Season 2, Episode 5 - Prof. Jorge Chinea talks Hispanic Heritage Month, the 50th anniversary of the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies

Professor Jorge Chinea, director of the Wayne State University Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, on the 50th anniversary of the center and the importance of Hispanic Heritage Month.

Episode Notes

Professor Jorge Chinea, director of the Wayne State University Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies, joins the podcast to talk with host Darrell Dawsey about the 50th anniversary of the center, its ever-growing impact on the city's Latino communities and why Hispanic Heritage Month should matter to us all.

About

Jorge L. Chinea specializes in colonial Latin American history and has researched the themes of immigration, settlement, and colonial exploitation of the Hispanic Caribbean.  His book, Race and Labor in the Hispanic Caribbean: The West Indian Worker Experience in Puerto Rico, 1800-1850 (2005), received a Wayne State University's Board of Governors Faculty Recognition Award in 2006.  A revised, augmented Spanish-language edition of the book was released in 2014 by the School of Hispanic-American Studies in Seville, Spain, the Office of the Official Historian of Puerto Rico and Wayne State University.

He has researched or lectured in Guyana, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Spain and Austria.  He has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Society for Irish Latin American Studies and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation.  He is a former resident scholar of the U.S. Library of Congress (Winter 2000) and former contributing editor for the Handbook of Latin American Studies (2002-2008).

From 2010-12 he served on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Humanities Council and sits on the Advisory Board of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.  Currently, he is Professor and Director of the Center for Latino & Latin American Studies at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan (USA).

Additional Resources

Follow Jorge Chinea on Facebook. facebook.com/jorge.chinea.7

Follow the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences on Twitter. https://twitter.com/WayneStateCLAS

Check out Jorge Chinea in these selected media clips:

Transcript

Announcer:

Welcome to Today@Wayne, a podcast that engages and informs the Wayne State University campus community with news, announcements, information and current events discussions, relevant to the university's goals and mission. Today@Wayne serves as the perfect form for our campus to begin a conversation or keep one going. Thanks for joining us.

Darrell Dawsey:

Welcome to the Today@Wayne Podcast. I'm Darrell Dawsey. It is no understatement to say that Jorge Chinea, a professor of History at Wayne State University and the director of the University Center for Latino/Latina and Latin American Studies has taken a compelling path to his current role.

Darrell Dawsey:

Born in semi-rural Puerto Rico, Chinea's family migrated in the late 1960s to New York City, where Chinea soon found himself immersed in both social activism and, ironically enough, street gang culture. Year spent as a member of the Harlem Renegades, a socially conscious outfit modeled after the Young Lords street gang in Chicago, gave Chinea a keen ground-level insight into a raft of social issues facing black and brown communities, from housing conditions to rent affordability, to policing and public safety. And after a torturous journey through college, as both a student and later young professor, Chinea wound up in Detroit in 1996. Since then he's become a fixture, not just on campus, but in many of the communities of color throughout Detroit, most notably in Southwest Detroit's heavily Latino neighborhoods.

Darrell Dawsey:

In his role as head of the Center, Chinea has been responsible for establishing and maintaining close ties between the University and the city's Latino communities, playing heavy roles in both the recruitment of more brown students to WSU and in securing financing for scholarships, to ensure that those students make it through to graduation.

Darrell Dawsey:

Now, as the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month, and as the center for Latino Latina and Latin American Studies celebrates its 50th anniversary, Chinea's contributions have been underscored more than ever. And now to talk about them, is the man himself. Jorge Chinea, you're on the Today@Wayne Podcast. Welcome professor Chinea.

Jorge Chinea:

Thank you very much, Darrell. This is an honor to be in this program.

Darrell Dawsey:

Always great to talk to you. Always great to talk to you. First of all, congratulations on the Center turning 50. I was wondering, maybe we could begin there. Tell us a little bit about your role over there and how that role has evolved over the years since you've been in.

Jorge Chinea:

This program actually began in the community. It was created by two local organization. Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development dreamed up the idea, and then they pitched it to New Detroit Incorporated. And New Detroit came up with some funding and, as a result of this collaboration between New Detroit LASED, they created a program that was initially called "The Latinos En Marcha: Leadership Development Training Program", or LEM for short.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay.

Jorge Chinea:

That program got the attention of people like Otto Feinstein and a couple of other people that were on campus. Otto Feinstein was an early activist, educational activist, who worked outside of the walls of Wayne State and began to reach out to the community who learn of the program, pitch that to the university community and lo and behold the BOG decided to launch it right here. I went to university in 1971.

Darrell Dawsey:

All right. Now, you've been over there since 96. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how the Center's work has changed from its inception to your time being there to now. How's its role and its work of all?

Jorge Chinea:

Actually it has grown by leaps and bounds. The initial impetus for the program was laid out by Dr. José Cuello, my predecessor. He's the one who actually hire me back in 1996. He himself was hired as a result of a community university collaboration and he laid down the groundwork. By the time I came in the program needed to go to the next level and having him set the foundation, it made my job easier.

Jorge Chinea:

I came in here from a university in Minnesota. There, I met a faculty member, his name is Dr. Dennis Valdés, and he told me, "I have been a professor at Chicano Boricua Studies." I would say in 1978. I said, "What is Chicano Boricua Studies?" He said, "Well, this is the program that started as LEM, that was soon rename the Center for essentially Mexican American and Puerto Rican studies. So the wording that was used was Chicano, which means Mexican American, and Boricua, which means Puerto Rican. Those two ethnic groups were the most actively involved in creating the Center by when it was called LEM.

Jorge Chinea:

He explained to me the connection with the community. I've always been involved in community activities from my days in Harlem. So I said, "Wow, a college program that has community connections. I'd like to learn more about it." So lo and behold, I get my PhD done in 1994 and looking for a job I noticed that there was an advertisement at Wayne. I apply and I was luckily accepted. I've been in the program since then.

Jorge Chinea:

What we have been doing is actually listening to what the students are telling us. So instead of doing it top-down, where we essentially decide from the top what is in the best interest of students, we have been engaged in conversations with students. What would you like to see? What would help you become more in tune with the university community here, more responsive to the academic environment, most successful in carrying out that those goals that you have are getting a quality education on Wayne State.

Jorge Chinea:

And having listened to them, we also conducted a longitudinal study to see where our students have been doing academically, to find out what are the hurdles, what are the things that make them stumble, and also what are the other needs that we don't know about they. For example, what is the receptivity outside the walls of the Center, are the student being taken care of or they've been discouraged. So we put all that information together and started creating programs for students. And we had created, I don't know, quite a few of them. We created, for example, the first ever Summer Enrichment Program, in 2004; then we created the College to Career Program, to get them trained into careers that they may follow up on when they graduate, so this is like an internship program for them.

Jorge Chinea:

Then we develop a Academia del Pueblo, which is an undergraduate studies research conference, where they can start practicing what they have been learning in the class publicly, so they can learn how to do public speaking and learn how to organize papers, present PowerPoints and so on and so forth. Actually do even panels if they want to do panel presentation. T.

Jorge Chinea:

hen we decided that, "Okay, we're going to hold a gala." A gala that had been held at the Center for every, maybe every five years. We decided to hold it every year, with the idea of making it a fundraiser and an opportunity to make up with the community roots.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay.

Jorge Chinea:

And as a result of that, many people have responded favorably and we have been doing it for a while now. And that got the attention of several corporations.

Jorge Chinea:

We went to them initially and told them, "We need resources because programs like ours cannot solely depend on university funding. Whatever you can have to spare, we can use it." So we started getting initially small amounts. A thousand dollars here, actually even less than that in some cases; free tickets to events and job resume training and workshops on financial literacy. And then we kept rising it up, increasing it. And now we're doing internships. Some of them are paid internships.

Jorge Chinea:

And then those incorporations then said, "How was can we help?" I said, "We desperately need, not only opportunities to engage the students off campus, we need college money. Because it's costly to go to college." And they've been coming through with that. The most recent scholarship amount that we received was from the DTE Energy Foundation. They gave us $330,000.

Darrell Dawsey:

All right. Wow.

Jorge Chinea:

And we have been using that to support the students.

Darrell Dawsey:

I don't know if you're being modest or if you just don't want to speak to it, but I understand that at least one of these scholarships is actually named in your honor. Is that right?

Jorge Chinea:

Oh yes. That was another idea that came out of the community, in this case.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay.

Jorge Chinea:

Oh, by the way, I didn't mention that many of those programs that I mentioned, like the College to Career Program and the Summer Enrichment Program, they were actually suggestions that came from students or alumni. They told us, "How can we connect with students once they graduate or before they graduates. We can help them get jobs." And anyway. One leader in the community we invited to an event said, "Wow, you could do in this year to year to year. I don't think we recognize you enough. You're doing so much for everybody else. Maybe we're going to create a scholarship on the your name." So that was that. Someone in the community the idea caught on, and all of a sudden now I think he has, I think over $10,000 already, by people donating to it. When he reaches $25,000, is going to become an endorsed scholarship and then we're going to start issuing a scholarship out of it.

Darrell Dawsey:

Wonderful. Well. Now, that's great work. I'm just wondering. It just seems to be... That kind of work seems to be in line with your history. Has your work at the Center been a great place to you to bring some of the activist spirit that you home and developed as a young man into the campus community? And if so, what has been the overall response and what are some of the challenges that remain as result of you doing the hard work you do?

Jorge Chinea:

One of the things that we have been doing is sharing what we know with other people. It's enough best self-interest, to the extent that people become conscious of our needs, they could develop programming that can respond to those needs. One of the things that we have done is... We knew, or we have been knowing, that the black retention and graduation rate needs to increase, so we reached out to the department of Africana Studies, where I am also an adjunct faculty member, and I encouraged them to create something similar to what we have. And as a result of that, I believe that the president is personally engaged in creating a program that will address those needs and we're happy to say that we will be there to support it 100%.

Darrell Dawsey:

All right. Now, when we turn our eyes off of campus and we look out into the city, we look out into our communities, communities like Southwest Detroit, what are some of the big challenges that our communities are facing, our students are facing? And what role should we as a university, and should places like the Center be playing in helping to address this problems?

Jorge Chinea:

That's a really good question. One of the challenges in most minoritized communities is that they're not fully institutionalized in the sense that they don't have their own native sources of income or resources. They don't have the infrastructure to address some of the challenges. Urban life is so much different than rural life, so you got a lot of kids that are disconnected from the traditions of the past, people who protest tradition from the U.S. South or the broader from Latin America. So people become a little bit disconnected and they need to reconnect.

Jorge Chinea:

One of the challenges for me is trying to do what I can to promote community development. Whenever people call me and say, "Can you come to us and tell us about the needs of the Latino community?" Sure. "Can you come to the school and talk about the Hispanic culture and all that?" Sure. And I do it, because in doing so we are sharing the knowledge over the so-called "ivory tower", with a community that needed the most. Especially in a place like Wayne State. It's a public institution, a land-grant institution, and this mission, this over a mission, needs to be continuously address and enhance and expanded.

Jorge Chinea:

I take in that as part of my job, because of the community roots of the Center, to share that community engagement with anyone on campus that will be willing to be seen and participated with us. And at the annual gala, this comes alive because what we do, we invite university units: the College of Education, Law School, African-American studies, Anthropology, Peace and Conflict Studies, whomever we can. I said, "Come and sit with us. Find out what the community is about."

Darrell Dawsey:

Right.

Jorge Chinea:

"Let's have dinner together. Let's talk." You find out that there's a lot of commonalities out there.

Darrell Dawsey:

Absolutely.

Jorge Chinea:

And I get a particular joy out of that.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay. All right. Well, that's fantastic. Now, I'm just wondering if you could just give me some quick numbers. How many students has the Center served over the... Certainly since your time.

Jorge Chinea:

I would say, in terms of the students that we recruit per year, the program started small because we were initially a one-year program.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay.

Jorge Chinea:

And then by the time I came here in 96, he became a two year program.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay.

Jorge Chinea:

So what the student did, we acclimated them to campus life, and then we more or less cut them loose, so to speak. And they go on and on and make it out there in the different colleges and programs. Since then, we looked closely at that formula and we said, "You know they need more scaffolding. They need more connections." So we added the College to Career Program that became a three-year program now. And under the three-year program, we also have a Latino Studies minor that we created. We found out that the major, although it's interesting, a lot of people cannot afford to pay for two majors because that's coursework that you had to pick into different units. It could become expensive. So we decided to create a minor. You could do a minor and still being your transcript. You can use it in the job market and it's fulfillable, you can do it within a reasonable amount of time.

Jorge Chinea:

Now the students stick around to become a minor in Latin American and Latino studies. And that enables us to maintain connections with them at least to the fourth year.

Darrell Dawsey:

Absolutely.

Jorge Chinea:

And it's a labor of love. I'll tell you that.

Jorge Chinea:

And as far as how many, because we started as a one year program, we started with about maybe 30, 40 students and we have been pretty much in the same level to them. I think this past year we went up to 60.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay. Wow.

Jorge Chinea:

The number is depending on the funding. If we have enough funding to support a hundred students, we will take a hundred students; but, if we don't have enough to support them over four years, so we have to be modest.

Jorge Chinea:

Altogether, I would say around 2000 students had gone through the program, but we also do film festivals, we also do conferences, we also do outreach into the community and we do the courses and maybe other courses are not close to the university community, they're actually open. Anybody can take them. So that means that we probably serve as another... Probably 5000 or 8000 students who have been in these events that we've been holding. I mean, Academia del Pueblo attracts about 300, 400 students and some of them from other nearby institutions.

Darrell Dawsey:

Yeah. I'm going to [crosstalk 00:17:39] Did that. because I don't think people really understand the reach [inaudible 00:17:43] has and the impact that it's had in Detroit and the communities around Detroit. Let me ask you this. We're going to get close to it. We're close to wrapping up. So I'm not going to take up too much more of your time. I know you're busy, but I do want to ask you: this is September/October mark Hispanic heritage month. Just wondering, how do you think people should be thinking about Hispanic heritage month? How should people be celebrating Hispanic heritage month? Just in your opinion.

Jorge Chinea:

Yes. Let me address that. But before I do that, just for one little second, let me mention something about Academia del Pueblo. Literally it means The People's Academy.

Darrell Dawsey:

Okay.

Jorge Chinea:

It's an open forum where students can practice public speaking, research writing, research presentation, and so on, but he is the kick, they will mix it really beautiful. We invite community leaders and the agencies that provide internships to same people, so that they could be panelists and participants in the conference. That create that vibrancy between the university and the community, both regarding the Hispanic heritage month.

Jorge Chinea:

The Hispanic Heritage Month to me, I look at it as an opportunity to remind us of the importance of inclusivity, the importance of moving from history to her-story, to our-story. Everybody. And we need to do that because this country was born out of the interaction of many different groups.

Jorge Chinea:

Some of those interactions were not happy moments, obviously. We have the conquest of North America that the lands of Indian peoples away; we had the enslavement of Africans; we had the deportation campaigns that over the years have being impacting Latino populations and other population. We had been terming camps against Japanese-Americans. So this list of bad stuff that has happened in the past.

Jorge Chinea:

However, when we get past those sour moments, Latinos are still here. Japanese are still here. Indians are still here. African-Americans are still here. So to me, that Hispanic heritage month is a time to reflect upon the diversity of the country and the fact that Latinos have been here for a long, long time. In fact, we could make a reasonable argument that Latinos were in north America before the European from other nations, other than spanking.

Darrell Dawsey:

I don't think [crosstalk 00:20:29] that's a fact in history based art.

Jorge Chinea:

Yes. And they brought around free blacks because the black population in Spain, when Columbus came, was already large, and these are free blacks. These are not enslaved Africans. And they came here to participate. So a lot of the Spanish were partly Arabs, because Spain was on the nation of Islam, or the world Islam, for 800 centuries. I mean, eight centuries. Excuse me. 800 years. And the Spanish brought many of the Arab culture with them. They brought in the African culture with them. And then you got the miscegenation or intermarriage here with native peoples.

Jorge Chinea:

So it's a rich history, and it's worth reminding ourselves that Latinos have been participating in this society, in this culture in many different ways, especially in the area of the economy. I mean, the labor provided by Hispanic migrants has been a significant boost to the economy of the United States in the Southwest and in the Northeast and now in the Midwest. And it continued to grow. And that is something that sometimes overlook when people think of Hispanic illegals, undocumented, perhaps people that shouldn't be here.

Jorge Chinea:

But we're neighbors. Latin America is right across the border from us. Canada to the north, Mexico to the south. We have to get along.

Darrell Dawsey:

That's right.

Jorge Chinea:

So the Hispanic Heritage Month I think it's just an opportunity for people to remind us of the importance of collaborating and networking and diversification, all the good stuff and try to put aside those mommies in the past that were not the best examples of American democracy.

Darrell Dawsey:

Absolutely. Well, you know what? That's a great point. And that's a great place for us to leave this conversation. I really appreciate the spirit of what you just said. And of course, I always appreciate talking to you and I appreciate taking the time to join us here on the podcast today.

Jorge Chinea:

Thank you so much. Thank you for inviting me. And I hope this program continue to have more of this type of events to feature the people on campus that are doing work, including yourself. So I want to thank you for inviting me and I wish you a happy Hispanic Heritage Month celebration.

Darrell Dawsey:

Thank you very much. Thank you so very much. Appreciate it having you, professor Jorge Chinea. I'm Darrell Dawsey. This is the Today@Wayne Podcast. Thank you for watching.

Announcer:

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