María–Inés Lagos

Exploring how Latin American Women Straddle Cultures

María–Inés Lagos, Professor of Spanish in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese

María-Inés Lagos understands what it means to straddle two cultures. She was born in Santiago, Chile, but has spent her professional life in the United States, teaching in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Her dual perspective has taught her that the image one culture has of another is not always accurate.

“All too often, people in the United States see Latin America in terms of one-dimensional stereotypes,” she said. “They identify the area with poverty, dictatorships, drugs and illegal immigration, and its literature with magic realism.”

One of her goals as a teacher and scholar is to correct this impression of Latin America, using its rich and varied literature to convey a fully three-dimensional impression of the region and its people. For her, this is the first step toward wisdom and a fuller understanding of life.

Professor Lagos approaches stereotypes from the perspective of people who are stereotyped. This pursuit has drawn her to the works of Latin American women writers who explore the issue of stereotypes using female characters. “In these works, society wants women to conform, but women as individuals negotiate their own détente with social constraints,” she said.

Although Professor Lagos is drawn to the works of Latin America’s great women writers because they reflect her experience, the writers’ ultimate value lies in their capacity to transcend cultures. “When [my students] read them, they see reflected in them issues that relate to their own lives,” she said.