History professor Jaime E. Rodríguez likes to say he’s had three lives at UCI – “and they’ve all been good.”

The first began in 1973 when he joined the faculty as a professor and research scholar, a role he continues today. His second is in administration, serving as graduate studies and research dean from 1980 to 1986, and currently, as Latin American studies director. For his third life, he edits Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, a journal he founded in 1985. No matter what he does, he remains focused on a single mission: fostering greater understanding of Latin America.

Rodríguez became founding director of Latin American studies in 1989. The program brings together 33 faculty members from 12 disciplines, including social sciences, humanities, social ecology and the arts. Through teaching and research, they explore the region from different perspectives.

“We’re doing a lot of good things,” Rodríguez says. “Our faculty members collaborate in various ways. We discuss our research informally; we organize conferences and cultural events; and we bring in scholars from this country and abroad to share their knowledge with students and colleagues.”

Rodríguez also provides a forum for research relating to Mexico through the biannual Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, a collaborative venture of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. His own research – published in numerous articles and books – examines Spanish America’s failure to modernize in the early 19th century, the collapse of the Spanish monarchy and the formation of Spanish American nations.

As for his personal history, it begins in Latin America: Rodríguez came to the U.S. from Ecuador when he was 8. His father had taught him to read when he was 5, and he developed a lifelong love of books. He got his doctorate from the University of Texas, Austin in 1970.

In the future, Rodríguez hopes UCI will establish a Latin American studies research center that would advance knowledge of the region. If that happens, he may find himself starting yet another life on campus.

Program explores region from many diverse disciplines

Latin American studies promotes understanding of the peoples, arts, cultures, politics, economies and history of the region, according to director Jaime E. Rodríguez.

The program offers a minor to all UCI students, with a curriculum that covers a range of disciplines, including language, history, literature, sociology, anthropology, political science, social ecology, health, folk medicine and creative accomplishments (art, dance, drama, music). It hosts speakers and conferences, as well as the annual Latin American Film Festival.

“The festival is important to a lot of people in Orange County,” Rodríguez says. “It’s a point of contact between the community and campus.”