Photo credit: Pedro Szekely
Welcome to HECUA’s Alumni Profile series. Each month we’ll catch up with a HECUA alumni, and see how their time in a HECUA classroom influenced their career goals, their life in the community, and their pursuit of continued education. If you or a friend would like to participate in this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. This month we’re delighted to feature Manuel Landron. Manuel is a graduate of Macalester College, and completed HECUA’s Latin American Urban Semester (now the Community Internships in Latin America program) over two semesters in 1983.
1) How did you find out about HECUA? What motivated you to take part in a HECUA program in Latin America?
As a student attending a consortium member college (Macalester College) I found out about HECUA through my academic advisor. I was an Urban Studies major with a focus on Latin America, and at the time HECUA offered an extensive Urban Studies program which included travel to six countries. I attended Macalester in the 1980s, and at that time Latin American politics and US interests and policy were intertwined throughout the entire region.
2) What were your expectations of your HECUA program going in? Were those expectations met?
In view of the program information provided my expectations were high. Absolutely, all my expectations were met, and then some.
3) Is there something you learned during your semester in Latin America that you still use to this day? If so, what is it?
As a city planner and historian, I continue to draw from my experience with HECUA. The program allowed me to obtain an amplified awareness of Latin America, which has inspired my entire academic and professional experience. By providing the proper historical context of the Latin American reality, HECUA provided me with a strong base of understanding the many reasons socioeconomic inequalities exist and what effect these inequities have upon our urban/rural experience. It was an eye opener. In my work now, guiding communities in Puerto Rico through the difficult process of dealing with government entities here, I often reminisce about the times I walked the streets of countries during my HECUA program visited. (Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Peru, and Puerto Rico).
4) What projects did you work on during your time with HECUA?
I spent two semesters with HECUA. In both instances we were separated into groups of three students, with the purpose of studying a town or secondary city other than Bogota, Columbia. I visited the towns of Villavicencio and Tunja. In both cases we spend seven days interviewing public officials and researching public documents to ascertain the prevalent urban/rural issues affecting these areas.
5) What topic did you choose for your individual research project? How did you do research?
My individual project was about the Ecclesiastic Base Churches. During the 1980’s a religious Catholic-based movement had spread through many marginal towns in several Latin-American countries. Bogotá was no exception. This concept of church and clergy preaching’s provided the faithful with a new powerful message of historic social content which has been attributed as being one of the principal ideological bases which brought revolutionary struggles and political changes to several countries of that era.
6) How did your time with HECUA lead you to further study and research in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean?
It inspired me to seek more answers. Investigation became the cornerstone to quench my thirst of wanting to find out the origins and reasons why Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are what they are today.
7) Tell us a little bit about what you’re doing now.
In view of the dire economic situation which my country, Puerto Rico, is experiencing since last April, I’m have been closing the company I founded in 2005. I have decided to move to Minnesota where I will seek employment. My departure and arrival will be on the 26th of August.
8) We would love to hear more detail about your four year contract in Puerto Rico, or your Master’s degree research and thesis.
The river banks of what is known as the “Caño Martín Peña” has been for decades the home of thousands of underserved families who live in substandard homes, subjected to continuous floods from seasonal rain fall, poor construction, and lack of adequate infrastructure. My job for the past four years was to manage all the necessary stages to facilitate the relocation of over sixty families. These contracted jobs where conducted following federal highway and housing and urban development regulations. For the past 20 years I have advised many local cities and state government agencies regarding these processes.
The subject of my thesis, which I finalized last May, was how the local press portrayed the role of Puerto Rican women during the protest movement which resulted in the closing of the United States’ massive naval base off the coast of Vieques, Puerto Rico. The time period selected was 1999 to 2000.
9) What’s next for you?
As previously mentioned, in the next several weeks I plan to arrive at Minnesota and commence taking necessary steps to reestablish myself. I will continue to refine my academic proposals and hope to visit HECUA headquarters sometime in September.
Thanks, Manuel! We’re looking forward to reconnecting with you.
Sadly, the program Manuel participated in (the Latin American Urban Semester) is no longer offered. If you’re interested in learning more about the similarly structured Community Internships in Latin America program, please click here.