Kellogg Institute Faculty Fellow Marisel Moreno’s book about the largely unknown and dangerous phenomenon of undocumented sea migration within the Caribbean region has won the Gordon K. and Sybil Lewis Book Award, the Caribbean Studies Association’s most prestigious prize.
“Being recognized by my field’s premier scholarly organization is one of the greatest honors of my life,” said Moreno, the Rev. John A. O'Brien College Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures.
“It is especially meaningful to know that even despite the linguistic and cultural differences, as well as the distinct colonial histories that characterize the islands of the archipelago, the book has resonated among Caribbean scholars.”
The annual award is given for the best book about the Caribbean published over the previous year in Spanish, English, French, or Dutch.
In Crossing Waters: Undocumented Migration in Hispanophone Caribbean and Latinx Literature & Art, Moreno seeks to lift the veil of invisibility around intra-Caribbean undocumented migration.
“Because those who tend to risk their lives at sea in order to survive – whether it is due to political persecution, hunger, natural disasters or climate change – tend to be Black, it is also a book that centers Blackness and that grapples with the colonial legacy of anti-Black racism in Hispanophone Caribbean societies and their diasporas,” said Moreno, who is also a fellow of the College of Arts & Letters’ Institute for Latino Studies and the Initiative on Race and Resilience.
“We cannot understand undocumented migration in the Caribbean without understanding anti-Black racism, and how the history of slavery and European/U.S. colonialism has shaped the present.”
Moreno’s interest in the topic was, in part, a result of growing up in Puerto Rico and reading headlines about Haitian and Dominican migrants drowning trying to cross in yolas (makeshift vessels).
“Many years later, in grad school and beyond, I continued to be perplexed by the virtual absence of the Caribbean in border studies,” she said. “That silence – which continues to this day – did not align with the reality of the thousands of lives lost trying to cross the Caribbean.”
“I started to look at literature and art to see how this historical reality had been represented in cultural production, and eventually I understood that I needed to write the book I had been looking for,” said Moreno, who is an affiliated faculty member in the Gender Studies Program and the Department of Africana Studies.
Crossing Waters has also earned the 2023 Isis Duarte Book Prize Honorable Mention from the Latin American Studies Association’s Haiti-Dominican Republic Section.
For Moreno, who is also a faculty fellow with the Center for Social Concerns, teaching and research are interconnected, with one continually influencing the other.
“Early on, when I was working on Crossing Waters, I designed an upper-level Spanish course based on many of the works that I examine in the book,” she said. “Teaching the course several times as I wrote the manuscript allowed me to think critically, deeply, and consistently about its contents. I don’t think the book would have been as strong without the opportunity to design a course around its main topics.”
Her teaching and service also have earned awards. At Notre Dame, Moreno won the Sheedy Excellence in Teaching Award in 2016 and the Rev. William A. Toohey, CSC Award for Social Justice in 2019. And in 2011, she received the Indiana Governor’s Award for Service-Learning.
The co-creator of the digital humanities project Listening to Puerto Rico and co-curator of the exhibit Art at the Service of the People: Posters and Books is now working on a book project, tentatively titled “Eye of the Storm: Hurricane María in Puerto Rican Cultural Production.”
In it, she examines the representation of the hurricane in literature and visual art “to untangle the links between colonialism, anti-Blackness, disaster capitalism, climate change, and migration.”