AAA and the Committee on Minority Issues in Anthropology (CMIA) are pleased to announce the selection of Sherina Feliciano-Santos as recipient of the 2009-10 AAA Minority Dissertation Fellowship. Her dissertation is titled “Tainos in Borken? The everyday linguistic and social practices of constructing a contemporary indigenous identity in Puerto Rico” and Barbara A Meek is the chair of her dissertation committee. Feliciano-Santos earned an AB in social studies from Harvard University and received her MA at the University of Michigan in 2006, where she is now a doctoral candidate. She moved from Chicago to Puerto Rico when she was nine years old and observed:
People in Puerto Rico often focused their attention on my mispronunciation of words, the lack of gender agreement in my use of articles and my habit of saying “benediction’ (the practice of asking older kin relations for their blessing) to the wrong people. My lack of fluency made me seem different and, as such, I was not considered a real Puerto Rican by my peers. Having been very proud of being Puerto Rican in Chicago, I was compelled to think about how the way I talked indexed my migration history, and even more, how my trajectory made me somehow less Puerto Rican to them.
Although Feliciano-Santos eventually assimilated into the social norm of Puerto Rican Spanish, she continued to be compelled to understand the interface between linguistic practices and social categories. Her dissertation research is primarily concerned with the linguistic analysis of interactions as they relate to the production and maintenance of groups organizing around Taino indigenous heritage in Puerto Rico. She notes, “While most history books claim that the Taino peoples became extinct between the 16th and 18th centuries, a Taino resurgence has been documented through the Caribbean.” Feliciano-Santos’ research explores the linguistic and discursive strategies employed by members of Taino groups to expand and maintain Taino organizations. She addresses how people come to identify themselves and one another as Taino. More broadly, her focus on language and social practice contributes to the understanding of how people (re)define themselves by reconfiguring their relatedness to each other and institutionalizing different modes of belonging. Her research will contribute to the study of cultural and ethnic transformation through the lens of a controversial indigenous social movement, while considering the effects of histories of colonialism in such processes.
Feliciano-Santos’ analysis draws on two summers of preliminary research and two years of ethnographic fieldwork, and she is the first linguist to receive the Minority Dissertation Fellowship. She will be recognized at the Awards Ceremony during the 2009 AAA Annual Meeting. The CMIA also chose Rebecca l Carter (U of Michigan, Ann Arbor) and Suad Abdul Khabeer (Princeton U) to receive honorable mention distinction. All three will be invited to a luncheon sponsored by the AAA Minority Affairs Department and hosted by the CMIA during the Annual Meeting.
The Minority Dissertation Fellowship is awarded each year to an outstanding doctoral student. It is expected that the recipient will complete the dissertation with in the award period. Applications for the 2010-11 competition are currently available and students who are interested in applying for the fellowship should contact the AAA Department of Academic Relations at 703/528-1902 ext 1181.