The Central American Studies bachelor’s degree was approved by Cal State University Chancellor Charles B. Reed on Thursday and will be fully implemented at Cal State Northridge this fall.
Now that it has been approved, it will be the first college major of its kind in the United States, said Douglas Carranza, director and assistant professor of Central American Studies.
Carranza said the program was created due to increasing demand from Central American students.
“The first or second generations of Central Americans born here in the U.S. are hungry to know their cultural background,” Carranza said. “They want to know where their parents are from and what motivated them to come here.”
The U.S. Census Bureau Web site shows that there were more than three million Central Americans living in the U.S. in 2005, with more than one million Central Americans living in California alone.
Development of the major started three years ago when Carranza and Beatriz Cortez, program coordinator and assistant professor of Central American Studies, realized they wanted to build a stronger relationship between the university and Central Americans living in Los Angeles.
“(The major) will offer a closer assessment of the Central American reality,” Carranza said. “This will deepen the interest that the U.S. society has on the region, and with that knowledge, (people) will come better prepared to understand the region.”
For Carranza, the making of the CAS program is like living a dream he has had since he arrived here in 1981 from El Salvador.
“We are living something tangible and that energy that comes from the students is transmitted to us and it keeps us going like a little machine full of energy and feelings,” Carranza said.
Amy Ulloa, a 19-year-old freshman, said she realized that she wants to be a teacher and pass down what she learns about the Central American region from classes she is taking for her minor.
“I have learned so much not only about the different countries, but there is so much that I didn’t even know about my own country,” she said.
Ulloa, who is of Honduran descent, said the key to understanding other cultures is to first understand one’s own.
“It will open more doors to students that want to learn more about other cultures and their own,” Ulloa said.
Alicia Estrada, assistant professor of Central American Studies, said the program is going to strengthen the relationship between the university and one of the largest ethnic groups in Southern California. In the long term, the relationship is going to help people understand the issues that affect people with diverse Central American roots, as there are seven countries in the region.
“The students that are not Central American, but who are living in a community where your neighbor, co-worker, or client is Central American. The program gives them a very important tool to be able to connect with those people,” Estrada said.
Estrada, who emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala, said the program promises to be a medium through which Central American students will be able to connect and learn about their customs, traditions and history.
“It’s something that is going to be attached to your personal history and to your own identity,” Estrada said. “You can learn about your ancestors, about your roots and about yourself.”
The new CAS curriculum will offer a wide variety of classes about Central American literature, visual and performing arts, social and religious movements, Estrada said. The program will also offer a class in Central American film, indigenous groups and even a class in Afro Caribbean culture in the region.
Ricardo Urrutia, psychology major and vice president of the Central American United Student Association, said the program would help him learn more about the things that happen in his Salvadorian homeland.
“I think other students should realize that a lot of people have suffered in Central America,” Urrutia said.