By Victoria Cepeda
The last time that I read a book that compelled me to share its message/content with everyone that was willing (or unwilling) to listen was a few years back. The name of that book was The Shadow of The Wind or “La Sombra del Viento” written by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. It was a work of fiction that left me temporarily delusional thinking that I could pen similar work with a bit of time and discipline. Ha.
As someone that enjoys history, I am always searching for new treasures. The only prerequisite is that the book, though initially written to inform, could also double as a pageturner. The knowledge one stands to gain is immeasurable. As fate would have it, I have been fortunate to have acquired a copy of such a book and to have met its charismatic author in person. The book is Hispanic New York: A Sourcebook. Its author/editor is none other than Claudio Iván Remeseira, a New York-based award-winning journalist, writer and cultural critic born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Claudio arrived in New York in 2000 for a seminar for economic and business journalists at Columbia U. During the interview he told us that:
“At that time I was doing economic, political and cultural reporting at La Nación, Argentina’s second largest newspaper. In 2001 I was admitted at Columbia J-School for a mid-career master in Journalism. One of my goals was to learn more about US literature, so I ended up taking a course on American civilization with Andrew Delbanco, who ended up being my mentor. At the same time I started doing research on the cultural history of Hispanics in New York (The piece on Archer Milton Huntington and the history of the Hispanic Society of America was my master’s thesis). My idea was to write a book on the cultural history of Latinos in New York.”
The sourcebook is an anthology of essays on the city’s Latino, Latin American and Iberian cultural heritage (primarily since the late 1800s to the present). In it you will find, among others, an excerpt of Berbardo Vega’s Memoirs – A Contribution to the History of the Puerto Rican Community in New York. Jose Marti’s “Vindication of Cuba” in the form of a letter that he sent to the editor of the now defunct Evening Post. Also Gabriel Haslip-Viera’s “The Evolution of The Latino Community in New York City”. Then yet another interesting piece by Ed Morales on “The Story of Nuyorican Salsa” from there we hop to Antonio Muñoz Molina’s “Spanish in New York”. All detailing the omnipresence and contributions of Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans, Spaniards, Sephardic Jews since the beginning of the 20th century. In the case of Sephardic Jews (originally from Portugal and Spain) their presence in New York City dates back to the 17th century. We go on to explore ”Creole Religions of the Caribbean” by Fernandez Olmos and Paravisini-Gebert. Lastly, Roberto Suro’s “New York” is a synopsis of Dominicans’ pilgrimage and their contribution to the city.
Of great significance to me, among all the essays found within the book, is Andrew Delbanco’s foreword. Delbanco, who happens to be Columbia University’s Director of American Studies, refers to Claudio’s book as a point of referrence to help dispel the old concept held by “Americans that still think of “the Spanish element of our Nationality (originally coined by Walt Whitman) as an alien subculture within a “mainstream,” America formed exclusively by English-speaking settlers and their descendants. In other words, when you’ve read this book, no one will be able to argue against the value Hispanics/Latinos have added to New York City.
Also, found within this anthology are Virginia Sanchez Korrol’s “In Search of Latinas in U.S. History: 1540 – 1970s” that incorporates the often invisible Latina, of this timeline, into the historical fold and cobble stones of New York City. The book ends with Claudio’s master thesis work “Splendid Outsider: Archer M. Huntington and the Hispanic Heritage in the U.S.” Huntington ignored all oppositions and sneers about creating an institution about Spanish culture. In Claudio’s words ” what is ironic is that it was a Protestant New Englangder’s money that paid for providing Catholic Spain with a greater measure of respect in the United States.” In 1904, Huntington founded the Hispanic Society of America that still stands open to the public at 155th street on Broadway.
Claudio credits his late grandmother with inspiring him. It was during his childhood, while listening to his grandma tell stories about the family, that his love for story telling and writing first emerged. His basic advice to young Latinos is to learn about their history and be open to external influences too. That’s the great teaching of cultural mestizaje: mixtures enrich us.
- Claudio is also the founder and director of The Hispanic New York Project, hosted by Columbia University’s Center for American Studies.
- The winner of the Latino International Latino Book Award in the category of Best Reference Book in English (2011).
- Publisher and general editor of his own blog hispanicnewyorkproject.blogspot.com
- Member of the Advisory Board of the Library & Archives of El Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College (City University of New York), the board of the Latin American Cultural Week (LACW),
- Advisor to the organizers of the Festival de la Palabra in New York.
Other literary work and publications by Claudio Remeseira have appeared in Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, Salmagundi magazine, Huffington Post, Primera Revista Latinoamericana de Libros, Hora Hispana (Daily News), Diario Rumbo (Texas), El Nuevo Día (Puerto Rico), El País (Spain), and La Nación, Página/12, Noticias, and Lilith magazine (Argentina).
After our meeting with Claudio, we were elated and inspired. His warm personality makes him the more endearing to us. He remains humble despite all this accomplishments and ongoing contributions to our community. That is just plain remarkable and commendable. In all honesty, Hispanic New York is a must have for those that hold their Hispanic/Latino heritage in the highest of regards.
To order Hispanic New York, visit Amazon.com.