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.

 

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