Latinx Heritage Month: Prof. Dan Garcia

I grew up as a “Nuyorican” kid in the Woodlawn Reservoir neighborhood of The Bronx. My dad’s parents were from the Eastern side of Puerto Rico (Ceiba and Fajardo), and both came over in the great Puerto Rican migration to NYC in the 1930s. My Abuela saw the Hindenburg fly overhead! My dad was born in New York City, and met my mom who was from Ohio. I was a “reverse West Side Story” kid, and even though my mom had learned Spanish, they didn’t speak it to me growing up. My parents split up when I was 10 and I moved with my mom and stepfather near Cooperstown (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame) in upstate New York (…how do you get to Cooperstown? Practice, practice!). I’d visit my dad’s family every couple of months and, like a squirrel stuffing his cheeks with nuts, I’d imbibe 2-3 days of PR culture and food to get me through the lean winters. It was the early 1980s, when Hip Hop was exploding out of New York City, and in some ways I felt like I was the main character in Footloose, bringing it upstate. I still try to bring the flavor to my current students…

Me and my dad in the Bronx in 1972 (photo by Anne Wright)

I’d say I always coveted my PR culture, given that it was 50% of my genetics but 5% of my lived experience. When CDs came out in college, I became a student of the Mambo/Salsa/AfroCuban music that had come out of NY since the mid-1950s. Moving to California to attend UC Berkeley for graduate school in 1990 pulled me farther from my PR roots, so one way I remained connected was to become very active in Genealogy. My Abuela’s maiden name was Cofresí, and (through research with my cousins), we found out we’re related to the famous Puerto Rican pirate Roberto “El Pirata” Cofresí. Legend says he was a Robin Hood character, robbing from the trade ships coming in and out of PR and giving to the people of his home town Cabo Rojo, who would hide him if he were being pursued. Roberto is my 5G Uncle (the son of my Great5 Grandfather). I’m also related (on my mom’s side) to the poet Emily Dickinson, who is my 2nd cousin 4 times removed.

I am extremely passionate about broadening participation in computing to students normally underrepresented in computing, especially students of color. For the last ten years, I’ve been working to share the Beauty and Joy of Computing (BJC) course Brian Harvey and I co-designed with high school teachers around the country. We’ve recently achieved 65% female enrollment in CS10, among the highest in the nation. (I understand my Spring 2019 CS61A course had 48% female enrollment, among the highest in its history as well, so CS10 is helping diversify the department pipeline). Our professional development (PD) team has reached 650 high school teachers all around the world (including South Korea, India and Peru). It was incredibly rewarding to receive a big $8M NSF grant to bring BJC back to NYC through teacher PD (in which 70% of the K-12 population are students of color!). We are working to convert our curriculum to Spanish and offer Spanish-language PD in New York, Puerto Rico and Latin America. I’m also one of the senior leaders of the Hispanics in Computing group that meets yearly at the Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing conference. It has a mailing list that keeps us connected, consider joining it if you’re a Latinx/Hispanic in Computer Science!

Hispanics in Computing at the ACM Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing, 2018

Dan Garcia