By, Nicole Fitzsimmons & Kyla Guifoil, News Editor & Asst. News Editor
Cristina Pérez Jiménez, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at Manhattan College, is one of nine to receive a research stipend in the prestigious U.S. Latino Digital Humanities Grants-in-Aid program. This will help further her research and development of her own digital humanities project focusing on her project, “the Latino Catskills.”
Alongside the help of her co-principal investigator, J. Brett Maney, Ph.D., assistant professor of English at CUNY Lehman College, Pérez Jiménez is looking to create a project with two main features: a clickable mapping interface and multimedia exhibits. Each component will be digitally accessible and detailed to high- light the grand Latino presence in the Catskills.
“This is a project that I’ve been thinking about for many years now. I have a big folder, a digital folder, on my desktop where I’ve been accumulating documentation about the Latino presence in the Catskills since the 19th century,” she said.
In a place that has been historically understood as lacking extensive diversity, the Catskills actually has a rich history of various identities, especially for the Latino community, which Pérez Jiménez hopes to uncover through this project.
“I think a lot of my students think of the Catskills as a space that is foreign to their experiences, and the Latino experiences have over whelmingly been concentrated in urban environments, right,” she said. “So, we tend to think of Latino identity specifically in New York, and it’s important to recover and to document that these other spaces have also been significant for the development of a Latino identity. And, the leisure, recreation experience of being on vacation, all of that is significant to the U.S. Latino experience.”
Gabrielle Panassol, senior history major with an Italian minor, is currently a member of the Latino Literature class taught by Pérez Jiménez this semester and enjoys the breadth of the course in understanding Latino literature.
“My favorite part of the class, I guess, is just how she’s not only showing us Puerto Rican literature, which is what I thought this class would mainly be about because, you know, Puerto Rico is a region of the U.S., but she has shown us Mexican readings, Peurto Rican, Cuban, and she has a whole semester with all these different Latino and Hispanic works and it’s just really nice to learn about that,” she said.
Pérez Jiménez’s passion for the topic further emphasizes the ways in which Panassol has experienced an enrichment of her understanding of the Latino community, which interests her especially since she is from Brazil.
“She’s so passionate about everything that she is teaching us and she clearly has a very broad understanding of all the poems and all of the readings and books that we’ve read so far, and she’s a great professor,” she said.
Pérez Jiménez is looking towards incorporating aspects of the Latino Catskills project into her teaching. She hopes it will allow the Manhattan College and local community to become a part of the project, especially given the rich Latino history in the Bronx.
“We really hope the broader community will have access. Something that’s been really interesting to me is since the announcement of the grants, it was posted on various channels of social media, on Twitter and Facebook, and we’ve already had lots of people from the New York Latinx community saying, ‘I remember when I was growing up with my parents going to giras [day trips] or vacationing in the Catskills.’ So, I think the announcement of the project is already starting to generate and organize, it’s going to un- cover and unearth a lot more stories,” she said.
Looking forward, she is excited to see students help as re- search assistants and as part of a larger audience for the project. Gemma Franzetti, junior business analytics major and student in the Latino New York: Cultural Identities class taught by Pérez Jiménez during the previous semester, believes that this grant is a testament towards her passion for enriching the minds of students.
“Dr. Pérez Jiménez was able to introduce the class to many different Latino works of literature which expanded my understanding on the importance Latino literature has in New York City,” Franzetti said. “Dr. Pérez Jiménez has a love and drive for teaching and made taking the class easy which can be translated into all her works outside, and it’s a well deserved grant for her.”
Chris Osorio, sophomore adolescent education major, is a first generation American Latino college student, who also took Latino Literature with Pérez Jiménez. Osorio explains that she is able to both celebrate and recognize the struggle of being Latino in America.
“I think that she deserves the US Latino Digital Humanities Grants because she truly encapsulates the Latino experience and thoroughly explains the struggle of life as a marginalized group through different perspectives,” Osorio told The Quadrangle. “She understands the multiple dimensions of the beautiful and ugly of what it means to be latino in America and through her love for literature she echoes it immensely with the chosen literature within her classes.”
For Osorio, it has been impactful to learn about the immigration of Puerto Ricans to New York, and the literature that exists behind it.
“This is a topic in which a typical American history class would only cover for 5 min and overlook the circumstances and stories of them which makes New York so special,” Osorio wrote.
The development of the digital arts and humanities program at Manhattan is something that Pérez Jiménez believes is important towards similar projects.
“We have such a wonderful digital humanities program at Manhattan College under the really stellar leadership of Dr. Maeve Adams,” she said. “So, I think that has also been a galvanizing force in terms of faculty, some of us that have started to think about doing projects in the digital humanities…That’s something I would also mention, that, you know, it’s really great that Dr. Adams has al- ready created an infrastructure to get visibility and support digital humanities projects.”
The upcoming months will focus on three steps that will be taken to properly develop the project, including organizing the documentation and creating the metadata, creating the mapping interface which will serve as a geographic portrait of certain significant sites, such as hotels that catered in the Latino community in the Catskills, and to also find any additional materials for the curated galleries.
The diverse landscape of the Catskills has been a historical space for various cultures, and Pérez Jiménez’s work celebrates the importance of Latinos’ impact there.