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Jeffrey Peer

College: Graduate Center
Awards: Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program, 2015

The Mexico Chonicles

On Oct. 2, 1968, police and military troops in Mexico City shot into a crowd of unarmed students who had jammed Tlatelolco Plaza to protest an earlier attack at a national preparatory school. At least 40 students died, perhaps many more. Thousands were beaten and jailed. Countless students disappeared.

"It was a period of intense transformation in the history of the city," says Jeffrey Peer, a third-year doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center. With a 2015 Fulbright grant, he intends to study how that tumultuous era, as well as the decades that followed Mexico's revolution, which started in 1910, were narrated in newspaper essays known as the crónica urbana, or urban chronicle.

"The crónica urbana has a long history in Mexico," he says. "These essays range from personal reflections and anecdotes to reflections on the city, itself, to stories about events and celebrities - all aspects of middle-class life in Mexico City."

Working in the national archives at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Peer will focus on two major essayists, Salvador Novo López (1904-1974) and José Joaquín Blanco (born 1951).

Named Mexico City's official chronicler, Novo was a writer, poet, playwright, translator and UNAM professor. Blanco, an UNAM student around the time of the 1968 massacre - he would have been 17 when it happened - is a novelist and translator who won the 1985 best-screenplay Ariel (Mexico's Oscar) for "Frida, naturaleza viva," in which he imagines the dying artist Frida Kahlo recalling scenes from her life.

"All of the essays I'll be looking at have to do with Mexico City and how it has changed over time," Peer says. "From the revolution through the 1950s, when Novo was at his peak, the population grew astronomically. One of the main themes is how explosion of the population in the metropolis changed peoples' lifestyles, especially for the middle class."

That theme holds true for the 1970s and 1980s, when Blanco began extending his reach. He eventually appeared in some 50 newspapers.

Peer expects that his research will result in articles and conference presentations, as well as becoming part of his dissertation.

Born and raised in California, he earned a B.A. in literature at Bennington College in 2006. He was attracted to the CUNY Graduate Center "because of the wonderful comparative literature program. It's a fascinating place, a crossroads of people from so many backgrounds, languages and disciplines."

Peer envisions an academic teaching and research career. He now teaches writing at Baruch College. "It's a lot of fun."