Sharing Latino History, One Public Program at a Time

America is a land of immigrants, meaning its history includes all of their histories. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is striving to tell these stories that some people would not see as part of the typical “American” history. One such example is their online resource database on Latino history, which includes Collections and Archives, Exhibitions, and Public Programs [1]. This online resource database provides a number of helpful resources for the public, educators, and museum professionals, allowing others to gain from the Smithsonian’s efforts.

The Program in Latino History and Culture (PLHC) was established in 2004 with support from the Smithsonian Latino Center. Through the support of Latino scholarship and presentation of lectures, films, concerts, and more, the PLHC “works to develop public programs that reflect the rich and distinctive history of Latino communities and cultures in the United States” [2]. These Latino communities and cultures include indigenous, mestizos, Afro-Latinos, and other mixed-race people racing their origins to Latin America and other Spanish colonies in the Caribbean and in the contemporary United States. The PLHC seeks to tell the history of the largest ethnic minority in the country, a history which predates America itself.

Teodoro Vidal Collection
A Vision of Puerto Rico: The Teodoro Vidal Collection, photo credit NMAH Latino History Exhibitions

The Collections and Archives lists 35 collections relating to Latino history ranging from collections from famous Latino Americans to advertising history and community education poster collections. The Exhibitions section lists 12 NMAH exhibitions relating to Latino history in a variety of forms. Although some of the exhibitions only had a brief description and pictures, many had online versions of the exhibit or websites with information. The exhibitions cover a wide variety of topics, including immigration, enterprise, Dia de los Muertos with Sandra Cisneros, and more. These resources provide universal access to a broad swathe of history of Latino culture. The bilingual option also ensures that more people are able to access these materials, including current members of the Latino community.

The Public Programs page provides the most amount of resources, though. There are so many, in fact, that they are broken down into sections, each one organized chronologically. The sections include: panels and lectures, readings and interviews, film and theater, festivals and celebrations, and music.  The Panels and Lectures section provides information on a variety of topics relating to Latino heritage and history, going back to 2004. Each panel and lecture also has resources: websites, blogs, video, and more depending on the lecture. The Readings and Interviews provide a variety of resources with notable Latinos, going back to 2009. Most include full videos or other extensive resources. There is information on Film and Theater, with a synopsis of each film going back to 2006. Unfortunately, there are no links to videos or websites that would allow visitors to access the films. Listing the films do provide people with examples they can track down themselves or use as a starting point. They also delve into festivals and celebrations, some one-time events and some annual, with varied resources including websites, panels, blogs, and social media. Finally, there is information on music including types of jazz with resources such as exhibits, websites, blogs, websites, and more.

Immigration Cart
Interns interact with visitors at the weekly Immigration Cart, sharing Latino culture through a variety of artifacts. Photo Credit: NMAH

This clearly shows where the majority of the PLHC’s work exists on a semi-regular basis. The range of topics is quite extensive as well, including baseball, immigration, traditional food, labor and food production, revolutions and revolutionaries, equality and segregation, and more. This page shows a great variety of public programming that not only connect with the public at the actual event but even years later. Almost every single item on this page has at least one resource that people can access at any point, day or night. The few that do not have “clickable” resources do have good synopses that people could still use to glean information whether they are simply interested members of the public, educators, or museum professionals. This repository of information and resources tells the stories of Latino history and heritage, which may not be told as often as the more “traditional” stories of American history. It allows people to see their culture represented and even learn more about it. Finally, it helps other museums represent this culture as well, connect with their communities, and increase their knowledge.

 
The Latino History Department at the Smithsonian is a rather small department within the Smithsonian institution and therefore may not be able to put on the massive exhibits that are expected from the Smithsonian as often as other departments can. However, they can, and clearly do, balance it out with amazing public programming in a variety of forms on a semi-regular basis that can still be accessed at least in some form online after the event. These resources can also be used by museum professionals searching for resources for programs, exhibits, and educational activities in their own institutions. The Smithsonian may be an atypical museum, but they have certainly provided resources for other museums and informal education institutions in a variety of ways and the Program in Latino History and Culture is yet another example.

 

[1]  National Museum of American History, “Latino History.” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, accessed March 24, 2016. http://americanhistory.si.edu/topics/latino-history

[2]  National Museum of American History, “Program in Latino History and Culture.” Smithsonian National Museum of American History, accessed March 24, 2016. http://americanhistory.si.edu/about/departments/program-latino-history-and-culture

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