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Daniela Spenser

CIESAS/Mexico City

Daniela Spenser has been a researcher at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social in Mexico City since 1980. She joined CIESAS to participate in a group project dealing with the history of the German entrepreneurial community in Mexico since the nineteenth century, during the Second World War and the postwar years. That research led her to a long-standing interest in political history. Spenser has worked on the history of Mexican and Latin American communism and the study of the cold war. Her publications in Mexico and in the United States have become standard classroom assignments. Chief among them are El triángulo imposible: México, Rusia Soviética y Estados Unidos en los años veinte, foreword by Friedrich Katz (2008, second edition 2004; published in English as The Impossible Triangle (Duke University Press, 1999), based on research in the Soviet archives; Los primeros tropiezos de la Internacional Comunista en México (1999), in English as Stumbling Its Way through Mexico (University of Alabama Press, 2011); editor of Espejos de la guerra fría: México, América Central y el Caribe (2004), and coeditor with Gilbert M. Joseph of In from the Cold: Latin America’s New Encounters with the Cold War (Duke University Press, 2008).

Spenser was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Following the Soviet-led military invasion in 1968, she left for England, studied Spanish and Latin American literature at King’s College, London, and anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science. In 1972 she immigrated to Mexico and lived and worked in Chiapas for a number of years, with Paolo Freire’s texts under her arm. Spenser earned her MA degree at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Latin American studies and a PhD in Latin American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, under the guidance of Gilbert Joseph.

Currently, Spenser is finishing a biography of the Mexican politician and labor leader Vicente Lombardo Toledano (1894–1968), a controversial figure in Mexico’s labor history. Through a study of the personal in multiple contexts, she seeks to narrate and analyze the many sides of Mexico’s twentieth-century political and social, domestic and transnational trajectory. Research for this book was underwritten by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

Spenser Statement

As we are entering the unpredictable year of 2016, Latin American Studies Association’s experience, at 50, provides a rich reservoir of ideas about the social, political, cultural, economic, and linguistic processes that have brought us to this coyuntura. At the same time, LASA’s collective spirit offers a unique opportunity to face the future with cautious and creative optimism.

LASA has always stimulated innovative research, teaching initiatives, and transnational networking, and it cannot do otherwise in the coming years. We face several unforeseen scenarios, stemming from a number of recent factors: (1) the presidential election in the United States, the result of which will affect two major areas: migrations policies to the United States and the initiated and unfinished normalization of diplomatic, commercial, political, and migration relations with Cuba; (2) recent elections in Argentina; (3) recent elections in Venezuela; (4) peace agreements between the FARC and the Colombian government; (5) the violation of human rights; (6) the “Guatemalan Spring”; (7) the security factor stemming from terrorism, holdover from old colonialisms and new shifts in local and international alignments; (8) rising economic debts; (9) rampant corruption; (10) rising poverty; (11) stagnant development, to name those areas that will shape the immediate social, political, cultural, and economic environment in the new year.

As an international association in a trouble-driven area, LASA has never shied away from confronting difficult issues intellectually and politically. This I hope will continue. In order to fulfill its mandates and the collective spirit that has motivated it so far, LASA will no doubt embark on retrospective and prospective examinations of our region from the multidisciplinary perspectives that have characterized it in order to reexamine how we have come this far, examine critically where and why our analysis have misled us, and glean from them new pointers.

In the globalized world, I envisage LASA as making fruitful connections with other specialized associations, beyond the current sections, in order to complement our understanding of the world in which we live and examine in our work.