Outstanding Senior Women Academic Achievement Awardee: Heidi Pineda

May 4, 2023

Contributed by Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann and Anne Gebelein. 

Congratulations to Heidi Pineda, senior in Latino & Latin American Studies, who has won the Outstanding Senior Women AcademicUndergrad Heidi Pineda Headshot Achievement Award. The dean’s office let us know that competition for this honor was exceptionally high, as they received nominations from across all 38 units in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS).

Heidi is honored because she has demonstrated exceptionally high achievement in her coursework, research, and leadership in service to the University. Throughout her time at UConn, in addition to regularly excelling in her work in both LLAS and Political Science, Heidi has been a fierce advocate in research and service to increase Latinx student academic achievement and access to professional development. Heidi has been researching higher education practices to serve Latinx students and working with UConn’s Center for Career Development to develop the affinity community outreach program. She has piloted a new liaison position to facilitate career development between El Instituto, PRLACC, and La Comunidad Intelectual (LCI).

Heidi has presented her research on promoting cultural awareness for increasing the desire and motivation (“ganas” in Spanish) of academic achievement for students of Latin American descent in the U.S. academy at two conferences: Conference in Higher Education Pedagogy and NESPA. The eight different projects she has created through her work in academic affairs, combined with her leadership as president of Distinguished and Motivated Academic Scholars (DAMAS), are impressive. Here’s a highlight shortlist: Latinx Career Empowerment Collective, Careers for the Common Good: Giving Back to the Latinx Community, Latinx Networking Nights, Poderosas: Latina Empowerment Career Panel, and DE&I Career Ambassador Intern Orientation Training. She has also been dedicated to promoting the LLAS major, serving as a representative in The Major Experience, and volunteering to present, every semester, an undergrad’s perspective on the major to LLAS 1000-level classes.

Heidi’s senior thesis is a two-semester project examining HSIs who have been granted government funding regarding their interpretation of the funding’s mandate to serve Latino students in culturally appropriate ways. It is a fascinating project with value for UConn itself, as Stamford and Waterbury campuses begin to lean into their new HSI status. It is no surprise to us that she was chosen by all 5 top graduate programs in Higher Education research she applied to and will be attending Michigan State University in the fall to earn her master’s degree. We wish her the best of luck at her new university!


ELIN Pre-doctoral Awardee: Constance Holden

Contributed by Constance Holden

History Graduate Student Constance HoldenMy dissertation examines gender, Blackness, and visual culture in modern Argentina. As my research links popular representations of Blackness to how African-descended women charted their own destinies, I became curious about the specific experiences of African-descended women scholars of Latin America. It was at this juncture that I learned about Black anthropologist Ellen Irene Diggs, who studied African-descended political and social lives in Latin America. In 1946, Dr. Diggs became the first Black scholar to receive a U.S. State Department Fellowship to study the African Diaspora in Latin America. Using the fellowship to research in Montevideo, Uruguay, Dr. Diggs’ work intervened in an ongoing community dialogue about the meanings of equality, inclusion, and freedom. Dr. Diggs, who offered alternative interpretations of Black belonging, disrupted monolithic representations of Black political cultures.

My research into Dr. Diggs resulted in an experimental biographical essay published in the first issue of the Journal of Black Educology. While most of the scholarship on Dr. Diggs focuses on her professional relationship with sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois, who she met as a student at Atlanta University, my article recontextualized Dr. Diggs as a scholar within her own right and centers her experience in Uruguay as foundational to her academic career.  I used Morgan State University’s newly digitized collection of Ellen Irene Diggs personal papers and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s online archive of the W.E.B. Du Bois Papers to reconstruct her history. I situated her time in Uruguay as one element of her lifelong intellectual formation, tracing her journey from her hometown of Monmouth, Illinois, to her studies at Georgia’s Atlanta University where she met Du Bois, and to her doctoral program at the University of Havana, where she worked with Cuban anthropologist Fernando Ortiz. After securing the State Department Fellowship, Dr. Diggs arrived in Montevideo in September 1946. Although initially, they embraced the arrival of a Black scholar from the United States, African-descended journalists later criticized Dr. Diggs, who characterized their political activism as incoherent in an interview with an Argentine newspaper. In my essay, I argued that the debates that unfolded in the Black Uruguayan press in the aftermath of Dr. Diggs’ limiting analysis illustrated diasporic anxieties around racial progress, collective activism, and class mobility. In telling an intertwined story of the politics of Dr. Diggs and African-descended communities in Uruguay, my work examines the terms of communal and self-representation.

My essay understands Black women’s biography as a central methodology for exploring the processes of data collection about Latin America, how that information translates into knowledge production, and how representations of that knowledge shape divergent understandings of race, nation, and power. Ultimately, my research demonstrates that histories of representation and identity formation reveal the varied responses to liberal promises of racial inclusion across and within national contexts. Writing about Ellen Irene Diggs, and thanks to funding support from El Instituto, inspired me even more to write a dissertation about how African-descended women in Latin America represented their own lives and experiences.

The Pandemic Journaling Project in Latin America, and beyond

May 2, 2023

Contributed by Sarah Willen & Heather Wurtz

Now is a crucial moment to reflect on our experiences of COVID-19 over the past three years and discuss lessons that we, as a global society, can learn as we strive for a better future. These are central objectives of the Pandemic Journaling Project (PJP) — a combined research study and online journaling platform that was created to chronicle ordinary people’s everyday experiences at the height of the pandemic. Today, PJP focuses on elevating those voices and experiences to deepen our understanding of the pandemic’s lasting impact on the world and to generate dialogue and reflection about what we have both lost and learned during Covid-19 — and what we have yet to overcome.

PJP was created in the spring of 2020 by two medical anthropologists, Sarah S. Willen at UConn and Katherine A. Mason at Brown University, with support from an interdisciplinary team of students and faculty at both institutions. For two years (May 2020-May 2022), people around the world created weekly records of their pandemic experiences — in English or Spanish — in their choice of text, audio, and/or photographs, using only their smartphone or other device.

"Retrato de una pandemia vivida " (Portrait of a lived pandemic). Author: Erwin Yasfrant Ortega Peraya. The date of the image is November 2021.
“Retrato de una pandemia vivida ” (Portrait of a lived pandemic). Author: Erwin Yasfrant Ortega Peraya. November 2021.

Since PJP launched, El Instituto (ELIN) support has been vital, and our team has continued to pursue new opportunities for engagement and exchange in Latin America as well as Latinx communities here in the U.S. For instance, we are disseminating our scholarly findings in Spanish and Portuguese. Our written interview with PJP creators (SSW & KAM) about PJP’s human rights implications appeared in the Journal of Human Rights (in English), then in the Portuguese journal Metaxy, and a Spanish version is forthcoming in Estudios Sociológicos. Two papers on an ELIN-supported spin-off study of COVID-19’s impact on Mexican college students are in process: a chapter for a Spanish volume about the “future after Covid-19,” spearheaded by an interdisciplinary group from El Colegio de México (COLMEX), and an article for a special issue about students’ experiences of COVID-19 across the globe.

PJP has also teamed up with community partners in Mexico on several projects engaging youth, students, and the broader community. This includes a five-chapter podcast spearheaded by a youth advocate in Mexico City featuring youth testimonies, photos, and music — the culmination of a four-week project of journaling and psychosocial support (i.e., active listening and guided conversation) with trained professionals. In addition, PJP has joined forces with the widely respected Center for Gender Studies at El Colegio de México, A.C. (CEG-COLMEX) to bring PJP’s multimedia traveling exhibition, Picturing the Pandemic: Images from the Pandemic Journaling Project, to Mexico City, in conversation with images from COLMEX students, faculty, and staff (May 9-June 6, 2023; Spanish site here). Picturing the Pandemic fosters equity and inclusion by displaying creative expressions from ordinary people from across the Americas, and around the world, through both narrative and art-making. It aims to redefine elite spaces to welcome underrepresented voices and aesthetics, and to elevate diverse Latinx perspectives while also creating opportunities for intercultural exchange.

On PJP’s website, we declare: “Usually, history is written only by the powerful. When the history of COVID-19 is written, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.” As these activities — some sponsored directly by ELIN — make clear, elevating Spanish-speaking and Latin-American perspectives is crucial to this mission.

Sarah Willen is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at UConn and Co-Founder, together with Katherine A. Mason, of the Pandemic Journaling Project (PJP). Heather Wurtz is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with PJP, with a joint appointment in Human Rights and Anthropology at UConn and the Population Studies and Training Center at Brown University.

Television Dramas and the Global Village (2023) Paperback Edition

April 28, 2023

Book cover of Television Dramas and the Global Village: Storytelling through Race and GenderTelevision Dramas and the Global Village: Storytelling through Race and Gender

Paperback – April 3, 2023

We are delighted about the affordable 2023 paperback edition of this global television book. It is now more ideal for university course adoption and faculty acquisition.

This book discusses the role of television drama series on a global scale, analyzing dramas across the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa, for example. Contributors consider the role of television dramas as economically valuable cultural products and with their depictions of gender roles, sexualities, race, cultural values, political systems, and religious beliefs as they analyze how these programs allow us to indulge our innate desire to share human narratives in a way that binds us together and encourages audiences to persevere as a community on a global scale.

-The Editors, Rios & Lin


Diana I. Rios, Ph.D.

Department of Communication/El Instituto


Carolyn A. Lin, Ph.D.

Department of Communication


You can purchase the book today!

Disconnections and Connections: Human Rights Versus Democracy; from Principles Toward Policies; National Within International Law

February 3, 2023

Contributed by Ángel R. Oquendo

Angel Oquendo Book cover

Through Thin and Thick: From Human-Rights Principles to Politics Across the Americas and Beyond (Cambridge University Press) (2022)

Hopefully, this note will move you, readers of La Voz, to a conversation with me and among yourselves. It will react against an anecdote about Spanish writer Francisco Umbral.

A television show had invited him upon the appearance in print of his chronicle about the socialist administration in Spain between 1982 and 1992.[1] After a long chitchat among other guests, he stood up shouting: “I came here to talk about my book.”[2]

In contrast, I have not arrived before you to chat about mine. Ideally, mine will just serve as a pretext for the alluded-to dialogue about our common intellectual interests.


The book launches from examples, concrete cases, or political confrontations, explaining how to conceive the safeguards at stake. It portrays these as embodying principles requiring particular actions together with the implementation of policies. For instance, free speech demands permitting seemingly offensive expression plus promoting a diverse and open public debate.

Then, the text scrutinizes specific guaranties, like those pertaining to asylum, citizenship, abortion, due process, self-determination, or the environment. It presents them as inducers of problems peculiar to them. Next, the discussion dissects how precepts—human rights and democracy at the forefront—may contingently clash despite their overall commensurability. Finally, it underscores the interconnection of negative, substantive, and national entitlements with positive, procedural, and international ones.

In truth, the table of contents reads like a cryptic poem. It breaks down into these parts: Conception, Concretion, Confliction, Connection. On afterthought, they might evoke those of a self-help manual.

Throughout, ruminations on these questions unfold: How may courts and governments respectively contribute to actualizing these liberties? Do these bear upon social justice? May ideologically opposed states nonetheless collaborate on them?

Aspirations to:

Reformulate the Relationship Between Principles and Policies Within These Freedoms

Explicate the Respective Roles of the Judiciary and Executive in Implementing These Protections

Reflect on the Bearing of These upon Social Justice

Ponder Ideologically Adverse Nations in Collaboration on Them


The publication explains how these freedoms can boil down to a matter of principle and yet call for implementation through policies.


The book addresses anybody interested in human rights—a professor or student, an actor or analyst, or a concerned person—whether from a legal, philosophical, politically scientific, sociological, historical, journalistic, anthropological, or humanitarian perspective. She will appreciate the path provided to think and talk clearly about these guaranties.


Explores legal and philosophical issues touching upon these protections. Enables grappling with these two sets of topics and envisaging their interrelationship.

Shows how negative, substantive, and national entitlements interact with positive, procedural, and international ones. Allows assuming an integrative rather than a compartmentalized approach to these safeguards.

Demonstrates how political principles, those of democracy and human rights in particular, may contingently conflict. Assists in understanding how one may respond to these conflicts.

[1] Francisco Umbral, La década roja (1993).

[2] Julio Llamazares, Hablar de tu libro, El país, Nov. 28, 2020, at 12 (“¡Yo he venido a hablar de mi libro!”).


Update on the Puerto Rican Studies Initiative for Community Engagement and Public Policy

Contributed by Charles R. Venator-Santiago

Charles R Venator Santiago
Charles R Venator Santiago on Oct. 4, 2022. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The Puerto Rican Studies Initiative for Community Engagement and Public Policy (PRSI) is a research initiative seeking to document and support Puerto Ricans’ vital economic, intellectual, and cultural contributions to Connecticut and to provide research-based support for the development of public policies addressing the needs of Puerto Ricans in the State of Connecticut.

This initiative is part of a collaboration among various programs, including El Instituto (UConn Storrs, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), Puerto Rican and Latin@ Studies Project (UConn Hartford, School of Social Work) and the Hispanic Health Council/Mi Casa. This initiative is funded by the Connecticut General Assembly with American Rescue Plan Act funds.

We are currently working on four civic engagement projects. We are assisting El Show de Analeh with the production of civic education television programs and conducting surveys/focus groups of the audience to gauge the impact of the show on its viewers. We are also working with the Hispanic Health Council in Connecticut to explore the possibility of creating a Welcome Center in Hartford that can help migrants better incorporate into the city and state. At a national level we are working with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Latino to create a series of educational programs in Connecticut. In addition, we are working with the National Puerto Rican Agenda to organize a leadership symposium in Connecticut.

The PRSI is currently running several parallel projects. The data research project seeks to create a demographic profile of Puerto Ricans in Connecticut in three different periods, namely 2021, 2016-2021, and a historical decades long period. This project will also create a public datahub that will enable users to access public data by geographical locations throughout the state of Connecticut.

We have two different types of archives projects. This year we remade the Puerto Rico Citizenship Archives Project and are creating two additional public repositories of documents, namely the 1909 Survey of Puerto Rican Elites and the Puerto Rico Status Archives Project. The first collects the most comprehensive collection of a 1909 colonial survey of Puerto Rican elites. The second collects all the status legislation for Puerto Rico debated between 1898 and the present.

A second archive will focus on the collection of Oral Histories from Puerto Rican leaders in Connecticut. This is a collaboration with Dr. Fiona Vernal and the Engage, Public, Oral and Community Histories (EPOCH) program in UConn’s Department of History. The goal is to document examples of Puerto Rican community leaders’ work for the civic engagement of Puerto Ricans in Connecticut.

The PRSI is also committed to working with the Caribbean Preparedness and Response, a non-profit focused on disaster communications, to create several satellite-based emergency communications hubs in Connecticut.

Other academic projects will focus on the creation of a Puerto Rican Studies research journal and a national Society for the Study of Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans.

Overall, the goal is to create a premier research initiative that can help document and address the needs of Puerto Ricans in Connecticut.

Contemporary Cuban Art In and Out of Crisis

Contributed by Jacqueline Loss

Spanish PhD student, Inileidys Hernández, sent a letter to me and other faculty expressing the social and psychological weight that the July 2021 unprecedented protests in Cuba had on her, her family, and the many members of our UConn community whose lives were linked to the crises on the island. Her letter hit hard, and it inspired us.

The fall 2022 event series, “Faces, Masks, Bodies: Contemporary Cuban Writing, Art, and Performance,” emerged from that inspiration. Professor Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, Inileidys, and I garnered support for the series from so many units across campus: Humanities Institute; El Instituto; ELIN Fire Fund; Luis B. Eyzaguirre Fund; Spanish; Literatures, Cultures & Languages; Journalism; Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Africana Studies; Art and Art History; Arts and Human Rights Research Program; Human Rights; John N. Plank Lecture Series; and the Creative Writing Program.

Those who attended September 20’s session with visual artists Paola Martínez Fiterre, Gigi de la Torre, and critic/curator Mailyn Machado will never forget the intimate expressions that are overlayed upon the images of resistance to the obligations of womanhood and Cubanness.

Carla Gloria Colomé Santiago’s October 4th discussion, “La mujer y la crónica en el siglo XXI,” continued the discussion by delving into the personal stories she covers as a journalist and the mechanisms she utilizes to cover the human impact of sociopolitical circumstances in Cuba and the diaspora.

Yali Romagoza & Gertrudis Rivalta

On October 11, performance artist Yali Romagoza came on “stage” just outside of UConn’s Contemporary Art Galleries (with the incredible support of Professor Macushla Robinson and her students), dressed as a Latinx rendition of a cuquita, the paper-cut-out doll from her Cuban childhood, and our audience faced her challenge to so-called correct female comportment. Gertrudis Rivalta, Black Cuban multimedia artist, had already projected her version of these cut-out dolls on all the walls. It was as if Rivalta created a home for Romagaza within dioramas filled with cuquitas that she created. Whether that home was comfortable was a question the audience was left to ponder.

Guillermina De Ferrari
Guillermina De Ferrari



Guillermina De Ferrari, scholar of Caribbean art and literature and our guest for the Luis B. Eyzaguirre Memorial Lecture, presented her lecture later that day, posing several challenging questions around the politics of care and dissent in contemporary Cuban artistic production and inspiring a rich, multidisciplinary debate.


Osdany Morales, whose short stories and novels resist facile national characterizations, visited us for a fruitful discussion on November 1st.

Fiction writer and journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez brought us an especially acerbic portrayal of the institution of the press on a global level on November 8th. The generosity of his engagement led to a myriad of questions on the market, truth-telling, and fiction vs. journalism.

The series finale featured UConn’s own Eilyn Lombard Cabrera and Jamila Medina (Brown University), led by Professor Gonzalez Seligmann, who has translated these and other Cuban poets. Audiences were captured by their evocative verses on motherhood, sexuality, immigration, and poetry.

Check out the videos of these events on El Instituto’s YouTube channel, which we have thanks to Kimberly Vasquez, if you missed them live.

Cuabn Series Event with guest speakers
Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann, Yali Romagoza, Guillermina De Ferrari, Juan Carlos Alom, Jacqueline Loss, & Gertrudis Rivalta

Writing Latina Biography at El Instituto: The Life and Work of Antonia Pantoja

Contributed by Emma Amador

Emma Amador

Over the past ten years I have been researching and writing about the life and work of Dr. Antonia Pantoja, Black Puerto Rican Civil Rights activist, scholar, and educator whose work changed the world. While writing my first book, The Politics of Care: Puerto Ricans, Citizenship, and Migration after 1917 on the history of Puerto Rican care workers, social work, and the history of social welfare programs, I found Pantoja to be a very important part of the story that I wanted to tell. As a social worker and educator Pantoja innovated a community organizing approach in the institutions she built, and she helped inspire new generations to organize politically. My research led me to begin dreaming about writing a book about Pantoja that would introduce more readers, students, and policymakers to her life and legacy.

This fall, the University of Connecticut’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences supported my research by funding my proposal with a CLAS Faculty Funding in Academic Themes Grant. This funding will allow me to begin writing the book, Bright Futures: Antonia Pantoja and the Practice of Ethnic Studies. This monograph will be the first book-length biography about Pantoja, and it will aim to introduce readers to her life and to examine her political work and contributions to the history of education in the United States. From the 1940s through the early 2000s Pantoja fought for education centered on the lives and experiences of people of color, Latino/a/xs, Black diasporic communities, and Spanish speakers in the US. Her work was shaped by her own experiences as a Black Puerto Rican, Afro-Latina, and lesbian who proudly came to identify as “Nuyorican.” This biography will explore how Pantoja— in dialogue with the communities in which she lived—merged community organizing approaches with radical social work methods to create a practice of “doing” Ethnic Studies in collaboration with these communities and her students. These practices envisioned bright futures for all people, especially people of color. They also can provide powerful models and tools for those of us learning about and teaching Ethnic Studies today.

My biography of Pantoja closely relates to my role as an educator teaching at UConn. One of my favorite courses to teach is “Latina History and Biography,” a class that examines the historical experiences of Latinas in the United States through a focus on life history, biography, memoir, and testimonio. In this course, my students love learning about Pantoja, and my discussions with students over the years has deeply shaped the project. It is my student’s thirst for more knowledge about Pantoja, Ethnic Studies, and the history of Latinas, that inspires and enriches this project. This summer I will present some of my preliminary work on Bright Futures and my broader research on Latina history and biography at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women alongside other Latina feminist biographers.