The Role of the Community in the Founding of the Puerto Rican Studies Association (PRSA)
By Angelo Falcón
President, National Institute for Latino Policy (formerly the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy)
The role of what was then called the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy (IPR) (currently the National Institute for Latino Policy) in the founding of the Puerto Rican Studies Association has been lost in almost all of the histories of the association. Discussion for the idea of creating such a disciplinary organization was first broached by me in the late 1980s at a meeting of an informal group called the Puerto Rican Research Exchange that was started by the late Eddie Gonzalez and met mostly at the Cornell School of Labor Relations. I remember raising the issue of the need to establish such a Puerto Rican studies association, an idea that was surprisingly vehemently opposed by the late Frank Bonilla, then director of the Centro de Estudios Puertorirqueños at CUNY. His argument was that Puerto Rican studies had not yet reached enough of a “critical mass” to do so. I disagreed, and, given his stature, nothing happened.
We kept promoting the idea and some time later, the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy was approached by a number of CUNY faculty to help form such an association, The planning meetings were held at IPR’s offices on Fifth Avenue and IPR staffed the effort. Our staff, led by Myra Estepa (currently Assistant to 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa) did all the leg work to identify the most economical meeting space for the founding conference, which turned out to be White Plains, New York, and helped with the fundraising, which was largely facilitated by Felix Matos-Rodriguez, then with the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) and now President of Queens College (CUNY). The founding conference of the Puerto Rican Studies Association was held on September 18-20, 1992 and elected Virginia Sanchez-Korrol of Brooklyn College as its first President.
The value of filling in this gap in the early history of the association is to acknowledge the role that a non-academic community organization played in its founding. This was a time when an important part of the mission of Puerto Rican Studies was to make the connection between the academy and the community an organic one. It is a connection, one can argue, that needs to be strengthened today.
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