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Roland Roebuck gives a presentation at a panel on the politics of identity as part of "The African Americas" symposium exploring cross-racial issues. [Sidi Gomes/The Daily Pennsylvanian ]

Although some feel that the University does not do enough to deal with cross-racial and ethnic differences, many academics are striving to explore these issues to the fullest. This past week, the joint project of the Greater Philadelphia Latin American Studies Consortium, the Center for Africana Studies and the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Penn co-hosted a two-day symposium entitled "The African Americas," taking place mainly in Logan Hall. Sociology Department Chairman Douglas Massey, the official commentator on the "Politics of Identity," addressed the increasing importance of cross-national events between the U.S. and Latin American countries. "These two worlds are increasingly colliding in the wake of globalization," Massey said. A keynote address on Thursday given by Professor Michael Hanchard, director of the Institute for Diasporic Studies at Northwestern University, set the conference in motion. It was followed on Friday by a day of panels relating to the experiences of people of African descent in the Americas. The speakers presented topics in three separate panels -- Religion, Politics of Identity and Expressive Culture. Representing a large number of countries and institutions, presentations were made in both English and Spanish, with translations provided for the latter. "At Penn, both folks at the Centers for Africana and Latino Studies are really committed to creating areas of joint energy, ways of working together and awareness of the Americas as a transnational space," said Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, professor of history and a co-organizer of the event with Tukufu Zuberi, the director of the Center for Africana Studies. One focus of the conference was learning about the vast differences in how countries look at color and ethnicity. Massey explained the difference between the "one drop" method of color classification in the U.S. and the system in Latin America, which allows for more nuances of color, but also prevents some of the community cohesion that is so prevalent in the U.S. The conference provided a cross-cultural experience in more than just an academic fashion. Angela Luhning, a panelist from Brazil whose talk was entitled "Pierre Fatumbi Verger: Go Between as Anthropological Method," had never been to the U.S. before. She was initially worried about making the trip to New York City and Philadelphia due to terrorist threats, but in the end, she felt the experience was positive. "I like to look and hear," she said. "It was very good for me to look, to observe, to hear the American view on the African-American culture. It's very different than Brazil. It was very good for me. I loved it." Roland Roebuck, the Latino program manager for the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services, also realized the significance of the event. "I thought it was important to participate, because as an Afro-Caribbean, I feel that these venues offer opportunities to establish networks of collaboration, not only in the United States, but in the Caribbean and Latin America as well," Roebuck said. He also stressed that it was important for the conference to be attended not only by people of African descent but by others as well.

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