From right to left: Alyshia Gálvez, and students Marlen Fernández, Rosario Cecilio, and alumni Karen Rojas

From right to left: Alyshia Gálvez, and students Marlen Fernández, Rosario Cecilio, and alumni Karen Rojas (Phyllis Yip)

New Yorkers celebrate the first Mexican studies center on the East Coast

If you want to study Mexican studies you don’t have to go to a college on the West Coast anymore.  Tonight, the City University of New York’s Lehman College celebrates the launch of the first Institute of Mexican Studies east of the Mississippi.

The acting director of CUNY Institute of Mexican Studies, Alyshia Galvez, says the formation of the Institute is a result of work going on for the last decade.

“Jay Hershenson, the senior vice-chancellor of student affairs at CUNY began to be concerned about the growth of the Mexican population in New York City, and he didn’t think it reflected admissions in the school,” says Galvez, who has been teaching in CUNY’s Latin American and Puerto Rican studies department for the past five years and helped create the proposal for the Institute two years ago.

She says Hershenson knew this would be an important step for CUNY, because Mexicans constitute the fastest-growing national sub-group in New York City and has grown 57.7 percent in the last decade (319,126 according to the 2010 U.S. Census).

“The Bronx is home to the fastest growing Mexican community and the most youthful, in terms of people who will be entering college age in the next two years,” says Galvez. “Lehman College’s president is really passionate about this. It is key when you have enthusiasm from top to bottom for us being there.”

She says she was delighted to see so much energy and enthusiasm from other supporters as well, including students, faculty, and the Mexican Consulate, and she hopes that all of CUNY’s 23 campuses and a quarter million students will benefit from the program.

Marlen Fernandez, 19, is a junior at Lehman College and says she was one of the first 15 to 25 students to get involved in the creation of the Institute with Galvez back in January.

“When Professor Galvez mentioned it to me, I thought it was really great that our community was recognized and it is an opportunity for students to know more about their culture,” says Fernandez. “It’s going to bring awareness…Even people who aren’t of Mexican descent might want to study about the Mexican diaspora.”

Galvez adds that one of the few challenges has been developing the Institute amidst an economic crisis.

“Usually institutes would be given a generous startup budget,” says Galvez. “These days, CUNY doesn’t offer those start-up funds. We’re hoping to apply for grants to have a fully implemented program sooner rather than later.”

Galvez says the Institute will exist parallel to other departments at CUNY and will conduct research, community programming, collaborate with the community, and offer fellowships and  scholarships. She says along with the Mexican Consulate, the Institute will provide approximately 12 full-tuition scholarships for Mexican-American students to study in CUNY.

“The Latin American and Puerto Rican studies department started a minor in Mexican studies and we want to develop a certificate program in Mexican studies…It will take several years,” says Galvez. “Our focus this year is on indigenous Mexican languages.”

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