Hispanic Culture in Focus

Three CUNY Institutes Explore Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican Experiences and Connections With the U.S.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage

As CUNY campuses marked the 30th annual Hispanic Heritage Month — from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — with exhibits, talks and other events, the institutes were also engaged in, and initiating, long-term scholarship and public-facing projects aimed at deepening knowledge and illuminating the critical and rich experiences and contributions of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico, and at finding solutions to problems.

From a pioneering exploration of Dominican music in the United States to academic and cultural exchanges with Mexican universities, to ongoing research on the wave of Puerto Ricans emigrating to the U.S. following the island’s devastation by Hurricane Maria, CUNY’s three Hispanic-focused institutes are embarking on exciting and groundbreaking scholarship and projects.

As CUNY campuses marked the 30th annual Hispanic Heritage Month — from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 — with exhibits, talks and other events, the institutes were also engaged in, and initiating, long-term scholarship and public-facing projects aimed at deepening knowledge and illuminating the critical and rich experiences and contributions of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Puerto Rico, and at finding solutions to problems. Each institute has an extensive array of projects.

Highlights include:
The 26-year-old CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI), based at City College, has won a three-year “Digital Projects for the Public” grant of $100,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities for A History of Dominican Music in the U.S. The three-year research project will create an interactive, online multimedia platform narrating nearly 100 years of Dominican music in the U.S. from the 1920s to the present. It draws from extensive archival documents and audiovisual material owned by CUNY DSI, which has also secured rights to include long-forgotten historic TV footage “that will astonish those interacting with the website,” said Institute Director Ramona Hernandez. “We’ve got footage where Ed Sullivan comes out and announces the appearance on his show of three Dominican women sisters – singers and dancers,” said Hernandez. “You go crazy when you see this.”

CUNY DSI and Queens College also announced in September the QC/CUNY DSI Dominican Studies Scholars Initiative and the appointment of Sandy Placido as its first Dominican Studies Scholar. This fall Placido is working with Hernandez and Diogenes Cespedes on a co-authored book about overlooked Dominican women. In the spring, she will begin as a tenure-track professor in Queens’s history department, where her teaching will include a new course, Activist-Intellectuals of the Caribbean Diaspora.

The collaboration aims to recruit stellar candidates to increase faculty engaged in Dominican Studies scholarship at Queens, City College and CUNY; faculty from underrepresented groups, and young scholars in cutting-edge research. The Dominican Studies Scholars will split time between research at CUNY DSI and teaching at Queens for three years.

Placido, born in the Bronx to working-class migrants from the Dominican Republic, was inspired to research 20th century Dominican history by conversations with her parents about why they emigrated. As a Yale undergraduate her research on Dominican feminism and migration brought her to CUNY DSI. She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from Harvard in 2017. “It is an exceptional honor to return to the place where I began my career as a scholar educator,” she said.

The Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute at CUNY, founded in 2012, signed early this year unprecedented agreements with eight of Mexico’s top public universities to strengthen cooperation and promote mutual understanding; the agreements are expected to lead to student and faculty exchange opportunities and bilateral research projects.

Celebrating that development and leading into Hispanic Heritage Month, a major, six-week exhibition of 20th-century Mexican painting masterpieces was presented at Lehman, said institute Deputy Director José Higuera López. The exhibit, “Pitando: Colors of Education,” featured more than three dozen paintings by renowned Mexican artists, depicting Mexico’s national heroes, landscapes and symbolic images. The institute is also a supporter of the Celebrate Mexico Now Festival this fall, which in its 15 years has showcased more than 300 contemporary Mexican artists in 97 venues across New York.

The institute, with Lehman’s Department of Latin American and Latino Studies, has also announced an intensive winter study abroad course in Mexico focused on Mexican migration. From Jan. 8-20, 2019, led by Higuera, Lehman associate professor Alyshia Galvez, and Emilio Maceda, Ph.D. candidate in Regional Development, Universidad Autonoma de Tlaxcala. Students will visit three regions in Mexico to learn about the dynamics of migration by interacting with civic and academic institutions and families whose members have migrated to the U.S. Spanning themes ranging from migration and culture to health, food and trade, the course includes a home stay with a family, lectures and visits to educational, cultural and historic sites.

The 45-year-old Center for Puerto Rican Studies, at Hunter College (Centro), has been monitoring the outmigration of Puerto Ricans in the 12 months since Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Centro announced in September that an estimated 159,000 residents, but possibly up to 176,000, have left the Caribbean island for the U.S., primarily for Miami and New York as the pace of recovery and reconstruction languished. “This rate of emigration from Puerto Rico is unprecedented in Puerto Rican history,” said Edwin Meléndez, director of the center and professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College. The figures were calculated by Centro.

In response to the hurricane catastrophe, Centro and the University of Puerto Rico’s School of Planning, partnering with other organizations, launched the Rebuild Puerto Rico Initiative, including a series of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans Diaspora Summits to connect organizations and persons in Puerto Rico with diaspora Puerto Ricans who want to join efforts to rebuild.

Centro, along with CUNY DSI and the Mexican Studies Institute, have also together organized a series of conferences under the banner Summit on Latinos (SoL-NYC), to convene broad segments of the Hispanic community in New York City “to craft an action agenda that may lead to its implementation in public policy to address and rectify the inequalities Hispanics in the city face,” said Carlos Vargas-Ramos of Centro.