Three students win Michael Baptista Essay Prize for outstanding scholarly papers


Three students have won this year’s Michael Baptista Essay Prize for outstanding scholarly papers relevant to Latin American and Caribbean Studies, announced the Centre for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean at York University (CERLAC).

CERLAC LOGO_2014Usually, $500 is awarded to both an undergraduate and graduate essay winner. This year, two students won at the graduate level – they will share the prize – and one at the undergraduate level.

Jorge Villatoro of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies won for his undergraduate paper, “The Emergence of the Regional Cult of El Señor de Esquipulas.”

As one judge said, “This paper offers a very thorough and insightful analysis of the emergence of the cult of El Señor de Esquipulas in the town of Esquipulas [Guatemala]. This is a superb research paper with a well-defined topic, precise and cohesive sections, and an elegant organization. There is ample evidence throughout the paper that this student is well on his way of becoming an independent scholar.

“Indeed, working with ample sources the author goes on to challenge existing explanations of the origin of the cult and to postulate his own interpretation with a clear and theoretically informed rhetorical voice. Moreover, using an interdisciplinary and comparative approach, the author situates himself within current debates about the significance of religious pilgrimage and the rise of Esquipulas as a pilgrimage centre. In sum, this paper is a prime example of undergraduate research at its best.”

At the graduate level, Nadia Halum Arauz of Osgoode Hall Law School won for her paper, “Atahualpa’s Legacy: Analyzing the Impact of Gold Mining on Peru’s Campesino Community,” and Jenna Meguid, also of Osgoode, won for her essay, “Colombia’s Peace Talks.”

One judge said Arauz’s essay “is not only very carefully and analytically argued, but it is also based on primary, as well as secondary sources. That is, it is particularly well researched. The essay is also original…. In addition, this work is very well and clearly written. It develops its arguments with great care and precision. In sum, the paper manifests exceptional research, exceptionally cogent and analytically developed arguments, originality and an elegant, well-organized presentation.”

Meguid’s essay was called by one of the judges “a careful analysis of the current peace negotiations in Colombia. Working with relatively little material on this process, the paper develops a number of important insights into the ongoing challenges and possible outcomes of the peace talks between the FARC and the Government of Colombia.”

Another judge said Meguid’s work “is very carefully and well argued, analytically cogent and well-written. I am very impressed … by the critical intelligence with which it systematically dissects a very difficult set of issues.”

The essays were nominated by York faculty members and evaluated by two committees of CERLAC Fellows (a separate committee for each level of prize). All three prize-winning papers will be available online as part of CERLAC’s Baptista Prize-Winning Essays Series.

All of the nominated papers represent high-calibre scholarly work at their authors’ respective levels of study, and merit recognition as worthy of candidacy for this prize. The other undergraduate papers nominated for the 2014 prize were: Collette Murray’s “Global Migration and Diaspora Cultures” and Maia Foster’s “The Fight for the Forest.” The other graduate-level nominees were: Julian Gutierrez Castano’s “The Racialization of Forced Displacement in Colombia”; Abigail Henry’s “Codeswitching in the Church: The Cultural Significance of the Jamaican New Testament”; Kevin Chrisman’s “Visualizing Los Pobres in Mexico City: Space, Gender and National Identity in Feature Films, 1948-1979”; and Vanesa Tomasino Rodriguez’s  “Subjectivity and Space: Orchestrating and uncontested perception of Pandilleros in El Salvador.”

The Michael Baptista Essay Prize was established by the friends of Michael Baptista and the Royal Bank of Canada. The prize consists of $500 awarded annually to both a graduate and an undergraduate student at York University in recognition of an outstanding scholarly essay of relevance to the area of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, from a humanities, social science, business or legal perspective. The Michael Baptista Essay Prize and Lecture are named in honour of Michael Baptista in recognition of the areas central to his spirit and success: the importance of his Guyanese/Caribbean roots, his dedication to and outstanding achievement at the Royal Bank of Canada, and his continued and unqualified drive and love of learning.

For more information, see the call for nominations for the 2015 prize.

York faculty members who wish to nominate a student essay for the prize should contact CERLAC at