Pérez Jiménez Brings a Taste of New York to Table as Ford Fellow


Professors love getting the chance to geek out over their area of expertise when your class reaches the unit that includes information or lessons about their research and passion projects. For Cristina Pérez Jiménez, Ph.D., ethnic and cultural studies within American literature, specifically Latino studies, is the work that gets her excited. Being the Manhattan College resident specialist in the field, regularly gets the chance to teach the course Ethnic American Literature.

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Cristina Pérez Jiménez, Ph.D., is spending her year researching as a Ford Fellowship recipient. MANHATTAN COLLEGE / COURTESY

For the 2019-2020 academic year, instead of teaching a variety of English classes, she gets to spend the year researching as a recipient of a Ford Fellowship. The funding comes from the Ford Foundation which funds doctorate students at different stages, post-doctoral fellows and senior scholars through the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine.

“This year there were 24 fellows selected for post-doctoral fellowship and it’s one of the most, it depends on what field you are, but it’s one of the most competitive fellowships in the united states. In some fields it has around a three percent acceptance rate, so it’s competitive,” she said.

The prestigious program is not the only one that Pérez Jiménez spent her fall 2018 semester working on applications for, nor was it the only one she was accepted to for this year. She also applied to and was accepted by the Career Enhancement Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson foundation and an in-residence fellowship offered by Harvard University.

Pérez Jiménez found herself in a lucky position to be accepted by all three, giving her a choice to partake in the program that was the best fit for her. She ultimately decided to accept the Ford Fellowship’s offer, excited by what the program offers to their fellows.

“It really seeks to ferment cutting-edge research in engineering, science, the humanities, all fields and identify scholars at various stages in their careers that are doing cutting-edge research, that really helps us promote diversity, both within the academy and on a national scale, helping us think about issues related to diversity and social equity,” she said.

The Ford Foundation hosts a yearly conference for its participants that Pérez Jiménez gets to participate in both this year and next year, with all expenses paid for.

“What’s really beneficial is, you join the Ford family, they call it. You join this network of other Ford Fellows that basically become a resource for you. I actually just came back because I was out of town because every year the Ford Foundation hosts for the fellows a yearly conference. It’s a way of networking, it’s a way of being in contact with other people who are doing like-minded,” said Pérez Jiménez.

“It was really wonderful. It had these very important scholars in my field broadly in race and ethnic studies but also it had scientists and engineers. There are very limited opportunities – we’re sort of siloed into our disciplines – there’s very little opportunity to have discussions or conversations with people that are outside our immediate area of expertise so it’s been incredibly invigorating to be able to have conversations and hear people presenting their work in fields that are very different than mine.”

As a fellow, Pérez Jiménez has a big project that she is eager to have the time to delve into.

“I’m working on my book project which is tentatively titled “Here To Stay: The Making of Latinx New York” and it examines a consolidation of a Latino New York that we’re so familiar with now but in the decades of the 1930s, 1940s,” said Pérez Jiménez. “It takes a look at the Roosevelt era, the Great Depression, the New Deal, the rise of American communism, the second world war, anti-fascist movements worldwide. It thinks about how the sociopolitical conjuncture of the era, the national and the international, kind of forged ethnical alliances in the city.”

For Pérez Jiménez, this project is special to her. Not only is it very focused work in the scholarly fields she is trained in, the project allows her to revisit her scholarly origins: it’s a reworking of her dissertation.

“My book project is a revision of my dissertation for which I consulted over 15 archives, so I’m going back to a lot of archives in which I had done preliminary work for my dissertation. So that involves travel. Last week, I spent two days at Rutgers and one day at the New York Public Library, so these are the kinds of things that demand full day, often going several days in a row, and these are fairly local archives,” she said.

She will be traveling across the country to go back to the same archives, going as far as Iowa to look at the same materials she looked at several years ago. In addition to going back to the archives to revisit her source materials, she gets to dedicate her full attention to writing.

“While I’m teaching, I’m very diligent about keeping a writing schedule even with the demands of teaching because I think it really informs my pedological practice and really informs my teaching so it’s important for me as a teacher to always continuously be reading, writing, digesting,” said Pérez Jiménez.

“It’s easier when you’re teaching and have limited time slots for writing to be working on small pieces. On a book project, that’s a whole different beast that really demands looking at the big arch, asking big questions. I need to immerse myself in various fields and really think about how I’m situating my project in various fields and so forth. I really needed a big chunk of time which is really hard to gather during the semester.”

Besides giving Pérez Jiménez more time to work on her research and a network of resources, accepting the Ford Fellowship has allowed her to spend time on projects she normally would have to shelve or decline.

“This summer, knowing I’d have this fellowship year, there’s a Latinx poet I absolutely adore, her name is Ada Limon, and I was invited to write a piece for post45 sponsored by Yale University and I would have had to decline had I not had this fellowship year because my time is very limited and I have to be very focused but because I had this year, I was able to say okay, I’ll write it,” she said.

Accepting the opportunity to write this short piece was just one new opportunity she has had this year that has excited her thinking and excited her to return to teaching with new ideas.

“In the process of writing this essay that I would not have written otherwise, I was able to come up with a long list of notes of how I’m going to integrate this author, Ada Limon, into my syllabi. I’m keeping a folder of stuff that I find in the archives that I want to integrate into my classes, so posters, visual culture, sounds, I have film clips so I’ve been keeping a specific folder in terms of archival resources that I think will be really helpful integrated so students won’t just be reading texts but they’ll have a sense of familiarity and direct experience with the larger culture from which these texts emerge,” she said.

“I could talk forever because I have so many ideas. Coming back from the Ford conference, there were four panels that were specifically on integrating issues of social justice, equity, racial equity, different forms of educational disparities and addressing these issues in our classrooms and having very engaged pedological approaches, which is something I’m very passionate about. They gave me so many ideas, in terms of how to think about our syllabi, how to think about assignments. At the conference it was a very hands on, kind of training opportunity, which was really helpful.”

While Pérez Jiménez is throwing herself deep into her research and writing and getting excited for all the new ideas she can bring back to the classroom with her when the fellowship year is over, she is just extremely grateful to both have this year and all the support she has received.

“I am really thankful for the support that I’ve had both on the departmental level and on the institutional level. I felt very supported by my chair, Dr. Meyers, he was extremely supportive. Even before applying, I consulted him. “Would this be okay? What do you think? Would you be supportive of this application?” It was an absolute yes and even a yes from the institution too. I’m very thankful for the departmental and institutional support,” she said.