Skip to main content

Frank Bonilla Papers

Identifier: MSS 49

Scope and Contents

The Frank Bonilla Papers help document the dynamic career of a key figure in the fields of Puerto Rican Studies, Latin American Studies and Political Science, and first Director of the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños. Moreover, they chronicle the activities of organizations and governmental initiatives that sought to engage with a number of issues, among them, welfare, joblessness, race, minority educational achievement, housing and other social justice issues.

A multifaceted collection, highlights of the papers include a wide assortment of writings by Bonilla on themes ranging in scope from Venezuelan elites to the state of Latino research after the events of 9/11, files on organizations as diverse as the National Jobs For All Coalition, American Friends Service Committee, the Centro de Estudios del Desarrollo, Universidad Central de Venezuela (CENDES) and the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, as well as other materials that document Bonilla’s academic career, political activities and life after his retirement from the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños in 1993.

The materials in this collection span the years from 1946 to 2011, with the bulk concentrating on the years 1995 to 2004. They consist of correspondence, memoranda, photographs, flyers, clippings, writings, remarks, speeches, publications, videotapes and artifacts. The folders are arranged alphabetically and the documents are arranged chronologically. The materials are in both Spanish and English.


  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1995-2004
  • Creation: 1946-2011


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers with no restrictions.

Biographical / Historical

Born in New York in 1925 of parents who migrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, Frank Bonilla grew up in East Harlem and the Bronx, spending several of his middle and high school years in Tennessee and Illinois. Following his graduation from Morris High School in the South Bronx, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, served with the 190th Infantry Regiment, the 65th Infantry, and fought in World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. When an injury removed him from the front lines, he joined the ranks of the Puerto Rican National Guard in Germany. Upon returning to the U.S., he earned his B.B.A. in 1949, graduating cum laude from the College of the City of New York, his M.A. in Sociology from New York University in 1954, and his doctorate in Sociology from Harvard University in 1959.

Bonilla began his academic career in 1960 as a member of The American Universities Field Service in Latin America. Starting with a project initiative on behalf of UNESCO and the Economic Commission for Latin America, his research for the next three years in Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and Brazil investigated the relationship between social development and education in Latin America. In this period, Dr. Bonilla lectured at seven U.S. campuses and at the Pontifícia Unversidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro.

Upon joining the Political Science Department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (1963- 1969), he pursued his interests in Latin America as a senior staff member at MIT’s Center of International Studies. He joined an extensive investigation into Venezuelan politics, conducted in collaboration with the Center for Development Studies of the Central University of Venezuela (CENDES), served as Program Advisor in Social Science to the Ford Foundation in Brazil, and lectured as Visiting Professor at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. He would subsequently become Professor of Political Science and Senior Associate of the Institute of Political Studies at Stanford University (1969-1972).

In 1973, Bonilla became Director of the Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Centro), a position he held for the next 20 years. During his tenure, he provided the intellectual, political, and organizational leadership that helped to define the field of Puerto Rican Studies and to firmly establish the Centro as a vital academic and community resource. Within a short time of its founding, the Centro’s organizational structure and research agendas were shaped by commitments to collective governance, scholarship in service of community, and broad accessibility.

As Director of the only university-based institute in the United States devoted to the interdisciplinary study of the Puerto Rican experience, Bonilla oversaw research in history, political economy, demographic transitions, and social and cultural development. His most well- known contributions were made to the History Task Force, through his close collaboration with Ricardo Campos, with whom he published such landmark works as Labor Migration under Capitalism (1979) “A Wealth of Poor: Puerto Ricans in the New Economic Order” (1981) and Industry and Idleness (1986). Bonilla also taught at CUNY’s Graduate Center, where he was on the faculty of the Political Science Department from 1973 to 1993 and the Sociology Department from 1977 to 1993. In 1986, he was appointed Thomas Hunter Professor of Sociology at CUNY’s Hunter College.

One of the most enduring projects Bonilla launched as the Centro’s Director is the Inter-University Program for Latino Research (IUPLR), co-founded with three colleagues in 1986. What began as a national consortium of eight university-based research centers grew to include more than twenty universities and to serve as a model for other initiatives that pursue interdisciplinary research cooperation in Latino Studies. Bonilla served IUPLR as Managing Co-Director from 1988 to 1993 and Executive Director from 1993 to 1995. He remained on IUPLR’s National Board of Advisors for several years following his retirement.

In addition, he served on the Boards of Directors of the Empowerment Institute of the Community Service Society of the City of New York, a 140-year-old nonprofit organization involved in social and education issues, and of Open Mind, The Association for the Achievement of Cultural Diversity in Higher Education. A small sample of additional affiliations includes the Social Science Advisory Board of the Poverty and Race Research Institute, the National Puerto Rican Task Force on Educational Policy, and the Puerto Rican Organization for Growth, Research, Education and Self-Sufficiency (P.R.O.G.R.E.S.S., Inc.).

Among his many honors, Bonilla received the Distinguished Alumni Award from CCNY in 1972 and the Ralph C. Guzmán Award of the American Political Science Association in 1986 for Excellence in Scholarship and Service to the Profession. He was recognized by Mercy College in 1987 and by the University of the District of Columbia in 1993 with Doctor of Letters Honors Causa Awards, by Hunter College with the President’s Medal in 1993, and by the Council of Dominican Educators with its Service Award also in 1993. In 2003, he was the first recipient of the Public Intellectual Award of the Latino Studies Section of the Latin American Studies Association; and the Award was subsequently named after him.

Though formally retired by the late 1990s, Dr. Bonilla continued to emphasize the importance of promoting Latino academic and policy research capabilities and bringing Latino voices and perspectives into the U.S. foreign policy arena. He remained an active member of many organizations and continued to publish and spearhead numerous initiatives well into the new millennium. He died after a long illness on December 28, 2010.


Excerpted from a biography by Rose Muzio and accessible at Any changes and/or additions are archivist’s own.


12 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


The Frank Bonilla Papers are an important resource for the continued study of the career and contributions of this most seminal of individuals in the fields of Puerto Rican Studies, Latin American Studies and Political Science. The materials in this collection consist of personal documents, clippings, photographs, remarks, speeches, writings, awards, certificates and correspondence.


The collection is divided into the following series:

I. Biographical and Personal Information

II. Correspondence and Memoranda

III. Subject Files

IV. Organizations

V. Writings and Publications

VI. Audiovisual

VII. Artifacts

Separated Materials

Books, magazines and working papers transferred to Library.

Processing Information

Processed with a grant from a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Funding was also provided by the Council of the City of New York.


Frank Bonilla Papers
Mario H. Ramírez with the assistance of Aníbal Arocho, Amanda Bermúdez, Melisa Panchano and Sylvia Rodríguez.
March 2009
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processed with a grant from a congressional directed initiative sponsored by Congressman José Serrano and administered by the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Funding was also provided by the Council of the City of New York.

Revision Statements

  • February 2011: Guide revised by Pedro Juan Hernández.

Repository Details

Part of the Archives of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Repository

Silberman Building, Hunter College
2180 Third Ave. Rm. 122
New York New York 10065

About the Collections

Our collections consist of personal papers from prominent Puerto Rican artists, elected officials, social activists, writers, as well as the records of community-based organizations. Our largest collection, the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States (OGPRUS) Records, measures approximately 2,900 cubic feet and contains an extraordinary amount of information regarding Puerto Rican migrants and the government institutions established to assist them. The collections date from the 1890s to the present, and document Puerto Rican communities in the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, California and Hawaii.