2008 Post-Conference Report
PRSA 8th Biennial Conference
Puerto Rican Studies Association
October 1–4, 2008
Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe
San Juan, Puerto Rico
The PRSA Program Committee for the 2008 PRSA Conference was chaired by Elizabeth Crespo-Kebler (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Bayamón/Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe). The other members of the Program Committee were: Luis Aponte-Parés (University of Massachusetts, Boston); Alice Colón Warren (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras); Carmen Milagros Concepción (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras); Anthony De Jesús (Hunter College, CUNY); Jorge Duany (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras and Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe); Myrna García-Calderón (Syracuse University and Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe); Gladys M. Jiménez-Muñoz (Binghamton University, SUNY); Carmen Haydée Rivera (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras).
We also organized a Local Committee that worked with the long-term planning of the conference, including finances, promotion, logistics, coordination with other universities and entities in Puerto Rico and in the U.S., preparation of the Pre-Conference, recruitment of volunteers, and running the event. This committee was coordinated by Elizabeth Crespo Kebler with the participation of the aforementioned (Professors Aponte Parés, Colón Warren, Concepción, Duany, García-Calderón, and Rivera). In addition, the following colleagues were part of the local committee: Sara Benítez Delgado (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Humacao); Elsa Cardalda (Universidad Carlos Albizu and Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras); Margarita Mergal (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras and Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe); Roberto Mori González (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Humacao); Juan Otero Garabís (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras); Ana Irma Rivera Lassén (Universidad de Puerto Rico, Río Piedras); Maribel Tamargo (Universidad Interamericana, Recinto Metropolitano).
The conference theme was Cartografías de identidades: Puerto Rico/rriqueños(as) en el siglo XXI / Cartographies of Identities: Puerto Rico(ans) in the 21st Century.
The Pre-Conference program, organized by Carmen Haydée Rivera, Juan Otero Garabís and Manuel Rodríguez, was entitled Reflections on the Puerto Rican Diaspora and its Historical Development. The pre-conference was held at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, on Wednesday, October 1, 2008. Mayra Santos-Febres gave the keynote address at the Conference opening on Wednesday evening. Her controversial and brilliant critique of Puerto Rican studies entitled “Los últimos latinoamericanos” set the stage for the discussion of the conference theme. Ricardo Alegría opened the conference with a lecture that offered a founder’s vision. The opening was held in the inner courtyard of the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe.
Throughout the next three days, 379 participants explored the conference theme and sub-themes in eighty panels, three plenaries, and three poster sessions. In addition to these participants who appeared in the program, 67 student volunteers and a number of other scholars and students who reside in Puerto Rico attended the sessions. This was one of the largest conferences, if not the largest, celebrated in the history of PRSA.
Jorge Duany and Myrna García-Calderón edited the final version of the program. Poster and program artwork was donated by Ana Rosa Rivera, resident artist at the Centro de Investigaciones Sociales of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. The program and poster were both bilingual, and provided information in a very accessible and attractive visual format. The closing activity was a dance featuring Atabal, the renowned Afro-Puerto Rican music band whose constant practice and research about the different forms and modalities of the music of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Latin America, have put them at the forefront of artistic creation. The administrative assistants for the conference were Marti Dense of the PRSA Secretariat, and Roxanna Domenech, a graduate student at the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe. Both were indispensable to the success of the Conference.
Background to the Conference
The Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe (CEAPRC) was designated as the site for the conference at the 2006 PRSA meeting in Ithaca. The CEAPRC was fully committed to sponsor the conference at its historic location in Old San Juan. The four-day schedule of events represented an important venue for scholarly work around the theme of the conference and for building networks with other institutions and scholars. For this reason, as Academic Dean of the institution, Elizabeth Crespo Kebler involved the Centro’s students and the administrative structure to their fullest extent.
Initial conversations between PRSA President Luis Aponte-Parés and Elizabeth Crespo Kebler about the topic of the conference were held at the 2006 PRSA conference in Ithaca. Planning of the logistics for space and lodging began in December 2006.
In April 2007, a local committee was formed and, by August 2007, the Program Committee was established with members located both in Puerto Rico and in the United States. The call for papers, in Spanish and English, was distributed in early August and we took the opportunity to reach the media with publicity about the Conference. PRSA President Luis Aponte Parés traveled to Puerto Rico to meet and work with the local committee at this time and on various other occasions throughout the months that preceded the conference. In August 2007, Radio Universidad de Puerto Rico held an hour-long interview with Luis Aponte Parés and Elizabeth Crespo Kebler on the themes of the conference. The interview and excerpts were broadcast at different times.
Broad distribution of the call for papers was done via e-mail by Marti Dense at the Secretariat and by the local committee in Puerto Rico. At this time, committee members from Puerto Rico met with several administrators from the University of Puerto Rico to obtain resources and collaborations, including student scholarships, sharing of resources, and sponsoring speakers. UPR President, Antonio García Padilla, committed himself to cosponsoring the opening reception. The Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Carlos Severino, offered to cover the traveling expenses of one of the plenary speakers. The Centro de Investigaciones Sociales (CIS) of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, and its director, Carmen Concepción, were also key to the success of the Conference. The CIS provided the artwork for the poster and the program and put other resources at our disposition.
The decision to reserve several rooms at two hotels near the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe made it possible for participants to avoid the city traffic and the high costs of limited parking available in Old San Juan. The neighborhood also appreciated not being inundated with the vehicular congestion that the influx of hundreds of conference participants would have caused.
Breakfast, snacks, and lunch offered at the conference site made it easier for attendees to participate fully in the panel sessions, exhibit tables, poster sessions, and networking opportunities. Participants were also able to indulge in the tranquility of the inner courtyard of the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe.
Alice Colón Warren headed the organization of 67 student volunteers to manage the daily coordination of the conference activities. These students were recruited from the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras campus (36 students), Humacao Campus (6 students) and the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe (25 students). At such a large conference, this group of volunteers was a key element in the smooth and efficient running of all the activities. Their schedules were distributed throughout the four days of the conference in such a way as to cover our needs throughout the day and in the evenings. The volunteers also made it possible to seamlessly coordinate the distribution of a limited number of LCD projectors available for eight concurrent sessions. This represented a substantial savings for the conference and allowed the maximization of limited resources.
Student Scholarships. We awarded twelve scholarships in the form of free lodging for students. We were able to offer these scholarships to all those who applied (eleven from the United States and one from Puerto Rico). Ten students were accommodated in the facilities at the CEAPRC. Two stayed at the conference hotel. Student facilities for at the CEAPRC included rooms with private baths and kitchenettes and were provided by the CEAPRC free of cost. PRSA paid for the two students who stayed at the hotel. The monetary value of these scholarships, including the CEAPRC’s in-kind contribution, was $2,280. In addition, through the efforts of the local organizing committee, the University of Puerto Rico paid registration fees for their students’ participation at the conference. Students who worked as volunteers at the conference were also awarded free registration for the day they worked as volunteers. In total, 67 students were awarded registration grants.
The conference started on Wednesday evening and was followed by three full days of conference activities. On Thursday and Friday, panels began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m. On Saturday, panels ran from 8:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. The closing activity was held on Saturday evening. The panels were well attended throughout the day and there were few cancellations.
Three plenary sessions gave cohesiveness, breath, and depth to the conference theme. These plenaries were organized under the following titles: “Cartografías de la migración en la representación pictórica / Cartographies of Migration in Pictorial Representations”; “Cartografía y geografía de identidades / Cartography and the Geography of Identities”; and “Cartografías del idioma: hacia un mapa de las prácticas lingüísticas de los puertorriqueños(as) en la Isla y los Estados Unidos / Cartographies of Language: Mapping the Linguistic Practices of Puerto Ricans on the Island and in the United States.” Luis Aponte-Parés, Carmen Haydée Rivera, and Jorge Duany organized the plenaries.
Since the history of PRSA is principally linked to the United States, many students and researchers in Puerto Rico are not familiar with the Association. Previously, we celebrated a very successful biennial conference in San Juan in 1996. The 2008 Conference renewed important linkages between PRSA and a very large number of researchers and academic institutions in Puerto Rico.
Having the CEAPRC as the Conference venue, symbolized receiving PRSA in the university that was established by and is home to Ricardo Alegría.
The biannual conference is a wonderful and unique opportunity to strengthen ties between researchers and institutions linked to Puerto Rican studies. Furthermore, the CEAPRC facilities provided an inviting atmosphere for exchanges outside of the official conference sessions. Several entities, including the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe, Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College, the Centro de Investigaciones Sociales, and the Instituto de Estudios del Caribe of the University of Puerto Rico, maintained an active and visible presence throughout the Conference through exhibits, panel presentations, and formal receptions.
Students at the CEAPRC made good use of the opportunity to participate and present papers at a professional conference. For most students, this was a new experience. Twenty-five students worked as volunteers and eleven presented papers or acted as moderators. In addition, eleven faculty members presented papers or acted as moderators.
Faculty and administrative resources from the Humacao, Bayamón, and Río Piedras campuses of the University of Puerto Rico, Interamerican University, and Carlos Albizu University formed an active part of the Conference organization. The conference was publicized widely, through radio and television programs, radio announcements, and the Internet, as well as printed materials, reaching most of the universities, activists, and researchers as well as the general public on the Island. After the conference, Jorge Duany, Mayra Santos-Febres, and Elizabeth Crespo Kebler were invited to a public television program, “Cultura Viva,” to speak about the conference. This invitation was one of the measures of the impact and visibility the conference achieved locally.
Participants had the opportunity to acquire books and other materials about Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, some of which are not available in the United States. Several booksellers from the United States also participated in the book exhibit.
The large number of people who attended the conference made it possible to raise a significant amount of money through membership and registration fees. Although salaries are lower in Puerto Rico than in the United States, the organization generated sufficient interest to motivate people to pay the required fees.
We offered lodging grants for all graduate students who applied, a total of twelve. They enjoyed the CEAPRC facilities and made use of the physical and intellectual space to meet with each other as well as with their mentors, professors, and other researchers.
The participation of high school teachers from private and public schools in Puerto Rico was a significant achievement. Some received funding from their schools for registration and/or membership fees.
The business meeting was held on the first day of the Conference to promote the participation of our membership. We did not want to leave it for the last days of the conference to avoid lapsing energy and early departures.
Our Conference generated broad interest, and people were willing to pay registration fees, but were not convinced of the benefits of membership. We recommend a reduced membership fee for local residents of the conference venue who only come to listen to the panels and not to make a presentation. This would be a way to stimulate their interest in becoming regular members of the Association and participating in future conferences.
Our Association should offer services to its members with the membership dues that have been collected throughout the years. The use of the membership dues should be made public among our members. One of the recommendations that came out of our conversations was to begin by establishing an award, Premio Ricardo Alegría, for the best publication in Puerto Rican Studies.
The success of the Conference depends mostly on the organization of the people who are recruited in the location where the conference is held. The support of the Secretariat and the Executive Committee should rest on the trust and reliance on the work of the local committee and the knowledge that each local committee has of the necessities and particularities of the location where the conference will be held.
Supporting the people and institutions in the locale where the conference will be held, strengthens PRSA because it solidifies contacts, motivates future collaborations, and makes people feel part of the organization. The Executive Committee should function in a way that supports and encourages people to work on the Conference organizing and motivates them to attend future conferences, increasing the organization’s membership.
The local committee that worked toward this conference highly recommends that a separate fund for “petty cash” should be available to the local committee for reserving and/or purchasing conference-related items. In the specific case of Puerto Rico, the local committee experienced difficulties when presenting US-bank checks, which many times were not accepted. At times, this meant that individuals had to contribute of their own money for conference expenses which were later reimbursed, a practice that we do not recommend. The local committee will be responsible for providing receipts and itemized documentation for all conference related expenditures.
One of the key aspects of the Conference is the selection of papers and other presentations to be included in the program. The Executive Committee should meet at least once with the Program Committee to evaluate the proposals for papers and panels, and to discuss the selection criteria.
Special care and attention should be put into the preparation, formatting, and printing of the final program of the Conference. We recommend distributing it in advance by regular or electronic mail to registered participants.
by Elizabeth Crespo Kebler
Local Organizing Committee Chair
Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Puerto Rico y el Caribe