An Interview with Rosalía Reyes Simon

  • Introduction: Please give us an introduction of yourself and your work. What’s your background? 

I am a doctoral candidate in the Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures Program at the CUNY Graduate Center, where I was a Humanities Alliance Fellow from 2021 to August 2023. I´m a Mexican journalist. In 2012, I moved to New York City. I hold two master’s degrees, one in Humanities (University of Monterrey) and the other in Spanish at the City College of New York.

My former positions include being general manager of the digital and physical archives at CUNY’s Mexican Studies Institute (2018-2020), where I also was the general coordinator of the “Feria Internacional del Libro de la Ciudad de Nueva York” its Spanish-language international book fair for which I curated the content that featured poets and writers from 20 countries. I have been teaching at CUNY intermittently since 2017. In the fall of 2023, I joined the full-time faculty of the Department of Classical and Modern Languages & Literatures of The City College of New York as a Lecturer to teach Spanish language courses and Latin American/Latinx Literature and Cultures courses. There I´m also teaching Journalism courses.

  • How did/are your different work experiences and roles led together and led you to what you do now (in your Ph.D. life, mentorship, or activism)?  

I have always combined my three great passions: journalism, literature and education. I have been very fortunate because when I lived in Monterrey, Mexico, I was able to be a reporter for 8 years and that activated a critical consciousness about the importance of documenting social issues and raise awareness of them, while also trying to make stories of underrepresented groups visible and ensuring that government institutions paid attention to problems that were being reported. Then I worked in the Department of Communication and Publications at the University of Monterrey and there I interacted with faculty to publish their books and to design continuing education courses for journalists. This experience allowed me to realize the positive impact that professional and well-informed journalism —which has educational institutions as a great ally— has on the community.

Finally, when I moved to New York City, I wanted to continue working in the education sector and crystallize my dream of studying for a doctorate in literature. So, I studied a second master’s degree, this time in Latin American literature and began teaching at CUNY. While I was studying my master’s degree at City College, I realized that there were not many spaces on Latinx Media outlets to disseminate the literary work of Latinx authors who publish their work in Spanish, so I produced and hosted an interview program titled “Nueva York Entre Letras” that could be translated into English as “New York between the Lines.” I began to disseminate the work of Latinx authors and I began connecting with the literary and cultural community and then I was invited to participate in the organization of book fairs and teach literature workshops for the members of the Latin American Cultural Heritage organization.

In the Ph.D. experience, thanks to the Humanities Alliances Fellowship, I was able to provide journalism mentoring at Guttman Community College to produce a piece to raise awareness about a social justice issue in partnership with the Pulitzer Center, as well as to participate in the organization of a reading club with students, faculty and administrators; for this reading club the themes allowed my HA fellows and I to address issues such as race and migration. In my case, journalism and literature have been fundamental to developing critical thinking in students, which is why I consider that my role as an educator also has a very high component of activism. I aim for students to leave my courses with a more empathetic vision and be aware of the agency they have as subjects of society. Hence the great relevance that the humanities have in education. I am fortunate to be able to combine my three passions: journalism, literature and education.

  • How does your work intersect with your life story? Why/how being a journalist and an educator from Mexico designing pedagogical lessons, in the US? 

It has been very interesting to become aware of my identity as a Mexican and my identity as a Latina while living in New York City. I perceive the historical burdens that weigh on human beings around the place of birth. Living in a multicultural city like New York makes me break many paradigms. As a migrant, I constantly transition between my Mexican identity and my Latinx identity, which opens me to observe and learn from the great Latin American and Latinx diversity, as well as the diversity while I  interact with people from different cultural heritages. As a Mexican and as a Latina, I realize the racial tensions that exist in the United States; a lot of work is needed on multiple fronts to value underrepresented cultures, therefore, my role as a journalist and educator has naturally acquired an activism component. I can mention 3 examples: One, when I was working as manager of the digital and physical archives of the CUNY Mexican Studies Institute in 2018, I had the opportunity to produce the TV series “Mexican Studies Oral History Project.” Each half-hour episode profiled an underrepresented figure from the local Mexican community, whose contributions to New York in different fields escaped the attention of mass media. The second example was to publish the OER book “Teaching and Learning Spanish at CUNY. Public Language Education through Archival Resources.” I was part of a group of five doctoral students from the CUNY Graduate Center, each of whom designed lessons to teach Spanish language courses at the undergraduate level at CUNY campuses, based on the content of the historical archives of CUNY’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Mexican Studies Institute, and the Dominican Studies Institute. We compiled the lessons and published them in an OER book to provide an inclusive, dynamic, and meaningful critical pedagogy that considers the racially, linguistically, and socially diverse backgrounds of students. Our goal was to offer Spanish lessons in which students could feel represented and connected to their Latinx heritage. The OER book is free to access online. The third example of what I consider my role as an educational activist was to produce a 30-minute documentary and a series of oral history interviews on social justice movements in Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn. Through the New York University “Latinx Project’s Public Humanities Fellowship,” I could document the artistic exhibition “Our Voices Seen and Heard: 50 Years of Protest,” which was displayed in 2022 at El Museo de Los Sures and at The Greenpoint Library and Environmental Education Center NYPL. The show traced community activism to document campaigns on several fronts, including the fight for affordable housing in the face of gentrification, environmental cleanups, and the creation of riverside parkland, among others. It is fantastic to contribute to disseminating testimonies of social struggle.

  • Could you explain a bit about your book chapters? What are they about? What is their importance socially, politically, pedagogically? 

In 2017, The City College of New York scholars Gabriel Haslip-Viera (who passed away in 2024) and Sherrie Baver were looking for researchers to add a chapter on Central Americans to the second edition of the book, Latinos in New York: Communities in Transition. My husband, Walker Simon who is a journalist, was invited to write this chapter; I began to help him with some interviews and as the research progressed we realized how little academic documentation existed on this population segment. That’s how I got involved in conducting interviews and I feel very proud because this book is a reference and is studied in several programs from different universities in NYC. There is still a need to continue documenting more about the Central American diaspora so that new generations can fully understand the causes of migration, the social and economic challenges, as well as the contributions of this community and its cultural and geographic connections with the United States.

  • Tell us about your dissertation project on Contemporary Latinx Literature written in Spanish language.

My research examines contemporary Latinx literature in the United States written in Spanish in the Twenty-First Century. I focus on its themes, its stylistic characteristics as well as on its intersections between race and gender, to examine the way in which the experience of Latinx subjects is represented in the largely urban environment of the United States. I am interested in theorizing about identity so my work aims to deconstruct the components that make up a representation of “Latinx” imaginaries and shed light on this literary field. Another of my study interests is the role of the contemporary Latinx author and editor, as well as the relevance of small independent publishing houses, social media, and book fairs and festivals as cultural devices that have promoted the publication and dissemination of authors in Spanish in the United States. In 2023, I joined the GESEI (Grupo de Estudios Sobre Editoriales Independientes) which can be read in English as “Study Group on Independent Publishers.” I consider that there is a niche to document and disseminate contemporary Latinx literature that is written in Spanish. Although the United States does not have an official language, it is known that English is the dominant language, so that, given this panorama, we cannot forget “according to estimates made by the United States Census Bureau, the American population of Hispanic origin exceeded 62.3 million people in July 2020”, reads a 2020 report published by the Cervantes Institute, “currently, 18.7% of Americans define themselves ethnically as Hispanic, which places this community well above black (13.4%) and Asian (6%).” I consider that the rise of literature in Spanish that has been published since the end of the Twentieth century has not been widely examined in academia, so I would like to contribute to the visibility of authors of Latinx and Afro-Latinx heritage because they represent a cultural contribution that is part of the United States.

This interview was conducted by Mehrnaz Moghaddam.