Chair, Five College Latin American, Caribbean, and Latin@ Studies Program
Wilson Valentín-Escobar, is an Associate Professor of American Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, and Sociology at Hampshire College. He holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Michigan. His research centers on the politics and poetics of cultural production. Valentín-Escobar’s early research documented the process and cultural significance of musical production within the Puerto Rican, Nuyorican diasporic community, highlighting how salsa and Latin jazz are inter-musical, transnational processes that embody popular memory, resistance struggles, and diasporic transracial alliances. His current work focuses on the critical role that community arts centers have in fostering how Latino/a avant-garde artists engage in artistic collective practices for decolonial emancipation through public performances and alternative art spaces.
A Brooklyn New York-native, Valentín-Escobar is currently completing the book, Bodega Surrealism: The Emergence of Latin@ Artivists in New York City (New York University Press, 2016). The manuscript, which derives from his award-winning Dissertation, examines the cultural activism, or “artivism,” of two community-based art communities and projects that originated in the 1970s within the Lower East Side neighborhood of New York City: the New Rican Village Cultural Arts Center and El Puerto Rican Embassy. Based on the premise that culture has the potential to create anti-hegemonic, emancipatory social change for a generation of working-class Puerto Rican and Latina/o artists, their art responded to the social and political alienation they and their accompanying communities experienced. By examining cultural performances, art installations, and arts programming, Valentín demonstrates how the artists embarked upon aesthetic, social, spatial, and political interventions.
In analyzing the New Rican Village’s Latin jazz musical performances and workshops, Valentín-Escobar proposes that the Center’s musicians were harbingers of a new Latina/o identity and style that posited a dialectical relationship between aesthetics, racial identity, and community. This eventually gave rise to an avant-garde Latin jazz music scene and community that he identifies as a “Latin jazz Left.” In addition, through the musicians’ collaborations with poets, dancers, and artists, an inter-artistic space and aesthetic emerged. In addition to music, the artists at the New Rican Village also engaged in aesthetic innovations, highlighted by the spurious El Puerto Rican Embassy project and accompanying Spirit Republic of Puerto Rico. A spaceless institution that exists virtually on the Web and emphasizes liberation as a conceptual and decolonial space, El Embassy serves as a creative response to the material constraints afforded to a colonized community struggling for autonomy. These expressions have given rise to “Bodega Surrealism,” a working-class aesthetic “sancocho” or collage that merges disparate cultural ensembles that engage the everyday logics and spaces of marginality.
Drawing from extensive oral history interviews, as well as other primary and archival documents, this interdisciplinary study chronicles an alternative, counter-narrative of avant-gardism rooted in working-class and racial struggles and experiences. This project documents the creative and significant artivism employed by the New Rican Village and El Puerto Rican Embassy and reveals a community acutely able to engage in decolonial social action through cultural practices.
In addition to his current project, Valentín-Escobar is the co-editor, along with Dr. Juan Flores, of Rican-Structing the Roots and Routes of Puerto Rican Music (Forthcoming, Centro Press), and author of several articles, including: “Rejecting the Shadow: Steve Berrios, An Apache of the Skins, Discusses His Musical Influences, Latin Jazz Music and the Significance of the Fort Apache Band,” Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 2004); “Memorializing La Lupe and Lavoe: Singing Vulgarity, Transnationalism, and Gender” (with Dr. Frances R. Aparicio), Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies Vol. 16, No. 2 (Fall 2004); “El Hombre que Respira Debajo del Agua: Performing Memory and Diasporicity through the Death of Héctor Lavoe,” in Situating Salsa: Global Markets and Local Meanings in Latin Popular Music (Routledge Press, 2002); “‘Nothing Connects us all but Imagined Sounds’: Performing Trans-Boricua Memories, Identities, and Nationalisms Through the Death of Héctor Lavoe,” in Mambo Montage: The Latinization of New York City (Columbia University Press, 2001); and was invited Guest Editor (with Dr. Juan Flores) of Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Special Issue on Puerto Rican Music: Roots and Routes, Parts I and II, Volume 16, Nos. 1 and 2 (2004).
During the 2011-2012 academic year, Professor Valentín was a Postdoctoral Associate in the Program in Ethnicity, Race, and Migration at Yale University. His scholarship has been funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship, the Fred C. Andersen Fellowship at Carleton College, the Rackham Merit Fellowship at the University of Michigan, and the George Washington Henderson Fellowship at the University of Vermont.
In May 2012, Valentín received the Best Dissertation Prize from the Latina/o Studies section of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA).
Committed to community-centered scholarship, his research and teaching interests include American Studies, U.S. Ethnic Studies, Latin@ and Puerto Rican Studies, Critical Cultural Studies, Social and Cultural Theory, Qualitative Research Methods, and Oral History Theory and Methodology.
Before arriving to Hampshire, Valentín worked in film and video production, and had a non-commercial radio show.