At Harvard, CCP Alumnus Pedro Regalado Explores How Latinx Workers Reshape History and the Economy

As the United States struggles to redefine its history through activism and the Black Lives Matter movement, CCP alumnus Pedro Regalado is both an attentive observer and a scholar.

Regalado, who received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Yale University and is currently a Junior Fellow of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, went from a life as a community college graduate to the halls of some of the nation’s most famous universities. 

He belongs everywhere—a fact he discovered one day while living in Philadelphia.

“I remember I had finished CCP. I was working at Au Bon Pain, but I was still pretty confident in myself. I had worked hard at my classes,” Regalado said in a recent interview. “I had to make a delivery to the University of Pennsylvania one day. I went to UPenn and it was my first time on the campus. I saw people who were my age, who were not in Au Bon Pain shirts! I thought, 'You know what? I could be here.'"

Academia, indeed, would be an environment where he could thrive. He went on to receive his B.A. from Loyola University in Chicago and his Ph.D. from Yale University. Along the way, his research and interest in understanding cities have brought distinction. History isn’t just about understanding the past, but also about understanding the present.

“In studying our past, we're often trying to figure out how we arrived at where we are today. Why do I live in this neighborhood? Why am I impoverished? History is essential to answering these questions,” Regalado explained. “It also helps you to figure out your role in the arc of this country, and what you can do to make it a better place. What kind of legacies should we build upon? And what are some of the things that we owe to certain communities?”

Regalado’s dissertation reconstructed how poor Latinx immigrants lived through the evolving, racialized political economy of New York since World War II. It argued that, at each turn of the city’s economic life, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Colombians, Mexicans and Central Americans found themselves at the center of urban change, impacting the policies and racial configurations that local and federal governments promoted. In 2019, that dissertation was a finalist for the American Studies Association’s Ralph Gabriel Henry Prize.

Now at Harvard, Regalado is working on a book project, Latinx Gotham: Work and the Origins of Modern New York, which examines the history of 20th century New York City through the lens of Latinx workers in the city’s rapidly-evolving industries, recuperating Latinx residents as active agents in the remaking of the city’s economy and landscape.

New York’s Latinx population grew from roughly 134,000 in 1940 to over 2 million by 2000, accounting for roughly a third of the city’s residents. Regalado and his family are in that group. Along with his parents and two brothers, Regalado came to New York City from the Dominican Republic when he was five. 

True to his roots, Regalado explores the history of Latinx New York through oral histories and how their role in the economy affected both the city as well as the home countries where many still support family members.

“Scholars have long worked to show how Latinx migration changed the social landscape of New York City. Yet in most historical accounts, I’d say that the dominant narrative of the city is one that focuses on its post-industrial transition. Latinx people have mostly figured into that conversation as bystanders and victims. So, what I hope to do in my work is to broadly chart how a multi-national and multi-racial community understood itself throughout the century and, on the other hand, how they shaped urban policy,” Regalado said.

It was at CCP that Regalado wrote his first research paper, which covered Victorian Era marriages and spatial gender norms. It was there that he honed his research skills while also taking a class in demography, which is the study of human populations and of the process through which populations change. Regalado also was co-captain of the school’s baseball team.

With millions of Americans out of work because of COVID-19, Regalado feels community colleges have an essential role in moving the economy forward. “I've been lucky enough to study at some prestigious institutions,” he said. “And a lot of the education that I received at CCP during my two years there, it was generally on par with them. Many of my professors at CCP were incredibly dedicated teachers who were invested in their students’ success. Overall, I think that if the country is going to make a more concerted effort to develop an equitable economy, they must invest in the future of community colleges.”

At Community College of Philadelphia, Regalado found a higher purpose, and a calling that has placed him at the center of today's conversations about redefining history. 

“I knew that history was what I wanted to dedicate myself to,” Regalado said. “Understanding the Latinx community, I believed, could offer some foundational insights into how today’s cities work.”