Associate Professor of Spanish
Areas of specialty: Literature and Culture of Spanish Caribbean, Latin American Experience in the United States
Education: Ph.D., University of Minnesota; B.A. University of Massachusetts
As a native of the Dominican Republic, what brought you to Millsaps?
I came to Millsaps in 2002 for a one year position but I fell in love with the college and applied for a permanent position. I think, like a lot of people, I had some misconceptions about Mississippi, but I must say, this is so far the best professional time of my life.
Teaching at Millsaps has given me the opportunity to really get to know my students. My favorite class to teach is IDS 1000, Introduction to Thinking and Writing (the first class in the Core Curriculum) because you get to meet first year students and help them in their introduction to Millsaps. It is also a class that allows me to teach topics that I am interested in, but I am not able to do in my department. I love the dialogue with the students in a subject such as the definition of beauty.
The college recently added a Latin American Studies major/minor that requires a substantial language core at the intermediate to advanced level. How does learning a second language benefit a student?
We are living in a more interconnected world, and learning a foreign language takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to be mentally flexible. Personally, as a person who had to learn English, learning a foreign language taught me to understand my own language better, and as I gained more proficiency, I became more aware of the connections between language and culture. That would not have happened if I had not learned English.
In the past, you've done a Friday Forum on your collection of rare Mexican and Cuban movie posters and different approaches to state-sponsored art. How did you get interested in this topic?
I suppose it all starts with my growing up in the Caribbean, where Mexico is one of the great cultural centers even today, and even more so in the 1970's. I grew up with Mexican soap operas, comics, music and films, but they were so naturalized that I was never curious about their country of origin because they seem such a normal part of my world. When I finally made it to Mexico in 1989 I, like so many other people before, fell in love with the culture. What I had been exposed to in the Dominican Republic was only a fragment of the incredible variety and beauty of this country. I particularly appreciated the way in which Mexican popular culture had achieved a degree of sophistication that I never imagined. My interest in all things Mexican became a great source of enjoyment and learning.
I acquired mostly Mexican masks and pottery until 1994, when I moved to posters. I must add that this collection would not exist without Ebay. I made almost all of my purchases through this service, and I got to know collectors from the United States, Mexico, Spain and France. They are wonderful people who appreciate this art form for more than monetary reasons. The posters are a great expression of a time when Mexico made an investment in popular culture as a way to promote the values and virtues that would unify society and consolidate the power of the system. I think it is very interesting that some of the poster artists (such as Josep Renau or Ernesto García Cabral) were also muralists. There is research to be done on the Mexican poster as an example of the aesthetic cohesiveness of government sponsored art in Mexico before the sixties.
The Cuban posters are a secondary area of interest but as I collected them, I was responding to the same influences I experienced growing up. After the revolution, Cuba became a social model for the people of my generation, and Cuban culture, which has always been a great force in my country, grew even more dominant. As it was the case in Mexico before 1960, the Cuban revolutionary government became a great sponsor of popular culture for propagandistic reasons. The power of the cultural products of the Cuban revolution in Latin America is undeniable. It is very interesting that as different as the Mexican and Cuban posters are visually, their images are indicative of similar socio-political forces.
Last year I donated my collection to the University of Florida (the posters were just moldering under my bed). The collection is named after a professor, Efraín Barradas, who not only taught me about academics but also helped me expand and refine my interests in popular culture.