The UNM Alumni Association has recently honored Dr. Nelson P. Valdés, BA '70, and PhD '78, with the Bernard S. Rodey Award for 2010. The Bernard S. Rodey Award recognizes persons who have devoted an unusual amount of time in a leadership capacity and whose efforts have contributed significantly to the field of education.
Dr. Valdés arrived to the United States alone in what the US government called "Operation Peter Pan" – a program by which children were sent alone to the United States. Parents were fearful that the Cuban government would take their children away from them; it was a psychological war carried out by the CIA in order to destabilize Cuba. Many parents in Cuba were fooled. Nelson arrived at age 15 and lived with three foster homes in 1961. By 1962 he was a janitor at UNM. However, the US government provided for his health and dental care and provided monies to the families who offered their homes. 14,058 children were separated in those years. The US government also set up a "Cuban loan" to help pay for university students of the Pedro Pan teenagers and young adults. As he says, "My personal history demonstrates that affirmative action works. But New Mexicans of my age did not get the same benefits from the US government. They still do not."
Valdés was a janitor for six years and then became a research assistant of History professor Edwin Lieuwen. He obtained a Bachelor's and a PhD from UNM. Although offered a scholarship to go to Stanford University he declined because his new family was in New Mexico. He married at age 18. Valdes has taught at Louisiana State University, Duke University, the University of Glasgow in Scotland and since 1976 at UNM. He was a founder of the LAII and its first Academic Director. He was the creator  of the data base that became in 1986 the Latin America Data Base (LADB), which offers comprehensive information about current events in Latin America. He was the director of the LADB from 1986 to 1996. Over the years, with other LAII members, he brought over $2 million dollars to UNM. Although retired, he heads the Cuba-L project which will serve as a clearinghouse for information on Cuba through news from around the world. He also writes regular columns for the publication Counter Punch.
Dr. Nelson P. Valdés is Professor Emeritus within the UNM Department of Sociology, where his areas of expertise include classical sociological theory, comparative/macrosociology, Latin America, race/ethnicity, rural sociology, and urban sociology. He is a nationally recognized Cuba scholar. Dr. Valdés is affiliated with the Latin American and Iberian Institute.
This information was provided courtesy of Dr. Valdés, UNMToday, and the UNM Department of Sociology.
--Posted Wednesday, February 23, 2011.