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Sonia Nieto Papers

Identifier: MSS 123

Scope and Contents

The Sonia Nieto papers comprehensively document Nieto's career as an educator, scholar, and proponent of bilingual education. In her memoir, Brooklyn Dreams, Nieto explained that her being a product of public education influenced her career. By accessing this collection, researchers can trace the evolution of Nieto's teaching philosophy and pedagogy.

The breadth of the Subject Files reflects her commitment to her profession, classroom teachers, and parents. Nieto exchanged ideas through presentations, workshops, and collaboration with like-minded groups. These files also serve as a solid source for general information about multicultural education and the needs of Puerto Rican students.

A small Correspondence series complements the robust (and routine) correspondence found throughout the collection and filed under specific projects and institutions.

Writings and Research primarily contains drafts of manuscripts, published articles, and research conducted by Nieto for her books.

The Teaching series contains curriculum designed by Nieto for use at P.S. 25 The Bilingual School. A few files contain a limited amount of her Brooklyn College teaching materials. Her career as faculty at the University of Massachusetts School of Education, where she educated new generations of culturally responsive teachers, is documented with course evaluations and syllabi, primarily from the early 2000s.

The Personal and Education series, containing lecture notes and Nieto's coursework, illuminates her early professional interests and what she was taught about teaching and curriculum development. Photos, clippings, and awards are also available.

Consult the container list for detailed information about each series.


  • Creation: 1950-2016


Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright held by CENTRO.

Biographical / Historical

Dr. Sonia Nieto is a leader in the field of bilingual education, professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, author, and frequent speaker on teacher education, equity, and diversity.

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1943, Nieto demonstrated an interest in writing and teaching from a young age. Her parents were pioneros, part of the Puerto Rican migration to New York City during the 1890s-1940s. Her father, Federico Cortés, arrived in 1929 and settled in Spanish Harlem. Her mother, Esther Mercado came to Brooklyn in 1934.

Nieto was raised in the working class Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Fort Greene before her family moved to East Flatbush, a middle class neighborhood when Nieto was 13. At home the family spoke Spanish and Nieto, the second of three children, learned English after her and her sisters began attending public school. Nieto’s parents regarded education as a way out of poverty and her experience as a public school student would later shape her own teaching and pedagogy.

Following her high school graduation, Nieto earned a bachelor’s degree in education from St. John’s University in 1965. Nieto attended New York University for her masters in Spanish and Hispanic Literature, spending a year in Spain (1966).

Nieto began teaching the 4th grade in the New York City public school system, first in Brooklyn from 1966 to 1968, and then at P.S. 25 in the Bronx, then the Northeast’s first fully bilingual school and only the second bilingual school in the country. P.S. 25 was a result of activism by the United Bronx Parents community organization. Although Nieto was bilingual, she was new to teaching in a bilingual environment and learned on the job as a 4th grade classroom teacher. Nieto was offered the role of Curriculum Specialist at P.S. 25 and began to establish herself in the field of Curriculum, Bilingual & Multicultural education.

In 1972 Nieto shifted to higher education, becoming an instructor at Brooklyn College and the chair of its nascent Puerto Rican Studies department. Nieto relocated to Massachusetts in 1975 to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst graduate program in education. A recipient of a Title VII United States Office of Education Ford Foundation fellowship, Nieto received her doctorate in 1979. Her dissertation, Curriculum Decision-Making, the Puerto Rican Family and the Bilingual Child examined the absence of parent involvement in bilingual curriculum and introduced methods for how schools could evaluate the problem and begin to take action.

The University of Massachusetts offered Nieto a professorship, a post she held from 1980 to her retirement in 2006. Nieto’s childhood passion for teaching and seeing others excited to learn had been realized. She educated burgeoning new teachers about social justice, equity, and diversity and her research and writings gave voice to teachers’ experiences. While on the faculty, Nieto maintained an ambitious schedule of lectures and speaking engagements, advocating for multicultural education beyond addressing linguistic needs, and contributed significantly to professional organizations, especially the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME).

A prolific writer, Nieto has published 11 books including her memoir, Brooklyn Dreams (2015). Her writings have conveyed educational theory in addition to giving voice to the experiences of classroom teachers themselves (Why We Teach, 2005; Dear Paulo: Letters From Those Who Dare Teach, 2008). Her first book, Affirming Diversity: The Sociopolitical Context of Multicultural Education(1992) has been released in seven editions. Other works include The Light in Their Eyes: Creating Multicultural Learning Communities (1999), Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Classrooms (2013) and Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives for a New Century (2002). Nieto’s works have been translated into Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.

Academia, peers, governments, and organizations worldwide have recognized Nieto’s contributions. Honors include nine honorary doctorates, the 2021 Massachusetts Govenor’s Award in the Humanities, and election to the membership of the National Academy of Education in 2015. Nieto held visiting professorships worldwide including at the University of Puetro Rico (2008), Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (2008-2009), and Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg, South Africa (February-March 2012).

The impact of Nieto’s pedagogy has resonated beyond the classroom and the scholarly world. Since the late 1970s, Nieto has presented workshops geared towards parents in nearby communities, especially in Holyoke, Massachusetts.


38 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Spanish; Castilian


The Sonia Nieto papers chronicle Nieto's 50 year career as an advocate and educator in the field of bilingual education. The collection, dating from 1950 to 2016, contains files related to her research and scholarship; teaching career at Brooklyn College, New York City's P.S. 25 Bilingual School in the Bronx, and the University of Massachusetts; her postgraduate education; and her books and writings. It is a valuable resource for tracing the history and evolution of bilingual education policy in the United States and its impact on both students and teachers. The documents primarily consist of correspondence, manuscripts, notes, photographs, presentations, publications, and writings.


The collection is arranged into 5 series: Subject Files, Correspondence, Writings and Research, Teaching Materials, and Personal and Education.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Sonia Nieto in 2004-2007.

Related Materials

The Luis O. Reyes Papers, ASPIRA of New York Records, Antonia Pantoja Papers, and Muriel Pagán Escuela Bilingüe Collection are also in the Centro Archives.

Processing Information

Collection inventory completed in 2017. Collection processed and finding aid revised in 2021.

Sonia Nieto Papers
Juber Ayala and other Archives staff members under the supervision from Pedro Juan Hernández
August 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Revised by Susan M. Kline

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.