Puerto Rican Student Bridges Heritage and Home with Club

Jose Rivera explores an iconic site in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, called “La Piedra Escrita” / “The Written Rock”.

When Jose Rivera arrived at University of Central Florida in 2017, his hope was to experience life beyond his home in San Juan, Puerto Rico. But as much as he loved experiencing Central Florida, he still yearned for a cultural connection to his home.

That inspired Rivera to start the Puerto Rican Student Association, which, in turn spawned the Puerto Rico Research Hub in 2017.

“You want to feel close to home when you come to college, but also apart and experiencing new things,” said Rivera. “The Hub helps satisfy both of those things by linking you with a community of like-minded people. It recharges you and gives you the energy to keep going.”

From Left to Right: Dr. Edwin Melendez, director of the CUNY Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Jose Rivera, executive director of the NPRSC, Alejandro Chardon, associate director of the NPRSC, and Dr. Fernando Rivera, Director of the UCF Puerto Rico Research Hub.

Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, displacing many families and forcing them to the mainland for safety. Many students found themselves at UCF.

“The creation of the Hub was a very attractive idea due to all of the new students coming in,” said Rivera. “We are still seeing a lot of Puerto Ricans flee their home, and UCF is the main academic institution they are coming to.”

The Hub’s ultimate goal is to build upon the idea of how important Puerto Ricans are in this region.

“The only way to build something like The Hub is through relationships in our community, both domestically and nationally,” said Rivera.

Rivera continues to work with the Center of Puerto Rican Studies, the main institution for Puerto Rican studies in the world, among a number of other institutions. His partnership between the Hub and the National Puerto Rican Student Coalition led to a historic conference in Orlando in April of 2019.

“We gathered Puerto Rican student leaders from around the state of Florida to discuss the opportunities and challenges our community faces and to establish a common regional agenda,” said Rivera.

There is currently open discussion between UCF PRSA and the Hub regarding the organization of a second statewide conference.

“The purpose here is to elevate the student experience and get Puerto Rican students exposed to a different understanding of their heritage and culture,” said Rivera. “Building our communication and connection with other institutions centralized around Puerto Rico is how we will continue to build a strong academic community with open communication.”

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