The Smithsonian Latino Center celebrates two decades of increasing Latino presence at the Smithsonian Nov. 16. Created in 1997, the Center has led the effort to integrate the U.S. Latino experience into the national narrative by focusing on four key areas: leadership and professional development; education and outreach; research; and exhibitions and programs. Since then, it has cultivated hundreds of emerging museum professionals and leaders, distributed millions in federal funding in support of increasing Latino presence at the Smithsonian and shared inspiring stories about Latino contributions to the national identity and cultural fabric of the U.S.
“There’s a reason the anniversary tagline is Juntos haciendo historia or ‘Making History Together,’ said Eduardo Diaz, director of the Latino Center since 2008. “The indelible impact left on the people, places and programs amplified by the Latino Center is that, while diverse in origin, we are all one community. The Latino story and the American story are not separate. In fact, it is impossible to tell the complete story of our country without acknowledging and celebrating the influence of U.S. Latinos as nation-builders and culture-makers. I could not be prouder of the work we have done at the Smithsonian Latino Center to elevate these important contributions so that we may all recognize and appreciate our shared history, present and future.”
Latino presence at the Smithsonian began in the form of a graduate seminar, following an internal study completed by the Smithsonian that identified a lack of Latino representation at the Institution. The graduate program has since been renamed the Smithsonian Latino Studies Museum Program and produced 304 alumni through three iterations. Shortly after the inception of the Museum Studies Program, the Latino Initiatives Pool began to fund projects at the Smithsonian to increase Latino presence. The Pool has since distributed more than $23 million to 525 projects, including a Grammy-winning album Imaginaries by Quetzal, produced through Smithsonian Folkways.
In 2006, the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives officially changed its name to the Smithsonian Latino Center. This was the same year the Young Ambassadors Program was started and began offering graduating Latino and Latina seniors the chance to participate in immersive programming and internships in Washington, cultivating 240 alumni to date and achieving a 96.4 percent college graduation rate.
To reach even more communities outside of the nation’s capital, the Latino Virtual Museum was debuted in 2009, which made a plethora of Latino Center content available online worldwide. To reach more audiences at Smithsonian museums, the Latino Curatorial Initiative was activated, placing Latina and Latino curators at different Smithsonian museums and its traveling exhibition service to ensure the diversity of content and collections. Since the program’s inception, these embedded curators have produced 51 publications, 23 exhibitions and obtained 320 new collections and acquisitions.
As the center looks ahead, it plans to leverage the people and programs it has cultivated to open a physical gallery space. Planning for the Smithsonian Latino Gallery is already underway, and it centers around the presentation of the rich complexity of the U.S. Latino experience. With a home on the National Mall, which attracts more than 30 million visitors each year, this will be the first national space dedicated to the Latino story and will feature bilingual exhibitions that recover Latino history, highlight the work of Latino artists and engage multigenerational audiences through thought-provoking educational programming.
To continue the celebration of its 20th-anniversary year, several more programs, partnerships and exhibitions are planned throughout the year in Washington, D.C., Virginia and Texas, including:
Nov. 9: Noche de Ciencias/Night of Science
U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Headquarters (Madison Auditorium), Alexandria, Va.
This national program of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers introduces students and families to science and engineering through hands-on activities and exposure to college and career information in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Smithsonian Latino Center will be showcasing its ¡Descubra! Meet the Science Expert activities related to the science of sound.
Nov. 11: ¡Descubra! at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History
Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, Fort Worth, Texas; 10 a.m.–4 p.m.
Super Hero Science Day features ¡Descubra! scientists and explores outside-of-the-box connections between science, scientists and the benefits their work has for society at large.
March 2018: Latino DC History Project
This project is an ongoing collaboration led by the center to tell the history of the Latino community in the nation’s capital since World War II. Its goals are to produce neighborhood-focused exhibits, murals, historical placemakers and curricula that support a community of historical consciousness.
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