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Emerging Scholars: Merging Disciplines, Cultures and Languages

Merging Disciplines, Cultures and Languages

Foreign Language

Lucía M. Suárez
Title: Assistant Professor, Spanish, University of Michigan
Education: Ph.D., The Program in Literature, Duke University; B.A., Interdisciplinary Honors Program, Hunter College
Age: 41

Dr. Lucía M. Suárez is modest about her success in academia. When asked about the journey that has led her to her current position as an assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan, she replies simply, “It has all fallen into place.”

Many students earning doctorates in literature can struggle for years to find the right academic position. But Suárez had three job offers before she had finished her degree in 1999.

She decided on Michigan, she says, because of practical reasons. She hadn’t finished her dissertation and wanted an environment that would be conducive to completing her work. But Suárez certainly hasn’t just breezed through the academic process, as a look at her curriculum vitae reveals. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Hunter College. She was also awarded a Duke Endowment Fellowship, the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and earned certifications in women’s studies and Latin American studies. Suárez has received fellowships and grants to conduct research in Cuba, France, Brazil, Guadeloupe, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. She also speaks four languages: Spanish, English, French and Portuguese, and she can read Kréyol, the language of Haiti.

Suárez’s scholarship is just as ambitious. She’s currently taking on the complex ideas of memory, trauma and identity in the literature of the Caribbean Diaspora. In her forthcoming book, The Tears of Hispaniola: Haitian and Dominican Diaspora Memory, she looks at the intersections between memory and human rights issues and marks literature as a site for exposing psychological pain and past violence, and as a location for healing, understanding and, interestingly, socio-political action.

Suárez’s work takes on “an element of practicality,” says Dr. Claudine Michel, chair of the Black studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “In addressing healing there is also another message there, making people responsible and accountable for intervening in society, making people feel that they ought to make a difference.”

One of Suárez’s most significant traits has been her nontraditional approach to research, specifically, the merging of disciplines, cultures and languages.

“She is really in my opinion an innovator who challenges traditional boundaries between disciplines, a true cutting-edge scholar when it comes to redefining modes of knowledge and production and creating new bodies of work, new methodologies, new geographies,” says Michel, one of Suárez’s mentors.

While Suárez’s methodology distinguishes her from others, it also presents challenges.

“The institution still sees academic pursuits in terms of departments,” she says. “It still asks if you are an expert in this particular field, instead of are you asking really important questions globally.”

Suárez’s approach stems from growing up in the ethnic enclave of Washington Heights and west New York. The exposure to such diverse cultures, however, also illuminated questions of identity and how one identifies with a place even though they live somewhere else.

Suárez, who is Cuban American, did not visit Cuba until 1991. But the trip influenced her profoundly, as evidenced by the title of her third book project, Cuba in My Heart, which is in progress. Her second book project, Citizenship and Dance in Brazil, also in progress, speaks to another of her personal passions. Suárez, who is trained in classical ballet, traveled the world as a dancer before pursuing graduate study.

It is no surprise then that she advises young scholars to pursue their passions.

“Be true to your heart, regardless of what the politics are,” she says. “Have a strong sense of respect for your colleagues, for your students, but also for your questions, for what you have produced and what you plan to produce.”

By Robin V. Smiles

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