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The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
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Welcome to the conference form the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,
Lawrence M. Small


Conference Overview

Seminar Report

Secretary Small's Welcome

Dr. Cardena's Welcome


Latino Cultures National Conference
Washington, D.C.

Remarks by
Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence M. Small
November 2002

Thank you, Francisco, for the introduction and for the fine job you're doing as acting director of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives.

A warm Smithsonian welcome to you all. Déjenme decir que me da enorme placer poder darles la más cordial bienvenida a la Smithsonian. Espero que lo pasen muy bien durante el par de dias que van a estar con nosotros.

Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to attend this national conference on "The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures." I want to thank our partner, the Inter-University Program for Latino Research, under the leadership of Gilberto Cardenas. Special thanks go to the Rockefeller Foundation, and the University of Notre Dame for their financial support.

I want to thank the vice-chair of the Smithsonian National Board, and member of the Smithsonian Latino Initiatives Board, Henry Muñoz, for all his support.

And special thanks go to Magdalena Mieri, conference coordinator, and the staff at the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives, for all their hard work in putting the conference together.

And, to many of you I say, "welcome back" because many here have participated in our graduate Latino training seminar. Others have done important research here on Smithsonian fellowships.

The Smithsonian mission, unchanged since the founding of the Institution in 1846, is "the increase and diffusion of knowledge." Today, we are more determined than ever to make sure that all Americans, wherever they may live, have access to the historic, artistic, and scientific treasures at the Smithsonian.

Today, I want to stress our commitment to Latino Initiatives at the Smithsonian and discuss the progress we're making. We know we're not done, but major efforts are underway-with exhibitions, public programs, Web sites, personnel, education and outreach. Much has been accomplished, and we fully intend to do more-both within the Smithsonian and across the country.

You saw part of that effort last night at the reception at our Arts and Industries Building, which now features three Latino exhibitions….

Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta, which was created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES)-now celebrating 50 years of serving the public. After Latin Jazz leaves the Mall, it will travel to 12 cities across the nation over the next three years.

You saw two exhibitions of Chicano works: Chicano Now: American Expressions; and Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge. We have Cheech Marin to thank for the exhibitions. Taken together, there is much to see, hear, and do in these exhibitions. The reviews have been great and the crowds large.

You also saw our online work, one of the Center's important projects, the Latino Virtual Gallery, and the online version of "Lowriding: An American Cultural Tradition."

I mentioned the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES). It's the largest of its kind in the world, reaching more than 5 million people across the country. Since 1992, SITES has circulated 12 multi-year Latino tours nationwide, for example: Dos Aguilas: A Natural History of the U.S. Borderlands; Contrastes: Forty Years of Change and Continuity in Puerto Rico; Semillas de Cambio; Americanos: Latino Life in the United States; Africa's Legacy in Mexico; and the exhibition you just saw, Latin Jazz: La Combinación Perfecta.

This summer, the SITES exhibition Corridos sin Fronteras: A New World Ballad Tradition opened to great enthusiasm at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, a Smithsonian affiliate in San Jose, California, one of the largest Latino cultural centers in the country. On the opening day, Los Tigres del Norte, the Grammy Award-winning corrido musical group that got its start in San Jose, conducted a hands-on musical workshop for 350 local students. During the 12-week showing, which attracted 209,400 visitors, the Mexican Heritage Plaza ran continuous school tour programs and corridos music programs. And, the educational, award-winning, interactive Web site has been tremendously successful and is being used in the curricula of schools across California.

Our Smithsonian Affiliations Program lends some of our 142 million objects to museums large and small across the nation. The initiative has 118 affiliate museums in 34 states, D.C., Panama, and Puerto Rico-many serving Latino communities. This summer, the Affiliations Program launched its Cultural Alliance Initiative to promote various cultural heritages across the country-African American, Native American, Asian American, Latino, and more. The Cultural Alliance meets in January in San Antonio to explore opportunities for shared programming, shared objects, and shared scholarship. We're very optimistic about the working together on this because we've seen what can happen when our own organizations work with the affiliates.

Our Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies and Smithsonian Affiliations opened a museum studies certificate program at the Universidad del Turabo in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. The four-week program included: introduction to museum management; care of collections; exhibition design; and public programming.

Our exhibition SANTOS: Substance & Soul / Sustancia y Alma was a first-of-its-kind collaboration, produced by our Center for Materials Research and Education and showcasing the collection of the National Museum of American History. We assembled a truly remarkable collection of painted woodcarvings of saints, called santos-some created more than four centuries ago, some created only two years ago. The exhibition traveled to the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico.

The Smithsonian Associates, or TSA, has been offering Latino-focused educational programming for nearly 25 years. The Smithsonian Associates participates every year in the Smithsonian's Hispanic Heritage Month, offering several Discovery Theater for Children performances and adult educational classes, courses and performing arts. Four years ago, TSA created its popular Latino music series, Música de las Américas, bringing in such noted Latino musicians as Celia Cruz, Jose Feliciano and Chucho Valdés. And there's more music…

Last week we held a three-day festival and conference, Boleros: Romantic Songs of the Americas. We hosted Olga Guillot, Ruth Fernandez, Los Tri-O and Rafael Basurto Lara, the only living voice of the legendary trio Los Panchos.

Currently, in New York, at the National Museum of the American Indian, we offer two relevant exhibitions: Ancient Mexican Art from the Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian and Great Masters of Mexican Folk Art.

We just concluded another very successful Hispanic Heritage month with a wide range of public programs, including concerts, exhibitions, films, lectures, and activities for children and families.

We're working on exciting new exhibitions, public programs, and research. We can do this because we have excellent collections and skilled curators and scholars.

For example, the Smithsonian American Art Museum has a preeminent collection of Latino art. Just over 20 years ago, the museum launched a commitment to Latino art with the acquisition of one of the icons of contemporary sculpture-Man on Fire by El Paso native Luís Jiménez. Since then, with the help of artists from all over the country-including Ruben Trejo, Angel Rodríguez-Díaz, Carmen Lomas Garza, Pepón Osorio and many others, and the support of collectors Tomás Ybarra Frausto, Teodoro Vidal of Puerto Rico, and Frank Ribelin of Dallas, the collection has grown to more than 400 pieces from as far back as the 17th century and as recent as 1999.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is closed for a major renovation, but the artwork is moving across America. We're honored that First Lady Laura Bush is serving as Honorary Patron of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Arte Latino, part of the traveling Treasures to Go exhibition. At the Terra Museum of American Art in Chicago, she hosted a tour of the show and a luncheon for the First Lady of Mexico, Mrs. Vicente Fox. Arte Latino is an expansive exhibition expressing the richness of the Latino experience, and it has broken attendance records in every place it has been. It is now showing at the Oakland Museum of California.

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center has significant collections of Puerto Rican artifacts, including the Teodoro Vidal collection. The museum showcases the work of Latin designers, including Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, and Manolo Blahnik. The museum has started a Latin music oral history program, headed by curator Marvette Perez, and the collection, which includes instruments and costumes, is being widely used by scholars from all over the country.

And there's much more in the offing.

The Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery is preparing a comprehensive traveling show on Latino Portraiture. We are collaborating with four other museums. The works will be drawn from public and private collections in the United States, South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Spain. A comprehensive show of this size and magnitude has never been mounted before; it will be the first of its kind in the world.

And the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden has major plans also. Olga Viso, a rising star on the American contemporary art curatorial scene, is working on a major exhibition on the life and art of Cuban-born artist Ana Mendieta, in addition to a show on Argentinean Guillermo Kuitca. The Hirshhorn also holds key works by Ernesto Neto (we just had a show of his work this spring and held a Brazilian Family Day in conjunction with the exhibition); Joaquin Torres-García; Roberto Matta; Wifredo Lam; Doris Salcedo; and Carlos Alfonzo. And please come back next summer for our free summer series of Latin Jazz concerts during Art Night on the Mall, a very popular program. And if you can't get back to the Mall, please visit us online.

The average monthly visitation of the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives website for fiscal year 2002 stands at 120,000, a 33% increase from last year. Roughly the same amount visits the Latino Virtual Gallery where students explore Latino contributions to the arts, culture, history and the humanities. The gallery was developed with educators and scholars to enhance traditional classroom learning-and it's doing just that.

The Latino Initiatives Pool sparks many of our popular programs. It is a successful means of maximizing federal funds to advance Latino activities across the whole Smithsonian-for local and national programs such as exhibitions, collections, acquisitions, publications, education and outreach efforts, fellowship and internship programs, and much more. Since its inception in 1995, the pool has provided nearly $8 million in support for 213 projects, including, for example: Archivos Virtuales: The Papers of Latino Artists Online from our Archives of American Art; the El Rio Traveling Exhibition from our Folklife Center; and the Olmec Legacy Project from our National Museum of Natural History. You will have the opportunity to learn more about the projects during our poster session on Friday evening.

We want to build on the success of the Latino Pool to find ways to make long-lasting programs. Accordingly, we have asked the Office of Management and Budget for an increase of $250,000 for the Latino Initiatives Pool for fiscal year 2004.

The programs and the funding are crucial components of our efforts, but the key to our success is the people we attract to work in the Smithsonian-and those outside the Smithsonian whom we can recognize for their contributions.

We do this with our James Smithson Bicentennial Medal; it was presented most recently to Olga Guillot, known as the Queen of Boleros. Previous Smithson medals have gone to Doctor Antonia Novello, the first woman Surgeon General of the United States; Celia Cruz; Dolores Huerta; Alberto Rex-Gonzalez; Ricardo Alegría; and Tito Puente.

We're actively seeking to increase the number of Latino employees at the Smithsonian. Obviously, all institutions are operating in difficult economic times; the Smithsonian is no exception, so this is a challenging task. As of September 2002, we have 227 Latino employees at the Smithsonian, 3.6% of the total workforce. That number is growing…as it should be. We know we have more to do.

Our Office of Human Resources and our Office of Equal Employment and Minority Affairs have developed a Latino recruitment plan; it's in place and we're moving on it. We have relationships with the largest local Latino agencies dealing with employment in our area, the Spanish Catholic Center in D.C. and Maryland, and the Hispanic Committee of Virginia. We've sent a list of Latino organizations and conferences to all Smithsonian offices to get the word out about Smithsonian job openings and recruit Latino candidates. Last year, 6% of our hires were Hispanic. We just hired a new Latina recruiter, Raquel Manso, to increase that percentage. Right now, she is in Puerto Rico with Lieutenant Teresita Marcanio of our Office of Protective Services interviewing candidates. We need bilingual officers; we created a new job classification for them, and now we are hiring them.

We are fortunate to have the help of prominent Latinos on our boards and commissions. Manuel Ibáñez, former President of Texas A&M University - Kingsville, serves on our Board of Regents. I mentioned Henry Muñoz, he's also the founding chairman of Centro Alameda, National Center for Latino Arts and Culture in San Antonio, the first formal affiliate of the Smithsonian. (I have visited there twice, most recently for Cinco de Mayo; it is a thriving center.) Artist Jesús Moroles is on the board of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And scientist Francisco Ayala has played a major role on the Smithsonian Science Commission.

Within the Smithsonian, we are blessed with many talented individuals. You know Francisco Dallmeier, Magdalena Mieri and the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives staff. There are many others: John Huerta is the Smithsonian's general counsel; Don Lopez is deputy director of the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum; Miguel Bretos is a senior scholar at the National Portrait Gallery; Marvette Perez is a curator, and Melinda Machado heads up public affairs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History; Manuel Melendez is in our office of government relations; Olivia Cadaval and Cynthia Vidaurri are with our Center for Folklife and Cultural Studies; Cristian Samper is the deputy director of the Smithsonian's Tropical Research Institute in Panama; I mentioned curator Olga Viso, at the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum …the list goes on and on. And our efforts will go on and on-with exhibitions, public programs, Web sites, personnel, education and outreach.

This afternoon, you can learn more about our efforts at the Smithsonian Opportunities Fair. You'll be able to talk to representatives from our Office of Human Resources, Office of Fellowships and Grants, the Smithsonian Press, Smithsonian Affiliations, the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, and the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives.

We're very serious about our commitment to seeing that the Smithsonian represents the cultural mosaic that has made the United States so vibrantly unique. Yes, we face major challenges in the near future, as do so many educational and cultural institutions in a time of economic uncertainty and international unrest, but we have made significant progress and we will continue to serve Latino Americans, and all Americans, wherever they may live. We want to reach out to every American with the story of all Americans. With your support, we'll do just that. We're here to learn from each other.

Thank you for coming. Gracias por haber venido.

In pursuit of goals, over the years, the Smithsonian has been aided by the intellect, candor, and integrity of Gilberto Cardenas. He has offered blunt criticism and insightful ideas. We are grateful for both. He is assistant provost and director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and executive director of the Inter-University Program for Latino Research. He is a member of the President's Commission on White House Fellowships; the Advisory Council of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Millennium Scholars Program, and many other boards. Please welcome an author, scholar, art collector, and very generous man, Gilberto Cardenas.


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