by George Zamora
SOCORRO, N.M., April 3, 2007 – New Mexico Tech foreign languages professor Rafael Lara-Martinez has been awarded a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program grant in the humanities and will spend the last four months of this year teaching at universities in El Salvador.
Under the prestigious program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Lara-Martinez, a native of El Salvador, will also be able to conduct further research into one of his specialized areas of study — the genocide of Salvadoran Indian groups during the 1930s and 1940s in his home country.
“At about the same time that I will be on my Fulbright, the University of New Mexico Press is scheduled to publish a book I recently co-authored with two other colleagues, which deals specifically with these types of massacres that occurred in El Salvador,” Lara-Martinez points out.
The Fulbright U.S. Scholars Program sends about 1,100 American scholars and professionals each year to more than 130 countries, where the funding allows them to lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.
At New Mexico Tech, Lara-Martinez teaches Spanish, and Latin American and Hispanic studies, and has been instrumental in developing a Hispanic Studies minor at the university through the school’s Department of Humanities.
Prior to his arrival at New Mexico Tech in 1994, Lara-Martinez was an assistant professor of foreign languages at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. He also has taught at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Hastings College in Hastings, Neb., and at several universities in El Salvador, Mexico, and France.
Lara-Martinez earned his doctorate in semiotics and linguistics at the University of La Sorbonne in Paris. His research fields of interest are in semiotics, or the study of language forms; cultural criticism; Latin American culture and history; regionalist and Indigenista novels; and the poetics and politics of ethnography.
Lara-Martinez’s teaching and research interests also encompass Latin America’s unique cultural history, literature, and poetry — especially the region’s politically committed poetry.
“Literature and poetry in Latin America are very different in that they are not isolated from political life and public life,” explains Lara-Martinez. “You cannot separate art from politics in Latin America; and it’s that specific link that I continue to pursue throughout my research.”
In addition to his soon-to-be-published UNM Press book, Lara-Martinez has several other published books to his credit, including an anthology of the poetry of fellow Salvadoran Roque Dalton, who was a founder of a guerilla movement that started around San Salvador, and who was killed in 1975, almost at the beginning of the Salvadoran Civil War.
Another of Lara-Martinez’s books, Salarrué, o El Mito de Creación de la Sociedad Mestiza Salvadoreña, depicts the calculated genocide of a Salvadoran Indian tribe, which actually took place in 1932.
More recently, he wrote another book on the genocide that will be published in El Salvador: Balsamera bajo la Guerra Fria — El Salvador en 1932 (Historia Intellectual de un Etnocidio).
“Fiction is the only place where those Indians have their say,” Lara-Martinez asserts. “A lot of the more traditionally written forms of history fail to acknowledge that history is essentially about people, what people believe or remember, and what happens to those people and how they experience the facts.”