Mary Pena | Material Aesthetics, Tonality, and the Politics of Racial Mixture in Puerto Plata

Feb 23, 2023, 12:00 pm1:20 pm
216 Burr Hall (open to students, faculty, staff & guests)



Event Description

Since the late 1990s, the port city of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic has anchored a host of public and private efforts to remake the city center into a cultural heritage site. While the city’s large-scale restoration promotes an idealized image of its Victorian architectural past, the materiality of space has become a vehicle for affective politics and reimagining history among residents of the urban center. Emerging from a turn-of-the-century movement of progress, the built environment—a grid-plan settlement with a central plaza ringed by Victorian houses—materializes codes of proper citizenship and normative family life tied to notions of racial mixture. This presentation examines how the pastel-hued urban fabric offered a mirror of racial and ethnic plurality in dominant narratives of local heritage, wherein a sugar plantation economy produced a racially harmonious urban society. If color is salient to the social relations that shaped the progressive social order, how is color present in the afterlives of its materiality, and how can attention to tone in everyday life reveal alternative histories of migration and meanings of urban belonging? 


Mary Pena is a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer with the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities and PLAS. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology with a graduate certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work lies at the intersection of race and space, materiality, urban ecology, and embodiment, specializing in sensory and multimodal ethnography. Her current project focuses on the role of built landscapes in processes of racialization and embodied experience in the Dominican Republic. Before joining Princeton, Pena held an internship as a community programming organizer at Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn, NY, and coordinated the “Making Sensory Ethnography” working group at the University of Michigan.


Amelia Frank-Vitale, Anthropology, Ph.D., University of Michigan; PLAS Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer

Open to students, faculty, visiting scholars, staff and specially invited guests. A boxed lunch will be provided while supplies last.