Ana Isabel García Reyes was born in La Romana, Dominican Republic and raised in New York City. As a result of her very limited language proficiency in English when she came to the United States, she confronted challenges which motivated her to learn and eventually graduated with honors from Louis D. Brandeis High School in Manhattan.
She then received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY) in 1979, and her Master of Science degree in Bilingual Education from the same institution in 1989. García Reyes lives in New York City and has been involved in community service for more than three decades. Youngest of her siblings of 3 sisters and one brother and the first in her family who graduated from college. García Reyes is a widow and her only daughter, Natil L. Reyes, also completed her graduate studies at CUNY.
García Reyes has over 35 years of experience in higher education, including extensive work in program management and special programs, fundraising and development efforts, and evaluating and training personnel.
García Reyes started her career as a counselor for Aspira of New York, Inc. from 1991 to 1996. She later served as supervisor and then Director of the Student Support Services Program (SSSP) at the City College of New York.
At Hostos Community College, Dean García Reyes started as the Special Assistant to the President/ Chief of Staff. In March 1998, she assumed additional duties and responsibilities under the title of Special Assistant to the President for Community Relations and Director of International Programs. Her responsibilities included assisting the President in administrative operations, community and external relations as well as governmental affairs. In addition, she coordinated and monitored cultural heritage events, public community forums, and international academic exchanges/ teacher training/ study abroad programs. Her love and commitment to her job makes her an icon in the communities served by the college nationally and internationally. As the community relations liaison for the college and a member of the CUNY Legislative Action Committee (CLAC), Dean García Reyes maintains professional ties with external institutions and professional organizations as well as city, state, and federal policy makers.
Dean García Reyes is a founding member of CUNY in the Heights, an educational center of the university which offers certificates and college bearing courses among other higher education programs. In addition, she is a founding member and advisory board member of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute and currently serves as Vice Chair of the Dominican Studies Association. She served as past president elect of the Association for Equality and Excellence in Education, Inc. and executive committee member for the CEO Board of Directors (when it was known as NCEOA).
The New York City Council recommended her unanimously for the New York City Youth Board, and she received a mayoral appointment to this body in 1994 for the first time and continued reappointments to the present by the succeeding mayors. García Reyes is the founder of the NYS Women in Government organization.
Dean García Reyes has participated in many conferences and roundtable discussions. In 2001, she was the first woman elected as president of the Dominican American National Roundtable (DANR). During her tenure as President, DANR engaged in lobbying efforts for the first time in Capitol Hill. She also started the first voter's registration campaign focused on Dominicans Americans.
She has received numerous awards and citations from the three houses of government of the US. She has also been recognized by numerous universities, educational institutions and professional organizations for her leadership and advocacy on behalf of underserved communities. García Reyes has also been recognized for her excellent track record of coordinating academic exchange programs.
For two consecutive years (2004 and 2005), García Reyes received "The Salomé Ureña de Henríquez" award. This honor, which is bestowed on educators with a record of lifelong commitment to excellence in education, is presented at the National Palace in the Dominican Republic by the Minister of Education and the President of the Dominican Republic. In 2012, she was selected as one of 25 Bronx Influential Women by Bronx Times newspaper.
In recent years, as a volunteer board member in charge of pedagogy of the NYC literacy program, Quisqueya Aprende Contigo, Dean García Reyes and two colleagues trained a group of volunteers who taught over 75 adults who were illiterate to read and write in less than a year.
Dean García Reyes' work makes her a kind of cultural ambassador between the Dominican community and other spheres. "My Dominican studies expertise has been a blessing as it has helped me to bridge cultural academic exchanges between the Dominican Republic and the US among educators and students for more than two decades. It has also helped me to develop and implement cultural heritage events of interest to the Dominican American community and to non-Dominicans as well."
I asked Dean García Reyes how the Dominican experience has informed her work.
"Belonging to a Dominican American origin group has brought opportunities for professional growth as I am frequently consulted about Dominican topics and the Dominican community. The Dominican experience has brought joy and challenges to my career. It has also brought numerous national and international recognitions as a result of my professional investments in the Dominican American community. This experience has given me the opportunity to elevate and amplify the hidden gems of my history and culture. It has also helped me to learn and appreciate the heritage, customs and traditions of other cultures currently embedded in my own. During the ongoing process of learning about my own identity, I have had the fortune of learning about other national ethnic groups and the commonalities that have brought us together as human beings. Within this context, bridging the digital divide between cultures is important and rewarding. My Dominican experience reaffirms what or whom I have chosen to become and has allowed me to share that experience with students and professionals who seek to expand their knowledge about Dominicans. I have stayed true to myself and those who respect and accept people for who they are and not for whom they would like them to be. It also allows me to understand that being Dominican doesn't necessarily mean that I know everything about Dominicans. Throughout the years, I have enriched myself by adding aspects of cultures that I have come in contact with, as I have consciously decided to also continue honoring the culture, traditions and legacy that I have inherited. As a Dominican woman who was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City, I proudly embrace my heritage and roots. I celebrate who I am and what I have become as a member of the Dominican American diaspora community."
I next asked Dean García Reyes about childhood influences that shaped her dreams and aspirations.
"Although my mother and father did not have the opportunity to reach high levels of formal education, they valued it as they understood that education brings opportunities for a better life. The expectations they had of me placed a great level of responsibility on my shoulders. The dream of becoming a professional and making them feel proud of me shaped my life and motivated me to become a productive citizen. The encouragement of my primary school teachers who valued and praised my school work also created high expectations in me. The fact that I didn't have the goods that I wanted as a child made me very creative and more appreciative of what I had."
At a very young age, García Reyes turned a situation that could have been a setback into an opportunity. "The reality that my health was not the best during my childhood years and the fact that I had to spend more time indoors rather than outdoors playing with the rest of the kids instilled good study habits in me. I became more disciplined and focused in my studies as a student since I had plenty time to study at home."
Her work as associate dean and as director of international programs at Hostos gives García Reyes great satisfaction. "The positive results of my professional services are very gratifying as I frequently receive very positive feedback from students and professionals whom I have shared my knowledge and experiences. Meeting and interacting with renowned Dominican writers, scholars, dignitaries and artists whom I had the honor of meeting as a professional and learning from have been part of those rewarding moments and experiences. Moreover, sharing my experiences with students and professionals on how to navigate complex systems to access resources is also rewarding."
García Reyes also expressed some of the difficulties she has come across in her work. "One of the challenges frequently faced is conveying the community demands to fulfill the needs of a community that seeks prosperity. Fulfilling the expectations of those who look for guidance and who see me as a leader and role model is humbling and honoring to me but also challenging due to the limited amount of financial resources that my position can offer. Voicing the needs of underserved communities in the academia is very challenging as you may frequently find faculty and staff who don't necessarily relate or understand the needs of the communities served by their institutions. At times, you may find faculty who have never visited the communities where the students live and bridging the cultural differences between the two requires time and effort."
García Reyes expresses gratitude toward those who have helped and inspired her along her path. "I have seen my dreams accomplished with the support of conscious professionals who shared the same or similar vision as mine. Amplifying the contributions of exemplary role models and helping them to further escalate their images is very gratifying to me. As an officer of the university, I always think about honoring those who have brought prideto Dominicans and how I can bring awareness about deserving individuals who have made substantial contributions which merit recognition."
Dean García Reyes shares her enthusiasm about the opportunities her work provides to engage in intercultural dialogue and communicate the knowledge she has acquired in her research.
"Participating in international study abroad programs or global education is a great way of learning about cultures in general and sharing that learning in a very creative way. Learning about Dominican migrations, history, culture and education has helped me to design innovative Dominican cultural programs and has blessed me with the opportunity of being able to share my knowledge with diverse communities. Studying the migration patterns since the pre-colonial times to the present has expanded my knowledge about the Dominican experience and has made me realize that there is a wealth of history that unfortunately a significant number of second and third generation of Dominicans are not aware of as this information is not included in the NYC DOE curriculum. Helping educators who are in search of knowledge to expand their experiences and to pass these on to their Dominican American children is fascinating. Seeing the appreciation that comes from the teachers and the students who learn through the process of participating in the study abroad programs is highly rewarding. Looking into the past helps you to better understand the present and perhaps even the future."
Finally, I ask Dean García Reyes how she, one of the founding member of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute, evaluates the Institute's contribution to higher education and its fulfillment of the founders' goals and defines its mission moving into its third decade.
"As a founding member, I reflect on the past and think about the current standing of the CUNY Dominican Studies Institute (CUNY DSI). The CUNY DSI evolved from a dream of educators like me to a credible academic research center. The CUNY DSI's mission was to produce and disseminate research and scholarship about Dominicans in the US. More recently, it has engaged in research projects and articulation agreements in other countries besides the US. It has also signed agreements with numerous prestigious institutions and has contributed immensely not only to higher education but also to the Dominican American community that it represents in the US. As national trends and the needs of the Dominican American community evolve, so has the vision changed/shifted slightly to include not only US based research projects but also other geographical areas including the Dominican Republic, Spain, and Germany among others, where there is or has been a significant presence of Dominicans. The CUNY DSI pioneered the research of the first Latino immigrant who came to the Hudson River area in 1613, known as Juan Rodriguez. This particular research is a major mile stone or finding of interest for Dominicans and non-Dominicans nationally and internationally. The institute has demonstrated potential for further expansion and capacity building."