Student Spotlight

Viviana Rivera-Burgos, PhD Candidate in Political Science

Viviana Rivera-Burgos

Where did you grow up? 
Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.

What drew you to your field? 
Coming from a place like Puerto Rico, an island-nation that has been an American territory for over a century, it’s hard not to be interested in politics. The intricacies of the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US was a topic that my family discussed at length at the dinner table when I was growing up. In college, my general curiosity about this topic grew into research questions of representation, political preferences, identity, participation, and citizenship.

How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field? 
I study the political preferences of individuals of racial/ethnic minority groups in the US, and the ways in which elected officials represent the interests of those constituents.

What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
Working with the Students of Color Alliance and the GSAS-Leadership Alliance Summer Research Program. Getting to design and implement programs for the community of underrepresented minorities on campus, as well as mentoring talented undergraduate students and helping them to prepare for graduate school, has been one of the highlights of my time at Columbia. Living in New York has been pretty amazing, too!

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Spending my formative academic years at the University of Puerto Rico is something I’m still extremely proud of. Attending a public university that has such a powerful voice in local politics enriched my education and made me a more engaged scholar and citizen.

Who are your favorite writers?
Two of my all-time favorite writers are Esmeralda Santiago and Isabel Allende. I first read Santiago’s memoir of her family’s migration from rural Puerto Rico to New York City (When I Was Puerto Rican) as a young teenager and loved it. I re-read it recently and found it to be all the more relatable and beautiful. My mother introduced me to Allende at a young age as well, and I love how she combines tales of womanhood, politics, love, and family in her novels.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents. They gave me and my sister the most wonderful childhood full of love, food, and laughter. My mom instilled in me a love for reading and is the strongest, most loving woman I know. My dad helped me get through the first year of grad school, which was rough for me, and he’s great at bringing our big family together. Together they are my moral compass and my biggest supporters.

What music have you been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to a lot of Héctor Lavoe, Willie Colón, and Ismael Rivera lately. My husband, a native New Yorker, has been learning about the history of salsa in New York and Puerto Rico, so it’s all we’ve been listening to for the past month or so.

Where is your favorite place to eat on/around campus?
We live on the northern part of Morningside Drive, so we love to patronize El Nuevo Tina, El Portón, and Pisticci.