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Latino Studies Conference and FIG at BMCC

Ivelisse Rodriguez, English Department

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We had been discussing the legacy of writer Piri Thomas at a meeting of the Cross-Cultural Approaches to Latino/a Studies Faculty Interest Group (FIG) when Prof. Rosario Torres Guevara (Developmental Skills) came up with the idea for a conference at BMCC. “Beyond Access: Latino Education and the Community College” was the topic for the first inaugural conference, held on November 14 and 15, 2013. Faculty, staff, and students from BMCC and Bronx Community College participated and offered fascinating views of the Latino/a student at the community college.


Conference Keynote Address


CUNY Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Management Gloriana B. Waters led an interactive discussion on the merits of higher education. In her keynote address, she laid the groundwork of her argument with a PowerPoint presentation that delineated the benefits and economic possibilities of those who choose higher education.


Living in Two Worlds


Diverse issues were raised at the conference panels. Bettina Hansel from Institutional Research offered statistics showing how Latino/a students are faring at BMCC. Math is an area where Latino/a students need to improve. 


Prof. Miriam Delgado (English) discussed how Latino/a students are living in two worlds. They contend with their home lives and their lives in an educational institution. Students change personalities to fit each location.  


Prof. Andrea Parmegiani, from Bronx Community College English Department, made a case for strong bilingual education programs. The research Dr. Parmegiani undertook with students originally from the Dominican Republic showed that strong language skills in one’s native language could translate into strong language skills in a second language. The converse was also possible. Weak skills in a native language could also translate to weak skills in a second language. 


Other discussions throughout the two-day event touched on reading Latino/a students through the prism of their culture. Dr. Priscilla Rogers-Fahy (Counseling) articulated that understanding aspects of Latino/a culture could help us better understand what our students are experiencing.  For example, gender expectations within Latino/a culture could negatively affect a female student’s performance. 


Illuminating Conversations: An Interdisciplinary and Active FIG


The conference was an extension of the work we have been doing as part of the Cross-Cultural Approaches to Latino/a Studies Faculty Interest Group (FIG). The idea for the FIG came about during a Hispanic Heritage Month book discussion. Dr. Victoria Mondelli, former director of CETLS, at BMCC, suggested a FIG that dealt with Latino/a issues. Dr. Carmen Martinez-Lopez (Business Management) and Dr. Rosario Torres Guevara (Developmental Skills) then started the FIG in the spring of 2010.


We seek to hear the varying ways that different disciplines approach Latino/a studies. FIG members hail from numerous departments, including Social Sciences, Developmental Skills, Modern Languages, English, and Business Management.


Meetings have reflected our diverse interests and approaches to Latino/a studies. For example, Prof. Vicente Revilla (Library) brought Ned Sublette, the author of Cuba and its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo for a conversation about the roots of Cuban music. 


Prof. John Paul Gonzalez (Ethnic Studies) presented on the Puerto Rican form of the décima, a poetic form that has its roots in Spain. In Puerto Rico, the poems are improvised on the spot in public locations.  


Prof. Rosario Torres and Prof. Francisca (Paquita) Suarez-Coalla (Modern Languages) discussed adult and immigrant “literacy.” They talked about the relevance of native language and digital language practices and how students connect these to their learning in the classroom. 


Prof. Ivelisse Rodriguez (English) presented on the life and work of Piri Thomas and Junot Diaz. 


Our FIG truly is inter-disciplinary, and many of our discussions have been particularly illuminating because of this. Both the FIG and the conference have stemmed from ideas that arose in conversation.  Bringing faculty together to discuss the ideas that intrigue us can lead to work that enriches the community as a whole.