From the television shows we watch, the music we listen to, and the food we eat to community engagement and changes in national and state legislation, Latinx history and culture influence many facets of our daily lives. This is particularly true within diverse metropolitan areas in the United States, like New York City. If you’re interested in learning why—or want to harness that knowledge to gain a deeper understanding of your dream career—the Latino Studies major at the College of Arts and Science might be the perfect fit.
NYU’s Latino Studies major is a small, tight-knit community of support and self-discovery. But its subject material is as expansive as it is essential. It is, says Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, “an opportunity for both Latinx and non-Latinx people to learn about the rich history, culture, and economic import of the largest minority population in the country.”
The Latino Studies program spotlights the dynamics of race, class, nationality, generation, language, gender, and sexuality among different Latinx subgroups. And as a Latino Studies major, you can connect any subject or discipline to your studies. To truly capture the nuance and diversity of the Latinx experience in the United States, the major is a carefully crafted interdisciplinary web. Professor Saldaña-Portillo, for example, teaches classes on literature, popular culture, and feminist studies. “My classes always have a historical and economic component,” she says. “I want to give students the entire picture of how we got to a particular cultural product.” Other classes highlight work and labor, race in neoliberal cities, and how the US Constitution impacts people of color.
Yamilka Marmolejos, a rising junior who recently declared the major, built this interdisciplinary element into her core NYU experience. Her Journalism major requires a second one. And she tried out music and dramatic literature before realizing Latino studies was an ideal fit. “This major will definitely help me write the stories only I can tell,” Yamilka predicts. “Sometimes I feel like it’s harder for me to write a story from a Latino perspective because I didn’t grow up that close to my Dominican heritage. But the Latino Studies major has helped me fill that gap. I want to continue to challenge myself to write these stories. And learning more through the major will inspire that.”
Opportunities to study abroad in a variety of countries add a global perspective to the major. “We want students to come away with a cross-cultural understanding,” says Betts Brown, assistant director of internships and curricular integration. Many Latino studies students choose to study away at NYU Madrid or NYU Buenos Aires to work on their Spanish-language skills and gain real-world knowledge of local art, film, politics, and city planning. But for students who dream of exploring and studying elsewhere, there are opportunities in a number of other international cities as well. For example, students can study away in Paris, Berlin, Accra, and Tel Aviv. “We’ll help you no matter where you want to study away,” Brown promises.
The Honors Program senior thesis project is one way for Latino Studies majors to dive deep into a specific topic of their choice. Honors students enroll in a seminar class and a research course during their senior year and work alongside a faculty research supervisor. Through their projects, they develop writing and analytical prowess, design and execute original research, create close relationships with faculty, and hone a number of other career-applicable skills.
Latino Studies alumnus Laisa García, who graduated in May 2022 with a double major in Drama at the Tisch School of the Arts, used her thesis project to investigate the political beliefs in her home county along the South Texas border. “I’ve always had an immense curiosity about who I am. And how we can be so culturally Mexican and culturally American at the same time,” Laisa explains. “I wanted to understand exactly how Mexican Americans in border towns construct their political belief systems, because it was evident that they do so in ways that complicate and challenge our conventional understandings of politics. While I was writing, I’d have moments of discovery and have to stop mid-sentence. It was a very personal process, and I’m so happy I did it.”
A World of Possibilities
Latino Studies majors make a positive impact in just about every field imaginable. Graduates of the program work in education—from kindergarten through higher education—politics, media, journalism, and business. Others enroll in law school or medical school. Laisa currently works as a literary intern at a Latin American theatre company in New York City’s East Village. What’s more, she aspires to join a film or television production company with a notable branch of Latinx content.
“Ultimately, the Latino Studies major is really about the future of this country,” Professor Saldaña-Portillo explains. “The Latinx population is going to grow from the majority minority to the majority. And it’s so useful in any future career to know and understand the people you’re going to serve. The Latino Studies program will make you a better architect, a better biologist, a better economist, a better social worker—a better whatever you want to be. It deepens your understanding, enhances other knowledge bases, and will lead you to a lucrative career.”