Professor Araceli Tinajero (GC/City College, Latin American, Iberian, and Latino Cultures, Biography and Memoir) began studying the cultural connections between the Far East and the Americas long before transpacific studies became fashionable.
“Now, everybody wants to write about Japan and China,” she said.
Tinajero, who grew up in Mexico City and lived and worked in Japan, where she became fluent in the language, wrote her Ph.D. dissertation on representations of the Far East in the Latin American modernist literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That was in the early 2000s, and her dissertation became her first book, Orientalismo en el Modernismo Hispanoamericano (Orientalism in Hispanic American Modernism).
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She has since written other books about the cultural links between the East and the West, including Historia cultural de los hispanohablantes en Japón (A Cultural History of Spanish Speakers in Japan) and Kokoro: A Mexican Woman in Japan, a memoir of her experience as a Latina in Japan. She also edited Orientalisms of the Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian World, with chapters contributed by Graduate Center Ph.D. students.
And this year, Tinajero received significant support from CUNY for her new book project. Named the 2023-2024 Stuart Z. Katz Professor in Humanities & the Arts by City College, she was awarded $10,000 plus two months of summer salary to research and write Asia in the Caribbean/El Caribe en Asia.
The forthcoming book will explore the influences of Asia on the work of contemporary Latin American writers, especially poets and visual artists, and the cultural production of Caribbean authors and artists in Asia.
“It’s like a mirror,” Tinajero said. But, she said, 80% of the book will be about Latin American writers and artists and the remaining 20% will cover Caribbean artists and authors in Asia.
With the book, Tinajero is again traversing new territory.
For one, she is delving into poetry. “People don’t pay much attention to poetry,” the professor said.
She is exploring distinct Asian influences in the work of internationally known Latin American poets, many of whom are part of the diaspora and live in the U.S. They include Dominican poet Keiselim Montás, who is known for his haikus.
“There are no studies on the haiku in the Dominican Republic,” Tinajero said. “I’m doing something different.”
Likewise, the Dominican painter Freddy Rodríguez, who was based in New York, was widely known for his abstract works that addressed aspects of his heritage. But in 2011, he painted his Tsunami series, expressionist works that depicted the devastation inflicted by the tsunami that struck northeastern Japan that year. Tinajero interviewed Rodríguez in 2021 and will delve into his Japan ties in her new book.
She is also intrigued by the influence of India on Cuban writers. One is poet José Kozer, a CUNY graduate and former Queens College professor who has written over 60 poetry collections. “People have not analyzed the part of India or the Indian representations in his poetry,” she said.
Tinajero’s fascination with Asia stretches back to her childhood in Mexico City. As a girl, one of 10 siblings whose parents ran a grocery store, she watched Maya, an American television show about an elephant in India. “I always wanted to go to the Far East,” she said. “So when I finished high school, I went to Japan. And because I didn’t have any [college] education — I didn’t go as an exchange student or anything — I was a waitress.”
Her parents, who didn’t go to college, were very open-minded, Tinajero said. Still, she left for Japan at age 18 without telling them.
From the Japanese, Tinajero learned lifelong lessons about work ethics and friendship. “I know how to live in harmony with the people you work with,” she said. “I learned so many things from them that in 1,000 years, I will never be able to thank them.”
Asked about her advice for current Ph.D. students, Tinajero said, “Be true to what you want to study.”
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