Dr. Robert Aponte died on January 16, 2020 after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He was an Associate Professor of Sociology and Adjunct Professor of Latino Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). Before that he taught sociology at MSU and was a visiting scholar at the Julian Samora Research Institute. He was active in the establishment of the Institute. Since its inception, he was a member of the Editorial Board of the Latinos in the United States book series published by the MSU Press.
Dr. Aponte received his doctoral degree in 1991 from the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago, where he studied under William Julius Wilson (currently Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University) and Richard Taub (currently Professor Emeritus at The University of Chicago). His dissertation was titled Mexican and Puerto Rican Male Employment Patterns in the Inner City: Mismatch vs Segmentation Explanations, which reflected what would become career research interests: urban poverty, urban Hispanic poverty, the underclass, employment patterns by race, and Hispanic family poverty. Aponte’s research was published in multiple venues, including Annual Review of Sociology, The International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Social Problems, Handbook of Marriage and the Family, and several other top-tier journals.
A Personal Remembrance
By Marcelo Siles
I met Robert (Robeltico) Aponte in January 1993, when he was just starting his career as Assistant Professor in the James Madison College at Michigan State University. At that time, he had an appointment in the Julian Samora Research Institute as a Research Associate and member of JSRI’s Advisory Board. We worked together on many research projects that led to the publication of several papers, among them: “Hispanics in the Midwest: A Growing Presence” with John Fierro (1993), “Michigan’s Hispanics: A Socio-Economic Profile” (1993), “A Region’s New Look: Latinos Flock to Midwest, Make Their Presence Felt” with Melita Marie Garza (1995), and “Winds of Change: Latinos in the Heartland and The Nation” (1997). In 1996, we forecast several years in advance that Latinos would emerge as the largest minority group in the U.S. in the coming decade.
Robert was a very hard worker, a brilliant lecturer, and an excellent researcher with a focus on Latino-related issues. We were invited for three years to make presentations at Western Illinois University at their summer program, “Learning to Lead,” which was designed to prepare disadvantaged high school students for their future enrollment in college. At one of these programs, his excitement during his presentation led him to take up the entire hour, leaving me with no time for my own presentation.
He used to share stories about his career and the “hoops” through which he and other Latinos had to jump through. One such story was when a group of MSU faculty and members of the Latino community in Michigan were working together on the creation of what would become JSRI. At a meeting with MSU authorities, faculty members suggested the institute should be named for Julian Samora, a well-known Latino scholar who taught at MSU before moving to the University of Notre Dame, where he mentored a new generation of Latino scholars. The MSU Provost told them that according to the university’s regulations the institute could not adopt this name since Dr. Samora was still alive, to which Dr. Spielberg, one of the committee members present at the meeting, responded, “No problem, we can shoot him!”
As a professor, Dr. Aponte received excellent marks from students in his classes. The following are some of their comments: “Nice, funny guy! A portion of his class is dedicated to the inaccuracies of our health care system, which I love,” and “Dr. Aponte is one of IUPUI’s best professors. He really values the student’s character development while considering their academics as well.”
I last saw Robert in 2012 while working at Old Dominion University, where I invited him to make a presentation during Hispanic Heritage month. He presented on the socio-economic conditions of Latinos in the country, and was very well received. Attendees at his presentation asked me to invite him back to campus, but unfortunately he was never able to make the trip.
I feel very fortunate to have had him as a colleague and close friend. I will miss his camaraderie, support, and vast knowledge about Latino communities in the U.S.
¡Robeltico, paz en tu tumba, amigo!