showing that we can be a part of the community, and a cultural center for the community.”
Among those to participate, was Harvard University Professor and Mesoamerica archive founder David Carrasco.
Of his experience at the conference, Carrasco said: “(Cal State L.A.) was both architecturally remarkable and intellectually on fire due to Roberto Cantú’s intellectual leadership at linking top notch scholars working on socially significant issues and problems in order to give the students vivid and profound learning experiences. Too often, contemporary scholarship obsesses itself with…the latest fad or icon, ignoring the genealogy of thought, the diversity of philosophic orientations and human inventions.”
The 2010 spring conference was rooted around the legacy of Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz, one of the world’s foremost poets and essayists. With ties throughout the world, Paz served as Mexico’s ambassador to India in the 1960s, translated Chinese poetry, edited literary journals, and promoted literate culture in Latin America, France, England and the United States. The 2011 conference, to run May 13-14, will delve into the work of author and colonial nun Sor Juana InÃ©s de la Cruz (1648 Â 1695) and the contradictory cultural currents in 17th century New Spain.
Cantú said that he is also using some of the funding from the Morales Family Endowment to coordinate and sponsor a February 2011 conference on modernity, critique and humanism.
“This lecture series represents what Gigi was to all of us—she was very cosmopolitan, she was international, and she devoted her life to being a good professor, a good educator to all of her students,” Cantú said.