Mission & History

The mission of the UC Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) is to foster and support new ideas and research by bringing together academics, artists and community members from Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States, and the world to engage with the Berkeley campus and larger Bay Area community.

Our Mission

The mission of the UC Berkeley Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) is to foster and support new ideas and research by bringing together academics, artists and community members from Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States, and the world to engage with the Berkeley campus and larger Bay Area community. We do this through supporting Berkeley faculty and student research; hosting events that are free and open to the public, and creating a community of Latin American and Latin Americanist scholars, students, artists, and community members. 

Our History

The University of California, Berkeley, Center for Latin American Studies began in 1950 as the Latin American Colloquium. It was formed by Latin Americanists from many departments across campus. In 1955, the Colloquium petitioned the UC Berkeley Institute of International Studies to become a formally recognized unit under its auspices. The original petition letter argued:

"We believe not only that the present importance of Latin American studies at Berkeley warrants such major status, but also that Latin America as an important world area should be one of those selected by the Institute for special emphasis in the development of International Studies on this campus. Today there are well over thirty scholars on this faculty engaged in research or teaching, or both, in the Latin American field. They represent a dozen disciplines in the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences, and constitute the largest and most diversified group of Latin American specialists at any university in the United States." 

The petition was approved, and the Colloquium was changed to the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS). The founding Chair was a professor of Urban Planning, Dr. Francis Violich. The mission of CLAS was shared in the University Catalog: 

“The primary function of the Center for Latin American Studies is to encourage and facilitate research. It seeks to accomplish this by stimulating interchange among scholars in various disciplines, exploring means to support individual and group research, and sponsoring occasional conferences and guiding the acquisition of research materials. The center has an interest in teaching reflected in the participation of its members in both graduate and undergraduate instruction.” 

Official operations at CLAS started in 1958. Since then, the Center has grown in new and inventive ways, while staying true to its roots of supporting Latin American studies for faculty, students, and the greater community. Below are just a few highlights of the Center’s history:

  • 1962: CLAS hosted Jorge Luis Borges, Argentinian writer
  • 1966: CLAS hosted Pablo Neruda, who recorded a poem at Berkeley
  • 1970: The Center supported at least 15 Chilean students each year at Berkeley through the University of Chile-University of California Convenio
  • 1981: Berkeley was named a “National Resource Center” by the US Department of Education, a designation that was at the time shared with Stanford University. CLAS continues as a National Resource Center today.
  • 1982: CLAS and the Department of Spanish & Portuguese brought Julio Cortázar to Berkeley for his only teaching appointment in the United States
  • 1993: Beatriz Manz, the first Latina full professor at Berkeley, was named the CLAS Chair
  • 1997: Carlos Chamorro, Nicaraguan journalist, was a Visiting Scholar at CLAS
  • 1998: Harley Shaiken, Professor of Geography and Education, was named CLAS Chair
  • 2007: CLAS hosted an art exhibit of Fernando Botero’s Abu Grahib collection on the Berkeley campus.
  • 2011: Michelle Bachelet, Chilean President, taught a course for Berkeley students at CLAS
  • 2017: Ricardo Lagos, Chilean President, visited CLAS and met with California Governor Jerry Brown. Dilma Rousseff, Brazilian President, visited CLAS.