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Dr. Yomaira Figueroa appointed as CENTRO Director

by | Jun 26, 2023 | Civic and Community Engagement, Puerto Rico | 0 comments

Dr. Yomaira Figueroa has been appointed the next Director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College (CENTRO). Figueroa currently serves as an Associate Professor of Global Afro-Diaspora Studies at Michigan State University. She brings with her a wealth of knowledge, expertise, and a deep understanding of the complex dynamics of Puerto Rican community affairs in the United States. Her field of work includes publications like Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Northwestern, 2020) and her leadership of the Mellon Diaspora Solidarities Lab, a $2 million project focused on Black feminist digital humanities initiatives. Her forthcoming book, The Survival of a People (Duke University Press), addresses the Afro-Puerto Rican experience and its historical absence in the archives.

“I am honored to serve as director and to work alongside the exceptional CENTRO staff as we attend to some of the most pressing needs of the Puerto Rican community across the archipelago and the diaspora,” said Figueroa. “CENTRO is a critical part of our cultural and intellectual heritage, and I’m looking forward to continuing its groundbreaking legacy of fostering research, programming, arts, and community outreach.” 

Dr. Figueroa will begin her tenure in Fall 2023 and will succeed Dr. Yarimar Bonilla, who served as Interim Director for the past two years. Bonilla will move on to be a Professor at Princeton University’s Effron Center for the Study of Americas and a monthly contributing writer for The New York Times. Bonilla joined Hunter College in 2017 as a faculty member in the Department of Africana, Puerto Rican, and Latino Studies. She was named Interim Director of Centro in 2019 by Hunter College President Jennifer Raab.

Bonilla led CENTRO through a strategic planning and visual rebranding process to reconnect with the institution’s original mission and values while foregrounding inclusivity, accessibility, and interdisciplinarity. 

She also established CENTRO’s Arts & Culture Hub, which launched new artistic residencies, research initiatives, and public programs in partnership with cultural institutions across New York like Lincoln Center, El Museo Del Barrio, and the Schomburg Center, as well as organizations in Puerto Rico such as the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.  

Additionally, Bonilla founded Bridging the Divides, which is funded by the Mellon Foundation, a research program inspired by the work of CENTRO’s original task forces. This initiative aims to overcome long-standing divisions that have served as roadblocks to the development of Puerto Rican Studies by convening scholars, journalists, and artists from across different geographic locations and disciplinary traditions.

Bonilla secured over $25 million in grant funding, as well as the recently announced $20 million in capital funding from Governor Hochul, for CENTRO, which has allowed the organization to grow, both in personnel and programming, as it celebrates its 50th anniversary. 

“It was an honor and a privilege to have been able to lead CENTRO in this cusp of its 50th anniversary and to have helped transform it into a more inclusive, interdisciplinary, and well-resourced space,” said Bonilla. “However, I am excited to pass the baton to Yomaira, whose work I have long admired, and to work directly with her to reimagine institutional transitions from a Black Feminist and Decolonial lens.”

Bonilla’s final day as Interim director at CENTRO is June 30, but she will stay on through 2024, the lead coordinator for the Bridging the Divides program. “My commitment to  CENTRO does not end on June 30,” assured Bonilla, “I intend to be a life-long champion of our scholarly commons and a fierce advocate for its continued growth and success.”

Founded in 1973 by a coalition of students, faculty, and activists, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College (CENTRO) is the largest and oldest university-based research institute, library, and archive dedicated to the Puerto Rican experience in the United States. It provides support to students, scholars, artists, and members of the community at large across and beyond New York. Additionally, it produces original research, films, books, and educational tools and is the home of The Centro Journal—the premier academic journal of Puerto Rican Studies. CENTRO’s aim is to create actionable and accessible scholarship to strengthen, broaden, and reimagine the field of Puerto Rican studies.



William-Jose Velez Gonzalez

William-Jose Velez Gonzalez

William-José Vélez González is a native from Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and a graduate from Florida International University in biomedical engineering, engineering management, and international relations. A designer with a strong interest in science, policy, and innovation, he previously served as the national executive vice president of the Puerto Rico Statehood Students Association. William-José lives in Washington, DC, where he works at the Children's National Research Institute and runs Opsin, a nonprofit design studio dedicated to making design more accessible. You can see him on Love is Blind as Lydia's brother. He is the founder and Editor in Chief of Pasquines.


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