A major economic summit may not seem like the place for Teresa San Pedro, associate professor of Spanish and a distinguished scholar in the field of Latin American literature, but that is exactly where she found herself earlier this month.
San Pedro was as surprised as anyone when, in June, she was invited by the organizers of the Global Economic Leaders Summit to attend this year’s conference in China. She is still not certain exactly why they wanted her to be there, but the invite seems to have been a result of her research and advocacy that has come about from a class she teaches at the College — a class that has taken her beyond literature and into the realm of economics
“When I came to (the College), I thought that (Spanish) had to be taught in a way where you applied the language using the vocabulary and expression that are alive in that time,” San Pedro said. “So, I created a course called ‘Noticias’ or ‘Current Events in the Spanish-Speaking World.’”
In this class, students search for newspaper articles from Spanish-speaking countries that provide a perspective on what issues are affecting them right now, according to San Pedro. Upon implementing this course, she was able to answer a question that had been bothering her for a long time.
“I was always very frustrated that I was not able to explain the depressing position of Latin America today just (based on) culture, ethnicity and traditions. There was an element that was missing,” San Pedro said. “I just kept asking myself how one of the wealthiest regions in the world in natural resources could be a third-world region.”
This class has allowed San Pedro to identify that missing element: economics. It has also provided her with a greater depth of knowledge on Latin America’s problems while fueling her ambition to help fix them.
This expertise with the region may have made her an attractive candidate to invite to the conference, as Latin America is of major interest to business leaders seeking to expand. San Pedro is cautious when it comes to trade though, as she believes Latin America is often forced to accept terms that disproportionately benefit richer Western countries.
“Both groups involved in the trading need to be equal partners in the benefits,” San Pedro said. She does not believe that this is the case when Latin American countries deal with the United States and other Western powers, and it appears this may provide an opening for China.
“With most of the people that I spoke to, the academics from other parts of the world, there was resentment against the way the United States does business,” said San Pedro. “They seemed to see China as doing business in a more just way. That is dangerous.”
As China’s economy continues to grow at a much faster rate than that of the United States, she said, losing major Latin American business to China could prove to be very detrimental. San Pedro suggests that the United States must “change the way they do business” in order to prevent China from gaining an upper hand.
San Pedro’s interest at the summit, however, was primarily in the welfare of the Latin American people. She believes they are often exploited, but the conference left her with a sense of optimism.
“I see Latin America developing,” San Pedro said. “I saw a brighter future in this conference.”