Pastora San Juan Cafferty, distinguished scholar of Hispanics, 1940-2013

Pastora San Juan Cafferty, one of the nation’s leading scholars of race and ethnicity and a specialist on Hispanics, died April 16 in her Near North Side home in Chicago. Cafferty, professor emerita at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, was 72.

In addition to her research, she was heavily involved in Chicago civic life. She was appointed to the founding board of directors of the Regional Transportation Authority, serving from 1974 to 1977 and 1983 to 1995. She also was a member of numerous corporate and non-profit boards.

Cafferty was a distinguished author or editor of 11 books and monographs about problems facing Hispanics. 

Her former student and later co-editor David Engstrom, AM’83, PhD’92, said: “Professor Cafferty was ahead of the curve in many areas. Up until the 1970s, social work generally thought of ethnicity only through the prism of black/white relations.”

Engstrom, now associate professor at the San Diego State University School of Social Work, called her 1976 book, The Diverse Society: Implications of Social Policy, “the start of her career exploring race and ethnicity, and the process by which individuals take on an ethnic identification. She was in the first generation of scholars to focus on Hispanics and was ahead of the game on immigration policy, looking at more than just the economics of the issue.”

Cafferty and Engstrom were co-editors of the 1999 book Hispanics in America: An Agenda for the Twenty-First Century. In an interview with the University of Chicago Chronicle, she explained her interest in studying Hispanics.

“We think that all Hispanics are alike—when in fact, Hispanics are racially very diverse,” Cafferty said. “If they migrated from the Caribbean, they may be Hispanics of European descent, or European with African, or just of African descent. From Mexico, there’s a very strong Native American component of descent as well as European.

“Hispanics are a fascinating panethnic, a very diverse population racially, ethnically and nationally,” she added. “I believe that the way we incorporate this diversity into our national consciousness will say a great deal, not about Hispanics necessarily, but about our whole system of political and social justice.”

probing 'complexities of culture'

Born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on July 29, 1940 Cafferty and her family moved to Miami in 1948 and eventually settled in Alabama, where her mother taught college Spanish. Cafferty pursued a career in higher education and received her bachelor’s degree in English from St. Bernard College in Cullman, Ala. in 1962 and a PhD in 1971 in literary and cultural history from George Washington University.

She worked as a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation from 1969 to 1970 and as a special assistant to the General Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1970 to 1971. She joined the faculty at the School of Social Service Administration as an assistant professor in 1971; she was named a full professor in 1985.

She wrote on a wide set of topics including bilingual education, economic development in Chicago, urban planning and transportation. A particular area of her research was on language retention in the Hispanic community. Hispanic immigrants tend to retain their language, Cafferty found, contrasting with many earlier European immigrants who ceased using their native languages after arriving in the United States.

Dolores “Dodie” Norton, the Samuel Deutsch Professor Emerita and a colleague of Pastora’s, said: “Pastora can be described by the words 'elegant, edgy, probing scholar': elegant, her presentation of self; edgy, she was on the uncompromising forefront of probing the complexities of culture, race and diversity with her well-grounded scholarly research.”

She was a research associate and senior study director with NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at UChicago and oversaw a planning grant to establish an Hispanic Research Center in 1981. She was a founding member of the faculty of the Irving B. Harris Graduate School of Public Policy.

The Pastora San Juan Cafferty Lecture on Race and Ethnicity in American Life was established in 2005 on the occasion of Cafferty’s retirement from SSA. The lectures, given annually since 2006, are forums for prominent social theorists, business executives, community leaders, philanthropists and politicians to convene and discuss the issues critical to a well-functioning and secure society.

“Pastora tirelessly helped weave connections between the University of Chicago and the city of Chicago through her role as a professor here at the School of Social Service Administration—through her service on numerous civic boards, during her retirement, even continuing all the way up to the day before she passed away,” said Neil Guterman, SSA dean and the Mose & Sylvia Firestone Professor. “She was a vivacious ambassador for the school who really left an indelible legacy on the city and the University.”

dedicated civic leader

In addition to her work at UChicago, Cafferty sat on the boards of the Harris Financial Corporation, Peoples Energy, Kimberly Clark and Waste Management, as well as Rush University Medical Center, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Casa Central.

In 1986 she led a team that interviewed business and political leaders in downtown Chicago to study public-private interactions in what was called the Chicago Project, an effort sponsored by the Chicago Central Area Committee. The report urged broader cooperation among municipal, business and all sectors of the community.

She was also a governmental advisor, serving on the President’s Commission for a National Agenda for the Eights, the National Public Advisory Committee on Regional Economic Development of Commerce, and the U.S. Federal Advisory Committee on Immigration and Nationalization. She was also a White House Fellow, a Smithsonian Research Fellow and a Wall Street Journal Fellow.

Cafferty was preceded in death by her first husband, Michael Cafferty, who was the former chairman of the Chicago Transit Authority from 1970-73, and her second husband, Henry P. Russe, MD’57, the former dean of Rush Medical College and vice president of medical affairs from 1981-91. She is survived by her sole brother, Rafael San Juan.

A memorial gathering will be held at Old St. Patrick’s Church, 700 W. Adams St. in Chicago, on Tuesday, April 23 from 3 to 7 p.m. A memorial Mass will follow.