Professor, Education and Language Acquisition Department LaGuardia
was just shy of a year old in 1972, when Dr. Ana Maria Hernandez began
as an adjunct professor for the Department of Language and Culture – the
forerunner of the English Department and the Humanities Department; and
later, the Education and Language Acquisition Department. “Had I stayed
in Cuba, I would have been a historian,” says the visionary scholar who
celebrated LaGuardia’s 40th anniversary alongside her 50 years of
having arrived in New York in January 2011.
“LaGuardia needed, what we here call, a jack of all trades, and I fit
the description for that particular department,” she recalls. The
College was in its formative years, filled with young, eager and
innovative minds; Dr. Hernandez flourished and has remained since.
Dr. Hernandez wanted to study history but instead majored in Spanish and
Latin American Literature with a minor in 19th Century History at
Queens College. “In that moment a strong relationship was forming
between Latin America and the U.S. – Kennedy was in office,” she says
about her decision to study literature. Although it was not her
preferred field she saw great opportunity in the new major. “I’ve never
been political. My interest is in the humanities – art, theater,
language – and I thought, ‘This is my place. I’ll be able to study the
history of all these areas.’” Essential to her studies, she learned
French, Italian and German before completing her masters in Comparative
Literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center and then
earning her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from New York University.
Recruited by another LaGuardia pioneer, Flora Mancuso, Dr. Hernandez
developed courses in Spanish grammar; and Spanish and English-language
Latin American Literature and Culture - classes that are still taught at
LaGuardia today. When new information was discovered about the Mayan
civilizations in 1973, Dr. Hernandez zealously followed the study
through the span of four years and recreated the Latin American
Civilizations course to reflect the new findings.
She is the epitome of a Renaissance woman. Her multiplicity can be seen
in her scholarly work. In June 2011, she edited and published Fantoches 1926,
contextualizing the work of 11 politically active, intellectual writers
associated with the Grupo Minorista of the early Cuban Republic.
Her other recent publications focus on the Uruguayan Felisberto
Hernandez, a daring 18th century fiction writer whose masterpiece is the
story of a man obsessed with his doll collection. She’s also written
Spanish-language critiques of such fantastical literature as J.S. Le
Fanu’s Carmilla, the vampire story that predates Dracula; and Horacio Quiroga’s Miss Dorothy Phillips, Mi esposa; El vampiro; and El espectro,
all of which share a common protagonist. In addition, she’s a member of
the International Association of Scholars of the Fantastic and has been
part of the reviewing staff of World Literature Today since 1977.
Dr. Hernandez is currently working on an edition of the 19th Century Cuban classic Cecilia Valdez o la Loma Del Angel.
The New York Public Library has granted her special permission to
review a very fragile, early version of the novel. “I have to hold the
corners with the tip of my fingers when I turn the pages, otherwise I
risk it turning to dust,” she says with an enormous smile, her devotion
to the project shining through.
She received a Focus Grant from the National Endowment for the
Humanities in 2003 to explore the “African Roots of Latin Music.” She
and her colleagues, Dr. Max Rodriguez and Dr. Gustavo Moretto, have
incorporated this research into the music, culture, and history courses
they teach at LaGuardia. In addition, she’s presented on Latin American
composers at El Museo Del Barrio; and Cuban singing legend Benny Moré at
the Interdisciplinary Conference on The African Presence and Influence
on the Culture of the Americas. She is a fellow of the Cuba project at
the Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Relations at the CUNY Graduate
Center; and has published several works on Cuban poets and writers.
In 2005, Dr. Hernandez had her “third incarnation” when the Education
and Language Acquisition Department branched out of the Humanities
Department. This department gives classes in childhood and bilingual
education as well as courses in history, literature, reading and
writing, and language skills in 13 modern languages. There she taught
Spanish and French in addition to her usual literature and culture
First at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center then at LAGCC, Dr.
Hernandez carries on the tried and true tradition of our founders – she
driven to experiment and brings her ingenuity to the classroom.
“I’m very grateful to CUNY, the avant-garde,” she says. “I’ve grown a
lot at LaGuardia and I’ve always felt that my work is greatly