Under the dim lighting of her office, Professor of Hispanic Studies Mercedes Vaquero sits in a cozy chair surrounded by walls of colorful posters. Located in Rochambeau House, home of the Department of French and Francophone Studies, her office boasts a variety of knick-knacks, like a bronze medallion — engraved with Spanish artist Lorenzo Goni’s illustration of a flying witch — which sits atop her desk. Her bookshelf is brimming with the weathered spines of old books, including “El Tapaboca,” written by José Amor y Vázquez Ph.D’57.
“I inherited this office from Pepe,” Vaquero said, referring to Amor y Vázquez, late professor emeritus of Hispanic studies. Many of the trinkets around the office once belonged to Amor y Vázquez, including those on Vaquero’s desk.
Amor y Vázquez arrived at Brown as a graduate student in 1951, spending the next six years on his Ph.D. In 1958, Amor y Vázquez became a faculty member of the Department of Hispanic Studies — then known as the Department of Spanish and Italian — becoming the second Hispanic professor in its history.
Amor y Vázquez remained in the department until his retirement in 1991, when he became a professor emeritus. During his tenure at the University, Amor y Vázquez was instrumental in establishing the Latin American Studies Program, which grew into the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. He was also deeply supportive of the John Carter Brown Library, in 2004 establishing the José Amor y Vázquez Endowment Fund to support “programs and projects at the JCB related to Spanish and Spanish American subjects,” according to the JCB website.
Amor y Vázquez helped open the University to more Hispanic community members and provided “a privileged space for Latin American studies,” Vaquero said. “He was ahead of his time.”
A global upbringing
After his passing in 2018, Amor y Vázquez’s cousin Felisa Vázquez-Abad gave a presentation about his life during a memorial at the JCB. The presentation was shared with The Herald by Domingo Ledezma Ph.D. ’03, a mentee of Amor y Vázquez and contributor to the memorial.
Amor y Vázquez was born in 1921 in Galicia, Spain to María Dolores Vázquez Gayoso and José Amor Rodríguez. Rodríguez fought in the Spanish-American War in Cuba and was a “great admirer of the Rough Riders and Teddy Roosevelt,” according to the presentation. His father’s admiration for the United States would influence Amor y Vázquez throughout his life.
Amor y Vázquez spent his childhood moving between Cuba, Venezuela and Spain before finally settling in Havana during the Spanish Civil War in 1939. He pursued an undergraduate degree at the Universidad de la Habana and graduated in 1944 with degrees in private and public law.
“He was a very interesting person and scholar,” Vaquero said. Amor y Vázquez “felt very close to the department” because of his “admiration and dedication” to the University.
Bringing Latin American studies to Brown
According to Vaquero, Amor y Vázquez was experienced in Hispanic studies due to his trans-Atlantic upbringing. “He was the first trans-Atlantic” scholar at the University, she added. “Even though he studied the Iberian peninsula, he also studied Venezuelan and Cuban writers.”
Typically, Hispanic studies is divided between the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America, explained Chair of Hispanic Studies Laura Bass — but Amor y Vázquez bridged that gap, encouraging students to study both regions and place them in conversation.
Amor y Vázquez’s students “liked the idea of (him) giving the same importance to Latin American studies as peninsular studies,” Vaquero said.
Amor y Vázquez was a “champion of Latin American studies” and served as the first director of the University’s Latin American Studies Program in 1983, Hunt explained.
The program’s creation led the University to host the Eighth Congress of the Associación Internacional de Hispanistas — an international, non-profit organization that promotes the study of Hispanic languages and literatures.
LASP later joined academic networks such as the Latin American Studies Association, the New England Council on Latin American Studies and the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs, according to Katherine Goldman, center manager at CLACS. A year after Amor y Vázquez became director of LASP, he expanded the program into CLACS in 1984.
He “realized that there was an empty space (at) Brown for Latin American studies,” Vaquero said. “He felt that there should be a place that put people together in all different departments.”
‘Long-term supporter’ of John Carter Brown Library
Amor y Vázquez was also known for his work with JCB, which is one of the most important libraries for Latin American colonial documents in the country, according to Vaquero.
During his professorship, Amor y Vázquez served on the JCB Board of Governors and was chair of the academic advisory committee, wrote Maureen O’Donnell, former secretary at the library, in an email to The Herald.
In this role, Amor y Vázquez often encouraged his students to turn to the JCB for resources. Many, including Ledezma, ended up writing their dissertations on books found at the library.
In 2003, Amor y Vázquez received a medal from the library for his service as “an advisor, author, editor, translator and long-term supporter of the library,” Hunt wrote. A year later, he established the José Amor y Vázquez Endowment Fund at the JCB, which allowed more Hispanic studies graduate students to gain access to grants through the JCB, Vaquero said.
According to Ledezma, Amor y Vázquez cared for the library long after his retirement. Any time Ledezma would come to the University’s campus, Amor y Vázquez would remind him “to look after the library.”
‘A treasure of a person’
Amor y Vázquez’s impact extends well beyond College Hill. He was “a real mover and shaker” in Hispanic studies across the globe, Vaquero said.
Amor y Vázquez was a correspondent of the Royal Spanish Language Academy, served on the board of the Associación Internacional de Hispanistas, was an honorary member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language and received an honor from the Spanish king, according to Bass.
“He is recognized as one of the most important Hispanicsts of our time,” Vázquez-Abad said in her presentation. Beyond his professional work, Amor y Vázquez is best remembered by those close to him for his “sharp” wit and humor, Vaquero said.
“I miss him and when I see Domingo that’s what we talk about — how we miss Pepe,” she added. “He was very dear; … somebody within the institution that protected you.”
“Pepe was a treasure of a person — warm, kind, brilliant, very funny and deeply compassionate,” O’Donnell wrote. “He had a kind of soul magic — a nearly visible sparkle — that he shared with everyone he came into contact with. He encouraged and enlivened others but was also always realistic and grounded in his guidance. He was a gift to all who knew him.”
Kaitlyn Torres is the senior editor of community for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously covered diversity as a University News section editor. In her free time, Kaitlyn enjoys listening to The Arctic Monkeys and going on archaeological digs.
Alex Nadirashvili is the managing editor of multimedia and social media for The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. As a former University News editor, he covered faculty, higher education and student life, though his proudest legacy is The Brown Daily Herald TikTok account.