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The Interpretation and Representation of Latino Cultures: Research and Museums Conference Documentation
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Intergenerational Issues in Latino Studies: Transcript of Townmeeting

Challenging Traditional Curatorial Practices

Historicizing Narratives

Borders and Diasporas

Aesthetics Beauty

The Body: The Real and the Symbolic

All Abstracts



DR. CHAVOYA:  But we're not on the hot seat for this next discussion.

MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  No, we're not on the hot seat for this next discussion but I think we need a moderator for the next discussion.

MR. CARDENAS:  I asked folks to stay up here because it's a really organic process.  The a discussion that came out of the presentations really with a seamless movement into the purpose of this session so they really are the carriers of the discussion and your participation as well.

I don't have an agenda on this session.  My goal is to moderate.  But the idea here is to reflect and we've already started that reflection to see that connection between generations and continuity of work.  And Tomas Ybarra- Frausto has really inspired me in terms of reinforcing the idea of generational transmission, this idea of legacy, this idea of tradition, this idea of lineage.

And I think this is an area that is very fruitful for discussion and we really want it to be an open discussion.  We want to hear more from the younger people and then we can talk about ourselves in many ways and I want to do that.

I had the privilege of working with people, many who have passed now, Dr. Paredes, back in the sixties and other folks who have gone connecting me to the past people that I met and had long conversations with these people and had the opportunity to interact with them.  And it had a big difference on my formation and my current activities and the kinds of things I try to do.  My area is not in the arts per se.  I own an art gallery for 14 years and I've been involved here at the Smithsonian with the graduate training program and other things so that's my interest.

But you really are the people who daily live it and work it and are going to be our future, those of you who are part of the past, and those of you who are living carriers of what we do as a community of interest nationally.  So I'm going to ask Victor to make a transition from this last session to this current one.

MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  A transition from this last session to this current one. I think that one of the changes that I've seen, and I would consider myself a link between the generation of Tomas and Gilberto and with the younger scholars that I've seen as residents here at the Smithsonian and who have presented papers, and that is the incredible challenge, hardship, yet privilege it's been to pioneer a field and pioneer a field when you must challenge the status quo and the established paradigms that have marginalized you and your culture and your visual heritage and social imaginary and when the production of art exceeds the critical categories and the professionals.  And I think that's an incredibly unique situation.

And I'm not being pedantic but it occurs in very few moments in history.  The High Renaissance lasted 18 years, the historical avant-garde maybe another 10 in early European modern art, and I think that our situation, our condition, with Latino/ Latino and Chicano/Chicana art is very similar in that respect, this incredible production of expressions that exceeded the categories and the institutions and that challenged the making of agents and agencies and criticality, and I think that's extremely important.

And we now are in a situation where the younger scholars are in teaching and academic institutions, in various regions, no longer concentrated in certain focus areas, are curators and administrators in museums and I think it's a very important turning point.  And in many respects the challenge still continues and this refers back to our ongoing theme of how does one work within the mainstream and how does it work within the master's house and how does one position ourselves and it returns back to Tomas' point about agency.

That is, how do we maintain the links to the communities that we're responsible to and at the same time become interpreters, researchers, framers, theoreticians of the new?  And I think that those are the issues facing us with another one that has to do with how we now represent ourselves.

And this goes back to Professor Limon's keynote speech about the new Chicano middle class and professionals.  That is to say, how are we going to manage these privileges that come with being professionals and what are our social and cultural responsibilities vis-à-vis the arts and culture in our communities and within that the changing and shifting nomenclature of Latino/Chicano/Hispano/Hispana, post- Latino.  Sorry for bringing that into the table.  And that is to say how we are accommodating in these shifts.

We are no longer in the era of multiculturalism.  Our issues in many ways are linked to very global concerns but at the same time mirror global constructs as exemplified by the presentations we've been hearing.

QUESTION:  I'm trying to get my thoughts together here but I think one of the things that were very striking in a conversation I had this morning with Yasmin and it was just a brief comment on how she was noting that perhaps this particular generation or what has come out in the last ten years or so that we're so well trained.

And my response to that was, like, we're not because what still happens is that we're still learning from everything that's been written.  We're still learning from those texts but we're not really being trained on how to curate shows.  It goes through internships and through hands-on training.  That's our training ground, that because of this relationship we have with artists that we learned oh, yeah, you could just go up and talk to them and there's a conversation happening and that through those conversations these ideas come about and then the show comes about, so to speak. But we're not really being trained.

And so one of the things I want to acknowledge is the importance of funding programs such as Galleria de la Raza's regeneration project.  Although it might have started as, like, who's going to continue this legacy that in fact what they've done is that they've really worked outside of the box and that they've brought in really great shows to that space in San Francisco.  And how even at El Museo del Barrio with the S Files and hopefully we'll talk more about this but how do institutions like the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, Galleria de la Raza, how do they get to also have funding and support to train another generation?

Because what ends up happening is we go on to college, we learn about this, we get frustrated when those stories are not told in our graduate-level courses, and we're still doing recovery project within our classroom.  It's, like, how do we train another generation?  Because I think it's been assumed that we know this and actually Tey's story of a 7-year recovery process, I mean, we do that constantly with our work. And our work may be doing contemporary stuff for the last 20, 30, 15 years and we're still doing recovery projects.

So somehow how do we negotiate that?

MS. HUACUJA:  Actually, Yasmin, I just wanted to ask if you would talk a little bit about the S Files because I think it's really an important event in New York City.  And also talk about maybe the differences between this year's and last year's and also discuss this issue of a permanent installation of ÄÄÄÄ art without a counterpart to that which would be a permanent space for contemporary Puerto Rican or Latino art from the US.

MS. RAMIREZ:  I just wanted to clear up just a little something which was that I see myself really as the generation older than yourselves in many ways.  I see myself as somebody who grew up in the 1970s as a much more activist.  And so when I was saying that I wasn't saying that I'm well-trained.  I feel that I'm not very well-trained.  I feel that I have, like, such admiration for all of you because what I notice between my training, which was just get it up on the walls, whatever you do let's have a show, let's get it up on the walls, and this notion of curatorial paradigms, writing a script, I'm learning from you guys so that when I go back to the curatorial world I'm a little more professionalized, a little more conscious of what I'm creating.  I work very organically.

So it was really a compliment.  I don't see myself as that well-trained.  But in terms of the S Files the S Files has now become a biennial.  It is no longer the Selected Files.  That's a big difference.

The S Files actually began by the curator beforehand from Colombia who now runs Galleria de la Raza, Carolina Ponce de Leon, who was very frustrated that the museo consistently received artist files but there was no way of showing all these artists.  So she proposed that there be a biannual show of work selected from the files.  That's where the notion of S Files, selection from the files, came.

And the difference, I believe, between the S Files that I curated last year and this year's is that I had wanted to get people who still had some sort of organic link and a lot of issues of sewing came up, a lot of handmade objects, and there wasn't as much technology.

And it's interesting that this year it's a highly technophile show, lot of video, very elaborate installations, and that's a result of maybe two things.  I think the curators are a lot more interested in much more mainstream presentations and also thankfully because the museum I think is receiving a little bit more money so they have more money to spend on these shows that are highly technical and very expensive to produce.

There's just a different sensibility.  I wouldn't say one cancels out the other but, anyway, I am very, very proud of all of you and I think we'll continue to inform each other.  Thank you.

MR. CARDENAS:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Yes.  My question is for Marianna and her presentation although maybe it will have more general relevance for the discussion but, Marianna, one of the tensions that arose in the controversy had to do with the rights to freedom of expression of the artist versus what Chicano movement has always projected as a right of community to be able to exercise its traditional norms or ideas or rituals or whatever.  And I was wondering if you had put some thought into this and come to some kind of resolution to this particular tension.

DR. NUNN:  He is asking me this because he wants me to write an essay for a book he's doing.  I'm still not through this, obviously, as you can all tell. There's not an easy answer to this one.  I don't want to really talk a lot about Cyber Arte because I don't want to mention the generational thing but it was so multilayered and there were a lot of extenuating circumstances in what the flash points were in the community.

For instance, one of our board of regents is a Knight of Malta with a direct line to the Pope.  Seriously, there are 10,000 of them.  They have a direct line to the Pope, diplomatic immunity.  So some of the people who had a voice in this and who helped to fire up the situation were members of the communities because there are multiple communities but there really were some extenuating circumstances in this case. It's a very unusual set of things that happened.

I felt, as I mentioned earlier when we were talking about artists, that I really need to listen to the artists in this case and we did at one point when it was really getting fired up.  The administration wanted to make a decision and I said I think you need to ask the artists what they want to do and I think you need to ask Alma what she wants to do before we make the decision for her.

And we sent our letter, called them up.  This was the Museum of New Mexico director and the director of my museum and I.  And to the person they said no, we don't want to take this down.

And I really feel like the artist's voice had to be in on this.  To extend that just a little bit, it wasn't the whole community, as you know, the whole Norte Americano community or Hispanic community in New Mexico, that was against us.  It was a group of very vocal men.

And the idea that we could do a women's show and that the men were against it became very, very complex.  It's not just an easy thing about community versus First Amendment rights.  It's multiple communities and I think the rights and the voice of the artist.

DR. CHAVOYA:  And not to those specifics but the other thing about that question that I would just respond to in setting up this kind of binary between the individual and community and the artist is that we have to remember, of course, that okay, certainly the Chicano political movement, using that as an example, was about certain tradition and nuance but let's not forget that preserving and maintaining and continuing to promote those very same traditions and norms were also sources of oppression for members within our community that were individuals so it's very complex.

DR. NUNN:  Yes, the identity politics component of this is extraordinary.

MS. ROMO:  I also wanted to say because I know in reading a lot of the material when I was at the Mexican Museum we wanted to be supportive about the whole controversy and I thought it was very telling that the archbishop in one of the statements that he made said something about we don't understand.  Why don't they pick on some other image that's their own?  Why are they picking on our Catholic images to trash?

And I thought that was a very telling comment because it gets at that question because Alma was doing it because she felt she was expressing identification with the Vergin.  And so for her it was a very personal I'm a Chicana, I grew up with the Vergin as part of my Mexican heritage and I can take her and own her and with confianza interpret her the way I want.

And then you had the archbishop who was saying no, that's not part of it.  It's a Catholic image and therefore you have no right whatsoever.

Which I thought was interesting because the Vergine de la Guadalupe is not just a Catholic image.  Yes, I mean, that's one facet of it but it's so much more that in a sense he was telling her you have no right to do that and she was saying I have every right.

So I think to me that's part of the question as well when you deal with images like that is who has the right to interpret what they feel are their images?

MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  I also want to bring this up again.  I think that a lot of us who began curating began in education departments because curatorial departments were closed off to us.  You can go down the list of persons of color who are curators and they began in education departments because it was a service department.  It was not a sophisticated connoisseurship like curatorial and I think that that has allowed us to reframe the role of the curator.  And I do think that the curator has a responsibility as an educator and not just with images that are controversial and loaded with oppression or reminders or signifiers of oppression for within the queer community and the women's community, et cetera, but also just what is art, to define what is art.

I remember that my brother, Raul Zamudio, who has been part of the program, took my aunt from San Diego.  She wanted a tour of the art and cultural highlights.  He took her to the Earth Room, Walter de Maria's Earth Room.  My aunt said she didn't go to New York to see earth in a room.  She wanted to see her idea of art.

And I think that our community has very traditional notions of art and culture and many of them have helped them survive and have empowered over time so that we have to explain why an assemblage is an art object or why an installation is an art object and also I think why the usage of the Vergine de la Guadalupe is appropriate.

DR. NUNN:  I was also going to say that one of the battles in this was the representation of the institution and the institution was represented by white males and my director who is Anglo and then my last name.  And so for a very long time those members of the community who didn't know me, and it wasn't the whole community, really thought that this was an Anglo imposition and thinking you're doing this to us.

You can see it as it's played out in the media.  And then they mentioned my Chicano T-shirt and the Hispanic curator and this whole interesting dynamic.  And that part, interestingly enough, I agreed with the protesters on.  You're right.  There is an Anglo institution here doing this and normally I would be on the other side except wait a second; it's me. So that was interesting.

QUESTION:  I'd like to talk a little bit about the concept of lineage and blending and to express in public my indebtedness to Tomas Ibarra-Frausto, to Gil, to the next generation leaders who are in here, and the other group that is here.

I feel that when I'm standing here I have somehow landed.  I'm with the group of people that I both support and also feel support from.  But out there it's very often a very different story and I was telling a couple of people yesterday that a couple of years ago I had taken a position at a museum in Sacramento and I showed up for a reception that was to be in my honor.

And I was running a little bit late so I walked into the front door and I had literally just come from the Smithsonian where I have also been trained and groomed to be the next generation leader.  I walked into the front desk and I said can you tell me where I'm supposed to be, where the reception is.  And the lady looked at me and said oh, you must be the musician.  You should hurry up and get downstairs because I think they're about to start.

So sometimes you're thrown.  You go out there as the next generation cultural leader and you will encounter setbacks.  So what I determined at that point was that any position that I try to take the next time it was really critical to be in a position of power that had budgetary control, that sat you at the executive table, and that allowed you to shape and influence policy and to have a staff because it's very difficult to do this kind of work on your own.

And then just very quickly in terms of training I haven't been to it but I've heard very good things about NALAC and the training for cultural workers and so on so it's a possibility.

MS. PEREZ:  As a musician curator there's nothing wrong with being shown to where you're going to play music but I understand your point because I have done both many times.

My comment here is I never feel I have power at the Smithsonian.  I do have the power that I gather and put together and put forward.  "Power" is one of those words that are strange to use but I also understand where you're coming from.

But I've been at the Smithsonian for 11 years as a curator and ÄÄÄÄ is not here.  He's one of the few curators at the institution.  But one of the things that's my pet peeve, whenever we talk about curatorial practices we always talk about art.  That's not the only curatorial practice out there.  By far it's not what I do, an anthropologist by training and I'm in a history museum and I do do art sometimes and I do music and esthetics but there are all kinds of things that we curate.  And it's not as easy because, and I'm not saying it's easy to curate art, but when you have the world out there to curate and to think about it's a lot more difficult to figure out how you're going to put that together and curate that and how you learn to do that and who trains you to do that and it depends on the context of your art.

But I would want to ask of you to think beyond art when you think about curatorial practices because I don't hear enough and a lot of people curate things other than art.

MR. ZAMUDIO-TAYLOR:  That's a very good point.

DR. NUNN:  I want to just say something, too, about training.  I'm not sure I want to be formally trained because I don't know if those approaches will always fit in what I want to do.  I could take a class.

QUESTION:  Well, I'm following a very important observation because I have curated in a historical society and my work right now is really using photographic images to try to create an historical narrative of the early 20th century.  And along those lines I was reminded of a narrative in the Spanish-language newspaper that was published in the early twenties about an installation inside the church that recreated this Carmelite theology around Santa Teresita that if you follow my way I will send roses from heaven and cover you. So in the altar a Chicano interpretation of Carmelite theology was constructed that had a canopy that looked like roses were falling from heaven to cover the Carmelite virgin.

And so there are a lot of historical popular precedents for Chicano interpretations of various virgins, dressed and undressed, young and old.  I know many children were dressed as the Vergin de Carmel or dressed as angels, et cetera.

And I just wanted to add just very briefly Don Tomas and Maria Sobeq (?) initiated a series of Chicano theater presentations at the historical society that recreated theatrical texts that were performed in southern Arizona in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century resurrected and performed again by Chicano actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Theater, the Zarzuela, through Teatro Revolucionario and Pastorelas and postwar theater to a scripted reading by Rudy Anaya that concluded the five recreated plays at the historical society.

My dissertation chair was Juan Ramon Garcia, who went from Operation Wetback, his dissertation topic, to Mexicans in the Midwest a couple of years ago.  So Gil's generation is growing with us, I guess, in terms of how they perceive this diasporic moment.

That makes me a granddaughter of Julian Samora (?), right?  But I was also privileged to do graduate work with Reina Prado so I'm connected to her in many ways and I'm just ecstatic about her use of language in her activity and how she grows in her own energetic way.  I guess that makes me with Victor an intergenerational, recently minted doctorate, a soon to be grandmother, who is a walking example of how long it takes and this idea that you know that's what you want you just keep going no matter how long it takes.  So thank you so much.

MR. CARDENAS:  We have about two minutes to close this session so I'm going to ask for very, very brief comments.

QUESTION:  In terms of sensitizing, educating, and enlightening the next generation what's out there on a regional or national level in terms of curricula for secondary schools?  I'm constantly underwhelmed by what's presented during Hispanic Heritage Month and I'm wondering if there's anything really good out there that anybody's doing?

MR. CARDENAS:  Talk to Gary after this session, I think.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to bring up the point real fast that 90 percent of you sitting in here I'd say have the luxury of being on the East or West Coast where there is a very large population of Latinos and a large concentration of Latino- generated things going on.

I work at the University of Notre Dame in the middle of Indiana and we are working on a different level than most of you in this new generation with migration moving a different direction.  The Midwest doesn't always have the same level of education in the area of Latinos because no research has been done.  Well, not no but a much smaller amount of research has been done.  And just consider the fact that we have to start educating our audiences in a very different way than some other people do.

MR. CARDENAS:  Yes, good point. The last question or comment.

QUESTION:  I wanted to raise the question about interest in forming some means of communicating or some organization or some system by which this first gathering at a conference of people trained in this area of Latino museums and cultural representation that was part of the plan of having this conference to have a discussion of continuance, continued dialogue.  See, there are organizations like NALAC that are doing creative work to organize and to bring representation to people involved in culture and theater but there's no real organization in museum work, in cultural representation and generating ideas.

I want for the panel if you have a chance to mention whether you would be interested in forming some sort of a second conference, a new structure, a new type of relationship, that would continue this.  And then I also wanted to make sure that Marguerite here with me gets her invitation out to you if you want to mention that, Marguerite.

MS. HOUZE:  Thank you.  Actually I was going to take advantage of the microphone and say that I am very happy that somebody raised the issue that it's not just curating art.  My epiphany about my own identity came when I was taking an Early American reading of authors.  I was an English literature major and we started out with the Puritans and Winthrop and all these other writers and then all of a sudden my professor, who I think actually went up to Notre Dame, switched gears and she said now let's read some things that were being written coming out of the Southwest.

And it was just the fact that this was historically equivalent and as relevant for me was a revelation because nobody had ever approached American writers other than the Puritans.  So I thank somebody for bringing up the issue that there is more to be told.  I wanted to just do a quick commercial break.  This afternoon --

MR. CARDENAS:  Please be very quick because we're way over time now.

MS. HOUZE:  Yes.  At 4:30 we're going to hold, and everybody is invited, a focus group.  We are launching a History of Migration across the US Southern Border Museum.  We want this to be national in scope and we are holding a focus group and we want as many people as can come to talk to us about how they envision this museum.

It will be a history museum.  It will be about immigration across the US southern border.  It is not just Mexicans who came across the border as anybody who knows history but it's time that we take our place and we identify ourselves and our place in American history.

MR. CARDENAS:  Will the focus group be here in this room?

MS. HOUZE:  It will be right next door in 3111 at 4:30.

MR. CARDENAS:  I'll be there for sure and I hope others will join.  Just to leave a closing remark here, we are hopeful that as a group, as an informal network of folks, that we will stay together in some manner through conferences, through the discussions.

There's a lot we could do individually.  There's a lot we can do collectively.  This institution here has, as you heard Larry Small yesterday, has made great strides in many areas but there's a lot more to go and we are hopeful that we can all be part of this project.

No matter what our views are about national museums or different spaces like this it's too important not to be part of. And so the work of the center and the folks in the working committee as well as the curatorial staff and others who are trying to make the presence here can be really bolstered by your participation and activity.  So that's what we want to harness.  We've invested a lot of time and effort in the past 10 years and we want to keep that connection to the Smithsonian going.

I just had a chance to talk with Sheila Burke briefly about establishing a reading room as well as a library, a collection, and so we're going to pursue that.  If we do that I'll be making a major contribution to that reading room and collection and I'm going to invite you to do so as well, not just today but for the rest of our lives.  I think we can make this a really viable thing.  We could put our presence there as well as asking them to make changes.

We have a very exciting program scheduled for lunch with Tomas Ibarra- Frausto, first come, first served.

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