Broken Promises

Thursday, October 26, 2023, 5 - 6pm

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During the presidential campaign of 1980, Ronald Reagan staged a media appearance in one of the most burned-out areas of the Puerto Rican South Bronx, in the poorest congressional district in the nation, to broadcast the failures of liberal social policies as he promoted a conservative agenda of austerity and bootstraps. Puerto Ricans all over New York City scoffed at the political theater. They knew the causes of the desolation depicted on TV were bipartisan and decades in the making, rooted in the racism, discrimination, and systematic displacement that had marked redevelopment projects throughout the 20th century. This talk by Lorrin Thomas, Ph.D., will explore two major examples in the history of “slum clearance” in Puerto Rican communities: in San Juan Hill, the Manhattan neighborhood razed to make way for Lincoln Center in the 1950s; and in the Charlotte Street section of the South Bronx, described by one journalist in the 1970s as a “a city of death” and revived in part by a group called Nos Quedamos (We’re Staying) in the 1980s. From these histories, we learn how the most powerful ideas for stabilizing debilitated communities came not from city planners or other experts but from community leaders, residents, and grassroots organizations. This lecture is part of the virtual Intersectional Justice Lecture Series. 

Registration for this Zoom event is required. Click here to register.

Lorrin Thomas is associate professor of history at Rutgers University, Camden. Her research explores ideas about rights and equality in the twentieth century Americas, and she teaches on Latin American history and the history of the Americas, including graduate seminars on race and ethnicity in the Americas and immigration and transnationalism in the U.S. and undergraduate courses on the history of the Caribbean, modern Mexico, and race and migration in the U.S. Her first book, Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth Century New York City (University of Chicago Press) received the Saloutos Prize of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society.

This series is co-organized by the Office of Student Affairs and Nada Ayad, Associate Dean of HSS, as a continuation of a reading and discussion series for first-year students that was held as part of the Fall 2020 new student orientation. In the spirit of The Cooper Union mission, the Black Student Union and the Cooper Climate Coalition, along with several other Cooper students and faculty, were deeply involved in the articulation of the program as well as in contributing to the reading list and suggesting speakers.

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