Center for Puerto Rican Studies Receives $1.2 Million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded Hunter College a grant of $1,238,000 to support scholarly groups at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) that will bring together academics, journalists and artists to study issues confronting Puerto Rico and its diaspora throughout the United States.  The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports a wide range of initiatives to strengthen the humanities, arts, higher education and cultural heritage. 

“As a former director of Centro and a product of Puerto Rico, I am especially grateful to the Mellon Foundation for this important and generous gift,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “CUNY and Centro have a long-standing bond with Puerto Rico and New York’s Puerto Rican community. This grant will support innovative thinking that makes real contributions to a better future for the island and its diaspora here in New York and across the country.”

“Hunter College is honored to have Centro be recognized for its leadership in Puerto Rican studies,” said Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab. “The grant provided by Mellon Foundation will enable Centro to continue building on its legacy and further its role as the premier site of collaborative research regarding Puerto Rico and its diaspora.”

“We are thrilled to receive this support and recognition from the Mellon Foundation,” said Bonilla, Centro’s director and a professor in Hunter’s Department of Africana & Puerto Rican/Latino Studies.  “We plan to convene a broad group of thinkers and creators from across Puerto Rico’s intellectual and geographic communities to engage in collaborative research regarding the pressing issues facing our communities.”

One important goal for these study groups is to develop new policy recommendations as well as theoretical foundations and conceptual pathways for thinking and reimagining Puerto Rico and its future.

Centro has a 50-year history of interdisciplinary and collaborative research of the history and culture of the Puerto Rican experience in the United States. The new grant will help reinvigorate this legacy by creating benchmark publications, media products and artistic projects that can bridge long-standing divisions within Puerto Rican Studies. These divides are not just linguistic, geographic and ideological, but also reflect the wide range of experiences among Puerto Rican communities. 

“Recent experiences like Hurricane Maria and the COVID crisis have shown that there is not one singular Puerto Rican experience but a multiplicity of realities, visions and desires,” said Dr. Bonilla. “Even the basic terminology for describing Puerto Rico is subject to conceptual debate: Is it a colony, a territory, a dependency or a nation?”

By bringing scholars, journalists and artists together into study groups, Centro hopes to spur not only the production of academic texts, public scholarship and journalistic writing but to also foster artistic endeavors in a way that can cross-pollinate and help plant new seeds for thinking and envisioning the future. Each study group will consist of 12 core members — two co-conveners, six scholars, two artists and two journalists — split evenly between Puerto Rico and the diaspora. This core group will in turn convene additional outside experts to present at public events and work within smaller break-out groups focused on more specific sub-themes and questions.

The inaugural study group, to be convened in January by Dr. Bonilla and Dr. Efrén Rivera from the University of Puerto Rico Law School, will focus on the question of decolonization. The second group will launch in the fall of 2022, coinciding with the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, and will focus on how to create a more just and inclusive post-disaster future. Each study group will result in a collectively authored publication with concrete policy recommendations for Puerto Rico’s political, economic, social and cultural future. They will also contribute to a digital media hub featuring long-form journalistic pieces, multimedia products, interviews, podcasts and other artistic projects created by group members throughout the project period.

About Centro at Hunter College

Centro is an acclaimed CUNY research institute dedicated to the study, interpretation, and preservation of the Puerto Rican experience in the United States. Founded in 1973, the center conducts interdisciplinary research and collects, preserves, and disseminates its incomparable resources with a broad public.  Centro works to share its collections and scholarship not only with researchers and students at Hunter and around the world, but also with government leaders and non-profit institutions in an effort and advance public policy discussions and nourish social action.

Among other initiatives,  Centro provides research grants and fellowships—including a Research Exchange Program that has benefitted more than 100 resident scholars to date—while offering an array of student internship opportunities.  Centro also maintains one of the most extensive Latino research libraries and archives in the nation, the Evelina López Antonetty Research Collection, in a state-of-the-art  facility at the Silberman campus.  The archive houses, among other treasures, the archives of former Members of Congress Herman Badillo and Jose Serrano as well as those of the National Puerto Rican Coalition. The Center also manages Centro Press, which has published 15 titles to date with more forthcoming; and issues the thrice-yearly Centro Journal, which presents important scholarship on political economy, history and Puerto Rican migration and work, along with social policy analysis.  In addition, CENTRO has amassed and maintains a vast collection of oral history (Centro Voices), which has conducted and archived more than 300 interviews; a data center housing information on Puerto Ricans throughout the U.S.; and a television show (PR Voices) that airs on CUNY TV . Additionally, the Centro Digital Collections provide an unparalleled resource for academics, researchers, students, genealogists, filmmakers, and the community at large.

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges, 11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving over 260,000 undergraduate and graduate students and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.