Refugees in Modern Latin America


HIST 285 Refugees, Resettlement, and Resistance in Latin America

Professor: Shari Wejsa

Email: swejsa [at] emory [dot] edu

Class Meetings: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday: TBD AM/PM

Office Hours: Day/Time/Location TBD, or by appointment.

Course Description:

What are some of the factors that force refugees to leave their homelands against their will? What role has international human rights law had for defining refugee status and protections? How do the experiences of forced migration impact refugees’ identity? By exploring refugee issues, human rights, and identity in the context of Latin America, this course seeks to answer these questions.

Latin American countries have become home to large numbers of (im)migrants.  Some chose to resettle, influenced by economic opportunities and the desire to escape religious persecution in their countries of origin. Refugees, however, saw no other choice but to migrate, as many found their livelihoods in danger from religious persecution, political turmoil wrought by civil wars, or environmental dangers.

At times, elites have enthusiastically welcomed certain groups of refugees, perceiving them to be the means by which political leaders could tackle a country’s internal social, economic, and cultural problems. At other times, anti-foreigner attitudes, movements and legislation have dominated in these receiving countries. In twentieth-century Latin America, forced migration and refugee crises have influenced and been affected by important economic, social and political circumstances. In the post-WWII period, refugee crises forced the international community to establish human rights standards and norms.

Throughout the course, students will also analyze the ways in which ideas of gender, race, and class affect refugee experiences and influence ideas of what constitutes a “desirable” foreigner. Students will also come to understand how refugees forged relationships with the state, their more established neighbors, and their new environments.


Teaching Aims:

Throughout the semester, I hope that students will:

  • Deepen and broaden their historical understanding of refugee crises in Latin America.
  • Enhance their abilities to analyze historical materials and debates.
  • Reinforce their skills in academic writing and oral presentation.


Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the semester, student will be able to:

  • Read critically and analytically to understand the relationship between historical narrative and the use of evidence.
  • Develop and present persuasive oral and written arguments related to refugee issues and forced migration.
  • Prepare for and contribute to class discussion in a rigorous, purposeful, and constructive manner.


Prerequisites:  None. No prior knowledge of Latin American history or its languages is required. The course does not have a general survey textbook. Those students wishing for a reference of this kind are encouraged to consult texts such as John Chasteen’s Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America or Mark Wasserman and Cheryl Martin’s Latin America and Its People, Combined Volume for a broad survey of Latin American history.


Required Texts:

  • Students can access readings in Canvas.
  • Students can also access full texts on reserve at Woodruff Library.


Course Policies:

1) Attendance. Attendance is required. You are permitted one unexcused absence.

Excessive absences will result in failure of the course.


2) Punctuality. You must arrive on time. Make sure that you are present and seated when class begins. Excessive lates will be counted as absences.


3) Respectful Engagement. Active participation is required.  I will call on you if you are too quiet! I encourage you to debate, disagree and challenge one another and myself. However it is essential that we engage with one another in a respectful and polite manner. Agree to disagree agreeably. While I assume you share this understanding I will state that there is no tolerance for offensive or demeaning language or ethnic/racial slurs.


4) Alterations to the Syllabus. I reserve the right to make alterations to the schedule of readings in order to improve the flow of the course.


5) Accommodations.  According to the University Statement for Students with Disabilities,

Emory provides all persons an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from programs and services afforded to others. The Office of Accessibility Services (OAS), part of the Office of Equity and Inclusion, assists qualified students, faculty, and staff with obtaining a variety of services and ensures that all matters of equal access, reasonable accommodation, and compliance are properly addressed. Qualified students, faculty, and staff must register with our office and make a request for services. Confidentiality is honored and maintained.

If you require a disability accommodation please register with the Office of Accessibility Services, and we will make appropriate arrangements:


6) Technology. I have a no technology policy. Therefore, laptops are not allowed. Cell phones should be on silent, not vibrate. You should expect to take notes in a notebook during class and have any notes taken in preparation for discussion and a copy of the day’s readings with you to reference

See January 2, 2017 New York Times Article “Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom,” By Darren Rosenblum


7) Late assignments. Submit your assignments on time. Late assignments will be penalized as follows:

  • Same day, after class, one-half a letter grade
  • Second day and each day thereafter, one letter grade.
  • It is always in your interest to submit the assignment, regardless of how late.
  • Incomplete work in the course will result in a failing final grade, regardless of the grade


  • Extensions will only be granted in very rare, major emergency circumstances, such as

hospitalization or the death of an immediate family member. You will be asked for



8) Academic Integrity. It is expected that students will abide by the standards of academic integrity established by Emory University. Do not plagiarize or falsify materials. Using ideas or phrases that are not your own without explicitly and sufficiently crediting their creator will not be tolerated. Therefore, I encourage you to take meticulous notes, cite your sources carefully, and do not leave assignments to the last minute. If you plagiarize, the History Department’s chair and and Emory University’s Honor Council will be notified, and appropriate steps will be taken. Please review the University’s policy of academic integrity for additional information:


9) Communication and Feedback.

  • If you have questions or concerns about the material, I encourage you to contact me after class or

via email to arrange a meeting.

  • I will respond to emails as quickly as I can.  Anticipate delays, and plan accordingly!
  • In the week prior to spring break students will have an opportunity to complete a midterm course

evaluation that I will take into consideration as we move into the second half of the course.


10) Recommendations. If you would like me to write you a recommendation letter, please contact me at least one month before the application’s due date. Please provide a description of the position or award for which you need a recommendation; a stamped, addressed envelope or relevant email link; a resume; Finally, please send me a reminder email a week before the recommendation is due.


11). Sensitive Materials

This course will examine and show difficult and disturbing images and stories about

human suffering. Please be advised that some of the PowerPoint presentations, readings, and supplementary materials may be difficult to process.


Forms of Assessment:

I believe that students have different strengths.  Therefore, I have integrated various forms of assessment. Students must pass each component to pass the course.


Participation (20%, 10% for Discussion Leader Presentations):

Active attendance and participation is absolutely essential. Each class will be a mixture of lecture and discussion. Students are expected to come to class prepared, having taken the time to read and think through the week’s materials.


Discussion Leader Presentations: With at least one other student in the class, you will lead two of our Friday discussion sections. To do so, you must work with the other leaders assigned for the week to develop three questions that will promote analytical discussion based on the readings and resources assigned for the week. You must also post a primary source, such as a newspaper article, film clip, etc. related to the experiences of forced migrants in Latin America. These presentations will be given at the start of class and will consist of a brief description of the source and two questions for the class to initiate discussion. This will be included in the participation grade. Selections will be made in the second week of the course. These five questions must be posted by one of the leaders in Canvas by 12 PM on the Thursday before your assigned week for all students to see. Late posts will result in deductions of the participation grade.


Map Quiz (5%): It is important that you know where the places we study are located. Therefore, you will have one map quiz.  The quiz will ask you to identify 20 countries, 15 capital cities, and 15 geographic features (i.e. mountain ranges, oceans, lakes, etc.). I will provide a list beforehand.


Field Trip Reflection (5%):

We will take a trip to Clarkston, Georgia, which is home to a high population of refugees. We will meet with the founder and employees of Refuge Coffee, which provides employment and job-training opportunities to resettled refugees. We will then meet with the founder of Fugee Family, which is a non-profit organization devoted to working with child survivors of war, and also  speak with volunteers and students at the organization. Afterward, we will have lunch at Kathmandu Kitchen & Grill, run by Nepali refugees. You will write a two-page reflection in which you comment on what you learned, what surprised you, and any connections to our class that you found particularly compelling.

**If you cannot attend on this day, please come see me. You will be asked to find time to go on  your own and to write a 2-page reflection about what you observed.


Two Response Papers (20%, 10% each): The goal of the response papers is to place the course readings in dialogue with one another. I will give students the option to choose one of two questions which they will answer based on the course readings. Responses should be approximately two pages.


All writing assignments must be in 12 point font, double-spaced and with standard 1 inch margins. I will deduct points from written assignments that do not meet the minimum length requirement or do not follow these requirements. When citing sources, please use the Chicago/Turabian style.


Group Project (25%): Working together in groups of 3-4 (depending on the final size of the class) students will craft a 10-12-minute podcast on a refugee crisis of their choosing (subject to instructor approval). These presentations will address the questions, themes, and problems we will explore throughout the course (i.e. the origins of the group in question, the changes it experienced over time, its relationship with different governments and policies, its cultural, economic and social production, etc.). I encourage creativity! Presentations might include audio-visual materials such as maps, images, film or radio clips. Groups should divide the work evenly among all members. Immediately following the presentation students will also be asked to conduct a short self-evaluation commenting on the contributions of their fellow group members. Students will be evaluated individually. I will provide a more detailed description of this project and an opportunity to form groups around mutual interests in the third week of class. Presentations will be given in the final 2-3 weeks of the semester.


The project will consist of a series of deadlines, all of which will contribute to the final grade.

-Friday, Feb. 1st– Submit project proposal, rationale, and group member names

-Friday, Feb. 22nd – Submit bibliography for project identifying secondary and primary sources your group intends to use

-Friday, April 5th – Submit a full draft or detailed project plans for feedback from me

-Monday, April 15th – Projects are due.


Take-Home Final (20%): The final exam for this course will be a take-home, open book format assessment involving short and long essay responses. I will provide a detailed structure for the final exam and an opportunity to review course materials in the final two weeks of class. I will hand out the take home final on Date TBD. You must email your final to me by Date/Time TBD.



Participation 20% (10% for leading two discussions)

2 Response papers 20%

Map Quiz 5%

Clarkston Visit Reflection 5%

Group Project 25%

Take Home Final 25%


  • In the event that you want to dispute a grade, please contact me within 48 hours of receiving your grade.  You must provide a paragraph explaining why you believe your grade should be reconsidered.


Grading scale:

A      100–93

A–    92–90

B+    89–87

B      86–83

B–    82–80

C+    79–76

C      75–73

C–    72–70

D+    69–67

D      66–64

F       64–0


Writing Center (EWC)

The EWC offers 45-minute individual consultations to students. Tutors can help you develop your writing purpose, organization, audience, design choices, or selection of sources. Though they will not make specifics edits, they will help you develop the tools edit your own work. Please visit or the EWC in Callaway N-212 for more information.


ESL Program

The ESL Program supports Emory College students who speak English as a second language by administering the Emory English Assessment (EEA) placement test and offering specialized courses, ESL tutoring, and communication-focused workshops to serve a breadth of academic needs. They are located in the PAIS Building Offices 563,565 and 567 and can be reached by phone at 404-727-5300 or by email  at oue [dot] esl [at] emory [dot] edu.



* → Indicates discussion section.  Discussion leaders must post their five questions to Canvas (please see requirements below) by 12 PM the Thursday before their assigned discussion section.


Date of Class Meeting Activities Readings Due
Wednesday, Jan. 16th Introduction to Course Introductions and Review Syllabus None
*Friday, Jan. 18th Part I: Forced Migration: Concepts, definitions, and human rights

Topic: Who is a refugee? Questioning categories, examining human rights

•Professor-led discussion

•Discussion of primary sources as evidence

1). “What is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning.” USA for UNHCR.

2). Maley, William. “Defining ‘Refugees’.” In What Is a Refugee?, 15-42. London: Hurst & Company, 2016.

3). Gatrell, Peter. “Refugees and Refugee Crises: Some Historical Reflections.” The World Financial Review | Empowering Communication Globally. Last modified December 1, 2015.

Monday, Jan. 21st NO CLASS
Wednesday, Jan. 23rd Topic: Understanding Migration and in Modern World History 1). Jose C. Moya and Adam McKeown, “World Migration in the Long Twentieth Century”, 9-52 in Essays on Twentieth Century History. Ed. Michael Adas
*Friday, Jan. 25th Discussion Section
Monday, Jan. 28th Topic: Ideas of “Race” and “Ethnicity” in Latin America *Map Quiz* 1). Peter Wade, “The Meaning of Race and Ethnicity” p. 5-25 in Race and Ethnicity in Latin America.
Wednesday, Jan. 30th Topic: Understanding Diaspora and in Modern World History 1). Kim Butler, “Defining Diaspora, Refining a Discourse” Diaspora: a Journal of Transnational Studies, 189-219

2). “The politics of nation-building: making co-nationals, refugees, and minorities” Oxford Refugees Studies Podcast

*Friday, Feb. 1st *Project proposal, rationale, and group member names due* Discussion Section
Monday, Feb. 4th Part II. Jewish and Japanese Diasporas in Latin America: WWII to the Present

Topic: Latin American Migration and WWII- German Sympathies and Jewish Refugees and Mexico

1). “Nazism and Jewish Emigration from the Third Reich” and Latin America as an Alternative Destination” in Daniela Gleizer’s

Unwelcome Exiles. Mexico and the Jewish Refugees from Nazism, 1933-1945, 13-23.

2) “International Efforts to Solve the Matter of German Refugees and the Mexican Context,” “The Jewish Community of Mexico,” and “The Attitude Toward the Jewish Refugees” in Gleizer, 64-74.

Wednesday, Feb. 6th Latin American Migration and WWII continued 1).  “Antisemitism and PhiloSemitism” in Jeffrey Lesser’s Welcoming the Undesirables, 118-145.

2). “Buena Tierra,” in Leo Spitzer’s Hotel Bolivia: The Culture of Memory in a Refuge from Nazism, 107-139

*Friday, Feb. 8th Discussion Section
Monday, Feb. 11th Latin American Migration and WWII continued *Response paper questions handed out* 1). “Argentina, World War II and the Entry of Nazi War Criminals” in Rein, 67-102

2).“Argentine Jews and the Accusation of Dual Loyalty” in Argentine Jews Or Jewish Argentines? 169-194

Wednesday, Feb. 13th WWII continued and Japanese Brazilians •Visit From ECDS Staff

•Discussion of Ethos, Pathos, Lagos in Podcasts

•“Lessons To Learn From Another Crisis: The Refugees After WWII” NPR Podcast

*Friday, Feb. 15th *Response papers due* Discussion Section
Monday, Feb. 18th Part III. Displacement in Brazil

Topic: African Decolonization and Displacement

1). “Brazil and the Portuguese Revolution” in Jerry Dávila’s Hotel Trópico, 170-189

2). The Special Representation in Angola, 1975” in Hotel Trópico, 190-220.

Wednesday, Feb. 20th Topic: African Displacement post-decolonization 1) Excerpt from Ondjaki’s “Good Morning Comrades: A novel”

2). Excerpt from José Eduardo Agualusa’s A General Theory Of Oblivion

3). “Latin America Sees Increase In African Refugees : NPR.” Last modified November 23, 2009.

*Friday, Feb. 22nd *Design Plan Due* Discussion section
Monday, Feb. 25th Part IV. Political Exiles, Refugees, and Economic Migrants in the Caribbean, Central and South America

Topic: Revolution and  Emigration to Miami

1). Silvia Pedraza, “Cuba’s Revolution and Exodus” The Journal of the International Institute   

2). Hijuelos, Oscar, “Visitors, 1965,” Excerpt, Reinaldo Arenas, “Before Night Falls”

3).Chomsky, “Cuba Emigration and Internationalism.” In A History of the Cuban Revolution, 91-105

Wednesday, Feb. 27th Topic: Exiles from South America’s Dirty Wars 1). Sznajder and Roniger, “Political Exile in Latin America” Latin American Perspectives, 7-30.

2). Thomas C. Wright and Rody Oñate, “Chilean Political Exile” in Latin American Perspectives, 31-49.

3). “Between Urgency and Strategy: Argentine Exiles in Paris, 1976-1983”, 50-67 and

4).“The COSPA: A Political Experience of the Argentine Exiles in Paris,” 68-80

*Friday, March 1st Discussion Section
Monday, March 4th The Guatemalan Civil War and Mayan Refugees *Interview Questions Due* 1). “Introduction” The Maya Diaspora, James Loucky and Marilyn Moors, 1-10.

2). “Flight, Exile, Repatriation and Return: Guatemalan Refugee Scenarios” in The Maya Diaspora, 35-55.

3). “Organizing in Exile: The Reconstruction of Community in the Guatemalan Refugee Camps of Southern Mexico” in The Maya Diaspora, 74-92.

4). Read 3 mini oral histories, “A Maya Voice (Mexico City, Indiantown Florida and Vancouver)”

Wednesday, March 6th Mayan Refugees in the Nuevo New South 1). Prof. Mary Odem’s Digital Humanities Project  

2). “The Maya of Morganton: Exploring Worker Identity Within the Global Marketplace” in The Maya Diaspora, 175-196.

*Friday, March 8th Discussion Section
Monday, March 11th NO CLASS
Wednesday, March 13th NO CLASS
Friday, March 15th NO CLASS
Monday, March 18th Part V.  Race, Gender, and Identity

Topic: Forced Migration and Gender

*Script Due* 1) Selections from A Life Project out of Turmoil : Displacement and Gender in Colombia, by Donny Meertens
Wednesday, March 20th Topic: Forced Migration and Race 1) Selections of Refugees, Race, and Gender: The Multiple Discrimination against Refugee Women, by Eileen Pittaway & Linda Bartolomei
*Friday, March 22nd Discussion Section
Monday, March 25th Topic: Food Culture and Identity *Response paper questions handed out* 1) Excerpts from Jeffrey M. Pilcher ¡Que Vivan Los Tamales!: Food and the Making of Mexican Identity.

2) Lok Siu, “Twenty-First Century Food Trucks: Mobility, Social Media, and Urban Hipness,” in Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader

Wednesday, March 27th Topic: Forced Migration and Identity 1). “Constructing a new Community — Community and Identity”, in Refugees and the transformation of societies : Agency, Policies, Ethics, and Politics, ed. by Essed, Frerks, and Schrijvers
*Friday, March 29th *Response papers due* Discussion Section
Saturday, March 30th Class trip to Clarkston, Georgia
Monday, April 1st Part V: Refugees, Media, and Representation

Topic: Identity and Media Representation

*Clarkston Trip Reflection Due* 1) Sandoval, “Media Representations of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica,” in Threatening Others: Nicaraguans and the Formation of National Identities in Costa Rica, 26-61.
Wednesday, April 3rd Topic: Museums and Refugee Representations 1) “Reframing difference: Museums, Cross-cultural Communication and the Representing of Refugees,” by Sam Jones in Changes in Museum Practice : New Media, Refugees and Participation, edited by Skartveit and Goodnow.
*Friday, April 5th Discussion Section
Monday, April 8th Part VI: Refugees and Health

Topic: Refugees and Mental Health

1). Selections from Hotel Bolivia, by Leo Spitzer
Wednesday, April 10th Topic: Refugees and Physical Health 1). Selections from Displaced and Discarded: The Plight of Internally Displaced Persons in Bogotá and Cartagena, by Michael Bochenek
*Friday, April 13th Discussion Section
Monday, April 17th Part VI. Shifting Trends in Forced Migration

Topic: Environmental Refugees and photojournalism

1). Slater, Dashka. 2016. “Fleeing an Angry Climate.” Sierra 101, no. 1: 22-24.

2). Da Silva, Cesar Augusto Silva 2013. “Brazil: Human Rights and Environmental Refugees.” International Law no. 22: 211-241.

3) Warn, Elizabeth, and Susan Adamo. “The Impact of Climate Change: Migration and Cities in South America.” World Meteorological Organization. Last modified 2014.

Wednesday, April 19th Topic: Resistance in Latin America

1). Selections from Perez-Bustillo, Camilo’s Human Rights, Hegemony, and Utopia in Latin America: Poverty, Forced Migration, and  Resistance in Mexico and Colombia.

2). Donaghy, Maureen. 2015. “Resisting Removal: The Impact of Community Mobilization in Rio de Janeiro.” Latin American Politics & Society 57, no. 4: 74-96.

3). Ensor, Marisa O. 2013. “Defying Displacement: Grassroots Resistance and the Critique of Development.” American Anthropologist 115, no. 4: 702-703.

*Friday, April 20th *Podcasts Due* *Discussion Section
Monday, April 23rd Part VI. Experiences of Forced Migration in Comparative Perspective Group presentations Study for Final Exam
Wednesday, April 25th Group presentations Study for Final Exam
Friday, April 27th Group presentations No Discussion Session/Study for Final Exam
Monday, April 29th LAST CLASS

Class discussion and reflections on presentations.

Bring Notes from Presentations to Discuss in class.
Date/Time/Location TBD Optional review session for final exam Study for Final Exam
Date/Time/Location TBD Optional review session for final exam Study for Final Exam
Date/Time TBD *Final Exam*



Course Rationale

The refugee crises in Syria, Afghanistan, Chad, and Somalia, among others are very contemporary realities that have garnered both public and scholarly attention. Though magazine articles, online posts, and news reports may highlight the devastating social, cultural, economic, and health consequences of these forced migrations, many people are unaware of their historical antecedents and the existing international mechanisms designed to protect these populations. Refugee crises are also not a recent phenomenon, as forced migration has occurred in various times and places throughout history.


This course will appeal to students who are interested in understanding the historical underpinnings of refugee issues  in Latin America across fields of study, including those interested in history, literature, anthropology, law, and public health.  Though the course will center on Latin American history, students will be able apply the historical investigations of politics, race and ethnicity, gender, resistance, and human rights law, among other content and theoretical areas studied to analyses of global refugee crises.


Though the History Department offers undergraduate courses on human rights and humanitarian issues, there are no courses specifically designed to address issues of forced migration and its relevance to contemporary realities. The Origins of Human Rights course offered in the Fall 2017 semester had a high enrollment for a 200-level offering, indicating that students have a clear interest in human rights issues. The Department does not offer any courses that specifically investigate human rights in Latin America. This course offering will reinforce the mission and objectives of Emory institutions and academic programs, including the Carter Center, Center for Ethics, Rollins School of Public Health, and the School of Law.


I believe that students have different strengths. Therefore, I have integrated a variety of assessment methods. For those who excel at writing, I have incorporated response papers, written sections of the group project, and essay questions in the final exam. For students who are comfortable speaking in class, I have integrated discussion sections with leadership roles, primary sources presentations, and group project presentations. Those students with digital skills will excel with the podcast assignment.  I made the group project requirements flexible so that students can creatively develop projects that are tailored to their strengths. Though I will assess students individually, I am requiring collaborative work, such as through discussion leader presentations and the podcast project. Students who are particularly interested in pursuing human rights advocacy will need to be able to work collaborative.


I have also incorporated a variety of sources for students with different learning styles. Therefore, students will have course readings from monographs and academic journals, listen to podcasts, contribute to discussions, read poetry and literature, and watch audiovisual presentations. Students will also visit Clarkston to get a glimpse of what the experiences have been for refugees in a local community as they adapt to their new place of residence. My aim with this trip is to help students apply theoretical and analytical knowledge to make the course content more relevant to their lives.


This syllabus is a working document that I will continue to revise.  In its current state, students will examine relevant content chronologically by geographic area in Latin America, though I have considered creating a thematic structure that integrates analyses of law, literature, public health, etc. I did not assign a course textbook because none exists on forced migration in Latin America that is tailored to the time period I want to cover and designed for an undergraduate audience. Therefore, I have selected readings and supplemental materials that will provide students with the content they need. 

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