Pastora Cafferty

Pastora San Juan Cafferty

Fields of interest

Pastora San Juan Cafferty, one of the nation’s leading scholars of race and ethnicity and a specialist on Hispanics, died April 16, 2013 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’s civic life.  She was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Regional Transportation Authority when it was organized and served from 1974 to 1977 and from 1983 to 1995.  She also was also a member of numerous corporate boards and of non-profit boards.

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

Her former student and later co-editor David Engstrom, AM ’83, PhD ’92, associate professor at the San Diego State University School of Social Work, 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.”

“Her first book, The Diverse Society: Implications of Social Policy [co-edited with Leon Chestang], really was 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 the United States: An Agenda for the 21st 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.  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.  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,” she explained.

Cafferty was born in Cienfuegos, Cuba, on July 29, 1940, and came with her family to Miami in 1948 and eventually settled in Alabama, where her mother taught college Spanish. Cafferty also pursued a career in high education and received a B.A. in English from St. Bernard College in Cullman, Alabama in 1962 and a Ph.D. 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, when she joined the faculty at the School of Social Service Administration as an assistant professor. She was named 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, contrasting with many earlier European immigrants who ceased using their native languages after arriving in the United States.

She was a research associate and senior study director with NORC (formerly the National Opinion Research Center) at the University 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 the retirement of Professor Cafferty from SSA. The lectures, given each year 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. She was a vivacious ambassador for the School who really left an indelible legacy on the city and the University,” said Neil Guterman, SSA Dean and Mose & Sylvia Firestone Professor.

In addition to her work at the University of Chicago, 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 Eighties, 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.

Dolores "Dodie" Norton, the Samuel Deutsch Professor Emerita and a colleague said of Pastora, "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." 

Pastora San Juan 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, Dr. Henry P. Russe, MD, '57, who was the former dean of Rush Medical College and vice president, medical affairs, in Chicago from 1981-91. She is survived by her sole brother, Rafael San Juan.

A memorial gathering was held at Old Saint Patrick’s Church, 700 West Adams Chicago, IL  on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.