Dear Una Madura Verde,
Thank you for the time and consideration you invested in writing your open letter to the Spanish and Latin American Society (SUSLAS) in the ACAR edition of Honi Soit. We appreciate your feedback; it has encouraged us to critically reflect on the purpose, functions and goals of the society. In your letter, you identified four examples of SUSLAS’s failings.
You suggested that SUSLAS is “Eurocentric” and fails to adequately recognise Latin American cultures.
SUSLAS has made a concerted effort to ensure that it embraces Latin American cultures.
1. In 2011, the society’s name was changed from the ‘Spanish Society’ to the ‘Spanish and Latin American Society,’ a major step towards making the society a more inclusive space. The primacy of the word ‘Spanish’ is not an “insist[ence] that Spain precedes Latin America.” Rather, it reflects the society’s major focus on the Spanish language.
2. In the past year, the society has attended the Sydney Latin American Film Festival, Cuban salsa nights, Latin American film screenings and, most recently, a Mariachi night. We have also encouraged participation in academic cultural events run by SURCLA, the Sydney University Research Community for Latin America.
You recommended that SUSLAS “educate [its] executive and members about Latin American foreign relations.” The executive, composed of 10 people with differing degrees of connection to Latin America, cannot claim to adequately represent the myriad cultures and identities of Latin America. The executive’s role is to facilitate cultural understanding; it would be inappropriate for them to seek to “educate” others about “Latin American foreign relations.” If you have further concrete suggestions of how the executive and members could better do this, please don’t hesitate to share them with SUSLAS.
Your recommendation that SUSLAS use flags from Latin American nations is very valid. We will ensure that such flags are used in the future, so that Latin American nations are better visually represented at SUSLAS events.
You suggested the SUSLAS fails to adequately acknowledge Indigenous Australians and Indigenous Latin American populations. Any past failures to recognise Indigenous populations at our more formal events has been an oversight and we apologise for this.
You commented on SUSLAS’s failure to use gender neutral language. The few instances in which this has occurred have been the result of honest mistakes where members of the executive, who did not speak fluent Spanish and did not understand the usage of ‘@,’ neglected to use it. Nevertheless, thank you for pointing out this oversight; we will strive to ensure it does not happen again.
You suggested that SUSLAS’s executive elections are undemocratic, and that only “friends or… partners get into positions of power” due to “pre-existing alliances.”
1. The friendships between SUSLAS executives developed through mutual participation in SUSLAS, not independently of it.
2. SUSLAS’ executives are generally elected based on their merit and dedication to the society, which they have demonstrated by actively and consistently participating in events, and by having an interest in or connection to the Spanish speaking world. This electoral trend ensures that executives are actually committed to the society and aren’t simply using executive positions to pad out their CVs.
In your open letter, you referenced the SUSLAS Annual General Meeting last year. At this meeting, you nominated yourself for a number of executive positions, having only attending one or two SUSLAS events. Conversely, the other nominees had actively participated in SUSLAS over an extended period of time. Your failure to be elected was not the result of a fixed, undemocratic election, but reflected educated, reasonable voting. After the meeting, having recognised your passion for and understanding of Latin American cultures, a number of SUSLAS members earnestly encouraged you to continue to participate in the society. As such, we were puzzled at your assertion: “you have made it clear that this is your society and not mine.”
Overall, SUSLAS tries to create an inclusive, welcoming and non-judgemental environment in which members can speak Spanish, learn about the cultures of the Spanish speaking world, and make friends along the way. We have received a large amount of positive feedback from many members, both new and old.
Finally, SUSLAS will be holding a General Meeting on Monday 21 September from 4-5pm at the Barnard Eldershaw Room in Manning. It would be wonderful if you came along. You are clearly incredibly passionate about your Latin@ identity and the society would undoubtedly be enriched by your ideas and experiences.