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Magic School Trips: SPA 327 in Puerto Rico

Unlike many of the other trip-based classes offered next semester, SPA 327: Latino Global Cities isn’t going abroad, but to another corner of the United States: Puerto Rico. Traveling to San Juan over spring break, the course studies urban Latino cultures in cities throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Spain. Cross-listed as a Spanish, urban studies and Latino studies course, SPA 327 requires a 200-level Spanish course, or instructor permission, and a one-page motivation letter, followed by an interview, to be selected as one of 14 students allowed to take this course. Priority is given to students who are planning on concentrating in Spanish and Portuguese.

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“The first part of the course is a preparation of the travel. The second part will use the trip’s experience to analyze other comparative cases,” associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese Germán Labrador Méndez said in an email. Funded by the Spanish and Portuguese department and the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism & the Humanities, the course is built around the trip, but students will spend the weeks preceding spring break in preparation for the experience.

In an email statement, professor emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese explained that the course will pay a lot of attention to Puerto Rican history and the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States, especially in cities such as New York, Hartford and Orlando. The course especially focuses on San Juan, a unique city because of its connections to the Caribbean, its reshaping by Spanish colonialism and subsequent remolding by U.S. imperialism since 1898.

Some of the course’s texts include the works of Julia de Burgos, Pedro Pietri and Federico García Lorca. Additionally, the course references work by Efrén Rivera Ramos, Ed Morales, Julia Ramírez, Mike Davis and David Graeber. To complement the literary and sociological texts, the artwork of Tania Rivera and Francesc Torres will be analyzed, along with the work of musicians such as Manu Chao, Camarón and Enrique Morente. Furthermore, students will watch screenings of documentaries and a concert in February by Miguel Zenón, a renowned jazz musician.

“We will also have an opportunity to meet and engage in dialogue with visual artists, musicians and scholars, as well as with activists dealing with the enormous repercussions of the debt crisis,” Díaz-Quiñones added. While students will learn more about Puerto Rican cultural traditions, they will also discuss American citizenship in a U.S. colony with Rivera Ramos, a scholar from the University of Puerto Rico. Students will also travel to Cayey to discuss race and racism in Puerto Rico and other global Latino cities with Isar Godreau. The class will meet with community leaders and government officials in San Juan to discuss the economic crisis, which stems from debt owed by the government and public corporations.

While exam questions will include fun topics such as Latino salsa, Puerto Rico’s beaches and everyone’s favorite topic — gastronomy — the course will also focus on serious issues faced today in Puerto Rico, and specifically in San Juan, including race, citizenship, the debt crisis and environmental issues. The trip will serve to establish a panoramic perspective on how the shaping of cities like San Juan can inform the experience of people living in those places.

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