5/8 'Bridging Historias' Conference: Q&A with the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning

May 1, 2015

On May 8, the Graduate Center will host the Bridging Historias Conference, based on its two-year faculty development program that ends this fall.

On Friday, May 8, the Graduate Center will host the Bridging Historias Conference, based on its two-year faculty development program that ends this fall.

Featuring keynote speaker Vicki Ruiz (UC Irvine, pictured) and numerous other speakers, the free conference is the culmination of two years of seminars and programs across selected community colleges.

The objective: to address the increasingly influential body of scholarship on the importance of Latino/a culture and history.

Behind it all has been the GC's American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, in partnership with Queensborough Community College.

Members of ASHP/CML recently talked about why the program has been so critical, which academic frontiers might be next in Latino/a studies, and why anyone who teaches - "in community colleges, four-year colleges, or even high schools" - should consider attending the conference. 

GC: Why is this topic so important?
ASHP/CML: Latino/a experiences and cultures hold a unique and enduring place within U.S. history, thanks to their diverse blending of Spanish, African, and indigenous American peoples, and the growing demographic presence of Latinos/as across the country.
And while Latino/a Studies scholarship has also advanced at a remarkable pace, it has not been sufficiently incorporated into the core of U.S. history, as taught to students.
A major challenge is that, despite their rich history in the U.S., Latinos/as are all too often presented in the mass media as "recent immigrants," and most secondary and post-secondary curricula contain little or no Latino/a history. Understanding the integral place of Latino/a history and culture in the U.S. history narrative and across the humanities is essential for all students.

Over the last decade alone, the Latino/a population in the U.S. has increased by 43 percent. Between 25 percent to 35 percent of students at community colleges in New York City and neighboring New Jersey counties are Latino/a; in New York's Westchester, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, the percentage is only slightly lower. In nearby counties in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, the enrollment of Latino/a students continues to rise. Yet rarely do Latino/a students see their history or culture reflected in the standard curriculum. 

How does scholarship on Latino/a history and culture today differ from that of a generation ago?
Latino/a studies has matured and diversified greatly over the years - from building basic awareness of the presence and importance of Latino Americans, to creating a more nuanced understanding of the diversity of Latino communities and their distinct cultural experiences as well as shared identities. Recent studies have run the gamut from more inclusive and national to more culturally specific and regional.

In the early years of Latino/a Studies, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans were the primary focus, but as immigration from Central America, South America, and the Caribbean has increased since 1965, scholarship has expanded to include the wide range of nationalities and migration experiences.
Transnational aspects of the Latino/a experience have also become more prominent as scholars explore how people, ideas, goods, labor, and money migrate through the Americas and shape social, political, and economic relations throughout the hemisphere.
What were the greatest successes of the Bridging Historias program over the last two years?
The program has created a space for scholars of Latino/a history and culture to share their work with community college faculty, and for community college faculty to explore creative ways to learn and teach Latino/a content across a range of disciplines.
One CUNY faculty member with professional development experience served as a mentor for each community-college faculty participant to help think through changes to their curriculum and pedagogical approach. Most of the participating faculty have incorporated new material as well as new teaching strategies into their courses over the two-year period of the grant.
Feedback on the assistance faculty received in developing their curricular units was positive, with comments such as, "It forced me to organize and focus my objectives and logistics," "The format helped me organize my thoughts on how to integrate the new material," and "It helped me think through how to teach interactively."

What do you see as the next steps or frontiers in scholarship on Latino/a history and culture?
Pablo Mitchell, one of the Bridging Historias scholars, suggested some areas of new scholarship, including: greater links to African American and Asian American histories; racial identities across Latino groups and cultures; overlooked local histories; and the many connections between diverse ethnic groups and shared aspects of Latinidad as well as areas of divergence. Another scholar, Andres Resendez, called for greater exploration of connections among Latino communities and Latin America, and increased research on hemispheric ties.

What are the greatest challenges moving forward?
The Bridging Historias program demonstrated the enthusiasm among community college faculty for research and professional development related to Latino content and pedagogy. A major challenge is the limited time and support for faculty to rethink and restructure their courses.
Many faculty teach up to five courses a semester while continuing to pursue their own scholarship and provide service to their institution.

Most community colleges rely largely on adjunct faculty who have even less time than the fulltime faculty and are provided even less support for professional development.
To substantially increase faculty knowledge about Latino/a history and culture and to support them in revising their curricula requires an institutional commitment and ongoing support. This two-year program was an important start for all the faculty participants, and we hope their administrations will continue to provide resources and expertise to their faculty.
What would you say to someone who is considering attending the conference?
The conference is about sharing the latest social science and humanities scholarship, and exploring ways to bring more Latino history and culture into our classrooms. We hope anyone who teaches - in community colleges, four-year colleges, or even high schools - will attend and bring their lessons, their curiosity, and their creativity, and join a conversation with other instructors to improve our students' understanding of the importance of Latino history and culture to U.S. society.

[ASHP/CML's Bridging Historias program coordinators are Pennee Bender, Donna Thompson Ray, Andrea Ades Vasquez, and Isa Vasquez.]