QOS and UPRS is uniquely prepared to lead…

J. Marcos Vilar

Former editor, student-at-large

by Josue Contreras

Marcos Vilar, 48, currently works for Mi Familia Vota, a non-partisan national organization that increases civic engagement among Latinas/os in the United States. Born in Ponce and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico until the age of 14, he lived in several U.S. cities afterwards, including Chicago, from the age of 24 until he was 38. He now lives and works in New York City.  While in Chicago in the early ‘90’s he attended NEIU. Subsequently, he worked as a teacher at Roberto Clemente High School and was a national leader of the campaigns to free the Puerto Rican political prisoners and to end U.S. Naval bombing practices on Vieques, P.R.

QOS: Describe NEIU during your time at the university. What were the major issues or most memorable student and community struggles during this period?

Vilar: At the time there was the struggle to get Latino Studies at the university. I was involved in discussions with the University President and Provost Marshall to make that happen. QOS [Que Ondee Sola] and UPRS [Union for Puerto Rican Students ] has always been a bridge between those who went off to college and those still in the community, but the articles we featured in QOS usually had something to do with issues in the school. So, a big focus of QOS and UPRS was student activism—something that had kind of died-down prior to my arrival. QOS was down to publishing an edition every three months, so those of us still involved with the magazine really pushed for more student involvement so the magazine could get back to being published every month. Another fight was the process of moving the magazine from print to a digital format. At the same time the university was battling through the process of automating certain jobs, like payroll, student enrollment, and tuition payment processing. Things that are standard now, we resisted because many Latino community members didn’t have access to the Internet at the time and so we saw it as a disadvantage to Latinos who considered attending NEIU. We resisted through doing presentations on college days and protesting at committee and budget meetings, and one occasion a few of us were actually arrested by campus police.

QOS: What challenges did UPRS and QOS face and how did you try to address them? What alliances were important?

Vilar:  Well I would have to say Proyecto Pa’lante’s Max Torres was a big supporter of QOS and Jaime Delgado, before his arrest. However, it was a downtime in activism. It had been ten years since the arrest of the political activists and there was some fear in supporting anything that they were arrested for, so it took some work to get the kind of support QOS had when it first started. Yet, there were a few who stayed strong in their support of QOS and UPRS. Obviously José López (Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center) was a big part of maintaining student activism through education and the editor before me, Félix Rosa – who had been a political prisoner himself – really mentored me. A big non-Latino supporter of our efforts was Kingsley Clark from the Justice Studies Department. He sponsored QOS and would feed us information of changes the university was trying to make, so we could investigate the effect these changes could have on Latino students. Another non-Latino faculty member who was very helpful was Daniel Stern. There were some people in the admissions office that were helpful; one person’s name I think was Erica González.

QOS: What kind of impact did UPRS and QOS have on campus and the community? What accomplishments were you most proud of during your time?

Vilar: I think growing QOS and UPRS was a big deal for me given the dwindling membership and participation when I first started. We increased our visibility on campus by bombarding every bulletin board with our fliers and increased our ties to the communities by creating programs that encouraged Latino high school students to attend college, NEIU or otherwise.

QOS: What is the importance of a Latino and Latin American Studies major and the recent building of a Latina/o Cultural & Resource Center?

Vilar: I didn’t know about the Latino/a Cultural & Resource Center. It’s really nice to hear that that finally happened because it was something we always asked for; a space for Latinos—Congratulations! The administration, during our time, thought that the QOS space was enough for us. Nothing comes from a void. People who believe that America is threatened by multiculturalism have a pretty myopic view of the world, so I think providing a space for all people to celebrate where they come from is important endeavor in human rights. Denying people the opportunity to learn about their roots, or promoting the history of one culture over another is problematic and should be fought against. It’s something we opposed back then and continue to do so. Even though the world is more connected than ever and more cultural information is readily available, there is still that fight to be made and having Latin American Studies and a Latino/a Cultural & Resource Center is an integral part of that fight. The university is paramount in providing a space to highlight the connections between our different cultures and a responsible university will have this space. NEIU is a university with a historically high Latino attendance.. I am proud that I carried that torch for a little while and that the center finally happened.

QOS: Are there any ideas or experiences you would like to share with the present membership of these organizations and the broader Puerto Rican and Latina/o community?

Vilar: I think QOS and UPRS is uniquely prepared to lead in… the Puerto Rican community, given that more than half of us are now living off of the island. What implications does that have for our community and what are our roles as individuals and as a community in this country and the greater Latino community? One of the big migrations of Puerto Ricans today is to the Orlando, Florida area.  The uniqueness of this migration is that it is composed of English-speaking Puerto Ricans coming from Northern U.S. cities and Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans coming from the island. What we are seeing is that these two groups of Puerto Ricans are not connecting well, nor are they organizing in ways that Puerto Ricans in Chicago and New York have. How do organizations like QOS, UPRS, and the PRCC connect with others [in the] Puerto Rican Diaspora? [How could they] lend their historical student, community, and activist expertise that they have acquired from over 40 years to improve their Puerto Rican communities and the college experience of Latinos in their areas?

Originally Published in QOS April 2012 Special Edition, Vol. 40 No. 4

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.