Princeton University Hosts Puerto Rican Artists and Scholars under Mellon-funded Program, Bridging the Divides

Written by
Effron Center for the Study of America Log
Effron Center
Feb. 8, 2024

The Effron Center for the Study of America at Princeton University is thrilled and honored to be hosting over the 2023-24 academic year 11 brilliant Puerto Rican artists, journalists, and scholars from across Puerto Rico and its diasporas under a multi-year, Mellon-funded program called Bridging the Divides.

Yarimar Bonilla, Professor in the Effron Center for the Study of America, was awarded a $1.2 million grant by the Mellon Foundation to create Bridging the Divides, now in its second year. Her co-convener for this year’s cycle of the program is Deepak Lamba-Nieves, Director of Infrastructure & Transportation Justice at PolicyLink, as well as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico’s Graduate School of Planning.

Bridging the Divides seeks to overcome longstanding divisions that have served as roadblocks to the development of Puerto Rican studies and explores new solutions to Puerto Rico’s pressing problems. These divides include language, geography, ideology, and disciplinary methodology, and the lack of a shared vocabulary and policy agenda to guide the future. 

“Bridging the Divides is more than an academic program, it is an act of intellectual decolonization,” Bonilla said. “We are not just enriching the university's intellectual landscape; we are asserting the importance of Puerto Rican perspectives in shaping global thinking on decolonization, climate change, post-disaster futures, and the need for historical justice. It is also a bold statement about the need for collaborative and creative thinking in order to reimagine the pressing issues of our times.”

This year’s interdisciplinary group, which focuses on Puerto Rico’s post-disaster futures, first gathered for a retreat at Princeton in early October 2023. Among other topics, participants engaged in collaborative discussions on how they think about and imagine post-disaster Puerto Rico. They also worked to create a shared, cross-disciplinary vocabulary that explored important concepts such as “disaster” and “resiliencia” (“resilience”)–including how such terms both make and resist meaning within the emerging field of disaster studies, and specifically in the Puerto Rican context. 

“Engaging in critical discussions on post-disaster futures with talented colleagues from across the island and its diaspora has been an invaluable privilege,” Lamba-Nieves said of the October gathering. “Their thought-provoking proposals and approaches transcend established analytical frameworks within traditional post-disaster policy models. They’re informing how I think about what’s to come for Puerto Rico and also helping redefine my research agenda and how I frame policy priorities.”

The group’s conversations coalesced around the very challenges and limits of thinking about the future and how Puerto Rican studies can move beyond simply documenting disasters such as hurricane María and its aftermath toward imagining new possibilities for Puerto Rico. This imaginative work, however, is freighted with conditions of survival, trauma, and colonial violence and neglect.

Over four days, the group discussed and debated readings, attended the Gillett G. Griffin Lecture delivered by Puerto Rican painter, graphic artist and writer Antonio Martorell, made time for collaboration and community building, and created a roadmap to guide this year’s work.

After October’s retreat at Princeton, the group held virtual sessions over the fall semester. This spring, it will host public virtual conversations with guest speakers.

Bridging the Divides was originally created by Bonilla while she was the Director of CENTRO, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College-CUNY. When Bonilla joined the faculty at Princeton in 2023, it provided the Effron Center with this exciting opportunity to support the program and host the 2023-24 cohort. The first year’s group (2022-23), which focused on the theme of decolonization, was hosted by CENTRO and led by Bonilla and Efrén Rivera, Professor of Law at University of Puerto Rico.

More information about Bridging the Divides can be found in this information sheet. Any questions can be directed to the program’s coordinator, Dr. Isabel Guzzardo, at [email protected]