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Figure 1: Abigail Vázquez Rosario sorting through Colección Fortaleza

Abigail Vázquez Rosario – Communication, Caribbean/Latinx Studies & Digital Humanities– University of Maryland

August 31, 2023

A big thank you!

Puerto Rico Archival Collaboration logoI had my outfit picked out and hanging by my door the night prior as I could barely contain my excitement before embarking on my first day as an archival intern at the Archivo General, the National Archive of Puerto Rico. Despite my jet lag, I couldn’t sleep the night before as I stared at the ceiling fan, imagining not only how my first day working in the Archivo General would go but also my first time having the opportunity to work in Puerto Rico after living in the diaspora for 19 years.

Just last year when I was struggling to find historical documents in Puerto Rico for my own doctoral research projects and after searching tirelessly in my university databases for all the Caribbean and Latinx Guides, I stumbled across the Rutgers University Puerto Rico Library Collection which was invaluable for me as a researcher. I never thought the following year I would have the chance to work alongside Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago, the pioneer and organizer of the Rutgers Center for Latin American Studies Puerto Rico Archival and Library Collection Project in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico System and Yale University Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

I am forever grateful to Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago who launched this internship opportunity to support these institutions that are under-resourced due to the ongoing economic and compounding crises as a result of natural disasters in Puerto Rico. Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago has helped build the bridge for Diasporicans, such as myself, to work in Puerto Rico and has employed countless local students and scholars through his research funds in the archipelago to work towards the same mission to preserve and digitize archives indispensable to the history of Puerto Rico.

COVID-19 and Bomba and Plena Projects

Working as an archival intern at the Archivo General, organizing the Fortaleza (20th Century Governors) collection, and having access to historical documents that are not yet digitized was foundational for my research projects and dissertation. I am currently working on a project examining Culturally-Centered approaches to COVID-19 vaccination health messages in Puerto Rico amid the compounding crises. While organizing the Fortaleza Collection, I accessed countless vaccination records and official health reports that are critical to understanding the historical context of barriers to healthcare in the archipelago for this project. Furthermore, I had access to historical recordings of both Bomba and Plena in the music archive that is not yet available for public use due to staffing limitations. Accessing these music recordings has allowed me to further develop the groundwork for my dissertation where I am interested in examining how both Bomba and Plena, two Afro-Puerto Rican music traditions and forms of resistance have been preserved and are still very much alive on the island, diaspora, and digital spaces.

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Figure 2: Vaccination Record from the Board of Health in the Fortaleza Collection

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Figure 3: Historical Recordings of Bomba Sureña de Ponce in the Music Archive thanks to Marcos Nieves

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Figure 4: Historical Recordings of Plenas in the Music Archive thanks to Marcos Nieves

Takeaways

This experience has been transcendental for me. This was my first time working in Puerto Rico, my first time being in a room full of Puerto Rican scholars, and my first time having access to primary sources about my community in a physical archive. This opportunity was not just a job and much less merely a CV line for me, every time I would open an expediente in the Coleccion Fortaleza, I knew I was reading someone’s story that needs to be shared such as Carmen González’s in Figure 5. There’s a certain standard of care all of us in the Puerto Rico Archival Collaboration, archivists, librarians, professors, interns, put into our work for the preservation of history and desarrollo of research in our patria.

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Figure 5: Correspondence from Carmen González from Mayagüez writing to the governor seeking Hurricane Relief

Accomplishments

Despite only working in the archives for 5 weeks, we were able to make significant contributions as part of the larger effort to preserve, organize, and make collections publicly available for scholarly use. During my short time in the internship, I was able to create an inventory of each file in box 261 (Figure 6) of the Fortaleza Collection, Jaden Morales and I were able to create a guide for boxes 262-426 (Figure 7) that is now publicly available for researchers to easily find materials they need for their projects, and Rosa Cordero helped organize the nineteenth-century trials.

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Figure 6: Box 261 in Fortaleza Collection

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Figure 7: Fortaleza Collection Boxes 262-426 in Depositary

Future Steps

Although we made a lot of progress this summer, there is still a lot of work to be done! In Figure 8, this is an image of just one shelf, from one archival storage unit, from one wing that needs to be preserved and digitized. There are more than tens of thousands of square feet and 5 floors and 7 wings filled with tens of millions of archival texts that still need organizing and digitizing in the Archivo General. This work would not be possible without the continued sponsorship of universities across the country funding their students to work as interns and grants from organizations like the Mellon Foundation and Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades (FPH) Grant to name a few. The Puerto Rico Archival Collaboration Project is working towards creating guides and digitizing collections such as the Colección Departamento del Trabajo, Autoridad de Tierras, Comisión de Servicios Públicos, Servicios Sociales, Junta de Planificacion, Departamento de Comercio y Agricultura, Gobernadores Norteamericanos, and many others. I also hope the Archivo General gets enough funding and staffing in the future to create a Black Puerto Rican History Collection.

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Figure 8: Registros de Centros Azucareras in Deposito 5

Conclusion

As I write this from the diaspora, I start my third year in my Ph.D. program and my last year of coursework. I’m currently taking Advanced Historical and Critical Methods in Communication Research and registered for this class before embarking on this journey to the archives to employ decolonial archival praxis when disseminating the wide array of knowledge I gained from the Archivo General this summer. This experience has been foundational for my research projects and I hope to secure funding in the future to return to the archives and view more materials I can’t access from the diaspora on Bomba and Plena for my dissertation. I would like to say a special thank you to my cousins Junito and Cristina for letting me stay at their house during this internship and making it possible for me to participate in this experience. And, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago, Pedro Roig, Hilda Ayala González, Marcos Nieves, and the entire Archivo General and Biblioteca Nacional team for this opportunity!