Smithsonian Center for Lation Initiatives
The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
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Welcome by IUPLR ExecutiveDirector, Dr. Gilberto Cardenas


Conference Overview

Seminar Report

Secretary Small's Welcome

Dr. Cardena's Welcome


MR. CARDENAS:  That's a hard act to follow.  Thank you very much for the wonderful introduction and also for giving us a great rundown about what's happened here at the Smithsonian.  Secretary Small has really done a tremendous job in putting together a staff and leadership and a vision for this institution that would change this institution in very important ways, organizationally, structurally, and programmatically.  It's difficult to make change and you've weathered through tremendous storms here, especially under the financial situation we find ourselves in the nation as well as in the nonprofit sector and other areas.

      I'm very pleased to welcome you to this conference.  This has been a culmination, if you will, of a long project for many people that really started with a Latino working group internally to the Smithsonian that preceded me and other people who have since been working here and this is the staff at the Smithsonian who in their respective ways have tried to make change and tried to argue for a better presence for Latinos and tried to get the message across to the institution that in order to tell the story of the American people it has to be more inclusive and more knowledgeable about the history of the American people and they can't do that without having the curatorial staff, without having the intellectual presence, without having the resources and the collections. And I think the institution now has that message and, as you saw, has not only gotten the message but actually has worked to implement a tremendous amount of programs and activities that have elevated, if you will, the presence of Latinos here.

      We're hopeful that in the end this will lead to a museum down the road on the Mall but it's a hope.  It was a recommendation of the Willful Neglect Task Force headed by Raul Yzaguirre, and we're interested in a museum.  We're interested in the meanwhile in terms of a long-term sustainable physical presence here.  We want people to know when they come from Europe and Africa and other places in the world and throughout the United States that an integral part of the US population and US culture and American culture is Latino culture.

      There is a long history to that but we want people to know that on a sustained basis.  The activities are tremendous and that is leading to that presence.  What's really needed, however, is on a sustained basis to have a physical presence so that there is year-round programming, there's a curatorial staff, and activities that everyone can learn with and be part of.

      I'm real pleased that John Huerta is here, the position that he's in.  I'm really pleased to see the curatorial staff that's here.  We'd like to see more curators at the institution.  I'm sure Larry agrees with that.  We have a national board that oversees the Center for Latino Initiatives and this board is very concerned and very interested in working with the institution and, as Larry has mentioned, in the past I have been in the area where I've been very critical because I was asked to come here to help do that.  I'm not looking for a job so I have the luxury of doing that but at the same time we've put a lot of hours in and we've also been very constructive, I think, in helping to build programs here.

      The one that I'm most pleased with, obviously, is the Latino graduate training program which you're here and part of.  This has been a program that started in 1994 here at the Smithsonian but that we actually created in previous years, 1988, I believe, taking this program around the country to various institutions for the Inter-University Program for Latino Research.

      And in 1994 James Early invited us to come to the institution.  It was co-sponsored by the Center for Museum Studies at that time and the Smithsonian not only endorsed it but put resources behind it.  We brought money in from Carnegie and Lilly Foundation to jump start the program here.  Since that time our funding ended. We've made some modest contribution but really it's been a Smithsonian initiative, and we've been co-partners but we're taking the backseat on that, which we're happy to do, and to see this program institutionalized has been something that's been remarkable.

      So we've had over 110 participants thus far, and Magdalena Mieri has been a tremendous force behind this.  We've had support from Miguel Bretos during his days as counsel to the Secretary and others who have been very active in making this program a success.

      An outgrowth of the program has been fellowship programs and support from the Rockefeller Foundation for the residency program.  We see some of the folks who have participated in that are senior scholars and some junior scholars.

      So it's with that background that I am here, pleased to be here, and wanting to encourage you to continue the work that was started by the Latino working group and all the various other task forces and things of that sort to continue it more in the intellectual realm, the area of critical scholarship, of really an analysis of who we are as a country, where Latinos fit in the country, where our culture intersects with American culture so it's not understood as foreign culture.

      It's an integral part of the formation of the United States.  This is a culture that is not necessarily an exported culture from abroad but it's a vital part, an integral part, of American culture since the day that preceded the formation of the United States of America.  That's a real important distinction.  This is not transplanted culture from Asia.

      So Spanish is as much an American language as English is.  Those are the kinds of things but in the past some of these kinds of considerations have been swept to the side and we have been relegated to something that is less than American in that sense so we have to make a reclaim on America from my standpoint.

      So this is part of that project. What better place to do that than the Smithsonian?  This is the central part of the Smithsonian's mission and so as we think about the various topics that we're going to cover, as we talk about issues of interpretation and the representation, these are central topics that allow us to explore broader questions, that allow us to explore the role of national institutions and national museums, regional museums, and other places by which expression and cultural activity play out.

      We have to talk about the politics of culture.  We have to talk about the politics of the expressive issues.  So these are the kinds of things that I'm hopeful you'll have a chance to advance and continue the work.  So this intellectual, scholarly conversation, if you will, is one that is starting today.  We really haven't engaged visitors in that manner in the past.  We have an opportunity to start that conversation today and move forward so that the way I look at this, this is the beginning for that part of the discussion.

      We've had, as I mentioned, external pressure.  We've had internal issues.  We've had programs.  Now the scholarship and the scholarly engagement, if you will, with issues is something that we all look forward to and hope to see happen these next few days.

      So again I want to thank the institution for being so generous in putting this together, Magdalena Mieri and her staff, Francisco for supporting this program, and all of you who are here today to present.  Thank you very much.



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