Tag Archives: Puerto Rico



Image source: Instagram (Casa Adela)

By Melissa Fuster, PhD, Assistant Professor in Public Health Nutrition at Brooklyn College – City University of New York (CUNY) 

It was a hot and humid August morning. Adela sat in the back of her restaurant, peeling potatoes, with only a small fan to appease the heat. The TV was tuned to Telemundo, with Elvis Crespo singing for Monica Puig, the Puerto Rican tennis player who days before had just won the first gold medal for the island at the Olympics in Rio. Pepe, a mutual friend and local community leader, introduced us. She smiled, turning back to her potatoes and television show. By the time we arrived, she had already been working for a couple of hours, making the necessary prepping for the day’s service. The smell of garlic, mixed with oregano and onion, forming the sofrito base, filled the air announcing to regulars and passersby that something delicious is being prepared. We sat at her table, and Pepe got the conversation started by asking Adela about her early days in the city.

Adela first came to New York City in 1971 for a visit. Back then, she worked as a seamstress in Puerto Rico, later transitioning to working with her mother, selling fiambreras (lunch boxes) to factory workers. She moved to New York City around 1975. When I asked why she moved, she replied with a smile, “Ese salto lo da todo el mundo que quiere progresar” [That leap is made by everyone who wants to progress in life]. Upon arrival, she worked as a cook, but quickly transitioned to establishing her own place. She rented her first restaurant, El Caribe, on the West Side, which she later bought from the Cuban owner. When the building was condemned, she moved her business to the Lower East Side, where she later established Casa Adela in 1976. While an exact timeline of life events and places was not specified, the one thing that was clear while talking with her was the entrepreneurial success. At one time, she recalled owning three establishments, with the goal of passing two of them to her children. However, she ended up selling two of them, with her children being actively involved in the running Casa Adela today.

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“A son de parranda,” the CLACS Holiday Party

On December 14th, CLACS and KJCC joined to host this year’s holiday party. With a backdrop of photos by Los Seis del Sur, the sounds of parranda music, the smells of  arroz con gandules, pernil, pasteles, coquito, y tembleque, and lots of dancing it was an undisputedly Puerto Rican fiesta.

The coming together of both centers started early in the fall as KJCC and CLACS hosted former Young Lord, hall of fame journalist, and co-host of Democracy Now, Juan González, as the first Latino to hold the Andrés Bello Chair for Latin American Culture and Civilization.  The party marked the culmination of a semester where Puerto Rico took center stage in KJCC’s programming, in events organized by González who taught the course “The Forgotten Chronicles: 200 Years of News Reporting
on the United States by Latino Journalists” at CLACS through the fall semester. Students, faculty, and staff joined in celebration in what was a memorable night.

Early Latin American Migration to the U.S. Focus of Next Indocumentales

Post by Gretchen Kyle Shaheen, CLACS MA Candidate and Graduate Associate for K-12 Outreach

On Monday, November 23, CLACS will be presenting the second film in this semester’s installation of Indocumentales.  Starting at 6:30pm, we will be screening Empire of Dreams (1880-1942) of the PBS Series Latino Americans.

The second part of the Latino Americans Series, this film highlights immigration to the U.S. from Latin America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Empire of Dreams documents how the American population begins to be reshaped by the influx of people that began in 1880 and continues into the 1940s, as Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans begin arriving in the U.S. and start to build strong Latino-American communities in South Florida, Los Angeles and New York. 

The screening will be followed by a conversation with award-winning journalist, author, and 2015 Andres Bello Chair in Latin American Cultures and Civilizations at NYU’s King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, Juan González, and Maribel Hernandez Rivera, Executive Director of Legal Initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

To read more about the screening of Empire of Dreams (1880-1942), and register to attend, click here.

Viewers interested in K-12 education can find more information on ways to incorporate the themes explored in the film into their classrooms by clicking here.

Indocumentales is a film and conversation series exploring the immigrant experience. This series is done in partnership with Cinema Tropical, and What Moves You?.  For more on Indocumentales, click here.

Our last screening of 2015 will be the award-winning film by Diego Quemada-Diez entitled La Jaula de Oro. This film will be showcased on Thursday, December 17. More information here.


Nationalism and Defiance

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UPR Students Support Chilean Student Movement. Mural in Social Sciences Building.

The University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras has historically been a flashpoint for confrontation and protests. Since 1948, when the students protested the University’s decision to ban Don Pedro Albizu Campos from speaking, it has been the center for leftist activism and a hub for independentistas of all stripes. During its history, the protests have been varied and at times violent. Anyone will tell you that they rarely stayed constrained by the University gates and would flow into the streets of Río Piedras and at times beyond. There was once a march protesting the draft and the war in Vietnam that went from the campus to Old San Juan (some 8-10 miles) ripping and burning American flags as they went. Then there was the infamous strike that occurred to rid the campus of the ROTC in which a wooden building behind the ROTC building burned, rocks were thrown, police in riot gear descended on the campus, an ROTC cadet was killed defending the building, and 21 year old Antonia Martínez Lagares was murdered in cold blood by a police officer after looking down from her balcony and yelling at him to stop beating a protester. He calmly looked up at her, pointed his gun, and shot her in the head. Then, of course, there have been the more recent protests against the fee hikes and privatization of the university, which as the ACLU report has shown, has also ended with police brutality and a disproportionate amount of force. Americans that were shocked by the use of force against Occupy protesters in New York would be horrified to see what occurred on this island.  However, while protests, especially at or around UPR-RP, have been one of the loudest mechanisms used by independentistasand nationalists in the past, protests that directly address suppression or colonialism are not the only way Puerto Ricans express their nationalism.

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Los Tres Santos Reyes juntos a Castro

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Puerto Rican Revolutionary Flag in Río Piedras

Around Christmas time it’s a tradition in Puerto Rico to go from door to door until the wee hours of the morning singing and playing music—with guitars, trumpets, and panderos often accompanied by instruments of the pot and pan variety—until your friends open the door and give you food and refreshments. One of the most known songs chronicling this Puerto Rican style caroling, known as a parranda is about the host giving the group of singers, or the trulla, an adult beverage or else they will cry. One of the lines in this song goes, “Los Tres Santos Reyes juntos a Santa Claus (2x) Tienen en Las Vegas montado un night club (2x). Or “The Three Wise Men along with Santa Claus/Have a nightclub set up in Las Vegas.” This has to be one of the best examples of the hybrid nature of Puerto Rican culture.  Like most Latin American countries, Three Kings Day, also known as the day of the Epiphany, is the most celebrated Christmas related holiday. While Christmas Eve is time for food, singing, dancing, and getting together with the family, Three Kings Day was historically the day children received presents, one from each King if they left some grass for the Kings’ camels of course. With the attempted Americanization of the island came Santa Claus and the importance of cookies and Christmas day, although the lack of chimneys on a Caribbean island often caused logistical problems in the story—my grandparents told my mother he slipped in through the front door, pretty stealthy guy that Santa—Christmas did indeed become a major day, second only to Three Kings Day. Like creolization and syncretism of the indigenous populations once the Spanish imposed their culture in the “New World”, Puerto Rican culture didn’t disappear with the introduction of American culture, but rather the latter was absorbed and became part of the celebration, along with Las Vegas and night clubs apparently. I’ll get to what this has to do with Castro in a bit.
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Learning to See Through New Eyes

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The three flags flying over El Morro.

Puerto Rico has always been an escape for me. It is the place my parents consider home even after thirty years on the mainland; it is the place where I wasn’t made fun of as a child for speaking Spanish—I grew up in the South before the large Latino migration—it is the place where I felt normal for eating cocina criolla instead of standard American fare for dinner, and where most of my family still lives.

Coming to Puerto Rico this time around I knew that I had to start viewing the island through different eyes, through the eyes of a researcher. It’s amazing what subtleties you can miss when you dismiss anomalies because “that’s just the way Puerto Rico is.” There are seemingly trivial examples of the hybrid nature of the island such as street names that are half in English and half in Spanish such as Calle Tulip (instead of Calle Tulipán or Tulip Street); the speed limit is in miles per hour but the distance to exits is in kilometers; objects are weighed in pounds, but gas is sold in liters. Continue reading

Focus on Faculty: Arlene Davila

Arlene DavilaArlene Davila is an award-winning Anthropologist and a CLACS affiliated faculty member. She teaches classes in Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis.  Her research focuses on race and ethnicity, media studies, globalization, visual culture, political economy, consumer culture, and Latinos in the U.S.

Originally from Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, Arlene has been committed to studying Puerto Rico since early in her academic and professional career.

She studied Anthropology at Tufts as an undergrad, and came to New York to focus on museum studies. She went on to work at the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art (MOCHA), and later to El Museo del Barrio.  Throughout, she found she was increasingly interested in the politics of identity and representation, which led her to study Anthropology at CUNY.

After CUNY, her first teaching position was in Anthropology and Latino Studies at Syracuse University. She says she had been skeptical about academia, but was drawn to it after doing research for her first books on Puerto Rican culture.

“I was really hooked. Researching and interviewing people and doing ethnographies – that’s what made me stick to academia,” she said.
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History and Anthropology Conference Highlights Expansive Caribbean Archives

Ada Ferrer, Sidney Mintz, Aisha Khan -- RISM Symposium CLACS at NYU

CLACS Director Ada Ferrer, Anthropologist Sidney Mintz, and Anthropology Professor Aisha Khan at the CLACS Caribbean History and Anthropology Conference

On December 1 – 2, scholars and Caribbean studies enthusiasts came together for a two-day conference highlighting the recently acquired RISM Collection.

The expansive RISM (Research Institute for the Study of Man) Collection was founded in 1955 by Dr. Vera D. Rubin (1911–1985), and produced unique social science research ranging the fields of anthropology, history, demographics and medicine. This conference focused on three specific collections from Trinidad, Puerto Rico and Cuba.

Harvey Neptune - RISM Symposium CLACS at NYU

Harvey Neptune (CLACS alum and Assitant Professor of History at Temple University) talks about the Trinidad Study

The Trinidad Study is comprised of materials from the Study of the Aspirations of Youth in a Developing Society, which includes a series of in-depth surveys of high school student in 1957 and 1961. The project aimed to understand “how youth perceived the changing social, political, and economic issues facing Trinidad and Tobago as a developing nation in the Caribbean.”

The Puerto Rico Project, which scholar Sidney Mintz participated in, was conducted by Dr. Julian H. Steward and a team of anthropologists between 1947 – 1949.  The collection includes field notes, meeting minutes, manuscripts, printed matter and other ephemera.

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CLACS Alum Builds Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University

Aldo Lauria Santiago - CLACS at NYUWhen Aldo Lauria Santiago was an MA student at CLACS at NYU, he began the research that led to several books, and eventually served as inspiration to grow the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Currently, Aldo is both Chair and Associate Professor of the Latino and Hispanic Caribbean Studies Department at Rutgers. He is also a joint professor in the History department.

“The good thing [about CLACS] is that it lends itself to people who want to get a professional MA, or for those who want to follow a traditional academic path,” he says.

Aldo says CLACS played a definitive role in his academic research and his overall career. At CLACS, he focused much of his research on El Salvador, combining Latin American history courses at NYU with political economy and economic anthropology courses at the New School. He wanted to find a way to blend social science and history methods and materials, and went on to further develop his ideas in this area as a PhD student at the University of Chicago (which he almost didn’t attend because of Chicago’s notoriously bad weather). Since then he’s written and co-authored several books on El Salvador, including To Rise in Darkness: Revolution, Repression, and Memory in El Salvador, 1920-1932, Landscapes of Struggle: Politics, Society, and Community in El Salvador, An Agrarian Republic: Commercial Agriculture and the Politics of Peasant Communities in El Salvador, 1823-1914, and Identity and Struggle at the Margins of the Nation-State: The Laboring Peoples of Central America and the Hispanic Caribbean.

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Student activists from the University of Puerto Rico speak at NYU

For almost a year now students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) have been organizing demonstrations in protest of education budget cuts in Puerto Rico.  In December of last year, the protests turned violent when student demonstrations, precipitated by a proposed $800 annual tuition increase, were met with violent repression. Police officers and private guards used excessive force against student protesters, who retaliated, also wounding some security officers. The protests have shut UPR down multiple times.

As the protests continue, Representative Luis Guiterrez and the American Civil Liberties Union have come out in opposition to excessive force used against students.

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