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New Center for Latinx Digital Media

The new Center for Latinx Digital Media launches this fall with an aim to promote and research digital media in Latinx and Latin American communities, all while bringing together students, scholars and practitioners across the world.

“If you think about the Latinx population in the U.S., it’s at 18 percent and growing, and they contribute $2.7 trillion to the GDP. They are the fastest growing sector, as far as the economy goes,” said Pablo Boczkowski, the Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor of Communication Studies, and director of the Center for Latinx Digital Media. “Yet, the Latinx community has been sometimes less visible than it deserves to be. With this center, we’re hoping to bring more visibility, and more attention to important aspects of this community.”

This academic year the center will offer weekly seminars by leading researchers and professionals in the field, a monthly newsletter, and eventually a podcast to discuss issues. It will serve as a hub for researchers and practitioners hoping to connect with one another.  The center, supported by the School of Communication, the Office of the Provost, and the Buffet Institute for Global Affairs at Northwestern University, has faculty affiliates spanning the Evanston and Doha campuses. It will also be collaborating with the Center for the Study on Media and Society in Argentina (MESO), founded by Northwestern University and Universidad de San Andrés.

For Boczkowski, the center is a dream a decade in the making. Born and raised in Argentina, Boczkowski has lived in the United States for a quarter of a century and has conducted global and comparative research most of his career. Technology, he added, has changed the way many Latinx students, scholars, and professionals stay connected with Latin America.

“When I came to this country, and I wanted to read my hometown newspaper, I’d have to go to my library and then I’d be able to read a copy that was a week old,” he said. “Now, I can watch a live newscast on the internet if I want. I’m a naturalized citizen. I’m an immigrant, and when we come here, we don’t leave our country behind. So, we bring our country with us, and in particular, in area of media and communication, we remain more connected than ever now.”

The purpose of the Center, Boczkowski said, is “really about creating knowledge about digital media in Latinx communities across the Americas.”

“And it’s not about erasing difference; it is about setting up a big umbrella, and exploring areas of difference, and areas of continuity,” he added.

The Covid-19 pandemic has made in-person gatherings impossible in the near term, but a series of weekly virtual seminars through Zoom will enable attendees around the world to participate. More than 600 scholars, students, and professionals from 29 countries, including almost all Latin American countries, the United States, Germany, France, Indonesia, and Iraq have registered for the first seminar, which is open to the public.

Titled “Bilingual journalism in the digital age: Serving Latinx audiences in translocal contexts,” the first seminar, to be held on September 22, will be presented by Jessica Retis, Ph.D. (University of Arizona), whose presentation will analyze the origins of bilingual media in the United States. The seminar will be moderated jointly by Medill Professor Mei-Ling Hopgood, a Center’s affiliate and an expert in bilingual journalism, and Boczkowski.

The virtual seminar, held between 12-1pm CST, will be the first of thirty for the year. Jairo A. Lugo-Ocando, Director of Executive and Graduate Education at Northwestern Qatar also will be holding a seminar later in the series.

“The Center for Latinx Digital Media is not only a very welcome space for the discussion of ideas but also an urgently needed platform for debate and critical thinking about one of the most dynamic and interconnected communities in the world,” Lugo-Ocando says. “Professor Boczkowski has nailed it by setting one of the most promising initiatives I have seen in years. This is a true interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary center that offers the opportunity to explore some of the key trends within both the Latin American region and the Latino Diasporas. One that opens new frontiers in research and that allows us to use Latin America and Latino issues to both examine and challenge universal assumption about society as a whole.”

Marcela Fuentes, associate professor in Performance Studies, researches digital social activism as performance, and said the center is so important in many ways, especially in its mission to share information and connect people in an unprecedented way.

“The fact that the center is using our platforms in place to socialize this knowledge, to share these talks as a way to help other scholars around the world…is amazingly generous,” she said. “I also like how the center is a transmedia hub, because you have the newsletter, the social media platforms, and you’re going to have reports and ongoing research. There will be all kinds of interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Boczkowski said he hopes the center continues to grow and evolve.

“The thrust of the center, the distinguishing aspect, from at least the way we have initially being framed, is this idea that we create knowledge about digital media production and use among Latinx communities across the Americas,” Boczkowski said. “It’s the intersection of the national and the regional, the domestic and the global.”

For more information and to view the upcoming speaker series, visit the center’s website.

By Cara Lockwood