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British Association for American Studies


Archival Report from Timo Schrader, Elizabeth and Elisha Atkins Postgraduate Travel Award Recipient 2015


Archival Report from Timo Schrader, Elizabeth and Elisha Atkins Postgraduate Travel Award Recipient 2015

[vc_row margin_bottom=”15″][vc_column][dt_banner image_id=”8521″ bg_color=”rgba(0,0,0,0.18)” min_height=”270″][/dt_banner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][dt_quote]At the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem I was one of the first scholars to examine the still unprocessed 17 boxes of material on Charas, one of the oldest and most respected grassroots Puerto Rican community development organizations in New York City, says Timo Schrader, recipient of the 2015 Elizabeth and Elisha Atkins Postgraduate Travel Award.[/dt_quote][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]My project offers the first in-depth urban cultural analysis of the network of community activism in Loisaida (part of the Lower East Side). This community organized itself to fight against postwar urban deindustrialization, housing disinvestment, and gentrification, which negatively affected low-income areas. By recreating the urban history of sustainable activism in Loisaida and focusing on the initiatives and projects of key community organizations, I demonstrate how they sought to reclaim urban space, educational space, and cultural space. I argue that[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]analyzing the interplay of sustainable activism, community organizations, and space in a small urban neighbourhood such as Loisaida, provides three crucial insights: (1) the necessity for community organizations to adapt their activism to changing needs of the community, (2) the importance of neighbourhood control over both physical and non-physical (spiritual, cultural, educational) space, and (3) Puerto Ricans’ ideas about and practices of their ‘right to the city.’

Thanks to both the Elizabeth and Elisha Atkins Postgraduate Travel Award (British Association for American Studies) and the Postgraduate Transatlantic Travel Grant (European Association for American Studies), I was fortunate enough to travel to New York City for two months from 20 June to 20 August 2015. I found a room in Brooklyn’s iconic Bed-Stuy neighbourhood from which it only took me between 20 to 40 minutes to my research sites. Mainly I visited New York University’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, the Centro Archives and Library, the New York Public Library, as well as some community organizations in Loisaida.

I spent two weeks in the impressive Elmer Bobst Library, which houses Tamiment, to examine the Ronald Lawson Research Files for the Tenant Movement in New York City. This collection includes vital organizational and personal documents about the community organization Interfaith Adopt-a-Building (AAB), to which I devote an entire chapter in my thesis. This organization was at the forefront of turning abandoned and decaying buildings on the Lower East Side into newly renovated and affordable homes for lower income earners. The documents in this collection includes interviews with key leaders of the organization as well as details on specific projects and their overall working ethic: sweat equity as a means to home ownership.

At the New York Public Library’s Schwarzman building, I examined the holdings of the Vincent Astor Foundation’s archives, which holds letters and forms pertaining to AAB and another primary organization in my thesis, The Real Great Society or RGS (the foundation funded AAB and RGS for several years). This helped me to get a picture of the financial requirements for the largely self-help initiatives of AAB and RGS.

Finally, I went to the biggest Puerto Rican archive in the US: the Center for Puerto Rican Studies in East Harlem. They hold collections on key organizations such as Charas, Seven Loaves, El Puerto Rican Embassy, AAB, and RGS. I was one of the first scholars to fully examine the still unprocessed 17 boxes of material on Charas, which operated for almost 40 years in Loisaida and kept records dating back to their beginnings in the mid 1960s.

I will return to New York City in 2016 to conduct additional interviews with people active in the organizations as well as curate an exhibit on Charas at the Loisaida Center—a project that I’m working on with the director of that center. This key research trip would not have been possible without the support of BAAS and EAAS and the material I found will enrich my research, which I look forward to presenting at the prestigious American Historical Association Annual Meeting 2016 in Atlanta.

Timo Schrader is a Ph.D. student at the University of Nottingham and recipient of the Vice Chancellor’s Scholarship for Research Excellence, researching the history of Puerto Rican community activism in Loisaida in the post-World War II decades. He is also the Associate Postgraduate Director of the Centre for Research in Race and Rights (C3R) at the University of Nottingham.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row margin_top=”15″][vc_column][ultimate_carousel slides_on_desk=”1″ slides_on_tabs=”1″ slides_on_mob=”1″][dt_teaser image_id=”8516″ lightbox=”true”]This banner, which is seen hanging on the fence of the former Charas community center, protested the auctioning off of the community center in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The protest “Save Charas” is still ongoing with occasional events and marches on City Hall. Source: Charas, “Save Charas,” from Charas Papers, Centro Library and Archives, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York.[/dt_teaser][dt_teaser image_id=”8517″ lightbox=”true”]This large banner, held up by the friendly archivists at Centro, was used to protest the US Navy base on the Puerto Rican island Vieques where civilian David Sanes Rodríguez was killed by a bomb dropped close to him by Marine fighters in 1999. The US abandoned the base in the aftermath of the protests. Source: Charas, “Peace for Vieques,” from Charas Papers, Centro Library and Archives, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York.[/dt_teaser][dt_teaser image_id=”8518″ lightbox=”true”]This poster by Juan Sanchez was created as part of a larger collection used in protests in the late 1980s and early 1990s on the Lower East Side. It highlights the issues of gentrification and displacement that affected many Puerto Ricans on the Lower East Side and in other urban neighborhoods throughout the US. Source:  Juan Sanchez, “¿Dónde Está Mi Casa?” Your House Is Mine, edited by Andrew Castucci and Nadia Coën (New York City, NY: Bullet Space, 1993), from New York Public Library Print Collection, New York Public Library.[/dt_teaser][/ultimate_carousel][/vc_column][/vc_row]