Yomaira C. Figueroa-Vásquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican writer, educator, and scholar who published her first book of theory, Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Northwestern, 2020) which won the 2021 MLA Prize in Latina/o Literary and Cultural Studies. Decolonizing Diasporas takes a transdisciplinary approach to remapping the connections across the Afro-Atlantic between Equatorial Guinea, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. 

Her work motivates underrepresented scholars to map relations through decolonial, cultural, and spiritual analysis. In 2022, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded Dr. Figueroa-Vasquez a $2 million grant to create the Digital Solidarities Lab (DSL), a multi-institutional Black feminist digital humanities partnership co-led by Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson. This interview expands on Figueroa-Vásquez’s decolonial practices, solidarity for students, and illuminations as a witness of the diaspora to shift the ways stories of overlapping diasporas are documented. 

Through these new and different forms of crossings, M. Jacqui Alexander’s words are reflected in Figueroa-Vásquez’s decolonial love practice which adopts “ways of being and of relation, modes of analyzing, and strategies of organizing in which we constantly mobilize identification and solidarity, across all borders” (Alexander 265). For Figueroa-Vásquez, embracing transdisciplinary and Black feminist approaches support the ruptures in existing forms of knowledge and power while creating alternative ways of thinking. Her views of global communities allow others to identify concurrent themes of resistance and survival in Afro-Atlantic peoples. 

Essah Cozett Diaz: I’ve been thinking a lot about your concept of decolonial love, the importance of solidarity, the impact of sisterhood, and how grateful I am for you and other Black women who uplift me and make space for us to thrive. Considering your position and the projects that you create, what inspires you to make space for people like yourself?

Yomaira Figueroa-Vásquez: The decolonial love that I write about, think about, and try to put into practice has been so important for me as a guiding attitude in the different projects that I undertake. I think part of it is not just thinking about it through a theoretical lens, but rather as an interrelational technology, a practice of seeing one another across differences. For me, decolonial love is something that I have seen practiced within my own family and communities. But in terms of the work that I do, it’s definitely built out of the shared experiences that I’ve seen outside of the Academy.

Being a first-generation high school and college graduate, when I first entered the university system, I was both amazed and appalled at the access that I had to resources that I had never seen before. I thought about how incredible they could have been for not just me, but for my family, for my community, for other students like me that came from underrepresented backgrounds who were Black, Latinx, and who were coming from working poor communities. One of the things that I decided was that I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be able to spread those resources around. Later on, when I changed my trajectory from being a teacher to being a professor, I knew that an integral part of the work was to be able to connect so much of what was available at the university with communities. I also believed that it was absolutely necessary to break away from the idea that communities are spaces that can be poached for research or understood as philanthropic receptacles. No, communities are places we learn from; places that are rich with much knowledge and practices and experiences that really can shape us if we choose to engage within them in ethical ways.

ECD: It makes me think about that decision that we have to make, especially as Black women, as we’re taking ownership of our lives, because a lot of the times, we’ve been forced, or like you said, we don’t realize the opportunities that we have until we enter certain spaces or we have representations. There are days that I’ve considered quitting, but being in touch with you has helped me see that it’s possible, and also realizing well if I quit, there’s gonna be others behind me who won’t be able to see beyond and possibly make their journey longer. In entering these academic spaces and bridging gaps, I’m thinking about the decolonial women thinkers like Audre Lorde and Jacqui Alexander. Have you considered how your work is shaping the legacy that you’re going to be remembered for?

YMF: That’s something that I don’t often think about. I think, you do the work in the world that you want to see done and you hope that it is received well and that it does good. We can’t always control it. We might do something that we think is really great and it actually is OK. We could be doing something that we think is really good and it actually is harmful. We gotta be open to that too. We can’t just imagine that we are only agents of decolonial love and righteousness and not be open to critique, to being wrong, to being taught to do the work better. I don’t often get distracted by the question of legacy or sidetracked by what future folks might think of me. I think you leave that up to the folks, right? At this moment, we get to do the work that we can right now and hope that it is the best version of the work that you can do and the best version of you that you’re putting out there.  

I was on a panel about Garifuna ancestral memory and ancestral memory in the Black Latinx diaspora. One of the things that we talked about is: not everybody who dies becomes an ancestor. It really is about the work that you do while you’re here, so I hope that the work is memorable. But more than that, I hope that it opens the path for other people to do good work too. There are tons of people who I know and people who I don’t know who’ve done things, whose names I know, whose names I don’t know who’ve done things that have made it possible for me to do this work. And so, I don’t get caught up too much in that, but I’m thankful that we have the opportunities, the spaces and the resources, and sometimes, the series of coincidences or mistakes that let us be able to do the things we do.

ECD: Considering your experiences with creating new forms of resistance and making spaces like the Diaspora Solidarity Lab, what are your aspirations for DSL?

YFV: This is an exciting time to be doing this work. The Diaspora Solidarity Lab is a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon to expand some of the work that we have been doing. On my end, with my co-PI Dr. Jessica Marie Johnson with Electric Marronage. We are thinking through the question of Black feminist digital humanities and ethnic studies digital humanities in the context of the Black Atlantic, and also thinking about Indigenous, Asian American, Latinx, and other related forms of community interests in our work. 

Part of the arm of the Diaspora Solidarity Lab is working with community organizations and leaders, so we have Community Partners and annual Community Fellows that we support through the grant. We have summer Rememory Labs in three different locations with our Community Partners (Yagrumo and The Black School), and our community fellows who are organizers, artists, activists, and teachers are an important arm of this. They are non-academic, non-institutional affiliated folks. This year we have an agricultural community organization (Producir, Inc./Lissete Velez), a photographer (Chris Lopez), a visual artist (Ana Paula Lira), and a cultural curator (Soraya Jean-Louis) as part of the fellowship. Then there’s a whole different branch of the DSL! That is the branch that you’re part of which is mostly graduate students, some undergraduate students, and some post-grads/early career faculty that are doing incredible research. We have ten micro labs, each one with a different theme, each one with a different kind of set of questions of research to produce work on questions that exist, but then also to develop their own work. From Southern Digital Cultures to Afro-Latinx Lab, to questions of the Survival of People, to the one that you’re part of—the Taller Entre Aguas. We’re trying to expand the opportunities for mentorship for junior scholars, so it’s not just top-down but horizontal, across the board. That’s why we have first-year grad students together with post-docs and undergrads and non-academic researchers and professionals. We envisioned a project that would run the gamut because the mutual connections built through such relations will become important across the stages of one’s career. 

Our community partners and fellows also help to instruct us in the different ways to do ethical work. It’s not only about offering Digital Humanities and community-engaged skill building through our workshops and events, but also about radically transforming what can be done at the kind of higher learning level, at the university level, at the institutional level, in terms of working with students, having them lead projects in the humanities that are transdisciplinary. That doesn’t necessarily fall into one canon or field, right? And then having them lead the way in different directions. So it’s a lot of trusts that we have in the folks that we’ve chosen to say things like, you have all these new ideas and these voices, we have some ideas and we’d love to work on them, but we really trust you to also shift the projects in a different way, and perhaps over the course of the next three years, change the directions of them in ways we could not ever have imagined. 

For us, this has been a really important part of the DSL. It’s part of what we’ve already been doing with the Proyectos Palabras PR (#PPPR), which is bringing students to Puerto Rico and then bringing artists and organizers from Puerto Rico back to MSU in an intercambio, an exchange. That #PPPR project, which came together in the wake of Hurricane María, is the blueprint for our Rememory Labs. We have also pulled from some of the things that Dr. Johnson has been doing with her groundbreaking LifexCode project, where she has students working in small DH lab structures across a series of projects. Alongside this are our work in Electric Marronage, our solidarity speakers events, and the kind of work that we do with our grad students, amplifying works and ideas in progress, platforming public writing by them and by other academics, artists, and practitioners. All of that is part of what inspires the Diaspora Solidarities Lab. And we are working on this project as a model, not “the” model, but “one” model of how to work in an intentional way with the community and with students around questions of research, and also questions of skill building and community commitments and accountability. 

That’s what we’re hoping to do with this project, and it helps that we have the experience of doing many aspects of this project in different kind of ways across a series of initiatives and past/current projects. As a result, we’re thinking about this as an archipelago. Bringing it all together is going to be exciting. It’s going to be a lot of work, but like most of the initiatives and projects that I’ve worked on, it’s satisfying. 

ECD: Oh yes it is so worth it to trust, to give people the space to learn, to give people the space to grow, to give people the opportunity to be mentored, to fall forward. And I think that is a beautiful practice of your decolonial love, and just also to see how the Digital Humanities is giving you space to create these archipelagos to explore these connections. I’m excited to learn more about Digital Humanities, but I often question what happens when we don’t have the technology, or is all of this stuff just erased? Are we also keeping physical archives? Do you think about this? 

YFV: Oh, absolutely. On my end, I am thinking through the community partnerships, storytelling, and curation aspect of the project. If we’re creating archives, we must be able to answer the question: where does it go? Who’s going to take care of it in perpetuity? So we had to find partners like CENTRO, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, to house, to steward, and to take care of the interviews that we are going to be digitizing, transcribing, and translating from Frank Espada’s “Puerto Rican Diaspora Project”. We must also ensure accessibility rather than storing these materials away, so we’re creating gallery, museum, and digital exhibits where they can be seen. We are also trying to figure out where some of the materials can be put into permanent collections. 

Also, there’s other work like one of my advanced graduate students, Stephany Bravo, who’s running her own microlab within the DSL. Her microlab, Archivo Tres Diez,  is going to collaborate with the youths in Compton, CA through Color Compton to work on Black, Mexican, and Indigenous neighborhood and family archives. I’m excited because Stephany is trained in archival processing and curation and she’s interested in what happens within the community and what young people think about the places they live, how to document their stories, and what photography or public art does. There are ways that we are working within and outside of the existing institutions to figure out new ways to showcase the work. The point is not just to archive and put them away somewhere, or to create repositories and get them put away ’cause that already exists—right? It’s about como bregamos to make some of this stuff much more open to the public. 

It’s so exciting, but it is also scary to think about things only being digitized, only existing in one place. That’s why we’re going to be working with librarians and archivists to help us think about the multiple ways that we might want to preserve the work that we’re doing with our students. Or depending on what the students want or what the community wants, make those disappear after some time because part of it is a question of opacity. I am thinking about the seminar I am teaching right now as part of the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University. It is a seminar called “Afro-Diasporic Afterlives: Theory, Practice, Refusal.” Central to our thinking about the archive, the documentation, the ephemera, is the other side: the right to refuse to be archived. So, we have to pay very close attention to what that looks like and what is being asked of us. 

ECD: That’s important and I’m glad that you guys are thinking about those forms of preservation ’cause I find myself getting stuck. But this is why we share ideas. I’m so grateful to see you moving through this lab space and working through these gaps. During the Caribbean Without Borders keynote, you mentioned some of the gaps that you’ve experienced, and also recognized that through those gaps we can integrate decolonial systems and we can create new practices and questions. What have these gaps taught you throughout this work? 

YFV: Yeah, I think that there’s some in conceptual ways, and there’s some that have actual physical gaps that you see. I talk about it in my work as the colonial project, colonial modernity. It’s not some holistic project that blanketed the planet. It didn’t completely erase our memories, our practices, our past. And within the little cracks of this bleak system, you begin to see other ways of thinking, knowing, being, and other practices. I think that is one way to conceive, like que puede brotar, from these cracks in this overarching system of knowledge and being that can feel so completely oppressive.  I am reminded of the writers I engage with from Equatorial Guinea, when they talk about the all-encompassing eye of dictatorship after colonization. Another part of this strategy is thinking about what places you can make moves within, donde uno puede bregar. How can we strategically work within places like the university that comes with its own awful legacies of racism, white supremacy, exclusion, and disdain for poor and working-class communities of color? 

We find ourselves in these places and one of the things that we have to do is find the little crack, the little place, the little gap where you can start kind of making moves and breaking things apart. Doing this kind of work, you can get a lot of no, no, no, no, no.  If you find a little place where you can get a little from here and a little bit from there, you can start to build things. I think about bregando and working through and with and against the current of these limiting institutions. That kind of hustle, of bregando and resolviendo, is part of being Puerto Rican. It’s also a way of being a member of the academy. As a professor and a researcher, it’s like never thinking that the “no”, that the “it’s not possible”, is the final answer. 

I think that part of what shapes this logic is growing up in a particular kind of environment where the defacto reality is that there’s never enough. I’m sorry it’s a long answer, but I’m just thinking about the moment where I got my college acceptance and my mother was terrified because she was just like “Yomaira, no hay chavos!” There’s no money! As a 17-year-old, I faced my worried mother and said, no te preocupes, I’ll figure it out. That hustling spirit is really contagious. I think particularly for Boricua folks, Caribbean folks, Black folks, and that is the spirit that I take with me to my job; that’s something that I don’t leave behind. Recognizing the gaps conceptually and theoretically is important, but then recognizing that you can make moves in those spaces, especially when people don’t expect it from you, is even more powerful because you can make things happen! 

ECD: Yeah, you really have been making it happen. Thinking about la brega, the hustle, and the motivation that keeps us going, let’s be real. I feel oftentimes we have to always be on, and so I think about how we take care of ourselves. How do we enjoy things without always trying to analyze them?

YFV: Let’s just enjoy it. But that comes at a certain point because there is a point, for example when you start graduate school, that things become very serious quickly. Especially when you start to learn the interconnecting contours and lasting legacies of colonization, oppression, sexual and racial violence, and more. I remember that as a grad student, I became the most seca driest version of myself. I couldn’t enjoy anything and I did not let my family enjoy anything either. You know what I’m saying? Like I was ruining their good times left and right—not even a family movie night was safe from my critical analysis. It was with time that I realized that I needed to not overanalyze every single thing that I was seeing, every single thing that I was doing; that I was actually not letting myself live a full life. It was a critical life that was actually very harmful to me and to my spirit. And I lost a lot of belief in myself to find joy in things. It was only later that I realized I needed to save myself. I began taking care of myself and leaning into my own art practices, my own creative writing practices. But it took me a long time to come full circle, because you start to get into these kinds of hopeless places, thoughts like, what does it matter if everything is so terrible? 

ECD: Hence, we want to know what you did to get out and start taking care and putting that wellness back so that you don’t drain yourself, you’re able to enjoy the work, to love the work, to take a break from the work, and make space. What were some of the practices you had to do to give yourself time and space to think?

YFV: I have been doing yoga since I was a teenager, and always on and off. I’m not someone who’s had 20-plus years of yoga practice. I’m a real clown. I’ll go hard for a year then I won’t go for a year. But I’ve been doing that since I was a teenager, so I went back into doing Vinyasa, restorative yoga, some power yoga. I decided to go into acupuncture and then I was getting massages every other week.  For me, the physical stuff was important because of the way that this job breaks down your body, and especially because you’re sitting and writing. For me, it was the shoulder pains, the back pains, the migraines; all these kinds of things that happen to us, particularly for women of color, and especially for Black women who often die very young as academics.  

I had a rough patch of years. Being successful in academia and really unsuccessful in my own personal life was painful. I went to Puerto Rico and I reconnected with some folks, did a despojo, some ritual practice, and some important spiritual work. Then when I came back to the US after a month or two, I decided that I wanted to bring that color back into my life. Bring that bit back so that the Midwest and my job could be livable for me. I started getting into dyeing projects, so I do lots of dyeing, lots of indigo, lots of ice dye; all kinds of stuff. I’m always making something and I’ve done sewing, writing, painting, ceramics, and other crafts since I was a child. I let that go for a long time. But then, when I came back from Puerto Rico, I started painting and stitching my paintings, layering them and working through memory to create mixed media paintings which I then started to gift to friends, family, and acquaintances. Making art and sending it away felt so freeing. And in fact, some of that painting and stitching work inspired one of the chapters of my next book project. 

At the start of the pandemic, I turned a room in my basement into an art studio. A place that I really wanted to be in, and it’s somewhere where I’ve taken work meetings. I’ll go down there and paint or do something while in a meeting. It helps me focus and makes me feel empowered to create and make multiple uses of the time I have. I also like collecting vinyl and listening to music, and just trying to create a life for myself outside of the demands the Academy. It took me a long time to get there. One of the things I say to my students when they ask, “what should I read this summer for next year” is: “nothing!” If you’re a first-year, nothing. Just go and do something for yourself. Go make something, make yourself happy. Try not to work on the weekend, if you can help it. You have to figure out a plan that is livable, that is sustainable. So, for me, that’s been part of the larger scheme of how to get my life back. 

ECD: What a blessing that you were able to take control because this is a hard space. After taking my exams last year, I had to prioritize my health and also make time for my creative life, especially my spiritual practice, which has centered me to tap into my grandmother and ancestral traditions. Considering your illuminations, how have your experiences changed the way you witness and preserve and write about the world? How have they changed you in the way that you see the poetic crossing throughout the diaspora? 

YFV: I think putting your feet to the ground in any of the places that you’re writing about is so important. I was lucky that I have this experience of being a diasporic subject and growing up in an extremely strong Puerto Rican enclave, and having this connection to the archipelago. For a long time, I was doing the work and I was going to Equatorial Guinea and Spain, and I was talking to folks and collecting information. That was all well and good. But for me, when I was on sabbatical in Puerto Rico (I went to Puerto Rico in my own time of personal need and crisis), that was different. It opened a new way to perceive the potential of art, to save yourself, and to save others. I had always thought about that intellectually, and also thought about it even as my own experience of literature saved my life as a kid. It saved my life as a teenager. It got me the love of it, and the inspiration that I got from it got me to college against all odds. It was that kind of thing where I thought I understand things better from doing this, but that takes you so far. 

That moment of illumination came when I was editing my book. I edited it with a lot more love—if that makes sense—instead of editing it with exhaustion. And it really helped me change the way that I was in very small ways, even in small word choices.

What I was writing about (and also those moments of illumination, being in Puerto Rico during my sabbatical while writing my first book) is actually what led me to my second book. What I had imagined for my second book, which I had already been sketching out, was a much more antagonistic project. It was going to be a product that interrogated, in a full takedown mode, anti-Blackness in Latinx literature. I mean, I say antagonistic, but it needs to be done. Someone needs to do it. But what ended up being my second project is: changing the ways of seeing, of being able to bear witness in different ways. It took me to this book that is about love and documentation and stories and families and survival. 

ECD: We must continue illuminating these survival practices and shifting the way we document stories. Your first book offers a lot of insight on exile and diasporic dispossession. Writing the second book, I understand the value of celebrating love and thinking more about families and the access to knowledge we’re sharing. What are you learning in this process? What are you trying to do differently? 

YFV: In my first book, Decolonizing Diasporas, I felt like I was doing a project that came out of my heart, and it came together organically. Part of it was a duty to weave together particular kinds of stories and to illuminate the stories that were already being told. In that way, it was a labor of love for others. Then I slowly remembered that I’m also coming from an experience of colonial subjectship. I am constantly contending with my own family’s long and complex trajectory in Puerto Rico and later, the US. My family had been asking me to tell particular kinds of stories and to find documents and unearth “what happened” in a certain place and time. I began to think: what is the labor of love I’m doing for them? For this project, The Survival of a People, it is that shift in my thinking that happened while I was in Puerto Rico in 2017, which led me to think about how I could use the work that I do to tell a different kind of story. This is a book that is not necessarily written for an academic audience but may still offer something to scholars and scholarship on Puerto Rico and the African diaspora, nonetheless. This book is explicitly for my kin, a project that tells a story about family and about people who are often left out of conversations on who belongs to these islands. It is a story about Black people within this place that refuses to acknowledge race and about poverty, displacement, violence, love, and memory. It also contests the ways Black Boricuas are hyper-visible through the lens of folklore, sex, or non-belonging, and then completely ignored and erased in often violent ways. This project is one that not only is looking at the quotidian, everyday African-descended people both in Puerto Rico in the diaspora, but also documenting the love that they have for each other and the ways that they have been able to keep each other histories alive, even though they don’t appear in documents or in the archive or historical record; even if the things that they lived, that they survived, or that they died at the hands of, are not documented. 

As a scholar of decolonial thought and as somebody who believes in abolitionist and decolonial politics, it is important for me to turn around and cast my gaze at my own family stories and to expand from there to see where else that kind of analytic and practice of decolonial love can touch; to know where that light can touch in other places. 

ECD: It excites me to imagine what will become of decolonial practices. The notion of turning the gaze and of who belongs is on my mind. I think about what we call ourselves, because, now I can say I’m a Black woman, but I remember that growing up I didn’t really identify as American. My mother always reminded us that we are Liberians living in America, yet different from “Black Americans.” It wasn’t until college that I became open about my questions about Blackness, and later in grad school, embracing that we are African descendants. Bearing in mind how you use the term Afro-Atlantic in your work, I sometimes find myself having to interchange terms depending on where I am and who I am in conversation with. How do you determine when to say Black or Afro in your work and how do people respond when you mention Afro-Atlantic work or Black thought? 

YFV: I oftentimes use them interchangeably. I do know that they are valued differently depending on where you are. You wouldn’t say someone is Afro-American. That seems kind of dated, right? But one of the ways that I think about terms is through the question of language. If the majority of Black people outside the continent of Africa are Spanish and Portuguese speaking, then thinking about the term Afrodescendiente or Afro-Atlantic, or simply considering how people understand themselves through a variety of terms, becomes so important. Oftentimes our understanding of Black studies and even Blackness is over-determined by the English language. So, then, a term like “Black” becomes the currency, even though these things might mean different things in different places. But we can say soy negra and we have these amazing grassroots organizations that think through lo negro and cuepras and all of these different things. But we also have prieta (for example, Junta de Prietas) and other ways of thinking about blackness that complicates and expands the notion of Black as punto final. I think, for me, being able to say Afro-Atlantic in my book, instead of Black Atlantic, (and I note that it’s a question of language) is part of reflecting on the language of the people who are talking about themselves. I think that the Black Atlantic obviously is an important conceptual framework, and I also think it’s important for us to understand ourselves from within our own Blackness and experience as Afro and Afro-Indigenous descended peoples. As a result, it’s important for us to be able to be fluid in the way that we’re talking about Blackness as we’re moving across space and respecting other people’s ways of understanding their own blackness in those contexts. 

You never want to be the person who’s trying to be like, well you guys are saying Afro-Puerto Rican but you’re really just Black, so you guys need to be using Black. I think we need to understand the multiple ways that people identify with their gendered and racialized experiences within the context of those places. For me, that has become an important way of articulating my own identity: saying that I am Afro-Puerto Rican, while my much lighter-skinned mother can muse more colloquially, that nosotros somos un chorro de prietos (our family is a bunch of black people). The way we understand ourselves in our shifting contexts changes; things move, and these words mean different things in different places and different contexts. It’s actually a hindrance to be prescriptive about terms and words, especially across linguistic differences, and I think they call attention to different lived experiences in distinctive ways. 

I was on a panel at the UPR about a year ago with other archipelago-based scholars, and someone told me that you can’t really say Afro in the United States anymore. I was like, yeah you can, but I think it’s a generational difference. You can say it in different contexts. I wouldn’t say someone is Afro-American, but I would say Afro-descendant, Afro-Peruvian, or whatever the case may be. We need not limit ourselves, particularly in the sociological imagination of what words can move. We need to be moving with the way that communities move. 

ECD:  Yes, thinking about moving forward and being fluid and no limitations and opening space to grow. Of course, we must end with my favorite podcast question: How are you on your way?

YFV: Yo, I think right now I’m in the process of learning a new part of myself. I’m on my way in a moment where I have to suspend things that I think I know, things that are true about me, maybe even about others. I feel very grounded in some ways, very open in other ways, but interestingly very guarded. And that’s new for me. I’m in a new place right now; I am about to become a mother. I am preparing and curious and cautious. It’s an interesting thing. Yeah, it’s complex. That’s how I’m moving. 

Works Cited

Alexander, M. Jacqui. Pedagogies of Crossing: Meditations on Feminism, Sexual Politics, Memory, and the Sacred. Duke University Press, 2005. 

Figueroa-Vásquez, Yomaira C. Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literatures. Northwestern U P, 2021. 

About the Authors:

Yomaira C. Figueroa-Vásquez is an Afro-Puerto Rican writer, teacher, and scholar. She is Associate Professor of Global Afro-Diaspora Studies at Michigan State University and the author of the award-winning book Decolonizing Diasporas: Radical Mappings of Afro-Atlantic Literature (Northwestern 2020). Her forthcoming book, The Survival of a People, examines the lives Afro-Puerto Rican archipelagic and diasporic peoples through the study of archival histories, photography, visual art, and film from the late 19th century to the present. Her published work can be found in Hypatia, Decolonization, CENTRO Journal, Small Axe, Frontiers Journal, Hispanofilia, Contemporânea, and SX Salon. A first-generation high-school and college graduate, Dr. Figueroa-Vásquez is passionate about mentoring underrepresented and first-generation students and leads the MSU Mentoring Underrepresented Scholars in English Program (MUSE) which seeks to advise and recruit promising prospective Ph.D. students in an effort to shift the discipline and study of English. She is a founder of the MSU Womxn of Color Initiative, #ProyectoPalabrasPR and the digital/material project Taller Electric Marronage. Dr. Figueroa-Vásquez was a Duke University Mellon SITPA Fellow, a Ford Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow, and a Cornell University Society for the Humanities Fellow. She is the PI for the 2022-2024 Andrew W. Mellon funded “Diaspora Solidarities Lab,” a $2M Higher Learning project focused on Black feminist digital humanities initiatives that support solidarity work in Black and Ethnic Studies. 

Essah Cozett Diaz is a Liberian-American poet, podcaster, and PhD candidate at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. Her research is rooted in migration, memory, storytelling, and African traditional healing practices. Díaz is a fellow of the Diaspora Solidarities Lab a multi-institutional Black feminist digital humanities partnership. She is also an alumnae of the Obsidian Foundation and the Young Scholars of Liberia. Her writing has appeared in several international print and online publications.