Remembering Helen Safa, 1930–2013

Sierra Exif JPEGby Paul Doughty

Helen Icken Safa, died November 4, 2013 at Haven Hospice in Gainesville. She was well-known to the academic community in the U.S. and Latin America having been Director of Latin American Studies at the University of Florida and Professor emerita of Anthropology, positions which she assumed in 1980. She was born in New York City in 1930 and grew up there and attended Cornell University where she graduated in 1952. She then pursued a doctorate at Columbia University in Anthropology and began specializing in the study of Caribbean societies, particularly Puerto Rico where she completed her doctoral research, later published as The Urban Poor of Puerto Rico. In 1962 she married Manoucher Safa-Isfahani, an Iranian who worked for the United Nations Secretariat in New York and who died in 1995. Upon finishing her doctorate Helen taught at Syracuse University and then at Rutgers University from 1967–1980 serving as Chair of the Anthropology departments and was also director of Latin American studies. In 1980 she came to the University of Florida, retiring in 1997.

During the course of her professional work she was always engaged in research and programs dealing with the Caribbean countries: Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic in particular. Her research dealt with the urban poor, family life, industrialization, migration, the role and work of women and the international emergence of women’s movements. In addition to her several books she was widely known through over 60 articles published in English and Spanish.

Safa was very active in academic organizations, being elected to the board and later presidency of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) serving from 1983–85. She received recognition and honors for her work by the Puerto Rican Association of Anthropology and the Conrad Arensberg Award from the American Anthropological Association. For her steadfast support and work regarding women’s and gender issues, the UF Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research awarded her the 2006 “Uppity Woman Award.”

Helen is survived by her daughter Mitra and husband Roland Mirador of San Francisco and grandson, Luca, her husband John Dumoulin, Kaveh and Michelle Safa of Memphis, Arya Safa and her grandchildren Arman and Laylee Safa, and Nicholas, Alexis, and Anna Martin.

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