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.


UConn Anthropology Alumna’s Book Wins Two Prizes

October 21, 2022

Cover for the book Making Livable Worlds: Afro-Puerto Rican Women Building Environmental Justice
Credit – Copyright @ 2021 by University of Washington Press
Design by Katrina Noble

UConn Anthropology PhD and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Rhode Island, Hilda Lloréns’ latest book, Making Livable Worlds: Afro-Puerto Rican Women Building Environmental Justice has recently won two awards:

Congratulations, Hilda!

Welcome from the Director

October 14, 2022

Hello, everyone! I’m Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann; also known as KGS (they or she pronouns). I’m the new Interim Director of El Instituto, and I have been truly lucky to be in the process of getting to know the faculty, graduate students, undergraduate students, and staff of our Instituto community so far. For those of you who do not know me, I’m a scholar of Caribbean literature and intellectual history as well as a literary translator.  I’m joint-appointed in El Instituto and the Spanish section of the Department of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. A U.S. American of Cuban, Colombian, and Jewish heritage, I grew up in the Latinx majority cities of Miami and San Antonio, and I came to UConn last year from from Emerson College in Boston, where I taught for six years.  I’m fascinated to work in Connecticut, which is full of Latinx and Caribbean majority spaces, even if the University does not yet reflect that reality.

Core and affiliated faculty, staff, and students at El Instituto and our partners in La Comunidad Intelectual (LCI), and the Puerto Rican/ Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) are dedicated to creating Latinx-centered intellectual and social spaces. But our impact seems to depend on visibility, and we are up against a major, ongoing obstacle to that visibility: the under-education of the U.S. populace about Latin America and the Caribbean. In particular, the country at large seems to ignore the role of United States intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean that connects to the history of immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States. These histories and ongoing circumstances shape Latinx and Caribbean diaspora communities throughout the country and right here in Connecticut. The massive neglect in knowledge about our communities becomes increasingly acute during times like these, when the damage experienced in the Caribbean by recent hurricanes massively impacts our communities but appears to go unnoticed by so many around us.

 I hope that this year brings greater visibility to Latina/o/x, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies at UConn. We newly offer the Latina/o studies minor at UConn Hartford, we have an incredible cohort of graduate and undergraduate students, and we have welcomed a new Visiting Assistant Professor of Latina/o Studies, Bethsaida Nieves. We have a new partnership with the Puerto Rican Studies Initiative for Community Engagement and Public Policy, led by core faculty member, Charles R. Venator-Santiago. We also have a new Latina/o, Caribbean, and Latin American Studies research librarian, Jennifer Schaefer.  We also have an exciting events calendar this year. Please spread the word about our course offerings, and if you haven’t already, please be sure to sign up for our listserv.

Bienvenides a La Voz,

Katerina Gonzalez Seligmann

UConn Students Travel to the U.S./Mexico Border

October 13, 2022

Contributed by Anne Gebelein

Students Travel to the U.S./Mexico Border to Learn about Collective Action for Social and Immigrant Justice

From May 19-May 29th, 10 students joined Professor Anne Gebelein at the border to learn more about the network of activist groups that organize to support the rights of both immigrants and border residents. Tucson AZ is a special place in which to study organizing, as it hosts a wide, interconnected network of agencies and citizen advocacy groups that work collaboratively to promote the rights of all peoples in the region. The program was hosted by Borderlinks, an educational non-profit born in the 1980s to contextualize the sanctuary movement started by the First Presbyterian Church. Church members protected asylum seekers escaping U.S.-backed torture in Central America, and their movement became a nationwide phenomenon, as over 500 churches ultimately housed vulnerable migrants and paved the way for current sanctuary church practices.

Mexico Broder Trip_ArtStudents met with activists, traveled to 2 border towns in Mexico, spent time at the border wall, participated in workshops hosted by Borderlinks, and listened to UConn faculty experts lecture about border issues via webex. They hiked in the desert, placed water for people in danger of dehydration, attended a mariachi mass, and visited a migrant shelter. Students examined intersections of immigration, gender identity, asylum, collective action and art. They also had time to explore Tucson, a vibrant city with a rich artistic tradition influenced by Mexican muralism and tilework. Students earned 3 credits in LLAS or HRTS from participating in the program and course, which was designed by many hands: Anne Gebelein, Mark Overmyer-Velazquez, Kathryn Libal, Megan Berthold and Rodolfo Fernandez. Professor Fernandez will run the course from May 18th-28th in 2023.

Mexico Border Trip
UConn Students in U.S./Mexico Border