Dr. Miguel A. De La Torre of the Hope College religion faculty is part of a team of scholars developing a documentary on the Americas that will be released via the Public Broadcasting Service.
The project, "Two Americas: The Legacy of Our Hemisphere," will consider the Western Hemisphere as dominated by two cultures, one shaped primarily by England and the other by Spain. The five-part miniseries is being prepared, according to the production team, in light of the way that the two cultures are increasingly brought into contact, particularly through the current, on-going wave of Latin American immigration into the U.S.
"With this trend likely to continue, we need a deeper understanding of the forces that have shaped our rapidly shrinking hemisphere," the team notes in its online overview of the project.
The series will explore the origins and character of both cultures in examining the challenges of the present.
"By examining the collective history of the two Americas, we discover two great ironies: The U.S. has developed a culture founded on the ideals of liberty and freedom yet has struggled to extend those ideals to people of all races and ethnic groups," the team explains. "Conversely, in Latin America, a group of cultures often formed by ruthless conquest has nevertheless managed to develop a greater degree of racial and ethnic harmony."
The team has approached the project believing that both cultures can learn from each other.
"We can begin to see [the immigrants'] arrival not as a threat but as an opportunity to continue invigorating our society with the vitality and enterprise of newcomers. We can discover how these newcomers bring with them a less rigid racial attitude that can help enrich our nation with the bounty of diversity and the virtue of tolerance. Once here, like the many immigrants who have come before, they will learn to cherish the ideals of democracy that have made the U.S. a beacon of freedom for the world."
The series will personalize the history by sharing the stories of several real-life characters, including explorer John Cabot; conquistador Francisco Pizarro; Amador DeLares, a Spanish noble who brought the first slaves to Cuba; Pachacutti, the ninth Inca, who became leader of the Incas in 1483; Jane Fuller, a Mayflower colonist; and Jim, a slave in 1800s Kentucky.
The film team is led by Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is the W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities at Howard University. In addition to De La Torre, other scholars on the team include Dr. Oscar Alvarez Gila, professor of history at the Universidad del Pais Vasco in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain; Dr. Franklin W. Knight, who is the Leonard and Helen R. Stulman Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University; and Dr. Richard W. Slatta, professor of history at North Carolina State University.
The series is being developed by B/R/C Productions, a division of B/R/C Marketing Inc. of Dayton, Ohio. The executive producer is Daniel B. Polin, president and founder of Great Projects Film Company.