Second Annual Enlightenment Conference sheds light on José Martí

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Student-illustrated program for the Second Annual Enlightenment Conference. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The second annual Enlightenment Conference was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning on Saturday, June 8th. The day’s events featured talks from scholars and educators from the Greater New York Area focusing on the central figure of the event, nineteenth century Cuban writer and revolutionary, José Martí.  The event drew dozens of high school students, college students, recent college graduates and educators alike to discuss topics regarding Latin American politics and history.

The conference opened with two speeches from the Salutatorian and Valedictorian of the Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning’s Class of 2013.  The top honors tandem were brothers Ramón Luciano Capellan and Ramón Antonio Capellan. Both brothers, who are originally from the Dominican Republic, delivered inspiring words detailing their hard work as well as what motivated them to strive for academic excellence.

“I feel connected to Martí’s life because I am Latin American,” said Salutatorian Ramón Luciano Capellan in his opening speech. He felt motivated to succeed by Martí’s struggles and accomplishments. “Look at me,” said Ramón Luciano, “I came from the Dominican Republic three years ago, and didn’t speak any English, but I didn’t let that stop me from becoming who I am today.”

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Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning Class of 2013 Salutatorian, Ramón Luciano Capellan. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

His brother, Valedictorian Ramón Antonio Capellan, expressed similar sentiments. Speaking of Martí, he said “Today I am here telling you about a great young man who made his dreams possible.”  He expressed gratitude for his family for giving the opportunity to succeed. The young scholar ended his speech with “If you want to change something, you have to fight for it.”

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Brooklyn Academy of Urban Planning Class of 2013 Valedictorian,  Ramón Antonio Capellan. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

There were six workshops held throughout the event focusing on particular movements and viewpoints of Latin American history, culture and politics. The event was divided into four time sections.  Conference attendees were given two workshops to choose from for the first session: ‘Martí’s Ideology and Today’s Immigrant Family Experience’ by Luis J. Nicho, JD. or ‘Teaching Martí to our Youth’ co-hosted by NYC Assistant Principal Diana Isern and event facilitator and NYC History Teacher, Jorge Sandoval.  Both workshops in the first session focused on José Martí’s life and work in order to relate his experience to modern day struggles of today’s youth as well as modern day immigrant families.

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Enlightenment Conference speaker Luis D. Nicho facilitating a discussion on today’s immigrant families. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The second session gave conference attendees three options: ‘José Marti’s presence in the Young Lords Movement’ by CCNY Graduate Student Jorge Arteaga, ‘Socialism, Capitalism and Corporate News Media in Latin America’ by NYU Graduate Student Ramiro Fúnez, or ‘Jose Martí Discusses Today’s Education 115 Years Ago’ by Jorlui Sillau, MPA. These workshops kept Jose Martí and education in mind as well as delved into modern day politics, media relations and corruption in Latin America and the struggles of modern day Latinos in the United States.

The third session of the Enlightenment Conference was a lunch hour featuring several fundraisers and a presentation on the Icla Da Silva Foundation by Jorge Santos, M.S. in Sociology and Anthropology. The Icla da Silva Foundation is a bone marrow registry formed in hopes of finding matches for transplants for those who have life threatening bone marrow deficiencies.  Dozens of conference attendees signed up for the registry. The lunch hour fundraisers included a silent of auction of several pieces of student made José Martí portraits. Over $500 was raised throughout the day through fundraising and generous donations of attendees.

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Students’ depictions of José Martí on sale throughout the day by silent auction. Photo via Cynthia Sandoval

The final session, entitled ‘The Diasporic Martí: New York and Beyond’ was an intriguing look at Martí’s life in New York City in the late nineteenth century.  The first half of this session was presented by Guesnerth Josué Perea of AfroColombia New York, focusing on José Martí’s own commentary on his experiences living in the NYC. Martí met with several of his revolutionary contemporaries during his time in New York, such as the Puerto Rican poet Lola Rodriguez de Tío. This session displayed Martí’s depictions of Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge, and several other famous places in New York City.

The latter half of ‘The Diasporic Martí’ was presented by Gabriel Higuera student at the CUNY Graduate Center.  Higuera presented the life and experiences of nineteenth century Filipino writer and revolutionary, José Rizál. An extraordinary individual in his own right, Rizál was a linguist, world traveler, doctor, and dissident of the Spanish colonial regime. The Filipino Renaissance man had many similarities to José Martí, and was only seven years his junior. Presenter Gabriel Higuera hypothesizes that Martí and Rizál may have met during the time that Rizál visited New York, although there is no documented proof that this meeting occurred.

All in all, the Second Annual Enlightenment Conference was a great success, combining grassroots community organization and participation with culturally rich and intellectually stimulating discussions. Attendees learned a wealth of information about José Martí as well as other aspects of Latin American culture, politics and history.

Here are some more photos, all of which are courtesy of Photographer Cynthia Sandoval:

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Enlightenment Conference host and speaker, Jorge Sandoval delivering his introduction to the conference. 

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EC Attendees during the opening of the conference.

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EC attendees having a group discussion during the ‘Teaching Marti to our Youth’ session.

The Second Annual Enlightenment Conference lived up to its name. I hope to see even bigger and better things from it next year. – RSM