Throughout May, registration and conservation teams from the National Museum of the American Latino were hard at work rotating objects in the museum’s Latino history exhibition on view at the National Museum of American History. Rotating objects involves swapping costumes, textiles, paper works, and graphics for new ones.

This process offers visitors additional opportunities to explore the diversity of the Latino community and conserve sensitive materials. In total twenty objects were replaced in the last rotation. Get an inside look at how museums preserve objects and discover the new stories on display in "¡Presente! A Latino History of the United States.”

Because we’re in the business of protecting things —in perpetuity, we try to make sure that we’re not causing any additional damage to the object.

Sarah Elston, Museum Registrar

Museums strive to educate the public, promote scholarly research and care for the many objects in their collections.  “Because we’re in the business of protecting things” says Sarah Elston, the Latino Museum’s registrar, “we try to make sure that we’re not causing any additional damage to the object.” Museum staff, such as registrars, collections managers, conservators, mount makers and preparators, work together to keep objects safe, stable and secure.

Museums sometimes repair damaged objects, but most importantly, they work to prevent any damage through preventative conservation, the practice of protecting objects from damage by light, water, fire, human contact, theft, incorrect humidity and temperature levels, and pests. Some objects such as textiles and paper materials are particularly vulnerable and need extra attention from conservators and registrars.

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National Museum of the American Latino, 2023.
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Do you know why museums keep exhibition spaces dark or why they prohibit flash photography? It's to protect the objects from light damage. “If you ever go into a space and it’s super dark,” explains registrar Sarah Elston “it's an effort to make sure that those objects can be on display, so that they have a chance to tell their story in public again.”

Exposing fragile objects like clothing and paper to light when they are on display can cause irreparable damage. Light sources like artificial lights, camera flashes and even natural sunlight can cause damage. Registrars, collections managers, and conservators carefully monitor light levels in all exhibitions to protect objects.

If you ever go into a space and it’s super dark, it's an effort to make sure that those objects can be on display for the public to see but also to protect them, so that they have a chance to tell their story in public again.

Sarah Elston

Museums use many techniques to prevent damage, one of these is object rotations. Registrars and conservation staff remove light-sensitive objects from display periodically, usually every six months, and replace them with new objects.

This process ensures that objects are protected from prolonged exposure to light and other environmental factors. Rotating objects is one method the Latino Museum uses to ensure that objects will be preserved for visitors to enjoy for many years to come.

Conservation Fun Facts

  1. When exposed to light, maroon is one of the fastest colors to fade.
  2. Some paper conservators don’t wear gloves because it allows them to better grip the paper and prevent any tears, but they always wash their hands before handling the materials!
  3. Look closely! Some mannequins may have their shoulders in unnatural positions. This is done to support a costume’s shoulder seams.
  4. If a bead or sequin falls off a garment, the registrar will save it, log the damage and keep the component with the garment.
  5. Mount makers make custom mounts and displays for each object.

Rotations Expand Stories

A great thing about rotations is that it allows us to put more objects on display, and to tell more stories. If only one object was up for the full length of a show, you wouldn’t get all those different stories.

Sarah Elston

Rotations are important for the security and safety of an object, but they also provide exciting new opportunities to add new stories, perspectives, and experiences into the gallery.

The Latino community is incredibly diverse, it is impossible to showcase the complete spectrum of Latinidades in a single exhibition. Rotating objects and adding new faces, costumes, writings, and experiences to the cases helps us get a bit closer to storytelling the diverse Latinidades that make up the U.S. Latino experience.

Meet the Objects

Explore nine of the twenty new objects coming on view in “¡Presente!" and some of the objects they are replacing.

Tata Cepeda’s Bomba Dress and John Santos’ Jersey and Cap

Today, over half of all Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland. Still, many stay connected to the island’s people, culture, and politics in a variety of ways such as music, dance, and sports. We can see this diversity though the unique objects featured in “¡Presente!" including Tata Cepeda’s bomba outfit and John Santos’ Jersey. Listen to Sarah Elston talk about the visual impact of this object rotation.

No longer on View – Bomba Outfit

This dress belonged to dancer Margarita “Tata” Cepeda. The Cepedas are musical legends in Puerto Rico. They are known for performing and teaching Puerto Rico’s bomba and plena traditions. Bomba music was developed by the island’s enslaved and free Black communities.

On View – Jersey and Cap

This outfit belongs to percussionist John Santos. Growing up in San Francisco, California, Santos was musically shaped by his Puerto Rican and Cape Verdean family. The number 21 on his jersey is a tribute to Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente.
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Sarah Elston, Museum Registrar

Escaramuza ensemble and Manny Vega Ritual Outfit

Clothing and attire can express ideas about ancestry, politics, and culture. Whether for street festivals or sacred rituals, outfits often reflect community histories and values. Many reveal practices of resisting colonization and reinventing tradition. The intricate outfits need to be carefully conserved and, like other textiles, rotated about every 6 months. By rotating garments, we can experience different Latino traditions, performances, celebrations, and ceremonies such as Mexican Rodeo and Candomblé ceremonies honoring Yoruba deities.

No longer on View – Escaramuza Outfit

Escaramuza is a Mexican rodeo tradition. In these competitions, teams of women show off their masterful horseback riding. This outfit belonged to San Antonio, Texas, native Veronica Lininger. Her parents and grandparents all participated in rodeos in Mexico. 

On View – Ritual Outfit

Raised in New York City, Puerto Rican artist Manny Vega practices Candomblé. This religion was first brought to Brazil by enslaved Yoruba peoples. Vega made this outfit for ceremonies honoring the òrìṣà, or deity, Òśóòsì, a hunter, warrior, and spiritual guide.
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Sarah Elston, Museum Registrar

Mother and Daughter, and Social Club Graphic

While both of these objects are graphic reproductions of photographs rather than the originals, rotating them allows “¡Presente!” to showcase a variety of U.S. Latino experiences such as the work of Puerto Rican-Dominican poet and teacher Sandra María Estévez and the Black Cuban American Social Club La Sociedad Unión Martí Maceo.

No longer on View – Mother and Daughter

Puerto Rican-Dominican poet and teacher Sandra María Estévez is one of the founders of the Nuyorican poetry movement. The movement gained national recognition in the 1970s. A believer in the transformative power of creativity, Estévez grounds her writing in real-life issues.

On View – Social Club

Black Cuban Americans in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood came together at La Sociedad Unión Martí Maceo. Part community center, part mutual aid society, the organization built its clubhouse in 1905. This historical landmark was torn down in 1965.
We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Sarah Elston, Museum Registrar

Oscar de la Renta Dresses

The “Immigration Stories” section features the immigration story of Dominican fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. Removing the dresses every 6 months preserves the garments but also allows us to see the evolution of de la Renta’s style from the 1980s voluminous red dress to the sleeker darker 1990s dress. Listen to Sarah Elston talk about the rotation and how the exhibit case composition will change.

No longer on View – Dress 1983-1985

We use the video player Able Player to provide captions and audio descriptions. Able Player performs best using web browsers Google Chrome, Firefox, and Edge. If you are using Safari as your browser, use the play button to continue the video after each audio description. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Sarah Elston, Museum Registrar

On View – Dress 1990-1995

This dress by designer Oscar de la Renta (1932–2014) belonged to Katherine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post.

Boxing Robe worn by Carlos Hernandez and Mariano Rivera Baseball Jersey

Latinos have a long history of setting new standards for athletic excellence. Both Central American sportsmen, Carlos “El Famoso” Hernández and Mariano Rivera reached the pinnacle of success in their sports and remained close to their cultural roots. By rotating and preserving their garments we preserve an important part of sports history.

No longer on View – Boxing Robe

Boxer Carlos “El Famoso” Hernández grew up in Los Angeles, California. In 2003, he became the first World Champion of Salvadoran descent. Hernández advertises his roots with his robe which shows a well-known monument from El Salvador’s capital.

On View – Baseball Jersey

Mariano Rivera is a Hall of Fame baseball player. Born in Panama, this powerful relief pitcher played Major League Baseball with the New York Yankees from 1995 to 2013. After retiring, Rivera created a charitable foundation for children in Panama and the United States. 

Cesar Chávez Union Jacket and Guayabera

Latinos and Latinas have shaped the nation through their activism including advocating for the rights of laborers. For activists and organizers like César Chávez and Lalo Guerrero clothing was one way to express cultural identity and display symbols of their movements. Chávez’s jacket includes a patch with the United Farm Worker’s flag. Guayabera shirts are themselves important political symbols and have been worn by many leaders like Guerrero and Chavez to express cultural pride.

No longer on View – UFW Union Jacket

César Chávez (1927–1993) co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) Union in 1962. Its members were predominately Mexican and Filipino Americans. From 1965 to 1970, Chávez led the Delano, California, grape workers strike and wine boycott for higher wages and safer working conditions.

On View – Guayabera Shirt

Musician Lalo Guerrero (1916–2005) was born in Tucson, Arizona. He was part of a community of Mexican American artists who were vocal supporters of civil rights. A close friend of César Chávez, Guerrero played frequent benefit concerts for the United Farm Workers.

Evelio Grillo Family Photo Album

Paper materials can be very fragile and sensitive to light, during this rotation a different page from the Grillo Family Photo Album will be put on display to prevent the photographs and papers from fading. Each scrapbook page also tells a unique story about the Grillo family’s history, told through photographic snapshots. Learn more about the Photo Album here.

No longer on View- Family Photos 1945

These photos show Aníval Grillo, Cuban-born Berta Juana Junco Grillo, their family, and friends in Washington, D.C.

On View- Family Photos 1946

These photos show Aníval Grillo, Berta Juana Junco Grillo, and their young family on vacation in Havana, Cuba.

The Virgin of Guadalupe

The “Colonial Legacies” exhibit section tells the story of European colonization of the Americas and indigenous resistance. Spanish priests used images of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Christianize Indigenous peoples in Mexico. Over time, she became a symbol of Mexican identity and nationhood. By rotating artworks about the Virgin of Guadalupe we preserve the fragile paper pieces but also present the incredible variety of ways that the image and meaning of the Virgin has been interpreted and reclaimed by contemporary Mexican artists.

No longer on View – Our Lady of Controversy

For some Mexican American artists, the Virgin also inspires the fight for women’s rights.

On View – Our Lady

 Here, the Virgin of Guadalupe is shown in the art style of colonial New Mexico and Colorado.

Registration of Enslaved Persons

The “Colonial Legacies” section tells the story of colonization, enslavement, and resistance. These documents register enslaved persons in Puerto Rico in 1870, three years before slavery was abolished there. The fragile paper is over 150 years old and needs to be carefully preserved with proper light, temperature, and humidity exposure.  Rotating the documents also allows us to focus on more of the individual names and identities of some of the tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans forced into slavery.

No longer on View - Registration of Enslaved Person

This form registers twenty-two-year-old Eustaquio as an enslaved person. He is from Manatí, Puerto Rico, and described as a laborer.

On View - Registration of Enslaved Person

This form registers twenty-five-year-old Julian Charó as an enslaved person. He is from Manatí, Puerto Rico, and described as a laborer.