Eulogies for Juan Flores

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Centro Voices Staff

 

The recent loss of Juan Flores has been felt by all who knew him personally or thorugh his work. His intellectual presence left a deep imprint in many academic fields, but most specially in Puerto Rican studies. Juan's career was intimately linked to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, as well as the City University of New York and his beloved New York. 

During the past week, we have seen an outpouring of grief at the passing of Professor Juan Flores. The following letters shared by renowned scholar Arcadio Díaz Quiñones; Professor and President of of the Puerto Rican Studies Association, Arlene Torres and one of his students, Mario Cancel, represent a small sample of the innumerous lives touched and influenced by Juan.


FROM A FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE

Juan was a dear friend and an admired intellectual. I remember when I first met him in New York in the early 1970s shortly after he obtained his doctorate in German literature and intellectual history at Yale. But he was not interested in the traditional academy. He was part of a vibrant mix of activists and artists collaborating with Frank Bonilla in establishing the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños. In 1978, along with José Luis González, Ricardo Campos, and Ángel Quintero Rivera, we participated in a symposium held at Princeton University. Juan read a pioneering essay co-written with Campos on “Migración y cultura nacional puertorriqueñas: perspectivas proletarias” which was published in Puerto Rico: identidad nacional y clases sociales (coloquio de Princeton). We remained friends since then. Over the years, it was a pleasure to see how through his inspiring teaching, his translations, essays and books he contributed to delineate and transform the contours of what we know today as diasporic, Puerto Rican, and Latino political and cultural traditions. With Miriam Jiménez he spent the last years of his life passionately building a solid foundation for Afro-Latino Studies. His work has been and will continue to be enormously influential. His death is a severe loss.

Lo extrañaré muchísimo.
Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones
Professor and friend


ABOUT HIS LEGACY

Theorizing culture and place, Dr. Juan Flores re-imagined and articulated the hidden histories of the Puerto Rican diaspora in groundbreaking publications that include, Divided Borders: Essays of Puerto Rican Identity (1993) and The Diaspora Strikes Back: Caribeño Tales of Learning and Turning (2009). Edited by Miriam Jiménez Román & Juan Flores, his most recent work, The Afro-Latin@ reader: history and culture in the United States (2010) challenged us to come to terms with the effects of racializing discourses and practices in our communities. By creating spaces via the AfroLatin@ forum with his beloved partner Miriam, they sought to support a cadre of critically engaged scholars and activists that are radically transforming scholarship on Latinos, Puerto Ricans and the AfroLatin@ Diaspora.

When I last saw Juan at an event at NYU he was doing just that.

A true pionero. En Paz Descanse.
Arlene Torres                                                                                                                                                 
Professor of Africana, Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Hunter College and President-elect, Puerto Rican Studies Association


FROM A STUDENT

I met Juan two years ago when I enrolled in his course Afro-Latino History and Culture at New York University. As a Puerto Rican born and raised in Puerto Rico --where history courses tend to exclude the diaspora—I wanted to learn more about the experiences of Puerto Ricans in the United States and about the difference between the concept of race in Latin America and the United States, and who better than Juan? Juan's course was mind opening: it was instrumental in developing my understanding of Puerto Rico as a transnational nation, a notion that would eventually shape my Master's thesis. Perhaps because I knew that Juan was a very influential well-respected scholar, I was surprised to see that he was extremely humble and accessible. Laughter and joy were intrinsic to his course: music was played, poetry was read, and if it were it not for Juan's academic rigor—Juan really read your papers—one would had thought that one was hanging out. Indeed, the class was more like a brilliantly orchestrated tertulia or social gathering. 

When I was told about Juan's passing it was these scenes which I remembered first. I also remembered that if it were not for Juan, I might have not been admitted to several doctoral programs. I have no doubt that his letter of recommendation played a major role in my admittance to Columbia University. When Juan turned 70 I was lucky enough to be invited—just by chance—to his surprise birthday party. As Juan came in the house we all said "surprise!" and the same Juan that I knew from the classroom emerged. It was then that I discovered that laughter and joy were intrinsic to his life: that in Juan's life music was always being played and that poetry was everywhere. 

I was just one of his many students. I know that family members and other friends were infinitely closer to him than I ever became. And yet, as I digest the news of his passing, I cannot help but feel that I have lost a friend.     

Mario Cancel                                                                                                                                                     
Doctoral Student at Columbia University


Hunter Mourns the Passing of Juan Flores

Former Hunter College Professor Juan Flores, a highly regarded scholar, author, and lecturer in Puerto Rican, Afro-Latino and Cultural Studies, died Tuesday, December 2, in Durham, North Carolina.

Juan was a beloved figure at the College from 1994 until 2006, when he left for NYU to teach social and cultural analysis. While at Hunter he was director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies (Centro) until 1997 and he also served as director of Hunter's Mellon Minority Undergraduate Fellowship Program.

"Hunter College and the entire community lost a great man and brilliant advocate with Juan's passing," said Hunter President Jennifer J. Raab.

Juan's research focused on social and cultural theory, Latino and Puerto Rican studies, popular music, transnational communities and Afro-Latino culture. He served on the Board of Directors of the New York Council on the Humanities and was a consultant for the Smithsonian Institution as well as the Rockefeller Foundation. He was also the author of numerous groundbreaking books focusing on the hidden histories of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. 

In addition, Juan was the co-founder and chair of the afrolatin@ forum—an Afro-Latino advocacy group—and co-editor of The Afro-Latino Reader. He was the recipient of numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the Latino Legacy Award presented by the Smithsonian in 2009.

The previous statement was originally published on the Hunter College website.


© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 10 December 2014.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.