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Future Latin American leaders using Tucson as their training ground

UArizona's "SUSI" program is back in-person after a pandemic pause
"SUSI" participants pose after convening in Tucson.
Posted at 9:22 PM, Sep 25, 2022

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The University of Arizona is empowering young women from Latin America by bringing them to Tucson for a two-week leadership institute.

It’s part of the university’s “Studies of United States Institute” — or “SUSI” — organized by the Department of Latin American Studies.

The program began in 2008. It is funded by the U.S. State Department and is held entirely in Spanish.

It welcomes select young women who already excel in their home communities, building them to become even better leaders.

“They are strong,” said Marcela Vásquez-León, director of SUSI and the Department of Latin American Studies. “They know who they are. And they do wanna do a lot more in Latin America.”

With young women from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay and Mexico, this year’s group is the first to visit the U.S. since the pandemic. For the last two years, groups participated virtually.

SUSI teaches them how to approach, discuss and tackle issues ranging from politics and immigration to the environment and drought.

“The main objective is the empowerment, community empowerment,” said Joaquin Murrietta, an ecologist with the Watershed Management Group who teaches SUSI members about that empowerment.

“To make decisions. To make our communities vibrant. Our communities thrive. With the female perspective.”

“They learn not only about Arizona but they also learn about the border, Tucson, the culture here," said Kristal Ambar Natera Tufic, a UArizona graduate from Venezuela who now is a mentor for SUSI participants.

“The idea is to show them a complete picture of the United States,” she said. “And I think Arizona and Tucson is the perfect place to do that… You know, when they’re all together, they’re meeting all these girls and women from different communities, from different backgrounds… different [vocabulary]. So I think a huge part of it is the collective, just learning from each other.”

One thing the women share: an indigenous or afro-descendent background.

“Their voices are very important,” said Vásquez-León. “And they have been kept on the side of history. On the side of politics. On the side of economics… I think if we don’t allow a different perspective in this world, then we’ll end up destroying ourselves.”

The goal is to strengthen not only the women here, but also their communities after they return home.