Today’s New Latina Spotlight is on Dr. Marta Moreno Vega, President and Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, adjunct professor at NYU and cultural advocate.
What is your country of origin or family heritage? If you were born outside of this country, please share with us how old you were when you arrived to this country. Please feel free to share immigration/migration stories.
I was born in El Barrio/East Harlem. My parents were born in Puerto Rico. My mother in Caguas and my father in Loiza, Puerto Rico. My parents created Puerto Rico in our home. Neighbors did the same. The neighborhood itself became Puerto Rico — bodegas, La Marqueta, etc. became urban replicas of their transplanted memories.
Education: Please list any academic degrees and colleges/ universities attended.
I completed my Bachelor’s degree and Master’s degree at New York University, in New York, and my Ph.D. at Temple University, in Philadelphia. My focus on art, education and Africana Studies came together in the creation of the cultural arts organizations that I helped found and develop: El Museo del Barrio and Association of Hispanic Arts, among others.
Profession/ Career: What is your current profession, position and responsibilities at work?
I am President and Founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute which focuses on African descendant communities’ histories, legacies, arts and education. I developed the organization to document and promote the contributions of African Diaspora cultures throughout the Americas, connecting them to their African roots I am also an adjunct professor at NYU in the Arts and Public Policy Department, were I developed two courses that I teach, entitled the Cultural Imperative – Achieving Cultural Equity. One course takes place in New York, and the other in Puerto Rico. The courses focus on developing the next generation of cultural arts leaders.
What has been your most important professional or social accomplishment, thus far?
The advocacy work that I have done to assure that, as a community, we are visible to ourselves and the broader community. This focus is reflected in the books, documentaries, concerts, etc. that I produce. It is critical that our aesthetics, history and cultural contributions and accomplishments are part of the education, public policy and civil systems that impact us all.
What motivates the work that you do?
As an Afro-Puerto Rican, mother and member of my family, I am clear that it is critical that the stories of my community be part of world history.
Our communities are still invisible to broader communities because they are viewed as “other” or “minority”. We are not minorities, we are not others, we are an integral part of the fabric of this nation. Therefore our experiences and stories are to be made visible, respected and honored.
As a researcher, a professor and a participant or founder of several influential cultural programs you seek and spread knowledge. In your work so far, what is the learning experience has had the biggest impact on your life?
That we are still in the process of gathering an understanding of our legacy, our histories and the importance of our contributions to the formation of this country and global cultures. It is each of our responsibilities to share our cultural knowledge, bridge our cultural experiences and pass them on. Having the opportunity to have Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Graciela, and others be part of my growth experience changed my life. To see and present the work of Afro –Latinos/as is a blessing.
Your culture has influenced much of the work that you do. In what ways has your culture influenced the work that you do, and how has the work that you do informed the way in which you view your culture?
My work and life are one! Each day when I look into the mirror and understand the journey of those that came before me, the journey and experiences of my parents and the realities I and my family continue to confront,I am clear that centering in my racial and cultural reality are my strengths.
In what way(s) have you seen your work impact others?
As an institution builder, educator, and member of my community I see it as an exchange of information that occurs. The work that I do is informed by others, just as what I do informs others, as well. When I receive comments about my books, The Altar of My Soul, When the Spirits Dance Mambo, and now Women Warriors of the Afro-Latina Diaspora, I know that I am making a contribution. When I receive feedback on my work, it is clear to me, that at the very least, people are thinking about the themes I have put forward. Most gratifying is when people say I am telling their stories because it is clear that we share experiences that are being made visible and part of a greater story.
What has been your biggest personal challenge, and what has been your biggest professional challenge?
Being visible and understood from the cultural perspective that defines my community and therefore me. My personal and professional work are one–to assure the presence of our experience, yours and mine is essential to our future generations to know where their past, present as they project to the future.
What is your next big dream?
Completing a documentary on Spiritism/Espiritismo – the African derived aspects of Puerto Rican Spiritism. Our traditional sacred practices are infused with divine knowledge of plants, spirit and knowing. Due to colonialism and imposition, these beliefs are seen as negative or marginal. We must claim and celebrate the sacred traditions that are ours. When you see yourself reflected in the sacred images of your community it is understood that we are sacred and valuable to ourselves and others.
What is your advice to Latina students and professionals?
Live in the center of the cultural legacy you represent. Do not try to be like anyone else. Honor what is yours, the legacy that has nurtured your community and insist that others value and honor it as you respect their cultural realities.
For more information about Dr. Marta Moreno Vega and her work, please follow the links provided below: