For several years, the College of Arts and Sciences of Georgia State University has supported a Latin American Studies Consortium for the University of Georgia System. The original intent behind this college support was that other units in the system would contribute to the program so Georgia could develop a state wide effort to promote Latin American and Latino studies. In 1998 the members of the Latin American Studies Consortium of Georgia State University created a center in the College of Arts and Sciences to specifically address the goals and mission of the university with regard to the study of Latin American and Latino culture and history.
The creation of CLALS has also responded to important local and regional demographic changes. Over the past two decades, the number of individuals of Latin American and Latino origin in Georgia has grown from an almost insignificant number to over 600,000. Currently, in metropolitan Atlanta, there are over 350,000 Latinos supporting one television station, five radio stations, several newspapers, dance, theater, and art groups, and numerous cultural events including the Latin American Film Festival at the High Museum of Art.
At Georgia State University, the increased presence of Hispanic/Latinos on the campus and in the greater metropolitan area was recognized by the establishment by President Carl Patton of a Hispanic Heritage Week to be held each October. These demographic and cultural facts coincide with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and with the ongoing talks for the future establishment of similar trade agreements with other Latin American countries. These agreements significantly increase the importance of Latin America to the economy and culture of Georgia in general and Atlanta in particular.
Given these economic, cultural and demographic trends, there is a need in Atlanta for a research and outreach center where the opportunities and challenges presented by the emerging presence in the region can be addressed, where Georgia State University's already important role in the Latin American and Latino community can be further emphasized, and where the public in general, and Georgia State University students in particular, can be educated on the growing importance of Latin American culture, economy, and politics in the United States and the world.