L@tino Scholar Spotlight: Dr. Armando Chávez Rivera, Associate Professor, University of Houston-Victoria

By María Isabel Molestina-Kurlat

Dr ChavezRivera Picture at the NYPL
Armando Chávez Rivera, Ph.D. is a corresponding member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language (ANLE) and a Scholar in Residence at the Kluge Center, Library of Congress (August 2018-June 2019)

I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of the expression: It’s a small world after all. In popular culture, it’s known as part of the lyrics of a song with the same title. Written by Robert B. Sherman and produced by Disney, the song is described as the most-played, most-translated and most-hair-pullingly-catchy tune on Earth and has been an anthem for children for decades. The world of rare books and manuscripts is just as small, but also very special. Not only because of the books and manuscripts (those are obviously amazing), but because of the people. The countless librarians, archivists, curators, historians, writers, independent researchers and many others that come together to explore and discover remarkable things inside the archives. Due to this commingling of minds and ideas, a magical event called networking often takes place and that’s how I e-met Prof. Armando Chavez-Rivera – through my dear library school classmate and esteemed colleague Ray Pun (big shout out to Ray who is awesome too!). It was via email that Ray connected Armando and me for the first time and shortly thereafter he visited the Morgan’s Reading Room to consult material related to his research on Cuban culture, literature and history and Cuban writers and intellectuals in NYC since XIX century. With this introduction, Armando and I began a conversation about the Spanish Language and possibilities for future joint projects.

Check out the fruit of our first collaboration in the interview below and learn more about Prof. Chavez-Rivera’s passion for libraries, archives, and most importantly el idioma español.

Tell us a bit about yourself; what sparked your interest in the study of the Spanish language, and Lexicography in particular?

An experience that proved to be decisive was finding forgotten and lost manuscripts written by Spanish American and Cuban intellectuals. These manuscripts revealed their authors’ interest in making an inventory of its own voices and idioms. Some of these documents were prepared as stand-alone documents, but I found others that were drafts, unpublished manuscripts or travelers’ notes. In all of those documents there is a constant idea: that identity and national culture are closely linked to the development of a regional variant of the language.

Would you please describe in detail your role as Assistant Professor of Spanish and Director of the Spanish Program at the University of Houston-Victoria and your trajectory to this position?

My work as a professor and director of the Spanish Program takes into account the geographical proximity of the border with Mexico/Latin America, the migratory flow, and the presence of multicultural communities in Texas. These circumstances determine the backgrounds and expectations of the students. Therefore, I work to strengthen their knowledge and appreciation of the Spanish language and the Hispanic culture in the USA among Anglo-American students, as well as encouraging the Hispanic students to achieve a better knowledge about their origins. I show them the fascinating history of Spanish and its expansion throughout the world. In addition, I strive to liberate them from the stereotypes about Hispanic culture and language.

Can you share with us how living in different countries (Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, your native Cuba and now the USA) has shaped and contributed to your research on language?

Traveling through Spanish America over twenty years allowed me to become aware of the different dialects and variants of the language and has helped me to understand each society. When I travel, I activate my linguistic radar in order to detect the richness of specific words and idioms of each place and associate them with crucial aspects of the local identity, but also with specific social situations. In my research, I never underestimate economic, political and historical circumstances that influenced the emergence of voices and idioms loaded with strength and color.

What are your thoughts on the connection between language and memory?

I am interested in testimonials, especially when this genre is elaborated from a dialogue or a conversation using a colloquial or familiar style that allows the emergence of quotidian and supposedly insignificant details, which prove to be very revealing. I am also interested in the work of bilingual intellectuals; their pristine evocations about their childhoods are tied to the first language of each one. In addition, I am attracted to books by foreigners who visited Spanish American territories and then left works in which each society is recalled through its own voices and expressions. I am interested in that perspective of the foreigner who, from his or her language, tries to explain the reality and language of others.

At any point in your research do you do you touch upon bilingualism or/and multilingualism in relation to the study/acquisition of language? Is this area of interest?

I approach that topic from my teaching experience. Some of my students are bilingual and others have a diverse proficiency level in Spanish. Their Spanish proficiency is often restricted by certain sociocultural and regional particularities. Therefore, I attempt to make sure that those students know the language according to the diastratic, diaphasic and diatopic varieties. My goal for my students is that they understand the culture of their ancestors, but also that they have access to a high standard, cultivated and professional Spanish.

What is your current research project?

I have just finished the transcription and editing of the first inventory of Cuban voices prepared conjointly by Spanish American intellectuals in the context of their own society, the city of Havana in 1830. I have dedicated five years to that project. It is an unpublished manuscript, which was believed lost forever and therefore even its existence was in doubt. This document is evidence of the hard work of that first golden generation of creole intellectuals in Cuba and their contacts with Spain, and how they intended the island to be visible to the world. This manuscript was prepared using the sum of literary, linguistic and scientific knowledge of five participants, notable figures of the culture at the beginning of the 19th century in Havana. This document is a very important link in the history of Spanish language in Cuba and Spanish America. I am sure that it will become a reference in the books dedicated to regional lexicography history in Spanish America.

Can you share with us any project or initiative dealing with Latin American or Latino communities?

One of my research projects was designed to recover the life experiences of Cuban intellectuals living outside the island, in different areas of the USA, Europe, and Latin America. That project was originally my field work for a master’s thesis in Argentina and it ended up being converted into Cuba per se, a 575 page book. Some of the fifty intellectuals who gave their testimony for that book have already passed away. For some of them, those pages are a testimony to the future, a statement in the midst of forgetfulness and precariousness suffered by many emigrants and exiles. I planned that project while I was away from Cuba for a short time and, somehow, it became an anteroom to what would come later in my life in the USA.

Can you describe how working in libraries and archives has been paramount in your research on language, and the importance of accessing primary sources for the scholarship of the study of the Spanish language and to the field of Lexicography?

There are real treasures of the Spanish language in the US archives and libraries; documents that were written by Hispanics in this country or brought in suitcases of immigrants and exiles. Those documents are not digitized; sometimes, their existence and content are unknown, or they have not been transcribed. I release them from their long sleep in boxes and on shelves. The search for documents related to Cuba has been an adventure full of surprises. However, it is slow work because of the problems inherent in the transcription of fragile, mutilated and illegible pages. It is a job that requires dedication and patience to achieve results. 

What has been the most rewarding (or challenging) aspect of your career, thus far?

The biggest challenge has been readjusting myself in each migratory stage of my life to the very diverse professional, cultural and linguistic environments. I moved from cultural journalism to the academia, from a Caribbean island to the Andean and South Cone regions, from the Spanish-speaking to the Anglo-American context. I have tried to achieve promotion, continuity and coherence in my personal life and professional career. I wanted each stage to be personal enrichment, even when it seemed like I was jumping into a profound hole, an uncontrolled spin, or self-mutilation. All those migrations involved professional readjustments and have required immense effort, but the result has been gratifying.

Finally, you have an extensive (and impressive!) resume of publications, including books, articles, and presentations – what advice can you give to an aspiring Latino/a/x student interested in pursuing a career in academia?

It is certainly important to put forth a great deal of dedication, energy and optimism if you want to have a career in environments where the dominant culture is different from your own. One has to understand the rules well, and articulate clearly the projects to which you are devoted. Follow lines of research that are close to your heart, work hard in and for them.

 

 

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L@tino Scholar Spotlight: Dr. Ernesto Quiñonez, Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at Cornell University

By María Isabel Molestina-Kurlat

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“I think you’re worth all the souls in hell. thass thousands of more souls than there are in heavan. So you’re worth a lot, pana.”

The above quote is from the acclaimed novel Bodega Dreams by Ernesto Quiñonez declared by the New York Times as “a New Immigrant Classic”. The book is now required reading in most NYC public schools and rightfully so. I discovered Prof. Quiñonez through The Moth and boy am I grateful and also glad to learn he was a fellow Ecuadorian pana too! I was captivated by his storytelling and decided to write and ask him some questions. I know you are curious so below is the full interview…!

Tell us about your beginnings in writing, what sparked your interest in creative writing especially?

I actually wanted to be a painter but later I felt I was not that great of an artist on canvass so I switched to literature. At the City College of New York, I was fortunate enough to study with great professors who loved literature more than celebrity.  They were in it for the love of language, words, and books. One of them was Fredric Tuten.  He taught me that there was always art; it is what a humanist culture is composed of, so that the museum, the library, the jazz club, the theater, the film, the poem, the novel, meant transcendence. This had nothing to do with leading a life of pleasure or some bourgeois notion of leisure, but that Art can be enlightening and therefore empowering. Because of literature, we are no longer students or professors, there are no janitors, or policemen, bakers, lawyers, or administrators, documented or undocumented but rather because of literature we are elevated, transformed from our ordinariness to become heroic figures. I saw hope in that and soon realized that Art, especially its branch of literature, held the blueprint to my idea of happiness.

Would you please describe in detail your role as Associate Professor in the Department of English at Cornell University and your trajectory to this position?

Cornell University is a great place to work. Its Creative Writing Department is the most successful open marriage in history. Everyone is allowed to go off and do as they please without asking for permission and yet somehow, we all come back together when need to with no hard feelings. What we try to do is find voices that are not being well represented in the wonderful white pale pages of English literature. Latinx voices come into play here as well as others. So, Helena Viramontes, Stephanie Vaughn, Michael Koch and John Lennon, and I, are always on the lookout for these under represented voices. Now, that’s all I and the faculty can do, we need help from the publishing world to get these voices published and heard but more importantly, we need the Latinx audience for these and other underrepresented voices to buy and read their own people’s books! They are documenting your tribe’s stories, hopes and dreams. Economics come into play here but I’d like to think that if a Latinx is broke, there is this building, it’s huge, and you can get books free, it’s called the library. Librarians will buy books that people read, so read.

The downside of teaching at Cornell is the location. Ithaca bites.  It’s an arrogant small town that calls itself a City, located in the middle of a god forsaken, Anglo, cultureless nowhere. Long winters of Netflix and vodka. I get Latinx undergraduates knocking at my office door all the time saying, in a voice like Biggie “It was all a dream, I thought I wanted to be here. I want to go back to Brooklyn.”  I tell them I want to go back, too! But we are here to represent our people in these Ivy towers. Our people are risking their lives everyday crossing borders in order for their future kids to have a shot at an Ivy degree and you want to go back to Brooklyn? So far, all of them get this and graduate after four years. I’m stuck here.  But there are worse fates.

What is your current research project?

I’ve been reading a lot of Beckett.  I have two homeless men, one Puerto Rican the other Ecuadorian on the corner of 110th Street and Lexington Avenue “Waiting for Donald Trump’s Tax Returns”. They wait and wait, just shoot the breeze killing time. Soon a boy appears who says that Trump beats him, but that he will release his taxes after he is audited.  Then in Act II, the boy shows up again that Trump will release them tomorrow. This continues. The two homeless men who as New Yorkers are familiar with Trumps lies, get fed up, they don’t wish for rope but get their lives in order, an apartment, a job, and go vote Democrat. Hey, I can write for Saturday Night Live if I wanted to. In all seriousness, my research project depends if I can get to Spain during my sabbatical, if not there is no point in mentioning it.

Can you share with us any project or initiative dealing with Latin American or Latino communities?

The final novel of my Spanish Harlem trilogy, Taina will be published by Vintage sometime in 2020/21. It deals with the sad and neglected fact of forced or coerced sterilization of Puerto Rican/Latinas during the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, some still to this day. The characters are a pregnant virgin who is taken cared for by a Vejigante and a teenage boy.  Anyway, if trees must die for my pages then I want to say something important as well as offer a good story. Whether I am succeeding or not, I don’t know, but I am trying.

Protest Literature and Magic Realism are listed under your research interests, how and when did you become involved in them?

At the City College of New York City, I studied under, the late Edward Rivera author of “Family Installments” and also Luis Raphael Sanchez author of “Macho Camacho’s Beat”. They taught me that protest and magical realism were the same thing. The boom writers were all writing protest novels and disguising them not so much with magical elements but rather with a magical language. And yes, they were marketed, sold to the Anglo-American audience with that phrase “Magical Realism” (which comes from the 20th century art world, and the painters who were tagged magical realists like Andrew Wyeth of “Christina’s World” don’t really fit the category of what we today are familiar as magical realism) but to the boom writers they were not writing anything magical, it was all social protest, social realism.

How do you envision the fields of Latino Studies and Creative Writing in terms of diversity and inclusion?

We must start finding and including everyone, European Latinx, Asian Latinx, African Latinx, Venus Latinx, Mars Latinx.  We will. We must find these voices not just in Creative Writing but in all of academia.  We need to find common paths, similarities that do exist, they just need to be explored and developed. The big four of the USA: Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and Dominicans are not the Latinx spectrum.  As the world becomes smaller we need to branch out by filling in what’s missing. That is what diversity is, what’s missing. So, what’s missing in creative writing and Latinx Studies and academia as a whole? A lot. We are so mixed, especially now in 2018, that you can be sure there are Latinx who are Jewish Guatemalan Czech Irish Dominican and gay, and that is only from the mother’s side. So, are they receiving the proper instruction, support, and attention? In a polyglot and eclectic Latin America and United States the relations between space and borders need to be carefully and specifically addressed so they can be erased. No one can therefore be boxed in as the boxes won’t exist.  The new literary and cultural artifacts that will emerge from this revolution will be pretty awesome.  There should come a time when our favorite ethnicity is: Intelligent.

What has been the most rewarding (or challenging) part of your career as an academic and as a Latino writer and scholar?

Getting my work understood by publishers early on was challenging. But I had great writers that came before me and I held on to the belief that they had cleared a path, all I needed to do was my work and keep walking on it and soon I’d run into someone who will get it. When I think of me reading Sandra Cisneros’ poems “My Wicked, Wicked, Ways”, or Helena Maria Viramontes’ “The Moths and other Stories”, Dagoberto Gilb’s “The Magic Blood and Other Stories”, Pedro Pietri’s “Puerto Rican Obituary”, Algarin’s and Piñero’s “Nuyorican Poetry an Anthology”,  Julia Alvarez’s “How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents”, Esmeralda’s memoir, “When I Was Puerto Rican”, reading a City College graduate and New Yorker like myself Oscar Hijuelos, winning the Pulitzer Prize for “The Mambo Kings Play Song of Love”,  I recall a skinny kid in the early 90’s who said “It has been done.  Just stay on the path. Do your work.” The most rewarding is when I’m riding the subway and see people especially young boys, who don’t normally read, entranced by Bodega Dreams. I have been told by New York City Public Librarians that it’s one of the most heavily stolen novels. They don’t bring it back. As the son of an Ecuadorian Pinko, who was raised with all that Sixties optimism, Beatles, Stones, Young Lords, Chavez, King, and Kennedy’s, I can only feel pride and wink at Abbie Hoffman, “Steal This Book.”

What advice can you offer to an aspiring Latino/a/x writer?

Read, write, repeat. Start by reading writers from your own background, your own ethnicity, and then branch out, even the dead white guys have a lot to teach you, and me but always start at home. Go to the museums a lot, learn about painters, once again start from those who are from your own background and then branch out, this will give your writing color.  Listen to music, all types, once again start at home, not just your generation’s but everything and everyone, this will give your writing its rhythm. Go to the movies, see everything, this is where you will steal your plots, your lines, your visual ideas. And, more importantly: Don’t get old. Don’t die.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CoSA * NAGARA * SAA Annual Meeting Agenda

SAA

The Council of State Archivists (CoSA), the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators (NAGARA), and the Society of American Archivists (SAA) will be hosting a joint meeting August 12-18, 2018 in Washington, DC.

We are joining forces with the International Archival Affairs Section (IAAS) to hold our annual section meeting at the SAA Archives Records Conference. The joint meeting will take place on Friday, August 17, at 11:00 am, room Washington 4 (Exhibition Level), at the Marriot Wardman Park Hotel.

Our agenda for the meeting includes the following:

11:00 am:              Welcome, LACCHA & IAAS Updates
11:10 am:              Hilda Teresa Ayala-Gonzalez, LACCHA Guest Speaker
11:35 am:              Maria Canela Garayoa, IAAS Guest Speaker
12:00 pm:              Q & A, Any other business
12:1 5pm:              Meeting Ends

You are all invited to attend and participate in our meeting. Hope to see you all there!

Gracias,

LACCHA

Archivist Spotlight: Itza Carbajal, Metadata Librarian, LILLAS Benson Library, University of Texas Austin

itzacarbajal

Tell us about your beginnings in librarianship and archival science, what sparked your interest in the field?

Prior to my graduate degree in Information Studies I worked as a cultural arts programmer in San Antonio, Texas with a 30 years old non-profit called the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center. While there, I came across a small sized room full of what I now call records. Back now I would have probably called it stuff or things. These things consisted of everything from newspaper clippings, grant submissions and paperwork, legal proceedings, VHS tapes, life size puppets to protest banners, flyers, leaflets, newspapers, and magazines. These records documented almost every aspect of the organization’s history as well those communities the organization worked with and for. For some reason I became obsessed with creating order out of what many staff considered disorder, but as I sought out guidance on how to organize these sorts of things I quickly realized that I lacked the proper training to do it. As a result, I decided to pursue a degree in archival studies and my hope had initially been to learn more about community archives and how it related to efforts such as the ones I was involved with while at the Esperanza. Long story short, I applied to the University of Texas at Austin School of Information in hopes of remaining in close proximity to the Esperanza to continue the community archives work I had started before I left.

Your current position as metadata librarian at LILAS Benson Collections, what does it entail?

Working as a metadata librarian on exclusively post-custodial projects means I am responsible for many unusual tasks as well as those typical of an information professional working with digital collections. I personally consider myself a trained archivist and my current work duties more closely reflect the responsibilities of a digital archivist with an emphasis on metadata collecting, managing, and development of practices. As we work to build post-custodialism at the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Special Collection, I work on several tasks from normalizing and managing existing metadata from previous Latin American partners to creating methods for the collection of new metadata from our more recent Latin American partners. This can include learning more about the diverse metadata needs of our partners to thinking through how the creation of metadata would benefit the multiple stakeholders of the project. In addition to strengthening our post custodial work, I also consult on the technical and metadata specific aspects of our soon to be now digital repository system with a particular focus on incorporating linked data principles. On other occasions, I work on revaluating or consulting with the librarians and archivists at the Benson regarding their metadata practices or special projects in hopes of empowering the full LLILAS Benson team to adequately create, manage, and reuse our collections’ metadata.

Can you share with us any other project or initiative dealing with Latin American or Latino communities?

At the Benson we always have exciting projects with some in very early stages to others in a more mature phase. I previously mentioned my work with post-custodialism, so I love to share information on the project, Latin American Digital Initiatives (https://ladi.lib.utexas.edu/) This project started around 2013-2014 with featured collections coming from partners in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. My current position contributes to the growth of this project with new partners coming in from Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil. The Benson is also conducting groundbreaking work in transcription using the software known as From the Page (https://fromthepage.com/) as well as hosting multiple post-doctoral scholars with one currently focused on reevaluating the older digital collection, the Archivo Historico de la Policia Nacional de Guatemala (Read CLIR scholar Hannah Alpert-Abrams article on her current position: https://www.clir.org/2018/01/partnering-digital-archives-human-rights-guatemala/) .

Outside of the Benson, I really enjoy looking through community digital archives projects, organizational community archives, or community driven digital records such as the following to name a few:

How do you envision the field of Latin American librarianship (in terms of archival collection development and outreach)?

As a first generation daughter of Honduran parents, I oftentimes wonder how the US latinx communities and Latin American communities will continue to converge. As an archivist and metadata librarian, I oftentimes see these convergences or possible points of intersection when I look at the materials and the things they document. For the Central American communities I exists in or work with, the changes in migratory practices whether forced or long existing really have an impact on who these records document and where they end up. I suspect and frankly hope that this intersection will strengthen the bonds between our geographical regions and that libraries in particular those with a digital footprints will create connections across borders, lands, and time.

Finally, what has been the most rewarding part of your career as a multicultural librarian?

Working in multicultural context whether directly through the materials I engage with or through the collections my colleagues develop and manage has really given me multiple opportunities to learn, unlearn, and appreciate the breath of Latin America and what some call Latinidad. I was not born in Honduras and that has oftentimes created a cultural barrier between my parents, my family that still lives in Honduras, as well as between other recently arrived Hondurans and me. I grew up with a different language, cultural practices, values, food, expectations, etc. that even though I frequently traveled back and forth between Honduras and the States I am still very much a gringa in some respects. One of the most rewarding aspects of working at a Latin American Special Collection is the ability to continue learning about not only the history of the country I know I should have a connection with, but also about the people, the current realities, and the ways in which both of my worlds continue to collide. One of the biggest fears includes the fact that I could be the generation that disrupts or distances itself from my parents and grandparents cultural history and practices. I hope that by being constantly surrounded by Latin American materials, people, and information there is less of a chance that I forget, overlook, or ignore the things I do not see on a day to day.

 

Latin@ Scholar Spotlight: Dr. Jorge Duany, Director of the Cuban Research Institute and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University

Jorge Duany
Dr. Jorge Duany

By: Ana D. Rodriguez

What motivated you to pursue a career in Latin American studies?

I was born in Cuba but grew up in Panama and Puerto Rico. I came to pursue my university studies in the United States, returned to live in Puerto Rico, and moved to Miami six years ago. I have always been fascinated—perhaps even obsessed—with questions of identity, particularly among migrants and their descendants. After studying psychology in college, I shifted my main disciplinary interests to cultural anthropology. I finally found an interdisciplinary doctoral program in Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, where I concentrated in anthropology, history, and literature. I have been fortunate to have had a long and productive teaching and research career in the field of Latin American Studies, focusing on the three countries of the Hispanic Caribbean (Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic) that I know best. For me, specializing in Latin American Studies has been a way to answer deeply personal questions about my own family and cultural background as well as broader academic issues such as how people adapt to different environments when they move to another country.

How often do you collaborate with Latin American librarians at FIU?

As part of my administrative duties as Director of FIU’s Cuban Research Institute, I work closely with the Díaz-Ayala Collection of Cuban and Latin American Popular Music. We often organize public events such as lectures on Cuban and Cuban-American music, we administer an annual scholarship program that awards library travel grants for scholars and graduate students, and we cosponsor the annual Classically Cuban concert series, now in its 14th installment.

Tell us about your current teaching role at Florida International University (expertise, research subject areas).

I am a Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies. I usually teach courses on Cuba, the Caribbean, and Latin America, as well as on diasporas. My areas of expertise are migration, ethnicity, race, nationalism, and transnationalism in Cuba, the Caribbean, and the United States. This fall I plan to teach a graduate/undergraduate seminar on Cubans in the United States, a topic I have worked on since I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Cubans in Puerto Rico.

I am currently involved in two major research projects. The first examines the massive displacement of people from Puerto Rico to Florida, particularly after Hurricane María struck the Island on September 20, 2017. I am trying to assess the ongoing “Puerto Ricanization” of Florida, especially the central region of the state, regarding the demographic, social, cultural, economic, and political effects of the growing number of Puerto Rican immigrants. A second initiative is to analyze the “last wave” of Cuban migration (1995–2017), which concluded with the cancellation of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, in comparison with previous waves of the postrevolutionary exodus. I am interested in how recent changes in the socioeconomic composition of Cuban immigrants are reshaping the public profile and internal dynamics of the Cuban-American community in Miami.

How do you envision the panorama of Latin American scholarship in the future?

Latin American scholarship has expanded substantially in the last few decades since I obtained my Ph.D. The sheer number and diversity of experts teaching and researching on Latin American topics have grown spectacularly, as the membership of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) suggests. Caribbean Studies, however, have expanded more modestly, and are still marginal to many academic programs in the United States. Perhaps most exciting for me is the development and consolidation of the interdisciplinary field of Latino Studies, devoted to the burgeoning communities of Latin American origin in the United States, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans, and people of other ancestries. I hope that the latter field (typically considered part of “ethnic studies”) will be better connected to the well-established centers of international “area studies,” so that the transnational links between the countries of origin and settlement can be scrutinized and comprehended from an interdisciplinary perspective.

What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching Latin American studies?

Teaching and research in Latin American Studies have been intellectually and professionally satisfying because they have allowed me to cross multiple disciplinary and geographic boundaries. In my teaching, I have always tried to combine the insights of the social sciences (especially anthropology) and the humanities (mainly history and literature). My research and publications have similarly bridged numerous fields of knowledge such as sociology, history, literature, art, and music. In the end, the most rewarding aspect of my academic career has been to understand myself more fully as I seek to capture the experiences of others like me, particularly people from the Hispanic Caribbean in the United States and Puerto Rico.

 

Cuban American Dream Timeline

By: Katiana M. Bagué

“Once on the boat, we had to wait for permission to sail. We waited and waited, but the Cuban government did not grant permission until a storm began. The storm and the mysterious companions made the passage to Miami dangerous and long.”

This excerpt comes from a longer testimony made by Roniel Cabrera, Associate Professor of Medicine at UF’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition, who at eight years old was part of the thousands of Cubans who participated in the Mariel Boatlift. This testimony along with books, photographs and a collection of government documents, spanning from the sixteenth to the twenty-first century, was compiled and showcased in the Cuban American Dream, an exhibit curated by Margarita Vargas-Betancourt with assistance from Alexis Baldacci. It was put on display in the Smathers Library Gallery from March 27th to June 2nd 2017, and it encouraged audiences to look at different perspectives regarding Cuban immigration to Florida. For instance, it analyzed the strife of Cuban-Americans as they adjusted to their new homeland and worked to attain a vision of the “American Dream.” I was fortunate enough to see this exhibit and as I wandered through the gallery space reading the materials in the display cases, I felt immersed in the Cuban immigration history. Because its stories can easily go underrepresented, it is crucial to tell them.

The exhibit, both innovative and engaging, seemed short lived. With the university’s Latin American and Caribbean Collection constantly acquiring new materials related to Cuban history, and with a large population of Cuban-Americans within the campus community, the information from the exhibit was both significant and relevant. Thus in order to continue to broadcast its content and the discussion about Cuban immigration, and immigration in general, within academic and community settings, Margarita and Alexis envisioned the creation of a digital timeline.

On October 2017, I was awarded the ARL Fellowship for Digital and Inclusive Excellence, an internship that allowed me to work closely with Margarita on digital projects for the Latin American and Caribbean Collection. When she presented me the timeline idea, I was both motivated and excited to be a part of a project I had interacted with before. A timeline was an appropriate format for this digital exhibit considering that its physical counterpart spanned a long time period. The project not only required me to transfer the information from the physical exhibit to a digital format, but also to create new labels to include the most recent events of Cuban immigration to Florida. These were especially significant given the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba (2014) and the subsequent slowdown of such process.

In this day and age, it seems that digital projects have become more doable and accessible. Timeline JS, an open source tool from Knightlab.com, helps users create visually engaging digital timelines with a simple four-step process. With a Google spreadsheet, I was able to add text alongside significant dates, and insert images in jpeg format that were eventually displayed digitally in the timeline presentation.  After this process, the final product was published unto the George A. Smathers webpage for online exhibits.

The Cuban American Dream Timeline not only preserves the original exhibit showcased back in 2017, but it also offers audiences an interesting interactive online experience. The viewer can engage with the archival material from the exhibit section by section, which can allow for deeper reflections and connections regarding the history of Cuban immigration to Florida. As proven with the recent presentations done by Margarita, the timeline can also be an engaging learning tool in classroom settings. It not only presents valuable information, but it can also inspire students to pursue their own digital projects related to their studies and research.

The timeline can be accessed here: http://exhibits.uflib.ufl.edu/cubanamericandream/

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Aurora de Mena (Cuban),

The pearl key, or midnight and dawn in Cuba,

1896,

Vance Print. Co.,

972.911 M534t,

Rare Book Collection, Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida

 

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Arnold Eagle,

Cuban man talking on the phone, circa 1950-1960,

Special & Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida

 

 

 

 

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Refugees are processed inside a hangar in Key West’s Truman Naval Base. Miami Herald

(http://www.miamiherald.com/news/special-reports/mariel/article1922105.html)