Activist-in-Residence MaryJoan Picone

October 11, 2021

Contributed by Anne Gebelein

Thanks to the generosity of the CLAS Dean’s office, El Instituto was able to welcome its first Activist-in-residence, MaryJoan Picone, LCSW, in 2021. MaryJoan has been organizing Mexican farmworkers in the Glastonbury area for over a decade, and volunteers at the U.S./Mexico border as well, assisting migrants in need of food, medicine and shelter.

MaryJoan brought her generous spirit and deep knowledge of Mexican migration to multiple classrooms during the spring semester, including LLAS/HIST 3635 History of Modern Mexico; LLAS 3998/HRTS 3298Human Rights on the US/Mexican Border, and LLAS/ANTH 3150 Migration. She also arranged for 2 guest speakers in LLAS 3998: Alvaro Enciso, a border artist in Tucson who creates and paints crosses for those fallen in the desert, and Betsy Flynn, a CT nun who regularly dedicates her time to migrant and refugee needs in McAllen, TX.

Through her connections at Rose’s Berry Farm, MaryJoan collaborated with El Instituto, the Honors Program and UConn’s student-led Spring Valley Farm to create a day of learning and service at Rose’s Berry Farm on September 11th. There, farm manager Winny Contreras led the group of a tour of his newly created corn maze, as well strawberry fields, pumpkin patches, and the tomato vineyard. Winny, MaryJoan and farm owner Sandy Rose spoke to students about the challenges of small-scale farming in CT, the realities of migrant workers, and the shrinking labor pool leading to farms relying more on events and rentals. Students spent 2 hours cutting pumpkin stems and righting them and picking 19 baskets of tomatoes. Their labor was rewarded by having lunch on Rose’s large wooden deck, of food grown right on the farm.

The last event of MaryJoan’s residency will be in late April of 2022, when the Mexican workers from Glastonbury will be invited to tour the student-led projects at Spring Valley Farm and to share a meal with farm residents and other interested students from UConn.

MaryJoan’s residency was a big success in spite of the challenges that covid posed for virtual learning. Her dedication to workers’ rights and to ensuring the dignity of all inspired UConn students to learn more about migrant activism. El Instituto looks forward to continuing to collaborate with her in its future border studies program, which will hopefully launch in May of 2022. Stay tuned!

A few of the photos taken by Amelinda Rossitto, Center for Career Development Associate Director of Programming and Internal Relations:

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MaryJoan Picone

Rose Berry Farm 1
Wenceslas Contreras (Winnie), Farm Stand Operations Manager
Rose Berry farm 2 Rose berry Farm 3




Eyzaguirre Lecture Series and roundtable: Dr. Marilyn Miller and Eduardo Halfon

Contributed by Damián Deamici

After a hiatus due the COVID-19 pandemic, the Eyzaguirre Lecture returned to the University of Connecticut this fall. The lecture honors the memory of Professor Luis Eyzaguirre, who taught Spanish and Latin American literature at the institution for over 30 years. This was the first time that the lecture was held entirely online, which allowed for attendance across three continents and numerous different geographies. The virtual event was co-sponsored by the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, El Instituto, and the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life.

HalfonSymposiumFlyer-updatedThis year’s lecturer, Dr. Marilyn Miller, is Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Studies and Sizeler Family Professor of Judaic Studies at Tulane University. Her work on the discourses of slavery and race, the thorny notion of mestizaje, and her study of Jewish immigration to and between the Americas has had a defining influence on the fields of postcolonial, Latin American and Jewish studies. She is the author of Rise and Fall of the Cosmic Race: The Cult of Mestizaje in Latin America (University of Texas Press, 2004) and Port of no Return: Enemy Alien Internment in World War II New Orleans (LSU Press, 2021), as well as the editor of Tango Lessons: Movement, Sound, Image, and Text in Contemporary Practice (Duke University Press, 2014).

Dr. Miller’s lecture, titled “Eduardo Halfon and the Itinerary of Memory,” explored the work of author Eduardo Halfon, who was present in the audience and held a roundtable discussion with Professor Miller the following day. Halfon’s work eludes classification. He was born in Guatemala, to which his Polish grandfather migrated after surviving Auschwitz, an event fictionalized by Halfon in The Polish Boxer. His family relocated to the United States when Halfon was 10 years old to escape the Guatemalan civil war. Another ten years later he returned to Guatemala, where he began writing fiction in Spanish, the language of his childhood that was now almost foreign to him. Since then, his creative writing, which eludes generic classification, has received numerous awards, including the Premio Nacional de Literatura de Guatemala in 2018, and the Edward Lewis Wallant Award for his novel Mourning.

Dr. Miller’s lecture focused on aspects of Halfon’s work that make the construction of identity irreducible to stable categories, such as Guatemalan, Latino or Jewish. As such, her analysis focused on three elements of his narrative that challenge the stability of these classifications: masks, thresholds and itineraries. Her analysis presented the metaphor of masks as a search for belonging, of trying on different camouflages. The narrator of most of Halfon’s stories is a character bearing his own name, and whom Dr. Miller resourced to call Eduardo to differentiate him from the author. Eduardo’s own selfhood is presented as a mask or disguise, he assumes his identity depending on external circumstances, which allows him to inhabit many selves. This slipping back and forth among Jewish, Latino and Guatemalan identities allows Halfon’s work to avoid the single narrative that attempts to straightjacket Latin American literature within tropes of drug and border violence, magical realism, folklore and indigenous oppression. In its place, his identity is presented at a series of thresholds that the narrator navigates through the adaptation of several masks, including language. These negotiations of identity can be seen through the itineraries that force the characters to “pass as the other” in their geographical shifts. Dr. Miller’s ideas, much more expansive than what can be summarized here, challenge the constriction of selfhood to fixed identities. Through the analysis of Halfon’s work, she puts to rest the single-story narrative that attempts to encapsulate the diversity of a people into a single type. She presents another avenue for the construction of memory; multiple, elusive and free.

A roundtable discussion with Dr. Miller and Eduardo Halfon the next day, was moderated by Dr. Avinoam Patt, Chair of Judaic Studies and Director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life at the University of Connecticut, and expanded on the themes presented in the lecture. Halfon discussed the topics of language, belonging, memory, translation and the generic categorization of his work. He reinforced Dr. Miller’s conclusions of the elusive construction of identity and the apt metaphor of masks to describe it. The event was attended by dozens of students and faculty from UCONN and other institutions from around the globe.

On the whole, the lecture and the subsequent roundtable was a prodigious homage to the memory of Professor Eyzaguirre. Dr. Marilyn Miller’s extraordinary lecture, along with Eduardo Halfon’s willingness and candor answering questions of an eager and grateful audience, paid a memorable tribute to Professor Eyzaguirre’s legacy.

eyzaguirre event screenshot 21'

Learn About La Comunidad Intelectual

Contributed by H. Kenny Nienhusser

La Comunidad Intelectual (LCI) is a living/learning community with a mission to nurture a sense of community for and support students who identify as Latina/o/x and/or CariVerticalBanner_LaComunidadIntelectual-156x300bbean or have an affinity to learn more about the Latino and/or Caribbean diasporas. LCI was born from the efforts of many current and former UConn staff and faculty, including Dr. Diana Rios, an associate professor in ELIN.

LCI supports students’ learning while empowering their engagement on the UConn campus and in our communities. First- and second-year students, this year totaling over 40, live together on the same floor in a residence hall on campus (Peter J. Werth Residence Tower), learn together in seminar courses, and are empowered to succeed at UConn and beyond.

The LCI Leadership is composed of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate student leaders. The current leadership team is Dr. H. Kenny Nienhusser, Faculty Director (Associate Professor and Program Coordinator, Higher Education and Student Affairs; Vanessa Esquivel, Graduate Assistant (PhD student, Human Development and Family Sciences), Catherina Villafuerte, Graduate Assistant (PhD student, Educational Leadership); Danielle (Dani) Jorge, Floor Mentor; Jason Valverde, Floor Mentor; and Emily Diaz, FYE Mentor.

An integral element of LCI is our four-part seminar course sequence offered each semester a student is enrolled in our living/learning community.

  • “Transitioning to UConn and LCI” (first-semester course; fall term). The course is designed to support students with their transition to and success at UConn. It also introduces students to LCI and issues that impact the Latina/o/x community at UConn and beyond.
  • “Surviving and Thriving” (second-semester course; spring term). This course focuses on empowering our Latina/o/x identities at a Historically/Predominantly White Institution (H/PWI). Students engage in weekly conversations surrounding the experiences of Latina/o/x students in colleges and universities. Students work on a semester-long group project designed to pave the way for the success of future LCI students.
  • “Contributing to our Comunidades” (third-semester course; fall term). Students engage in service-learning activities that contribute to our Latina/o/x communities near the Storrs UConn campus. In small groups, students work on a group project associated with their service-learning site.
  • “Thinking Ahead” (fourth-semester course; spring term) This course assists students in thinking about their goals post-LCI and post-UConn. Students participate in career and graduate school exploration, resume building, networking, and learn other skills to prepare them for their futures.

LCI works collaboratively with campus partners, including El Instituto (ELIN) and the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC). For example, in the “Transitioning to UConn & LCI” course, students are required to interview a faculty or affiliate faculty member of ELIN and to prepare a rich summary of that conversation.

Beyond academics, LCI students engage in programs and events to further develop their understandings of the Latino diaspora and have fun. A signature monthly event (#ThirdThursday) is an opportunity for all LCI members to connect, learn, and have fun. For example, during our September #ThirdThursday event we visited the exhibit “Immigrant Eyes: Photographs by Joe Standart” at The William Benton Museum of Art on campus.

To learn more about the beautiful LCI living/learning community see this video.


          PRLACC Logo

UCONN and UPR Debut Livestreaming Colloquium Series

Contributed by Samuel Martínez

UConn’s El Instituto and the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras’ Centro de Recursos de Investigación y Aprendizaje Subgraduados (CRiiAS) and the UPR’s Archivo de Ciencias Sociales are teaming up during the 2021-22 academic year for a new series of on-line livestreaming talks. According to the co-organizers, CRiiAS Director Carmen Maldonado-Vlaar and the Archivo’s Director Jorge Giovanetti-Torres, the aim of the series is to feature the work of some of the outstanding Puerto Rican studies faculty and students in both universities, and to familiarize students with the many opportunities on the island and in the mainland for professional development and research and study on Puerto Rican themes.

The emphasis of the series during Fall 2021 has been on familiarizing UPR undergraduates with Puerto Rican studies at UConn.

2021-09-13-Oquendo UCONN Autodeterminacion EventThe first talk in the series, titled “Autodeterminación el el contexto de la situación de la isla,” was presented on 13 September 2021, by Angel Oquendo, George J. and Helen M. England Professor at the UConn School of Law. Oquendo gave emphasis to the need for new narratives to emerge about Puerto Rico’s political status if needed creative thinking is to occur about the present situation of crisis and how the island can replace the outmoded Estado Libre Asociado with a new model for its relationship with the United States and the world.

The second event was a presentation on 22 September 2021 of the book Colonial Migrants at the Heart of2021-09-17-Promoción Presentación del libro Dr. Ismael García Empire: Puerto Rican Workers on US Farms, by UConn Anthropology PhD and Professor of Anthropology at CUNY Staten Island, Ismael García-Colón. García-Colón’s talk on the challenges involved in researching and theorizing this topic was preceded by a brilliant appreciation of the book by UPR Professor Emeritus Silvia Alvarez-Curbelo.

The third event of the series, 13 October 2021, was “Cómo lograr exitosamente la admisión a programas graduados en universidades de Estados Unidos.” In it, Master’s program graduates of El Instituto, who started out as undergraduates at la UPR and are now doing doctoral research at UConn and other universities, shared their experiences in grad school and gave tips for undergraduate students about how to find the right graduate program for them. The panelists were Katherine Pérez Quiñones, Stephanie Mercado Irizarry, Lauren Pérez Bonilla, and Ashley Ortiz-Chico, all graduates of both UConn-El Instituto and la UPR.

Further events in the series will be advertised through our events distribution list, on El Instituto’s events calendar, and on Facebook.


Two New Colleagues Join El Instituto’s Core Faculty; Marysol Asencio Retires

Contributed by Samuel Martínez


El Instituto’s core faculty has added two new jointly-appointed faculty in Fall 2021:

Linda Citlali Halgunseth is joining El Instituto through a transfer of one-half of her appointment from the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, where she is a tenured Associate Professor. Professor Halgunseth’s areas of research specialization include Mexican/American and African American parenting, cultural influences on parent-child relationships and parenting, children of immigrants, culturally-appropriate measurement development, and minority health and well-being. Halgunseth is also Director of Academic Affairs at UConn Hartford.

Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann is coming to UConn from Emerson College, as a tenured Associate Professor, jointly appointed with El Instituto and the Spanish section of the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. Gonzalez Seligmann studies the ways in which authors, works, and influences travel between Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Martinique and other territories of the Antilles.

We welcome Linda and Katerina to our core faculty and wish them many productive and happy years with El Instituto and their primary appointment departments.

As we welcome two new colleagues, we also congratulate and offer warmest wishes to another on her retirement from UConn. After nearly 25 years on the faculty of the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies Institute and later El Instituto, Marysol Asencio has retired from her joint appointment with the Department of Sociology. Advisor and mentor to dozens of undergraduate and graduate students over the years, Professor Asencio leaves a legacy of igniting student interest in the topics of Latina/o/x reproduction, sexualities research, and health care. Her wisdom, knowledge, humor, and calor humano will be irreplaceable.

Marysol asked that we not organize a formal retirement celebration at El Instituto — a request consistent with her “it’s-not-about-me” outlook — but she would very much appreciate hearing individually from people whose support made a difference for her in her career at UConn. Our hope is that Marysol will continue to be a strong friend of El In.





UConn Stamford Professor, Human Rights Filmmaker Oscar Guerra Earns Two Emmy Nominations

October 1, 2021

Oscar Guerra is an assistant professor of film and video in the Digital and Design Department at the Department at UConn Stamford. During the extremely hard time we all faced last year because of COVID-19, Guerra captured real insight of a immigrant family from Guatemala and how COVID-19 affected their family. The documentary was named “Love, Life, and the Virus” and it was the story of Zully (the mother) and her two sons who were all diagnosed positive with COVID-19. Zully was pregnant at the time and after giving birth the family had to be separated because of the virus. A story like this is not what many of us would have thought happened to some women during the pandemic. To read more and watch the documentary of Guerra’s work click here.

El Instituto Associate Director Recognized in UConn ECE Magazine

July 27, 2021

Anne GebeleinThe Summer 2021 edition of UCONN ECE Magazine featured a story on the work of Associate Director and Associate Professor Anne Gebelein in supporting Early College Experience classes in Latin American Studies in high schools around the state. The article focused specifically on Gebelein’s lectures on cyclical violence in Central America, human rights at the US/Mexico border, and Latino and Puerto Rican activism and social organizing. Special attention was given to her lectures on mass deportation of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in mid-twentieth-century United States. Even as ECE is just one of the educator outreach and community engagement activities that are a special signature of her work as El Instituto’s Associate Director, Gebelein remarked “I feel privileged to be able to be inside the classroom of so many talented instructors.”

UConn Graduate Wins PRSA’s 2020 Frank Bonilla Book Award

July 21, 2021

Ismael García-Colón UConn Anthropology PhD and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, has been awarded the 2020 Frank Bonilla Book Award by the Puerto Rican Studies Association. According to the book prize selection committee, García-Colón’s book, Colonial Migrants at the Heart of Empire: Puerto Rican Workers on U.S. Farms draws upon extensive archival research as well as oral histories and ethnographic interviews with farmworkers to paint a full picture of Puerto Rican migrants’ experiences with the U.S. agricultural labor regime. . . . Colonial Migrants at the Heart of Empire cogently laid bare the centrality of labor migration to the modern colonial state in Puerto Rico, [showing] how racialized conceptions of citizenship and, by extension, personhood, have played and continue to play a crucial role in colonial labor management.