FUKUOKA — Tiempo Iberoamericano, Kyushu’s first Latin American cultural center, opened here recently in response to the growing needs of the Latin American community and the increasing interest of Japanese.

“Until now, there hasn’t really been one cultural center for the Iber-American community,” said Santiago Herrera, executive director of the center. “Tiempo Iberoamericano is the first of its kind in both Kyushu and Japan.”

The purpose of the center is to promote cultural exchanges through the teaching of Spanish and Portuguese, offer referrals for legal and medical assistance to local Latin Americans, fund and maintain a library of literature in Spanish and Portuguese, promote bilateral home-stay programs and provide Latin American cuisine and cooking lessons through a family-style kitchen. Last month, a three-day festival held by Tiempo Iberoamericano and supported by the Mexican and Spanish embassies drew 500 people. Herrera said many Japanese hoping to study Spanish, tango or salsa were on hand for the event.

“We have a large number of Japanese supporting us,” Herrera said. “I sense that there is a strong interest on their part in the culture of Iber-America.” The center offers a full range of classes in both Spanish and Portuguese. Students can sign up for the beginner, intermediate or advanced courses. Tuition runs between 15,000 yen and 30,000 yen, and the courses last three months.

Japanese-language classes are also available for foreign residents. “Prior to the establishment of the center, there were lots of students at local Spanish and Portuguese schools,” Herrera said. “But what was lacking was a serious program of study that offered some form of continuity.”

One of the center’s activities that has drawn an enthusiastic response from both the Latin American and Japanese communities has been the plans for regular showings of Spanish- and Portuguese-language films. “Obviously, the local theaters don’t show a lot of Spanish-language films, so we’re hoping to show as many films as possible,” Herrera said.

Why establish a Latin American center in Kyushu? “There are several reasons,” he said, pointing out the historical precedents. The Portuguese came to Nagasaki in 1570, on the heels of Spaniard St. Francis Xavier’s arrival in Kagoshima.

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